Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Hanners' Anime 'Blog Air Pie With No Pastry Awards 2009

Woah, have I really been doing this for two years? The calendar never lies so yes, this is virtually the second anniversary of this 'blog (give or take a month, this site's actual "birthday" is towards the end of January), marking the end of a year in which I've 'blogged close to forty different anime shows (including a few movies and OVAs) - Some good, some bad, and not too many that were absolutely dire thankfully.

Of course, this makes the end of the year a time of reflection for all and sundry, and thus I feel almost duty-bound to sit down and collect my own thoughts by way of my second annual "Air Pie With No Pastry Awards" - A celebration of the best (and finger-wagging dismissal of the worst) anime of the past twelve months.

Just to make the rules clear (in the hope that it prevents me from breaking them myself in two seconds flat), only shows that have finished airing in 2009 are eligible to pick up an award here - Anything still airing into 2010 will have to wait until next year to try its hand at catching my eye.

So, with that in mind, let's get cracking!

Best opening titles - To be honest, I'm not the kind of guy to take much interest in opening or closing titles; I'll watch them once for any given show, and that's it unless they really catch my eye and do something special. For example, pick any series of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and you'll find me watching the opening credits with rapt attention every single time.

Indeed, while Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's opening is right up there with my favourites for the year, it's Eden of the East that sticks in my mind as the best example of a title sequence done right. Even ignoring the oddly fitting use of Oasis' Falling Down to run alongside it, the title animation itself is a near-perfect amalgam of everything that such a sequence should be - It fits with the aesthetic of the series, it educates about the series without giving anything away, and indeed it serves to amplify any sense of mystery surrounding what you're about to view. It's a good job everything else about Eden of the East was as polished as its opening, otherwise it would have been quite a let-down.

Best closing titles - While opening titles should serve as a mechanism to draw you into a series, so the closing credits should arguably act as a come-down - Something pleasant to send you on your way for another week until you and said series reconvene next time around. By these measurements, Spice and Wolf II's end credits fit the bill near-perfectly - Cute illustrations, and a fabulous yet upbeat song that fits the story of the series uncannily.

However, there was one series which transcended even this to create not so much a set of end credits as an institution in its own right, and that series was K-ON!. While Don't Say Lazy was a fantastic effort within a series full of great music which was almost criminally overused within the episodes themselves, the pop/rock attitude and fashion of the title sequence simply added to the effect to create something that you'd happily watch on its own even when it was no longer bolted on to an episode of anime.

Best soundtrack - While K-ON!'s actual soundtrack itself wasn't much to write home about, it goes without saying that the various character CDs, singles and "proper" music which accompanied the series was largely excellent and well worthy of attention even outside the confines of that series. However, for my best soundtrack award this year I'm actually going to cheat somewhat and pick a soundtrack from something I haven't even watched yet, that being Macross Frontier ~Itsuwari No Utahime~. I'm sure people don't need to be told how wonderful all things Macross Frontier tend to be musically, but ever since its release the Sheryl Nome insert album Universal Bunny has been stuck on almost constant repeat play no matter what I've been doing. With so many fantastic songs which only make me yearn to see this movie all the more, it's a clear winner for the year in my book.

Worst soundtrack - You know, much as I'd love to rip into some release or other here, I can't actually think of an anime soundtrack that I've heard which has genuinely made me roll my eyes or otherwise giggle at its poor quality - Sure, there have been plenty of forgettable OSTs floating around I'm sure, but nothing so terrible as to cause me to consider going down the Van Gogh route. I'm going to have to sit this one out this year, and hope that something truly atrocious comes my way in 2010.

Best character - 2009 has been a good year for larger than life characters in anime - We've seen the return of Haruhi Suzumiya (love her or hate her), the rebirth of the good old-fashioned hero in Eden of the East's Akira Takizawa, and proof that the male lead in a romantic comedy doesn't have to be a complete moron thanks to Toradora!'s Ryuuji Takasu.

However, this year there has only been one character capable of making me laugh, making me cover my mouth and exclaim "did she really just say that?" and making me think "Awww, how sweet", often within mere moments of one another, and that characters was Bakemonogatari's Hitagi Senjougahara. For anyone who rolls their eyes at the age-old "tsundere" stereotype, Senjougahara is a perfect example of this kind of basic character built out, given depth and slotted perfectly into a series. For a show that was all about the dialogue above all else, Senjougahara got nearly all the best lines, delivered perfectly to make for a truly odd yet fascinating combination of scary yet lovable.

Worst character - If you've been following this 'blog on a regular basis, you probably don't even need to read this section to figure out who my least favourite character of 2009 is, but if you're only an occasional reader then let me fill you in on the apathetic, lazy, careless, stupid, cheating asshole that is White Album's Touya Fuji. Oh wait, I think I just did.

To be fair to be poor Touya, he is the male protagonist in a series based on an adult game, which never really gave him much chance of a normal life, but even so his complete inability to keep his pants present and correct while in the vicinity of basically any of the show's females was the final straw for a guy who was hardly likely to be "man of the year" even if you did manage to equip him with some kind of chastity belt.

Best filler episode - K-ON! isn't particularly the kind of series where you can pick out "filler" that easily (it is basically a slice of life show, after all), but the show's closing episode was clearly an addition to polish things off at the end of the series proper, and it certainly didn't appear in the manga, so to my mind it counts as filler. A good job it is too, as it's by far the best filler episode I can think of that I've seen in 2009 - Indeed, it held more emotion than all of the series proper, enabling it to act as a gauge for just how much you'd fallen in love with the series characters over its previous twelve weeks. Quite a lot as it turned out when the going gets tough in this ultimately heart-warming instalment.

Best individual episode - There have been a few individual episodes of anime that left me a quivering wreck of emotion in some shape or form this year, from the handling and fallout from Isara's death in Valkyria Chronicles through to Nagisa's death scene in Clannad: After Story... in fact, thinking about it I guess there's just been a lot of high profile deaths in anime this year.

However, there's no death involved in my favourite single episode for 2009, which comes courtesy of Toradora!, and more specifically the sixteenth instalment of the series. I know a lot of people have their own special moments from this show (so packed full of them it happens to be), but this particular episode ends with such a storm of emotion that I don't think I've ever experienced anything quite like it before - It's violent, it's sad, and it's intense in so many ways that it almost defies description. Put simply, you have to watch it for yourself to really appreciate, and that probably goes for Toradora! as a whole to be quite honest.

Worst individual episode - The obvious choice would be to throw in an episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's Endless Eight arc here (but which one? There are so many to choose from), but on an individual basis they aren't bad, it's simply watching eight of the damn things consecutively that is possibly the worst concept of the decade. Instead, I'm going to strike out of left field here, and name the final episode of Viper's Creed as the worst single episode of the year - A finale that managed to bring the word "abomination" from my keyboard as it set about creating enough massive plot holes to drive a heavily armoured motorcycle through yet still crashing it into the nearest large object anyhow. It even made me swear repeatedly during my 'blog entry about the episode; a rarity in itself. Yes, it was that bad.

Best series ending - The risk with any romance-based series is that either a. the show will end without any firm decisions made on who ends up dating/falling in love with who, usually in the hope of a second season, or b. you'll find yourself yearning for a particular pairing to get together, only to be disappointed when that doesn't happen. Somehow Toradora! managed to avoid both of these pitfalls by providing both a "proper" ending, and by creating so many wonderful characters that you were left genuinely not minding who ended up with who come the end of the series. Thus, any ending to this series is a good ending in a sense, but even then the nature of Toradora!'s big finish was perfection in so many ways that it left you with a big smile on your face even though the pain of such a great series finally coming to an end was still lodged deep in your heart.

Away from my slushy, lovey-dovey side, Eden of the East's fabulous ending is of course worthy of mention, while Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 built up to an incredibly emotional climax for what was a brave series from the outside.

Worst series ending - I've already mentioned the abomination that is Viper's Creed's final episode, and now I've gone and made myself remember it again. To quote my own thoughts at the time: "this has to be right up there as one of the worst anime endings I've ever seen - It's the kind of thing that should be studied by future generations to prevent such atrocities from ever occuring in the name of Japanese animation ever again". I think that says it all really, tempted though I am to give Shangri-la this award for its equally pathetic ending.

Best series I haven't actually watched - This is a tricky one, as I think I've covered all of the big-name and genuinely popular shows for 2009 in some shape or form (in other words yes, I've watched far too much anime this year), so what's missing from my anime viewing experience for the year? The only series I can think of personally is Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou, the second season of a series I really must sit down and catch at some point in time. If there's anything else you think I've missed, then of course feel free to let me know, I'm all ears. Well, not literally, that would be a bit strange if I only comprised of ears. How would I type?

Worst anime series - While Viper's Creed has already managed two mentions in the various "worst of" categories I've employed here, there is one series that has managed to trump even this in terms of proving to be consistently terrible, almost to the point of being impressive. That series is Shangri-la, a show which managed to take a genuinely interesting concept, Range Murata character designs and an awesome opening theme tune, and somehow turn it all into 2009's most frustratingly terrible series. From irritating characters down to nonsensical plot developments, Shangri-la had it all, and unfortunately it was all rubbish. Thank goodness that at least Gonzo also had Saki to fall back on this year, otherwise 2009 would have been a complete write-off for the beleaguered company.

Best anime series - So, we finally reach the big prize, the pie in the sky award if you like, for the best anime series of 2009. For all the naysayers pessimistically predicting the end of the days of high quality anime, the year has actually provided some decidedly tough competition for this most prestigious of choices.

Toradora! is certainly an early contender for such an award - An absolutely top-notch show which rewrote the rules for the genre it represents, and had it broadcast in its entirety over 2009 rather than splitting across two years it might have had an even stronger argument for winning outright. Then there's Eden of the East, which brought us an original idea that was fantastically executed with great characters, plots and a perfectly woven narrative - In any other year this would probably have walked away with the best anime series award, quite frankly.

However, there was one show which managed to surpass even Production I.G.'s best efforts for 2009, and it came via SHAFT's adaptation of a series of light novels in the form of Bakemonogatari. Despite the obvious production time issues suffered by the animation team throughout, this series still managed to be one of the year's most visually arresting, but more importantly it was an absolute triumph of good dialogue over all, with great lines and exchanges peppering almost every minute of every episode. From our introduction to Hitagi Senjougahara and her penchant for dangerous stationary through to her opening up to Arararagi (sorry, I stuttered) in the final broadcast episode, everyone who watched the series seems to have their own favourite Bakemonogatari moment, and the fact that there are so many to choose from is proof in itself of the outright quality of the series as a whole. Yes, strictly speaking the series hasn't finished in 2009 thanks to those additional streaming episodes to finish things off, but that's not reason enough for me to strip this fantastic series of the right to call itself my favourite series of 2009. It's rewritten the tsundere rulebook, it's poked fun at otaku without them even noticing, it's made me laugh and smile more times than I care to remember - Thank you Bakemonogatari for your part in making 2009 a year to remember.

So, there you have it, my thoughts and opinions as we close out 2009. I hope you all have a great New Year, and I'll see you all again in 2010. But until then, this is the point where you get to flame away in the comments section. Go on, you know you want to...


Sorrow-kun said...

I don't agree with some of these, but most of the choices make sense. I still don't know what to choose as "anime of the year" because the three best series of the year as I saw them, Bakemonogatari, Cross Game and Kemono no Souja Erin, are all essentially ongoing, and I kinda rue to give an ongoing series that title. At this stage I'm kinda leaning towards Eden of the East, but I've got about a week to make up my mind.

"certainly didn't appear in the manga, so to my mind it counts as filler."

I've never really agreed with this definition of filler. It kinda implies that any anime-original liberties are readily dismissable, ie, it's only "non-filler" (code for "canon") if it happened in the source. IMO, filler is just stuff which doesn't advance the story or develop the characters. But, by that definition, maybe it's redundant to be talking about filler while discussing K-On!.

Didn't see Viper's Creed, but the worst ep of the year I saw was ep 12 of Kampfer. It was so hilariously bad (and intentionally so, as far as I can see), it made Endless Eight look like an amateur troll. "So bad it's good" still doesn't change the fact that it's bad, though.

raito-kun said...

I totally agree with you on Toradora! #16, a really outstanding and intense episode. It was directed by Katsushi Sakurabi (who was also responsible for the second best episode in my book: #24), he has a good sense for believable dramatic acting and compositions which bring about a feeling of realism. Though Toradora! was overall pretty good (both production and plot-wise), in any case much better than Nagai's new series (Railgun).

kadian1364 said...

I also want to hold off proclaiming Bakemonogatari best of 2009 because of the incompleteness, which also applies to Eden of the East, with two films forthcoming.

Favorite OPs
1. Eden of the East
2. Spice and Wolf II

Favorite EDs
1. K-ON!, far and away
Haruhi Suzumiya, Eden of the East, and Bakemonogatari were also notable

Best shows of the year
1. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
2. Toradora
3. Trapeze

And Kampfer was by far the worst series I still finished.

Canne said...

I like that you award individual episode, it's pretty unique. I could never do that because I never do episode review -_-

My favorite OP goes to Karma (Requiem for the phantom) - hauntingly beutiful song

Kexiu said...

While Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom is must watch, I have to completely disagree with your taste in music, the OP was indeed Haunting, but I wouldn't even think of using the word beautiful to describe such a eerie song. Although another negative attribute of the anime would be its horrible ending, discussions tell me that both Eren and Ryuji die- what the heck is with that!?

Anyways. Been a while since I watched Toradora and must I agree, it is one of the most and lovely stories you'll get.

FaS said...

Mmm, I don't know if I agree with some, but Eden of the East's OP was flawless. Simply amazing.

Anonymous said...

It's a good list, and a year-end wrapup that I'm pleased to read to the end - though there's only a partial overlap in our tastes, it's an overlap that includes most of my favourites. At the other end - what the hell is Viper's Creed? Wait, don't answer that.

And yes, Spice & Wolf's ED - though I miss the delightful first season's "I'm a little 'oolf inside a gairl" -

temperus said...

Bakemonogatari's Internet hype machine really did a number on 2009, didn't it? An anime doesn't need much these days to be a #1 hit, just a fast-talkin' kuudere with a stapler.

Seriously, Horo and Lawrence really started something with the "witty dialogue" thing. Now it's Senjougahara's turn with her zettai ryouiki and mad stapler skills. I wonder who will be next?

Hanners said...

I'd like to think Bakemonogatari's popularity is down to more than just the "hype machine". Personally, I remember falling in love with it from episode one, even before everyone started shouting from the rooftops about it.

As for the whole dialogue thing, I'd say that it's the one area that's often lacking in anime (or lost in translation, I suppose), so to see shows really putting effort into character's verbal interactions over simply what we say on screen or the wider plot is great news in my opinion. :)