Top 5 + Guest: Most Overrated Anime

There are a lot of really great anime out there.  There are a lot of really bad series, too.  And then there’s that subset of anime that are held...
Edward Elric
art by 谦子 | reprinted w/permission (Pixiv Illust: 52900335

There are a lot of really great anime out there.  There are a lot of really bad series, too.  And then there’s that subset of anime that are held in high esteem, but don’t deserve all the praise or popularity that they receive.  For our Top 5 + Guest post this month, we’re tackling those series that get a lot of love, but maybe deserve to get a little more hate.

Joining us today is Tommy of Anime Bowl.  A long-time aniblogger, Tommy’s unique site combines his passions of anime and sports.  He’s recently started a Toonami podcast and has just finished up his annual March Madness character tournament (I was defending champion in the pick ’em, but came in dead last this year).

And as always, tell us below how we messed up and what shows would make your list!

Tommy’s Picks

  1. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  2. Attack on Titan
  3. Sword Art Online (I)
  4. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
  5. Durarara!!

All my picks are incredibly popular shows which have appeared on Toonami/Adult Swim recently; shows that are household names amongst otaku, yet ultimately missing something that causes them to fall into mediocrity. The top choice is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which failed to live up to the reputation of its predecessor due to a reliance on deus ex machina – which will be a recurring theme amongst my choices. Over and over again, Edward Elric, who was a very well-developed character in the first series, ends up in Brotherhood somehow always magically making the right choice no matter what, making him as close to a Gary Stu as you can get. And while I love how Brotherhood ends – I rank its final episode second only to Cowboy Bebop’s “The Real Folk Blues” – the major conflict is resolved by a dose of deus ex machina reminiscent of Frozen (just “love,” Elsa!). Next are Attack on Titan and Sword Art Online, which are two peas in a pod. Both suffer from a never-wrong shonen lead (like Edward Elric, to an extent), and both never live up to the over-the-top hype they received upon airing. Both make heavy uses of deus ex machina – in particular SAO. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a tough one to criticize; it’s got lots to like, and it has some really strong characters. However, if your bar is set at “Evangelion,” anything short of “masterpiece” is to fall short. (Plus my heart was ripped out in the finale. NIA!!!) Finally, Durarara!! doesn’t really fit anywhere amongst these, but I can’t figure out why everyone else loves this one. I watch it asking, “am I just watching people chat in chatrooms? How is this entertaining?” So while I do enjoy all these series, they ultimately fall short of the hype. Except Durarara!! – I can’t enjoy that.

Japesland’s Picks

  1. Sword Art Online (I)
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  3. Attack on Titan
  4. Code Geass
  5. Ninja Scroll
kirito x asuna

Happily ever after.

Yep, I completely copied Tommy’s first three entries. Copy and paste his reasons and you pretty much get my reasons as well, though I particularly dislike SAO (hence my reasoning for placing it as position 1). I used to also not feel as frustrated by FMA: Brotherhood until Sean, our dear podcast’s co-host, enlightened me with a fairly comprehensive and systematic reasoning as to why it falls short. Talk to him if you’d like to hear his rather convincing case (it convinced me!). Code Geass is simply a show I never got, and I felt it exploited too many tropes for its legitimate buildup to payoff. Ninja Scroll is just Ninja Scroll. I suppose I understand why it gained popularity given its time, but, man, is it a screwed up movie.

Kaze’s Picks

  1. Attack on Titan
  2. Code Geass R2
  3. Death Note
  4. Sword Art Online (I)
  5. Cowboy Bebop

Attack on Titan reeks of horrible writing ripping off of Muv Luv Alternative plus the above. Even the animation is incredibly overrated, since it was actually in developmental hell the entire time and while it did blow its budget on a few great scenes, was overall an animating disaster. Code Geass’ first season wasn’t that bad but R2 was so terrible yet popular that you can pretty much trace everything wrong with the current state of mecha anime back to it. Death Note had pretty much the same problem as Code Geass; a passable first half and an atrocious second half yet somehow gets hailed by many as the pinnacle of intelligence. SAO has been falling in popularity lately, so I’m not sure how accurate this assessment is, but basically the above reasons. Cowboy Bebop is a strange one because I actually like it quite a bit. But the number of people who say it’s the best anime ever while I find it clearly is not makes it a good example of just because something is overrated doesn’t mean it’s bad!

stardf29’s Picks

  1. Sword Art Online (I) (6.2)
  2. The Flowers of Evil (7.4)
  3. Watamote (7.9)
  4. Attack on Titan (8.0)
  5. Kill la Kill (8.1)

I’m not a big fan of the term “overrated”, because it carries with it the connotation that it’s not okay to like certain shows that happen to be really popular or critically acclaimed, and I think people should be allowed to like what they like. Nevertheless, here are five shows that have either been really popular or have gotten critical acclaim that I just do not quite feel the same for. I have included my personal scores (out of 10) for them, so you can see that I actually like #2-5 a fair amount, just not as much as others do. As for why, #1 suffered from all sorts of writing problems, #5 was fun but nothing particularly notable, and as for #2-4, the same “problem” affects those three: overwhelming negativity. For better or for worse, I prefer to watch shows that are optimistic or at least hopeful in tone even when dealing with bad events and tragedies. They’re all good enough for what they are but I find them really hard to sit through at times. I’m just not into the whole “true art is angsty” philosophy.

TWWK’s Picks

  1. Angel Beats!
  2. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
  3. Ponyo
  4. 5 cm per Second
  5. Clannad After Story
Angel Beats Yuri

Otonashi, Yurippe and Kanade return

Oh, Angel Beats.  I had so much love for the first half of the series, and I enjoyed the conclusion, but the middle portion of the show was so, so bad.  There’s such a universal love for the show, even with it’s imperfections, with the general consensus seeming to be, “It just needed more episodes.”  But it didn’t – it just needed better writing.  TTGL is also another highly esteemed series, but one that I found very, very boring.  Bad fight scenes.  Too much style, and too little substance – “fake substance,” I would call it, abounds throughout.  Ponyo felt like Miyazaki on autopilot (retreading storylines and characters). 5 cm per Second was vague and disconnected.  And my last series – which, by the way, I rank pretty highly – I think gets such a high score based based on its awesome last half.  But are we forgetting the first half of After Story, which is really, really boring?

art by 谦子 | reprinted w/permission (Pixiv Illust: 52900335

33 Comments on this post.

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  • Crazy Packers Fan
    10 April 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Wow, we seemed to all be on the same wavelength here. I was afraid I’d be an outlier, but most of my choices were echoed by the rest of you.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 April 2015 at 3:17 pm
  • El Goopo
    10 April 2015 at 4:23 pm

    >which failed to live up to the reputation of its predecessor due to a reliance on deus ex machina

    I’d say the original series is WAY more overrated than Brotherhood. People view it through such amazingly thick rose-colored glasses that they don’t even see that it has far more writing flaws and major script issues compared to Brotherhood. It’s just shy of being a trainwreck by the end, even if we all still love it.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 April 2015 at 3:17 pm

      I wonder if that esteem has held up over time? Hasn’t it dulled since Brotherhood aired?

      Leave a Reply
  • Annalyn
    10 April 2015 at 7:31 pm

    The deus ex machina aspect (and the always/often right protagonist aspect) hasn’t bothered me too much… yet. I seem to get more critical with each passing year. I had other problems with SAO. Unfortunately, many people love it. So when a new friend and I compare notes about anime, and they excitedly say, “Have you seen Sword Art Online?” my stomach drops. I scramble for a tactful way to say, “ughhh.” Maybe next time I’ll just say, “Yes. What did you like about it?”

    On Durarara!!—it took me two tries to get into that one, and even then I really had to push through the first six episodes. After that, there was enough fun action to go around, and I almost forgot my former boredom.

    I do not want to hear a convincing case against FMA: Brotherhood, and I refuse to listen to one until I’ve seen it all the way through again—not because I’m a huge fan, but because I want to think through it myself, and to enjoy it at least a little longer.

    Frank, thank you for these words: “I’m not a big fan of the term “overrated”, because it carries with it the connotation that it’s not okay to like certain shows that happen to be really popular or critically acclaimed, and I think people should be allowed to like what they like.” Sometimes, I feel like I have to include a disclaimer when I say I enjoy Attack on Titan, Death Note, or any of a number of shows, as if my taste is on trial (or as if I’m preparing to judge someone else’s taste). I’m trying to resist that reflexive disclaimer, so your section was encouraging to read.

    I finally watched 5 cm per Second last semester. I watched it the way I read short stories for class: looking for symbols instead of for fun or a satisfying story. I had a hard time keeping track of who was who, even at the end, which made it worse. 😛 But the symbols were fun!

    Some of you can guess what I’d add to these lists… Free!. Okay, that one’s not as overrated, but it’s definitely more popular than it deserves to be. Even if you aren’t a sports anime fan, and you just rate it as a club anime, the blatant disregard for good sportsmanship should get to you. And then there’s the over-dramatic… I’ll stop now. Let the fangirls admire their bishies; I’ll be over here watching real sports anime. (Not that I have anything against bishounen, but the melodrama and lack of respect for their sport obscures these boys’ charm.) (Yeah, yeah, watch Season 2, etc., I know, I’ll get to it eventually, but my statement about the first season stands.) (Oops, sorry, I said I’d stop.)

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 April 2015 at 3:16 pm

      WATCH SEASON 2! Haha. 😛

      The first season of Free is utterly forgettable. The second season isn’t world-shaking, but it’s very good – it’s both better written and more emotionally driven.

      Leave a Reply
  • medievalotaku
    10 April 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Wait! Do people actually like Ponyo? Well, it seems to be rated four stars on Anime Planet. That had to be the most miserably boring of Miyazaki’s works. I’d almost rather have watched paint dry.

    Leave a Reply
    • Annalyn
      11 April 2015 at 1:19 am

      I like Ponyo! I don’t love it, and I haven’t rewatched it in a while, but I found it rather enjoyable. I’m still rather inexperienced when it comes to Miyazaki films, though—perhaps too inexperienced to be disappointed. And when the movie is a gift from my non-anime-fan family (and they actually watch it with me!), it’s twice as good. Sentiment aside, I’m pretty easily bored (I thought Princess Mononoke was boring the first time I tried it… I’ve matured since then). And Ponyo was not boring, especially not compared to paint.

      Leave a Reply
      • medievalotaku
        12 April 2015 at 9:26 pm

        Well, I place Ponyo at the bottom of the list of Miyazaki films. It can’t really compare favorably against anything else he’s done. But, I suspect that our preferences in anime are very different. Princess Mononoke sucked me into its plot, but part of the reason for that has to be because I love stories set in feudal Japan. However, some scenes of that masterpiece are rather dull. 🙂

        Leave a Reply
        • TWWK
          13 April 2015 at 3:04 pm

          I found NOTHING dull about Princess Mononoke. 😛

          Leave a Reply
          • medievalotaku
            13 April 2015 at 8:27 pm

            I must admit that I was thinking of the last time I watched it, which must have been the fourth viewing at least. The first time, I was not bored in the least!

      • TWWK
        13 April 2015 at 3:11 pm

        If I watched Ponyo before watching Spirited Away and Howl’s, as it feels very derivative of those works, I’m almost sure I would have enjoyed it much more.

        Leave a Reply
    • Samuru
      11 April 2015 at 11:24 am

      YES! That movie was terribly boring….beautiful animation, but wow, I think it was his worst work as of yet….

      LOL, watch paint dry….I think it was a little more entertaining…:)

      Leave a Reply
      • medievalotaku
        12 April 2015 at 9:27 pm
    • stardf29
      13 April 2015 at 6:17 am

      I actually liked Ponyo, though I guess moreso for the aesthetics and atmosphere than for the story. It’s not my favorite Ghibli movie by any means, but it was enjoyable enough.

      Leave a Reply
      • TWWK
        13 April 2015 at 3:04 pm

        The animation was BEAUTIFUL. That makes it worth watching alone.

        Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 April 2015 at 3:14 pm

      To me, the problem with Ponyo was that it’s like Miyazaki gave 90% of his effort toward animation and only 10% toward story. Too much of it feels like a rehash of his previous films, jumbling like characters, themes, and storylines in a way that doesn’t gel well. It was a mess. A beautiful mess, but still, a mess.

      Leave a Reply
    • Cytrus
      14 April 2015 at 3:20 am

      I had to make two attempts at watching Ponyo. The first time I lost interest at the five minute mark -_-..

      Leave a Reply
      • TWWK
        29 April 2015 at 12:31 pm

        Honestly…I don’t know if I can say, especially as a Miyazaki apologist…Earthsea ≥ Ponyo.

        Leave a Reply
  • Kaze
    11 April 2015 at 12:26 am

    TTGL is definitely up there, but a lot of the hype is purely Western. Of course, the same could be said about my choice of Cowboy Bebop, but that’s part of why it’s #5. In contrast, something like Code Geass or Attack on Titan is highly rated across cultures, but I guess I’m being too technical here with somewhat meaningless data.

    The Angel Beats consensus of needing more episodes comes from the fact the creators themselves said this. The show was originally planned for 2 cour, and the script was written as such. Then production issues hit and they were forced to halve the content (being forced to rewrite the script in half its intended length does result in bad writing – in fact, your complaint of the middle makes a lot of sense if you consider the intro and ending had to be maintained to some degree and the middle is where all the cutting happened). You can still say what you want of the writing, but the opinions do have a reasonable basis beyond just being fans.

    5 cm/s is a funny one. As you know, I’m a huge fan of the movie (and Shinkai in general), but I actually disagree with the majority of fans on why it’s good. I often find myself in weird positions where I criticize all the praise and agree with all the complaints because I have such a different interpretation of it despite loving it so much.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 April 2015 at 3:13 pm

      To me, 5 cm/s is one of those series that I can’t denounce with any pride of sense of “obviously I’m right here.” I could just as well see why you or someone else considers it a masterpiece…I just think y’all are a little wrong, haha.

      Leave a Reply
  • nlnrose
    12 April 2015 at 12:25 am

    i completely agree with sword art online first season! I was a huge fan of episodes 1-14 it was the first time I’d ever heard of something like it and it blew me away (it was the 3rd or 4th anime i’d ever watched) I loved it and then 15-24 gave me one of the worst back half’s in all of anime. espesciall the bondage scene in the final episode. I’d also have to say that Code Geass for all its hype has been tough for me to get into mostly because i hate the protagonist. Lelouch is a hard guy to root for i always find myself rooting for suzaku.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 April 2015 at 3:08 pm

      Code Geass could be one of the most enjoyable anime of all time…but I think it gets too sucked into trying to be cool and shocking that it misses opportunities to become something really amazing.

      Leave a Reply
  • nlnrose
    12 April 2015 at 8:12 pm

    If i were to add a few more of my own suggestions princess mononoke, and spirited away. they are often hailed as the greatest of miyazaki’s works, but honestly mononoke put me to sleep and spirited away was good, but not nearly as good as i’d been led to believe.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 April 2015 at 3:05 pm

      This is exactly why we’ve started this series of posts – I love that it’s so opinion-based (and sometimes contrarian) that we’ll sometimes get very opposite or opposing views. Those two movies are actually among my very small handful of 10’s I’ve given anime series/films, but there’s plenty of room for disagreement.

      Leave a Reply
  • Sam
    13 April 2015 at 9:54 am

    Ha ha, despite me loving SAO, I will agree that it was a bit overrated, at least the first season. To me, it seems like a good starting anime (every one of my friends, each coming from different backgrounds) loved SAO when I introduced them to it, and they started watching more anime. It has it’s flaws, but I think it’s a show that got to about 75-80% of the potential it had. More episodes and more character development would have helped the series a lot, although I tend to look at the first arc as kind of a “Cliff’s Notes” of Kirito’s experiences in Aincrad; the viewer just got to see the more important parts of his experience. But I do think that the show learned from it’s mistakes by the second season, and I’m eagerly awaiting season 3! 🙂

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      13 April 2015 at 3:03 pm

      You know, I really like your approach to the series – I think you’re right on the money with your summary of the first season and with how you saw it as a beginner anime. Maybe if we all thought of it in those terms, we would have more realistic expectations from the show.

      Leave a Reply
  • Luminas
    21 April 2015 at 10:34 am

    I think there’s a divide between people who saw the first Alchemist series and then saw Brotherhood, and people who only saw Brotherhood. Because, well…I never saw Edward Elric as being “always right.” o_o Possibly this is just because he’s portrayed as a loudmouthed moron throughout, and possibly it’s because Kirito from SAO is worse in practically every respect. XD It seems like a “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” thing with shonen protagonists and competency….

    It also may be because Ed acts as a balancer to the other characters around him, and in fact the focus isn’t squarely on him in Brotherhood. Hohenheim and Roy Mustang get almost as much attention as he does, and Roy is wonderful. :} <3

    The character that I had the biggest problems with was actually his mechanic girlfriend, who is portrayed with a lack of depth compared to the other female characters in the show. It's a weird case of a character falling into standard tropes in a series where most of the other women are fleshed out.

    I basically agree on Ponyo and Sword Art Online. As a fan of Miyazaki's work, Ponyo is tolerable but squarely made for its audience (Little kids). Sword Art Online does some brilliant world-building but has intolerably terrible characters. As for Code Geass, I agree that R2 was really bad. XD Its ending tends to make up for this in the eyes of its fans, though. :}

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      29 April 2015 at 12:26 pm

      Oh, Winry. Such a cool character design and a character that I think we immediately want to root for…but even in my incomplete viewing of the series, I see how underdeveloped she is compared to troves of other characters in the show.

      Leave a Reply
  • Luminas
    21 April 2015 at 10:35 am

    Partially this is because what the ending mythologically depicts is cathartic to many, implying a higher purpose behind the problem of evil.

    Leave a Reply
  • Kae-Leah
    20 February 2016 at 9:13 pm

    I’m mostly into shoujo manga and anime, and I think the most overrated shoujo title is Fruits Basket. I like it well enough, but I never loved it as much other people for some reason…

    Leave a Reply
    • Japesland
      21 February 2016 at 8:04 am

      I think I remember feeling more or less the same way after I watched it, though it’s been a number of years, to be fair 😛

      Leave a Reply
  • Tia
    29 April 2016 at 7:16 pm

    Really?! I mean really?! We a Gary stu?! Always being right?! LOL,that sounds like just some lame excuse you’ve given in order to make the 1st anime look ‘good’. All the ‘flaws’ you mentioned about FMA Brotherhood are nonexistent. At least,try to come up with more acceptable excuses…no offense but this annoyed the hell out of me.

    The overrated anime in my view are Avatar the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra. Do they count?

    Leave a Reply
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