Once again it’s time to look back on the past year and pontificate on what was noteworthy in the world of anime. This is not intended as any sort of definitive list. I’ve only sampled a small part of what was available, and of course my interests are idiosyncratic and may not match yours. Also I am excluding any series that began in the Fall of 2008 and is continuing in 2009. These will be eligible for consideration next year.
Outstanding Anime Series of 2008
No Winner. I’m sorry. I just didn’t see anything this year that I would award 5 stars to.
Noteworthy Anime Series of 2008
On the other hand, there were a number of solid, entertaining series that I considered time well spent.
Bamboo Blade. This tale of the misadventures of a high school kendo club was consistently funny and charming.
Clannad. Surprisingly the latest collaboration from the people who brought us Kanon (2006) and Air (TV) turned out to be a funny and upbeat comedy, though with a rather sad backstory. (This statement applies only to the original series. Watch the sequel at your own risk.)
Hakaba Kitarou. A stylish adaptation of the classic horror comic from the 1960s. Not to be confused with Ge Ge Ge no Kitarou, a long-running series that featured more child-friendly versions of the same characters.
Itazura na Kiss. I could almost imagine this romantic comedy playing on American television–in the 1950s, perhaps starring a younger version of Lucille Ball. The hapless heroine suffers every imaginable humiliation, but always manages to bounce back by the end of the episode.
Kure-nai. Dark, noirish thrillier, lit up by the wonderful character of Murasaki.
Shakugan no Shana Second. This sequel is strictly for fans of the original series, and perhaps not for all of them. It gets off to a very weak start, especially compared to the powerful opening of the first series. Things don’t really start to turn around until about half way through, after which it builds to a suitably resounding climax.
Shugo Chara! A classic magical girl series that is extremely cute and very funny. It’s also very long and noticeably padded in places. It would probably be better if edited down a bit.
Telepathy Girl Ran. I would classify this not so much a magical girl story as a child detective story. “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those darned kids!” (The comparison is unfair since the writing is about 10 times better, but I couldn’t resist.)
xxxHOLIC Kei. A rare bird–a sequel that’s every bit as good as the original.
Disappointing Anime Series of 2008
I’m going to skip this category. I had a whole bunch of snarky comments saved up, but they mostly boil down to two principles:
- Most sequels aren’t as good as the originals.
- Anything adapted from a series of light novels will have a strong start to introduce the characters and premise, but then will probably wander around without ever going anywhere.
Interesting, But Not To My Taste
ef–a tale of melodies. This is not just a sequel to ef–a tale of memories; the two form an integrated whole and should probably be viewed together. Once again the artwork is stunning and the stories are compelling, and it addresses some of my objections to the original series. Unfortunately the explanations are often implausible and some of the answers to the questions raised by the first series are answers that you might be happier not knowing. Frankly, watching this is like being kicked repeatedly in the gut.
Ga-Rei Zero. “I’ve got a great idea! Let’s introduce the heroes, then kill them off at the end of the first episode! It’ll be like a Gainax ending, only at the beginning!”
Kaiba. An innovative anime with a strong European flavor. I really wanted to like this one. Innovation is always praiseworthy and I want to see it succeed. Unfortunately I found that I just did not care what happened to any of these characters.
Kannagi. This series has nice animation and some nice moments, and raises interesting questions about the implications of Shinto religious teachings. However ultimately it’s mostly just routine, uninspired harem comedy shtick.
Kuroshitsuji. “I’ve got a great idea! To show our mastery of dark humor, let’s start the series with an episode featuring cannibalism! The good guys will EAT the bad guy! That’ll get their attention!”
Shigofumi. Dark, beautifully drawn, a searing indictment of Japanese society. This has justly been compared to Kino’s Journey, but you have to imagine what that show would be like with a Kino who acted cold and heartless, and a Hermes who was really irritating.