I know everyone is making these kind of lists and that I’ve already stated my top anime of 2009 on the podcast. But I figured this is a good way to look back at the year and maybe help readers catch a few shows they missed before getting swamped by the upcoming Winter season. I limited the list to five because I don’t think I have seen enough shows to warrant a top ten list. Even if I watched twenty shows, it’s probably somewhere around that, picking ten is still half the shows I happened to see.
I only have one rule for this list. The anime must have finished airing or being released in Japan or United States in 2009. If I have already seen the show in fansubs it becomes ineligible for the list the year it gets an R1 release.
The reason for this is because there are certain films that I have refused to see until I can get them on blu-ray. So I don’t want to exclude them from future lists. At the same time I really want this to be a list of the year the shows were originally aired in Japan. So I’m going to try the middle ground.
On to the list:
5. Clannad After Story
I wasn’t completely in love with the original Clannad. It was a nice little series but, like all the key adaptations, it had some serious problems. There are just some elements that do not translate from visual novel to anime well. Clannad, and Kannon before it, get repetitive and predicable, not to mention melodramatic.
Clannad After Story was able to shed most of the limitations of an adapted light novel. The concept of a high school love story being carried on after graduation was unique and presented in a way that felt genuine. Things aren’t all roses and fireworks after high school. The real world has to be tackled. Bills have to be paid. Clannad After Story, despite the melancholy and strange plot devices, is a well executed love story about two people who just wanted to live a normal life. It also will destroy your soul and reconstruct it in its own image. Just saying.
4. Casshern Sins
I have never seen a Casshern property before watching this latest iteration of the ancient franchise. The quality of the animation alone should earn it a place on this list. But on top of the ascetic value the show featured an incredible sound track and a solid story about the fear of death and what it means to be mortal. The dark atmosphere of the series was balanced with characters that were able to absolutely melt your heart without being obnoxious. The action was good, if a bit repetitive, but the real value of the show comes from the well presented themes. What does it mean to be mortal? What does it mean to be immortal? What is the power of hope?
Canaan is one of the best action shows that has come out in a long time. It avoids being a stoic story of bitter revenge by giving the seemingly heartless Canaan a unbelievably cheerful foil. In fact all of the dark characters have foils which gives the show a tonal balance between light and serious. The animation is spectacularly well done and the action is fast pasted and fluid.
The most illustrative scene is when the President of the United States proclaims “LOVE AND PEACE” to a gathering of diplomats before being subjected to a deadly virus. Yes, it goes back and forth like that throughout the entire 12 episode run.
2. Ride Back
Ride Back finally blends normal animation with CG mechs that enhances, not distracts, from the overall quality of a show. From the first scene, which features the heroine doing ballet, the audience is given some of the most beautiful art and animation I have ever seen in a television show. The story doesn’t disappoint either, bringing into question the nature of advancing military technology in civilian hands, the question of unlocking ones talent, and a frightening look into a powerful government based on fear of terrorism make this one hell of a loaded 12 episode near-masterpiece. The only factor holding the show back from gaining the number 1 stop is an abrupt ending that was obviously rushed due to time constraints. One more episode and this show could have been flawless.
Nothing beats a good love story. Except a good love triangle and the only thing that beats that is a love square. Toradora! is the show that I watched the second it came out and immediately demanded more. The characters were deep, including the background characters, lead by the growing friendship come relationship of Taiga and Ruiji, the two social rejects of the school who help each other to grow together to become part of the class.
The best aspect of Toradora! is that the audience is unsure which of the three female characters to root for because each has their advantages and failings. You want to love them all. The dynamic love story, the excellent sound track, and beautiful art rank this show above all others this year because it was able to balance humor and drama, elation and disappointment, love and hate with a masterful command of character.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch everything that came out this year. Shows that I’ve seen rated very highly like Bakemonogatari or Eden of the East could have made this list. But at this point I don’t know. If only I could devote all my time to anime.
It is interesting to note that I mainly focus on shows that have a balanced tone. I didn’t realize it at the time but each of these shows, with the exception of Casshern Sins which is 80% “I wanna cut myself” depressing, balances serious themes with periods of light hearted fun. Those are qualities to look for in any good story not limit to just Anime.