Home > Awards > Spring 2010 Season in Review – Hell is other Exclamation Marks

Spring 2010 Season in Review – Hell is other Exclamation Marks

With Angel Beats!, Working!!, Durarara!!, Mayoi Neko Overrun!, and the still running K-On!! and School President is a Maid!, it might be simpler to name the shows during this season that didn’t have exclamation points somewhere. Their inclusion, sadly, was not a reliable marker of either quality or worth, either good or bad.

With the close of our first season here at antiotaku, we thought we should review the season and provide a more reliable marker for what went right and wrong during the season. It also gives us a chance to talk about what we think is important in a good show—not like you haven’t picked up on that already.

For the purposes of this review, only shows which finished their run during the Spring 2010 season are under consideration. Thus, Durarara!! is eligible (even though it started in January) and School President is not (since it is still running).

Best Show:

bear’s pick: Tatami Galaxy

I’ve already written more than enough on Tatami Galaxy, so here is an excerpt from my review of the final episode:

All this is to say that Tatami Galaxy is rare, the kind of show that succeeds at nearly everything it sets out to do, and does it in a way that is unique to itself and unsurpassed in the rest of the medium. In animation, in writing, it is simultaneously ground-breakingly novel and of a greater quality than anything else in the industry. That the story rings particularly true to me is just a bonus: Tatami Galaxy would still be spectacular even if it didn’t…

Its ambition far outstrips anything else that’s aired this year, and it matches that ambition with a maturity and artistic spirit that one rarely sees in the medium.

It’s one of the best anime I’ve ever seen…

3HM’s pick: Durarara!!

Durarara is excellently written and extraordinarily creative, managing to balance a sizable cast of characters, each one with an agenda of his own, as their lives interweave throughout a world which takes the concept of urban fantasy and revitalizes it. It doesn’t create an entire alternate reality where monsters and magic are behind every corner, but a world where everything is exactly what you think it should be like, with just a few key exceptions here and there.

Oddly enough, the show involving superhuman strongmen, sentient swords, and headless fairy couriers winds up making continual concessions to the messiness of real life. Life doesn’t resolve into neat little boxes and Durarara!! doesn’t either; it’s smart enough to know that with the proper cast of characters, the conflict of a story will arise naturally when they have to share the same city blocks. What it is, most of all, is entertaining: It puts “creating a thrilling ride” slightly above “telling your audience what you want them to hear.” And, lo and behold, it gets away with both.

Best Writing:

Winner: Tatami Galaxy

Tatami Galaxy might be a high concept show, but its writing is what grounds it, and makes it something anybody can enjoy. The gradual revelation of both its unique concept of time and the character arc that serves is a bold move that shows it respects its audience’s intelligence, but its greatest accomplishment is how it develops its characters.

An important secondary theme of the show is how one needs to see a person in multiple situations, from multiple different angles to really understand them, and Tatami’s characters are deep and interesting enough for them to survive such scrutiny and still seem authentic and fun. –bear

Runner Up: Durarara!!

Durarara bears the misfortune of having stiff competition. After all, it is only a thoroughly plotted story involving dozens of characters major and minor, with multiple perspectives, plots, and confusions among the cast, and dabbles with supernatural entities and the mortals who can challenge them. The command of detail and depth of characterization may not have to be quite on the same level as a show which has multiple timelines, but it’s close. In any normal season Durarara!! would be a shoe-in for this award. –3HM

Runner Up: House of Five Leaves

Five Leaves is a show for adults. Not in the sense it has inappropriate content for minors, but in the sense that it makes no concessions in style or writing to the juvenile mind. Its characters are understated and mysterious, sharing only what they wish to share and not what the author clumsily wants to inform you; its actions scenes are rare in a world where wounds are serious and killing has consequences. Thus, the writing has to step up to ensure that the viewer is informed and interested—and the viewer has to as well. –3HM

Best Animation:

bear’s pick: Tatami Galaxy

You can’t talk about Tatami Galaxy without talking about its alt-comic art design or Yuasa Masaaki’s experimental direction. Tatami blends traditional hand-drawn animation, CG and live action to create an art style that’s all its own. Fantasy sequences, abstract representation and real life blend together at the same rapid-fire pace as its narration. It’s occasionally overwhelming, but always intentionally so.

And the character designs! Every character’s look evokes their personality, sums them up in a single image the way a good design should. I could go on for several more paragraphs, but I’m running out of room so I’ll just sum things up.

Tatami Galaxy’s animation succeeds at things few anime even attempt, and uses the limit for all it’s worth. Tatami Galaxy could never be a live action film, or a radio show, or even a comic: it has to be animation to do what it does.

3HM’s pick: Angel Beats!

In terms of sheer precision and technical quality, nothing comes close to what Angel Beats! delivers. This is a show in which there are no filler shots. Even background scenes are detailed and lively, and the attention to the little things like splotching in an internal wound or how water splashes when falling on the ground at times staggers the mind. The above screen shot has three different lighting effects, distinguishes between individual boards in the floor, and probably gets the details on Otonashi’s uniform right on a level far more detailed than my eye can even see. And I picked it at random.

But the best way to discern the reason for my choice is to consider how often I had to say during reviews, “This still picture does not do justice to what the show looks like.” Angel Beats! is a show whose beauty is linked to being seen animated, in action. It’s not just meant for a visual medium, but for an animated one.

Best Character Relationship:

Winner: Mikado Ryuugamine, Anri Sonohara, and Masaomi Kida (Durarara!!)

Love triangles are hardly uncommon in anime, although one guy between two girls seems to be far more common. Calling Mikado, Anri, and Masaomi participants in a love triangle cheapens what is actually going on between them. For all Mikado wants to be special and Masaomi wants to escape the past, however much Anri feels a need to cut herself out of the world of relationships, what they fear most is to be separated from each other, to lose the human contact that they somehow know they will never be able to find elsewhere.

That fear drives the conflict of the latter parts of the series, as the deception and self-deception that has bled into their relationship threatens to destroy everything they care about. This isn’t just a relationship that makes a show good: It’s a relationship that defines a show. –3HM

Runner Up: Takumi Tsuzuki and Fumino Serizawa (Mayoi Neko Overrun!)

Mayoi Neko Overrun! is a terrible show. But even terrible shows usually have at least one saving grace. In this case, it’s the relationship between Takumi and Fumino, the two main characters. They’re both orphans whose trying childhoods have made them close and left them horribly scarred. Takumi is passive to the point of absurdity because he just wants everyone to like him, and Fumino is incapable of saying anything positive, except by negation, including her feelings for Takumi.

It’s an oddly serious plot for such a lighthearted and stupid show, and the moments where their relationship shines are usually dissonant from the rest of the episode. Still, in the hands of the one or two good directors who worked on Mayoi, their relationship is more heartfelt and touching than those in shows that are otherwise much better. –bear

Runner Up: Kanade Tachibana and Yuzuru Otonashi (Angel Beats!)

Anime relationships are typically messed up; see above for examples. What makes Kanade’s and Yuzuru’s relationship so refreshing is how normal it is, even in the midst of rampant abnormality. In a crazy show set in a crazy world, we see a pair of well-matched characters slowly fall in love the way sane, ordinary people do, by spending time together and realizing, through that experience together, that they never want to be apart.  How simple that is, and how rare. –3HM

Best Opening or Ending Theme:

Winner: Tatami Galaxy 1st Opening: (video requires Hulu login due to its TV-MA rating and is preceded by a commercial)

Every show I’ve seen from Yuasa Masaaki has had amazing opening and closing videos. His openers know how to captures the essence of a show in 90 seconds of music and video, and his closers will haunt you, leaving you in a dream-like trance for the rest of the night.

Tatami Galaxy’s opening credits do a great job of introducing you to its character design and art style without ruining the secrets of its plot. The psychedelic live action apartment tour at the beginning leads into campy dancing cardboard cutouts of the main characters that evokes Adult Swim’s low-grade Flash animation. It tells you more about the characters and the show than you first realize, but you’re too bewildered to understand.

Veteran Japanese indie rockers ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION’s Maigoinu to Ame no Beat (“A stray puppy and the beat of the rain,” according to Wikipedia) is used to great effect, with its catchy horn riffs and dancey beats capturing the kind of fun, exciting college life that the main character yearns for. The full version of the song is pretty good, too.

All in all, you couldn’t ask for a better beginning to a show. –bear

Best Show We Didn’t Write About:

Winner: House of Five Leaves

Unfortunately for all involved, we didn’t take the above advice. Basically everything that bear said in his original review of House of Five Leaves proved true: It’s a mature, intelligent, character-driven story that also doubles as one of the best historical dramas I’ve seen anime produce. It is, admittedly, also somewhat slow, but as long as you aren’t addicted to continual action fests or rampaging slapstick, this show has something to offer.

I invite interested parties to see the writing nomination it received above to get better feel for the quality of the show. Or, better yet, just go to the funimation website or Hulu and watch it.  –3HM

Runner Up: Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou is pure guilty pleasure. It’s a trashy action show about a boy prophesied to be a Demon King trying to resist being typecast at high school while trying to kill God. There’s way more nudity than there needs to be, and in the last few episodes the plot goes off the rails and straight to crazy town, but for the most part, the show is smart enough to know exactly how dumb it needs to be. –bear

Runner Up: Working!!

Unlike K-On!!, Working!! remembers that the first job of a slice of life show is to be funny, not cute. There’s plenty of cute to be found in Working!!, but that is livened by crazy characters whose various neurosis and compulsions interact with each other in sometimes unexpected and always hilarious ways. The female to male ratio is only 2 or 3 to 1 (5 or 6 to 1 being the norm), providing another escape from the moe fantasies that these sort of shows often turn out to be. Best of all, the characters are given just enough development to be more than the comic caricatures they could otherwise be. –3HM

Most Overworked Voice Actor:

Winner: Kana Hanazawa

With two leads (Anri in Durarara!! and Kanade in Angel Beats!) and three supporting roles, plus a lead in a movie that we didn’t cover, Hanazawa has been the go-to actor for shy but sweet girls of all types, although some of her recent roles have allowed her to test the boundaries of that. Odds are, if you were watching anime this season, you heard her voice. –3HM

Best anthropomorphic personification of a sex drive:

Winner: Erogami-sensei (B Gata H Kei)

Technically, I can’t give this award just to Yamada’s Erogami-sensei, as multiple cast members have their own sex drives which start giving unheeded advice. Naturally, each of these match the personalities of their masters, much in the way that shoulder angels and devils do, which means that Kousada’s is bland and mostly unopinionated, Mayu’s vaguely resembles a magic girl or fairy princess, etc.

Oddly, Yamada’s is the least like her character, if for no other reason that Erogami-sensei can actually think outside of Yamada’s own narcissistic worldview. It says something when your sex drive is more intelligent and discerning than you are, but that matches Yamada perfectly. –3HM

Runner Up: Johnny (Tatami Galaxy)
Johnny is the anthropomorphic personification of a more standard sex drive: the repressed, painfully unsocial nameless protagonist of Tatami Galaxy. He isn’t quite as much of a character in his own right as Erogami, but he better captures the urgency and power of our own urges. Being in a serious show rather than a comedy, he’s less the devil on your shoulder and more an embodiment of your id, screaming in your ear to take advantage of that love doll. That’s kinda icky, but honest. –bear

Worst Use of the English Language:

bear’s Pick: ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D (Durarara!!, second opening theme)

I shouldn’t even have to explain this decision. Just look at the previous line. If those three words don’t make you wince with pain then, sir or madam, I question your love of the English language.

Pretty good song, though.

3HM’s Pick: The Independence Movement Conference (Senkou no Night Raid, episode six)

Night Raid’s mangling of foreign languages has become a running gag in our coverage of it—which is stalled, but not canceled, I hasten to add—so in some ways it’s unfair to single out their one foray into English for a particular award. But the sheer ear-piercing horror of hearing a half dozen non-English speaking Japanese attempt to speak English (worse, in the accents of other nationalities) is impossible to capture properly without the actual audio file.

Most Offensive Show:

Loser: Kiss x Sis

I said above that even terrible shows usually have at least one saving grace. Kiss X Sis does not. It is the culmination of ten years of decline for anime that aim to titillate teenage boys by suggesting without showing everything, because Kiss X Sis is nothing but cheap, poorly-acted pornography.

Its main female characters are wooden pleasure slaves who exist only to inexplicably lust over the main male character and challenge each other to commit the most debasing acts in pursuit of that lust. I needn’t mention that neither bear any resemblance to actual girls. It’s as if an alien race tried to recreate humanity using only hardcore pornography and Hustler as its source material.

I could say plenty more, but the show doesn’t deserve it. It’s trash: nothing more and nothing less. The only reason we’ve written about it at all is that it somehow made it onto TV, rather than lurking in the back of seedy Akihabara DVD shops with the rest of the efforts of the anime porn industry. –bear

  1. Ankit
    April 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks for the awesome review.!

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