Category: Commentary

Top 5 Anime of 2013

This was a difficult year to nail down a top five list because I’ve been watching less anime, but the anime I have watched has all been excellent. Years where I watched a ton of shows allowed the gems to really stand out, but it is much harder to pick out gems among gems.

I wonder why 2013 was a year I watched only a handful of good shows. Am I becoming a better judge or more careful of what media I consume? Was the gap between excellent show and bad show wider this year with no middle of the road shows to buffer the extremes?

Whatever the reason: We got a lot of good anime this year. Here are five you should definitely check out.

5. Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan has the potential to be one of the biggest anime in a long time, mainly because it constantly remains interesting. Every few episodes it tosses in a twist that reinvents the entire show; twists that lesser shows would run with for season long arcs.

It’s exciting, has good characters, a solid premise, and a great pace that makes me want more almost constantly. More importantly: The anime greatly improves on the art of the Manga.

We still have a long way to go before the end but Attack on Titan is a solid first part of the story and I can’t wait for the next season.

4. Watamote

Billed as a comedy, Watamote is more of an extreme character study of a person with severe social anxiety. We follow Tomoko as she attempts to live a normal high school life but constantly fails and falls deeper and deeper into her shell.

There are some moments of dark comedy in the show but, frankly, anyone who would laugh at most of the show is cruel. It turns into a depressing look at the life of a person who just doesn’t know how to relate to other humans. We’re locked inside Tomoko’s head and forced to go along with her as she deals with and sometimes justifies her isolation.

There is a deeper connection the show makes with anyone who has suffered from social anxiety. Few people in the world are as bad as Tomoko but with her problems being so numerous it serves to cast a wide net and allows for the maximum percent of the audience to relate to at least parts of her problems. I loved the show as a way to dive into these issues but be warned, the second half of the series becomes extremely uncomfortable to sit through.

3. From the New World

Taking place in a post-apoctolyptic world where a much smaller human population has learned to live with psychic powers, From the New World is a compelling narrative that keeps the audience guessing. It features weak characterization, which kept it from claiming the top two spots on the list, but the moral questions the show deals with forces the audience to constantly struggle with that they would do in the character’s situation.

As the narrative develops the characters, who we follow from childhood, they slowly learn how their society works and things that seem horrifying become an understood part of their society as they grow older. This structure makes From the New World into a twenty-five episode long course in relative morality.

It’s an accomplishment that will haunt the audience long after the credits roll on the finale.

2. The Eccentric Family

The first episode of Eccentric Family almost turned me off from the entire show. It features a very slow, expository narrative style that establishes the key characters and setting of the show. After that first episode we’re trust into the world of Eccentric Family where we get to live with the characters and watch them deal with their everyday conflicts. The show tackles issues from the necessity of keeping up appearances to the feeling of living on after a family member has passed.

The Eccentric Family is a triumph because of how much fun spending time with the characters ends up being. I could watch these characters do anything. Combine that with a simple mixture of mystery, conflict bxcetween rival families, Japanese mythology, and an exploration of personal life philosophy and Eccentric Family is an obsolete joy that also deals with some serious life issues.

1. Chihayafuru 2

So maybe I’m cheating a little bit. Maybe I just want more people to watch Chihayafuru. Well, more people should watch Chihayafuru. Season 2 picks up where the first one ended and features more detail on the characters experience going through a Karuta tournament series.

While I think this second season is less of the perfect blend of popular anime tropes that the original exceled at, it digs deep into the core themes it wishes to explore. Chiefly: the difference between individual accomplishment and ability against working in a team. Though this theme we get to see the talents of all our favorite characters explored in depth, we get into the heads of the untouchable Karuta champions, and we see our heroine strive to reach the peak of her ability in two very different competitions.

Chihayafuru 2 is half just more of what was so good about the first season and half going so much deeper into all of the characters while they are in some of the most stressful and intense moments of their lives. Everyone should watch Chihayafuru, if not for the characters or the strange thrill of a Karuta match than just to explore this odd bit of Japanese culture not often touched upon outside of Japan.

Anti-Conformity in Kill la Kill

Conformity in anime is a common theme because the nature of the Japanese relationships to family and a structured class system. Even in the most mundane slice of life show having characters refer to elders with a special title creates a ridged class structure that the characters obey. There are some anime that tries to challenge some of the expectations of this class structure. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya challenges many normal anime tropes and structures included that social structure. Haruhi moves in and dominates her shy upperclassmen Mikuru. We rarely see a break in this kind of social structure.

Kill la Kill looks at all forms of conformity common to Japanese animation and gives them a giant middle finger. Our protagonist, Ryuko Matoi, walks into high school on her first day and makes a direct challenge to the social and political structures set in place.

This is first illustrated by her uniform, which she acquires shortly into the first episode and becomes her weapon against the school. The uniforms in Kill la Kill have become a status symbol. Students who are high ranking are giving uniforms that grant them special privileges and powers. Students who have no ranking get a standard bland uniform. Ryuko walking into the school wearing a nonstandard uniform serves as a symbol for her challenge to the authority established at the school. By not wearing a uniform she is rejecting the ranking system the student council has put in place and exists outside the social order. 

This theme matures during the battle between Ryuko and Gamagoori, in which Gamagoori discusses why Ryuko is a threat to the school and it’s current set up. When he becomes fed up with her during the battle he declares that he will, “end her independence and mold her into a model student.” Followed by calling her a slut for the appearance of her uniform during transformation. Gamagoori believes the act of modifying the uniform in any way a threat to the order to the school, a sign of independence and a mark of depravity that shouldn’t be tolerated. If Ryuko shows more skin than the chosen uniform than she is a sexual deviant and must be dealt with.

This also brings sexual standards into the importance of the uniform. A girl cannot be more or less “scandalously” dressed than the rest of her class if everyone is forced to wear the same uniform. Ryuko’s revealing transformation sets her apart sexually from the rest of the school as well. To the end, Ryuko is the only girl that anyone shows any sexual attraction to during the show. By the 9th episode the other female characters in the show are comic relief, Mako, or the fearsome antagonist, Satsuki Kiryuin.

The club system in Kill la Kill also serves to aid in its anti-conformist themes. Again, in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya the titular character is tired with a normal life and wants to live more interesting than the average high school girl but she still works within the rules of her school in order to create a club. She still feels like using the structure of the club system is required before she can successfully start her journey. That is the start of a great many high school anime. The characters want to start a club for whatever reason and they proceed to work within the school-designated rules of picking a topic, getting enough students, finding a teacher sponsor, ect.

Kill la Kill’s club system is an extreme version and the very core of the shows criticism towards conformity. The club structure is really how students become ranked in the school. Students gain rank if they are members of clubs, presidents of clubs, and if their club successfully brings glory to the school. By working within this system, students not only gain rank in the school but those benefits leak out into their personal lives. Students in high-ranking clubs get elevated into a higher class and their families are allowed to move out of the slums into a more gentrified area of the city.

In episode 7 Mako, Ryuko’s only friend in this world and whose family has allowed her to live with them, becomes the president of the “fight club”, a club the two made up to take advantage of the system. Because Ryuko kept winning battles the club’s purpose was extremely successful and Mako’s family moved up from the slums into the richest part of the city. At the end, Mako is forced to fight Ryuko to keep her status and Mako’s once loving family cheers for Ryuko’s head.

Living within the social structure has had nothing but benefit for Mako and once her position is secured, she must destroy the threat to her comfortable life. Anything that threatens the social order must be destroyed.

The metaphor presented is so universal that Ryuko’s challenge to the student council can be swapped in with nearly any like conflict. The anime, I believe, is specifically tackling the monoculture of corporate business. But the student council’s reaction to Ryuko’s challenge reminds me of media companies’ rejection of digital technology and online distribution in the early 2000s. The status quo becomes the source of success and comfort, and any challenge to it must be squashed.

There is a fear that runs through the antagonists of Kill la Kill. They don’t want things to change; they don’t want their absolute rule to be overturned. They have developed a society in which one person controls the wellbeing of everyone under her. The scariest thing they can imagine is a person working against the system they put into place. Then Ryuko Matoi arrives and everything they built starts to crumble around them. In the battle of individuality versus monoculture, the individual almost always stands victorious.

Top 5 Anime of 2012

 In some ways 2012 was a great year for anime. But that came in the form of long shows and unfortunately, two of the shows I’ve watched and enjoyed the most in 2012 didn’t end and don’t qualify for my list. While I haven’t watched a lot this year, what I did get to was some incredibly fun and innovative stuff. While I’m disappointed that my own rules don’t allow some of my favorite shows to make the list, what is included are shows that definitely should not be overlooked.

  5: The K-On! Movie

K-On! deserves to make the list for one spectacular reason: It’s the best K-On! that has yet been released. The K-On! Movie tosses the characters into more conflict than in both seasons of the TV show combined. Watching the characters get lost in London and attempting to speak english sis both adorable and extremely satisfying. Those aspects combined with the stellar animation quality that Kyoto Animation puts into a theatrical production and K-On! The Movie is the ultimate experience of the franchise. For that reason alone it deserves to make the list.

 4: Mouretsu Pirates

Mouretsu Pirates is one of those shows that attempts to serve a dual audience, fans looking for serious science fiction and fans looking for moe. It suffers from the problems that all those shows suffer from, while it has some interesting science fiction and good action the tone is constantly spun from serious to a light school comedy and the effect is jarring.

While Mouretsu Pirates is hard to take seriously as a work of science fiction when it is deep in its action sci-fi mode it’s a lot of fun and it plays with some new concepts for space pirates. On the other hand the moe elements are also fun, and I’d love to spend more time with all the characters. So while it is harmed by it’s duality it doesn’t disappoint on either front.

3:  Natsuyuki Rendezvous

The strength of Natsuyuki Rendezvous comes from the strong, realistic relationship built around the main characters. The telling scene is early on when Hazuki confesses his love to Rokka and it isn’t treated like the massive bomb that you’d normally expect in a romance anime. Rokka simply nods, says she’ll think about it, and they go and have lunch then go back to work. They react like adults, and that alone puts Natsuyuki Rendezous in a special category.

On top of the romance there is the hilarious relationship between Hazuki and the ghost of Rokka’s husband Atsushi. He hangs around, unable to let his wife go and the only one who can see him is Hazuki. So he tries at all opportunity to get between the budding romance.

While the middle sagged a bit, the characters and relationship does more than enough to qualify Natsuyuki Rendezvous for this list.

 

 2: Kids on the Slope

Jazz, the 1960s, a male friendship at the core of the story. A theme of my lists have been shows that have elements that make it stick out among most of the anime that we get from Japan. Kids on the Slope ignores most anime tropes, choosing instead to deliver a realistic narrative grounded in a set time and place. The show we get doesn’t even have to be animated, but I’m glad it gets placed in the skilled hands of director Shinichiro Watanabe and the music of Yoko Kanno.

The animation is absolutely beautiful and the characters and narrative are superb. The show is also extremely dense with time flying by as these eleven episodes attempts to cover two years of the characters high school career. Often single episodes feel like two episodes shortened and jammed together. I’d assume that the show might have been planned for a longer run but they worked with what that had, condensing where they could. That might be the only complaint, the show tries to do so much over a small span of time and pieces of it just get lost or left hanging.

There was a note in the penultimate episode during the preview that hinted that this show barely got made. It was one of the most genuine notes I’ve seen come from a production team and it showcases just how difficult it is to get compelling animation made in the current anime marketplace.

 1: Chihayafuru

No one who has heard me rave over Chihayafuru this past year will be surprised that it is my pick for the best of 2012. The show does everything near perfectly. There is a type of show that forces me to become so involved with the characters and narrative that I can’t help breaking down emotionally. There is a stretch in Chihayafuru that I was brought to tears at the end of nearly every episode. Either that shows how good this show is or how easily manipulated I am.

The success of the show is mainly because it hits so many of the most popular tropes of anime over the last few years. There is a club where the characters can interact, there is a shonen sports aspect, and there is a romance piece that features a love triangle with a childhood friendship! The key is that Chihayafuru is able to make all of them work independent and then interweave them to make the whole so much stronger than the sum of its parts. It’s a homerun, and a must watch for anyone who loves anime.

The Death of the Anime Convention Part 1: Goodbye New York Anime Festival

Today New York Comic Con announced that New York Anime Festival will no longer exist. Attendees of the convention weren’t surprised at the news, but disappointed. This means that there is no large anime convention in New York City! How insane is it to think that the most populated area in the country lacks an Anime Convention?! How did this come about? Some of us had hope when they announced the merging of the two conventions, but it was quickly clear that the two cultures couldn’t co-exist. 

Attendees of the past two New York Anime Festivals have been more than vocal about how dissatisfied they were with the event. In 2010 the event was shoved into the basement of the Javits convention center, quarantining anime programing; artist alley; and the mass of anime fans away from the pop culture convention going on above. It was a suitable solution to the problem of combining the two conventions, but no one was completely happy. In 2011 fan run anime panels were nearly abolished entirely while the artist alley was moved to the top floor of the Javits center. The “anime ghetto” returned and it was clear that the two conventions would never be able to live side by side. While anime’s presence at the convention grew ever smaller, the convention itself was bursting at the seams with people interesting in comics and the other pop culture events going on. The tiny anime convention that happened inside the massive New York Comic Con went by unnoticed by the majority of attendees.

Reflecting back, New York Comic Con 2011 was mostly a miserable experience. It was fantastic to see “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” and all the events around Makoto Shinkai, including my own interview with the famous director, are experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. But the convention itself? It was loud, hard to navigate, and even on the slowest days of the convention was packed with people who were more interesting in the shopping bazaar than in the culture of the convention. 

One of the problems is that Comic Con has become a hype factory. The event is built around people wanting to stand in line for hours at a time to see celebrities and/or clips from upcoming media that will be out in a few months. The most confusing one was the Batman Arkham City panel having a line out the door when the game was only a week or two from release. That kind of hype doesn’t exist in the anime world because of the distance between Japan and the licensing companies. Until recently most anime convention attendees had already seen shows the licensing companies were showcase. Even with simulcasts licensing doesn’t happen until weeks, at the most, before shows are released which doesn’t give anime licensors time to hype at conventions.

Anime conventions are more focused around the community and gathering with friends. That is why costume contests, masquerades, pan panels, and an Artists’ Alley are all staples of anime conventions but are worth considerably less at the larger pop culture events. The two cultures are far too different for them to ever had existed in the same space. The larger corporate interests were always going to run the dedicated anime sections out of the Javits.

 Not to say that this isn’t going to be a benefit to the anime companies. A more integrated Comic Con means that Funimation and Crunchyroll will be billed with the same weight as Marvel and other of the large players, ideally. We’ll have to see how well the complete integration actually plays out and if Anime even gets the nod that New York Comic Con is promising. However, the anime companies being present at the previous NYCCs gives them more of a chance of getting a decent slot in programing. More eyeballs can only benefit the industry.

So yes, the death of New York Anime Festival is tragic but it gives some hope that the complete integration will give some benefit to the industry and the fandom. They gave a lot of time to Makoto Shinkai last year so it wouldn’t be shocking if they allowed an equally important Japanese guest the same privilege even without NYAF being a named part of the convention. What it harms is the culture that anime conventions thrive on. There won’t be any anime fan panels, there will only be the largest of anime artist in the NYCC artist alley, and the kids will have lost a place to hang around with their friends. Will I be attending Comic Con next year? They’ll have to show me some impressive anime guests for me to even consider it at this point. Unfortunately, Comic Con just isn’t a part of nerd culture that I feel the need to subject myself too without decent anime content. Comic Con grows as a mega culture event, and a single anime convention bites the dust.

But looking at the state of anime conventions, will it be long before we start losing more and more of them? Check back for part 2 in my “The Death of the Anime Convention” series “The Homestuck problem” for my thoughts.

The Death of the Anime Convention: Goodbye New York Anime Festival

Today New York Comic Con announced that New York Anime Festival will no longer exist. Attendees of the convention weren’t surprised at the news, but disappointed. This means that there is no large anime convention in New York City! How insane is it to think that the most populated area in the country lacks an Anime Convention?! How did this come about? Some of us had hope when they announced the merging of the two conventions, but it was quickly clear that the two cultures couldn’t co-exist.

Attendees of the past two New York Anime Festivals have been more than vocal about how dissatisfied they were with the event. In 2010 the event was shoved into the basement of the Javits convention center, quarantining anime programing; artist alley; and the mass of anime fans away from the pop culture convention going on above. It was a suitable solution to the problem of combining the two conventions, but no one was completely happy. In 2011 fan run anime panels were nearly abolished entirely while the artist alley was moved to the top floor of the Javits center. The “anime ghetto” returned and it was clear that the two conventions would never be able to live side by side. While anime’s presence at the convention grew ever smaller, the convention itself was bursting at the seams with people interesting in comics and the other pop culture events going on. The tiny anime convention that happened inside the massive New York Comic Con went by unnoticed by the majority of attendees.

Continue reading “The Death of the Anime Convention: Goodbye New York Anime Festival”

His and Her Circumstances: Building on top of Evangelion

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His and Her Circumstances, or Kare Kano for short, is famous among Otaku for being the final piece of animation directed by Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno, who left the project before it had finished due to disputes with advertisers and the author of the original Manga, Masami Tsuda. Which is strange because she, supposedly, claims she was unhappy with Gainax’s focus on the humor and not the romance. After watching the show I doubt that was the only thing she was uncomfortable with in the adaptation.

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Kare Kano is an odd show, not odd in the sense that it’s a weird or hyper active like some recent Gainax titles. It’s odd because the core of the story is a generic Shoujo anime. Yet, Anno takes what could have been a simple romantic comedy and transforms it into a commentary on the nature of relationships and how they effect and charge individuals. A few episodes in the post-Evangelion style of Anno is apparent. Elements reserved for some of Evangelion’s more spectacular episodes are used in Kare Kano with abandon. These include sketches, dialogue as text for emphases, still frames, long sequences of inner monologue, manga frames, and abstract animation meant to symbolize a character’s mental state.

Lets try to go back to the time and place and get into the head of Anno as he starts to direct Kare Kano. It’s the year 1998 and he just finished creating one of the most influential anime of all time, one that’s colossal impact is still being felt over fifteen years later. Then he was allowed to refinish the ending of his masterpiece with a huge budget and again creates a masterpiece that pushes animation forward narratively and stylistically. Gainax will never raise higher than the peak they reached in the wake of End of Evangelion. How is Anno rewarded for these accomplishments? He gets to adapt a Shoujo manga.

Kare Kano is unique for Gainax. It’s the first straight Shoujo title that they’ve done and the first time that Gainax has ever adapted a previously published work. So Anno was being challenged in one respect, but he was also being restricted to a set source material. Not that it stopped him from being Anno.

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I’m going to a bold statement: Kare Kano is one of the most innovative piece of animation I’ve seen. I’m not saying that Kare Kano is a better show than Evangelion or Anno’s previous works but the way he approached Kare Kano is able to turn what is a rather generic Shojo into a visual and emotional thrill ride. The way Anno works with the characters and builds the relationship is unique, especially in Shojo, and taking a simple romantic comedy and transforming it into a physiological character study that Anno perfected in Evangelion.

I wouldn’t be a proper Evangelion fan if I didn’t notice the constant references to Anno’s previous work. The first one happens only minutes into the series where Yukino’s is giving her opening monologue and strikes a pose that emulate’s Rei standing over the earth in End of Evangelion while a glowing white ball appears in her hand to make the picture complete. Anno reuses Evnagelion sound effects, music, recreates pieces of animation, and references Evangelion throughout the series. The chief reason these are in the series, I believe, is to give a nod to the Gainax fanboys and allow Anno to trumpet his own work. There is also a note of sadness to the Evangelion references, as if Anno lamented it being over and regretted working on his current project, but I might be projecting.

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It’s clear why Anno would have been interested in Kare Kano’s narrative. In Evangelion, Anno dealt with a handful of characters who are defined by their duality. Shinji built up a wall around himself in order to hide from his Father’s rejection while pretending to hate him and Asuka coveted the praise of others because of her own struggles with an absent Mother. Kare Kano’s two main characters deal with similar issues. Yukino loves to be praised and adored so she puts on the persona of the perfect student. Flawless appearance, perfect grades, willing to help, member of every committee during special events, and beautiful. However, when that position is challenged by the equally smart Arima and she losses first place her entire persona begins to unravel. She has to work even harder to maintain her grades because holding that number one position is the basis for the entire character she constructed for herself. The breaking point only comes when she learned that Arima, the seemingly perfect Arima, is putting on a show of his own.

Arima’s desire to hide his true self comes from an abusive childhood which ended when he was taken away from his parents and sent to live with his Aunt and Uncle. Feeling ashamed at himself for his own childhood and carrying the burden of his parents, Arima attempts to make up for those aspects of himself by excelling at school and sports while attempting to not being a burden on his adoptive family.

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The two characters struggle with their duality in some breathtaking scenes which explore the character’s personalities and back story in amazing detail. Anno doesn’t hold back in exposing these character’s flaws, completely cracking apart what had previously been presented to the audience. That is the exceptional aspect of Kare Kano, it goes far beneath the surface of the characters and roots the relationship deep in the psychology of the characters. They become the only people who they reveal their true selves to and in doing so the two share a connection that Yukino has only had with her family, and Arima has never had with anyone.

The most impressive part of Kare Kano is that it’s the most realistic romance anime I’ve ever seen. The relationship progresses smoothly; Yukino and Arima start off hating each other, then they become friends, followed by falling in love. Even after they admit their feelings the progress continues to dating, to needing to be around each other, and finally through the stages of a physical relationship. The majority of Shojo spends far too much time on the first few parts of the relationship, so much so that most series end after the main characters confess their feelings for each other or share a single kiss. When I hear romance anime I think of misunderstandings, love triangles, and endless dead ends. Kare Kano gets through that in the first ten episodes. Of course the narrative is the work of Masami Tsuda, but the way Anno builds the characters before the relationship even begins makes the progression of their relationship all the more satisfying.

H%26H004.pngAnno also takes some serious risks with the animation style. My experience with Shoujo is that directors traditionally don’t get excessively artistic but rather play the animation straight and add a healthy amount of sparkles. Outside of his Evangelion-esque psychological scenes there are episodes that feature heavy use of still images, sketches of characters with text, and was able to sneak in still photography.

The most interesting episode, Episode 19, comes from one directed by Anno’s protege Kazuya Tsurumaki, who took over the series once Anno left. It’s a completely insane mash up of styles using photographic backgrounds, featured all the characters in a crayon like style, and had hyperbolic scenes animated using paper cut outs on popsicle sticks. The episode probably represents a time crunch caused by the departure of Hideki Anno, but it certainly is left as a testimony to the abstract levels in which Gainax is capable. Not until Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt have I seen them use alternatives to standard animation, yet here they combine standard animation with a host of other styles to create a visually jarring and yet thought provoking piece of art.

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Much of the nonromantic aspects of the seres pale in comparison to how Anno handles the characterization and relationship between Arima and Yukino. The middle of the series concerns side stories where Arima is noticeably absent, and Anno seems to adapt these episodes straightforward as opposed to making them his own as he did with the first half of the narrative. It doesn’t matter anyway, as the series abruptly ends and will never be continued by Gainax, as requested by Masami Tsuda. It’s a shame Anno didn’t get a free hand to do whatever he wanted with the series as a whole piece, but even beyond that, the anime no ending but just closes in the middle of the “14 day” arc where Yukino and friends are preparing a play for the cultural festival. The anime covers the preparations for the festival, but ends right before the festival begins. The play sounded like a new opportunity for deep character study and while I could read the manga to find out how the “14 days” arc plays out I would have liked to see Anno or Tsurumaki tackle a play within an anime that reflects on the characters. That seems like an ideal situation for the director to craft. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Kare Kano is, ultimately, an experimental anime for Anno that ended poorly. The core story and characters are solid but enhanced by the narrative and visual techniques of a master animator. Anno brings his craft as a director and the Gainax staff to their absolute highest and it’s a shame that the unstable Anno was unable to finish working on the series and, until the first Evangelion remake in 2007, retired from animation all together. If Anno ever returns to the Directors chair, for something that isn’t Evangelion, I think the world is in for a treat.

Top 5 Anime of 2011

luckystar01.jpeg2011 turned out to be an interesting year. It seems the moe craze is starting to dimmish a bit with a few notable failures; Yuru Yuri I’m looking in your direction; but overall 2011 turned into a pretty good, especially for Funimation with them pushing out two of the titles on this list on top of their exceptionally successful FLCL rerelease.

The titles on my list paint 2011 as a year where Japan returned to attempt reaching a western audience, where an auteur director came of age, where artistic exploration reached a new pinnacle, where sweet and simple narratives play with our emotions, and where Japan proves they are still capable of creating some of the finest Science Fiction in the world.

Each of the titles on the list represent different reasons why I’m an anime fan. The chief reason among them being how much depth the medium has to offer. The qualifying rules are simple, a series had to have finished airing in 2011 and a film has to have been released on DVD or screened in the United States at some point in 2011. Now, on to the list!

5. Tiger & Bunny

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Tiger & Bunny stands apart from other Japanese attempts at superhero stories because it relies so much on the characters. They are beautifully drawn and full of life, so much that I desperately await more stories set in the universe. Tiger & Bunny has the potential to be the new gateway drug for the next generation of Anime fans just as Cowboy Bebop was for my generation. It has themes that appeal to a western audience but enough anime tropes to prepare an unsuspecting audience before jumping into the vast world of the medium.

Above all else Tiger & Bunny could keep me on the edge of my seat with excitement though the majority of the final arc and allow me to build a strong enough emotional connection with the characters to have me break down in tears. For an action show to do both of those things elevates it above the majority in its genre.

4. Summer Wars

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Mamoru Hosoda made a huge affect the industry with his film “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.” Summer Wars represents the first time Hosoda directs an original script and it definitely shows off the level of creativity of which he is capable. The imagery is stunning from the rich and full virtual world of OZ to the subtle beauty of rural Japan. The narrative pits old world family values against the need to be connected through a digital world and the stark difference between how the two worlds look aids the theme in profound ways.

The greatest achievement of Summer Wars is Hosoda’s handling of characters. The family depicted in the film easily contains two dozen members and yet with a few short scenes the audience feels as if they understand the make up of the family, and the character of even the most minor players. This is done by relating universal experiences and allowing the audience to fill in gaps with their own experiences. Truly, a magnificent style to immerse the audience in your world.

3. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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In an attempt to describe Madoka Magica I called it “The Dark Knight of magical girl shows” and indeed I believe that it took a genre that had been traditionally for young girls and transformed it with gritty realism and dark characters that left the idea of escapism normally associated with Magical Girl shows far behind, instead turning the idea of “Magical Girl” into a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. This isn’t the first show to turn Magical Girl tropes upside down but it certainly did it in a lasting and profound way.

The greatest achievement of this show is the direction of Akiyuki Shinbo as he weaved his fantastic cut out art style into the show which gave a stark contrast between the evil witches and Ume Aoki’s adorable character designs. The dark shadow filled world he crafts work to create the sinister undertone that drives Madoka Magica forward as it slowly destroys the emotional stability of the audience.

2. Usagi Drop

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I can’t stop talking about how much I love this show. Compared to all the other shows on the list it might seem like nothing special. The animation is simple and the story is almost nonexistent, being a slice of life drama. So how can it compete with shows that have innovative animation and narrative techniques? With pure heart. The show is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen and it handles it’s subject, a single guy taking in a little girl, with sincere realism. The characters are so beautifully and realistically constructed that one cannot help falling in love with all of them, even the annoying bratty kid who befriends Rin.

Usagi Drop is a beautiful, universal narrative which succeeds because of how honest and true it is executed. It transcends the medium and is a product that shows a universal human experience no matter what age or disposition from which the viewer approaches.

1. Evangelion 2.22

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Evangelion 2.22 took the number one spot late and pretty much by default. It wasn’t until I was compiling the list and went over my rules that I realized that Evangelion 2.22 qualified, and that’s why it wasn’t on last year’s list even though the first time I saw it was in 2010.

Evangelion 2.22 is an amazing accomplishment chiefly because it takes it’s source material, the Evangelion television series, and improves on it. There are few anime series that come close to the complexity of narrative and depth of character development that the television series accomplishes and this film comes to much the same place using much tighter and complete character arcs. Not only is the structure of the narrative better but the visuals and action are perhaps some of the greatest ever seen in Japanese Animation. The style of the opening fight with Evangelion Unit 2 accomplishes what took the television series needed twenty minutes for in seconds. The intensity of the final battle with Zeruel seeds doubt into the audience as to what the outcome will be, and this is a remake of a much loved series! Hideaki Anno has improved on his own masterpiece and there is no question that Evangelion 2.22 takes the top spot for Anime released in 2011.

As always, I look forward to what next year will bring. Another year, another fantastic list of shows to represent the medium. I hope you enjoy.

 

Correction: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was not Hosoda’s first film. I know Digimon exists, I just temporarily forgot about it.