What is a masterpiece in Anime? Generally, in the Anime fandom, a masterpiece is something that is considered to be flawless in every aspect. It is something that is considered to be free of problems and essentially “perfect”.
A 10/10 must only go to a show with constant highs, that is tightly written and explores the “deepest” and most “complex” themes. A 5 star rating can only go to a show that is paced perfectly and has insanely developed characters. A perfect score should only be given if a show has perfect art and animation with no quality drops and the most amazing soundtrack ever composed.
But is that really what makes a show worthy of being deemed a masterpiece? Simply checking all of those boxes perfectly?
Honestly, I don’t think so.
Because if that were the case, no single show could ever be considered a masterpiece. No such Anime truly exists that is completely free of flaws. There are many shows that come close to being flawless, but nothing is perfect and nothing is flawless.
So what makes up a masterpiece if not perfection? I believe that a masterpiece in Anime is not a show which is free of flaws, but is instead, a show that does the “most good” with all of its presented elements. A 10/10 series is one that is filled with lots of “perfect” moments, as opposed to being “flawless” all the way through.
To give a more clear understanding of what I mean, allow me to explore two particular examples of Anime that I’ve personally given a 10/10 to.
Hunter x Hunter (2011)
Let’s start with my favourite Anime of all time, Hunter x Hunter. Now, I’m aware that a lot of people are in the same boat with me here, since there are a large number of Anime fans who, like myself, consider Hunter x Hunter to be a masterpiece.
But, despite the raving reviews and critical acclaim, I’ll be the first to admit that Hunter x Hunter is not completely devoid of flaws. The pacing of its first arc is fairly slow, the soundtrack starts off weak and repetitive (although it does improve immensely as time goes on), there are two recap episodes, the start of its longest arc is fairly slow and considered by many fans to be “pretty hard to get through” and said arc is filled with constant immersion breaking narration that often just feels silly and out of place.
And this is just scratching the surface of the many issues that Hunter x Hunter has. It is far from a perfect series and is riddled with the tiniest of flaws.
But why does it get a 10/10 if that’s the case? Well, for me, it’s because Hunter x Hunter has, in my opinion, the best cast of characters I’ve ever seen from an Anime series. Their relationships are realistically handled, they develop like real people and the friendships they form and interactions they have feel very real, especially between the two main characters Gon and Killua.
On top of that, the series has some of the most heart stopping and intense action scenes with outcomes that just can’t be predicted like most of your typical fighting Shounen series. Each move and trick used in battle is calculated to be as damaging and clever as possible, creating some really smart and well thought out battles filled with tension from start to finish.
There are a lot of moments that really make you feel things. Whether it be a scene which inspires you to achieve your dreams, or a scene that makes you bawl your eyes out like a baby, the series is packed with all of these emotional moments.
And don’t even get me started on the theme exploration. From what makes true friendship to the malice and cruelty of the entire human race, Hunter x Hunter explores such a wide variety of themes that it kind of hurts even trying to fully comprehend and understand all of the little messages it tries to deliver to its audience.
And on a more personal note, this series really resonated with me because of how it motivated me as a person. The series served as a great motivator for me to achieve what I wanted in life, with one particular line in the final episode hitting me close to home perfectly.
That all makes it worth a 10/10 to me. It’s character development is sometimes cheesy, the soundtrack is pretty “meh” at times, and there are quite a lot of pacing issues, not to mention an incomplete ending, yet, it’s a masterpiece because of all the good it does despite these minor flaws.
World Trigger is a show that I’m positive only I have ever given a 10/10 to. I honestly don’t think that anyone in the entire world who considers themselves to be an Anime fan has ever given World Trigger a perfect score, or has mentioned “World Trigger” and “masterpiece” in the same sentence.
Yet, here we are.
World Trigger is a deeply flawed show, and a far more extreme example of what I’m talking about. The pacing is absolutely abysmal, with a large amount of recap footage used throughout every episode. The series is incomplete and ends in the middle of a gigantic turning point in the storyline. The dialogue is pretty silly at times with characters saying some incredibly out of place things. There are a ridiculous number of characters and half of them are difficult to remember at all because they just don’t do an awful lot and just don’t develop. There’s a lot of silly comedy and slice of life moments that really have no place being in the show at all. And finally, the animation is not good at all and the soundtrack is sometimes completely non-existent. Heck, the animation is often just really off model, poorly animated and generally ugly.
But despite all these issues, I still consider World Trigger to be one of the best Anime I’ve ever seen, a masterpiece if you will, because it has so many redeeming qualities that make it worthy of that title.
While its side characters don’t get a lot of screentime or development, World Triggers main duo Osamu and Yuma are two of the most interesting, unique and brilliantly handled characters I’ve seen from Anime. Osamu is an incredibly weak and useless individual who has no talent what so ever, yet, he is determined to be an amazing person and constantly strives to find his place the hierarchy he is a part of. Osamu is striving towards being useful, and we get to see him take steps to reaching this goal gradually. There are no shortcuts, no sudden power-ups, no special heritage or no hidden talent. Osamu has to truly earn his successes, which is one of the most satisfying aspects of the show and one of the reasons I consider it to be a masterpiece. Then we have Yuma, who unlike Osamu is incredibly talented, is insanely powerful and outshines Osamu in every way, yet, he suffers his own weaknesses despite being so overpowered. He is heavily reliant on Osamu’s tactical prowess to make the best of his abilities and without them, is just a powerhouse with no real direction or strategy. This duo just work so well together as main characters, that I honestly find it hard to call it nothing but “masterfully handled”.
And that’s not even getting into the other aspects of the show. The intellectually thought-out and well choreographed action sequences that put even some of the ones from Hunter x Hunter to shame, the political drama within the main characters own organisation and the constantly tense atmosphere and emotionally engaging drama provided with the series’ main plot all make this show worthy of the grand title “masterpiece”.
Did I mention the Large Scale Invasion arc is incredible…? Well it’s amazing.
World Trigger is deeply flawed and it’s actively despised by the general consensus, yet I consider it to be one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.
To base what is and isn’t a masterpiece according to the rigid scoring systems put in place and made popular by websites such as MAL is extremely misguided. Just because a show ticks all the boxes flawlessly, that doesn’t mean it’s a masterpiece, in fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s fairly uninteresting.
A masterpiece should be defined by your own experience and by what the viewer personally finds value in. There is no list of requirements. There is no criteria. It’s the experience itself and what it means to each individual viewer.
At least that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after laying lazily on the couch for an entire Sunday afternoon.
What do you think defines a masterpiece in Anime?