2010: The Anime Year in Review

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.
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Inuyasha the Final Act Ends

Probably Inuyasha the Final Act would not be very enjoyable for those who have not seen the original series, but it does provide fans of the original series with a satisfactory ending to the story.

While I thought that the original series was quite good in many respects, I felt that the lack of a decent ending was unacceptable. Since they have now given us the ending, I have gone back and revised my original review and increased the rating to reflect this.

Some random spoiler-ish thoughts about the ending are below. If you haven’t seen the series, you are advised to stop reading now.
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2009: The Anime Year in Review

The usual caveats apply: I haven’t sampled everything and my tastes are not yours. Series that are continuing into the Spring are not generally eligible, though I am making an exception for one that has no overall story.

The anime industry is clearly suffering from the bad economy. Fewer series were produced. Fan service shows (a mainstay of the second-tier studios) have gotten raunchier. Even if you think that’s a good thing, it has to be a sign of desperation.

Still, the year has to be judged by the best that is produces (remember Sturgeon’s Law.) By that measure 2009 actually wasn’t all that bad.

Outstanding Anime Series of 2009

Amazingly there were 3 series this year that really stood out, each with its own unique visual style.

Bakemonogatari (Ghoststory) Finally a series from Shaft that I can wholeheartedly endorse. Macabre, funny, twisted and solidly entertaining.

Higashi no Eden (Eden of the East) OK, the ending feels a little abrupt, but the show as a whole is brilliant, like nothing I’ve ever seen. A dark story, but funny and clever, consistently surprising and fascinating.

Kemono no Souja Erin (Erin the Beast Player) A great fantasy story, quite long but carefully written with no waste or filler. Warning: the drawings may remind you of a children’s book, but this is not for little kids.

Special Honorable Mention

Ponyo was actually released in Japan in 2008, but Americans had to wait until 2009 to see it. The bottom line: Hayao Miyazaki is back and near the top of his form, at least if you like things like Totoro.

Noteworthy Anime Series of 2009

Aoi Bungaku (Fresh Literature). This selection of stories by noted twentieth century Japanese writers is not for everyone, but I rather liked it. The stories are fairly dark; in an earlier post I half-jokingly said that contemporary serious Japanese literature is mostly about suicide in one way or another. This series did nothing to refute my thesis.

Clannad After Story People who had played the game seemed to like the ending more than those who hadn’t. Still, if you like this sort of thing, this is another solid adaptation of a Key visual novel by Kyoto Animation. Get out your handkerchiefs.

Kimi ni Todake is indeed an angsty shoujo romance, but this one is special. The heroine, who has more than a trace of ASD wonders wonders why she has no friends and tries to reason out logically what she needs to do to get some. The results are a bit strange, but surprisingly successful.

Mainichi Kaasan (Everyday Mom/Mom’s Life) Sure the character designs are horrifying, but this adaptation of the gag manga about a manga artist and her family is the most consistently funny show of the year. However you may need to have kids of your own to appreciate the humor.

Summer Wars. It’s cyberpunk vs. Japanese tradition in this movie. As science fiction it has a few refrigerator moments, but the depiction of the quarrelsome but supportive traditional extended family is priceless.

Toradora Finally–a harem comedy with a decent ending!

Interesting, but Not to My Taste

There were several shows that were worthy efforts, but which for various reasons I found unwatchable.

Genji Monogatari Sennenki OK, let’s get real. The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century, is not the world’s first novel. Perhaps it’s the first novel written by a woman, or the first example of chick lit. In any case The Golden Ass, written by Lucius Apuleius sometime in the 2nd century, reads much more like a modern novel.

This anime adaptation of Gengi is beautifully drawn, and the convoluted writing has been cleaned up to make it comprehensible to a modern audience. Unfortunately I can’t make myself care about the endless love affairs of a beautiful but narcissistic prince.

Kuuchuu Buranko (Trapeze) A daring, innovative visual style. I couldn’t make it through even one episode.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun (A Certain Scientific Railgun) There are many people who really like this, and it clearly has a lot going for it, including fine animation and interesting characters. Unfortunately I find the character of Kuroko so revolting that I just can’t watch the show.

Kyoto Animation Jumps the Shark

Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Second Season). There was plenty of reason to fear that the sequel would be a disappointment, given that the writers had cherry-picked the best of the source material for the first season, but nobody expected something as bad as this. Stretching what was at most 5 episodes worth of material to 14 episodes had the fans dumbfounded and furious.

Haruhi illustrates the sort of mistake that talented people can make when they get too arrogant, but Sora o Miageru Shoujo no Hitomi ni Utsuru Sekai (Munto) is a work of total mediocrity: an uninspired story, flat uninteresting characters and bad animation with obtrusive CGI.

You may not feel that K-ON belongs in this category. It was a tremendous hit, pretty to look at, funny and fun to watch. However compared to Lucky Star, the same studio’s earlier adaptation of another gag manga about high school girls, K-ON falls short. Lucky Star is just as plotless, but it is funnier with much better developed characters. The main innovation in K-ON consists of cranking the moe factor up to 11. This is no substitute for good writing.

Still Watching

Cross Game. There’s nothing obviously special about this sports/romance anime, except the fact that it is well-drawn, well-written and has lovable characters. It is a long, slow-moving series, but consistently enjoyable.

Kobato. I’m still not sure whether this is going to turn out to be brilliant or a disappointment, but it is rather cute and charming. Charm can only take you so far though. They need to prove that there is a real story here.

Inuyasha Final Chapter. It’s very simple. If you were a fan of the original series, you will want to see the ending. If you didn’t see the original series, the sequel has nothing to offer you.

Fall 2009 Anime Season–Second Thoughts

By now I’ve had time to sample everything that looks interesting, and to write individual posts about some of them. Here’s a rundown of my current impressions.

Possibly worthwhile (depending on your tastes)

Kobato.. So far this is my favorite new series, cute and funny but with some dark undertones. The interplay between the impossibly sweet and optimistic heroine and her nasty, violent plush toy constantly cracks me up.

Aoi Bungaku. Dark, serious drama in a very high-quality production.

Kimi ni Todoke. Angst-haters beware! But if you like shoujo romance, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better example.

Inuyasha the Final Act
. This has improved since the frenetic first episode, but it is still very fast-paced. If you were a fan of the first series there is a good chance you will enjoy this. However if you are not familiar with the story of the first series the new series will make no sense, and you are better off skipping it.
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Inuyasha the Final Act–First Impressions

I just watched the first episode of Inuyasha–The Final Act on Hulu.

First the good news: the subtitle translation seems noticeably better than the one on the VIZ DVDs for the original series–although they still translate “youkai” as “demon”, a pet peeve of mine.

The bad news is that they apparently intend to cover the final 21 volumes of the manga in 26 episodes or less. Thus, while the original series was arguably too padded and drawn out, the new series is far too rushed.

Anyone who did not watch the original series should forget about watching this one. Even fans of the original series whose memories have faded in the intervening years may have trouble following the action.

Worse, the proper pacing and rhythm of the story is lost. The first episode rushes through several minor story arcs and at least 4 major climactic moments:
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Each of these deserves at least an episode of its own, to allow us to experience the full emotional impact. Instead each is rushed through in a few seconds and is over almost before we know it.

So far it looks like this potentially great but overly-ambitious epic will have a botched ending.

New Inuyasha Series

About a year ago, when Rumiko Takahashi finally ended the Inuyasha manga, I speculated about whether they would ever do a new anime series to finish up the story. I was dubious. It seemed to me that if anyone wanted to do that, the sensible thing would have been to start it before the manga ended, while the fans were still interested.

Well, it turns out that there will be a new anime series starting this Fall (which probably means they have been working on it for at least six months.) It will feature the original cast and is intended to complete the story. (It will probably take at least 2 years to cover the remaining 21 volumes of the manga–unless, unlike the first series, they do a lot of cuts.)

The big question is, does anybody care? The manga ran for so long that even many of its most dedicated fans gave up on it.

Nevertheless I’m going to give the new series a chance. I thought that the original series was very good in many ways. The problem was that it ran on too long and failed to provide a satisfactory ending.

While it is always possible that the second series will be a disaster, it is also possible that the two series together will amount to a great story, flawed by excessive length. A partial win, in other words. And heck, if I’ve already invested the time to watch 167 episodes, I suppose I might as well give them a chance.

The End of InuYasha

Well, it seems to be official. Rumiko Takahashi will finally bring the InuYasha manga to an end with the next issue. That’s 558 chapters in 56 volumes over a period of almost 12 years. Will the ending be worth it? Come on. There’s no story in the world that justifies 56 volumes. I suspect most fans feel more exhausted than thrilled at this point.

But what about the anime series that ended 4 years ago, having caught up to the manga and run out of material? Will some animation studio pick up the series and finish it, now that it has an ending? Or will fans who slogged through the first 167 episodes be left without ever knowing whether Naraku got his just deserts, and whether Inuyasha and Kagome ever got off the dime and admitted their feelings for each other?
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Inu Yasha–Anime Review

4 Stars
This is one of the most popular anime series of all time, though hard-core otaku tend to look down on it. It attracted an enormous audience when it was first broadcast in Japan. Millions of Americans have watched a horribly dubbed version on the Cartoon Network, and dubbed versions in other languages have been broadcast in many other countries.

There are reasons for its popularity. This show has many of the attributes of greatness. However it also has a serious flaw which keeps me from giving it a wholehearted recommendation (but see the update below). Nevertheless I have a certain fondness for it. For one thing it was seeing it on the Cartoon Network that first got me interested in anime.
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