Narutaki & Hisui VS. 2011December 28, 2011
We are here on the red carpet in scenic Brooklyn for the 5th annual Reverse Thieves Anime and Manga Awards. All the stars are here and decked out in their finest. There has already been a bit of drama outside before the awards tonight. We saw Hayao Miyazaki punch out Gendo Ikari over a seating dispute. Then one of the K-ON! girls was seen with a male escort which raised a few eyebrows and possibly caused several suicides. There were also some red faces when Sheryl Nome and Ciel Phantomhive showed up in the same dress. But all that aside we are gathered here today to look back and praise the best and the brightest while scorning the foul beasts that waste our precious time. The viewing audience at home is also encouraged to send in their own votes to see how they stack up to the votes of the academy.
Best Anime of 2011
(Can Anything Top Utena?)
Fate/Zero by ufotable I don’t think anyone who has been to the site more than twice is super surprised this is here. It has Saber in a suit. It won automatically. Everything else unnecessary but appreciated. I know some people can’t stand the show because it can often have characters explains their motivation, plans, and magical systems in loving detail but that I love about the series. But at the same time when the fights go down they are pretty amazing. Even just that short confrontation between Berserker and Archer will put some hair on your chest. The animation can look OVA quality at points and is usually a visual feast even when it is simple conversation. I know I am pretty prejudiced towards loving the show but Fate/Zero expertly crafted and deserving of the position.
Runner up: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai by A-1 Pictures There was just something about AnoHana that was gripping. Once I found out that Menma was a ghost I was compelled to discover what had happened that drove these seemingly inseparable friends apart. This could be seen as the anime version of the Big Chill. It was a great mix of comedy and drama that always focused on the characters more than the supernatural conceit. The ending had some minor flaws but I think it came to an excellent emotional climax.
Mawaru Penguindrum by Brain’s Base Ikuhara directs anime so infrequently, that alone is reason enough to celebrate. But he has gone further by creating another intriguing, mysterious, and surreal show in tune with his masterpiece Revolutionary Girl Utena. As we explore fate, life and death, sacrifice, society, and human connections it is all done with streamlined style and brilliant design. Penguindrum is a visual treat as much as it is mind-bending. The show never feels concrete and as you go on you feel less and less sure what to believe, it makes for one heck of a journey. The way Ikuhara has constructed the story of Penguindrum makes paying attention to the details key in watching; each episode is intimately connected to everything that has come before it. This also makes the prospects of a marathon rewatch very enticing.
Runner up: Tiger & Bunny by Bandai This was a close second for creating an anime about superheroes that Japan and the rest of us embraced happily. The combination of reality television, down on his luck hero Wild Tiger, and a lively cast and relationships gave it an extra kick while it played its hero tropes to the hilt.
Anime Man of the Year
(Can Anyone be Cooler then Spike Spiegel?)
Kotetsu T. Kaburagi from Tiger & Bunny As Narutaki mentioned Tiger and Bunny was one of the most entertaining shows of the season. At the same time it was the main character that really sold so many people on what otherwise seems like a very silly sounding anime. Wild Tiger is an anomaly in the often youth oriented medium by virtue of being an older character who has a daughter. He is a wonderful mixture of serious and lighthearted. Kotetsu is the classic white knight superhero while at the same time he is also a complete goofball. But when the chips are down he is always reliable and it does not feel like the writers are cheating to let him win. He is just a fun character that is easy to root for.
Daikichi from Bunny Drop Daikichi distinguishes himself in the very first episode, this is a guy you feel for and root for because he has a good heart even if he doesn’t always know what he is doing. As he quickly find himself over his head he is honest about it but also truly find in himself the desire to help give Rin the best life he can. His situations as surrogate father are very simple and normal but his relationship with Rin is what is inspiring thanks to plenty of humor. I realize now writing this that both Hisui and I picked single dads who are good intentioned idiots.
Anime Woman of the Year
(The Part where Hisui Picks Someone other than Saber so it is Slightly Interesting)
Chiharu Harukaze from Hayate no Gotoku! Chiharu Harukaze might seem like an unusual choice but I think she wonderful character. At first she seems a rather bland character. Aika Kasumi and her appear a few times in the first season of Hayate anime but they don’t get many speaking roles. She seems like a straight-laced almost boring glasses girl. As the series goes on we learn that she moonlights as a maid and is actually a rather hardcore otaku. She is not as extreme as Nagi but she easily keeps up with her friend. I like her friendship Nagi as they play off each other well. If nothing else she is a great female otaku character that I think actual female anime fans can relate to. She has really grown on me as a character as she brings a nice feeling to the series.
Survival Strategy (aka Princess of the Crystal) from Mawaru Penguindrum From her jaunty cap, to her catchphrase “survival strategy,” to her transformation sequence, to her theme song, to her telling everyone they will amount to nothing this lady is on a mission though she is as cryptic as they come. If nothing else, she makes one heck of a first impression. I, like most others I think, started calling her Survival Strategy since her name remained elusive. She drives the major portions of the plot including finding that mysterious object the “Penguindrum” and she has an even more important place as things unfold. A mascot of the show as much as the penguins, Survival Strategy is utterly unforgettable.
Best Retro Manga Release
(Everything Old is New Again)
Princess Knight by Osamu Tezuka I might have some problems with Tezuka’s storytelling in Princess Knight but overall it a triumph for this manga to be released in English. While it was not the first shojo manga its impact on shaping the genre in undeniable. It has long been this often referenced but hardly seen piece of manga history. It’s influence on The Rose of Versailles and Revolutionary Girl Utena is invariably brought up when those shows are discussed. It also made cross dressing and gender politic an inseparable part of girls comics in Japan. It is great to see this series in an easily accessible format for an English audience. It is a boon to scholars and historians of manga as well as anyone just interested in the origins of manga.
Sailor Moon / Codename: Sailor V by Naoko Takeuchi Sailor Moon was my first experience with manga, having started watching anime the couple years prior. Those TokyoPop editions still sit pretty in my collection, but there isn’t a fan around that hasn’t hoped with all their being for a new translation and release to see the light of day. Even though it was a long time coming, Kondansha picked a good time to bring it back out for English readers following the new editions in Japanese with new art and color pages. If that wasn’t exciting enough, along side came the much coveted Sailor V for the first time in English. These are beautiful books with plenty of nostalgia that makes you excited for more releases from Kodansha.
Worst Thing I Watched
(Can Anything be Worse than Akikan!?)
Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere by Sunirse By the fact that I have Type-Moon and Toaru Majutsu no Index shows winning awards on this list shows that I have a fairly high tolerance for long stretches of exposition in my entertainment. But Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere actually broke me of all people. The confusing back story of this universe is vomited up constantly by the narrator but none of it sticks. It does not help that none of the back story makes any sense. The fact that the characters range from goofy, to loathsome, to just plain racist adds insult to injury. The main character is Ataru Moroboshi with everything removed that makes Ataru fun. Even the guy with the Dig-dug hat could not save this series. There were a few painfully boring series this year but Horizon takes the cake by making a fantastical premise completely banal.
Yuruyuri by Dogakobo There are always a few shows that end up on our new season watch list that we are more than likely going to hate, but we give them a chance. So that explains why I even watched this show in the first place, it was a bad plan. Not only is it a boring premise of girls in a club that does nothing, but there is the added editions of horrible personalities, loli fan-service, sibling obsession, and that was just the first episode.
(The Best Way to Start an Episode)
Mawaru-Penguindrum Opening 2: “Boys, Come Back to Me” Mawaru Penguindrum is visually stunning series an its opening is no exception. It is just a gorgeously designed opening that is simple but memorable. Both openings are filled with spoilers but they are represented in a way that only makes sense after the series is over. That alone is a testament to the planning that went into the show. At the same time it works as his lively superflat opening that introduces the show and gets you ready for the unique Penguindrum experience. I mostly picked the second opening as the song as it seemed a bit peppier to me. The second opening also builds on the symbology of the first opening which is a nice touch.
Gosick Opening 1: “Destin Histoire” This juxtaposition of a modern song with Mucha-inspired illustration is a straight up winner. The way the animation moves makes it look as if a storybook has come alive. On top of that the flatness of the art gives it a theatrical feel. The opening as hints at things to come so it is fun to look back on it and pick out all the little things.
(The Perfect Ending to an Episode)
AnoHana Ending 1: “Secret Base ~The Thing you Gave Me~ (10 years after Ver.)” Endings tend to be the lesser sibling to their big budget older sibling, the opening. The animation is invariably cheaper and sometimes you can almost feel the lack of effort. But the ending of AnoHana perfectly captures the mood of series in a way that few endings do. The song has a mixture of melancholy and joy just like the show and the visuals perfectly accompany this mood while remaining sweet and vibrant. The song’s catchy nature tops off everything perfectly.
Bunny Drop Ending 1: “High High High” Childhood drawings and imagination come to life with this soft pop song. Bright and colorful, naive renderings of dreamscapes and rabbits engulf Rin as she explores. The melody is perfect after an episode full of sweet and melancholy lessons and realizations.
Thing I Wish People Would Stop Talking About
(The Topic that Makes You Instantly Close Twitter)
Ben-to by David Production Ben-to is a small horse that does one maneuver competently but nothing else (aka known as a one trick pony). The problem is I don’t even think it does that one trick is done all that well. But for some reason it seemed to be a show that even some rather cynical anime fans looked forward to each week. I know that certain people can be starved for original ideas in their anime but you must have some meat on that idea for me to be interested. The odd little cult around his show really perplexes me. So when people would tear down other shows to build this one up it was just bizarre and sort of insulting to the shows I liked.
How much everyone would change Gundam AGE Few series get as much flack as anything in this long running franchise. Not only that, everyone also has to play backseat director/producer/writer/etc. on every little thing. But God forbid they stop watching the show, no that would just be stupid.
Series I Unexpectedly Liked
(Cheddar Cheese and Apple Pie)
Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth by Satelight Moe is such a strange animal. While I do not instinctually hate anything with moe in it I have grown wary whenever I see a show with moe character designs. Yune’s small frame and hyper cute design did make me arch my eyebrow at this show. The slice of life feel of the story did not help. Thankfully Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth rises about your first impressions. It is a delightful historical piece that has a relaxed feeling while still having enough story and character growth to feel rewarding. It is a mellow show that is vibrant enough to hold my attention. It also avoid being creepy which also could have easily tainted the whole experience. An extremely pleasant surprise.
Uta no Prince-sama Maji Love 1000% by A-1 Pictures This title seemed like a doomed prospect before I watched it, in fact checking out the first episode was just supposed to be a lark and yet it was ridiculously entertaining. Heavy emphasis on ridiculous. Norio Wakamoto voices the headmaster of the idol training school and even sings a little in the first episode, yeah that’s what kind of ridiculous I’m talking about. The romances all center around a girl with the creepiest eyes ever and each one plays out like over the top soap opera storylines. Who knew a reverse harem dating sim could be this much fun.
Best Manga News
(Not the Licensing of Yankee-kun to Megane-chan but Still Pretty Good)
Vertical Saves Shonan Junai-gumi and Picks Up GTO: Shonan 14 Days Who does not love GTO? Only demons and fools. Sadly while Shonan Junai-gumi is filled with hot-blooded yankee action it never got the love in the U.S. that its sequel did. So when Tokyopop went out of business it seemed like we would never see the end of the tale of Onizuka and Danma. Thankfully Vertical swooped in and saved the series. On top of that they also picked up the latest adventures of GTO as well. If the series does well enough they has hinted that they might go back and license rescue anything else TokyoPop translated of Tohru Fujisawa’s works dealing with the great teacher. That would even be more remarkable so you should go out there and buy all the Onizuka you can from Vertical.
Manga Companies Jump Into the Digital Distribution There had been toes dipped in the water previous to 2011, but this year saw a boom of activity that will hopefully set a great pace for what’s to come. This advance is necessary and as titles start to speed up the prospect of coming closer and closer to the release of Japanese books becomes not so impossible a dream.
Best Anime News
(Not the Licensing of Legend of the Galactic Heroes but Still Pretty Good)
A Certain Magical Index Film Green-Lit I know that the U.S. fandom seems to at best have a love/hate relationship with A Certain Magical Index (as in they love to hate it) but I genuinely like the series. If there was any sort of light novel market in the U.S. I would just follow this series via the original books. But unless you are a mega popular franchise like Naruto or Fullmetal Alchemist it seems like you can’t give away most light novels in English. So the only way for me to continue in the strange world of magic and science in Academy City is when they adapt Touma’s adventures in an anime. I am glad to see that they are continuing to adapt the series and hope that the film can help create a third season. I want to see that World War III Arc.
Redline Getting Theatrical U.S. Release Maybe this doesn’t quite make up for waiting for this film since 2009, but it certainly softens the blow. If you’ve seen this movie, and loved it, you know it will look amazing on the big screen; a total immersive experience. It also gives the opportunity that other random people who aren’t anime fans will see Redline and realize its fantastic-ness. And since it is getting a theatrical release, Oscar nomination would be a possibility in 2012.
(Funny in a Good Way, not a M.D. Geist Way)
Carnival Phantasm by Lerche I will fully admit that Carnival Phantasm is hardly for everyone. It demands a near encyclopedia knowledge of the Type-Moon universe but at the same time the good nature to see the characters involved made out to be very silly. As a fan of Type-Moon and Eri Takenashi this series was a match made in heaven. Some of the jokes are a bit over done but they move quickly enough from joke to joke that I never minded too much. When Taiga makes a reference to the Japanese opening of the 90’s X-men cartoon I knew no other series could go in this spot.
Fireball Charming by Disney This is the prequel to just plain ole Fireball with the same humor but a little less sleek character design for Drossel. She still sports expressive hair and never fully understands the things she learns. Despite being a wierdsville fest of puns and misunderstandings, you can see parts of the story proving it takes place before.