Nov 302009

Looking at my list, 2001 was a pretty good year for action anime. We don’t even get this many action series over the course of a single year anymore, much less this many good ones in addition to the other bad-to-mediocre ones that came out as well.

10. Noir

Yeah, more than half of this should could be edited out and you’d be left with the same exact show. For every awesome gun fight you had minutes upon minutes of still shots and repetitive dialogue that served less to explain anything and more to pad out the run time. Despite all the needless bits, Noir managed to be a pretty damn good action series. It may be a bit too self-serious (hence why it’s at the bottom of this list) and ponderous over topics that don’t really deserve the pondering, but it isn’t stupid. But those moments of action are pretty sublime. I especially dig how the two girls’ styles juxtapose one another. Kirika is your John Woo two-fisted type while Mireille is more along the lines of your stoic action hero from older movies. It’s no Black Lagoon, but Noir knows its action movies well.

9. Hellsing

The first half of this series is damn near perfect. Everything leading up to the Valentine Brothers’ attack on Hellsing’s base, and the attack itself, is perfect horror/action shit. It lays down the characters, makes their motivations clear, and places them in a situation where we actually give a damn about the outcome. And to make it all the more awesome, there’s a genuine threat presented by the Brothers. Sure, Alucard goes all Shoggoth on us and shows that he’s way more powerful than we imagined, but until that revelation there was genuine tension in that storyline. Then the next story arc began and everything kinda tanked. I don’t hate that African vampire stuff as much as some people, but it doesn’t quite do it for me like the first half. It’s still pretty watchable, but nowhere near as great as the first half. Had the series maintained that level of awesomeness, Hellsing’d likely be much higher on this list.

8. s-CRY-ed

What I love about this series is how, in a world where people have all sorts of crazy super powers and stuff, the main dude’s power boils down to “I punch stuff really, really, really hard.” He’s able to use that super-punching to do all sorts of stunts, like super-leaping by punching the ground, but it all comes back to hitting stuff with his fist. That’s, like, so damn elegant a power that it’s beautiful. The actual series is pretty standard action anime stuff, with conspiracies and battles and rivalries and stuff, but it works pretty good. It’s stuff like this and Tiger and Bunny that Sunrise should do more often. Fuck that Gundam shit.

7. Shiawase Apartment’s Okojo-san

I feel weird including this one on my list since I haven’t seen it all. It has yet to be fully subbed and it likely won’t be finished anytime soon. But screw it, I love this show. It’s a comedy about a dude who has a pet ferret thing. Said ferret is a badass. In the wild, he tamed bears and made them into his lackeys. Now that he’s living in a domestic setting, he uses his magnificent martial powers to rule over his apartment building. But no one notices but the ferret and his hamster buddy who lives next door. Yeah, it’s a basic “animals talking to each other like they’re humans and the humans are unaware of what’s going on” show, except instead of having a cutesy mascot it has a mean, nasty thing with a bad attitude who likes to boss people around as the lead. It’s hilarious stuff.

6. Read or Die

60’s James Bond spy stuff mixed in with X-Men-styled super powers. Yeah man, this shit is awesome. And the master plan of the villain involves creating a song that will kill all of humanity when it’s broadcast across the globe from the villain’s flying satellite base. Awesome. Totally awesome. Still not sure how we got from this sort of pure, perfect action stuff to that horrendous, banal TV sequel. That’s the sort of thing even God can’t comprehend.

Best of the Decade: 2000

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Nov 262009

We’re gonna party like it’s 2009.

And by party I mean make lists of all the anime I liked over the past decade.

Been awhile since I posted. Stuff happens and blogs cease to happen. You know how it goes. Now I find myself a scant month or so away from the turn of the decade and I feel like laying down some elaborated listage when it comes to my favorite anime series of said decade. There’s been plenty of awesome shows and there’s been an awful amount of crap, so I figure we’re par for the quality course. I’ll be doing a separate post for each year. Each of these posts will showcase three series that I feel represent the best of the best from that year, with one of those series being declared “best of the year.” Along with those elaborated-upon series will be a short list of “also-rans,” representing series that were good-but-not-good-enough.

You may see some popular series in these “also-ran” lists. Don’t take that as some backhanded insult. I’m not listing anything that I feel is mediocre or crappy. Even a series that get a passing mention is pretty snazzy. So when you see, say, Gurren Lagaan mentioned in passing, don’t get up in arms. It’s a good series, but not as good as the three series from that year that I felt were superior.

I’m only including anime TV series in these lists. No movies, no OAVs. Also, I considered series as a whole. So if a series had a sequel at a later date, said sequel was taken into consideration for that series’ ranking during the year it was released. No sequels will appear as separate entries on these lists. This means that despite being a series from the 2000s, the second season of Big O won’t appear here. The first season aired in 1999, so it isn’t “from this decade” according to my arbitrary standards.

For the record, my favorite anime movies from this decade were Ghost in the Shell 2 and Paprika.

With all of that said, let’s get a move on to 2000’s series.

Honorable Mentions

Tsukikage Ran

Tsukikage Ran, aka Carried With the Wind, is a fairly straightforward anime series. It plays out like an old-school samurai live-action drama, as the main characters drift from town to town and deal with a new dilemma each episode. That makes the story episodic in nature, and “episodic” seems to be a four-letter word in most anime fans’ dictionaries. This is a sentiment I’ve never understood.

The episodic nature of a series like Tsukikage Ran allows for greater opportunity for character interaction. Note that I said “interaction” rather than “development.” The two main characters, a female ronin and a female martial artist, don’t go through any sort of narrative metamorphosis over the course of the story. They’re fairly static characters by most standards. By interaction I’m referring to the interplay between the characters and their situations. Since we don’t have a overarcing storyline to keep up with, we can pay attention to the character’s personality, get to “know” the character, and better appreciate the ways in which they behave and interact with the story-of-the-week.

This is the charm of episodic dramas and sitcoms. You get to know the characters and look forward to how they’ll react to a given situation. It’s a different sort of viewing experience. Some might call it a “comfort factor,” in that you know what’s going to happen next. That’s an understandable viewpoint, but I think it’s a bit reductive and dismissive. Saying that it’s comforting is to say that there’s no real value in what’s taking place beyond immediate gratification. Not that there’s anything wrong with immediate gratification, but there’s more to this sense of familiarity than mere creature comforts.

This is a narrative device not unlike a plot. Where a linear plot that stretches from one episode to the next creates a certain context for characters to interact within, the episodic story creates another. It allows for a wider variety of scenario to take place, so we can see the characters in different situations that they might not encounter in a more linear storyline. There’s more variety to what we’re getting, and I consider this a strength rather than a weakness.

This is the charm of Tsukikage Ran. Instead of following these characters on a single storyline, we see them encounter several differing situations, and said situations create interesting stories. It doesn’t hurt that the action scenes are reasonable executed, making the obligatory sword scenes enjoyable to watch.

So there we go. Tsukikage Ran is an excellent example of an episodic storyline that works well. It’d do most anime fans some good to give such series a shot. They might find the change of pace refreshing if they don’t dismiss such stories without a second look.

Argento Soma

What do you get when you throw Shakespeare, Marlowe, and a post-Evangelion mecha show into a food processor? You get Argento Soma.

Guy wants revenge. Guy infiltrates an alien-fighting organization to get said revenge. Guy pretends to be someone he isn’t to get revenge. Guy is thoroughly obsessed and is driven to self-destruction due to revenge. That’s pretty much Hamlet-with-a-Giant-Robot, and that’s a fairly accurate description of Argento Soma. Throw in a little Dr. Faustus dealing-with-the-devil in the form of the man that he bargains with to get into said organization, and you have an anime version of Elizabethan drama as a whole.

Argento Soma takes some classic themes that we’ve seen a thousand times over and executes said themes with great success. The degree to which the main character takes his revenge is great to behold. The mecha scenes are pretty good for that sort of thing. All in all this is one of the better post-Evangelion mecha shows that came along in the late 90s and early 00s.

It also has one of the greatest end themes and animations of all time.

What’s awesome about this ending is that it shows everything that the main character could have had if he chose not to pursue revenge. He had every opportunity to live a normal, fulfilling, complete life. The only thing compelling him to self-destruction by way of vengeance is himself and he’s well-aware of the fact. He isn’t coping out and claiming that this is the only path available for him. He knows that he made a conscious decision to seek out revenge, and any longing for a normal life is futile at best. By showing this in the end credits, the series re-emphasizes this point with each episode, reminding the viewer that the main character’s path isn’t one to emulate. That’s one way to moralize without being preachy and obnoxious.

Also, the song is great, and if you think it’s cheesy you suck.

Best of the Year

Boogiepop Phantom

Artistically, Boogiepop is a masterpiece. The series uses lighting and colors in a very unique way. The series starts off using very dark and muted colors and lighting, and as the series progresses said colors and lighting become increasingly clearer, sharper, and brighter. The tone of the series may grow increasingly darker, but as we gain insight into the goings-on of the plot, the appearance of the series begins to mirror our outlook. It’s as if we’re literally stepping into the light and having everything revealed to us as said light grows brighter.

Narratively, Boogiepop utilizes its non-linear nature to great effect. Events are revealed to us in terms of their relevance rather than in terms of their chronological order. This is hardly a new technique, but Boogiepop uses it to create a sense of the unknown, and by slowly revealing information over the course of the series, it helps create that sensation of stepping into the light that is created by the series’ art direction.

The series has a distinct theme of rejecting self-denial and blinding oneself to the world around them. Several characters try to escape from their problems, either through attempting to deny said problems or having said problems removed in some manner. Such actions are constantly punished by one means or another. The series doesn’t accept the “I can do anything so long as I believe in it” mentality that’s frequently championed in anime. Such attitudes are seen as undesirable, as anyone who feels they can change who they are or what their life is like through “accentuating the positive” is usually killed in a horrific manner. This is not a positive series in the least bit, but it also reinforces the idea that one should face one’s problems rather than try to pretend said problems don’t exist.

You can’t have someone eat a bug that represents your inner turmoil and think you’ll be hunky dory. That’s just weird, man.