The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

2010: A Year in Review

Sometimes it’s difficult to give a clear retrospective on the year that’s gone by in the moments after it’s just finished. I, for some reason, tend to be a tad negative about the year prior, but as time goes on, and my viewpoint of it widens, my impressions slowly improve. 2006 was a year of energy, where anime defied conventions and expectations. 2007 and 2008 were both filled with variety, and there was something for everyone. 2009 at least had Bakemonogatari. At this point, the only consistently great thing that I can see from 2010 was Noitamina. It was a year in which, for various reasons, significantly less anime was made. Unfortunately, a spirit of bold experimentation and a delivery of variety were two of the first things to be jettisoned. There were still some good anime, but a dearth of greatness. Here are the notables, as we saw them.
Introduction by: Sorrow-kun

Hidamari Sketch × HoshimittsuDurarara!Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt

Shadowmage on: Durarara!
When I first finished Baccano!, I had to wash my brains off the walls, piece together the back of my skull, and regather my senses from the mindblowing supernova I just witnessed. Walking into Durarara!, I thought to myself, “same director, same studio, same magic.” Though my enthusiasm wasn’t completely misplaced, the series didn’t quite live up to expectations. There was the same (massive) cast of interesting personalities, the same multi-layered narratives, and the same unrelenting swagger, but there just wasn’t the over-the-top dose of crazy to push the series into the next level. Durarara! is by all means an interesting anime, but it’s no Baccano!.

Nodame Cantabile ~Finale~kadian1364 on: Nodame Cantabile ~Finale~
Where Paris Chapter rushed too many new characters and plotlines into its short length, Finale brought the focus of story back to its two core tenets: Nodame and Chiaki’s dysfunctional but wonderfully endearing relationship and performance music. Both points supplied hefty emotional development and were well realized in their own right, but Finale meaningfully ties them together in a way that does the whole franchise justice. This final installment reminds us why we we’re so fond of this story and these characters, capably weaving together journeys of love, success, adulthood, and of course music.

Sorrow-kun on: Hidamari Sketch × Hoshimittsu
Hidamari Sketch’s third season continues as a celebration of the everyday, and one of the best examples of moe slice-of-life, a genre where other titles have become a dime a dozen. Hidamari Sketch will suffocate you with charm if you let it. It’s a story of the daily repetitions of people’s lives, focusing on commonplace things like morning calisthenics, growing a tomato garden, or visiting a hairdresser. It’s also a comedy, but rather than being pointed, Hidamari Sketch works because it humanizes its characters, giving them believable concerns about life and the future and showing genuineness in their interactions. Hoshimittsu introduces two new characters, which adds to the character dynamics in a number of new ways.

Sora no WotoTypicalIdiotFan on: Sora no Woto
Anime no Chikara‘s first and probably best feature is a bold attempt at a visualization of life, culture and hope in a post-apocalyptic world. Despite the heavy theme of a dying human race, the anime focuses on the five women of the 1121st Platoon, their dreams, their pasts, and their fates. The main appeal of the show is the character driven drama and the mystery of the world itself and how it came to be. Sadly, the show never takes the opportunity to explore this world-gone-mad in more detail, and instead takes much safer and, in my opinion, wimpier route. The OAV that came out this year offered what would be a fantastic story idea for a sequel, if A-1 Pictures ever chooses to revisit this possibility.

zzeroparticle on: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
Taking that first step into the alternate reality that Disappearance(1,2) presents leaves one feeling uneasy. The mundane atmosphere feels so wrong; gone is the energy that we’ve come to associate with the franchise. Restoring the status quo is inevitable, but it’s inspiring in the way Kyon moves from mere observer to active participant. Just when you think the movie begins to wind down, there’s one exciting journey through space and time in store. This movie represents everything I’ve come to love about the Haruhi(1,2) franchise: the storytelling, the characters, and the wonderful art and animation. Finally, it restores my faith in Kyoto Animation in a post-Endless Eight world. And that’s no mean feat.

KatanagatariSorrow-kun on: Katanagatari
What starts out with a fairly ho-hum premise develops into an epic, filled with twists, conspiracies, romance, betrayals and schemes. Aesthetically, Katanagatari is superb, featuring a cartoon-y style with vivid colours, and a great soundtrack from Iwasaki Taku. It’s set in a fantasy world, completely removed from history, where everything is highly stylized, from the way characters look and fight, to the long-winded dialogue that everyone partakes in. Katanagatari is also a subversive anime: when you think you’ve got it pegged, it’ll come up with new ways to surprise you. It’s an amazing and romantic story with two lead characters who undergo a momentous journey, both literally and figuratively.

AC on: Bungaku Shoujo
While the theme of the movie is literature, the overaching genre is emotional drama in a familiar high school setting. It’s a tale of what a girl would do just to keep someone by her side, even if it means being a possessive and despicable liar. While Bungaku Shoujo features one of the most hateful and unlikable characters in recent anime, it is but a thorn of what is more importantly a beautiful rose of a movie. A movie with noteworthy execution and a coherent story depicted in a Shinkai Makoto-esque dreamy world, it’s also a testament to why Hanazawa Kana just may be the next big seiyuu as well.

Working!zzeroparticle on: Working!
You’d be forgiven if you thought, after a couple episodes of Working!!, that you’re trapped in yet another slice of life comedy filled with characters shallowly defined by their quirks and repetitive gags. But Working!! manages to surprise, putting in deft execution of comedy, especially once the mischievous Yamada (voiced by Hirohashi Ryou) enters the picture. And then there’s Inami’s character progress, aided by Takanashi Souta’s methods of solving her androphobia that top things off nicely by endearing both characters unto the audience as we watch them grow closer as a pair.

Shadowmage on: The Tatami Galaxy
If I could re-live my life, I would love to say that I’d change myself so that I could be the next Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Barrack Obama. Chances say that I’ll end up with about the same outcome I have now, but a mulligan would be interesting. This hypothetical “what if” situation becomes reality for the protagonist of Tatami Galaxy as he lives through the first two years of his college life over and over again. Though the main character is unaware of this endless recursion of time, he manages to make some very different life decisions, but they all betray hints of some uncanny similarities. Directed by the mad genius Yuasa Masaaki of Kaiba fame, Tatami Galaxy presents an engaging and highly interesting look into the nameless protagonist and his view of the world as he struggles to finally find his “rose colored campus life”.

Arakawa Under the BridgeAC on: Arakawa Under the Bridge
Here’s a show that proves that you don’t always need common sense to be hilarious. In fact, the lack of common sense is the motif of Arakawa, which features off-the-wall gags put forth by some of the most eccentric of fruitcakes, including a war junkie who dresses as a nun, a cordial man who only walks on white lines, and a little girl who can transform into a gigantic brute. Although it may not be one of Shinbo Akiyuki‘s best works, for all the amusing gags and commendable seiyuu work on the characters, this is one loony bin you’ll enjoy staying in for a while.

TypicalIdiotFan on: Shiki
Thrilling, creepy, haunting, provocative, terrifying, and tense… these are just a few of the ways that I can describe Shiki. By far the most gripping anime I’ve had the pleasure of watching, Shiki is unafraid of tearing at your heart with suspense. Unlike most shows, which would never dare to threaten the lives of main characters, this one has no problem keeping you guessing and making you feel insecure. But nothing is done carelessly, and each moment leads to other moments methodically. A smart take on the vampire genre that will also confuse your sensibility, this one cannot be missed by anybody.

B Gata H KeiAC on: B Gata H Kei
This deliciously zany comedy revolves around an ironic premise: horny virgin Yamada wanting to be a slut but she’s completely clueless on how to become one. Most of the comedic moments involve Yamada being her own gag while delivering the funnies. As for the show, it’s a case of: so absurd that it’s side-splitting. This is coupled with perfect timing of punchlines and the effective gags on naïveté towards sex. For being an insanely adorable show about two kids trying to go all the way, and also an incestuous virgin as a supporting character, B Gata H Kei gets my vote for Comedy of the Year.

kadian1364 on: Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
Wild, kinetic, and practically oozing with experimental ideas (and less wholesome bodily secretions), Panty and Stocking is an iconoclast of traditional anime. The garish, cartoony artstyle and willful drive to cram as much foul language, toilet humor, and crass sex into the series makes PSG an acquired taste. Yet this healthy dose of brazen attitude and knowing American pop-cultural nods produces so many inspired and hilarious scenes that they far outweigh PSG‘s general obscenity. This anime scarcely cares about what anime fans want and is only concerned with tearing through heaven, hell, and every genre in between with as much gusto and swagger it can muster.

Kuragehimezzeroparticle on: Kuragehime
Kuragehime is a show that celebrates otaku of all stripes, whether you’re fascinated by jellyfish, fashion, or Mercedes-Benz cars and tries to show that no matter how fanatical your interests are, you can still get by in society if you’re willing to open yourself to new experiences. The tug of war over the Amamizukan apartments is but an illustration of that, as various interests band together into a quirk-filled alliance to fight off the hostile takeover that threatens to render its inhabitants homeless. Along the way, a sweet romance bubbles forth, bringing with it a dab of innocence to the characters and comedy while laying the grounds for a shipping war I’ll (for once) willingly partake in.

kadian1364: In a year where Noitamina elevated its status as a powerhouse of critically and popularly acclaimed television anime programming, it only seems right to hand the honors of best anime to the best of Noitamina, Tatami Galaxy. Featuring creative storytelling and aesthetic qualities, and deeply profound themes about making and embracing life’s choices, this mature series was made all the better by Yuasa Masaaki’s unique vision, a style that perfectly complements the animated medium. It’s an artistic effort that effectively speaks through both its verbose narration and its amorphous imagery, and that is why Tatami Galaxy is my anime of the 2010.

zzeroparticle: If you’ll recall, last year, a few possible candidates weren’t able to make the cut due to the technicality of not yet finishing. Well, this year is the year to make up for that. While I found myself enthralled by Tatami Galaxy‘s storytelling and how I could relate to the protagonist and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s action and atmosphere filled with a few eye-opening surprises, my prize for 2010 goes to Cross Game, which handles drama and romance most exquisitely amidst its baseball backdrop.

AC: While many people would probably pick either The Tatami Galaxy or Cross Game as their Best of 2010, I shall take a different route and pick The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya instead as the best thing anime had to offer for the year. On top of its high production values, absorbing storytelling and subdued ambiance, the movie did me a tremendous favor of restoring my faith in Kyoto Animation. While the first and second seasons were fun and distasteful respectively, this movie wraps everything up like a delicately-wrapped Christmas gift, and I shall tip my hat for this feat.

Sorrow-kun: This year it’s Cross Game, and by a fair margin too. In my eyes, 2010 had four particularly outstanding anime, and the other three were The Tatami Galaxy, Katanagatari and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. All three of these were highly stylized, but Cross Game stuck to basics and had by far the most heartfelt and tender story of any anime this year: a simple story of a group of high school baseball players who stay loyal to a dream and become all they can be.

TypicalIdiotFan: And the award for the Best Anime of 2010 goes to… nobody! Why? This year sucked. I can go back to each season and while I can find several shows that I liked and had fun with, and even find shows that were the best of that season, I cannot find one, anywhere, that fits the bill as deserving a “Best of Year” title. Right now 2010 is reeking as a festering hole of “almosts” and a whole lot of “disappointments”. In the absence of a truly great show, I must abstain in my voting and be hopeful that 2011 gives us something better.

Shadowmage: When it comes to anime rated 8/10, 2010 has been a good year for anime. My list consists of Cross Game, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Tatami Galaxy, Gundam Unicorn, Shiki, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt and Kuragehime. Virtually everything else I’ve watched I would give a 5/10 or lower. There has been a massive lack of shows that are good, fun distractions that keeps me watching anime. Furthermore, there hasn’t even been a real breakout hit for me. So, given this predicament, I’ll give this year’s crown to the show that still has potential to go places: Gundam Unicorn.

The Tatami GalaxyShikiThe Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

As we come to the end of 2010, we witness a sort of paradigm shift. While Cross Game is a perfect example of how to get the storytelling basics right, shows like The Tatami Galaxy and Angel Beats! are telling signs that the anime industry is trekking on the experimentation path. Experimentation in year 2010 has taken on several forms, from employing the omnibus format to borrowing western media and pop culture. Unfortunately, many of the experiments fell flat on their faces and it shows why adept execution is eventually indispensable. Even so, experimentation is still essential in a time when anime has been experiencing a creativity slump since last year. Although watching failed experiments such as Amagami SS and Highschool of the Dead may be discouraging, we need to give experimentation more time and room to work and see if something amazing blooms out of it as the dawn of a new decade breaks upon us.
Conclusion by: AC

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