Monday, October 29, 2012

Highest Points EVAR!

This entry lists what are, in my opinion, the highest points of any fictional canon or franchise:

Disney Animated Canon: The Disney Renaissance - From 1989 to 1999, this was post-Walt Disney at their Disneyist. All movies produced during these times had a mass amount of heart and quality put into them, even the one that wasn't all that good ("Pocahontas". Yes, I liked "Hercules." Is that wrong?) Disney has had their hits and misses over the years, but they haven't ever had a decade of consistent hits like this again. Perhaps they never will...

Winnie The Pooh: "Pooh's Grand Adventure" - People say "The Tigger Movie" was the height of Pooh's career. I disagree. This overlooked animated gem was a DTV that focused not just on Tigger, but on the rest of the great "Pooh" cast of characters (minus Kanga and Roo, but oh well. I didn't miss them.) Particularly Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Rabbit, who all must confront their greatest flaws and learn lessons about their greatest strengths on the journey, and Christopher Robin, whom they're trying to find. Owl and Eeyore get smaller but still very notable parts as well. Though still whimsical and fun at man points, this is probably the closest a Pooh film will ever get to feeling "dark" and almost "epic", even going full on deconstructive narrative with the lore of Pooh and friends, dealing with themes of loss of innocence and growing up, giving mild character studies that go into the cast's psychology, and even includes a point where Pooh's friends believe Pooh has died! And through brilliant storytelling, it ends up with a payoff that in any other story might feel like a cheat, but here it This movie spins off from the end of "The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh", (with the talk of "doing nothing") and uses a plot device that would later be re-used in "Winnie The Pooh" (Christopher Robin goes to school and leaves a note that Owl misinterprets). But the way this one closes out really feels like the grand closure to Disney's Pooh, even if it's not the end of the franchise. Oh, and "Wherever You Are" is pure emotional awesomeness in a song. It's just all around great.

The Lord Of The Rings: "The Return Of The King" - I'm speaking of the motion picture trilogy here, not the book(s), which was one big high point of Tolkien's career in of itself. It doesn't work as well as a polished and paced movie like "Fellowship" does, but it's better than "Two Towers." But more than those two, this one is epic. This one is a spectacle: an experience. This is what we've been building towards this whole time. This one goes on for so long and, aside from the Ending Fatigue, the payoff is more than worth it. Just...look at all the awards this movie has won. And clearly it deserves them. When you watch, it absorbs you in. It's an epic, thrilling, emotional, and thoroughly compelling ride.

Star Wars: "A New Hope" - I've already said in my "First Installment Wins" entry that I consider this to be better than it's follow up "The Empire Strikes Back", even though that one is technically the superior film. This one started the entire phenomenon, and it's simple beginnings is something that nothing in the rest of the franchise can ever match or live up to for me. With the finest story and characters, it's the "Star Wars" that many love best.

Kingdom Hearts: Hollow Bastion (KH1) - Like "Star Wars", the first game in general can never be matched by anything else the franchise gives us, even when three later installments were also very enjoyable. The highest point in the game, and thus in the whole series, would be the first visit to Hollow Bastion, the lair of the games' group of Disney Villains, where the story reaches it's climax and we get several great moments and payoffs to the saga that had been developing through the whole game. Twists, turns, and truths are thrown at us, we get an awesome party member, we get our long awaited duel with the treacherous Riku, face down the main villain herself in order to stop her terrible plans, meet the mastermind behind the Heartless and the whole plot, and set the princesses of heart free at last. And there's also a moment where Sora stabs himself with a keyblade and becomes a Heartless but then gets restored, which ends up being a blessing and a curse to the storyline afterwards. All in all, this defined "climactic" and can not be topped in any other game.

Harry Potter: "The Order Of The Phoenix" AND "The Deathly Hallows Part 2" - Yes, I'm putting both the dead middle and the grand finale of the saga here, and it won't be the only time. OotP (Year 5) in it's entirety was the deepest, darkest, most mature and epic book in the series to that point, with the most shit going down in it, and an extraordinary climax. It was not topped until the latter half of the final book, which was adapted into the last movie in the franchise, "Deathly Hallows Part 2." There we got the incredible battle of Hogwarts, the death of Severus Snape, many revelations and emotional moments, the surprising sacrifice of Harry himself, one last talk with (the deceased) Dumbledore, and then the final battle of good and evil in the series: the Hogwarts army against the Death Eaters, and the big Harry vs Voldemort confrontation. There was never a dull moment here.

Pokemon: Generations 1 and 2 - I covered why Generation 1 was the best ever in "First Installment Wins", but Generation 2 has to be mentioned here as well since it was when the phenomenon reached it's pinnacle. It featured the west region of the same continent, and the last bunch of consistently creative pokemon. "Gold, Silver, and Crystal" were technically even better games than the last ones, the manga gave us an excellent story arc that completed the original saga, and the card game, while losing steam, was still good and eventually ended in a commemorative set. The one weak spot here was the anime, which Jumped the Shark beyond return in Johto. But even that gave us some gems, such as the occasional memorable episodes, Takeshi Shudo's best "Pokemon" movie of the bunch ("Spell of the Unown"), and also his conclusion to the Mewtwo saga of "Indigo League" in the form of the TV special "Mewtwo Returns." The franchise has not reached the heights of these two generations ever since. It's finally come closest with the current Generation 5, but it's not quite as good because the card game still sucks, and the anime and manga seem to have curiously switched places: the anime is currently the best it's been since Geneartion 1 while the manga has stepped down from it's quality in Generation 4! The hell? All the same, it's still the best the franchise has been since Generation 2, and ought to be the end IMHO.

Avatar: Book 2: Earth, AND "Sozin's Comet" - The other time where I put the middle and grand finale that I was talking about. The second season was easily the overall best season of the whole show. It gave us the archvillain Princess Azula, a Zuko and Iroh B-plot, introduction of new characters, further development of old ones...and Toph, of course. It got even better once the 'learning Earthbending' arc of the first half was done and we moved on to the Ba Sing Se arc of the second half. It very quickly became the most gripping, fascinating, and well done part of the whole show, particularly by the finale where all plot threads of the season came together, Azula dominated the entire story, and Zuko made a decision that shocked the entire world. This was only topped by the series finale in the following season, the four-part "Sozin's Comet." Aside from the occasional padding, a Deus Ex Machina towards the finale's climax, and the overdramatic asking of a question that goes unanswered, everything in this finale was nothing short of nigh perfection. The story and tone was truly epic and it all delivered, particularly the long awaited Zuko vs Azula and Aang vs Fire Lord Ozai battles. It was a spectacular, unforgettable end to a spectacular, unforgettable cartoon.

Batman: The Dennis O'Neil Era - As a franchise, Batman has had several ups and downs over the years. But as far as the comics go, Batman was at it's best during the Dennis O'Neil years. From the moment he became the main editor of the comics to the finale of "No Man's Land", this era was filled with great stories, characterization, villains, and writing that knew how to "get" Batman.

Dragon Ball: The Cell Saga - Akira Toriyama is a master of making shit up as he goes along and actually weaving that together well in order to make the story work. From the moment Demon King Piccolo was brought in, Toriyama was on a roll and in a phase where he continuously topped himself. The Freeza Saga was a grand story that was the pinnacle of Goku's series-long character arc and would have been the high point if not for two things: the setting and the length. Namek got really boring after awhile, and that combined with the length that seemed to "drag on", gave several people Arc Fatigue. Toriyama planned to end the series after this arc, but Executive Meddling (yet again!) made him keep going. So he turned these lemons into delicious lemonade by making the Cell Saga, which turned out to be the best story of the series. From the moment Trunks arrived on the scene to free the readers' from taking any more of Freeza's bullshit and then told Goku a startling truth, the story just kept on escalating from there. It got more and more epic, eventually introducing Cell, the series' finest villain who really raised the stakes. I could go on about how well done this saga was and all it did right, but I won't. All I'll say is that you know that this is when the series reached it's peak when the final saga that followed it, the Buu saga, felt like a serious step down in several ways, especially in how it's story progresses and concludes. Cell and his saga, however, were...perfect!

The Legend Of Zelda: "Ocarina of Time" - You all should know this game's reputation. I don't think
I should even touch this one any further. It can't be topped. Ever. And it was some time after this one that the screwy timeline of the series' installments was introduced, which is why the franchise Jumped the Shark. Funny that.

Super Mario: "Super Mario 64" - Mario's first outing in 3D. While he'd have many successful 3D games afterwards, unlike Sonic, this is still where his video game career peaked. Yeah, I know "Super Mario Galaxy" is better rated and a technically better game, but...let's face it: it's "Super Mario 64" IN SPACE! So even if we were to call it the franchise's high point, it still owes everything to this!

Spider-Man: The Lee-Ditko & Lee-Romita Eras - From the origin of Spidey to the death of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man's comic book runs were never as fun and engaging, only coming close during Roger Stern's time as main writer. These are eras that the Raimi trilogy and the short lived "The Spectacular Spider-Man" show were trying to emulate, and it shows.

Spongebob Squarepants: Season 3 and The Movie - This cartoon just got better and better until the third season and the theatrical film that followed it. And then it Jumped The Shark save for the Lost Season episodes. Clearly, these heights were never reached again.

Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Duelist Kingdom arc - This series really came into it's own at the Death T arc and continued it's greatness in the Monster World arc. But this arc that followed them topped  them both. It made great use of the series' most popular game (the "Duel Monsters" card game) by having a very unique card tournament at a unique location with unique rules and a host of quirky characters, with the overarching plot revolving around Yugi and his other self locked in a battle against the creator of the game himself, the eccentric and twisted Maximillion Pegasus. Everything just "clicked" in this storyline. It felt grander than any story that had been told before. It gave us really great moments of character development and heroism for Yugi and Joey, really started Yami Yugi's development into a better person, featured Seto Kaiba returning as a badass anti-hero, gave us the strong willed, sexy Mai Kujaku, and had great villains in Pegasus and Bandit Keith. We even got surprise return appearances from the evil Bakura as well! The arc was paced perfectly through eight volumes, with the final one being rightfully dedicated to the final duel between Yugi and Pegasus, and the incredible conclusion that followed it. Seeing as after this we got the stretched out Battle City arc, which also ran the card game into the ground, and the rather rushed Memory World arc (And also this being the only consistently good arc of the anime), it's clear that this was the series' height.

Digimon: 1998-2001 - From "Digimon Adventure" to "Digimon Tamers". The franchise lost a whole lot of it's magic afterwards. Levels stopped mattering, too many needless new Digimon were created, and the series' were lacking in quality. It only came close to reaching good heights again when "Xros Wars" became a merchandising success, but even then it wasn't the same.

Sonic The Hedgehog: Sonic CD (games), Issues 25-50 (comics) - For the games, "Sonic CD" is easily the best. It followed the original trilogy of games and embodied everything that was way cool and fun about Sonic at the time. For the Archie comics' series, it was at it's best during the original "Robotnik saga", particularly it's latter half after Issue 25, which was coincidentally enough, a story based on "Sonic CD". The next 25 issues and all specials and mini series that tied into them were when the comics were strongest, with a nice blend of wacky humor and increasingly serious plot, culminating in the epic "End Game". From both these points, Sonic could only run downward.

Gargoyles: Season 2 Part 1- After an already classic first season, Greg Weisman and his staff topped themselves with the first half of the second season, which expanded more plot lines, introduced and developed more characters, built the show's world more, and just told great stories. Everything from the season premiere to the "Avalon" arc was glorious and when the series was going strongest. The "world tour" and everything that followed was interesting, but a bit fatiguing and just not quite as good. And then the series ended with a non-existent third season. "Gargoyles" is a great show overall, but it never got better than it was here, 'cause it most shows the essence of it.

Final Fantasy: "Final Fantasy VII" - DUH. Need I even elaborate on this one? It's the same deal as "Zelda 64". It just can't be topped. Ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever!

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Episodes 7-15 - From the tech support themed episode 7 to the romantic episode 15, this was when this anime was most balanced. It wasn't slow, oddly paced build-up like the first 6 episodes, nor was it a Mind Screw like the following 11 episodes. It was just the right level of humor, characterization, plot building, psychology, and ass-kicking action. The only other point in the show to reach such quality would be the excellent episode 24 (I don't care what JesuOtaku says, it was very well done!) In the whole anime, these episodes had the most to offer.

Care Bears: The Movie AND "The Care Bear Family" - Yes, I put the best movie and the best show that the franchise has had right here. To me, there's really no mistaking it.

Yu Yu Hakusho: The Chapter Black Saga - While my favorite saga is The Spirit Detective Saga,
I think the series was at it's highest point in the climactic Chapter Black saga. It was this series' equivalent to the Cell Saga of DBZ, and it was also totally epic. It had the best story, the best fights, the best moral and psychological conflicts, and the best main villain in Shinobu Sensui. It's downside would be how the saga, and the series, quite literally went to Hell after Yusuke's dramatic second death and the tunnel to Demon World opened, but even after that, there were some great moments
to be found, and the anime managed to give it a satisfying conclusion and sense of closure to all characters uniquely involved in the story. Put the series finale after this arc, and it's simply perfect.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract - In both the comics and the animated TV series, the Terra story arc was the pinnacle of the series. Both versions had their strengths and weaknesses, but both were really great experiences that the other Titans stories could never quite live up to.

Death Note: "The Last Name" - Specifically, the storyline events that were adapted into the second live action movie, "The Last Name." Everything from L introducing himself to Light to L's death. The quality of the series took a hard left turn afterwards, with inferior L replacements, incomprehensibly convoluted gambits, a dumb and unpleasant storyline, characters getting total shafts (Souichiro Yagami especially!), and padded out arcs that dragged on and on. Only the series' resolution was satisfying. This is the big reason I'm thankful that "The Last Name" adapted the highest point and then ended the story in a manner similar to how it ended in the series anyway, only with L doing the job he should've done to start with, and Souichiro living in the end. 'Cause clearly, little good came from stretching the series past this point.

Looney Tunes: The Chuck Jones era - Does this one even need to be talked about?

The Slayers: "NEXT" - I'm hardly alone in thinking of "NEXT" as the best season of the Slayers anime. This one had the most memorable and entertaining episodes, the best storylines, the strongest characterization, introduced Xellos Metallium, and featured Martina too. The finale featured a climactic showdown against Hellmaster Phibrizzo beneath Sairag City, which was not only where the anime peaked, but where the light novels it was adapted from peaked as well. The Slayers were never better after this in any book, anime, or manga they've ever been featured in since.

One Piece: The Alabasta arc - The climax and conclusion to the Baroques Works Saga. "One Piece" would have been better off having only one last saga and ending after this one, because there was no way this could ever be out-epicced. We had the best Straw Hat crew line-up (Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, Sanji, Chopper, and Vivi), an extraordinary and big desert location, a story with a truly epic scope, a nation at civil war with itself, the most sincere drama and peril, and the last stand of Baroques Works, particularly it's leader Crocodile, who plays an excellent main villain, the best the series ever had. This is where "One Piece" ends for me. The Viz US release of the manga graphic novels started adding subtitles and stopped calling it simply "One Piece" the volume after this arc was over. And the anime ended the arc with the theme song, making it a perfect cap off. This arc was the pinnacle of the grand series that "One Piece" used to be.

Haruhi Suzumiya: From "Melancholy" to "Disappearance" - In both the Light Novels (1 through 4), but even moreso in the anime (pretending that the second season doesn't exist, of course.)  The series kind of lost itself afterwards, focusing a bit too much on Yuki, Mikuru, and Itsuki at the expense of Haruhi freaking Suzumiya, and squandering the potential for ideas and stories that it had by not moving quick enough. After the recent two-parter that concluded the "Nega SOS Brigade" storyline, the series is as good as done with. The early days were clearly the best it ever got.

Sailor Moon: The First Series finale - Or heck, the entire first series! But the two-part finale deserves special mention because it's conclusion to the Dark Kingdom storyline trumps the original manga's conclusion by far. It had all five Sailor Soldiers going to the enemy's stronghold in the Arctic, then one by one Sailor Moon's four friends are killed off. For real. In gruesome, very final ways that involve self sacrifice. Sailor Moon actually gets sent into a Heroic BSOD before pressing forward. Then she has to deal with Queen Beryl herself, as well as her brainwashed lover Endymion. Then Endymion dies after he's come to his senses. And THEN Queen Metaria gives her consciousness to Beryl, so both main villains merge into one Final Boss. The final showdown between Princess Serena and Queen Beryltaria is absolute awesomeness and the whole thing concludes in a satisfactory way, with the villain vanquished and the dying princess' last wish serving as a magic reset button. This emotional roller coaster ride just could not be topped for the rest of the anime or franchise.

Naruto: The Chunin Exams/Kohona Invasion arc - A mediocre series to begin with, this is really the only time it was truly epic and badass. Great characters, great fights, great plot that kept on building and building to an action-packed climax, and it had Gaara as the villain!

Bleach: The Soul Society Saga - Does this even need an explanation? The first arc was good and all, but this is what it was building to. And this is the only good storyline that hack Tite Kubo ever wrote. It's biggest failing would be...well, think of how much better off we would be had they only finished Aizen off at the end of this story.

Code Geass: The Middle of R1 - From the battle at Narita to Suzaku getting knighted. The two-part season finale might count as well, but it happened in the wake of that dreadful Euphinator incident. This middle portion was where the story and characters were best handled and balanced.

Gurren Lagann: The Middle - The beginning was too camp. The end was too serious. And the series finale was downright terrible. The middle was just right.

G Gundam: The Gundam Fight Tournament - And I mean the actual tournament. This part of the series had the delicious villain team-up of Master Asia and Wong Yun Fat, the introduction and participation of Allenby, great moments of fight action and character development, and one hell of a payoff that resulted in the emotional deaths of Kyoji Kasshu, his clone, and Master Asia. Everything about this was engaging and FUN!

Inu-Yasha: The first season - When the story got started, the characters got introduced, and all basic ideas of the series were developed. Setting all this up was the fun part. It was the refusal to let them go anywhere that caused the series to decay afterwards.

Eureka 7: The last season - This was it, no question. The final story arc, the epic scope, the big action, the most emotional moments, Dewey Novak at his finest as the villain, and the most screentime and development for Dominic and Anemone in the whole series! This was a flawed anime overall, but this last part of the show was nothing short of amazing and beautiful!

Rurroni Kenshin: The Kyoto arc - The middle of the series and it's longest arc. The one with Makoto Shishio as the main villain. Everyone knows this.

Zatch Bell: The Milordo Z arc - This arc was this series' equivalent to the Kyoto arc, or the Odaibah arc of "Digimon Adventure". When fans claim that the Faudo arc was the best, I have to disagree. This was the best story arc in the series. It had the best plot centering around the revival of 1000 year old demons that were turned to stone in the previous Mamodo Battle and what's giving them their life and power. It had a true party of heroes uniting together under a common cause for the first time. It introduced the excellent character of Dr. Riddles, and the story behind him and his mamodo Kido. It had a great pace, a solid structure, an interesting setting, memorable moments of action and genuine emotion, THE best villains in the whole series, and the anti-hero team of Sherry Belmont and Brago reaching the conclusion of their character arc. This story arc truly felt epic, more than any other story the series told before or after. It was great stuff and frankly, after it, I was fatigued of the series by the time the Faudo arc came around. Yeah, it was that good.

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga - This was easily the peak of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's storytelling, before they became hacks who totally ruined the X-Men comic series and franchise.

Buffy AND Angel: Seasons 2 and 3 - People can debate which show is better all they like, but
I think they follow the same pattern. The first season's good, the second and third seasons are excellent, the fourth season is where the show jumps the shark, and the fifth season is where the show ends and you're glad it does. So it's pretty clear what the high points of the Buffyverse were. And what's this about a sixth and seventh season of "Buffy?" The fifth season finale was the hundredth and final episode, remember? Such following seasons never happened!

Code Lyoko: Season 2 - The first season was solid entertainment, but the second season is where the worldbuilding, storytelling, and character development really took off. The only disappointment is that the payoffs to the elements that this season brought in either never happened or happened in the following two seasons instead of this one. But this was still "Code Lyoko"'s height all the same.

Reboot: Seasons 2 and 3 - The first season was an enjoyable episodic kids' show. Nothing more or less. The second season actually brought in really solid plots and stronger characterization. After AndrAIa joined the cast, the season started winding up and delivering wham moment after wham moment until the shocking cliffhanger of a finale that led us into the third season, where the show had become darker, edgier, more engaging and badass, and just downright gripping to watch. They tried to follow this season up with a TV movie trilogy, but that went nowhere since the third installment got scrapped. The greatness of Season 2 and Season 3 was not ever recaptured.

Phineas and Ferb: "Across The 2nd Dimension" - It's the big damn movie for this show, it had high quality animation compared to the actual show, had our titular character actually meeting Dr.Heinz Doofenshmirtz, finding out about their pet platypus' secret life as Agent P, and going on a huge adventure in a dystopian alternate reality ruled by a truly evil adventure that ends up having them fight to save their reality as well! It was exciting, wacky, and touching at all the right points. This sort of movie really makes me hope this show gets canned after it's next season so that it doesn't go the way of Spongebob!

W.I.T.C.H: The first 6 issues - The six issues that the series creators actually wrote for. Back when all the characters were interesting, the set-up was very engaging, and the story was well written beyond standard Shoujo fare. But then Disney had them removed, so the series we got wasn't the series we were supposed to get!

Scooby Doo: "Mystery Inc." Season 1 Part 2 and onwards - After a very solid opening episode, the "Mystery Inc." series started to show itself to be an incredible waste of potential. I mean aside from the occasional bright spots and flashes of it's promised greatness, the 9 episodes that followed the first one were pretty awful. But then in the second half of the first season, after enough clues were gathered to officially start an ongoing mystery, Professor Pericles had flown the coop, and that dumbass Shaggy/Velma/Scooby love triangle plot was aborted, things became to pick up and get good. And I mean REALLY good. The show was now abundant in quality that hasn't let up, from the shocking first season finale and on into the second season. I definitely think the series is now the high point of the "Scooby Doo" franchise. I am eagerly anticipating it's finale next year.

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