So here we are, with 2010 about to bow out already, marking the end of another year and the terrifying realisation that twelve more months of me 'blogging the Hell out of virtually everything anime-related that passed in front of my retina has occurred. I guess the fact that I've been doing this for almost three years now means that I'm here to stay, and although 2010 hasn't been my most prolific year of writing here ("only" writing about 570 posts a year counts as slacking in my world evidently) it has been the most rewarding. This is largely thanks to the fact that I finally feel at least slightly more like part of the wider anime 'blogging "family" courtesy of a combination of Twitter, other "events" like the Aniblog Tourney and getting to meet a few you at real life venues in the UK such as London Expo and Scotland Loves Anime.
Naturally, the end of the year means that it's time for that traditional, wistful look back on the past year, dishing out the non-existent (or absolutely frighteningly real, depending on how you look at it) Air Pie With No Pastry Awards that I like to throw about on New Year's Eve like so much slightly musty confetti. So, what have I loved and loathed during my 'blogging experiences over the course of 2010, the year which made me wish I could roll my "R"'s? Allow me to share them with you, dear reader....
Best opening titles - Perhaps it's just a sign of my worsening descent into anime otaku-dom this year, but I seem to have found myself paying more attention to (and shock, horror actually enjoying) various anime opening credits this year. I tend to just watch most of them once and never think of them again, but 2010 has seen me happily sitting through a number of opening animation's week in, week out, and not just because I can't be bothered to skip forward on the stream or hit the "next chapter" key.
In absolute terms, it's hard to beat Durarara's first set of opening credits for their slick and eye-catching character introduction montage backed by an awesome piece of music that fits said montage perfectly, and it would probably have been the run-away winner if it weren't for the fact that... well, it's basically a copy and paste of the admittedly equally gorgeous opening to Baccano. So, points deducted for lack of ingenuity there.
That leaves the field clear to be dominated by one production company alone - SHAFT, who seem to have developed quite the knack for eye-catching openings over the years. Runner-up for this category goes to Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, which succeeded in being the only opening to make me laugh every week (when Hotori gets buried under an avalanche of teacups, incidentally) while also being a beautifully choreographed piece of work set against a song that wasn't one of my favourites for the year but one that was as warming and soothing as a brandy on a cold day.
The winner then can only be the "proper" opening to Arakawa Under The Bridge x2, a title sequence that is such a riot of colour, movement and all-round beauty that it wins hands down even before Yakushimaru Etsuko's delicious voice sits perfectly atop it all. Even when the show itself is misfiring, Cosmos versus Alien never puts a foot wrong.
Best closing titles - While I had a bevy of opening credits to choose from this year, any of which could have won, choosing my favourite closing titles was far easier. This isn't to say that there weren't some notable entries in terms of either music and/or animation - Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt's wonderful closing song ticks all the boxes for the former while Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru again gets a notable mention for the latter.
There was only one end credit section that I watched over and over this year however, even when I wasn't watching the series, and that was K-ON!!'s second ending. To be honest, it could have won this category on the basis of its music alone - No Thank You is the only track from the franchise to not only step out of Don't Say Lazy's shadow but arguably surpass it, while the grittier, more broody visuals are a refreshing step away from the norm for this series that is simple yet breath-taking all at once. In fact, I think I'll go and watch it again right now...
Best soundtrack - Alongside all those awesome credit sequences, it's also been a pretty good year for anime soundtracks in general, with a few outstanding and noteworthy efforts that are well deserving of a mention.
For all of its on-screen mediocrity at times, HEROMAN's OST was top class almost from beginning to end, with lots of superb electronic background music which fitted the show perfectly as well as a sterling set of opening and ending themes.
Then there's Hanamaru Kindergarten, a show which I didn't actually 'blog about here but watched for UK Anime - while the series itself didn't do much for me, I loved its eclectic selection of ending themes, and thus I was suitably impressed when they were all bundled together onto a single disc; lots of great listening to be found here for sure.
Again though, there can only be one winner and this time around our champion is a rare case of a soundtrack which lived entirely up to its hype - people have been looking forward to Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt's soundtrack since the show's very first episode, and when it sneaked into our hands just after Christmas it didn't disappoint. Almost every track is a winner, and it's such a refreshing departure from your average anime soundtrack fare that it deserves to be held high and worshipped - what better way to do that then with a pointless anime 'blog award?
Worst soundtrack - To be honest, I can't actually think of any anime soundtrack that was so bad that it detracted from the series I was watching this year, so let us just express relief that this is the case and say no more about it. Let me know if there were any terrible soundtracks that I somehow missed though!
Best character - This category was so easy last year courtesy of Bakemonogatari's Hitagi Senjougahara - in fact technically I could cheat and just give her the award this year too, but that's not how I roll. Besides, she barely even appears in the episodes which aired in 2010.
Thus, we must find a new recipient for the 2010 prize. Ignoring more ensemble-led works that had great characters by the boatload, there a few noteworthy characters who made 2010 fun - Occult Academy's Maya made being tsundere cool again (wait, did it ever stop being cool?), and Nanami Shichika of Katanagatri's twist from doting little sister into demonic genocidal maniac was easily one of the most eye-catching character-centric moments of the year.
My personal pick for the year however is Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru's Hotori Arashiyama. The reasoning behind this is simple - for me is the anime equivalent of Homer Simpson; dumb, outgoing, opinionated and with a skewed outlook on life which makes pretty much everything that comes out of her mouth hilarious for one reason or another. This makes her a hefty dose of pure, comedy gold - and that can't ever be a bad thing, right?
Worst character - 2010 thankfully isn't a year that's left me wanting to punch the screen any point from irritation throughout any of the shows that I've watched, but of course no year would be complete without an dislikeable male lead character for a series. Enter The World God Only Knows' Keima Katsuragi.
Let's be frank about this - Keima is an asshole. He cares only for himself and his misguided and embittered disgust with the real world and those within it - not exactly the kind of thing that makes you want to cheer him on throughout his various conquests. Keima doesn't even treat these girls he needs to "free" any better, manipulating and manoeuvring them like so many pieces of meat at a butchers, something he does with such arrogance that the final pay-off where he wins the day feels both unbelievable and rather disappointing, thus imploding the whole premise of the show. Yes, Katsuragi makes a change from the tame, "lapdog" male leads of other harem anime series, but it's hardly a change for the better.
Best filler episode - For all of his frustrating character traits, there is one area where Keima Katsuragi fits naturally into his environment, and that's when he's playing the visual novels and dating sims of which he is so obsessed. It's this single-minded dedication to completing every game that comes his way that grants us my favourite "filler" episode of the year. The World God Only Knows' fourth episode takes a break from hunting down Loose Souls to follow Keima as he tries to complete perhaps the world's buggiest visual novel, a game so bad that nobody else has managed to finish the game. This allows the series to spend a lot of time poking fun at the ridiculously buggy game in question, which proves to be a whole lot of fun, as does Keima's dedication to persevering in the face of such problems. Soppy ending aside it's a hilarious take on the visual novel for anyone who has played them before and well worth the price of entry as a stand-alone episode - if only all of The World God Only Knows has been this good.
Best individual episode - One of the reasons most of us watch anime obsessively is to capture those fantastic, memorable moments where a series does everything right, if only for one fleeting episode, and creates something which you'll be hard pressed to forget for a long time whether it takes your breath away or reduces you to tears.
On the former side of that spectrum, episode four of Katanagatari (what is it with fourth episodes this year?) surprised and enthralled courtesy of the aforementioned Nanami Shichika as her murderous rampage began in one of the most eye-popping turn-arounds of the year, finally putting the show on the right track and making it something both worth talking about and watching again. A handful of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt's episodes could also easily be placed into this category - if only you hadn't been so inconsistent, GAINAX.
On a more emotionally powerful scale, Sora no Woto's seventh episode is well worthy of a mention, but even such wonders pale in to comparison to our winner however, and the moment that proved what a number of us already knew - that the slice of life genre, constructed properly, can offer far, far more than just "cute girls doing nothing". This is an accusation that has been levelled at K-ON!! more times than I can remember, but the show's twentieth episode (and its thirty-fourth across the anime franchise as a whole) was the moment where all those weeks of following its group of girls larking around and having fun suddenly reached a natural, and brilliantly realised, crescendo.
This was provided via the light music club's final high school performance together, and while previous gigs have been given fleeting coverage within an episode this time around the focus was entirely on the event itself - its build-up, the performance, and most importantly the emotional rollercoaster following the gig. It's hard to describe in simple words how well this was accomplished, with the concert itself teetering on a precipice between emotional breakdown and exhilaration, taking the viewer along for the ride every step of the way before the inevitable realisation that this is it - the fun is over, and it can never be recreated again. It's hard to appreciate this episode without looking at it within the context of everything that has gone before, but for those who followed K-ON doggedly throughout it was an unforgettable inflection point for the series and everything that it stands for.
Worst individual episode - Let me get my snarkiness out of the way early on this one, as I nominate every episode of Star Driver for this category. After all, every episode is basically the same, right?
However, even Star Driver hasn't yet plumbed the depths exhibited by episode four of Senkou no Night Raid, a series which spent three episodes building up to a tense crescendo as its major story developed... then binned the lot for a while so that two of its major characters could chase after a cat. A cat that might have stolen something admittedly, but not some top secret blueprints - oh no, the cat had stolen some holiday photos. If you're wondering why anyone watching this show would give a shit about such a trivial thing, the answer was that they didn't; this wasn't just filler, this was incredibly pointless, tedious and nonsensical filler, from a series that I never managed to get around to completing in the end anyhow.
Best series ending - It's been a year of solid endings to anime series relatively speaking - at least, there haven't been too many horribly duff finales that have made us feel like we've just wasted hours of our lives building up to it.
2010 has seen finales that ranged from the arguably brave (with Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru killing off its main character, albeit temporarily) to the sweetly romantic (Arakawa Under the Bridge's first season) and from the predictably excellent (yes, I'm looking at you Bakemonogatari) to the smart and self-confident with The Tatami Galaxy and Shiki.
The series which most impressed me for keeping its head until the very last however is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - after over sixty episodes of gut-wrenching action, emotion and conspiracy it seemed as though the series couldn't put a foot wrong, and yet despite its near-perfection throughout (if we ignore the first handful of episodes), yet it still managed to up its game as it rolled along to a vast and gripping finale filled with sufficiently huge set pieces to give its major storyline the send-off it deserved, before still making time to tie up some loose ends in a satisfying yet not overblown way.
Worst series ending - It's perhaps harsh to pick on a series that made no sense in the first place for having an ending that made no sense, but somehow I can't at least mention Angel Beats in this section for making me shout "What? WHAT?!" at the TV. After all of those twists and turns, this show left us with a final revelation that made my head hurt - not only because it didn't add up in my head, but also because the ending was given away both in the name of the show and its opening title song. You bastard Jun Maeda, you sly, smug bastard... don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with Angel Beats and I don't really begrudge anything it attempted but still, that ending...
My real ire however is reserved for a show which I otherwise loved almost unconditionally - Durarara!! Seriously, what was with that half-baked ending? As angling for a second season goes its open-ended finish is understandable, but as a resolution to the show and its major plot points it was hugely unsatisfying, asking even more questions than it answered - not in a way that left you begging for more, but rather in a fashion that left you feeling a bit disgruntled and fed up, thanks to the knowledge that it simply could have done things so much better.
Best series I haven't actually watched - At the risk of sounding big-headed, I'm not sure that I missed any of the big hitters of 2010; at least, none that I can think of. Sure, there were shows I didn't cover here but watched for UK Anime (Squid Girl being one of the most recent), but there's certainly nothing unwatched from 2010 on my current "must watch" list.
Worst anime series - Well, this was an easy one - Take a popular MARVEL character with plenty of personality, a successful movie franchise and all the trimmings and place him into a Madhouse-produced anime and you have a sure-fire, cast-iron great series, right?
Wrong. Iron Man was terrible. Everything about it was terrible, from its animation through to its characters, its setting, its plot, and worst of all its protagonist - how can anyone get Tony Stark's character so wrong? It wasn't even the kind of show you could watch simply to laugh and poke fun at; yes, it was that bad, and I won't be touching Wolverine with a sixty foot pole next year unless I hear of a good reason to.
Best anime series - I could probably name check countless shows for this final, cream of the crop "best anime" category, but to do so would only devalue my opinions (which, let's be honest, are hardly packed with value in the first place). So, instead I shall move straight on to the winner, and a show which closed in 2010 far more impressively than it arguably opened in 2009 - Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Without waxing lyrical too much, episode for episode this is one of the greatest anime series I've ever seen period, never mind in 2010 - in short, it has everything, from action to drama, emotion to elation, and character development aplenty from a cast already packed with compelling, interesting and believable characters. Filling sixty-four episodes is a big ask for any series, yet this series managed to do so almost faultlessly, and occasionally in a breath-taking fashion. Let's just hope that its forthcoming movie doesn't ruin that legacy, but for now Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is going to take some shifting from a place in my all-time top five anime.
So, there you have it, my thoughts and opinions as we close out 2010. I hope you all have a great New Year, and I'll see you all again in 2011. But until then, this is the point where you get to flame away in the comments section. Go on, you know you want to...