Dec 302012

2012 was a bit of a weird year for me as far as anime goes. Most years I can narrow down my top choices to 10 or so pretty easily. This year, I found myself struggling with my choices once I got past the first six entries. I only had four or so slots to go, but I had at least ten series I considered worthy. So I went ahead and made this thing a full 15 series long this year.

In the end, the best two series are something of an Alpha and Omega. One is here to destroy everything we hold dear while the other wishes to build anew and create something from the ashes of otakudom. Yeah.

15. Daily Lives of High School Boys

High School Boys was cathartic. It took the piss out of the “high school kids doing nothing of consequence” genre by showing said kids being the sort of mean-spirited, dumb jackoffs they are in real life. That capacity to be a mean-spirited, dumb jackoff was the only thing that made those awkward teenage years tolerable, so anime’s tendency to shove a gallon of bleach down adolescence’s throat and wash away all of that small-minded pettiness does youth a great injustice. Problem is, that’s about all High School Boys has going for it. It’s a great takedown of  modern anime trends, but it doesn’t quite have the same mad brilliance of something like Milky Holmes. They’re both doing the same thing, but Milky Holmes takes everything that much further. High School Boys throws a punch while Milky Holmes launches the proverbial tactical nuke. Still, High School Boys is a funny little show. Also, it has one of the most horrifying endings in all of anime.

14. Aquarion EVOL

If Aquarion EVOL was a Hollywood actor, it would be Nicolas Cage. It’s batshit insane, cranking up the melodrama and mega-acting in an attempt to turn a pretty damn mediocre story into something better. Blahblahblah robots blahblahblah kidnapping women to repopulate blahblahblah something about love and being positive and stop trying to make me barf with all these positive messages. Had EVOL played everything straight, with your stock mecha show characters, it’d probably be a yet another shiny piece of shit with a Yoko Kanno soundtrack. But then we get all this shit about donuts and digging/filling holes and murderous music and permanent opposite days and, yeah, a dull show is made pretty damn amusing in the process. It’s like how Nic Cage made Johnny Blaze like Red Hots and 70s monkey movies in Ghost Rider or any other little touch he adds to a lot of his roles that make otherwise crappy movies watchable. But Aquarion needed to be a bit crazier to make up for its faults. It’s more Ghost Rider 1 than Wicker Man.

13. Thermae Romae

More anime series need to be like Thermae Romae. It has its high concept: Roman bath architect magically travels to modern-day Japan and appropriates modern bath designs in the past using ancient technology. That concept’s absurd. It’s hilarious. It’s clever. It’s also a concept that doesn’t really need the usual ~12 episodes to get its point across. Thermae Romae works because it gets its jokes in and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s pretty damn elegant in its execution. Please use this as some sort of template, Dudes Who Make Anime Stuffs.

12. Hells

Elvis runs a school in Hell. A cute girl dies a meaningless death and is damned just because. Abel wants revenge for being the first being with a soul to die. Frankenstein is moe Jesus. Hells is insanely fun shit. Check out this post for more insanity.




11. Poyopoyo

Poyopoyo’s based on one of those comic strip manga things. Peeps like to call them 4-koma, but that’s just an otaku term for “something like a newspaper comic strip that always has four panels, so let’s give it a new name and pretend it’s something new.” The term kinda cheapens and limits stuff like Poyopoyo, so I won’t be using that term. Poyopoyo’s pretty much a direct translation of these things, slapping together a few gags in a three-minute time span. What makes Poyopoyo work is the rapid pace at which said gags are delivered. There’s no lingering here, much like how you’d read one of these gag strips and move on to the next. It replicates the process of actually reading this sort of thing in the newspaper of manga magazine or whatever. Poyopoyo also nails what it’s like to “own” a cat. You think they’re doing something all cute and shit when they’re actually doing something predatory and disgusting. “Aww, he’s playing around with somet… oh, he’s actually eating some bug and toying with it at the same time.” Fun stuff.

Guilty Horizon

 Anime, Aquarion EVOL, Astro Fighter Sunred, Azumanga Daioh  Comments Off on Guilty Horizon
Oct 142011

Nothing’s original. Everything’s a rift on something that came before. All that shit we’ve heard zillions of times over. You either accept that things borrow from other things or you turn into some asshat that can’t enjoy a damn thing. The catch is that some shows do a better job of making you forget about the things it’s stealing from, and that ability to make you forget about the origin of its shtick is often one way to judge whether a series is gonna be particularly memorable.

If that’s the case, neither Guilty Crown nor Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon are gonna be particularly memorable. But at least they do some shit right.

Guilty Crown steals from Code Geass (the most obvious source), Ghost in the Shell, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Macross, and plenty of other shows in the first episode alone. Japan’s occupied by foreign powers, robots with cloaking devices and cute little four-legged robots are running about, and pop singers fighting the “good fight” have weapons drawn out of their chests so they can revolutionize Japan or some shit. The problem isn’t that Guilty Crown is messing around with all of these references– the problem is that the whole thing didn’t come together smooth enough to make me not notice until after the fact. Instead of being wrapped up in this near future scenario, getting into the action and intrigue and all that, I spent the episode saying “Hey, I know where that comes from!” Blame it on the fact that the lead character is your generic teenager audience surrogate who stumbles across everything only to become a participant when he’s granted super powers by Chemical X or some shit. Or you can blame it on the awkward pacing of the episode. Or you can blame it on the way the music doesn’t quite synch with what’s transpiring, only to abruptly cut out like a scene out of a 70′s grindhouse flick.

There’s something “off” about the first episode of Guilty Crown, and it caused all of its “influences” to become glaringly obvious to the point of distraction. That isn’t to say that it was bad, but it was decidedly awkward in execution and didn’t really mesh together. It’s damn pretty and has my interest so far, but it ain’t all that just yet.

You can say the same thing for Horizon. Instead of rifting on half of the popular series to air over the past 30 years, Horizon opts to steal from every JRPG made since Dragon Warrior.

Horizon has the same sort of convoluted, laughable back story as 99% of all console RPGs. Something about heaven and earth colliding and mingling and going to war and blahblahblah now it’s the future and peeps have space ships or something. All of the characters wear the same sort of gravity-defying, cosplay-ready outfits that might look good when converted into 8-bit pixels on the NES but look hilariously gaudy when thrust into an anime. The characters seem to be divided into “classes” not unlike an RPG, with warrior types and thief types and magic using types and racist stereotype types. There’s even slimes!

Horizon is every single console RPG ever made smashed into one anime, and much like Guilty Crown all of those influences are right there in the open. Horizon makes no real attempt to make any of this shit its own. It’s just a hodge podge of “cool stuff” strung together. And the actual plot of the damn thing is so banal when compared to all the world-building going on in the background– it’s slice of life aboard a floating monolith.

What makes Horizon watchable is all of the crazy bits going on in said background. You got slimes and robots and an incubus hanging out in this classroom with no explanation other than some inferences that they might be from heaven. The characters fight in a very RPG-like way, with little attempt to “translate” attacks into something a little more anime-friendly. And in the second episode one of the supporting characters went off on a serious monologue about how she was nearly forced to have a sex change in order to further her family’s political potential. The catch is that said monologue was all a set-up to explain why she has such a small chest, and the whole thing ended with a breast joke. Those are the sort of hilarious touches that make generic shit like this amusing. It doesn’t make Horizon particularly good, but it’s sure as hell a lot more watchable than half the series currently airing, since it counters its banality with craziness.