On May 21st the Executive Editor of Anime News Network, Zac Bertschy, suddenly passed away. We were mutuals on twitter and facebook for over ten years and spoke every so often. I met him only twice at Anime conventions. Both times he was extremely kind but extremely busy. But with his sudden passing I can’t help but think about the small but impactful ways Zac made a major impact on my life.
I launched my Anime Blog in 2010 as a project to help me improve my writing and I included the companion podcast in order to force myself to learn audio production. The first episode of that Podcast was a disaster, I was so nervous and I could barely listen back to it. I released it, and then couldn’t bring myself to do another one. Zac used to host call in episodes of ANNCast and I got to record a small call with him in February 2010, six weeks or more since that first and only episode of my podcast launched. After our conversation I plugged my blog and Zac paused and asked why I wasn’t still doing the Podcast.
That week I started the podcast again. I’ve recorded 197 Episodes of the Otaku in Review Podcast. It was because Zac took interest in me and my work. It was because he was thoughtful enough to ask about it. Every now and again he would make a comment about something we said on the podcast. He told me several times that he thought we did a great job on it. He even invited us back on ANN Cast as podcasters during a later call in show. But we weren’t just fans calling in, we were invited to discuss a specific topic. Editor of THE anime website gave some hobbyist podcasters an opportunity to amplify our voices and grow our audience.
I’ll never forget any of that kindness.
The podcast gave me the confidence and opportunity to start doing panels at Anime Conventions. It gave me the clout to get press at anime conventions and interview Japanese creators. Because of Zac Bertschy’s moment of interest I was able to sit down and have a conversation with Makoto Shinkai, among others.
Reading everyone’s stories tells me one thing: He did this for nearly everyone he came in contact with. Professional writers or hobbyist bloggers, he gave them a platform and encouraged their voice. I wish I had thought to tell him the impact he had on my life when he was still with us.
The 2010s were a major decade for myself personally and solidified my anime fandom as a permanent fixture in my life going into adulthood. Early in the decade I started this blog (and actually updated it), hosted a podcast, and got as deep into the fandom as I could stomach… and emotionally barely survived the experience. The second half of the decade I unfortunately pulled back on writing but dedicated myself to creating compelling content for anime conventions. Now moving into the 2020s I hope to continue my work on anime and the fandom in some way weather it is return to this blog, finally start to create videos, or simply keep traveling to Japan and getting lost in the woods and eaten by a yokai; whatever form that takes, I’m happy that anime is an unshakable foundation of my life even as life takes me to unexpected places and my goals change over time.
So here is my list of the Top 10 anime of the 2010s:
10. Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)
Madoka Magica exploded on the scene in 2011 to an unsuspecting audience. The animation was beautiful and the enemies, created using a cutout-craft style of art, were a refreshing change to the art style of Japanese animation at the start of the decade. Madoka Magica was a standard Magical Girl show with a slightly dark twist until the third episode where one of the main characters is brutally killed and the show truly begins. What was set up as a show about a magical girl destroying bad feelings starts to peel back the layers to reveal more and more of the secret world hiding just beyond our sight. Even the most veteran Magical Girls didn’t realize what their actions were truly contributing too and the most horrifying realization is that the system they are perpetuating is unchangeable. A powerful witch would appear. Our heroes will die. The powerful conclusion was delayed by the horrible Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster and when the show returned the sacrifices of Madoka and the hope she brought to a world on the brink of collapse was a welcome message after a natural disaster shook Japan to its very core. Many attempts have been made to emulate the series but few have come close to mirroring the elements that made the show a triumph.
Mirai takes the audience on a journey into the world of Kun, his household, his parents, and his ancestors. The past and future converge on Kun when his entire world is disrupted by the birth of his baby sister, the titular Mirai. His adjustment at no longer being the sole target of his parent’s affection leads him to come face to face with his future, and his family’s past.
The film takes place in the young family’s home which is divided up into two sections; the living section and then a playroom separated by a courtyard. The courtyard acts as a transitional area, a place which signifies a change is taking place. When Kun gets upset he runs into the courtyard to escape the situation or person who is upsetting him. As the film progresses the times when Kun retreats to the courtyard triggers journeys into the past or future of his family. In his first journey into this world he is confronted by the family dog who has no sympathy for Kun’s concerns over losing his parents attention. Bitter, the dog just lays out his own experience of being shoved to the side when Kun was born. These anxieties are laid bare when Kun’s grandparents visit and are obsessed with the newborn Mirai, but nearly completely ignore him.
Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory comes about nine years too late. That isn’t to say the story isn’t compelling and that I don’t appreciate them finally picking up exactly where it left off. There is a lot of like about the new chapter of Full Metal Panic, especially as they detach from the formula established in the original and Segura goes off on his own. I’m thrilled that the show exists but I can’t help but wonder why it exists. The last Full Metal Panic! anime came out in 2005 and while there have been a steady stream of light novels and manga released in Japan the anime has all but fallen out of the mind of the American anime fan. Sitting here in the year 2018 where memes are passed around that claim “Kill la Kill” is old school, I find it hard to believe that fans younger than thirty are going to care about an anime that came out in 2002. So how large of an audience can the new Full Metal Panic have? At the time of posting Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory is sitting at about 54th on the Crunchyroll popularity ranking.
Self indulgence usually comes with a price: Alienating a large part of your audience is the minimum someone can expect from creating a piece of art that is about creating a piece of art. Of course, there are times when the work transcends that self indulgence, when the messages run far deeper than just what the show is about on a surface level. Shirobako has all the trappings of a self-indulgent walkthrough of the anime industry from the perspective of people who live and work in the Anime industry. But it goes beyond that and creates a compelling narrative that anyone can enjoy. There are points in the story that are self-referential fan service, where actual anime creators cameo as helpful guides to our fictional heroes, but the show leaves enough context clues that even uninitiated anime fans can piece together what is happening and at the same time those who get the references enjoy the work that much more. It’s a delicate balance to maintain, but Shirobako handles it in stride.
The tone of the show is set during the very first scene. Our hero Aoi Miyamori is working late collecting key frames from the animators she has recruited to work on Exodus, the first original anime her company Musashino Animation has done in a long time after their recent history of spotty work. Aoi is sitting in her car at a red light listening to a radio show where the hosts are discussing the current state of the Anime industry. The hosts wonder how so many shows are being made every season and conclude that they are indeed in a bubble.
The newest film from acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai, Your Name, follows two teenagers on the edge of adulthood. A boy from Tokyo, Taki, wakes up in the body of country girl Mitsuha and back in Tokyo Mitsuha has taken over the body of Taki. The changes occurs randomly and last one day, forcing the teenagers not only to deal with their own problems but also the issues of their counterpart across the country.
Shinkai enjoys taking his time in a film. He wants to give the audience a complete picture of the world, show them scenes from that world so the audience gets a vivid sense of how the character lives. In Your Name he employs this by the time he takes with each character the day of and after their first possession. But his use of photo realistic art also grounds the film in the reality of the characters and situation. Shinkai establishes time and place through the art, taking time to show elements of each character’s lives to ground them in their respective world.
We see Mitsuha’s world revealed slowly. Her relationship with her friends and their feelings towards the town, her dreams of going someplace bigger where there are cafes and good jobs. Her life as a shrine maiden, the rituals she has to perform, and the way her classmates react to the ancient display of Japanese religion and culture.
Shinkai’s world view about rural Japan and Mitsuha’s role in the world is laid bare by a story that the Shrine Priestess, Mitsuha’s grandmother, tells the young girls. At some point in the past a fire destroyed all records about the shrines role in the town. No documents of the rituals exist any longer. So while the actions of the rituals have been past down what their origin is and what they mean is lost.
This idea of meaninglessness in the rituals of the shrine is reflects how Mitsuha sees them. While she commits to them in order to make her Grandmother happy she has no interest in the shrine. She wants to leave this small town and go into the world. The small town represents a dying worldview, a place in Japan that still retains some of the isolationist mindset of the past. The people there aren’t advancing, aren’t changing with the rest of the world, the town isn’t attempting to draw young people in by changing to adapt to modern culture. It’s a dying world with people who are stuck, unmoving, as the rest of the country advances. They no longer know what their role in the world is, they just keep living the life they’ve lead for hundreds of years without thinking.
Home from Anime Boston and breathing a sigh of relief that my panels went off mostly successfully I found myself reflecting on why I do panels at Anime conventions. There are a few emotions that I had over the weekend that I’m struggling to compress before moving forward.
I enjoy doing panels but doing the same panels over and over again does start to lower the satisfaction of giving it. This was the second time doing my “When Hentai Goes Bad” panel and I presented it to a packed room of about 500 people. It was thrilling, but even though the room was bigger I didn’t get the same feeling I did when I did it the first time. My heavily modified “When Moe goes Bad” turned out to be my most satisfying panel to give because I just put a lot of work into it right before this convention.
That’s probably most of the problem. The heavy amount of work I put into “When Hentai Goes Bad” before I ran it the first time last summer probably made giving it all the more satisfying. My preparation for giving it last weekend at Anime Boston was cutting some clips and running through the notes. So ultimately I think I will always find giving new panels, or completely reworking panels, to be the most satisfying part of the work: Releasing something I worked hard on to a live audience. But at the same time I wonder how I can get that satisfaction more often. I’ve considering making more YouTube videos, going back to writing regularly, and getting out and taking more photos as key creative outlets. But I don’t do any of them enough. I want to chase the high I feel when giving a brand new panel. I just need to create more things more often.
I will continue to give panels at conventions because of the creative satisfaction it gives me to create a presentation and then immediately get a live reaction. But I need to think of new ways to channel that desire and to create more often. After all, just doing two or three conventions a year is far from enough.
Some advice I can offer to new panelists or people wanting to start:
Nothing is Ever Perfect
What prevents me from blogging a lot is that I keep going over a piece that I’ve written until I’m satisfied. This forces me into a kind of paralysis and delays posting completed works for weeks at a time.
This isn’t limited to writing either. I find myself doing it with videos and photos that I finish editing, then let sit without doing anything with because something in me wants to keep working on it. I’ve forced myself to post things more often and to quiet that voice, but sometimes it’s overwhelming.
The thing about panels is that there is a hard deadline: The day of the event. And the act of presenting the panel is an act of creation in the moment. Once a sentence leave your mouth, it’s delivered to the audience and can never be taken back and re-edited. As a creator it’s a refreshing exercise.
That doesn’t prevent me from analyzing the situation afterwards which can still create anxiety. But the creative piece is done.
Yuri on ice was an immediate hit last season for a lot of good reasons. The characters were empathic and well thought out, the ice skating animation was gorgeous, and hints at a homosexual relationship in an otherwise standard sports anime lit a fire inside fans eager to see that narrative played in something that wasn’t pornography or boys love. But Yuri on Ice goes beyond just a normal love story between two men. It’s about people passionate about the sport they have decided to dedicate every waking moment of their lives too.
The core of what Yuri on Ice is about can be seen in the very first episode, the catalyst of the story where Victor decides to drop everything and go to Japan to train Yuri. Yuri has been studying Victor for years, attempting to follow in his footsteps. He has followed his career and even got the same type of dog as Victor. Yuri very much has built his career as a figure skater, his entire life, after Victor.
When Victor saw Yuri skating he wasn’t just watching another skating copying one of his routines. He was watching someone who had studied that routine with passion and who was recreating it out of pure love for the art form and for the person who had developed it: Victor. Up to that point Yuri was a talented skater but he lacked a goal, he lacked passion. Yet when he wasn’t competing, when he performed alone for his friends on that ice rink he preformed a master level routine with elegance and style.
I started my Anime blog in 2010 for a couple reasons. I had run a few blogs over the last couple years but I wanted to focus on write longer pieces and try to build an audience around it. I choose anime because that was one of my consistent hobbies for ten years previously. I set up the website, I looked for people on twitter to follow, and I made a big deal about entering the aniblogging space.
Otaku in review was never a huge success but I got reactions from the right people. People I respected in the anime community came out and complimented my work. I became a known quantity in the space. I started to collaborate with some of the biggest names in Anime blogging. I mark the work I did at the time as the highlight of my professional career, despite never earning a dime from any of it. I cherish every single episode of the podcast and every single blog post I ever wrote. Then I stopped. One day I just said that it was enough. I put everything on the shelf and I walked away.
There are many reasons why I walked away. Most don’t have to do with any negative experience that I had. Simply put, I was completely burnt out on anime. At the time new anime had entered a dry period after an extreme high point. I was getting tired of just writing and talking about anime. As I started to feel burned out I started to spend time on other hobbies, such as American cartoons and comics. I didn’t feel like I could write about those things on the site I created. Finally, I wanted more free time because my job took up a lot of time and energy. I wanted to enjoy my hobbies without having to critique them.
Mobile Suit Gundam and its tie in line of model kits have always marched in lockstep. If the anime gets a cool new giant robot it wasn’t long before you were able to buy a kit and build the model of it. At this point Gundam has been around so long that the models, now being sold under the unified “Gunpla” brand, have taken on a fandom all their own independent from the anime franchise. Gundam Build Fighters is a transparent method to get kids and fans of Gundam anime into the culture of Gunpla and it certainly worked on me: after watching build fighters I’ve spent almost $300 on Gunpla.”
In the world of Gundam Build Fighters a new technology was created that reacts with the plastic in Gunpla and enables a person to control their plastic model with holographic controls. The Plavsky particle changes a flat service into one of a number of battlefields and gives power to the Gunpla’s weapons and propulsion systems. So when the Gunpla battle is occurring it’s no different from when mobile suits fight in the regular show… except in Build Fighters they are made of plastic and four inches tall. These particles have real effect on the world and Gunpla that loses in battle are physically destroyed.
The main protagonist is Sei Iori whose father took second place in the Gunpla Battle world championship five years earlier. Sei is an expert model builder but is horrible at battling. This is illustrated in the first episode when a punk kid who brings his own poorly made model into Sei’s store and is able to defeat Sei’s custom, beautifully built Strike Gundam. The kid wants to fight for Sei in the upcoming world tournament but Sei doesn’t believe that he will treat his Gunpla with enough respect. So there comes on final challenge, if Sei loses to, he has to let him fight for him in the tournament.