Dec 142011

It’s that special time of the year again, where everyone gathers around the warm glow of the computer monitor and rants and raves about how their arbitrarily ranked list of Japanese cartoon shit is superior to everyone else’s. Some do it passive-aggressively by saying it’s “just their opinion,” while others are brazen and proclaim their will is God’s will and that their God is a better otaku than yours. It’s a true holiday miracle and the reason for the season.

So here’s the only top whatever list you need to read. Because, yeah, my God’s dojin collection is bigger than your God’s.

12. Shinryaku!? Ika Musume

The second season of Squid girl is more of the same. That ain’t a bad thing, since it has the same comedic timing and excellent exploitation of its gimmick. It has the same mixture of awesome gags and middling ones, just like the first season. It’s all about consistency and comfort. It makes for a good sitcom, but it’s lucky to be on this list because I decided to extend it to 12 instead of the traditional 10 for various reasons. I’ll gladly accept another season of Squid Girl come Fall 2012, but hopefully they mix things up a bit next time.

11. Wolverine

Easily the best of the four Madhouse Marvel series. Iron Man was alright, X-Men was atrocious, and I didn’t bother with Blade because X-Men was so horrible I threw my arms up in the air and shouted a stream of obscenities that could probably be heard from Madhouse’s animation studios. But Wolverine was genuinely cool. I talked about it here, but the gist of it is this: it takes the classic 1980’s Wolverine miniseries, expands upon it, adds in some anime conceits, and manages to improve upon the story for the most part. If only they could have done a similar thing with the X-Men anime.

10. Working’!!

Last year, Working was essentially tied with Squid Girl in terms of quality. They both ran with their setting and pulled off some good jokes. The difference this time around is that Working managed to expand upon its premise. We’re seeing the characters change. It might not be drastic change, but it’s a hell of a lot more character development than most similar series. Relationships are maturing, both in terms of characters accepting their feelings and in terms of their dysfunctional nature. All of these relationships feel natural and “realistic,” but at the same time they’re pretty screwed up and worthy of our derision and laughter. It’s that growth that differentiates between a decent sitcom and a genuinely good one. It isn’t on the level of, say, Maison Ikkoku or whatever, but it’s good stuff.

9. Mazinkaiser SKL

Mazinkaiser SLK is trash. Pure exploitative trash. It’s the sort of mecha anime I like– absurd machines smashing against each other in an illogical, chaotic symphony. No pretenses of reflecting upon society like most Gundam series. No romantic undertones like Macross. It’s robots hitting robots– violence begetting violence. It’s the perfect sort of OVA. It sets up the carnage, plays out the ordeal, and gets it all over with in three episodes. Much like my favorite anime from 2011, it’s the sort of shit that made me a fan of anime to begin with, and it’s good to get a few doses of this senseless beauty every year.

8. Ben-To

The best fighting anime since Air Master. It doesn’t quite reach the same blissful levels, since the fights aren’t nearly as well-choreographed and it isn’t coming together as well, but it’s still damn good for the genre. It has the same sort of ridiculous premise that every other fighting anime has (Really, is “fighting for half price food” any sillier than “superpowered ninjas living in themed villages” or “the exact same story as Superman except everyone is named after food and underwear?”) but it revels in its nature rather than try to make you take it seriously. At the same time, it isn’t a parody or anything like that. It just accepts what it is and plays it as straight as it can be, all while having its sense of humor take a more sarcastic nature. And it cracks me up to see how they integrate the characters’ Sega Saturn obsession into the series.

7. Un-Go

Un-Go is everything that the likes of Code Geass, Guilty Crown, Dance in the Vampire Bund, Eden of the East, and whatever other politically minded series are out there wanted to be. Not that all of the above series are bad, but none of them pull off the modern political angst with as much style and wit as Un-Go. It mainly comes down to how Un-Go is far more willing to play around the issue rather than beat you over the head with lingering fears of western imperialism, the existential threat of terrorism, and the breaking down of “traditional” values in favor of almost alien-like trends and values (the fear of AIs, cults, and so on). It gives you the pieces of Japan’s turmoil and lets you piece them together, and that’s the true mystery of the series. It isn’t about the individual cases in each story– it’s the overarching “what in the hell is the overall picture here” that’s at the heart of this series. It’s all about the big picture rather than the minutia, and I love that.

Wednesday Morning Pony Cult – Preamble

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Nov 072011

My Little Pony. This shit is fascinating. And disturbing. Like a wreck between a car filled with cute bunnies and a truck filled with adorable puppies. Yeah.

A few of my online friends dig this show.They like a lot of the same US cartoons as I do: Venture Bros, Archer, Adventure Time, and so on, and they figured if they liked My Little Pony, I might dig it as well. So they nagged me to check it out.

I was hesitant at first. Not because of the fact that it’s My Little Pony, though. I got no beef with watching “girlie” cartoons. It isn’t even my exposure with anime and its shoujo and josei genres that doesn’t make me flinch in the face of “emasculating” animation. I grew up in the 80′s and I’m all too used to the sort of show My Little Pony grew out of. In the first and second grade my dad’d pick me up after school and take me to his office, and I would watch shit like She-Ra on a tiny black and white TV. By the time I got to his office it was the only cartoon on at that time in the afternoon, and I wasn’t gonna not watch cartoons. And I sat through plenty of other cheesy, moral-ridden, mascot-driven 80′s drivel. I loved The Smurfs when I was, like, 4 years old. Hell, I even had a plushie from The Get Along Gang (It was the cat.).

It isn’t the nature of My Little Pony that I initially found off-putting. It’s the internet culture that’s sprung up around the series. Why in the hell would grown men be enamored anthropomorphic ponies who were created to appeal to elementary school girls? Why would they create obnoxious memes based on these characters? Why would some of them find the series to be “deep” and “meaningful?”

And why was I hearing people comparing it to that bastion of banality known as K-On?

That’s what turned me off initially. I’m down with checking out silly kiddie cartoons. I’m not down with suffering through what seems like the invasion of nauseating slice of life anime into western animation.

But those friends persisted in their pestering. Those that understood my hesitance said it wasn’t what I thought it was. Well, it was sorta like that, they said, but it also had its own charm. And so I gave in. I decided that I would give My Little Pony a chance.

In fact, I decided that I would watch the whole damn thing. All 26 episodes. No turning back. No “this sucks, I’m gonna go watch Cobra.” Even if it means my brain will melt into a sugary pile of cotton candy slop, I would finish this. And I’m gonna blog this descent into the ponypocalypse. Starting tomorrow and every Wednesday after that, I’m gonna post something about My Little Pony. Each post’ll cover roughly 5 episodes or so. It should be horrifically awesome and stuff.

Virtua Food Fighter

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Nov 062011

I don’t give much thought to anime studios. I recognize the names and I know that certain studios have a tendency to make certain types of series, but that’s about it. Most studios are far too uneven quality-wise for me to ever say “Hey, soandso is making a new series this season, I so gotta see it.” Madhouse may put out some cool stuff like Redline or whatever, but then they turn around and make something utterly banal like Chihayafuru or Kobato. Production IG is the same way. One second they’re doing Eden of the East or Ghost in the Shell, the next they’re making us suffer through Bunny Drop or Kimi ni Todoke.

But these David Production guys got my eye. They haven’t done much of anything, but the stuff they’ve done has my attention because it tends to drift away from popular trends.

I have no idea if it’s a conscious effort, but David Production seems to be making adaptations out of things that wouldn’t normally get adapted in the current anime climate. Book of Bantorra may be based on a series of light novels, but it’s a convoluted fantasy thriller that has little similarity to the usual fantasy stuff. Level E may have been published in Shounen Jump, but it’s from the 90′s. You hardly see peeps go back and make an anime out of something nearly 20 years old that isn’t a remake of a previously popular series.

They’re doing the same with this season’s Ben-To. Ben-To may have some “safe” fan service shit and the like, but it doesn’t really play like your usual lame duck lead + harem story. This is because Ben-To is about fighting over food first and pseudo-slice-of-life, clichéd anime tropes second.

The series has yet to lose focus. We may get some conveniently placed camera angles and otaku-centric gags, but the show hasn’t devolved into being about that sort of stuff. Each episode is fully centered around the “I like to beat the shit out of people for half-price food” lifestyle. Each episode shows us a new facet of this world, whether its delving into the code of honor the “wolves” have amongst each other, how said wolves react to peeps who don’t play by their rules, or the petty rivalries that blow up into larger conflicts.

Ben-To, thus far, is a fighting anime that hasn’t lost its focus on the fighting. It’s established its rules and shown what happens when someone tries to break these rules, and it’s also established a larger scope that grows out of these rules. It’s a true fighting anime that hasn’t gone off into powering-up tangents or drawn out fights to last more than a few minutes. It also hasn’t ignored its set-up in favor of focusing on high school hijinks and other shit you can get from any other anime. It really is an anime about people who fight over cheap bento boxes rather than your typical high school comedy that just happens to have a gimmick to slap on the cover to make it look different from everything else (Like, say, Maji de Watashi.).

It doesn’t hurt that the lead dude actually fights and is good at it. He doesn’t even need to go through some lengthy training process to become a wolf. He might be a punching bag for other characters’ antics, but he’s fully capable of doing what he’s supposed to do: punch people so he can afford a decent meal. He may have gotten the shit kicked out of him in the latest episode, but that was one of those “Yeah, this new villain is so powerful so let’s establish his power by having him whup the lead character” moments that’s entirely acceptable in this sort of show. The lead character and his buddies finally have a worthy opponent. Let’s just hope that things don’t devolve into “I gotta train to beat this guy!” But given everything else that’s happened in this series, I don’t think it’ll sink that low. Hell, the series only has, like, 6 or 7 more episodes. Most training arcs in shounen series take far longer than that. They don’t have time to suck that much.

Also: I love the way the series does its next episode previews. It isn’t just scenes from the next episode with some inane drivel spouted over the instrumental version of the opening song, it’s always a little scene in and of itself where the characters break the fourth wall and give their own impression on what’s coming up next. It’s good stuff.

Also Also: Digging the Sega references. It’s blatant advertising, but it’s cool that this dude still plays shit like the original Virtua Fighter. I’d make a comment about how this series seems to take place in the late 90′s or something, then go off on some conspiratorial tangent tying it into the Occult Academy and Level E or some shit, but the fact that peeps have modern-day phones ruins that. Damn. And do you see this, Future Diary (And almost every other anime out there.), high school anime characters can have smartphones. Get with it and quit giving them shitty flip phones.