Overall 2009 wasn’t exactly the best year ever, but it still had its share of awesome series and concepts. Here’s my list of the ones that stood out the most:
Sora wo Miageru Shoujo no Hitomi ni Utsuru Sekai
Gundam 00 is a heavy contender in this category. While the first season had a complex political story, the second season merely degenerated into “Kill Ribbons”. The side-plots hardly ever went anywhere, not to mention the dumbest way to waste military resources ever with the Trans-Am Kamikaze Gagas. Still, even this was trumped by the Munto Remake. Here the characters had the chance to remake a series with a fascinating setting and give it give it the time it deserves. So what do they do? A bloody recap! If this was any other studio it might make sense as a way to save budget and all, but this is KYOANI: out of all the production-companies out there, they should be the least worried about money-problems.
Worst First Episode
I still consider it as one of the highlights of this year that I was actually asked by a professional company to review the first episode of this, but I really can’t deny that it was also the worst first episode of not just this year, but of the whole decade. There were so many things wrong with it, the voice acting, the humour, the graphics.
Zan Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei
Of course, this award only goes for the series that I actually completed, OVAs and Movies excluded. I didn’t watch any series that were too terrible this year, but the bottom of the ladder is for me populated by Saki (too much moe, too many clichés and stereotypes, way too little substance), Kurokami (pointless action with a very underdeveloped backstory), Munto TV (only what? 3,5 episodes of new material?). But this one really takes the cake. 90% of the time it’s just not funny and simply repeating itself over and over again, and the very few funny moments didn’t excuse the pain it was for me to sit through this.
Most Promising Studio
This is the award I hand out every year for production-companies that are either new or have put forth major improvements. This year, I’m in no doubt of which studio to give it to. David Production came from absolutely nowhere, and yet they already put forth two very impressive series with their own distinctive style, which both were very refreshing for their respective genre: Ristorante Paradiso is a very gentle slice of life series, while Armed Librarians had a very bold execution, breaking heaps of clichés and stereotypes in the process. Of course, there’s also that matter of Dogs Bullets and Carnage, but ah well.
Best Animation Studio
Bones really surpassed itself this year in terms of animation. It didn’t have just one awesome-looking series, it had four of them that I loved (Bonen no Xamdou, Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, Tokyo Magnitude and Darker than Black Ryuusei no Gemini). They weren’t always paced well (coughXamdoucough) but all of them had a lot of creativity and very good production-values.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
This category is simple: what series surprised me the most during the past year. Birdy the Mighty is for example a really heavy contender in this category: its first season had plenty of faults, and there the second season came and improved on it in every single aspect. Or take the new Mazinger: I really didn’t expect beforehand that it would turn into such an epic series with an actual linear storyline. Still, I’m going to hand out this award to the start of Tokyo Magnitude: it started off with a seemingly mundane episode in which nothing happened. The huge contrast with the dark and bittersweet second episode managed to land it this award.
Best Old Series I Happened to See This Year
I’ve watched a lot of great series this year. Ashita no Nadja, Glass Mask (2005) and Kaleido Star really deserve a special mention here because of their amazingly developed characters, but the series that impressed me even more was Sato Junichi’s Strange Dawn. There’s so much detail put into the storytelling, and the characters are just incredible. It’s a very dramatic series, but for me the drama really worked and culminated into an absolutely stunning ending.
Bonen no Xamdou
Okay, I’ve talked about Xamdou’s amazing animation often enough already, but seriously: it does have the best animation of any TV-series I have seen thus far. Every episode is just incredibly well animated, ranging from the quiet scenes to the busy action scenes. Runners up are Hashire, Melos! from Aoi Bungaku, Canaan, Aoi Hana and Eden of the East.
Best Background Art
Eden of the East had gorgeous backgrounds, but granted most of them were just filtered photos. The really great stuff in terms of background art this year came from the fantasy architecture: the Atlas building of Shangri-la was jaw-droppingly beautiful, the architecture of the various buildings in Armed Librarians was full of imagination, but the Guin Saga really deserves the most credits here, because it feels like every single building was designed with epic in mind: huge, imaginative, colourful. They made sure that there was always some kind of eye-candy to look at.
It’s getting a bit boring to keep giving away these awards to Bee-Train (this is the fourth year in a row that a Bee-Train series walks off with the award for best music in my summaries), but they just keep making these series with awesome music. With this soundtrack, Hikaru Nanase solidified herself as my favourite soundtrack composer along with Yuki Kajiura. The soundtrack of Phantom is varied, exciting and powerful. There are so many styles in this soundtrack and nearly all songs kick ass. Runners up are Michiko e Hatchin (hey, it was produced by the director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo) Guin Saga (epic, just like the series) and Birdy the Mighty Decode 2 (excellent in creating a dark atmosphere).
This award isn’t for animation quality, but rather: which series looked the best? I was ready to hand out this award to Casshern Sins again, but then Aoi Bungaku appeared. It had six different animation and graphic styles that, each of which looked absolutely beautiful and they were full of eye candy. That’s not to say that Casshern Sins dulled in, of course. It still was an absolutely beautiful series with some of the best character-designs out there.
Birdy the Mighty Decode 2
2009 had 3 series with beyond epic action-scenes: the new Mazinger, Bonen no Xamdou and Birdy the Mighty’s second season. Xamdou’s action had some of the best animation to back it up with, the Mazinger was always fun to watch with its over the top storyline, but I decided to give this award to Birdy the Mighty due to Kazuki Akane’s powerful directing that made even the least impressive action scenes stand out and make impact.
Marie & Gali
2009 was a great year for comedies: we had such gems as GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class, which always provided fresh and interesting jokes around various art topics. Then there was Skip Beat with its hilarious sense of humour when it wanted to, and let’s not forget Tentai Senshi Sunred with its typical style of combining extreme realism to extreme stupidity. Still, for me Marie & Gali was without a doubt the best in the comedy genre this year. Every single episode, it comes with something incredibly creative and imaginative to make fun of the principles of physics, and every single episode, it delivers and cracks me up. Now that’s what I call a good comedy.
Best Slice of Life
2009 was an excellent year for the slice of life genre. There were countless series that provided a great take on something so seemingly dull as just showing the daily lives of a bunch of people. Ristorante Paradiso was a very gentle and well-paced series (in which the characters are actual adults for once!), Tentai Senshi Sunred took this to the absurd with its parodies of the Super Sentai Genre, and GA was also a delight to watch simply because of its characters, even during the times when they weren’t trying to make jokes. Cross Game wins in this category though, because of its always tongue-in-cheek execution that loves to play around with all of the different characters. When the characters are living their daily lives, there’s always something interesting going on.
Umineko no Naku Koro ni
This is of course a no-brainer. The other great mystery-series of 2009 were Pandora Hearts and Full Metal Alchemist, which both had really well integrated mystery into their settings, and both just kept the twists coming. Umineko however took this even a step further. Nearly every episode had me form countless of theories about what the heck was going on, why things happened the way they did and which one of the tons of plot twists actually wasn’t a red herring.
Best Movie (out of the ones that I watched anyway)
Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea
It’s always a bit tricky to figure out which movies I can put into these categories and which ones not; this year there were four movies that made the biggest impression on me: Furusato Japan (quiet but very solid and great songs), The Sky Crawlers (Mamoru Oshii doing something completely different… and it actually works), the fifth Kara no Kyoukai movie (great and complex storyline) and Ponyo. It sounds clichéd, but I’m really going to have to say that Ponyo is the best of those four. Miyazaki really showed that he’s still able to make wonderful movies with amazing visuals and charming characters.
2009 was an excellent year for romance. There were so many quality romance shows that aired this year, that I’m probably going to remember this as a year of romance. There were great romance series as Genji Monogatari, Sasameki Koto and White Album, and the romance in other shows also rocked, like in Birdy the Mighty, Clannad After Story, Cross Game, Ristorante Paradiso, Spice and Wolf II and Shikabane Hime Kuro. Still, Aoi Hana did it best in my opinion. Even though it’s lesbian romance, it still was very detailed, engaging and realistic. It made excellent use of its characters and their development and the romance was never cheesy or unrealistic.
Most Imaginative Setting
Michiko e Hatchin
Full Metal Alchemist really surprised me how deep its setting was, especially considering the first season. Armed Librarians is also looking out to a great setting here, and Umineko really revolutionized the mystery-genre with its background story. Still, I’ve been the most impressed by Michiko e Hatchin and its depiction of Brazil a few years back. It felt like the creators did a huge amount of research in order to make it come across as authentic as possible.
Birdy the Mighty Decode 2
What an improvement the characters made over the first season. It feels like every single one of them had some memorable development. The new characters also rocked, and even they went through subtle changes. I also really liked how Phantom developed its characters throughout its arcs. It was a bit over the top, but the main cast was always engaging. Other greatly developed characters were Touya (White Album I and especially II), Remus and Amnelis (Guin Saga), Hatchin (Michiko e Hatchin) and Erin (Kemono no Souja Erin).
Michiko e Hatchin
This is a tough one, but I decided to give Michiko e Hatchin this award, because pretty much everything clicked. It was varied, it had a great conclusion, it was fun, endearing, tense and all sorts of other things throughout the series. Of course, Birdy the Mighty Decode also had a great story, Guin Saga had great politics, and Full Metal Alchemist and Armed Librarians are looking to be great contenders for next year’s version of this award.
Top 10 2009
I’m not going for a top 20 this year, for two reasons. First one is time constraint (hey, last years I didn’t have to write a decade summary at the same time as well), but also because I noted that as I compiled my list of favourites, that I really didn’t have any particular order for the numbers 11-25. There were a lot of great series this year, but just don’t ask me to rank them beyond a top 10. If you want to know which series I mean: Shangri-La, White Album, Pandora Hearts, Bonen no Xamdou, Ristorante Paradiso, Cross Game, Shin Mazinger, GA, Spice and Wolf II, Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae, Darker than Black – Ryuusei no Gemini, Hajime no Ippo – New Challenger, Full Metal Alchemist – Brotherhood and Shikabane Hime Kuro. All of these were great, just don’t ask me to rank them. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s my Top 10 for this year:
#10: Guin Saga
The Guin Saga was epic fantasy done right. It started out in a land full of creative creatures, races and locations, and gradually moved to a more politically oriented story, both of which rocked. Now granted, it is a very incomplete story (still waiting on that second season announcement…) and the animation at times wasn’t sufficient to capture all of the epicness of the storyline, but it’s a great series nonetheless, with a terrific soundtrack and background art.
#9: Aoi Hana
I really liked the concept of Noise: Fuji TV’s attempt to create a second Noitamina. All of the series that resulted from it were excellent, but it’s a shame that it didn’t work out in the end and the timeslot was dropped. Nevertheless, Aoi Hana was a truly excellent series with a great direction and production-values. It’s was very realistic for a romance series, and the characters were very charming and engaging to watch.
#8: Clannad After Story
This sequel of Clannad earned its place on this list, mostly due to the amazing developments it took during its second half. While most of the series was just a regular high school series (that has been done much better by other series this year, like Aoi Hana and GA), it really set itself apart from the rest during this second half. I’m not going to spoil what exactly happened, but the character-development that the lead character got out of it was amazing. Just a shame of that ending.
#7: Casshern Sins
Casshern Sins remained a very strong series throughout its second half. It still was beautifully drawn and animated, and the main storyline was very impressive. While it didn’t surpass the first half in terms of individual episodes, when you look at the total picture it remains a very impressive series with creative and well written dialogues and scenarios.
#6: Armed Librarians – The Book of Bantorra
While this is the only series on this list that hasn’t finished yet, I do want to include it somehow because of its terrific execution, which was a true breath of fresh air in the fantasy-genre. The way it weaves tons of different storylines into one is done almost brilliantly, and it really makes use of the past in order to flesh out the present, and give every character sufficient and memorable development. Hamyuts Meseta herself is my favourite: a unique anti-heroine that kicks ass and yet isn’t your stereotypical evil overlord…ess.
#5: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
Tokyo Magnitude: a series that shows what would happen to Tokyo if it were struck by a huge earthquake today, all seen through the eyes of a young girl. And boy, was it impressive. It was a bittersweet series and the biggest tear-jerker of the year for me, and Mirai was such an engaging character. I’ve seen quite a few people who didn’t like the final twist at the end, but I personally loved the results of having this included. It made for a very memorable series.
Phantom turned into my favourite Bee-Train series after .Hack//Sign. It has many of their staples, but executed even better than usual. The great character-development of Ein and Zwei throughout the series is memorable and makes excellent use of its time-frame. The excellent music also adds. At times the drama may be a bit unrealistic and overstatement, but it had me hooked from start to finish.
#3: Michiko e Hatchin
I personally loved how this series had its moments of silliness, tension, action, drama and always made it a mystery what it would focus on next. On top of that, Hatchin was an awesome character, Satoshi was an awesome villain, Michiko was an awesome anti-heroine, and the chemistry between the entire cast rocked. The portrayal of Brazil was very accurate in my view, and this series always had something interesting. Definitely in my top 3 of this year.
#2: Aoi Bungaku
Madhouse did it again with this series. Amazingly stylish in six different and distinct ways, Each of the stories is different and stands on its own as a great story. The storytelling is just awesome, with as highlight Hashire Melos, but all of the other stories were amazing as well.
#1: Birdy the Mighty Decode 2
So my number one isn’t that much of a surprise for those who’ve been following my blog for a while now. The first season of Birdy the Mighty was pretty nice, but too childish at times. Then this series comes, and improves on it in every. single. way. The graphics are amazing, the action is fantastic, the characters gained tons of depth, it still pays attention to the setting and the people living in it, the storyline is compelling, the villains are awesome, I could just go on and on with singing praises over this series. It’s a well deserved favourite of this year, and only established Kazuki Akane even more as my favourite director ever.
Well, that’s it. A happy new year to everyone in advanced. And what were your favourites of 2009?