So, another year has come to a close, and since I’ve written so very, very little about anime in the last six months, I figured that I should follow up last years end of year posting.
The pre-amble to this years End of Year Post is a bit of a sticky wicket. It’s been a pretty good year in general, at least as far as TV anime goes. Theatrical anime, or at least those I’ve gotten to see this year, has been a little disappointing in comparison to last years smattering of high-budget spectaculars, but even then it’s hardly been bad.
I think the real problem is that, well, anime news and discussion has kind of been dominated by Madoka Magica this year. It’s pretty unusual that a show that aired in the earliest part of the year is still being brought up at the very end of it, but even as I write this, the top stories on some of the news sites I check are about the show. With the movies in production, I guess that’s probably going to end up being the case for 2012 as well.
Oh, and I’ve also yet to get around to watching those Gundam Unicorn OAVs I’d said I’d not got around to watching last year, despite the fact that the forth instalment turned up a week or so ago. Given I’m spending £30+ a disk on that thing, I should really keep on top of that. I also regret to say that, alas, despite my best efforts, I managed to get spoilt for the ending of Katanagatari about two episodes prior to it’s conclusion. That was frustrating, to say the least.
Ok, without further ado, let’s talk about the specifics with the Beta-Waffle Entirely-Pointless Awards for 2011 Anime Existence.
The “Where has All My Money Gone” Award for Wallet Emptying Merchandise – THE iDOLM@STER
I suppose I should start by getting the show that I quite obviously was going to talk about out of the road…
2011 was the year in which iM@S once again became something of a financial sinkhole for me, having been out of it for a year or so in terms of spending, if not necessarily in terms of fandom (in naught else, franchise music is rarely far from my musical playlists). The recently concluded animation adaptation isn’t actually the main incentivisor in terms of spending, though, as it really kicked off back when the 360 edition of iDOLM@STER2 surfaced.
What the production of the anime did provide, however, was a torrent of product to spend money on. CDs, more CDs, T-Shirts, Mugs, more CDs, key-rings… when you have a show with 13/14 core characters, all with their own fandoms, you can get away with throwing a lot of product onto the market.
And like the sucker that I am, I bought way too much of it, and rebought the game when they cleaned it up for the PS3, and ordered all the Anime/G4U! bundles (despite having yet to even touch the initial G4U instalment), and bought overpriced Hatsune Miku DLC.
A selection of iM@S stuff purchased in 2011…
As for the show, I’m glad that, at least, I didn’t have to explain what it was about this time around. Also, it was probably better than anyone had any really expected it to be, but then, I don’t really have enough distance from the franchise to talk about it on it’s own merits (which is why I’m talking about stuff as opposed to series content) – it would have needed to really sucked for me to be down on it.
(On the other hand, I am sad that Xenoglossia is now getting written out of existence – I’ve got several recent books or magazines with iM@S timelines which neglect to mention it. I rewatched it earlier this year, and I still think it’s worth revisiting).
(Also, Character Rankings – Ritsuko == Kotori > Haruka > Chihaya > Miki == Mami > Makoto > Iori > Takane > Ami > Azusa > Hibiki > Yayoi > Yukiho. Ish.)
The “LALALALALALALA I’M NOT LISTENING” Award for Attempted Spoiler Avoidance – Fate/Zero
Kind of a weird one for this – it’s not like I don’t know how Fate/Zero ends, being pretty familiar with the franchise which it is prequelling. I know where the series is going, what it is building to (heck, the first scene of the Fate/Stay Night anime portrays Zeros final combatants), but at the same time, it’s not like I have any idea how it gets there from this point, and that’s where the fun in it lies.
But, alas, many a person does know the series minutia. It’s not just the usual, Japanese-literate bunch who are, at least, relatively easy to avoid if you put your mind to it either. No, thanks to the wonders of fan translations, a low barrier of entry means many people know exactly how the events transpire. Whilst this has yet to be a problem, and would probably continue to not be if the show was still on air, the three month break in the broadcast schedule could prove dangerous. I’d like to think that I’ve got the willpower to avoid reading ahead myself, but inevitably others will not. The worry is that, the more who do read onwards, the more likely that one of those people with a dislike of spoiler tags who just love to show-off the fact they know something you don’t will surface.
Which means that I’m completely avoiding any and all Fate/Zero discussion until the show resumes, just to be safe. The risk that still exists is that something slips through on the Twitters, but that’s why I’m careful about not following people with a history of being jerks about such things.
(I wonder if they’ll fix Wavers tie for the oh-so-expensive Fate/Zero BD box…)
The “Most Disappointing Ending Credits in a Not-As-Bad-As-Expected Movie Cash-in” award for Not-Entirely-Terrible Movie Spun-off A TV Show – PreCure AllStars DX 3
PreCure AllStars DX 2 had a pretty fabulous all-singing, all-dancing CGI ending credits sequence, set to a medley of PreCure opening theme songs. It was pretty great.
PreCure AllStars DX 3 has less-than-quarter screen clips from previous PreCure instalments. Comparatively, it’s kind of rubbish. True, the opening sequence does have dancing, but it’s no handled anywhere near as well as it was in the prior movie.
On the more positive side, DX 3 was certainly a more enjoyable movie than DX 2. “Good” is perhaps too strong a word – you don’t really go into these movies expecting great things, rather you go into them expecting them to abuse franchise nostalgia in an attempt to make you think the characters from whichever PreCure franchise started a month or so prior are actually kind-of cool. That’s pretty much what DX 2 (And DX 1 before it) did, pulling in some classic villians to battle against the combined might of the now-bulging array of heroines.
But, I don’t quite have the history with the franchise for this to prove hyper-effective. Rather, I go into these movies looking for cute girls with super powers punching things, preferably whilst things explode in a fairly pretty fashion – and DX 3 provides an ample quantity of that.
Which, again, isn’t to say it’s a great movie or anything – it’s a very slight one. I mean, it’s basically got two actual characters (those from Suite), surrounded by dozens of supporting extras who are more popular than they are, require their requisite screentime, but have also already gone through their whole character development arcs in prior incarnations. There’s no longer anything interesting they can do with them. I suppose the main stroke of genius they had with this movie is the way they divided up to groups into characters who fill broadly similar roles, which really cuts down on the expository dialogue, as well as meaning that they could jump between groups at opportune moments. Still, that did mean that a couple of characters seemed off – HeartCatch subverted the roles somewhat with Erika and Tsubomi, which makes some of Erikas dialogue as part of the secondary-Cure group a little odd.
But, hey, it’s kind of pointless complaining about that kind of thing this kind of movie.
(Also, the Heartcatch characters are more expressive that the rest of the cast combined)
(Also also, all the “God, not more PreCures…” comments never got old. Never)
The “Best Movie that Had No Right Being Good” award for Movies that Bucked The Trend By Being Great – Heartcatch Precure: Fashion Show in the Flower Capital… Really?!
Because these kind of movies you watch because you expect them to be more entertaining than they necessarily are good – you know, you expect a few injokes, some nicer-than-TV animation and not really anything of interest to happen.
The HeartCatch PreCure movie certainly delivers on the injokes and decent quality animation, but the funny thing is, it’s actually a pretty good movie. I mean, there’s a certain amount of suppressed expectation going into the “good” evaluation – I mean, if there’s anything that can prove less substantial than a tie-in movie, than it’s one which takes its protagonists to foreign climes.
But, for what it is, the HeartCatch is absurdly good. It doesn’t exactly have the most amazing story ever told, but it’s generally well written and manages to avoid feeling particular awkward sitting next to the TV continuity. It’s well paced. It’s well directed. It has some really nicely choreographed fight sequences which aren’t afraid to be seen in wide-angle shots. It’s just, well, entertaining to watch.
If there’s a problem with it, it’s that it has a habit of reiterating events of the TV show in it’s dialogue – some of which is relevant to the movie, some of which isn’t, but almost all of it should be common knowledge to the intended audience. Overall, though, that’s just a fairly small portion of the movies short runtime.
The “Most Disappointing Show That I Still Like” award for Something That Really Should Have Been Better – Tiger & Bunny
I do genuinely like Tiger & Bunny, but good gosh, it’s got a lot of problems. Problems enough that part of me rather feels that I shouldn’t actually be liking it as much as I do.
Honestly, I think it’s indicative of the fact that there’s very definitely craving for a certain type of show that isn’t getting made often enough these days. It’s not as if I hate… well, I don’t really agree with the term “moe” show, but I suppose you’d know what I talking about if I wield that moniker. I realise that there’s diversity in those shows that those who tend to derisively use that term tend not to acknowledge, and that they don’t consist of everything that’s getting.
Really, though, there’s just a lack of shows focusing on older male characters in a fashion that isn’t a vector for cute girls being cute (or pornography. Or both). As a balding old guy (not that I was particularly old when I starting balding, you understand), I appreciate that this is a show where the average character age is well above fourteen. I also appreciate that it has a nice concept that’s easy to explain to non-fanboy colleagues without it sounding aggressively embarrassing or juvenile.
It’s just a shame that the writing kind of sucks. Well, I’ll expand on that a little – the long-term writing is kind of bad, but the one-off episodes were respectable, oft-times bordering on great. The Skyhigh character episode, with all the blatant Big O references, was genuinely pretty darn fantastic. The multi-episode plot arcs, however, had an alarming habit of falling apart, being full of pacing issues, plot-holes and contrivances that relied a little too aggressively on characters being really, really dumb.
It’s hard to know exactly what happened – it’s really rather tempting to chalk it up to what is oh-so-commonly the problem with Sunrise shows, in that it was the victim of it’s own success. Their shows seems to have an alarming habit of falling apart when they start playing to their fanbases a little too aggressively, and with Tiger & Bunny being one of the most unexpected success stories of 2011 (with, perhaps, the most unexpected of audiences), they certainly had an audience to play to.
But, the fujoshi-baiting is hardly really the source of T&Bs writing issues, it was just something they could easily play up when it became clear that they didn’t really know where they were going with the show, or at least didn’t know how they were getting to where they were going. The worry is that, with the success the show has gained, there’s little incentive for them to try harder with the forthcoming movie edition.
Which I’ll go to see regardless, because, well, there’s not enough shows like this being made.
(Also, that Rock Bison didn’t get his own character episode was a crime)
The “People Keep Talking About This” Award for Shows I Need to Watch More Than Two Episodes Of – Chihayafuru
I’m all about shows that try to base themselves around what are, in truth, fairly ludicrous games. Karuta is a pretty ludicrous game that shouldn’t, by any stretch, make for an interesting show. Particularly when it isn’t even being remotely tongue-in-cheek about its subject matter.
Yet, people seem to love to keep talking about how great it is, presumably because the things that go on around the Kurata is so engaging. Unfortunately, it started airing back in October, when I spent an awful lot of time not at home, which meant that I didn’t have an awful lot of time to keep up with my cartoons. Which meant that I never really managed to keep up with it (or even watch more than a couple of episodes, if that). I suppose I should really try to get back to it whilst the going is quiet.
The “Why Do People Still Use The Term Gainax Ending?” Award for Seriously? WTF!? – Blood-C
Initially, at least, I kind of gave up on Blood-C early on. It didn’t present itself as something that was providing what I particularly wanted out of the Blood franchise, being the adventures of a dopey dojikko Saya and her happy-happy schoolfriends, sporadically punctuated with the occasional well-animated swordfight.
Then came talk of some really peculiar sounding left-turns, that at least piqued my interest something. Admittedly, this was in a fashion where I was struggling to tell if people were being sarcastic about its quality, or if they were being serious. As a result, I still chose to neglect the show.
Then the show ended, and an interesting thing happened. Half of my internet hang-outs determined that the ending was the worst thing they’d ever seen in their life, rendering the whole show the worst thing in the history of all things that are bad, something to never speak of again nor to recommend anyone ever seeing. Then there was the other half of the internet, who decided that it was, perhaps, the greatest thing ever to be seen.
The thing is that no-one was actually quantifying why this was the case – the people who hated it didn’t want to talk about it, and the people who liked it just weren’t talking about it. Being unsure as to whether the people who liked it were, once again, just being sarcastic about it, I figured I should just get it over with and subject myself to the show.
Yeah, I don’t really want to talk about the conclusion either. It kind of has to be experienced to appreciated, and whilst saying it has an “interesting” ending isn’t really going to spoil things, discussing the minutia of it would. Saying that, yeah, half the people who see it would likely not only hate it, but also be entirely offended by it.
Personally, I was kind of giddy with glee throughout (and kind of feeling bad about being so), but it puts me in a really weird place in regards to how I feel about the forthcoming movie. I’ve no idea what on Earth the movie would actually consist of, given where the show ends, but at the same time I kind of feel I may not be able to… well, there may be reasons I wouldn’t want to see it that anyone who has seen Blood-C may be able to comprehend.
The “This Is Only Awesome Until Everyone Else Sees It” award for Bestest Anime Movie of the Year – A Letter to Momo
A Letter to Momo was, undoubtedly, the best anime movie I saw this year that wasn’t something I’d seen previously (by which I mean, I saw Redline a few more times this year). It’s like the best Ghibli movie that Ghibli has made in years, except it was made by Production IG by the guy who made, of all things, Jin-Roh. This is significant, because I’ve not really liked the last few Ghibli movies very much. It’s got really great character animation and a nice, touching story, full of well-timed and considered comedy.
The problem is that it’s not actually out in Japan until April – and when I say it’s out in April, I mean theatrically rather than the home release. Goodness knows if it’ll hit BD even in Japan before the end of 2012, let alone be seen again abroad. There’s various reasons for this – like so many things in the industry, the unfortunate events of March likely play a part in delaying it’s release in it’s home country, even though it’s apparently been complete for a while.
This does, to a degree, make me feel like a jerk for even mentioning it when there’s not avenue for people to see it, but, hey, I had this category for Redline last year.
(Also, like Redline, I’ve actually seen this twice already. Just take solace in the fact that it cost me a great deal of money to do so)
The “Wait, That Show Was Actually Good?” Award for Most Not-Terrible Show That Should Have Been – Dog Days
Not that I don’t like Nanoha, you understand – I like Nanoha as much as the next person who moderately likes Nanoha. It’s just, well, Dog Days is a show that’s clearly been influenced by dog events like Crufts, only with humanoid animals fighting what turn out to be fairly meaningless battles through such sporting events. Only with Kung-fu and explosives.
The show itself is pretty much entirely a fluff piece. This isn’t to say that there wasn’t a lot of thought put into making the show – they clearly invested a lot of time on some of the most pointless of things (like giving the universe it’s own, complete alphabet) – but the events that unfold in the series don’t really have any sort of gravitas to them. They go out of their way to explain that most of the cast are never in any particular danger of anything bad happening to them, and it’s pretty much completely devoid of characters who aren’t some variety of “A Nice Person”. It’s all just so, well, pleasant.
Which isn’t so bad every once in a whole – not everything has to beat you over the head with depressing circumstances in an attempt to appear deep. It was just easy to watch, with some nicely animated action sequences, fun characters and a suitably dumb premise. Sometimes, that’s enough.
(Eclair was the best character. Just sayin’)
The “Greatest and Worstest Thing Ever” Award for Inconsistent Insanity – Nichijou
Just to be clear, I’m really not as down on Nichijou as a lot of people are. My barometer for anime comedy is that, to be good, they have to make me laugh at least once an episode. That probably sounds like a low standard to hold things to, but frankly, most supposedly comedic anime do little by make me smile occasionally, me generally continuing to watch them because there’s something beyond the futile attempts at humour keeping me interested.
Almost every episode of Nichijou had at least something that absolutely slew me. I mean, pause the video because I was frankly laughing way, way too hard kind of slaying. Admittedly, great portions of many episodes weren’t particularly interesting at all, but on average, even when it wasn’t being downright hilarious, I found it was, on average, hitting more often than it was missing. And, hey, even when it was missing, it was at least really slickly animated about it.
Still, I can appreciate why it didn’t click with everyone, comedy being highly subjective and all. The humour in Nichijou is particularly mean-spirited in how it handles itself, which is really something that doesn’t sit well with some people. Personally, I think that’s why I liked it – it appeals to some inherently British part of my personality that isn’t often tickled by anime.
(I bet the NHK-E re-edits of the show are amazing).
The “The Other Greatest and Worstest Thing Ever” Award for Being Amazing. Also Awful. Mostly the latter – Rio: Rainbow Gate
For the whole duration of it’s run, Rio: Rainbow Gate was one of those shows which I watched with the greatest immediacy every week as soon as it went up on Crunchyroll.
This wasn’t really because of the shows quality, there being an awful lot which is awful about the show. The very premise – that the most prized employee at the casino in which the show was set was someone whose very presence made its customers win – was ludicrous. But it was also just about the least ludicrous thing about the show, being a show featuring a robot with tanlines, a sky-casino filled with super-science and strip-claypigeon shooting.
But, at the same time, it’s also a show that, at least once a week, would do something that’d make me crease with laughter. The really bizarre thing about it is, despite it being a show that was absolutely, and aggressively, stupid, it was often difficult to tell if what was humorous was intentional or not. It was often more hilarious when it was being earnest than it was when it was being blatantly stupid.
Not that I’d actually recommend anyone actually watch the show unless they’re the sort who enjoy watching the stupidest things they could possibly watch.
(The funniest part was probably the sudden realisation that Jack was actually classic videogame character Bomb Jack)
The “That Was This Year?” Award for Show I Keep Thinking Was 2010 – Fractale
I’ve not really heard much of Fractale recently. There was a lot to do about the show earlier in the year – Yamakans promises to retire if it failed, his insistence that it was going to be a fresh and groundbreaking work, and Japans insistence than Funimation solve the issue of all internet piracy before they could recommence their online streaming of the show where just a few of the interesting news stories centered around in. Then there was the short while that it’s, shall we say, disappointing sales figures where being used as the new metric by sales numbers were denoted (as in, this show sold 7.43 Fractales).
But, hey, it’s not really talked about these days – last mention of it I remember was the brief period about a month ago when the LE of the first volume was selling for less than 500y on Amazon JP. I suppose Yamakan would rather not remind people that he was supposed to retire.
The “There’s Not Much Point In Me Saying Much” Award for a Show That Everyones Already Seen – Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Not since Evangelion has there been a show that so many people have written so much about. Well, okay, there probably has been, but I can’t think what it is off the top of my head. It is at least true that there has been an awful lot said about Madoka Magica over the course of the last year.
Which makes it entirely pointless for me to saying anything other than the fact that I liked it, and by logging the show here I am acknowledging it as being something that I am aware of existing.
The “Dammit! I thought This Show Would Be Decent” Award for Crushingly Disappointing Thing I Was Looking Forward To – Gosick
I genuinely enjoyed reading those two volumes of the Gosick novels that got published in English via Tokyopop, and given that even getting as far as the second novel was something of a minor miracle, I was kind of looking forward to the anime adaptation as a way to continue the story.
It’s rather unfortunate the way it turned out, however. I guess the problem is that the anime production staff were told that they had to get through everything, which meant that they ended up running through the novels at a fair old clip. The issue with this is that, well, the actual core narrative to the series isn’t all that strong. As a mystery series, the mysteries are of the variety that rely heavily on the kind of cute narrative sleight-of-hand that really doesn’t cross mediums very successfully, and it became clear from the offset that they weren’t intending to make any attempts to compensate for this.
Which might have actually worked out fine anyway, but the rate that they churned through the material, they ended up heavily trimming down all the character moments and amusing dialogue that actually made the books fun to read in order to allow them to progress at the necessary speed.
Which didn’t really work out to the shows benefit. I ended up finishing the series anyway, but ultimately, I was just going through the motions for the sake of closure.
(I wish I could sport an awesome pompadour, but, alas, I am challenged in the hair department)
The “Best OP Song To A Show That Obviously Got No Budget” Award for A Show That Was Unfortunate Enough To Be Getting Made By BrainsBase At The Same Time As Penguindrum – Kamisama Dolls
I like Chiaki Ishikawa. I liked her SeeSaw stuff with Yuki Kajiura, and I continued to like her post SeeSaw stuff too (I think the OP to Simoun was my favourite thing about the show). The Kamisama Dolls OP has a nice, flamenco-esque vibe to it that sat well with me. Shame the animation that accompanied it was only a little better than a Gundam Seed-esque slide-show. I mean, they at least tried to be stylish about it, but it’s clear that they didn’t get to spend much on it.
Which, to an extent, seemed to extend to the rest of the show. I have to wonder if most of the shows budget went on the Utao puppet seen at the end of each episode (if so, that was money well spent – I love me some silly hand puppets), and the show had plenty of clunky animation to it.
Blaming Penguindrum is an easy thing to do, being rather a higher profile show that happened to be being produced at the same studio, starting at the same time. It’d also show something of a lack of comprehension about the way that anime shows are funded, but if nothing else, I have to imagine the studio cherrypicked their best staff for the first show in forever directed by a not-exactly-prolific industry legend above an adaptation of an averaging adventure manga.
(Mahiru was the best thing about that show. Shame she came into it so late)
The “I’ve Invaded English de-geso” Award for Best Use of English – Steins;Gate
And I’m only partially talking about the semi-colon injected into the title – let’s face it, THE iDOLM@STER commits far more egregious crimes against proper English usage. Rather, I’m talking about the sporadic use of English terminology which makes little sense, used only because our protagonist thinks it sounds cool. Or I’m just looking for an excuse to talk about Steins;Gate, and the scene which immediately sprang to mind was Okabe talking to the alleyway badge-seller.
Steins;Gate was definitely one of the better shows of the year – it had some great writing, and for all of his eccentricities (or perhaps because of them), Okabe was one of the best characters for a long while. It’s maybe a little unfortunate that elements of it’s story resonated with Madoka a little (particularly given it hails from a work from the same “studio” which Madoka author Gen Urobuchi works for), but it’s different enough a take on the matter for it not to be an issue.
Saying that, I’m a bit less high on the series than many seem to be. Largely, its just that I found parts of the middle third a little too meandering, when it started to get into the character stories for some of the more tangential characters. It’s part of the problem with adapting visual novels, really, in that you have significantly less time in animation form to present your story. Much of this content was important to the unfolding of the larger story, and as a result, couldn’t be trimmed out, but to accommodate it the kind of content that had to be cut to make up the time is the content that is supposed to enamour you to these tangential characters. I’m sure the Feyris story is all very poignant in the original work, when there’s no doubt been page after page of wittily written exchanges between her and Okabe, but it’s kind of hard to care about it with what the anime version present us with.
But, mercifully, it doesn’t spend too much of it’s runtime on that stuff, so it’s easy enough to forgive.
(I gave up on Squid Girl part way through the first season, so I’m afraid I’ve not actually seen the English Invasion episode)
The “I Promise This Is The End” Award for Show I Seemed To Like More Than Others – Sacred Seven
I guess this fits somewhere inbetween Tiger & Bunny and Dog Days for me. Not that it scratches quite the same itch as Tiger & Bunny, but it did have a nice, 90s throwback feel to the affair, back to the days where male protagonists came across as silent and grumpy, rather than either nonchalantly sarcastic or pathetic as they so often are these days. Not too aggressively so, mind you – things like the Maid Assualt Team are thoroughly modern, but it has that nice, trashy hero-action show feel to it.
And, like Dog Days, it’s just kind of undemandingly good fun. It’s a very different kind of show to Dog Days, but it’s got nice, slick animation, it’s kind of stupid, and most episodes usually have at least something really cool happening in them. Even though it’s certainly heavier in atmosphere than Dog Days, it’s still easy viewing.
Honestly, the main problem with the show is that it always feels like it’s on the verge of going somewhere without actually managing to get there – when something eventually happens, it’s all very abrupt, and is resolved all-too-quickly. But it’s resolved all-too-quickly in a hail of neat-looking pyrotechnics, and frankly, I’m a sucker for that.
The show didn’t really find much of an audience, though. The opening instalment garnered some minor praise, but it didn’t really stick. I guess it wasn’t throwback enough to resonate with the 90s-anime crowd, and there wasn’t anywhere near enough rifle-wielding housemaids for everyone else.
(Also, The Tomato-juice drinking SP was totally the best character)
(Also Also, Arma riding his tiny scooter was never not hilarious)