Well, it’s the time of the year again for the obligatory posts that look back at the highlights (and some of the lowlights) of the past year. This time, I decided to split this entry in two halves, otherwise the list would simply become too huge. I’ll post the second half tomorrow, after Porfy no Nagai Tabi and Mouryou no Hako finish.
Overall, what has struck me the most about 2008 is the surprising amount of series that just took up 13 episodes. When compared to previous years, there was a much bigger share of series that just went on for one single season, or that divided its airtime up in multiple of those short seasons. It’s perhaps because of this that there weren’t as much top-tier series as in previous years, and yet at the same time the average quality of the series that aired did rise, and this year had a fine selection of outstanding series.
Nijuu Mensou no Musume
Disappointments are the worst if created from high expectations, and that’s exactly what happened for me with this series. It went so well during the first half, the premise was intriguing, the plot twists kept you guessing, and then it all went down the drain because of that lacklustre final arc. Such a shame. Also disappointing were Hatenkou Yuugi (promising manga ruined by downright lazy staff members) and Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei (went from absolutely hilarious to incredibly dull in just one season, but then again it had it coming).
Worst First Episode
At the start of December, I was certain that I would be handing out this award to Bihada Ichizoku, the cheesy shoujo series that was advertising make-up products to young kids. Then KissXSis and Akikan aired, surpassing even that one in terms of badness with their ridiculous premises. In the end, Akikan gets the award because of the most pathetic excuse to get a guy and a girl to kiss each other.
Of course, this only goes for series that I managed to finish. Who knows, perhaps Bihada Ichizoku became the best thing since sliced bread after its first episode? In any case, this one pretty much goes to Chocolate Underground. I kept watching it because I had faith in Production IG, and I’d like to thank this series for destroying that faith…
Suteki Tantei Labyrinth
Um, yeah. I just had to include this series somehow. ^^; There’s good cheese and bad cheese. I’m not going to deny that Suteki Tantei Labyrinth was bad at times; it really had some horrible parts, and yet it never ceased to be amusing, especially the second half was just full of weirdness and delicious cheese.
Most Promising Studio
In 2008, these guys for the first time went and produced a series of their own, rather than simply assisting random projects. The result was True Tears, a very solid romance series with equally excellent animation. If their future projects are as solid as that one, then these guys are something to watch out for.
“Candy Line” by Hitomi Takahashi – Gintama
There were not many EDs that stood out for me this year. The ones that did the most were Mission E (way too much sweetness and yet somehow it worked), Shikabane Hime (Excellent vocals and nice imagery) and Gintama’s fifth ED: an excellent song, that also succeeds in putting its cast into a completely different setting and making it actually seem plausible. No really, Gintama: The High School Days would actually have lots of potential.
Best Movie 2006/2007
Kara no Kyoukai – Remaining Sense of Pain
I didn’t watch that many movies this year, so I don’t have many choices for this one. I’ve yet to see Ponyo and the Sky Crawlers, which I suspect would have gotten this award if I did. Still, the third Kara no Kyoukai movie was a good movie, with excellent visuals and a nice story to keep the viewer busy for an hour.
Best Suspense Series
Himitsu ~The Revelation
In terms of Suspense, Himitsu really was the best this year. A number of episodes was simply mind-boggling. The creators knew exactly how to keep the viewer’s interests, revealing just enough information at a time while keeping the viewer hungry for more. Also excellent in this depart are Kurozuka and the third season of Jigoku Shoujo.
Mononoke Dance – Hakaba Kitarou
Lots of great OPs this year, but the best of them definitely was the one from Hakaba Kitarou. It’s a funky song, and the comic-book effect that pays homage to the original Gegege no Kitarou manga really works. Other series with great OPs this year include Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei (so the show went pretty downhill, but at least the opening rocked), Ultraviolet (surprisingly good Engrish), Mokke (just cute), Shikabane Hime (great vocalist) and Kaiba (haunting). I was also going to list Kurozuka, but then again, that’s basically a song you get when you drink too much and happen to be near a recording studio…
Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto: Natsu no Sora
This was a tough award to decide, since I’m usually not that much into romance, although there were a few series that really stood out. Porfy no Nagai Tabi had a very strong episode dedicated to it, and Saiunkoku Monogatari and True Tears also were really good in this aspect. Still, in the end the best has to be Natsu no Sora, with its incredibly subtle storytelling that really shows the best and most natural form of romance, rather than the overblown and overly cheesy one.
The This-Needs-A-Sequel-So-Badly Award
Gunslinger Girl, Blade of the Immortal and Amatsuki: three excellent series that have so much potential left if they receive another season. The most annoying is Amatsuki, though. It really ended just as things were getting good, and it’s a Studio Deen-series: it usually makes sequels for every one of its series that needs one, APART FROM THIS ONE.
Best Background Art
Porfy no Nagai Tabi
Sorry Macross Frontier, you may have a very amazing backgrounds here and there, but in no way did it match up to Porfy no Nagai Tabi: every single episode treated us with the most amazing and detailed backgrounds, perfectly representing the area that Porfy was in at the time, and it did so for fifty-two consecutive episodes.
Blade of the Immortal
And for the third year in a row a Bee-Train series walks away with this award. It’s not as much overkill as in last year with El Cazador, though. The soundtrack from Himitsu, Gunslinger Girl – Il Teatrino, Kaiba and Bonen no Xamdou were also simply awesome, but Blade of the Immortal’s soundtrack really delves in the surreal at times. It’s completely unpredictable and will work on many people’s nerves, and yet for me it strangely really worked.
Best Animation Studio
No question possible here. Sure, they may have had a few screw-ups here and there, but some of the strongest series of the year came from their hands. In this year, they’ve proven to create a wide variety of different series with imaginative premises and excellent executions. Runners up for me were Studio Deen and Nippon Animation. I’d love to list Production IG with them, but for that to happen they really need to break their ties with Trans Arts…
With horror, I obviously mean the Japanese psychological kind, that tries to capture the viewer with intense storytelling, rather than lots of scary images (anime never was that scary anyway). The best horror this year came from Ghost Hound for me, since I absolutely loved the way it emphasized sound effects to create its creepy atmosphere. The other excellent horror shows this year were of course Kurozuka (combining horror with action) and Hakaba Kitarou (combining it with comedy).
For this category, I’m not looking for animation quality, but simply a series that “looks good”. Madhouse was very good in this department this year: Himitsu ~The Revelation~ was a visual feast, despite the at first sight simple character-designs, and Kaiba too looked very original. Outside of the studio, Michiko e Hatchin also had lots of eye candy, but I’m going to give this award to Casshern Sins, the series with definitely the best character-designs of the year, and the architecture of some of the buildings also looks downright gorgeous.
Top 20 Anime of 2008: #20 – #11
#20: Saiunkoku Monogatari
This series isn’t as high on the list as usual, due to the constant hiatuses that the series kept taking and that it ended at the point where the juicy part was only about to begin. Still, despite that the series’ final episodes were great at building up, and making every character count despite the already huge cast of new and old characters.
#19: Blade of the Immortal
This turned out to be an experimental series, where Bee-Train was trying out a few new things here and there. The result was a series witha number of creative and interesting fights, surrounding a very enjoyable leading couple. The only shame is that there still isn’t some sort of second season announced.
#18: Hakaba Kitarou
Combine horror with comedy. You just have to think of it. Hakaba Kitarou stood out in the past winter season as a series with incredible amounts of imagination stuffed into it. The different goons that Kitarou would run into were all fun to watch, and it made this series nothing like its Gegege-counterparts.
#17: Natsume Yuujin-Chou
Brains Base have proven themselves yet again to be a high-quality animation studio. Natsume Yuujin-Chou is the perfect summer series, with a calm atmosphere, and yet very impressive episodic stories and characters. Not to mention the awesome Nyanko-sensei.
#16: Michiko e Hatchin
Anime that are set outside of Japan are already a minority, but setting a series in South America is nearly unheard of (I can only recall two other series that did the same, but both are more than twenty years old at this point). Michiko to Hatchin may have only just started, but it’s already an engaging and true to life series, with a staggering contrast between on one side the cute adventures of a ten year old, and on the other side the brutal and complex inner struggles of gang wars.
As usual, Gintama is the best comedy on this list. What makes this series so special, and a step above 95% of all other comedies is that it’s not just funny, but it’s been funny for NEARLY 100 EPISODES ALREADY, and the series is just getting better and better. Not to mention that the best moments of the series actually aren’t the comedy-ones, but the moments when the serious storylines pop up, filled with manly tears.
#14: Crystal Blaze
This year, I became a big fan of the kind of short series that don’t try to go extremely deep, and simply want to tell an interesting story or create a nice atmosphere. These shows were Ultraviolet, Kurozuka and Crystal Blaze, of which I enjoyed Crystal Blaze the most. From the outside it doesn’t look like anything special, and yet it succeeded in making optimal use of its short length by providing a thriller. It was a lot of fun to watch from beginning to end, and that’s why I’m including this series on this list.
#13: RD Sennou Chousashitsu
So it had a few balance issues, but nevertheless RD Sennou Chousashitsu or Real Drive did succeed in creating a very imaginative view of what the world would look like in sixty years time. The genre combination between slice of life and science fiction really worked and it was overall a very interesting series.
#12: Casshern Sins
If this series would already have been finished, I just know that it would have ranked even higher on this list. Casshern Sins has already proven to have an excellent sense of storytelling. The individual episodes may be episodic, but they’re masterful in fleshing out the characters that appear in them. It’s a very emotionally powerful series, which you wouldn’t suspect from a series that is about robots.
Yeah, this series completely sold me with its heart warming and sappy atmosphere. It’s not the first time where we have a series where the lead characters interact with youkai, but Mokke did it with personality. Mizuki and Shizuru were just too cute to not watch.
Well, so that’s the first half of the list, the rest follows tomorrow. In the meantime: what were your favourites of 2008?