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.

Your Own Kind of Justice

 Anime, Zetman  Comments Off on Your Own Kind of Justice
May 312011

That Zetman anime ended. It didn’t get quite as insane as I was hoping, but it didn’t pull all of its punches like I was fearing. As a whole, it may not be the pinnacle of super hero anime like, say, Tiger and Bunny, but the ending was a good bit more satisfying.

The second to last episode ended with Zetman’s girlfriend regressing into a Player. I was hoping Zet would be forced into killing her out of some combination of mercy and “the greater good.” There’s no going back, since this regression was permanent, so she’s in a situation she can’t control. At the same time, she’s a giant fucking tentacle monster that turns people into sand with the slightest touch. Zet may want to “save everyone,” but his girlfriend is literally beyond saving through no fault of her own.

It’s a little sadistic of me to say “Yeah, man, I want him to off her!” but I found that choice the most interesting of the possibilities. It would force Zet to compromise his beliefs in a manner similar to what ALPHAS has dealt with the entire series. It’s downright impossible for Zet to save everyone in this situation, and that’s the sort of choice he should have to face to complete his character arc– realizing that you can still remain true to your ideals even if it means making compromises in the direst of situations.

Zet’s denied this choice by ALPHAS, as Zet’s friend deals the killing blow to the “Sand Monster.” With his knowledge, ALPHAS made the most practical decision. This monster was killing people. It was no different from any other regressed Player. When he saw an opening, he struck.

In doing this, ALPHAS knew that his form of justice would be served. He’s embraced the very philosophy he spouted in his first heroic situation: save those that can be guaranteed salvation. The girl inside that Player couldn’t be saved, therefore her safety was not as important as the safety of those who can be saved. In that moment, ALPHAS cements his identity as a hero.

But in completing ALPHAS’ character arc, Zet is denied a potentially awesome resolution. Zet needed to make that choice. Even if he chose his “all life should be saved” philosophy, he needed to make that choice and there needed to be repercussions. By taking that choice away the series was robbed of what could have been a truly great ending: both heroes having to deal with the ramifications of their ideals.

Zet does get a consolation moment. As he’s about ready to become whatever “Charisma” is, he is able to hold in that transformation. He doesn’t become the heartless apex of Player evolution. He’s able to forgive ALPHAS to a certain extent and not kill him out of rage. His ideals win out in that situation, and he has to deal with losing his best friend over a difference in those ideals.

And what makes all of this especially interesting is that both characters are allowed to flourish under their ideals. ALPHAS goes on to become a popular hero, fighting crime while living the Bruce Wayne/Tony Stark lifestyle (Albeit with a good bit more monogamy.). Zet returns to his role as the hero of the downtrodden, fighting from the shadows and never taking or wanting credit. They both bring about change in society in their own way, putting down the remnants of the Player menace and protecting society.

It’s the sort of resolution I like to see in these series where characters of opposing ideologies butt heads. While the series as a whole seems to sympathize more with Zet’s ideals, we have plenty of moments where ALPHAS’ take is presented as valid. Even as she lays dying as a victim of his rage, ALPHAS’ mother gives approval of his tactics, telling us he’s “following his own form of justice.” You have to question how much of that is her true feelings, but considering those are her dying words you have to assume they’re meant to be taken at face value. The series isn’t judging ALPHAS so much as it’s showing his viewpoint as an understandable one that might not be as ideal as Zet’s.

I like that. The series allows us to pass our own judgment on the characters. You can identify with the character of your choice and the series supports your choice. It’s a morality play without moralizing. That’s good stuff.