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.

Going All In

 Anime, Kaiji  Comments Off on Going All In
Mar 122011

While I still haven’t gotten my dream anime where Texas Hold ‘Em is turned into a ridiculous Prince of Tennis-esque tournament series where poker hands are turned into super moves that level civilizations, I think Kaiji might just satiate that lust for awhile.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to get around to watching Kaiji. It seems like the sort of shit I’d love. I’m only, like, two or three episodes in and I’m already digging it.

I’ll admit, I’m taking a certain amount of sadistic glee in seeing our little buddy Kaiji suffer. I dig that he’s one of the few anti-authoritarian main characters I’ve seen in an anime (Other than the endless stream of generic delinquents we see, whose rebellious nature is mostly window dressing.), but I also like that his attitude is being taken down a peg or two. He’s a disenfranchised youth, out of work and broke, and I can sympathize with that. At the same time, he’s a punkass bitch that takes out his frustrations by letting the air out of people’s BMWs while saying “No one with such a car can be a good person.” This is the sort of real youthful angst that we don’t see much in anime– the angry youth who strikes out against authority in largely impotent ways– the sort that wants to change the system and tries to do so but has no clue what he’s doing. Hey, I was like that in my late teens and early 20′s as well, so I get you Kaiji.

At the same time, I realize that he needs to be stepped on so he can realize that his brand of idealism is a fraud, just as much as the fraud that’s gotten him into this surreal game of high-stakes gambling. He’s made some really stupid mistakes all in the name of his misguided ideals. Not only did he stupidly co-sign a Yakuza loan, but he’s gone out of his way to refuse to do anything about his own financial situation. It’s one thing to be an out of work dude who has a hard time trying to get by, and it’s another to gamble away one’s days when one has jack shit for cash. He’s on a self-destructive path that’s fueled by his anti-establishment ideals, and he needs those ideals crushed a bit so he can get himself on the right path.

So while this cruise of death might be a big con job that’s trying to scam away his very freedom and livelihood, it’s obviously the very thing this dude needs to right himself. He needs to be shown just how destructive this lifestyle can be, he’s just unfortunate enough to have that kick in the ass take the form of an elaborate game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. I almost wish I had someone come along when I was a punkass teenager and told me “You can eliminate all of your college debt if you take a cruise out onto the Gulf of Mexico and play High Stakes Kick the Can” or something like that.

Or not.

So yeah, Kaiji pretty much deserves what he’s getting, but it’ll make him a better man. Or a better slave. Something like that. Awesome stuff so far.

There we go. Some positiveness. I can get back to bitching about stuff now.

Also: Just wanna say that I love the art style in Kaiji. Love the angular faces and thick, dark outlines. And I bet Kaiji totally hit Terry Bogard over the head and stole his jacket. Probably because Terry was driving a BMW.