To some extent, I’ve always been cogniscent of the fact that I’ve gravitated towards of a variety of indicators for the success of anime, rather than just word of mouth, because I have idiosyncratic tastes and using said variety of indicators helps illustrate that the case for or against many shows isn’t as clear-cut as many narrative-spinners would have you believe.
For the record, If there’s a worse anime blogger than Rick Reilly is a sports columnist, I’ve never met them. But I’ve read too many terrible columns by sanctimonious 70-year-old baseball writers about how Yasiel Puig has zero class and too many terrible columns by sanctimonious anime bloggers about how Kill La Kill is somehow “saving” an anime* industry that isn’t actually dying or lacking for fresh content not to see a lot of similarities between the two groups. I’m not saying that all writers who take a critical perspective on anime are like this, but far too many of them are more interested in grinding an axe against a genre rather than actually having a serious discussion about it.
But something hit me after I read this recent Andrew Sharp piece (he’s also the writer of the #hotsportstake series that mocks the aforementioned type of writing) about the appeal of bandwagoning on playoff football teams. One of his criteria that jumped out at me; “Does this team piss off Phil Simms and Jim Nantz?” I hadn’t thought about it for a while, but the Rex Ryan Jets were some of my favorite bandwagons for that very reason (plus the fact that those Jets played a defense best described as a shower of linebacker-shaped meteors backed by Darelle Revis eclipsing the sun). While my appreciation of a show is maximum when a show is great, my enjoyment of a show in a holistic sense is more of a 60-20-20 combination of 3 factors:
1. How much I enjoy it.
2. How well it performs commercially, usually in disk sales but potentially in other categories. It has to at least be a lock argument for having had break even sales.
3. The presence of a persistent group of (for lack of a better word) haters. Not just people who sort-of dislike and avoid it, but people who can’t resist taking paragraph-long potshots at it any time it gets mentioned.
This means that, as good as Attack on Titan was, it’s not a max-entertainment bandwagon. No one of any consequence particularly hates the show, and it’s just done really well. By contrast, Girls und Panzer was a near-perfect bandwagon show, putting up megahit numbers in the face of a number of vocal and hilariously ineffectual critics (it would be on my shortlist already if I weren’t currently watching it). There is really nothing sweeter in fandom than watching a show pile up vocal critics and subsequently both be good and sell well in spite of them. This post contains my personal shortlist of series I’ve had the privilege of being a fan of long enough to watch them do the Shaq thing and dunk all over the place.
To clarify before I actually get to the list, I don’t believe it’s a bad thing to hold any particular set of opinions. I do believe it’s a bad thing to constantly spend time talking scrap about stuff you don’t enjoy, and more generally about the way things are, rather than actually doing something about it. If you’re so upset about the majority of anime that get made nowadays, put up and post links to the BDs of the series you do like on your blog, or just buy them yourself. It’s trivially easy to use amazon for that sort of thing in this day and age.
That said, here are my personal bandwagon favorites of the past several years:
Honorable Mention: Kuroko’s Basketball
-I’ve been a fan of this series for longer than I’ve been a fan of the Rockets (since the offseason where the snagged Linsanity and James Harden’s Beard). It got so much hate on the mangahelpers forums right around the time shonenbeam started up. I wasn’t actually following it at the time, but my friend Jean was, and we had conversations about how glad he was that it was getting 100k tankobon sales in spite of the naysayers. Now, it’s getting 250k first-week sales, it’s an anime juggernaut, and the one guy pooping in the punch bowl just got snagged. Good times.
5. Tiger and Bunny
-This didn’t really get an excessive amount of hate, but it was made by Sunrise’s 4th string and it did put up sales numbers for the first volume so high it actually went out of stock on amazon and they had to press another 10,000 or so copies. Has to be included for sheer unexpected ass-kicking at the marketplace, plus being the actual best show to come out that year. I’d say it’s probably like a 60+20+0=80 pointer. K-on (which I believe is the best ever performance by a female director and has a sizable female fanbase) would benefit from a similar line of logic, except I don’t know how I feel about that show yet.
-I don’t like 4chan a whole lot, and their reactions to the initial announcement combined with Free’s still-maybe-better-than-Clannad sales made the Summer a fun one in every sense of the word. Oh yeah, and Hiroko Utsumi being ultra-clutch helped a bit. Lots of hate, lots of success, and unexpected greatness of presentation.
3. Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere
-So, so many people took one look at this series’ character designs, instantly said no, and missed out on the best battle series this side of Hunter x Hunter and JJBA with a fun, charming cast and a free-flowing first episode chase scene. Meanwhile, fans in Japan bought twice as many copies of this as they did of Ha Ga Nai, which was adapted from Light Novels more than twice as popular.
2. Tatami Galaxy
-The number of people who dismiss Kaiba as nothing more than pretentious, postmodern crap have a harder time swallowing Masaki Yuasa breaking more than even on sales while making the first TV series to win the JMAF animation grand prize.
1. Arpeggio of Blue Steel
-Some people really hate Kishi Seiji. Me? He’s my favorite director. To me, there is absolutely nothing that beats the experience of watching half the blogosphere explode against it while the other half and the fans in Japan took a wait-and-see approach. Long story short, they saw, and Arpeggio is (at least for now) a 10k average sales show. Bonus points put it above Free for two reasons. One, Kishi Seiji takes no prisoners. Two, I personally predicted that this show could be the game changer Hiroaki Matsuura was talking about earlier this year. That prediction’s still technically up in the air, but now the technology, while still a work in progress, has passed the market test. I feel pretty good about my odds of being able to talk about the first year of anime to include 10 full CG works in a retrospective post. And three, Gonzo literally sold off the 3D guys who eventually made this show a couple years back, which is the lastest addition to the tragicomic story of that bankruptcy mess. They’re not even the first band of castoffs from that studio to wreak commercial and artistic havoc lately. That was already one of the most complex “what ifs” in recent anime history before any of this happened. It’s hard to find a post-cel paint show that’s more meta-interesting.
*Incidentally, usage of this particular phrase in an unironic context is one of the easiest ways to tell between someone who’s been following anime at least since the Fractale debacle and someone who just watched anime this year.