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2012 anime retrospective December 30, 2012

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Drama, Film, Manga.
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Hyoka
Another year, another great batch of anime watching. Despite my ‘cutting down’ due to time constraints, I still ended up watching over 20 shows this year, not to mention the odd OAV, movie, drama, live-action adaptation etc. etc. As I rarely get a chance to blog on a series’ end, I thought it might be fun to follow many other blogs’ lead and gather my thoughts in retrospect.

Anime

1. Hyōka

Kyoto Animation had another stonking year with two TV shows and a lucrative K-On movie. I saw a lot of good anime this year yet few matched the technical, cinematic and emotional heights that KyoAni seem to reach almost every single time. Moreover, their ability to spot interesting source material continues to astound. Hyōka, based on a series of novels, takes the slice-of-life genre and adds a twist of mystery to it – a perfect combination for KyoAni’s sumptuous animation, slow pacing and subtle musical scores. I didn’t really know what to make of it at first, particularly given the measured start that all slice-of-life shows have. Yet on reflection at the end of the year, Hyōka is most certainly the series I admired the most. What makes it is not only the sheer gorgeousness of it all, but the perfectly-sized cast of interesting characters given time to explore and develop, the wonderfully subtle slow-burner romance and the fact that it never forgets its sense of fun. Best of all is the essence of the story: finding the mystery in the ordinary and the sense of curiosity and wonder that life, however seemingly mundane, can bring. “Ki ni narimasu!”

2. Black Rock Shooter

Though I like Supercell’s music, I’d never really paid much attention to the otaku fervour around the original song or the game, OVA, toyline and general other money-making factory that followed. But I was intrigued enough to give this short series a go and boy was I glad I did. Sumptuously animated by studio Ordet, in just 8 episodes it delivered not just a series of stunning action set-pieces but the a fascinating and more than a little disturbing story of the Japanese teenage psyche, or rather the extremities of adolescent fears and paranoia. Gripping from start to finish, gorgeous to watch and, of course, with fabulous music, this was an unexpected gem for me.

3. Chūnibyō Demo Koi ga Shitai!

Speaking of unexpected gems, I, like many others, was surprised to hear that KyoAni’s other TV series of 2012 was not the adaptation of Key’s Little Busters! but a short 1 cour take on a couple of light novels (which admittedly had won a KyoAni writing award). When Chu2Koi started, it was everything I expected it to be: wonderfully animated, fun and silly. I  dismissed it as my guilty pleasure of the autumn season and thought it KyoAni cunningly targeting the otaku merchandise market as had proved so successful with K-On. By the end I was in floods of tears and totally in love with a show that had captured my heart with its flitty characters then used them to tell a deeper story of adolescent delusions, facing up to harsh reality and never wanting to grow up. Not to mention the epic (at least in the Chu2Koi sense) romance. You see, what Chu2Koi tells you is that however odd you think you are, you can only be yourself, and that in itself is fine. People will love you for who you are. Sure it’s otaku button-pushing, but when the combos are this spot on, I’m wired to respond.

4. Kokoro Connect

Another unexpected gem (are you sensing a pattern here?). Putting the backstage controversy aside, this was a fabulous show. Solidly animated with a curious premise (if you haven’t seen it, the less you know the better, but it starts with body swapping). Again, I’d dismissed this one as being a gimmicky high-school show that might have been good for a laugh, but instead found the fun matched with a fascinating and very sci-fi like exploration of the human psyche. The characters are great, the music is outstanding (multiple mini-arcs and regularly swapping ED themes is usually a good indicator of some originality) and the plot is really interesting. Brilliant stuff with an OVA exclusive episode arc to come. I just hope the controversy doesn’t endanger our chances of the rest of the novels being adapted, as it would be a real shame for a show of this quality to suffer for the stupidity of some of its cast and crew.

5. AKB0048

I’ve already written about this here. This one did turn out to be every bit as throwaway moe fun as I’d expected. I just didn’t expect to love it this much (although I am a sucker for singing and dancing). It turned me into an AKB48 fan – ’nuff said. Second season starting in January!

6. Persona 4: The Animation

Game adaptations rarely work out, so how pleasing to see one that gets it right. Persona 4 oozes cool from the first episode, with its clever nods and in-jokes for the game fans to its really really hip soundtrack. Sure, the plot is very very silly (it’s based on a game, remember) but the characters are great, the mystery of the story is interesting enough to keep you gripped and the whole thing is very slickly animated. Moreover, it’s incredibly fun before revealing (particularly in the final ‘true end’ OAV episode) the full extent of its themes of friendship and togetherness – to which I happily shed many a tear. “Bonds of people are the true power.”

7. Fate/Zero

I will happily watch anything that Gen Urobuchi has written. Following his stunning take on the magical girl genre this adaptation of his prequel in the Fate franchise was hotly anticipated, even if we did have to wait a whole season in-between its two halves. What Urobuchi does so well is to take the seeming constraints of a genre or franchise and then use that to pose interesting questions about humanity – to use the characters as ciphers for more philosophical discussions as to what the predicaments of this plot would mean in the real world. It made for long talky exposition scenes, yet those were every bit as gripping as the action, well-handled by studio ufotable. That rare thing: a show that really makes you think.

8. Lupin III: A Woman Named Fujiko Mine

Persona aside, if there’s one show that oozed ultra-cool this year, it was this. The first Lupin anime for many many years, it took a well-known franchise and updated it to more adult fare. fascinatingly episodic, with enough in-jokes and nods to keep the franchise fans happy, it revelled in its ability to tell tales of pulp fiction before revealing a really dark, almost psychotic, underbelly that was to serve the main plotline. This, combined with its simultaneously adding backstory to well-established characters, was a fantastic feat. Not to mention the just beautiful sketched, often surrealist, animation and an outstanding jazz soundtrack. Just wonderful.

Honorable mentions:

Sakamichi no Apollon was another one with a fantastic jazz soundtrack and a wonderfully touching plot – so great to see Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno team up for another anime ride. It nearly made my top list but I guess the shortness of the show and the time skips between episodes kind of stopped it from really weedling its way into my heart.

Sword Art Online I came late to and was, like many others, totally captivated by the first arc…. only to be somewhat disappointed by the second. I’m intrigued enough to want more (there are several further light novels to adapt…), but as many on other blogs have said, if they’d have just ended it after the Aincrad arc, that would’ve been perfect.

Ano Natsu de Matteru was a lovely, touching, if slightly generic romance/harem anime with some goosebump-inducing romantic moments.  Sankarea implied much deeper themes below its seemingly silly zombie romance story – and certainly went to some pretty dark places for what’s ostensibly high-school comedy. A second season (the manga is longer…) would really push things further.

Of the sequel variety, I really loved the atmosphere of Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing, if only for the nostalgia of being back in that world with a Hitomi BGM. Shame about the ending though.

For similar reasons, Eureka Seven AO I liked (nostalgia, outstanding OST) and disliked (ending sucked a bit >_<). For a while there it seemed to be fixing the lack of structure that its original lacked, but sadly not quite, although the premise of the sci-fi plot itself (SPOILER: alternate universes) was pretty interesting.

For pure originality though, you can’t look past Tsuritama – nuts story and characters, beautiful original animation style, great soundtrack, good, satisfying plot. Everything you’d want from a noitaminA anime really.

Finally, Gundam Unicorn was again brilliant this year – if only we got more than one OAV per year! There’s only 1 more left – agh!

Other highlights

As always, I consumed plenty of other Japanese media of the non-anime variety, though often related. I saw a whole bunch on planes, really enjoying Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, Akko-chan: the movie for the wonderful Ayase Haruka, and the outstanding live-action Ruroni Kenshin. And although I didn’t watch too much drama this year, I was glad to finally get around to the fabulous Asuko March! It’s really given me back the taste for drama and I’ll be picking up at least one or two in the coming season methinks. And in manga, I the highlight was without a doubt the final volumes of Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. I hope to blog more about that at some point, but needless to say it is highly recommended.

So much consumed and much to look forward to. Hope your year of watching was as full of pleasant surprises as mine.

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