It seems almost a requirement now to bemoan the current state of anime as compared to the golden age of past (which for most people seems to be 5 to 15 years ago.) But it is easy to fool oneself about this. We tend to remember only a few great animes and forget the much larger number of really bad ones, and the even greater number of mediocre ones.
With that in mind, here’s what I think are the highlights and lowlights of the year. It won’t surprise me if some of these are cited nostalgically by future critics bemoaning the miserable state of anime in 2015.
Outstanding Anime of 2010
Cross Game (This counts because it ended in 2010.) A terrific story with wonderful characters, even more notable because the premise seems pretty ordinary. It’s “just another sports anime,” except it really isn’t about the sport, it’s about the characters. This just goes to show that the skill of the storyteller matters more than the material of the story.
Shiki has to be one of the all time great vampire stories, worthy to stand alongside Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Warning: this is seriously scary; potential nightmare material even for older viewers.
On the other hand Squid Girl (Shinryaku! Ika Musume) is the funniest thing I have seen in a long time; a pure, innocent delight.
Noteworthy Anime Series of 2010
Angel Beats is a flawed but fascinating tale of teenagers in Purgatory. If it had somewhat better pacing and more episodes to better develop the secondary characters this could easily have been in the “outstanding” category.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (movie) (Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu) Kyoto Animation partly redeems itself with this sequel. Or maybe we should credit Nagaru Tanigawa since this is one of the better stories in the series. In any case it’s a relief to see Kyon finally taking some responsibility.
Hanamaru Kindergarten (Hanamaru Youchien) Gainax can be counted on to give us beautifully-drawn artwork, but their stories often range from confusing to infuriating. In this case they decided to give us something cute and funny, and the result is delightful.
Inuyasha the Final Act (Inuyasha Kanketsu-hen) is of interest only to fans of the original Inuyasha series, but it is important to them because it gives the original series a satisfactory ending.
OriImo (Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai) Everyone thinks Kyousuke’s little sister Kirino is perfect, but he knows that she’s really a self-centered little monster. Kirino’s twisted obsessions give a very edgy tone to this over-the-top comedy about the excesses of fandom.
Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime) There are two types of josei anime: 1) Those that amuse me and 2) Those that bore me silly. This story of nerd girls vs. hipsters is in the first category.
Shinrei Tantei Yakumo (Psychic Detective Yakumo). “Come to the Dark Side, Luke!” Contrary to the title, this is not a detective story but it works pretty well as a dark supernatural thriller.
Disappointing Anime of 2010
Some production companies seem to have adopted the tactic of ordering a single cour of 12-13 episodes, with the option of ordering an additional cour if the first few episodes get good ratings. The problem with this is that it makes it impossible for the studio to plan a full two-cour season that tells a well-thought-out story.
This problem affected both Kimi ni Todoke and Durarara. Both started out with strong stories that concluded exactly half-way through the season. Durarara even included an epilogue telling what happened to the characters afterward. KnT then drifted aimlessly through the rest of the season without accomplishing much, while Durarara told a second, much inferior story.
Eden of the East was one of the best animes of 2009, but the ending was somewhat inconclusive. Two movies were promised to provide a complete ending to the story. These were a terrible disappointment, so bad that they diminished the original TV series. The problem was that the game was supposed to end when someone came up with a solution to Japan’s malaise. Since this is a techno-fantasy it would have been perfectly acceptable to come up with some fantastic impossible solution, but apparently the producers were convinced that they had to come up with a solution that would actually work.
Interesting, but Not to My Taste
This category is for shows that clearly had some notable qualities, but which just didn’t appeal to me.
K-ON!! How can I avoid mentioning the most popular show of the season? Let me be clear about this: I don’t hate K-ON. PROS: It’s very cute and occasionally quite funny. CONS: It makes Lucky Star look like Hamlet.
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt From the studio that gave us Hanamaru Kindergarten comes…THIS? It’s actually quite reminiscent of Ren & Stimpy, but I don’t think we will be seeing this on Nickelodeon because gross-out factor has been jacked up by a factor of 10. The artwork is actually splendid but the the gross-out humor quickly drove me away.
Special Dishonorable Mention
Yosuga no Sora is such a slapdash piece of crap that I found it unwatchable, so I am mostly relying on the comments of other bloggers. Late-night television anime often includes risque content including partial nudity and heavy sexual innuendo, but in most cases the characters never actually have sex, or if they do they certainly don’t do it on-screen. YnS flouts that tradition as the hero works his way through every maiden in the village, including his own sister.
Objectionable though that is, my real-objection is to the ending, which Show ▼
It is true that similar themes are common in serious Japanese literature, and if you were writing a serious tragedy something like this might be acceptable. However to do it in a sleazy fanservice show is unforgivable.
Fans are justifiably concerned about Tokyo’s new censorship law, the “Healthy Youth Development Act.” However when you consider the existence of a show like this, it’s sort of understandable how something like that could be passed.