Happy New Years, everyone! Forgive me for taking half the month to finally have this entry ready but break makes me kind of lazy. Well, it's the start of a new year but before the next winter season of anime really gets rolling, I would like to give my take on the ten of the best shows 2010 had to offer. I can't say it's been the strongest year for anime but, of course, some stand outs exist among the mindless moe and boundary-pushing ecchi content that has over-saturated the industry. Now without further ado and in no particular order...
So Ra No Wo To
Anime no Chikara, a project dedicated to producing original anime material, debuted with So Ra No Wo To (Sound of the Skies) and proved to be a great start. Set in an unusual post-apocalyptic time where technology has regressed, the all females 1121st Platoon is on standby in an isolated and peaceful city where the war may or may not reach. A combination of lighthearted bonding amongst the girls and the overcoming of emotional turmoil as a result of war time makes for a very unique story. The lack of any real military action and slow pace of the plot may have turned many away but it helped add to the overall beauty of it all. I remember initially signing this show off as a K-ON! inspired moeblob show due to a familiar-looking character design and being upset that Kishida Mel's original art was not considered but So Ra No Wo To was so much more in the end and was a true blessing during the winter season.
The author of Baccano! had another of his work adapted for television to much acclaim. Much different from Prohibition-era America, Durarara! takes place in the chic-urban world of Ikebukuro, Japan where violent gangs, shady Russians, and a motorcycle-riding Dullahan come together to make life a little more interesting for its denizens. The story is all about the off-the-wall characters and you will find reasons to love or hate each one of them. It only helps that they're voiced by a long list of A-list voice actors. The pacing may have dragged a little after awhile but this kept me hooked due to a very unique premise. I would certainly look out for a second season that may hopefully follow up on some unanswered questions and keep the story rolling.
It was hard for me not to pay attention to Angel Beats! as it's another collaborative work between Maeda Jun and Na-Ga who created the likes of Clannad and Kanon. Even then, I didn't know if I could take a character who looked suspiciously like Suzumiya Haruhi with a pistol and a color palette swap. Despite that misgiving, I was in for a rollercoaster of a ride that stayed true to key's style of story.There were laughs from absurd moments, excitement from beautiful fight scenes, and I was touched by how emotional the plot is. Interestingly enough, I feel that the music provided by Maeda Jun and the band in the show, Girls Dead Monster, was perhaps the best part of this multimedia project. It had a K-ON! level of quality to it and found myself rocking to a fictional band's tracks on my iPod. The 1-cour length of the show did hurt the pacing of the story and wasn't as strong as other key works but the strong production values were nonetheless there for Angel Beats!
Arakawa Under the Bridge
SHAFT projects are something I always enjoy and Arakawa Under the Bridge certainly did not disappoint. The two seasons offered a gallery of extremely wacky characters who the conservative main character has to deal with on a daily basis. Hiroshi Kamiya returns to give his best Zetsubou Sensei-like voice along with a great cast that knows how to bring out the craziness behind each individual characters. Parodies and gags are rampant but within all that lies a touching plot involving innocent romance and understanding who someone is for what they are and not judge them so readily. Arakawa Under the Bridge gets massive bonus points from me by very clearly referencing Metal Gear Solid in a couple episodes.
Youjouhan Shinwa Takei
Add one more to the list of the great postmodern hits of the year. Yojouhan Shinwa Takei, or "Tatami Mat Galaxy", chronicles the life of a college-age student in search of his "rose-colored" life where he will find the love of his youthful life. Now in his third year, he has found no such thing and in a manner close to "Groundhog Day", each episode turns the clock back though with different events affecting his troubled life. The unique art style and the incredible speed that the main character speaks were the first things to grab my attention and I certainly stayed for just about everything the show threw at me especially the animation that reminded me of the even stranger Kuuchu Buranko anime adaptation that aired last year. Yojouhan Shinwa Takei is certainly deserving of the yearly Japan Media Arts Festival grand prize for animation and became the first television series to win such an accolade.
This is perhaps my most personal vote for the best of this year. I am not above admitting that I enjoy the occasional school romance anime. That said, the fact that Amagami SS, based off the hit PS2 dating sim game, is on this list for a reason considering all the usual drivel of the same genre that airs on an annual basis. There are no gimmicks for this show besides the fact that it is the first, from what I've seen, to feature an omnibus style where the titular Juinichi gets four episodes with each the above pictured high school belles. I found each girls wonderful in their own way even if they don't necessarily steer away from the usual archetypes we see in anime. The series starts and ends very strong though the middle episodes are not as memorable which is unfortunate for the heroines featured in them. Despite the reverse bell curve of a plot, Amagami SS is a show I recommend for those looking for a light-hearted, comedic romp with characters that you'll simply just fall for.
Highschool of the Dead
Three words can describe this show: guns, gore, and boobs. Highschool of the Dead, based off a popular on-going manga, aired in the midst of a recent zombie craze and all the action and eye candy it provided did not disappoint. It seemed like a regular day for a group of angst-filled high school students but when an altercation at the school gates starts a zombie infection within the grounds, their lives are changed forever. The outrageous zombie shooting scenes (real guns used!) with the occasional Matrix-style slow motion, the more than gratuitous fan service shots demonstrates, and shout-outs to the undead culture make Highschool of the Dead a fun watch but one shouldn't ignore the emotional interactions amongst the brave yet worried kids and adults. The show at first attempted to go make an episode mirror the contents of each chapter though they quickly realized things would progress much too slowly. Being only twelve episodes long, we can be sure to expect a continuation of the group's fight against the zombies to find family and safety in the near future.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt raised a lot of eyebrows ever since GAINAX announced it in the first place. People immediately made connections with Powerpuff Girls though by no means is this show anywhere near innocent in its content. Panty and Stocking are angels sent from Heaven to fight off evil Ghosts who threaten the mortal population of Daten City. This would sound standard enough if it wasn't in the midst of extremely gross humor, shameless references and graphical representations of sex, and blatant homages to Western pop culture. It's because of the wildness of the show that disgusted many and turned them off from the show but if you can get past all that and eventually get to the plot which becomes a little more clear by the sixth episode, you've got a fascinating postmodern show that's not the usual moeblob drivel on your hand as expected from the people of GAINAX. In fact, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is worth watching simply for the final episode and its ending. You just have to trust me on that.
Strike Witches 2
The fact that Strike Witches 2 exists is certainly relief to the fans of the series since the original production company ended up in dire financial straits. AIC picked up the reins to deliver a solid return of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, a battalion of young girls who fly the dangerous skies with their Striker Units and a trusty firearm to fight the mysterious Neuroi invaders who wreaked havoc on their world. Certainly, part of the show chronicles the girls' aerial warfare but there is a good deal of time put aside to develop the characters and the relationship with each other. With their names based off of real life war time pilots and their Striker Units model after actual fighter jets, Strike Witches 2 is wonderful for the military fanatic, those looking for charming characters voiced by top notch voice actresses, and the hopeful fans who want something like, if not, better than the first season.
Last and certainly not least is the show that I felt to be THE one to beat in the 2010 list of anime is Katanagatari, or "Sword Story." This anime adaptation of genius novelist, NISIOISIN (Bakemonogatari, Zaregoto Series) transcended usual protocols and spanned every season during the year. Just like how the light novel was released, each of the 12 episodes of 50 minutes were released once a month. This incredible tale follows the pair of a young and beautiful yet demanding "strategian" and her loyal, willful bodyguard who is the current master of a deadly martial that requires no need of a sword and can easily take down those uses a weapon. They travel around Japan to complete a task of finding special hidden swords and return them to the shogun. This is merely a simple explanation of the plot, however, as one will be entertained by the constant (one-sided) bickering between the duo, the gorgeous fight sequences with characters of intriguing designs, and a story that is more than meets the eye. Being one of NISIOISIN's work, there is a huge emphasis on humorous wordplay and a lot of the jokes can be found within subtle contexts of the animation and art style. Viewers will even trolled hard by WHITE FOX, the upstart animation company that created this masterpiece, when they expect to see something in a certain episode. The only bad thing about this show was that it was difficult waiting for a whole month since I couldn't wait to see more of Katanagatari, an adaption done almost to perfection.