The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

2008: A Year in Review

I think everyone has a slightly different view on anime in 2008 but if there’s one thing we, here, at The Nihon Review all agree with is that this year lacked an out-and-out masterpiece. And while at times it felt as if truly great titles were at a premium, in the end the year did boast a good number of thoroughly enjoyable anime. What 2008 lacked in depth, it made up for in sheer variety; most anime fans didn’t have to look far to at least find something they liked. But there weren’t as many titles that truly pushed the envelope as we’ve enjoyed in recent years. Like most years, 2008 was also a year of controversy, with titles like Code Geass R2 and Kannagi at the centre of a few of their own. If there’s one thing that really defined this year, though, it’s the rise of sequels. Anime has always had sequels, but this year there was a crapload. The evidence can even be seen in this article, with this year’s list featuring more sequels and/or titles from established franchises than all the previous Year in Review articles combined. These are our choices for the most noteworthy anime of the year.
Introduction by: Sorrow-kun

Spice and WolfCode Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2One Outs

Sorrow-kun on: Spice and Wolf
A fantasy adventure through a vast medieval-like world, Spice and Wolf is one of the most original titles of the year. Spice and Wolf is essentially about two things, the first an examination of medieval economics through the wheelings and dealings of merchant, Lawrence, in a world where the gold coin rules and its value, as well as the value of the goods that Lawrence trades can be manipulated by schemes involving corruption, fraud and betrayal. The second is the give-and-take relationship between Lawrence and Horo, and how their partnership built on wits, wisdom and knowledge gets them through each challenge they face, and also brings them closer together. This is a very smart anime, which also occasionally has a very immersive atmosphere, but it can be a tad dry and dialogue-intensive at times.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00Kavik Ryx on: Mobile Suit Gundam 00
To some, the Gundam franchise is a timeless legacy and a flagship for groundbreaking anime. For others, it is a cheap, gimmicky parasite that just won’t die. At first glance, Gundam 00 appears to be such garbage if the invincible mechs and unsympathetic bishounen cast hadn’t already given it away. It wouldn’t be right, however, to cast this series off based on a few ill omens. Because at the same time, 00 presents itself as perhaps the most well thought out Gundam series to date. The staff properly utilize politics, philosophy, and psychology, in order to form an intricate world, carefully building up to an unexpectedly pulse pounding conclusion. And with the second season currently running strong, it is safe to say that Gundam has reclaimed its former glory.

zzeroparticle on: Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is one of the best black comedies released and this sequel takes the formula that worked so well and gives it a big shot of insanity up the arm to create a surreal backdrop for its biting wit and morbid humor while keeping it fresh. Back is its take-no-prisoners approach to social commentary as it uses various techniques like irony and hyperbole to drive the point home. Though the constant barrage of SHAFT-isms may be a bit much, it’s certainly not a dull experience, demonstrating that a show doesn’t necessarily have to make sense to be enjoyable.

Kure-naiAC on: Kure-nai
Kure-nai(1,2) is an exemplary series that shows the significance of character quirks and the chemistry between their interactions. Each of the female-major cast is distinctive, from one who merely seeks free love to the manipulator to the unfortunate one living in the oppression of misogyny, to quote a few. Additionally, each symbolizes the various beliefs of females in the modern society; rendering the series both entertaining and thought-provoking. Best of all, these winning factors are coupled with witty dialogue and the presence of a haughty yet lovable lead girl. The combination of these elements results in a brilliant series consisting of colorful individuals where their interactions invoke interesting outcomes, and a story that utilizes the concept of femininity as its matter of interest.

Kavik Ryx on: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2
Code Geass was an ingenious and intense thriller that ended on one of the biggest cliffhangers in anime history. Code Geass R2 does the unthinkable by pretending none of that ever happened. Hyperbole, yes, but then again everything in this series is pretty overblown. The original may have had the tendency to test one’s suspension of disbelief, but R2 takes it a step further by constantly switching between absolute genius and mentally challenged. Yet, instead of being an insult to one’s intelligence, R2 presents itself as an exercise in insanity. It is not so difficult to predict what will happen next. But anyone who claims they know how it will happen is a dirty liar.

ARIA The Originationzzeroparticle on: ARIA The Origination
Anyone who goes into ARIA the Origination should already know what to expect from this charming series, but even with those preconceptions in mind, Origination exceeds those expectations, making it a fitting ending to the ARIA trilogy. From its sincere outpouring of emotion, to an atmosphere packed with serenity and grace, Origination brings the story of its characters to an end in an absolutely moving manner which is laudable over the course of thirteen episodes. But its ability to keep true to its internal spirit over three seasons’ worth of episodes is what’s really impressive, making this conclusion worthy of a standing ovation.

royal crown on: Kaiba
Despite the borderline pretentious artwork that screams haute culture, Kaiba manages to pull together an extremely moving and sentimental collage of stories, while simultaneously bringing in strong social commentary and probing the limits of humankind. The dystopic world is set up meticulously and elaborately, and each episode poignantly represents a character lost in a sea of anonymity. The notion of memory is constantly questioned and challenged in each episode, building towards an epic conclusion that, while slightly over the top, manages to delve into the emotional center of the characters. Ultimately the crux of Kaiba lies in the characters, and this kind of analysis should never be missed.

Natsume YuujinchouShadowmage on: Natsume Yuujinchou
It’s natural to reproduce something that’s successful, but I’m getting annoyed at the fact that virtually every successful idea is immediately copy and pasted until it is diminished to a trope. What may once have been considered avant-garde is quickly mass produced to some high gloss poster-piece that is overexposed to a point that it becomes absolutely meaningless. Natsume Yuujinchou is a calm, almost reflective, slice of life show that captures the beauty in the mundane. Instead of focusing on current trends of the medium, the show tells simple tales about the wonders of life. This may be a show about a teenager interacting with supernatural spirits, but the timeless convention of human drama breathes meaning into the experience.

Ascaloth on: Macross Frontier
The first major production of its franchise in a decade, the 25th anniversary return to the epic scope of the Macross universe is quite possibly the biggest breakout of the year. With the former boy genius Kawamori, the original creator of the franchise remaining at the helm of his baby even after all these years, Frontier caters to and at the same time gleefully teases long-time veterans and newcomers to the franchise alike; a male lead who’s actually comfortable with both his manliness and feminity, modern-day reflections of the original and DYRL versions of the original Macross diva Lynn Minmay in the two Frontier heroines (along with the expected-in-hindsight shipping), fabulous GAR! (Bobby), lolicloning Meltrandis, and non-lethal pineapple dishes, just to name a few of the original Macross themes that Kawamori saw fit to play around with like the personal toy that it really is to him. In a way, Frontier is to Macross what SEED(1,2) tried (and failed) to be to Gundam; a truly faithful reinterpretation of a much-beloved franchise. YAKK DECULTURE!

Xam'd: Lost MemoriesShadowmage on: Xam’d: Lost Memories
Studio Bones has been in a bit of a rut for the past few years. The company knows how to churn out well-fleshed out narratives, but many of its recent anime lack the energy and charm that make the actual experience unforgettable. Xam’d has yet to buck this trend, but it is nonetheless one of the stronger anime of this year. The show is a decentralized series about the interactions of numerous individuals as they meet, intertwine and split apart in a war torn world. Though the story lacks any semblance of urgency, the individual conflicts are interesting enough to make each episode worth seeing.

Ascaloth on: ef – a tale of melodies
For the sheer amount of sequels that came out, the year 2008 would be considered by many as the Year of Sequels in anime, and this state of affairs highlights, more than anything, the greatest difficulty with sequels; they tend to come with great expectations attached if the original was highly regarded, and it takes a fine balancing act between fresh ideas and loyalty to the spirit of the original series for the sequel to be considered even equal on merit with its predecessor. In this case, Oonuma leaned far too much towards the latter; relying too much on the same tricks and techniques that marked ef ~a tale of memories~ as a VN adaptation like no other, the Disciple of Shinbo forgot to give enough emphasis on the other aspects of what made the previous series such a memorable experience, truly identifiable characters and excellently-executed, uncliched melodrama just to name a couple. In this respect, Oonuma shows himself to be a real-life Sorcerer’s Apprentice; unable to finely control the wild magicks of his demented yet genius master, and coming up with a second offering in melodies that, while good, didn’t live up to its high expectations.

KannagiAkira on: Kannagi
Boy meets mysterious girl. Boy falls in love with mysterious girl? Drama ensues? Think again. Romance is thrown out the door for cheap thrills. Kannagi‘s humor is subtle at times, slapstick at others; like a bolt from the blue, it occurs in the most unexpected of places. Most of Kannagi‘s jokes feed off of human love for Shadenfreude; viewers laugh as Jin is constantly tortured by the ridiculous antics of Nagi, his divine roommate. If you haven’t watched Kannagi yet, you owe it to yourself to do so immediately.

Sorrow-kun on: Mouryou no Hako
I don’t pretend to know what’s going on in Mouryou no Hako (I haven’t seen enough episodes for that), but I can say it’s a very intricate and engaging mystery, even if it has been so far (on what I’ve seen) a highly baffling experience. The animation is vibrant and the atmosphere is dark and unsettling, as one expects from Madhouse. A twisted and erratic mood is certainly not out of place for an anime whose central premise is about a girl’s head that lives inside a box, and while the plot slowly reveals how it came to be in there, it all happens alongside a very interesting portrayal of Japan in the 1950s, a hectic time for a nation in a state of flux. I’m certainly interested in seeing where this is going, the execution so far has been flawless, if confusing.

Casshern SINSAC on: Casshern SINS
Firstly, it is encouraging news that Casshern SINS is produced by Madhouse Studios, a company with a knack of producing extraordinary titles such as Monster and Kaiba. Apart from the thickening plot that rivets viewers to stay tune to every episode, the amazing aspect of SINS is the methods used to visualize various motifs such as humanity in the series. Casshern is more than just gritty action at the hands of despairing androids and humans; it shows various facets of each side and exemplifies how they embody both the beautiful and ugly traits of opposing sides. Just as exceptional is the artistic employment of colors to paint the atmosphere of scenes of bliss and gloom. With all these and more, it comes as no surprise that so many are raving for this 1970s-series’ remake.

royal crown on: One Outs
When I first heard that Kaitani Shinobu, of Kaiji and Akagi fame, was fronting a new anime, I immediately knew it would be something special. One Outs is the kind of anime that draws you in early, and refuses to let go. The amount of foresight and intuition that the protagonist Tokuchi Toua displays in each episode is nothing short of genius, and the execution succeeds to the point where it always seems believable. While I have my apprehension that One Outs will go the way of its predecessors in terms of unresolved endings, even with a crummy ending One Outs is worth watching, if not for anything other than the sheer adrenaline. Criminally underrated, this series deserves far more praise than it gets.

Chäos;HeadAkira on: Chäos;Head
I like Chaos;Head. I can’t tell you why; it simply has a special place in my heart. Perhaps the ridiculous, nonsensical plotline draws me, or perhaps the dynamic super-powered female cast does. In any case, the show is a wild ride into the darkest reaches of the human psyche. Blending science fiction, horror and fantasy, Chaos;Head is undoubtedly one of the creepiest shows this year. Throw reason to the wind when you watch this; simply sit back and enjoy this super special ride.

Shadowmage: Casshern Sins is not over yet, so I’ll refer to my five finalists: Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Kure-nai, Natsume Yuujinchou, Kaiba and Code Geass R2. All of these shows have their flaws, and none can claim to be decisively superior to the others, but I ultimately throw my hat to Code Geass R2. Yes, the show is often heavy handed and intellectually demeaning, but it’s still the most memorable and entertaining series I’ve seen this year. Nothing tells me that I like a series quite like religiously waking up at 1:00AM every Sunday morning to look for low quality streams of a show that is spoken in a language I cannot understand.

Kavik Ryx: Well 2008 ends its run not being the most interesting year for anime, nor the most provocative. But when all is said and done, this sequeltastic year has proven that you can beat a dead horse back to life. As for what did stand out… Tytania aside, much promise may have been shown stylistically- and story-wise for shows such as Macross Frontier and Xam’d Lost Memories. However, with so many derivative and surprisingly original works this year, the best of ‘08 would have to go to one that was both simultaneously—Madhouse’s surprisingly unorthodox, not to mention haunting, Tatsunoko remake, Casshern SINS.

zzeroparticle: Although I’d prefer to pick a series that isn’t a sequel, ARIA the Origination earns my number one spot for 2008. Its exquisite charm, grace, and the sense of profoundness it exudes cannot be stated enough. On a more personal note, Origination was a calm spot in a stormy sea as it helped me get through one of the busiest times of the year for people in my profession by keeping me sane and allowing me to retain my optimism for what the future holds. And for that, I’m more than grateful for the therapeutic effect Origination had to offer.

AC: The two series that left the greatest impression on me for 2008 are Natsume Yuujinchou and Kaiba. Natsume Yuujinchou is a classic example of how lovable characters and episodic stories that envelope one with heartwarming sentiments can win viewers’ hearts. However I’ll hand the title to Kaiba, which I’ve always considered to be the dark horse of 2008. Kaiba deserves the title for its radical animation, outlandish setting and an unforgettable story that strikes the viewers with purely raw emotions. Topped with a poignant opening song, this is a show that breaks the conventional molds of anime, something not done by many series.

Akira: No show this year comes close to touching the genius of Kannagi. It’s got everything: beautiful animation, brilliant voice work, sharp dialogue. Every week’s material is fresh, and no joke is ever repeated. It’s simple, it’s mindless, it’s fun; the characters are gorgeous, and the dynamic between them is captivating. As if that weren’t enough, Kannagi has also become the source of one of the largest industry-wide controversies in recent years. Who could have thought the virginity of a 2D character could be so important?

Ascaloth: While series such as Code Geass R2, Someday’s Dreamers ~Summer Skies~, and Spice & Wolf are good watches in their own right, I can’t consider any of them the best of 2008 due to questionable scriptwriting, jarring visuals and simply being dull respectively. It takes an uncommon series that scores well in storyline and characterization, visual-audio impact, and pure enjoyability all at once to deserve such accolades. However, with a faithfully repackaged storyline for old and new fans alike, a most memorable cast of characters, top-tier combat animation and BGM playlist, and finally for being purely entertaining, this non-fan of the mecha genre cannot help but declare Macross Frontier his best of 2008.

Sorrow-kun: Unfortunately in 2008 there was only a trickle of good titles until the Fall season, but the last few months have made a reasonable icing on an otherwise uninspiring cake. Brains Base deserve the prize for best studio of 2008 for extending their winning streak to eighteen months. For me there were two stand-outs, ARIA The Origination and Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and while The Origination boasts what is easily the best single episode of the year, my internal Shinbo fanboy is leaning towards ZSZS. Witty and biting, it’s the funniest series since Azumanga Daioh, and my pick for anime of the year.

royal crown: 2008 was a good year for anime, if not spread a bit thin. Pleasant anime dominated the list, from ARIA The Origination to Spice and Wolf to Natsume Yuujinchou. While the former excelled in every aspect, as a sequel I hesitate to label it as the best of the year, since the ARIA series should be evaluated as a whole. The latter two were great, but lacking in excitability. R2 and Kurenai definitely exhibited this excitability factor, but sacrificed plot cohesion and execution to do so. Ultimately, I feel that Kaiba exhibited both whimsical enjoyability as well as high tension, and even threw in some intellectual stimulation on the house. In that regard, I have no problem giving the nod to Kaiba as the best series of 08.

KaibaZoku Sayonara Zetsubou SenseiMacross Frontier

Within the animesphere, 2008 shall be remembered as the year animation studios played Texas Hold’em; keeping their cards close to their chests for the first half of the year, and raising the stakes to enormous proportions with much-hyped sequels, remakes and adaptations in the Fall season. Series like Casshern SINS proved that remade oldies can remain goodies, while others like ef ~a tale of melodies~ showed the difficulties that sequels have in recapturing the best qualities of their beloved predecessors. The wildly popular Code Geass R2 does the much-maligned mecha genre no favours with its dubious scriptwriting, while Macross Frontier (and to a lesser extent Gundam 00) provides a timely reminder of what the genre could be at its best. Much shipping and controversy was to be had with hugely-popular series like Frontier and Kannagi, while slice-of-life continues to display the quality of its titles like Natsume Yuujinchou and Kaiba away from the spotlight. Finally, while rehashes like ARIA the Origination show just why more of the same isn’t always a bad thing, the likes of Kure-nai and Mouryo no Hako prove that originality and creativity is far from dead yet. In all, 2008 might not have had the breakout hit of years past, but there’s no denying there was something for everyone.
Conclusion by: Ascaloth

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