I originally wanted to wait with posting this until Porfy no Nagai’s final episode got released, but its time is nearly running out here. The Share-uploaders have a very cruel sense of humour: out of all the episodes they could have picked to delay, it became that one. In any case, here’s the second half to my review of 2008.
Most Pleasant Surprise
Well, here’s a no-brainer. When I wrote my preview (apologies for the lack of images there), I originally ignored this series, mistaking it for a simple kiddie show. Then when it was finally time for the show to air, it totally blew me away. Other nice surprises this year were Chi’s Sweet Home (never knew that cats can be so awesome) and Blassreiter (which for a Gonzo action series turned out to be actually really good).
Bonen no Xamdou
This was a tough one to decide, as there wasn’t exactly one series that really stood out in the action-department. Blassreiter featured some amazing fast-paced camera work because of the CG, the very few fight scenes of Real Drive were detailed and exciting, and Shikabane Hime featured some great typical Gainax-action scenes. But I guess that none of them really is able to beat Bonen no Xamdou: amazingly detailed animation, an amazing soundtrack and characters made for the best action scenes I watched this year.
Obviously, Gintama takes this award for the second year in a row. It’s not just funny, it’s been funny for nearly 100 episodes, and it still simply getting better and better. Runner-ups as Hyakko, Skip Beat and Chi’s Sweet Home may have been hilarious, but they still just didn’t match up to some of the most hilarious episodes of Gintama this year.
Best Old Series I Happened to See This Year
Mysterious Cities of Gold
Yeah, so what if the series is already 26 years old. It’s still everything an adventure series should be: a fast non-linear pacing, original setting, there’s always something going on. The cast of characters was awesome, especially Mendoza was brilliant, and it’s got to have the best soundtrack of any anime of the seventies and eighties. Runner up is Air (more than simply a bittersweet series).
Porfy no Nagai Tabi
Yeah, it’s probably no big surprise that a WMT-series is running off with this award again. This series has 52 episodes of nearly pure development in not just Porfy, but every other important character of the series, making them feel not only incredibly real, but also extremely dynamic, with lots of different sides. Especially Porfy is an excellently rounded character, and it’s an award well-earned. Runners up include Saiunkoku Monogatari (obviously) and in terms of shorter series: Blade of the Immortal (the growth of Rin, and the bond between her and Manji is definitely memorable).
Bonen no Xamdou
I can’t really give this one to Macross Frontier. Sure, it had a huge budget, but nevertheless the characters art kept looking inconsistent. A good use of messy animation would be something like Kurenai: things didn’t always flow well, but it was nevertheless full of life and detail. The only series that managed to beat Kurenai in that aspect this year was Bonen no Xamdou: the animation shined in everything through the series, and the creators really managed to pay attention to some small details. While not as good as the series that got this award last year (Seirei no Moribito), the work that the animators did on Bonen no Xamdou remains very impressive.
From the outside, Casshern’s individual episodes seem like mere fillers, and yet the creators manage to use the time of each episode to the full potential through imaginative dialogues that get the best out of each characters. The scripts of the runners-up as Amatsuki and Mouryou no Hako was also very impressive.
Most Imaginative Setting
This is an award that I didn’t hand out last year, but I decided to include it this time for the series that have spent a significant amount of time to flesh out the world they’re set in, with the key word being imagination. Real Drive is an excellent example of this, with the vision of the world in sixty years it tried to create. Bonen no Xamdou also has some excellent ideas that are hidden in its setting, from the Xam’d designs to the imaginative locations that the series visits. But yeah, none of them can match up to Kaiba: there was hardly anything about the series that didn’t feel imaginative.
Best Slice of Life
The definition of Slice of Life is of course a bit ambiguous, as it can mean different things depending on how you look at it. Still, I consider the daily lives of Shizuru and Mizuki to be part of the genre, and the combination of the two of them made for a compelling slice of life drama, with both parts equally interesting.
Best Thought-Provoking Anime
Mouryou no Hako
Runner-ups as Kaiba (questions what it means to have a body) and Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae (never afraid to be completely politically incorrect and yet it’s very critical of this) were already very interesting, but none of them really match up to the dialogues of Mouryou no Hako. There’s always something going on, and even when the characters aren’t discussing the plot, they’re delving into some sort of topic that vaguely has something to do with it, in order to flesh it out.
Best Supporting Character
Vanilla – Kaiba
The guy remains a total bastard for some of the things he did, but you can’t help but love the guy as the story unfolds. His quirks were a lot of fun, and also the serious scenes around him were downright awesome. The runners-up for this category probably are the side-casts of Amatsuki and Shion no Ou: thanks to them, there always was something interesting going on in their respective series.
Best Male Character
Akihiko Chuzenji – Mouryou no Hako
A bit of a strange choice, but let me try to explain. In 2008, there wasn’t really a male character that stood out for me in a way like: “Yes! He’s going to be the best male character of the year!”, so I had to turn to the runner-ups: characters that didn’t stand out per se, but nonetheless were excellent to watch. Those were Gintoki (Gintama, whenever he appears you know you’re going to crack up), Watanuki (xxxHOlic, I really liked how his character grew through the second season) and Akihiko. While we hardly know anything about him, compared to other characters in other series, the guy has an air of presence, similar to Ginko of Mushishi.
Best Female Character
Shion – Shion no Ou
When I watched the series, Shion struck me as a very headstrong character, despite all of the things that she had to cope with. She grew into an absolutely adorable one by the end of the series, and it was always fun to watch her rise in the tournament. Runner-ups are Minamo (RD Sennou Chousashitsu, a downright lovable character) and Hatchin (Michiko e Hatchin, sarcastic, independent and awesome to watch).
Mouryou no Hako
Since mystery is one of my favourite genres, I was a bit let-down by 2007 due to the very small amount of good mystery-series in that year, but thankfully 2008 came back with some excellent series of the genre. Kurozuka was simple, yet effective, and Kaiba made optimal use of the unknown in creating its downright awesome storyline. Still, Mouryou no Hako gets this award for me, due to the sheer complexity and creativity of all the weird things that happen throughout the series. The questions are satisfying, but the eventual answers even more.
Shion no Ou
It’s always a bit vague what really belongs in this category, since nearly all anime has some sort of drama. The best drama I watched this year came from Shion no Ou, though. It was powerful, and yet never really melodramatic.
Even though it only had 12 episodes, in those episodes Kaiba accomplished what most other series can’t even do in 26 of them. Kaiba’s story is complex, multi-layered and continuously interesting. Runners-up: Mouryou no Hako, Shion no Ou, Bonen no Xamdou.
Top 20 Anime of 2008: #10 – #1
#10: xxxHOlic: Kei
A very worthy successor to the original xxxHolic series. While the series was a bit short and the Kohane-arc disappointed a bit, the beginning and ending were downright excellent, and definitely the best stories that the series has shown us thus far. Even with the many crossovers to Tsubasa Chronicle in the manga, this series still kept its identity as an anime about modern folklore, and I really enjoyed it.
#9: Gunslinger Girl – Il Teatrino
Perhaps a controversial entry on this list, since according to many people it ruined the first season. I, however, don’t care, since the story was downright excellent. Artland’s adaptation was definitely different, yet at the same time a very enjoyable series, with an especially haunting cast of characters.
Amatsuki is one of the two big “lots of talking”-series this year. Still, it worked really well, not only because of the depth of the dialogue, but also the strength of the storytelling and characters. At times it may have been a bit difficult as a raw-watcher to understand what went on, but nevertheless it was one of the highlights of the past spring season.
#7: Ghost Hound
2008 may have been a relatively bad year for Production IG, but none of this reflected in Ghost Hound. It’s a unique series with its extreme emphasis on sound effects and psychology, but nevertheless it was a very interesting series to watch, and it did the seemingly impossible by making a bunch of teenaged brats into excellent characters.
#6: Porfy no Nagai Tabi
Ah, the latest World Masterpiece Theatre series. Unlike Les Miserables, it didn’t have an enormous story to work with, and instead it was a simple travelling series, but it put such an amazing amount of detail into just about everything. Porfy and Mina are some of the most rounded characters of the year due to their non-stop development, and I haven’t even mentioned the amazing background art yet.
#5: Bonen no Xamdou
Really, if there was some sort of book called “the ultimate guide to writing a good story”, then Bonen no Xamdou would be mentioned everywhere in it. It never takes anything for granted and slowly builds up just about everything that might be important to the storyline later on. There are no forced climaxes, and yet the attention to detail is amazing.
#4: Himitsu ~ The Revelation
If Madhouse’s domination in this year’s anime wasn’t already obvious enough: 3 of my top 4 series come from them. Himitsu had a concept with so much potential handed to it, and it used this to deliver one awesome series during the past spring-season. It was delightfully unpredictable: you never knew what the next story would be focusing on, or whether an episode would be simply entertaining or downright awesome. I also really grew to like the cast of characters more and more, and especially the series’ final quarter was one hit after the other.
#3: Mouryou no Hako
Mouryou no Hako really took me by surprised. Before it aired, I was almost certain that nothing would be able to beat Amatsuki this year in terms of complex dialogues, and then this series came and either equalled or even surpassed it in just about every aspect. Even though the series is filled with dialogues, the creators also succeeded in a very subtle chemistry between the characters, and wasted no moment to further flesh out its cast through either this dialogue or through their expressions. Clamp’s character-designs and the very solid production values made it continuously pleasing to look at, and the plot itself also was really well written.
This year I again had a lot of difficulty choosing my number one. Both Kaiba and my number one pick for 2008 were downright incredible and just as good -if not better- than my top picks of 2007, though in the end I put this one on number 2 because of its rushed ending. Apart from that, though, this series felt like one that was its time far ahead. Masaaki Yuasa succeeded in delivering by far his best work. It’s series like this one that show the beauty of experimental series to its fullest.
#1: Shion no Ou
In the end, I really have to give my top pick of the year to Shion no Ou, the only series of 2008 to make it in my top 10. I hardly knew anything about Shougi, and yet it turned into an awesome series that managed to exploit the tournament setting to its fullest. The awesome cast of characters also made nearly every episode a success and the addictive pacing never let any episode get anywhere near boring. The animation was also daring, but ultimately it gave the series a unique and excellent look. I’m hoping to run into more series like this one in 2009.
Okay, that was it from me for 2008. A happy new year everyone, and the best wishes for 2009!