2009 was a strange year for anime, which is a polite way of saying it was a dour year. Arguably, the two most influential anime of the year owe quite a bit to what I’d say was the most influential anime of the latter part of the decade: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya(1,2). The first of these two series was K-On!, revered and reviled in equal measures, KyoAni’s latest popular hit is the logical conclusion of the moe phenomenon. The second was Bakemonogatari, which also divides audiences (though not as strongly), a creative and playful series from master director Shinbo Akiyuki. Ironically, Suzumiya Haruhi saw its own sequel this year, an ambitious and modernistic experiment that unfortunately fizzled… despite its massive stir, it won’t be remembered or talked about for nearly as long as its predecessor was. Suzumiya Haruhi S2 was one of many of this year’s disappointments, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a variety of interesting and/or important anime on offer.
Introduction by: Sorrow-kun
Ascaloth on: Toradora!
A J.C. Staff school romance comedy, featuring Kugimiya Rie in her signature role as a tsundere loli? Sounds just like every other of its predecessors from the same studio featuring KugiRie tsunderelolis… except for the fact that it actually features a solid story, great comedy, and interesting multi-faceted characters. Indeed, despite its cliched origins, Toradora is anything but, and proves to be one of the most solid offerings in the genre to date. Despite appearing to conform to the kind of stereotypes that have flooded the anime medium at first glance, the characters quickly prove themselves to be fleshed-out personalities with their own personal quirks, and though romantic drama is a given in such a series, it is understated and relatively true to life, at least as far as a school-based comedy setting goes. If I had to recommend a J.C. Staff KugiRie-loli show, this would be my pick.
Sorrow-kun on: Maria-sama ga Miteru 4th Season
A return to form for Marimite (although only its harshest critics would imply it ever lost it), Marimite 4th recalls a sense of focus that was sorely missing from the Marimite OVAs. The pacing of this outing is lightning quick compared with previous seasons, but the story it weaves is still impressively detailed, multi-layered and absorbing despite this. Yumi and Sachiko’s bond has grown, but the attention has shifted onto a new pairing, and the development of Yumi and Touko’s relationship is littered with drama. My only major complaint about this series is the animation, which is a step backwards compared with previous seasons.
TypicalIdiotFan on: Clannad ~After Story~
Despite the subtitle that would lead one to believe it is an epilogue, Clannad‘s second season is actually a continuation from where we left off. Sure, Tomoya and Nagisa are together, but that’s only the beginning to their story. Life, after all, does go on. In the years that follow, our hero and heroine experience the struggles of finding one’s place in society, starting a family, dealing with loss, and finding a way to reconcile deep wounds. It is here where Clannad ~After Story~ completely surpasses the first season and raises the bar by which all “slice of life” dramas must be compared. ~After Story~‘s only weakness is the first half, which finishes up some of the less interesting character story arcs that weren’t given time in the first season. The strength lies in the second half, and episode 18 in particular will test the resolve of even the most hardened of hearts.
AC on: Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou
This is the sequel to Natsume Yuujinchou, with a few differences. ZNY takes place in the winter season this time, subtly breathing fresh air into the mood of the series, and it has more light-hearted undertones. What hasn’t changed in ZNY is the subdued sentimental tone that perfectly complements the soft animation, an aspect which made the prequel memorable. Ultimately, Zoku reuses the formula that worked well in the prequel, and adds new aspects to make it something refreshing yet nostalgic. As a last note, you’ll be mesmerized by the soothing tune of the ending song, Kourin‘s “Aishiteru”.
Sorrow-kun on: Kemono no Souja Erin
Kemono no Souja Erin is reminiscent of Dennou Coil, in that it’s aimed at children, but it’s as smart and aware as most anime you could find. It chronicles the hard life of a young inquisitive girl, fascinated by animals and the natural world around her. The source is written by the same author as Seirei no Moribito’s and the fantasy world is similarly vast and filled with detail, life, culture and intrigue. Along with the growth of the lead character, Erin, one of the most impressive things about this anime is its penchant for experimentation for understanding wildlife and its deep respect for nature as a whole.
TypicalIdiotFan on: Cross Game
Adachi Mitsuru, renowned for his Touch and H2 manga, spins another yarn of youth in bloom with the sport of baseball as the plot device. Told from the perspectives of present events and timely flashbacks, the viewer gets to see just how important Wakaba was to everybody she knew, and just how much she can still influence their worlds long after she’s gone. Crisp dialogue and interactions highlight a character driven slice of life show without any need for forcing drama. Fans of baseball will also appreciate Adachi‘s realistic approach to the game.
zzeroparticle on: Kara no Kyoukai – The Garden of Sinners
There are so many ways in which one can enjoy Kara no Kyoukai. There is mystery that’s worth unraveling, philosophical arguments that one can spend hours contemplating over, and symbols that one can look into and interpret. And if you’re not into that kind of thing, you can always sit back and enjoy the action, backed by superb animation, or be drawn in by the dark, suspenseful atmosphere, backed by the artwork and Kajiura‘s haunting score. The seven-movie format might be an unorthodox approach, but it all manages to come together to create an engrossing experience, making this the most enjoyable Type-Moon work to date.
Ascaloth on: Eden of the East
Production I.G. and Kamiyama Kenji have a reputation for producing quality anime over the years, and their latest offering, Eden of the East, continues that tradition by being one of the most engrossing works within the mystery genre in recent times. The lush audiovisuals that have been a trademark of the studio, are merely the icing on the cake of an excellently-written mystery story filled with exceptional plot twists and highly apt sociopolitical commentary. And in the form of the main character Takizawa Akira, the story reflects humanity’s collective desire for an inspirational Messiah, in a nihilistic modern-day world where the only choices are conformity or being outcasts. The best part of this already excellent work? The mystery isn’t over yet; there’s more to come.
AC on: Aoi Hana
Aoi Hana is not a lesbian story; it is a slice-of-life story about young love and growing up, that happens to involve lesbian issues. Homosexuality in general is a touchy subject and it’s very difficult for a series to deal with it in a mature way. Aoi Hana does it with graceful subtlety and maturity not commonly seen in other titles. Lesbianism here is merely a facade; it is the factors that lay beneath it that are important such as admiration, rejection and selfishness. Poignancy is not shoved down the viewers’ throats; each character’s emotions narrate the story and create the ambiance to portray the different sides of innocent love naturally. Toradora may be the more popular J.C. Staff title for the year but personally, the studio has done way better with this beautiful series.
zzeroparticle on: Summer Wars
Summer Wars is compelling, not because of an engaging conflict, which it arguably does not have, but because of the events incidental to it. Through adversity, we see how each member of a family comes together to form a united entity, and in the process, rallying others to selflessly provide the aid needed to triumph in the end. Furthermore, the depiction of the movie’s virtual world inspired by the works of Murakami Takashi are wondrous to behold. In the end though, we’ll remember this film for its heartfelt depiction of all three generations of the Shindohara family because if there is any place in which this movie excels, it would be in nailing down the concept of family exquisitely.
Fuu on: Eve no Jikan
Yoshiura Yasuhiro is slowly but surely making himself known in the anime industry. Known for defying conventions and tackling various social plagues, his latest project, Eve no Jikan is arguably his best. With dazzling visuals, an innovative take on robots (a theme done to death in other sci-fi anime) and sure-handed directing, it is nothing short of brilliant. What truly makes Eve no Jikan a standout is Yoshiura’s ability to fuse slice-of-life with sci-fi elements into one polished package. As a result, it manages to cross boundaries whilst still appealing to a large portion of the anime-watching populace. I highly recommend Eve no Jikan to one and all.
Shadowmage on: Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance
What if Shinji grew a pair, confronted his father and took the reins of his own life? Evangelion 2.0 shows us. Though Shinji is just as flawed as he was in the original television series, the movie’s incarnation does not respond with defeated inaction but with small flares of anger and genuine passion. Avid critics may argue that 2.0 is a high budget fanfiction, but for fans of the original series, the movie is fresh, sweeping and altogether epic. Evangelion 1.0 was a condensed version of the first seven episodes; Evangelion 2.0 is the true rebuild.
Akira on: Bakemonogatari
Shinbo‘s done it again, except bigger and better this time. After enjoying great success this decade with works such as Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Mariaholic, Shinbo ends this decade with a bang of his own – Bakemonogatari. Arguably one of the best anime produced this decade, Bakemonogatari combines a riveting plot driven by supernatural mysteries and five heroines, all with their own dark secrets. The banter in this series is top-notch, and quick one-liners and witty dialogue keep this series rolling along. At times a hilarious comedy romp, and at other times a dark, twisted horror story, the world of Bakemonogatari (and its characters) are all fresh and utterly unique, certainly making this show one of the most unforgettable in recent memory.
Fuu on: Taishou Yakyuu Musume
Many have conjectured that the last decade of anime has seen the rise of moe to mainstream status. Whilst too many have relied of the aforementioned as a driving force behind its appeal, (see: K-On!) Taishou Baseball Girls takes the liberty not to be ensnared into this stunted approach. Instead, it uses moe as a secondary element that complements the major themes of resilience and determination, taking note not to usurp any attention from them. Taishou Baseball Girls never really tries to be original, but with a likeable cast of characters and an earnest plot, it is cute, charming and ever so entertaining.
Akira on: Aoi Bungaku
To evaluate Aoi Bungaku as one series is slightly unfair. Unlike most anime, Aoi Bungaku is not comprised of one story. Rather, it is an anthology of Japanese literature. Paying tribute to some of the greatest writers of the last century, Aoi Bungaku features works by the likes of Natsume Souseki and Osamu Dazai. This inherently gives it a distinct advantage over other anime, as its plot is undoubtedly stronger and better crafted. The production values of the anime are superb, with Madhouse providing artistic direction and Obata Takeshi (of Death Note fame) designing characters. If you’re looking for something darker, more artistic and more serious than your standard anime fare, then Aoi Bungaku is an absolute must.
Shadowmage on: Trapeze
Throwing cocaine on the eyes of viewers has long been the calling card of both Mind Game‘s Yuasa Masaaki and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei‘s Shinbo Akiyuki; with Kūchū Buranko, yet another follower has joined the party. This is a visual experiment about the world’s oddest psychiatrist, Japan’s sexiest nurse and patients with equally unusual ailments. As a brainchild of the people who worked on Mononoke, don’t expect the usual narrative style found in any television show, movie or book; Kūchū Buranko writes its own rules with highlighters, spray paint and crayons.
TypicalIdiotFan: There are so many worthy titles that have come out this year that it is very hard to choose only one. Eden of the East and Bakemonogatari completely blew my mind by being fresh, provocative, and thoroughly entertaining. But when I look back on the year, I can only see Clannad ~After Story~ as the cream of the crop. By the end of episode 18, I was as much a weeping fool as Tomoya was on screen. For that to happen, I have to be completely enthralled by the scenes created for me by the director. I can safely say that they did a damned good job.
Sorrow-kun: I rue to give my choice for anime of the year to an ongoing series, but the excellence of the likes of Bakemonogatari, Kemono no Souja Erin and Cross Game makes this incredibly hard to resist. But there were still some great anime that finished during 2009. Clannad After Story was dramatic while Toradora, rough around the edges, was both delightful and absorbing. This year I’m choosing Eden of the East. Kamiyama’s mystery is completely fascinating and filled with intrigue and enigmatic characters, and while people might disagree, I think it’s his best series yet.
Ascaloth: For a year which failed at the end due to recent trends, 2009 still manages to unearth several gems even as the medium seems to be losing its former lustre. While acclaimed titles such as Bakemonogatari, Toradora! and Eden of the East offers some hope, however slim, that anime still retains that unique spark which have made fans of so many, the one title that helps me keep faith in the future of anime, is also my pick for Best of 2009; Clannad ~After Story~ has shaken souls like nothing else I’ve ever seen, a story to remember into the next decade and beyond.
AC: This has been a very lackluster year for anime and personally, only Clannad ~After Story~ and Eden of the East illustrate how the industry still has that spark of brilliance in an otherwise barren year. ~After Story~ reaches out to the viewers’ hearts with its moving tale about miracles and having a family. Eden of the East cleverly uses social commentary in a futuristic story that oozes originality. Between the two, I pick ~After Story~ as the Best of 2009 because of its poignant story and an unforgettable father-daughter scene that made viewers weep with sheer pathos. Bravo, Kyoto Animation.
Fuu: 2009 has not been a particularly noteworthy year of anime. Nevertheless, there have been two gems that have caught my attention; Bakemonogatari and Eve no Jikan. Both have engaging ideas and good execution, but at the end of the day, my pick is Bakemonogatari. With crisp animation, rapid fire wit and great character interactions, it is a metaphysical assault on the senses and quite possibly, Shinbo Akiyuki‘s best work yet.
Shadowmage: Considering that 2009 has not been strong as previous years, it was probably a good time to have a massive burn out from the medium. The last twelve months has seen a healthy library of good anime but very few great ones. Casshern SINS, Eden of the East, Evangelion 2.0, Aoi Bungaku are the better titles of the year, but the best one is Kara no Kyoukai. This is the only title that had moments that truly blew my mind.
Akira: Though 2009 was, overall, a weak year, there was still a respectable amount of decent titles out there. Shows like Toradora!, Eden of the East and Clannad ~After Story~ were all fresh, interesting shows which we could indulge in. Personally, however, I found that Bakemonogatari‘s unique and innovative concept, as well as its artistic style and sharp writing, made it superior to every other show produced this year. Even though it remains unfinished as of now, Bakemongatari may just be my favorite anime ever. There’s just nothing I don’t love about it.
zzeroparticle: The new year will hopefully bring positive changes since there isn’t much to cheer for in 2009. While there were some decent shows, I’m not comfortable enough to declare unfinished stories like Eden of the East or Cross Game to be the best this year has to offer. And yet, I have no problems in giving my nod to Bakemonogatari. Even if the TV portion was all it had, it still managed to be dazzling both in its aesthetics and its characters, whose smart dialogue kept me hanging on to every word in every episode.
It seems that as the years go by, anime becomes more and more a dead art form. Innovation this year certainly hit an all-time low, as more shows jumped on the moe bandwagon. Yet, given that there was still a great deal of good, quality stuff being produced, it’s way too early to sound the death-knell for the industry. In a year in which scandals over Haruhi and rage over K-On! dominated the minds of otaku, the industry shows that it can still innovate under pressure. In a few years’ time, when we look back on 2009, maybe only a handful of titles will come to mind: Clannad ~After Story~, Eden of the East, Bakemonogatari, Aoi Hana – but that is sufficient. What 2009 lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality. Even though most of the shows produced during the year were admittedly weak, the good shows were really good, and ended the decade on a somewhat optimistic note.
Conclusion by: Akira