Fall 2010 Season in Review – Fashionably Late
I was a little late in finishing up my reviews for this past season, so forgive the lateness of the awards post. This was a much stronger season than the last, with some strong shows in every category. We still couldn’t agree on a clear winner for best show, mostly because I have yet to finish Shiki and Katanagatari’s ending was such a letdown. So, without further ado, here are our picks for the season.
bear’s pick: Katanagatari
As anime has become more and more overtaken by high school harem comedies, we’ve been missing out on one of the old pillars of the medium: the action show. There are flat-out fewer action shows airing than there has been in the past, which is unfortunate.
The good news, however, is that the ones that manage to get made have a much better chance of being absolutely extraordinary. Katanagatari is just such a show: a clever and action-packed romp through a strange alternate-history version of medieval Japan. It’s a classic samurai drama, full of dramatic, one on one battles between masters of the way of the sword.
But it’s also a strong character show. The majority of each hour-long episode is occupied not with battling, but with interaction between Shichika, Togame and each episode’s Bad Guy, who is rarely Bad, per se, and more likely just an exceptional human who has been corrupted by power or their own human failings. And nearly every episode is an interesting story that can stand on its own, but also ties into the ever-developing relationship between Shichika and Togame.
The result is a phenomenal show, one of the best things anime had going for it last year, and something I would recommend to anyone looking for a good sword fight.
3HM’s pick: Shiki
Shiki is an example of a show that wants to do exactly one thing, and do it well. The series desires to provide an experience of unrelenting horror, and it does so in stages. Starting with the mystery of the Kirishikis and their sinister intentions, it then moves the sense of helplessness in a shadow war against creatures made to fight in shadows. But even when the war moves into the light, and the humans retake their town, the horror does not end.
Shiki’s masterstroke is not to end the carnage, but merely reverse it, before a conflagration makes all sides the losers in the end. What makes the world of Shiki so terrifying is that, even without vampires, the universe would still be just as cold and uncaring, death would still be as pointless and tragic, and the forces of entropy and decay would still snuff out what little sparks of light and goodness humanity has managed to create.
The existence of vampires is to show the limits of the scientific mind to fight against the decay, but in a sense the vampires of Shiki are as extraneous to the show’s main themes as the aliens are in Signs. In a world without God or heaven, or even hell, hell becomes a place on earth, and life a cruel joke whose punchline is oblivion. In the end, what greater horror can there be?
bear’s pick: Katanagatari
I already covered a lot of the reasons why Katanagatari’s writing is top-notch above, so I’ll keep it brief. Writing interesting fight scenes is hard if you don’t have interpersonal drama to play off of. But Katanagatari manages to come up with consistently interesting scenarios for its battles, puzzles for Shichika and Togame to work out through their brains and brawn.
Even harder to write is a slowly-developing affection and close relationship between two characters, which Katanagatari also does well, particularly considering the strange nature of both Shichika and Togame.
Its worst problem is its muddled and confusing ending, but its strengths are more than enough to make up for it.
3HM’s pick: Shiki
So many anime series have difficulty finding a consistent tone. Shiki has no problem here. Its tone is despair, and it presents that tone with no compromises, no concessions, and no relief. Not for Shiki is the comic relief episode or the wise-cracking companion character; the only humor it indulges in is irony of the darkest sort. Romance too is eschewed, with love being twisted and affection a cause of death. Every attempt to build up positive human traits returns to horror in the end.
Shiki also provides a sense of depth, showing the motivations and driving forces behind its massive cast. The decision to humanize its monsters, while perhaps going a bit too far down the moral equivalency scale, is a part of that. Even monsters like to think they are good people, using all the excuses (I had no choice, this is just how things are, they deserve it for what they did to me) that ordinary men do. Whether the monsters are still breathing, or not, makes no difference.
Winner: Samurai Girls
Ok, so Samurai Girls is trashy, sexist, and mostly plotless; it’s just a collection of excuses to get scantly-clad female martial artists into a harem around the protagonist. Even so, I watched a full five episodes of it, and had there been a regularly occurring fight scene on the level of what graced the beginning of the second episode, I might have watched it all the way through no matter how many brain cells it cost me.
However soulless the story might have been, the animation quality was not just excellent, but embodied a style both thematically and visually fresh and engaging. The idea of treating the entire show as if it were painted, with swords cutting through the canvas of the screen and ink blots being used as both a censor and a weapon, is something previous unknown to at least my experience. I just wish everything else that came with the package was as inspired. –3HM
In terms of the animation itself, Katanagatari is above average, with the attention to detail that you can only afford when you have a whole month to make an episode. Its art design, however, is amazing. It makes the alternate history Japan into a strange, alien place, which is a perfect fit for its story of a legendary hero making history.
It’s a pity the sheer amount of action in the final episode forced such corner cutting. Otherwise, this might have been the best animated series of the season. –bear
Best Character Relationship:
bear’s pick: Shichika Yasuri and Togame (Katanagatari)
This is a topic where I and 3HM disagree strongly, which is largely why I’m the one writing about Katanagatari on this post. You can read his thoughts here.
Katanagatari is many things, but at the heart of it is the unfolding relationship between Togame the Strategian, a woman bent on avenging her family’s suffering at the hands of the current shogun, and Shichika, her sword. It’s a relationship that slowly develops over the course of the series, both in the intimate settings they encounter on their travels and in what they have to do to defeat the people holding the swords they are collecting.
It’s not until Togame’s death that she reveals another side to their relationship, a tension between the part of her that just wanted to use Shichika for revenge, and the part of her that was honestly falling in love with him. Shichika has his own problems to deal with, having to figure out how to relate to people when he’s spent his whole life alone on an island with only his father and sociopath sister for company.
It’s a strange relationship, but one as sweet as it is bitter, and certainly one that’s difficult to forget.
3HM’s pick: Seishin Muroi and Sunako Kirishiki (Shiki)
Not all relationships are positive. When Muroi and Sunako first meet, they aren’t destined for a lovely romance or even as mutual supports in tough times. Rather, the two lead each other down a path of mutual damnation, slowly wearing down the remaining ethical boundaries each still had.
That Sunako would corrupt Muroi became increasingly obvious as the show progressed, as the latter became increasingly intoxicated with the prospect of freedom from the constraints of his life and enthralled by the despair in Sunako’s experience. But its not until the end that we see how Muroi’s own darkness draws Sunako further into the abyss, continually justifying her actions—and ultimately his own. Sunako came to Sotoba seeking a kindred spirit, thinking, based on Muroi’s writings, that she had found one. She was not mistaken.
Best Opening or Ending Theme:
Creepy birds, glowing red eyes, blood spraying from trees, and let’s not forget the very flesh coming off about half the named cast. The original opening sequence for Shiki is one of the most outright disturbing (in a good way) things that appeared in anime for a while. And then the actual show would come and fulfill all those expectations.
The opening also had the advantage of a great piece of music to go with; Bucktick hasn’t done too many anime songs, but this one fit with the mood exactly. Just their music was enough to make Shiki’s second ending sequence, comparatively minimalist in presentation, one of my favorites of the season. When paired with a great set of visuals, the result is something spine chilling. You can check it out here … but I would just recommend watching the series. –3HM
Runner-up: Princess Jellyfish
It’s a noitaminA sweep this year, with Princess Jellyfish’s opening coming in a strong second place. All-girl alt-rock band CHATMONCHY’s Koko Dake no Hanashi is an airy, upbeat rock song that perfectly fits the show’s cutesy vibe.
Plus the video is a bunch of parodies of Western movies using the show’s characters and jellyfish. You haven’t seen really the Death Star until you’ve seen the jellyfish Death Star. See for yourself. –bear
Best Show We Didn’t Write About:
Winner: Legend of the Legendary Heroes
In my original take on Legend of the Legendary Heroes, I noted that I thought it could pull of a dark heroic fantasy if it didn’t get too laid down in comedy (and the the reverse was also true). And, after a rather shaky start, the show rights itself, establishing a serious tone and a level of moral depth and ambiguity that I was hoping for but honestly didn’t expect.
A major turning point is when the mustache-twirling, evil-for-the-sake-of-evil nobility plaguing Roland are purged midway into the series. From that point on the conflicts of the story occur between three different powers, all noble in intention, and all willing to commit heinous atrocities to see their noble goals achieved. It’s a show where you can feel for all the characters, even if you have trouble cheering for any of them.
Legend is not by any means a perfect show, even after finding its stride. The penultimate episode is unwisely devoted to a comic relief episode before the final plunge into despair, which (in addition to only being sporadically amusing) wastes crucial time that could have been used to make the finale less abrupt. The finale itself changes the status quo, again, but is clearly set up for another season for the rest of the story to get told. And frankly, Ferris beating up Ryner for no discernible reason was never very funny. But it is a far better show than I initially would have predicted. Given the opportunity to do the season over again, I would have blogged this over Amagami. –3HM
Best Character Design:
Winner: Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai
For all its flaws, no one can say a serious amount of love and care didn’t go into Oreimo. Probably the best example of this is the character designs. They’re very detailed and unique to begin with, a carry-over from the original source material, but the anime adaptation takes it to a new level.
The amount of varied outfits that Kirino and her model friends is pretty impressive, as are the completely different styles of each of the various anime and dating games that Kirino and company watch and play. The producers of the anime actually hired separate character designers for each of the main anime and games, so that each would have its own look. That’s devotion. –bear
Runner-up: Princess Jellyfish
Princess Jellyfish is another show that shines in its fashion design. Kuranosuke’s stylish clothes (and the new outfits he forces on the girls of Amamizu) are always varied and attractive. I can’t speak for how accurately they reflect actual Tokyo fashion, but they’re outlandish and interesting enough to work for the show’s frequently over the top tone. Plus the jellyfish dresses are all impressive for how much they manage to look like their inspiration. –bear
Most Offensive Show:
Winner:Loser: Yosuga no Sora
Every season, a surprising number of anime based on pornographic dating games are made. Historically, these have usually tried to gloss over their pornographic origins, and actually tend to be fairly chaste.
Yosuga no Sora is a good example of why. The sex scenes that end every arc are—with few exceptions—terribly animated, awkwardly voiced and completely gratuitous.
The worst part is how terribly made they are. If your pornography is consistently creepy, then you have failed miserably, not only in telling an interesting story, but in being titillating. Which, in a medium increasingly dominated by shows that succeed only in titillation, is pathetic indeed. –bear