Belated Christmas greetings and all the best for 2010! Things have been quiet of late, but I loved what Gaguri did recently and really ought to reply to that and Sasa’s version. I hate to sound like an episode of Q.I. but the decade actually ends, strictly speaking, at the end of 2010. Not that it matters: I was worried about having actually watched enough to reach the Festive Fifty, but the reality turned into some tricky decision into what I had to leave out.
For the sake of simplicity the likes of Trapeze, Bakemonogatari, K-On!, Ergo Proxy, Mouryou no Hako, Texhnolyze, Shikabane Hime, Gurren Lagann, NieA_7, Detroit Metal City, Code Geass, Planetes and Beck didn’t make the list, as much as I like them. Some titles had to go, and “I haven’t finished it yet,” seemed to be a fair enough reason. On with 50-26.
50. Hataraki Man
I’m a little fed up with high school-based fare; I asked one day “what about stories of people of my own age with proper jobs and adult responsibilities?” The answer given to me was this, a tale of a stressed-out office worker and those around her who struggle with the work/life balance…and each other. An incomplete adaptation of Moyoco Anno’s seinen/josei manga serial, it has something many animated productions cannot attain: realism.
49. Macross Zero
Not the best of the franchise, but arguably the prettiest. It’s a little lacking on the characterisation front, but in terms of CG it was cutting edge and the dogfights still look awesome today. It also has Roy Foker, a beautiful Pacific island setting and floating rocks. Win.
48. Clannad/Clannad After Story
I never really expected to enjoy this at all: I was (at the time) unconvinced about visual novels and the saccharine moe aesthetic of Key works didn’t appeal to me either. Just as well then that it had some genuinely laugh-out-loud and heartstring-tugging moments, before going all grown-up on us in the second season. The controversial ending was a surprisingly inventive take on how to resolve a branching VN structure with a linear TV narrative too.
47. Lucky Star
While we’re on the subject of stuff that I expected to hate, this was a genuinely lulzworthy piece that was moe-ified otaku-fodder while simultaneously ripping the piss out of the said genre of moe-ified otaku-fodder. Fine by me. It also picked out little everyday details and occasionally pulled some quite moving moments out of its pastel-coloured KyoAni hat.
46. Fate/Stay Night
Next to its epic, exhilerating visual novel source material this can hardly compare but nevertheless it was a lot of fun to watch. Now the UBW movie is imminent I can think of it as the adaptation of the Fate route alone, which makes the necessary omissions of two thirds of the original story not just understandable but perfectly acceptable.
45. Spice and Wolf
Consistently entertaining but included here as acknowledgement of the superior second season, this sweet little tale of two lonely travellers had me coming back for more every week with a peaceful grin on my face every time. A delightful refreshing change and textbook example of how character chemistry can make the world of difference.
44. Eden of the East
Another sterling effort from the noitaminA slot, this was an exciting mixture of politics, romance, technology…and several shipping containers of naked blokes who our hero tempted out of the dole queue and into a new world order. With two new movies coming up under the watchful eye of Kenji Kamiyama, I don’t think I’ll tire of Akira’s and Saki’s adventures just yet.
43. true tears
The idea of originality and a borderline harem premise threatened my enjoyment of this, a romantic drama from a virtually-unknown studio. Fortunately the quality of the characterisation and its stunning attention to detail made it more than just another teen angst fest, instead becoming a little gem to add to the genre’s finest.
Speaking of characterisation and attention to detail, this one was a fine example of how a sharp script and a little shake-up to the traditional roles and tropes can make something refreshing and thought-provoking. A bit of an oddity, but it was brave and unconventional enough to make me respect it quite a lot.
Masaaki Yuasa is one of the industry’s real mavericks and this felt to me like the most coherant and complete work of his to date. Visually outstanding, thematically inventive with human emotion fighting for supremacy over a fairytale sci-fi backdrop, it took the idea of anime==cartoons and totally, wonderfully, screwed with it.
40. Hidamari Sketch/Hidamari Sketch x365
The idea of taking a 4koma story of normal high school girls doing normal things is possibly the most un-original idea in anime but fortunately Akiyuki Shinbo added his own unique flair to bring its gentle brand of lighthearted comedy to life.
39. Natsume Yuujinchou
A male lead who’s likable and not in the least bit wimpy, a magical cat, quintessentially Japanese folk spirituality and story arcs that were heartbreaking and heartwarming in turns made this a real sleeper hit for me. Now I need to watch the second season…
38. Xam’d: Lost Memories
Studio Bones have a knack of being consistently imaginative and artistically impressive, and this one was no exception. The characterisation was superb and the vivid worldview made up for the numerous scantily-explained side stories. One of the few productions where I want both a sequel AND a coffee table-style artbook.
37. ef -a Tale of Memories/Melodies
Listed as one here mainly because it feels like two halves of the same whole (although I liked the first half slightly more). The risky business of adapting an eroge VN ended up as not only tasteful and visually striking but actually made more sense than more straight-up made-for TV shows. Shinbo’s supervision didn’t hurt either.
36. Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei
I must confess I’ve only seen the first season to the end but the episodic, sketch-based structure helps a lot. More SHAFT x Shinbo goodness: wordplay that makes me wish I could read kanji, outrageous characters and humour that’s dark, sharp and satirical. Just how I like it.
35. Voices of a Distant Star
Famous as Makoto Shinkai’s cinematic debut, it draws from classical science fiction with unique home-grown storytelling and CGI to wring heartfelt emotion out of a shaky and straightforward premise. An OAV of this length and simplicity shouldn’t be nearly as good as this…and I don’t even have the space to write about the adorable She and Her Cat short that’s included in the DVD extras.
34. Spirited Away
The fact that this is so acclaimed and well-known means that I never bothered to blog about it before but I need to show that Miyazaki has done some great things in the past ten years. His older work holds the most charm and complexity for me, but this one didn’t get an Oscar for nothing.
33. Tokyo Godfathers
A mix of social commentary, drama, humour and a bit of festive magic; a movie you should watch over the Christmas and New Year period to really get you in the mood for the season of goodwill. Satoshi Kon tackles some taboo subjects but gives his unlikely heroes a whole truckload of humanity and pathos.
32. Wolf’s Rain
Another solid Bones effort, pacing issues (namely the notorious recap episodes) and a redone ending being the only major flaws in this post-apocalyptic worldview married to the old story of tentative friendships and an epic journey. The human characters often outshone the wolves but it holds itself together with a surprisingly understated Yoko Kanno score.
31. Last Exile
Gonzo can make pretty shows and well-written ones, but this is the only time I’ve seen them manage both at the same time. It looks spectacular but the plucky heroes in a steampunk era of Miyazaki-esque flying machines is perfect escapism. Nice twist at the end as well.
30. Ghost Hound
A wonderfully peculiar sci-fi piece that makes use of an excellent music score and an eclectic variety of hard science and philosophy, this made a huge impression on me but kinda faded from the fandom’s collective consciousness. Ryutaro Nakamura and Chiaki Konaka gave an old Shirow manga an entertaining David Lynchian twist.
29. Sword of the Stranger
Sometimes you just want to be entertained. Bones’ first movie that’s genuinely outstanding was this, a historical action-fest filled with swordplay, unlikely friendships and the most badass dog in anime history. No, it ain’t deep but I was having too much fun with its honest, no-nonsense approach to care.
Another un-anime looking anime show, it’s 100% moe free and doesn’t feature high school kids. It does however feature mafia bosses, criminals, blood-soaked violence, drinking, gambling and epic mullets. It’s a shitload of fun in other words and had me on the edge of my seat with every turn. Zawa zawa!
27. Paranoia Agent
I’ve always wondered what would happen if Satoshi Kon decided to lend his unique style and storytelling to a TV show. This effort was basically a Kon movie stretched across thirteen mind-bending episodes, and succeeded in keeping me guessing from the first episode to the last. This is what sharp, intelligent TV looks like…not even the BBFC could handle it.
26. Kino’s Journey
Anime can be Serious Business. Certainly in the hands of Nakamura and Konaka, anyway. The almost-exclusively self-contained episode structure somehow gave a vast number of quietly philosophical and memorable studies of the human condition and our place in the world. There isn’t enough love for this around these days.
And it’s shorter than my previous post! The second half of the run-down will follow soon. ^_^