Thursday, December 30, 2010

WO's Best of 2010 Anime & Manga

I'm not going to get all sentimental about the titles that I'm going to list here; I'm just going to offer my opinion as to which ones seemed to make a more lasting and well delivered impression on the rest of us. Those titles this year new from Japan that are more of a "cut above" the rest.

I'm not doing a one through ten list either, since this isn't a "Top 10", so you won't find me trying to put one show over another. You'll just find some of my favorites, and those that for reasons I can only try to explain, made me think twice.

Anyway... It has been a very interesting and entertaining year for anime and manga, one of the best in a long time personally. I've been moved to tears, reduced to a jiggly pile of laughing jello, and have shaken my fist more times at the heavens than I can remember ever doing. So all in all, it's been a pretty good time to be a fan.

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Maid-sama
 
One of the titles that easily comes to mind is the romantic comedy Maid-sama.

For all the other romantic titles that have come and gone, and those that offer interesting and likable characters, there have been few — if any — that I can honestly say I liked the main male character.

Most of the time, they are seen as a dork, or a lamo that just happens to be surrounded by a select few babes, and they have one or two that like him, and ... you get the picture. It's pretty standard anime staple.

But Maid-sama didn't do any of that stuff. It had both an equally likable main lady, and leading guy; and enough antics from the side characters that I was never once through the 26 episode run bored, or yawning, or looking for something else to watch.

Usui and Misaki are the best most enjoyable couple I've seen in a long time. They compliment each other, know each other's strengths, and weaknesses; and unlike most shows that offer a flat note ending to a symphonic masterpiece, this show did not fail to deliver an ending that left me happy, in tears, and genuinely moved.

Now, despite the fact that it seemed it was not the year for new manga, did not mean that there wasn't any at all that was being made. Just more of the titles that are already underway, and of course those ones that seem to be going on longer than the energizer bunny.

Fractale
One great new manga that started in September and was published in the Square Enix Gangan online magazine was Fractale, a new shonen title that features a very cool and interesting take on the future of humanity; as it follows the adventures of Clain and his discovery of the truth about the Fractale System, and the mysterious girl named Phryne who we see fleeing from pursuers in the beginning (but of course, what would any good shonen manga be like without one).

Clain's world is very similar to the future world of Surrogates as people have begun to rely more and more on the massive computer network and have abandoned their bodies for dopples, often times weird and silly looking robotic forms.

I can't say much as far as story goes, as only a few monthly chapter have been published so far, but the direction of Fractale is one that has already caught the eye of A-1 Pictures, and is slated to be a new anime title for 2011.

It's also proof positive that good manga doesn't have to include the typical stuff, and while it has a moody and bizarre undertone, it doesn't fail to deliver the humorous goods either; a definite good read that drags you in and makes you want, and beg for more.


Fullmetal Alchemist

It's a proven fact that at some point, all good things must eventually come to an end, and even though the series isn't new by a long shot, the anime in question is something of a new spin. The manga having already ran for several years in Japan had finally saw its conclusion, and just so happened to coincide with the finale of the anime.


I'm talking about Fullmetal Alchemist of course. The show that has been the subject of a lot of my rantings over last year, due in part to the Bones revision, but there is no denying the ending of the manga.

Truly in all the time I have been a fan, I have never seen or read an ending that so perfectly closes the final act of a great series, it left nothing un-answered, it made no apologies, and it fulfilled the wishes of the fans in almost all ways.

Sure it means that one of the greatest series will now be over, but I think any other ending would have been less, and it would have incited the rage and fury of the fans. A truly memorable achievement of the industry, and standard that may never be matched.

Some shows this past year have seen a lot of flame and fire from the fans in regard to, shall we say, some over exposure of the characters, and I'm not talking about endless seasons and spin-offs; I'm talking about actual exposure.


Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls

It seemed for a while there that as a fan I couldn't turn around without seeing some form of sexuality bursting from the seams on screen, and blocked by a veil of steam or re-drawn animation. And while the girls of Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls are not really any different, it is a show that manages to transcend the over-use of nudity as an element of the story, and not for the sake of just blatant nudity... well almost.

Sure the characters are forever exposing their chests, and sure there are a lot of naked back-sides, but the surrounding artwork of the anime actually does a great job of taking one's eyes off of that as the whole show is a visual feat of broad drawn animation.

Never have I seen anything that remotely comes close to the lush vibrant colors, and scenery, the scroll style elements of the backgrounds, and the masterful craftsmanship of the character designs. It's enough to distract and compel all in the same vein.

Not to mention the story of Samurai Girls features a classic "what if" scenario of modern Japan, mingled with old world style clothes and environment, and modern technology. Along with famous Japanese characters from the past; Jubei and Honzo, the ressurrection of a long defeated evil, and even dare I say it — a classic French favorite... D'artagnon!

Now tell me that doesn't kick all sorts of ass, one hand tied behind your back style!


Shinriyaku! Ika Musume

Not all cute anime girls have to come from the big city, or even the discrete countryside, sometimes the cutest cuddliest anime characters are found under the sea. And not since Cardcaptor Sakura has a character won my heart over like Ika from Shinryaku! Ika Musume.

The blue haired (tentacles for hair), plain gown wearing novice from below the waves made such a huge splash that it's quite possible she'll be an all new fan favorite, and the popularity may grow out of control; at least that's what I'm hoping for.

The cute Squid Girl's determined drive to en-slave humanity for their crimes of pollution and desecration of the ocean is just the starting point for a very casual and funny look at the everyday antics of a true fish... er, squid, out of water story.

Her infatuation with everyday things, and her wonderment and excitement at human life is a well deserved departure from shows that are fuelled by sexuality, moe, and complexes and replaced with a huge helping of "geso".

Both heartwarming, sometimes a little thought provoking and always a humorous treat, Ika Musume has certainly made a great impression on me for the future of the anime industry.


Occult Academy

There aren't that many supernatural thrillers that have really impressed me much. Most are just vehicles for the macabre and the strange, but this year saw a relatively new concept of supernatural, sci-fi and comedy in the form of A-1 Pictures' series Occult Academy.

It isn't just good writing, good animation and good character work, it is also a very tickling and tongue-in-cheek look at the end of the world.

So where is the catch?

The catch is that it is complicated, and extremely interwoven; in what seems like casual mundane everyday excursions into the supernatural, and their either proof or disproof, and the complexity of the plot.

So let's see. You have a guy, Abe Minoru, who is a time traveler from the year 2012 to early 1999; his goal is to come back in time and find an unknown object referred to as "Nostradamus's Key", an artifact or object which will open a dimensional rift in space and allow an invading force of Aliens to enter and destroy the Earth on July 21, 1999.

Abe arrives at Walstein Academy, a private school that focuses heavily on the occult and supernatural, and is dubbed by the locals as "Occult Academy", which only makes sense that the object of supernatural power that is responsible for destroying the world is there.

The daughter of the now deceased headmaster, has also arrived to attend her father's funeral ceremony and take over as Headmaster of the school, and ultimately to destroy the school for her own harbored and personal reasons; and in the midst of all this, you have various supernatural encounters, comedic side characters, and Abe Minoru posing as a teacher as he searches for the key.

It seems less confusing when I write this now, but the first episode was so mind-blowing that I had to seriously consider whether or not it was going to be something I was going to keep up with, and, I am very glad that I did. The characters are memorable, smart and witty, and everyone loves a good show where saving the planet from alien invaders is the ultimate goal.


Dance in the Vampire Bund

Sometimes a show comes along that is good and bad at the same time, one that is good because it's executed well, and has a good story, and great animation and fun characters, and bad because it manages to spark a firey controversy with after-shocks months and months later.

Dance In The Vampire Bund is one such show. Based on Nozomu Tamaki's seinen manga, and made into an animated by SHAFT it didn't take long for the buzz surrounding this vampire tale to turn into a hornets nest of hatred or praise.

The biggest issues with the show is that it focuses on two very unlikely protagonists; a young adolescent vampire princess named Mina Tepes, and her childhood friend and bodyguard Akira. The issue is not the fact that Mina as a "Pure Blood" vampire doesn't seem to age and her werewolf bodyguard does; it's the fact that she has a habit of being indecently presented.

Early in the series, as a test of loyalty and to jog the teenage Akira's memory lapse, she makes him apply sun-gel designed by the vampires as a means to block the suns rays for limited exposure, and thus removes her clothes to just her panties... and the fanbase and American industries flew into a rage.

Some hailed this as a tue to the story adaptation and made various arguments that it was acceptable, others argued it was perverse, and filled with underage sexuality, and still yet the licence holder FUNimation Entertainment went so far as to censor the streams, causing more uproar and rioting with-in the community.

Despite the controversy, and the often displays of nudity, it is still a very well executed anime, not exactly on par with the manga on all turns and accounts, but it does reveal the true nature of Mina, her relationship with Akira, her personal drive to make a habitat for the vampires in centuries of hiding, and tell the story of unlikely love.

For many fans against the series, I am reminded that they are not judging with open eyes, and are biased based on here-say, rumors and one or two episodes; which any good critic will tell you is not a foundation for a sound judgement.

I'm glad that Dance In The Vampire Bund was animated, and that it shows both the brutality and the humor and the affection of the manga in most respects. It's an un-apologetic shock to the senses, and like a lot of good titles of the past will eventually overcome its stigma, by its own power.



Sora no Woto
 
I started this blog with one of my absolute favorite titles this year, and I am going to end it with the other one.


Sora no Woto was A-1 Pictures first joint effort with Aniplex and TV Tokyo known as Anime no Chikara (The Power of Anime). An effort on the part of TV Tokyo to produce original anime series not based on previous material, such as Manga, Visual Novels, or Video Games.

This first endeavor was such a major triumph that I was hooked from the opening of the very first episode.

Sora no Woto is the story of Kanata Sorami, who is a new private in the Helvetian Army with the role of bugler and with the uncanny gift of "absolute pitch". Her inspiration for joining the army and learning music attributed to an early memorable encounter with a solder playing a melody on the trumpet, and leaving a lasting impression on her.

She is assigned to the 1121st platoon in the town of Sieze, a castle stronghold on the last boarder of the terminus of Helvetia and the infamous "no man's land" wasteland, the remnants of the last great war of humanity so strong it reduced the futuristic advancements of the world back to early 20th century industry and technology standards.

The castle fortress garrison, is comprised of an all female platoon commanded by 2nd Lieutenant Filicia Heideman, and her second in command Master Sergeant Rio Kazumiya.

The story revolves around life in the castle, Kanata's learning of the bugle, and antics of the townspeople of Seize. Late into the series is when hostilities and the capture of a spy from the Roman Empire (modern day Germany) the series becomes more serious minded and eventually culminates into a climactic ending that left me emotionally drained, excited and moved.

The characters are all memorable, lovable, and endearing; the story while relatively simple is laid back and relaxed, and at no point does this Sora no Woto attempt to take itself too seriously, and offers a dramatic comedy that is nothing short of a touching masterpiece of fine storytelling.

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All of the titles that I've mentioned here in my favorites of the year, are of course open to subjective criticism, I like each of them for my own reasons, others I just don't have time to go too in depth with.

All of these shows represent the best parts of my viewing experiences over this past year; they are the very reasons that I am a fan and why I support the anime industry both here in North America, and in Japan.

Most of these series were viewed either streamed online or through means of distribution of unlicensed titles. But as a fan; as a true anime fan I support my fandom by supporting the industry that makes it. I buy my anime where-ever and when-ever I can, as often as I can, and I want to encourage you to do the same.

It's only through the support of us as fans that these great titles, like the ones I've given mention of can be made and produced. Please take the time to find your anime and purchase it legally, and from legitimate sources, don't give in to the temptation of bootlegs for the sake of convenience or need, and do not make and distribute illegal copies of licensed anime for circulation across the internet.

In so doing you are shaming both yourself, and the people like me that spend our hard earned money to give back to the community so that moochers can enjoy the benefits of other people's hard work.

Educate yourself before you blindly buy from un-affiliated websites and anime & manga providers, think before you act, and remember that for every dollar you don't spend, is one less dollar the industry has to license the very shows you are crying about getting licensed.

I trust you all have a safe and happy holidays, a fantastic new year, and that you will keep reading my blog. I enjoy hearing your feedback, and I look forward to bringing you more angry anime nerd rants and raves in the next year and hopefully for many more.

God Bless.

2 comments:

  1. When I first heard about it, I wanted to hate Dance in the Vampire Bund. But you know what? Apart from that gratuitous scene with the gel in episode 2, I really found nothing questionable in this show at all.

    I'm now reading the manga and enjoying it a lot.

    ...No mention of Panty & Stocking? :P

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  2. I agree, the scene was a bit much; and were it not sort of a way of Mina using Akira, then it probably wouldn't have even needed to be included. I've read most of the first volume of the manga, and decided to hold off until I get enough that I can get past where the anime leaves off.

    As for Panty & Stocking; I dropped it after the 3rd episode as it wasn't for me, and I didn't feel comfortable bringing it up if I couldn't say something more about it than, "The animation was brilliantly abstract, and the transformation scene was GAINAX at their finest."

    Ironically, though I am considering swallowing hard and doing an episode by episode review of it, despite how bad I may rant against it, because my post about it some time back before it aired is still the most popular viewed post to date on here.

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