Best of 2010 – Anime

Ok, so I totally fucking forgot about this, I’m posting it nearly a year late and even worse, I didnt even finish writing up my thoughts on each of the entrants. In the immortal words of Johnny Blaze, “What it is” Its odd. I feel like I’ve watched a lot more anime this year than I apparently have. I blame the summer months where a combination of depression and socialising savagely consumed time I could have spent keeping abreast of Japan’s animate cultural artifacts. I like to have a large selection to choose from for these kinds of article because it makes the obvious choices stand out more. When you have a smaller selection, the majority of which is fairly uniform in quality, it makes selection a pain in the arse.

As I mentioned above I have been rather lax in getting through the ever growing pile of things stacked in my “Must read/play/watch/masturbate to/worship”, so as with the Best of 2010 in games Im tempted to postpone this until I’ve had a chance to “catch up”. But I’m going to try my best not to. If I do get around to watching what I feel I should have then it just means come this time next year I’ll have my oh so desired longer list to choose from. While all the anime listed here is more than worth your time (that’s Mick’s gurantee, if it fails you may demand recompense) it sort of feels like most of it isnt really “Top 10 material”. I have no idea where this niggling feeling is coming from and I’d suggest you ignore that I mentioned it. Why dont I just delete the mention of it as opposed to telling you to ignore it? Because the second paragraph looked a little anemic and I wanted to pump up the word count. Ha, sucker!

In an effort to better manage my (tragically over-abundant) time I’ve started to plan out my month’s anime viewing in advance. Though so far the results have been mixed, while I have got some stuff watched I have also often wandered “off script” due to mentaly writhing under a yoke of my own construction. Each of the articles are tagged with viewing. So if you’re looking for some suggestions on what to watch on an ongoing basis I suggest you check it out.

Bakemonogatari

This is one of the cleverest and most stylish anime I’ve seen.

Armed Librarians: The Book of Bantorra

Just finished watching this and I have to say that it was very enjoyable. The entire series builds excellently to an extremely satisfying (if not necessarily happy) finale. While the ending was certainly worth it the continuous lack of explanation throughout the majority of the series did wear on me at times. Still hard to argue it wasnt worth it. The animation was excellent, as was the voice acting and the music was noticeably well done. The characters, while not always likeable, were nearly always engaging. So all in all I’d say it was very good, but not excellent, four stars perhaps? I might come back to this and expand on it later. It’s almost worth watching entirely for the main protagonist who is one of the most fully rounded and realised characters I’ve seen.

Shikabane Hime (Aka & Kuro)

K-ON!

I have an almost instinctive dislike of popular media, hard to shake teenage pretentiousness I guess, even more so if its popular with internet fandoms (thats just common sense). So I kept putting off watching K-ON!. Which was a mistake. As evidenced by the fact its six in the morning and I watched the series in one go. It feels like a good Belle & Sebastian song – possibly twee but certainly heartwarming.

Asobi ni Ikuyo: Bombshells from the Sky

I watched this quite some time ago (well three or four months, but it feels like forever) and so in an effort to refresh myself on it without having to rewatch it I went looking for reviews of it. I stumbled across this review of the first half of the series. I really wish I hadnt. Usually the reviews on AnimeNewsNetwork are divergent from my own thoughts, to a greater or lesser degree. They generally over-think things and raise objections and complaints that have more to do with the apperance of being serious and pretentious than with the show being reveiwed. So it was rather shocking that I found this review both well written and almost perfectly in sync with my own thoughts. Too perfectly in fact. Now I cant think of anything to write that isnt simply plagarising or paraphrasing the review in question. Which means that Im going to have to rewatch this and think further on it.

Dance in the Vampire Bund

While its hard to pin down which anime was my favourite, as they generally fall into differing genres and I specifically try and avoid such categorisation, if push came to shove I would have to say that Dance in the Vampire Bund is the anime I enjoyed most this year. Before I delve into why this is so and why you should watch it I suppose its best to get the “controversey” out of the way now. One of the two main characters in the series is a several centuries old vampire who spends the majority of her time in the form of a pre-pubescent girl, a handful of those times she is naked. The images of her naked body are generally not “shot” in a sexually sugestive manner. But if you find it difficult to separate nudity from sex or find the very idea of a naked childs body offensive then avoid this. While I was aware of the “issue” going in, and generally have a relatively low threshold for lolicon bullshit, I have to say that I never really noticed it intruding too much on my consciousness while viewing.

This series is just fucking awesome from start to finish, from concept to execution, this is fucking great. I love supernatural action series, no whiny fucking “Oh I’m immortal and I want to bang a sixteen year old girl” glittery emo bullshit here. It’s vampire nobility fucking one anover with their shape changing lycanthrope shock troopers. It’s tearing open throats, tearing off arms, kicking people through the ceiling of a church and impaling them on a stone cross. In short, it is monsters being monsters. That’s not to say that it’s all mindless action. The characters and the story are well developed and engaging. While the length of the series doesnt allow for a huge amount of character focus there is still a satisfying and “believeable” amount of character development. The setting is excellent and the politics and factions presented are all entertaining and naturally drive the plot forward. The series does have some moment where we see that the monsters are monsters not just in form but also in behaviour. **SPOILERS** While its not done sensationally, nor does it show anything inappropriate, the bit where the queen is checked to see if she’s still a virgin is pretty rough.

The series is heavy on drama, but never to the point where it feels overwhelming or overdone. The story and plot rock along at a fair old clip and the plot twists are elegant, exciting and well executed. So we know the story and the characters are well done, what about the animation and the action? The action is top notch. The action sequences are uniformly excellent and this series presents us with numerous “FUCK YEAH!” moments (or Crowning moments of Awesome if you are TV Troper). Even thinking back on the action sequences a few months later they still bring a smile to my face at how cool they were. The animation is also uniformly excellent. Shaft are probably my favourite animation studio of last year, as is evidenced by the fact that three of the entries on this list are shows they animated (this, Arakawa Under the Bridge and Bakemonogatari) and all three are beautiful looking.

Above I managed that even in conception this series was awesome. I wasnt talking about the general concept of the series, rather I was specifically referring to the concept for the anime series. The author of the manga upon which this is based specifically asked the studio to come up with their own spin on the work. I really wish more authors would do this. While I do like to see good anime adaptations of manga too often minor “mistakes” detract from the work or filler makes it feel “wrong”. But with Dance in the Vampire Bund I got to enjoy the anime series and then I got to go and read an “alternate” version in the manga. Which was cool. So yeah, go and watch this.

Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu

It’s sort of hard to pin down why exactly I’ve included this show…or is it? Is it difficult or have I simply lost the ability to apply critical thought to the various things I read, watch or play? While I do try and actively suppress critical thought when actually dealing with a text (because I’m engaging with the text for fun, not for research) it is leading to some difficulties applying critical thought in hindsight. Anyhow, on the surface BtTtS (Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu) is another high school harem comedy. But much like with Asobi ni Ikuyo appearances are deceiving.

For a start I wouldnt class it as a harem comedy. Only two girls are interested in the main character and two girls a triangle not a harem makes. While it’s generally classes as a romance comedy the comedy is the ascendant part of that pairing. There is little actual romance in the show, lots of allusions to it and understated displays of it, but practically no actual romancing goes on. I think (after just finishing a second viewing of this) the key appeal of this series is how fresh and polished it feels. While the setup of the school is amusing and unique theres no fantasy romantic comedy worth its salt that doesnt have a good hook in the setting. The characters, all of whom are appealing and amusing, are also (well done) re-treads of stuff we’ve seen before.

But these familiar elements are but together so well that you just dont care if its familiar. The show is very, very slick. The animation is well done and slips seamlessly between multiple styles without losing a step (I particularly love the heavily stylised, almost art deco, stuff. The humour is well done and almost constant, while they show may not have you laughing aloud all the time it always has you smiling. The comedy is a good mix of cleverly written dialogue,visual comedy, paradoy and slapstick. This show just feel fun. It also has an, innocence, I suppose you could say about it that is rather refreshing. The romance in it is understated and virginal, the fan service is limited and quite tame (and often provided comedically by the male cast), the drama is very light and none of the humour is mean spirited. This makes Baka to Test a light, fun watch. A breath of fresh air in an otherwise over-crowded genre. Oh, and the theme song for the ending sequence is quality.

I’m not sure how universal the appeal of this show would be. A decent chunk of the humour riff’s of other anime, videogames (I love the “Snake?” bit) and manga. Though none of the references are that obscure so a passing familiarity should serve you well. If you enjoy romantic comedies or are just looking for something amusing, fun and not too taxing to watch then you could do (oh so much) worse than to give this a go.

Occult Academy

Arakawa Under the Bridge

Angel Beats

Listening to: Pulp - Like a friend

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