Sunday, September 28, 2008

2008 So Far -- My Favorite Shows

As I see my taste drifting further and further from that of a lot of other anime fans, I thought I'd just run through the year and figure out which anime have been my favorites so far.

My favorite show of the summer season was definitely Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto -- Natsu no Sora. Lots of people have criticized the photographic backgrounds and simplified human figures, but I think both of those work brilliantly. The music has been outstanding, especially the OP by Thyme, and the ED and insert songs by micc.

The story built up slowly, letting us learn about the characters from their words, their actions, and their silences. And the final four episodes have been moving and deep: events and feelings reaching an almost spiritual peak, with nary a cliche in sight.

Hanazawa Kana's voice is not to everyone's taste -- one person has said it sounded like a ten-year-old's -- but for me she has one of the most moe voices in anime, one that is always able to move me. In this show, the combination of her character's moe vulnerability, powerful magic, and strong determination were a heady brew.

My favorite show of the year, if it isn't Natsu no Sora, may well be true tears, the conflicted romance drama that aired last winter. Takagaki Ayahi gave a taste of just how good her acting is, and she confirmed that with her performance in the second season of Da Capo 2. The complex emotions of all the characters were both interesting and powerful.

From the spring season, I enjoyed Daughter of Twenty-Faces and Macross Frontier for most of their runs, but both ultimately let me down.

Hirano Aya's voice work was brilliant in Daughter of Twenty-Faces: a bit stilted, but full of passion. And the fantasy 1950s Japan setting was unique. But the story, after a first half that was strong and moving, began to spin its wheels. Twenty-faces' numerous deaths and resurrections, and Chiko's numerous skin-of-the-teeth escapes, eventually became too much even for me.

I kept defending the show as being something like Batman, but now I remember that I never liked Batman that much. I still love both the OP by 369 and the ED by Hirano Aya.

There's no getting around it, Macross Frontier has wonderful music. The BGM by Kanno Youko is great, and all the OPs, EDs and insert songs are moving. May'N's strong voice and Nakajima Megumi's touching one work beautifully. And the battle scenes, complete with music and light shows, were sometimes brilliant.

But the story just broke down for me. It was all logical, but it became convoluted and pointless. And the lead male character was too hard to read. I thought they wrote Alto poorly, making him inconsistent just for the sake of preserving the Macross romantic triangle.

The gentle yuri comedy Candy Boy was a revelation, giving us more in its 15-minute episodes than most anime do in twice that time. The feelings of the characters are conveyed beautifully by the plot and the excellent voice-acting of Nabatame Hitomi and Yuzuki Ryouka.

I have to mention a couple of other spring shows. I just watched episode 24 of Itazura na Kiss, and ended up with tears rolling down my cheeks. The show often tried my patience through its run, with puerile and repetitive humor and a lead male who took around 20 episodes to stop being a complete jerk. But it was a fine shoujo anime, in the end, with some uniqueness about it, especially in the final few episodes. And the ending is supposedly what the mangaka -- who died tragically before finishing the manga -- originally planned.

Another shoujo show, Vampire Knight, did even more for me, with its strong male voice-acting from Miyano Mamoru and Kishio Daisuke, and its atmosphere soaked in blood and suppressed sensuality. The manga is better, but when was it otherwise? I'm looking forward to season two, which starts next Monday night.

Kure-nai was a good show, with outstanding voice-acting all round. The basic situation, and the personality of the little girl, Murasaki, were fascinating. But it also seemed to lack direction, perhaps because the motivations of the characters were not shown enough: I knew what they were supposed to be, but I couldn't feel them. And sometimes people did things I just couldn't believe.

Three episodes of Kara no Kyoukai have popped up through the year, and every one of them has been excellent. This is how to plot an anime, with everything leading in the same direction: direct to and from the hideous murders that are the heart of the show. Sakamoto Maaya is at her best.

Bounen no Xamdo snuck up on me. I didn't know anything about it until several episodes in. But it seems to be a very well made shounen adventure in the tradition of Eureka Seven or Last Exile. It suffers from the standard puerile humor and the presence of silly monsters (my personal bugbear), but the story has worked so far and the voice-acting is outstanding, particularly from Orikasa Fumiko and from Sanpei Yuuko, who played Renton in Eureka Seven, but is the Eureka character here.

I also want to mention another show from last winter, Spice & Wolf -- not for the show, but for the voice-acting of Koshimizu Ami, who stars as Horo, the ageless wolf-goddess who usually takes the form of a teenaged girl. Her voice wraps itself around a very complex character quite brilliantly. For me, hers is the best seiyuu performance of the year so far.

You may have noticed the new banner image at the top of the page. It is from an old painting of two sisters who are important characters in the last ten chapters of the Tale of Genji, which was written by a Japanese court lady around 1000AD, and may be the first true novel in the world. The sisters lived with their father, a disgraced prince, in a little house near the bridge at Uji, south of Kyoto. Because they lived near the bridge, they were called the "bridge princesses," or "hashihime."


Andrew said...

I enjoyed Macross Frontier, especially the obvious allusions to the music industry and the alienation of fame. Alto was kinda dense, though. He only seemed to have two emotions; blase and angry. The ending was also a bit rushed, like they tried to cram two or three episodes' worth of content into one. But yeah, as I've said before, it's damn amazing how Megumi Nakajima could pull off Macross music on her first time. (Apparently May'n has performed one anime ED before.)