2011 With Echoes
Greetings to you all, Echoes here. This post is going to contain some of my thoughts about the year that just passed, and the anime found therein. The good, the bad, the impeccable, the weird, and hopefully...the funny.
Let's start off with something very broad, very fundamental, and very simple: has this been a good year for anime?
Yes, yes it has. I think even most anime cynics would admit that this year has been quite strong, with a broad array of excellent series catering to many different tastes. There was something for just about everyone this year.
That being said, this sure was a moé-heavy year. Many series proved to be pleasant surprises, showcasing both originality and great writing in what could be easily written off as nothing but fluff at first glance.
Examples of this include Yuru Yuri (a surprisingly well written comedy with adorable and entertaining characters with a hint of romance here and there), Sengoku Otome (a historical comedy which throws aside its fanservice-laden look and becomes a genuinely hilarious and gorgeous show), and Mashiro-iro Symphony (which not only transcends its harem appearance, but proved itself to be one of the most heartfelt, genuine romances I've seen in a long, long time).
Another genre that has been incredibly successful this year was comedy. The anime market is certainly no stranger to laughs, but for this year, as well as the last, it has really stepped it up and raised the bar for quality. We had two marvelous continuations of great comedies from the previous year (namely Working!! and Shinryaku! Ika Musume's second seasons). Both delivered exactly what fans like me were hoping for, more of the same.
They're the cream of the crop when it comes to comedy released this year, but there are several other noteworthy additions. One of my personal favorites is the criminally underrated continuation, Maria-Holic Alive. This is Shaft at their strongest, in my opinion. Eccentric comedy is their forte, and this one delivers it in spades. Other funny shows of note include Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko and Level E.
Serious Stuff: The Good!
We all love to laugh, and as anime fans, a good deal of us love cute, adorable stuff (especially girls) too. I can appreciate just about every anime genre (with the possible exception of mainstream shonen action), and I'm a big fan of moé, even the heavy stuff like K-On! and Lucky Star. However, my very favorite genre is psychological horror, and I delight in shows with a dark atmosphere. A serious story highlighting not just the glory, but also the suffering and evil that is inherit in existence will always attract my attention.
That being said, let's take a look at some of the more dark/serious series this year dished out. First and foremost on most people's list is Maho Shojo Madoka Magica. This show's hype and subsequent popularity was off the charts. With gorgeous visuals akin to Hidamari Sketch (which is quite a laugh considering they are polar opposites in most regards) and music by the always dazzling Kajiura Yuki, both its hype and its popularity proved to be well deserved. Much has been said about this show, and I do not have much to add. I'd tell you to watch it, but let's be honest, you already have. A dark story with compelling characters; it will go down in history as one of the classics.
Next on my list is No.6. This show delivers a captivating tale of a young boy who is forced to come face to face with the gruesome reality that rests beneath his picture-perfect life and society. Strong characters, good writing and mature visuals all make this one of the year's gems. It wasn't particularly popular with the crowd, but I loved it to pieces. My only complaint is that it was a bit too short, but that's Noitamina for you.
If we're talking about dark, we simply cannot neglect this next title. Next on my list, Deadman Wonderland. This show certainly is dark, as well as bloody and gruesome. The show starts with some poor soul named Ganta, who gets blamed for massacring his entire class, who died before his very eyes. Now that's how you start a show. He gets sent to a private prison (the series' namesake) which turns out to be more gruesome than he could have ever imagined. Unbridled violence, including the gouging out of eyes and various other tortures, as well as the emotional despair of the inmates, makes this a hard show to sit through at times. Unfortunately, it sort of loses its steam towards the end and could have been more consistent with its writing. Still, well worth seeing for any gore-hounds or stalkers of the night out there!
Before moving on, I'd like to offer my respect to Mawaru Penguindrum, which I have yet to finish, but which has been an absolute treat so far. I'll refrain from digging deeper on this one as of now, but it still gets a warm recommendation.
Serious Stuff: The Bad!
With great ambition comes great risk. If you aim to make your show mature and emotionally involving, you can reach great heights, but if you do an insufficient job of it, the ineptitude becomes all the more apparent. Let's take a look at some of the serious shows that didn't fare so well this year.
First on the list: C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control. Boy, that's a mouthful. In this strange show, investments and economic dealings are settled between the chosen few in an alternate dimension, where they duke it out shonen-style for...control and money, I suppose. This show started off strong, with an intriguing premise, interesting visuals and an ominous atmosphere. Unfortunately, it did not live up to the expectations it built and felt contrived by the end. The show doesn't fall entirely flat, as the chemistry between the lead and his female fighting partner, Msyu (yes, that is her name), is quite strong. However, this could, and probably should, have been a lot better. Ultimately, a disappointing show.
Next on the list: Freezing. Are you even supposed to take this seriously? I couldn't really tell you, but it sure didn't work for me. It gets awfully dark and grim towards the end, and has an unpleasant air about it throughout, so it should qualify as a "dark" show. The plot is not engaging in the slightest, most of the characters are uninteresting cardboard cutouts and the lead is bland and uninteresting in the highest degree. It can be nice to look at, and I've got nothing against a show with sexualized content now and then, but this one just did not cut it. A special mention goes out to the Marvel adaptations, which I guess are sort of supposed to be dark. Maybe? Anyhow, they're mediocre, forgettable works with lackluster plots. (I did not see Wolverine, so that one escapes my harsh scolding. Consider yourself lucky, Logan!)
In this little segment, I'll make everyone hate me by talking about some of the shows on which my opinion seems to differ from the general consensus. Well, something like that. (Please don't hate me!) I already mentioned No.6, which I found to be a delight. However, even though this show was not very well received, it wasn't generally hated with the passion of a thousand suns either. At least not to my knowledge.
First on my list...Blood C. I don't think I've seen a single person say anything nicer than "It wasn't that bad" about this show. I rather enjoyed it. Ignoring the censorship issue (since that's really out of the creators' hands), this was a fine action series, with plenty of bloody violence and interesting fights. The stakes are high, people get killed off like teenagers left in Michael Myers' care, and I felt there was genuine tension throughout. The strange and philosophical (pseudo-philosophical, really) narration from an unknown source added some interesting mystery, and was pretty damn "cool", I thought. Probably nothing deep hidden between the lines there, but I thought it was executed very well. I'm the first to admit that this show has several substantial flaws. It's self-indulgent, over the top (downright insane) with its plot resolution, and might feel like a cheap ploy to some. I view it as a B-movie with a lot of ambition. It was an addicting ride, and I look forward to the movie.
Next on the list...Fractale. It might seem like I'm doing this just to be a contrarian, picking perhaps the two most disliked shows of the year, but these are my genuinely held opinions. I liked Fractale. I liked it a lot. The old-fashioned look combined with the strange, futuristic technology made for an interesting juxtaposition, and I think that in general, it was a gorgeous show to look at. I enjoyed the characters too. The lead might not be much to write home about, but he wasn't offensively stupid or annoying; I thought he was an alright guy. The rest of the cast members were tons of fun, wonderfully brought to life by a cast of talented voice actors. Obviously, what most people take issue with is the plot, which many find to be disjointed and rushed. (I do not mean to misrepresent anyone here; I know that the complaints are plentiful and diverse, feel free to tell me why you disliked it.) As this is Noitamina once again, the show was cut a bit short. Eleven episodes simply wasn't enough to tell this story while fleshing out the world at the same time. However, considering the time restraints, I think they did a fairly good job piecing together an exciting narrative. It's more akin to a child-friendly adventure with some serious stuff thrown in here and there, but I did find it thoroughly enjoyable; all the way up to the end. Certainly far from perfect, but oh-so-much-more enjoyable than you'd think from its reputation.
Ah, there's nothing like getting your hopes up, and then having them dashed against the rocks by the fierce storms of betrayed expectations. That's why, like George from Seinfeld, my hope is to become hopeless. I try not to get caught up in the hype, I try to take a moderate approach to each and every show and enjoy it for what it's worth. (Or not, as the case may be.) Certain times however, there's no escaping the whirlpool. You get sucked in. Like a naïve child, you get your hopes up sky-high and sit in front of your screen with anxious anticipation for a joy that never comes. Let's talk about disappointment.
First on my list: Ikoku Meiro no Croisée. A disclaimer right off the bat: I do not hate this show. I don't even think that it's bad overall. However, we're here to talk about shows that for some reason disappointed me, and Ikoku Meiro is probably the biggest one for me this year. I love Junichi Sato. He is a marvelous director, and the Aria trilogy of series, as well as Umi Monogatari, rank among my favorite shows of all time. You can see where this is going. Little ol' Echoes got himself way too excited for this new work, which looked amazing, and then got something he considered lukewarm and was very upset. I am sad to say though, that disappointment isn't the only factor at play here. The show genuinely lacks some of the charm and magic found in Sato's other series, and feels a little bit lifeless at times. I know that a lot of people feel very differently, and regard this as one of the year's very best. I respect that. More so, I envy you. I want to feel this way about the show, but I just can't. I feel something is missing, a little spark of fairy-dust, a pinch of soul, something. It's still a fairly good show, with a lot of things to like, but it fell far short of my hopes.
Next up, Guilty Crown. It is perhaps premature and somewhat irresponsible to include a show that has yet to finish its airing on this list, but I feel it must be mentioned due to the gravity of the disappointment it delivered. Consider everything said here with a pinch of salt, and as commenting on the series up to this point (episode 11 as I write this). Guilty Crown has been compared to Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion by many, and it's easy to see why. They share a similar setting and opening premise. Boy finds magical girl to solve occupational problem, boy gains superpower. That's a flippant way of putting it, but in Guilty Crown's case, they do little to dissuade me from being flippant. The whole show has been poorly paced, superficial when it comes to any real characterization, and filled with utterly clichéd villains with lame motivations. Additionally, the sexual symbolism is so overbearing and omnipresent that it really gets in the way of my enjoyment. A massive disappointment, this could have been among the shows of the year if some effort was put into it.
Kanae Ito is one of my favorite voice actresses, and I'm sure she is held in high regard among many of you as well. A purveyor of all things cute, she has a unique and irreplaceable voice which is like music in my ears. From KamiNomi's Elsie to Railgun's Saten, her characters have a broad range, but are always lovable.
This year, however, I found an amusing similarity between two of my favorites of hers: Sanae from Shinryaku!? Ika Musume and Sena from Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. Don't see it yet? Sanae is essentially a gag character. Though she gets some development in the second season (yay!), her one defining trait is an undying, obsessive, and somewhat deviant love for the seaborne invader, Ika Musume. This love is not only not reciprocated by Ika Musume; Sanae is outright loathed by her. Who could blame her, given that Sanae has a habit of running up and trying to hug and presumably fondle Ika every time she sees her, to which Ika Musume promptly responds with a tentacle or two to the face. (Unfortunately, Sanae enjoys this quite a bit, which is further evidence of her deviance.)
Sena is just like Sanae. She has an unhealthy obsession with the male lead's young sister, Kobato. Once more, this love is certainly not mutual, as Kobato is scared senseless of Sena, and hides behind her brother, or anything else handy, whenever she approaches. Poor Kobato. Poor Ika-Musume. Both victims of Kanae Ito's growing obsession with small, cute girls.
This year, we also got a good deal of mystery-solving anime. There's Un-Go (a great detective story in the classic sense), Phi-Brain (did not personally watch), which dealt with puzzle solving, as well as Mirai Nikki (which has a great mystery at its center, as well as having all of its characters plunged into a deadly game where they seek each other out and try to get the upper hand). In essence, detective work. Additionally, we got Gosick and Kamisama no Memocho. Not one, but two shows about genius, petite NEET detectives! And what do you know, both of them are good shows too. (Gosick much more so, but still.) In an age where moé is king, these shows prove that adding an adorable little girl to the mix certainly doesn't spell doom, even for the mystery genre. Let's hope the future holds many more NEET detectives like these in store. I for one, welcome them with open arms. (No creepiness intended.)
Pointless Award Time!
Best show to feature a microwave-time machine: Steins:Gate
Best show to make you feel attracted to a boy dressed as a girl: Horo Musuko (Damn you, Nidorin)
Best show to feature intergalactic pranksters: Level E
Best penguin-related feature: Mawaru Penguindrum
Best show to scare away your moronic, homophobic cousins: Tie between Uta no Prince-sama and Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi
Well, that's all for now, folks. I know there are a whole bunch I shows I did not even tangentially touch on, but I've got a top 10 anime of 2011 coming sometime this week (hopefully) and I did not want to exhaust my ranting resources entirely. Plus this post is getting long enough as it is. I hope you enjoyed reading, but even more so, I hope that you enjoyed this year in anime and are looking forward to 2012! Good watching everyone, have a good one.