This is my 2011 Anime Top Twelve listing for Anibloggers Choice Anime Awards (ACAA). Thanks to kiddtic at Kidd’s Anime Blog for organizing this, and I hope everyone has fun predicting the results.
It is a given that everyone’s list is going to be subjective, and this one is no exception. The criterion I decided to use to the decide the ‘best’ series is ‘impact factor’. Am I going to remember the series a year from now? What about five, ten years?
There is more than one way to make a series memorable. The obvious one is to make something innovative or even revolutionary. Another is to make something that is good enough to become synonymous in the viewer’s mind with the genre it represents. But a few twists in an otherwise average series are often enough to make it stick in memory for a long time.
This criterion is not the same as enjoyability, nor does it even necessarily reflect the quality of the series that follow, but it lets me answer the question: “what series do I want people to hear more about?”
Honorable mention: Kami-sama no Memo-chou
For the whole ten minutes that Kamimemo was not either riddled with fillers or otaku checklist fanservice, the series managed to ask some tough questions about those too weak to keep up with the system. The neet detective Alice confesses that what crushed her spirit and cut her off from society was the feeling of responsibility for every death in this world, deaths that she cannot prevent. Reviewers of the show were often outraged at her words, calling her attitude nothing more than hubris. But can the girl endlessly cursing her own powerlessness really be accused of too much pride? Or is it just that some ideals are just too great, never meant to be held by simple humans?
Honorable Meniton: Usagi Drop
Cute and as inoffensive as it gets. The series that took some themes that couldn’t possibly be interesting and made them fun to watch every week. Its only shortcoming is the lack of some outstanding, memorable scenes or a climax point. Still, this is a rare title that can be recommended even to people who have little to no connection with anime.
Honorable Mention: Ikoku Meiro no Croisée
The show that tried to kill us all with cute overload. But it also introduced a deeply flawed male lead, who can neither heal his trauma nor change his jagged personality overnight. As it was slowly revealed, the characters all had good reasons for their attitudes and behavior, rewarding viewers with small surprises every episode. And although the series is set in France, it is actually interesting how the creators portrayed the Japanese customs of the olden days – sometimes showing appreciation, and sometimes a more critical view.
#12 Gyakkyou Burai Kaiji – Hakairokuhen
Watching Kaiji on a weekly basis is suffering. The second season has horrible pacing issues to begin with, but waiting a whole week to see our main character sweating for twenty minutes in front of the same pachinko machine he was agonizing over last week is not what most people consider fun.
And yet the fact remains that Kaiji is one of the more unusual anime series out there. This is a tale of a good-for-nothing man who falls to the pits of hell because he was too naive, and yet stands a chance of crawling back out only because of his faith in the good heart of others. Forever balancing on the thin line between hope and cynicism, Kaiji is an anime experience not to be easily forgotten.
#11 Shakugan no Shana Final
I’m not your usual Shana fan. I’ve never seen the first season, and the first movie had me cheering on the antagonists until the very end, giving me little reason to support who I felt to be dull main characters. And now, the third season is setting me up for a similar experience.
The main character joins forces with the main bad guy – they both want to change the world for the better! The antagonists get a tearful reunion with their master – poetry and metaphors fly left and right to describe the anguish of the time they spent apart. The one time the main bad guy’s second in command ignores his orders, he quickly and decisively stops the insubordination… and compliments the unruly subordinate for their loyalty and proactive approach, calmly explaining why following the original plan is a better idea. Even the bit villains have more personality than their heroic counterparts…
This show is going to become very, very painful once the truly interesting characters start dying of like flies.
#10 Rou – Kyuu – Bu!
A series detested, quite rightly, for its fanservice approach to elementary school girls. Other than that small ‘detail’, it is probably worth mentioning that the sakuga of the characters’ faces at times brings to mind the infamous twisted faces of the first season of Higurashi. Past episode three or four, the amount of novel content squeezed into a minute of the anime more than doubles, meaning that any semblance of plot is also lost. Suffice to say, this anime is quite bad.
But it still manages to have better characters than most anything out this year.
The basketball baka Hasegawa Subaru, who can honestly think of nothing but the ball and the goal. But the basketball he meets in reality cannot match his ideals – and when his dreams and ambitions fall apart, he realizes he has nothing left to cling on to.
The basketball baka Minato Tomoka, who forgets about everything the moment her hands grip the ball, when the soft-spoken shrinking violet gives way to a merciless competitor. But she is sane, sane enough to realize that a place to be is more important to her than her ambition, even if tearing her fingers away from the ball proves as painful as peeling off skin.
I’m not sure if anyone wants to see a second season with the same quality and approach to fanservice, and I don’t expect the novels to ever get translated, so I take this time to give a single salute to the original author, Aoyama Sagu.
Great production values, Urobuchi Gen’s story, Kajiura Yuki’s music and the director of Hourou Musuko, Fate/zero has it all to become a legend.
And yet the anime adaptation of Urobuchi’s novels struggles with consistency. It has difficulty with establishing its characters, and Aoki Ei doesn’t handle the epic fight scenes too well, trying to copy the presentation of a novel instead of using the strength offered by a visual medium. As with any adaptation, stuff gets lost in the transition, and its up to the staff’s skills and guts to take risks to make up for those shortcomings. This time around, Ufotable is not entirely successful, and the anime that could be great ends up being merely good.
That said, the epic scale of this series and the unique storytelling that Urobuchi offers cannot be denied. This series can only be fairly judged once it completes its run next year. I give it a high 9th place in expectation of what is to come, but cannot rank it above the consistent series that follow.
It’s always a blessing to have a show that’s merely good at its worst, and a true pleasure at its best. An unusual mixture of josei-style romance and a sports manga, Chihayafuru does more than well enough on both fronts.
The karuta genius Wataya Arata gets a romantic head start by inspiring our main character during her childhood days, but his main rival Taiichi seems more real a character with every episode that we watch him struggling to overcome his faults. Karuta itself, a sport that most westerners will never once play in their lives, seems attractive enough in this portrayal. The tactics and ability required, the teamwork and the hard work, all of it is presented in top-grade fashion matching the classics of sport anime.
With a cast of quirky characters and a good balance of the romantic and the intense, the serious and the humorous, Chihayafuru is simply great entertainment.
#7 Mirai Nikki
Having watched the first two episodes of the show, I thought the idea had a lot of potential. I decided to take a look at the original manga… and I ended up reading all through it in two or three sittings.
The original author can’t draw to save his life. He can’t write a proper story, either. But he has guts, much more of them than anyone should be allowed. The twists are ridiculous to begin with, but they seem crazier with every chapter anyway. When the final chapter comes, the ludicrousness has long gone through the roof, reaching the distant stars.
But it kind of makes sense. And it’s hell of a lot of fun.
The anime turns the manga drawings into something more consistently resembling human beings. And it gets a competent director. The biggest ass-pull moments get cut out and the transitions between scenes start making sense. The adaptation is on its way to significantly surpassing the original material, as rare as that is. I’m looking forward to seeing some future scenes animated, while those of you who have avoided spoilers can still expect a whole bunch of twists ahead. This series might not be as intellectually engaging as Death Note nor as consistent in its psychoses as Denpateki na Kanojo, but the fact that it attempts both is entertaining enough.
(Continued in Part 2)
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