I mentioned a few posts back that I was planning on doing a 2010 anime recap of sorts. Actually I wanted to do it before the new year starts, but the schedule of anime wasn’t really cooperative. I wanted to wait until I watched all the final episodes of all the anime I was still keeping up with, so I got late again. Why wait, you ask? Well, sometimes a good anime that has been consistently fun to watch during its run can suddenly turn sour at the very last episode, and at worst cases it can even diminish the overall impact of the anime. Normally these are brought about by untied loose threads and abrupt cliffhangers for sequels that probably won’t get produced until a few years later (I’m looking at you Kaiji).
Luckily the fall anime season wrapped up this week, and I finally watched the ends of all my shows. As always, things like this are only based on personal enjoyment and preference, but differing opinions are still welcome. In fact, I’d like to hear them.
Looking back on it now, the year 2010 has been a very memorable time for anime. There were a lot of very interesting titles released, although there have also been throwaway fluff sprinkled here and there. Not only that, there have also been events that had considerable impact on the fans and the industry as a whole. Some news that occurred this year were very saddening, and some infuriating. But it was good to see a measure of solidarity among the fans and the rest of anime-dom as a whole in reaction.
2010 saw the passing of multiple industry people. The producer of Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Battleship Yamato, Yoshinobu Nishizaki, died of a bizarre yachting accident, one of the co-founders of Group Tac, Atsumi Tashiro, passed away due to illness, and perhaps the most noteworthy of them all was the death of Satoshi Kon himself due to cancer. Personally, his death had impact on me. It was all too sudden, like being hit with a brick at the speed of sound. I never expected someone like him to go so early, since he was still relatively young plus he still had a long career ahead of him. Even though I didn’t like his last film, Paprika, as much as the earlier films and I felt as if he tried to do too much in Paranoia Agent, I consider him as one of the best filmmakers in the decade. He was a true filmmaker; he just chose animation as his medium of expression. Even today, I still hold Millennium Actress as one of the best animated films I have seen.
Then there was the controversial Bill 156 passed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which spurred unrest among the industry and the fans. The said bill has already been discussed to hell and back, so I won’t bother with the specifics here. However, what jumps out is the reaction of the manga industry to it, with 10 huge manga publishers–including Shueisha and Kodansha–backing out of the Tokyo Anime Fair. This act hints to the magnitude of the new bill, and it would be interesting to see what would happen come April 1. However, I don’t think it would do much.
Before I get all negative in this 2010 send-off post, I better stop there. The new year in anime and other things in 2011 should prove exciting yet again. There have been announcements of new titles that piqued my interest, but let me get to the point. I don’t like to rank my anime that much, but for the sake of this blog I would. So here goes.
10. DRRR!!/Durarara!! (Brains Base, Takahiro Omori, original work: Ryohgo Narita)
Technically this aired during the winter of 2009, but since it finished its run the year after I decided to include it regardless. This was one of the few promising series of an admittedly stale winter of that year, and I wasn’t disappointed–at least for the first half of the series. I expected a lot of great things out of Brains Base’s another adaptation of Ryohgo Narita’s light novel series since Baccano! but the second half of the series burst my bubble. For the first half there was a slew of yet another interesting cast of characters which moved in their urban Tokyo environment with spunk and life, but in the second half the series was turned into a slow, meandering, and boring mess of a show. The “Saika” arc was too slow and lacking in interest, and the “Gang War” arc was worse. I could believe in teenagers joining violent gangs, sure, but trying to gain sympathy through half-hearted sob stories just won’t work. However, for all its worth, the show as a whole was very enjoyable, but only when it shifted to the only cool characters. I’d much rather watch a season 2 of Baccano! rather than this, honestly. It had a very snappy OP, though.
9. House of Five Leaves/Saraiya Goyou (Manglobe, Tomomi Mochizuki, original work: Natsume Ono)
I’ve always had a soft spot for shows in the noitaminA timeslot (some of my favorite series aired there) because of their consistent line-ups of unique shows balanced with great conventional stories. Coming off the heels of Kenji Nakamura’s Trapeze, this adaptation of Ono’s seinen manga was yet again solid. I don’t know much about the director except for the fact he also directed Ghibli’s Ocean Waves, but that should have given me a sign as to what to expect. The show was a relaxing and laid-back ride for 12 episodes with occasional surges of well-timed drama. It also boasts excellent character design from Kazuto Nakazawa (Samurai Champloo, Moondrive). There was an overarching story to it, but it didn’t take center stage until the finale, which was resolved satisfactorily. I didn’t think it flagged for even an episode, and that consistency warrants a place in my ranking, that’s for sure.
8. Giant Killing (Studio DEEN, Yuu Kou, original work: Masaya Tsunamoto, Tsuji Tomo)
This show came as a total surprise. I actually only picked this one up because of a random whim, but as I watched it, I was pleasantly surprised. As I’ve said before, sports series have always been a fascination of mine, and I honestly liked what they’ve done with this series (since I used to love soccer/football), even if it was produced under totally-crapped-upon studio DEEN. I guess what I liked about this series was its high energy and uniquely paced flow. The director tried new ways of pacing a soccer game (which is a challenge, since its a very long game), and I commend him for that. Sometimes it didn’t work though–like cutting a game midway and proceeding with another during the next scene–but it worked more often than not, at least for me. It was also unique in the sense that it was seen from the point of view of a manager, not a player. The show focuses more so on how the manager gets his team back to respectability, and it was a nice change of pace. It didn’t resolve anything at the end (the source material is ongoing after all), though, so it gets pushed back because of that.
7. Arakawa Under the Bridge, s1/s2 (SHAFT, Akiyuki Shinbo, original work: Hikaru Nakamura)
It’s always nice to see a surprising entry from a director and a studio I didn’t have very high expectations of. Shinbo’s work on Bakemonogatari struck me as half-baked attempts at creative imagery, and only made it seem as if the visual schemes were obvious budget-saving tactics. I wasn’t impressed, and I dropped it after episode 3. However he turned it around here. Granted the source material was already strong enough, but the translation into animation was done well. The first season stumbled at times due to character introductions, but when it found its stride, it was genuinely enjoyable and funny. The show finally overcame the inconsistencies of season 1 into season 2 when it settled into its element. It never stopped being funny for me during the second season, and some moments were even legitimately emotional. Because of this I wouldn’t mind another season, or better yet an adaptation of Nakamura’s Saint Young Men, coming from these guys. Oh I forget, the show also boasted an all-star cast of VAs, ranging from Maaya Sakamoto to Fumihiko Tachiki. The only show with a better range of VAs would be Gintama.
6. Shoka/Calligraphers (Production I.G, Makoto Yamada)
I wasn’t aware of the anime scriptwriting contest sponsored by Animax Japan until now. Apparently the contest has been going for 7 times now, as this particular special took the seventh. However, what caught my eye wasn’t actually the script, but the design and animation. For a scriptwriting contest winner, Shoka doesn’t have much in terms of proper storytelling or creative scripting. It seems as if it was a testbed for a potential TV anime, which I guess is what they were aiming for with this. And if they are planning on expanding this TV special into a full series, then sign me up! I honestly wouldn’t mind watching this set of cookie-cutter samurai action characters move within this conventional set-up if it uses this style of freewheeling design and fresh animation for all episodes. This derailment from the usual anime aesthetic is always welcome for me, plus Production IG pulls the style off very well. The character design has lots of stray and jagged lines in them, as if they were all put there on purpose all along, but when they move, they move something fierce. There’s the energy to their movement, especially during the numerous action scenes, eventually moving into another fiery climax (which I assume was done by Yasunori Miyazawa, whose FX and animation work I like). Give me 12, 13, 24, 25, 26, 39, or even 50 episodes of this unhinged style-over-substance action anime and I will enjoy every minute of it.
5. Kuragehime/Jellyfish Princess (Brains Base, Takahiro Omori, original work: Akiko Higashimura)
This series would make for the second entry of Brains Base and Takahiro Omori into this ranking. This would also be the second noitaminA show in the ranks. I’ve said time and again that the time-slot boasts a consistently well-balanced set of anime every season, and this anime would make one half of that–by which I mean the low-key character comedy/drama type. I’ve always had a soft spot for these kinds of shows–I loved Honey & Clover to death (even if it did get somewhat stupid in the second season)–and I like Kuragehime all the same. While most other series of its kind lay a dramatic foundation to set tension, I found Kurage a fun laugh trip all throughout. The drama serves as a backdrop interlaced with well-conceived and well-timed visual gags. I don’t get away from watching a single episode of this series without having a huge grin on my face. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable show, and I would like it if another anime would be made (but I’m not betting on it).
4. Shiki (Daume, Tetsuro Amino, original novel: Fuyumi Ono, manga: Ryu Fujisaki)
Another noitaminA entry..so this makes three. This one and Kuragehime are actually very interchangeable for me. I enjoyed both of them almost equally, and they’re widely different beasts at that. Whereas Kuragehime was a comedic story throughout, Shiki is a tense and dramatic suspense horror story. The last few episodes, for example, were overflowing with drama, tension, and adrenaline, which is surprisingly believable and powerful. I enjoyed both series, yes, but if I was to try judging both objectively I realized I would pick Shiki but only by a hair’s breadth. Kuragehime was very consistent, which I valued, but it didn’t pull me that deep into it. Shiki started off very slow, and the characters were unlikeable slates, but as the show went on and the mystery built up I found myself being taken into its world. The characters were fleshed out and developed, and it does force you into a specific side. The tension builds up into a succession of adrenaline-fueled climactic episodes which ends in a fiery blaze of glory. The resolution was well-done (except for the fact they had that one guy I hated make it). Design-wise, it’s quite unique. I haven’t seen Fujisaki since his work on Houshin Engi, and I remember being amazed at how his style has changed. It seems more cartoon-y than Houshin, which is saying a lot. The hair, first of all, can take a lot of getting used to, but over time they’d be one of the reasons you can’t forget the show.
3. Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (Gainax, Hiroyuki Imaishi)
Wow. That’s one of the first words that came to my mind after I finished watching this series, or even on some episodes. I’ve already gone into this series in detail over here in this post, and I still wonder how apparently easy it is for Imaishi to take an admittedly stupid concept and take it lots of steps further. I guess that’s the Imaishi magic for you. One point I didn’t manage to put across in the earlier post would be the music. Gainax made an excellent choice hiring m-flo (or Taku Takahashi, to be specific) to do the music for this show. The soundtrack is eargasmic, and some tracks were used excellently as trademark songs. It’s been 4 or so days since I last got the soundtrack, and it still hasn’t gone old. A second season would be most welcome.
2. Eve no Jikan/Time of Eve (movie version), (Studio Rikka, Yasuhiro Yoshiura)
Yeah, yeah, I know, the movie was released back in 2009, and the original 6-episode ONA series was released back in 2008 (I think), but what the hell, I watched the film this year and I enjoyed it a whole lot. So I decided to put it in this ranking, and in that position, nevertheless. It’s rare to have a futuristic sci-fi anime to be grounded on human drama like this (at least in recent memory) and explores the impact of AI and whatnot into human life. Even Real Drive was more of an adventurish, technology-heavy story, even with its laid-back parts, and Shirow Masamune’s other sci-fi story, the seminal Ghost in the Shell was more of a police procedural drama (which Mamoru Oshii then proceeded to fill heavily with pretentious self-indulgent babble in his movies, especially Innocence). Eve also takes heavy influence from classic sci-fi by the likes of Isaac Asimov (The Three Laws of Robotics, for instance), and atmosphere-wise it is reminiscent of Yoshiura’s earlier short Aquatic Language. What I’ve always liked about both was the light-hearted and laid-back glimpse into humanity in the future and the effects of technology. They never throw any technological jargon to you any more than what you need, and they focus instead on the various characters living in their respective worlds. Both have interesting casts of characters too, which is a definite plus. There is real human drama in this here anime. The original ONA for Eve was great, but I feel that the movie version condenses and expands it at the same time. The movie answers important questions left at the end of the ONA, which I’m not going to spoil. Hopefully, Yoshiura will have made enough of a buzz in the industry with Eve, and grace us with another work.
1. Tatami Galaxy/Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (Madhouse, Masaaki Yuasa, original novel: Morimi Tomihiko)
Actually, I have a confession to make. I did say that I purposely waited until all of the shows I was keeping up with have ended in order to gauge their quality as a whole, but there’s another reason for that. That reason being whether any of them can ever topple The Tatami Galaxy as the number 1 show of the year for me. Fortunately (haha), not one of them managed to do that. PSG, among other shows, came very very close, but in the end I have to give the honor to Yuasa. Aside from being a gigantic fan of his, I also feel that his anime just have that much more personality. Both he and Imaishi infuse a ton of their personality into their works, but I enjoyed Yuasa’s series on a lot more levels. Imaishi‘s works are thrilling and very exciting, but they can only be highly enjoyed on the surface level. I got a lot of things out of Tatami Galaxy, even with its narrative and directing pace cranked up to 1000 miles an hour without ever letting up. As usual, Yuasa manages to insert a whole lot of interesting ideas to bolster the narrative and to make the show feel fresh and fun, even though at times the speed can be a bit hard to keep up with. His visuals are always very imaginative, and they contribute to the impact of the story. I don’t think all of the things he bombards the viewers with are vital to understanding the whole thing, which I like, since this keeps the anime simple. Yuasa also gives a lot of food for thought sprinkled in generous doses throughout, which leaves the viewers for healthy speculation. The show also feels very unified; the animation is consistently creative and well-presented; the narrative consistently snappy. The narration can be very fast (you’d get used to it by episode 3), and Shintaro Asanuma‘s VA work as Watashi is very commendable–especially after his performance in episode 10. Personally, I don’t think it has enough inspirational punch, raw energy, and vitality to challenge Mind Game as my all-time favorite Yuasa anime, but it sits near the top. Looking back, I realized that Masaaki Yuasa appears to have a definite, consistent gap–2 years–between his works since 2004’s Mind Game, and I hope he does have a new project scheduled for 2012 (hopefully a movie).
Well, there you have it. You may or may not disagree with my choices, but this list is final. Though, I’d like to hear differing opinions too. It’s fun to know what other fans think of what they’re watching. Feedback would be appreciated.
So, what’s your top ten for 2010?