Saturday, January 10, 2009

Favorite Anime of 2008

Natsu no SoraAs if anyone cared, here's my personal list of top anime of 2008.

I'd say "best" anime, but "favorite" is more accurate. I can't imagine how to be objective about this. We all have our own likes and dislikes. Even adding up points in various categories -- animation, story, characters, etc. -- seems pretty bogus to me.

I'd at least say that all the shows on my list are good anime. I have left out lesser shows that I enjoyed, such as Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, and Hakushaku to Yousei. I don't think I'd call any of this year's shows a masterpiece, but Natsu no Sora, Eve no Jikan, and Kannagi all have a chance, and Toradora is getting better and better.

Here's the list, followed by my comments on each show. The first few may be in order of preference, but I find it hard to put shows in a firm ranking order. (Click photos to enlarge, mouseover for captions.)

KannagiMahoutsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora
Eve no Jikan
true tears
ef melodies
Vampire Knight Guilty
Candy Boy
Macross Frontier
Xam'd Lost Memories
Nijuumensou no Musume
Michiko to Hatchin

Mahoutsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora -- This was widely ridiculed for its photo-realistic backgrounds, simplified drawing, and angst. Those were three of the things I loved about it, lol. I watch dramatic art for the emotions, and this show gave me a delicate symphony of them. Along with strong visual style and a unique ending.

Eve no JikanEve no Jikan -- A little gem of a series. Real science fiction with real characters and subtle feelings. A deeper take on the humanity of robots. Great pacing, sound, and voice-acting. Fukuyama Jun is excellent, for a change, and we hear Tanaka Rie, Yukana, Satou Rina, Itou Miki, and Sugita Tomokazu, as well. Young director Yoshiura Yasuhiro has a future. Check out his previous one-shot OVA, Pale Cocoon.

Kannagi -- A minor masterpiece of comic moe by bad-boy director Yamamoto Yutaka ("Yamakan"). Excellent animation, with great visual comedy and a wonderful performance by Tomatsu Haruka as Nagi. And another great OP from the hand of Yamakan, like the Lucky Star OP and the Haruhi ED.

ToradoraToradora -- As we enter the second half of this series, it just gets better. Characters you can care for, stumbling through their lives together. I had no idea this show would be so good. Not your ordinary harem comedy. Great voice performance by Kugimiya Rie as the Palm-top Tiger.

true tears -- I was completely captivated by Takagaki Ayahi's performance as Noe. The bittersweet story also worked for me. And Nazuka Kaori's Hiromi was deep and strong.

ef melodiesef melodies -- I love the extravagant Shinbou Akiyuki visual style. I think it adds to the richness of most of the shows we see it in. And I enjoy Oonuma Shin's version of Shinbou more than Shinbou's own work. I didn't think melodies was quite as powerful as memories, but it was very good.

Vampire Knight Guilty -- I enjoyed the first series, but Guilty took it to a higher level. There was a lot of fine voice work in this show, even if the star, Horie Yui, didn't seem to me to get the character right. But this is one case where having read the manga didn't turn me off the anime. An interesting dark shoujo take on the vampire genre.

Candy BoyCandy Boy -- Subtle feelings and not-so-subtle yuri. Nabatame Hitomi and Yuzuki Ryoka create a beautiful world of comedy and emotion.

Macross Frontier -- There was a lot to like here -- setting, music, female characters -- but the story began to slide off-track as the series progressed. I felt as if the writing was rather aimless. Alto seemed to have no feelings, and that made it hard to build a story. But I think this show will be the springboard to stardom for Endou Aya (Sheryl).

Kurenai -- It started so promisingly, with good characters and an interesting situation. But it bogged down halfway, and when the protagonist started making clearly stupid decisions, it was hard for me to maintain my suspension of disbelief. Great voice work by Sawashiro Miyuki (Shinkurou), Kuroda Takaya (Renjou), and young Yuuki Aoi (Murasaki).

Xam'd Lost MemoriesXam'd Lost Memories -- I'm not a shounen fan, but I am a fan of science fiction. Stylish, with a great OP. And outstanding voice work by Sanpei Yuuko (Nakiami), among others. The story and the world make sense to me.

Nijuumensou no Musume -- Another show that started promisingly and then meandered off into strange byways. The early episodes gave us a unique story and setting in 1950s Japan. Hirano Aya was great as Chiko, but the story started going in circles and the character didn't develop. I loved both the OP and Hirano's ED.

Tytania -- A classic, slow-developing space opera on a grand scale, with characters whose emotions and motivations are gradually filling in.

Michiko to HatchinMichiko to Hatchin -- A unique setting in Brazil, and characters that do seem to develop. Some of the comedy leaves me scratching my head, but it is always exciting to see what unusual situation will come next, and how it will affect the main characters' relationship.

Kurozuka -- The story lost force for me as it progressed beyond its strong early thrust, but the wonderful pace and look of it continued, and the voice work of Paku Romi and Miyano Mamoru was superb. I am probably in a minority when I say that this also has one of the top OPs of the year, with the driving techno-punk of Maximum the Hormone.

Some of the most popular and highly rated shows of the year were in genres or styles I have trouble appreciating, so I probably undervalue them. Soul Eater, Gundam00, Code Geass, Kaiji, Shakugan no Shana -- most of those just seemed shallow and boring to me.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Sanpei Yuuko -- shounen shoujo

Sanpei YuukoI first heard of Sanpei Yuuko 三瓶由布子 as Koshimizu Ami's girlfriend. She and Ami even had a mock wedding reception on the radio.

But she is a lot more than just a "yuri seiyuu." She, like her friend Ami, is one of the top young talents working today. Her work as Nakiami in Bounen no Xamdo is strong and deep. In scenes between her and the great Paku Romi, it's hard to know who to be more impressed with.

(mouseover photos for captions; click photos to enlarge)

In real life, she seems unaffected and boyish. She can be seen in clothes that have a slightly mannish look, and sometimes uses male speech patterns. She's delightfully sarcastic, but doesn't seem hard or aggressive at all. Yuuyu (her nickname) appears to be a kind person with a sharp tongue.

Her first big role was at age 14, as the male lead in the underrated Daa! Daa! Daa! But it was in 2005, when she was 19, that she really hit the big-time -- as Renton in Eureka Seven.

She showed her worth the next year, when Kumai Motoko, the original seiyuu for Souta in Otogijushi Akazukin, became ill. Sanpei was able to take over seamlessly for the last 13 episodes of the show. And her Souta was at least as good as the original.

Her deep voice made her a natural for roles as young boys. As you can hear in this clip from a Eureka Seven live event, she has a lot of control over that voice:

In 2007, she got her first big female role, as the irrepressible Nozomi in Precure 5. That role has carried her through two years, two series, and two movies.

But it is in her current role as the mysterious northern girl Nakiami in Bounen no Xamdo that I think she is showing her true talent. It's not just that she has such an attractive voice, but she is a real actress. Nakiami has depth.

2008 interview:

-- Yuuyu says she wanted to be a seiyuu from the time she was in grade five. She joined the well-known youth theatre company Wakakusa, and actually got her first role (in Daa! Daa! Daa!) when she was in middle school.

-- She admired her character in that anime. Thought he was cool. But she kept being unable to read the words in her script, partly because she was nervous, partly because she hadn't learned some of the written characters yet.

-- She says in the interview that Renton in Eureka Seven was very different: more natural and vulnerable. She and the rest of the cast -- particularly Nazuka Kaori and Koshimizu Ami -- became close friends. It was almost as if they were on their own space ship.

-- She's happy to get female roles. At first she felt that cute girl roles were just impossible for her, but she does her best.


-- Does she like games? "I love them!" What does she play? She started with things like Donkey Kong, and has had a DS, a PSP, and a Game Boy. She started playing with her high-school friend -- "someone called Koshimizu Ami" -- then with friends at college. At the time of the interview, last October, she was playing Monster Hunter.

-- Her taste in games is masculine, too. Ami tells of Yuuyu asking her what a love-sim game was like, since she had never played one. "Do you fight, and then get to go on a date if you win?" Ami tried to give an example: the player receives a bento lunch from a girl. What does he say? 1. Wow, thank you so much! 2. Just grunts. Yuuko suggested a third possibility: throw the bento away.

Koshimizu Ami pets Sanpei Yuuko

Amisuke and Pe

-- Ami has her own personal nickname for Yuuyu: Pe. They have known each other since they were twelve, when they were both starting their show-business careers and going to the same middle school.

-- Pe is the tsundere. She makes a joke of putting down the big affectionate puppy-dog Ami. Ami says that when they first knew each other, when they were twelve, she admired Yuuko. Yuuko says Ami was a noisy and bothersome tomboy.

radio wedding reception-- On the A&G Ani-Super radio show in January 2007, hosts Asano Masumi and Washizaki Takeshi put on a fake wedding banquet for the two, with Nazuka Kaori and others showing up as guests. Here is a piece I did on the event. And here is the radio broadcast on YouTube.

-- She and Ami were both born in the same month and year, as were their mothers and younger sisters. Ami says she there's a karmic connection between them.

-- The romantic aspect of their relationship may be overblown, but they are certainly close friends. Yuuyu's picture shows up again and again in Ami's blog. They have gone to the hairdresser together. Ami helped her redo her room. And they have made tea together, according to Ami's blog, "late at night." Their new year's greetings on their blogs this year were pictures of each other.

at the hairdresser's with Ami Ami helped her reorganize her room

-- On the other hand, 2channel is now spreading a rumor that Yuuyu and Fukuyama Jun (Lerouche in Code Geass) are an item, citing a photo she took for him at 11:30 one night. The otaku know when it was taken, and by what camera, by analyzing the exif information encoded in the photo, and comparing it to info on photos in Yuuyu's blog. People also say that Jun-chan and Amisuke are friends, because of working together in Code Geass. Amisuke once looked after Jun-chan's dog when he was away. So Amisuke and Pe may have been there together, as far as anyone knows. All three of them are with the Baobab agency. And so it goes.

in honor of the New Year of the bull
batter up

bits and pieces

-- in a recent item on her blog, Yuuyu spoke of being deep in the Tokyo subway and seeing a mother struggling to carry a baby carriage down a flight of stairs. She wondered if the woman was all right and gave her a hand. The baby slept through it all. "To be completely responsible for this little life, a mother has to be so strong."

-- Yuuyu went with her own mother to last fall's Vermeer exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Yuuyu studied art in college. She graduated last March.

-- Yuuyu has a weekly radio show, and tends to get into conversations about subjects such as the physical effects of pregnancy (sore pelvis, diarrhea), problems with menstruation, what kind of underpants she and others wear, and how to get a men's bra for the host of a show. Not so unusual on Japanese TV/radio.

-- She left her long-time agency, Wakakusa, in 2007, and in 2008 joined Amisuke at the big agency Baobab. 2channelers think this move has brought her a number of lucrative guest roles, such as in Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae, and now in Gintama.

with her birthday cake in 2007 doing the 'Birth of Venus' in the radio studio

-- 2channel thinks she has grown much more womanly and sexy over the past year. For one thing, perhaps her new agency is guiding her choice of clothes, away from the checked shirt she used to feature.

photo from her agency's blog
-- Her nickname for herself on her blog is "Yellow Duck."
-- According to Wikipedia, she is 156cm tall (5'1"), and Ami is 168 cm (5'6")
-- She is 22 years old, and was born 1986.2.28
-- Besides her seiyuu work, she works as an announcer on a TV variety show (Hitoshi Matsumoto to suberanai hanashi).
-- She voiced a commercial for the TV drama Zettai Kareshi.
-- She has been the host of five different radio programs.
-- She has done ten games (no ero-games).
-- She did two dubbing jobs last year, one on CSI.
-- She worked with Nazuka Kaori in both Daa Daa Daa and Eureka Seven.
-- Her nickname Yuuyu was given to her in 2002 by Sawashiro Miyuki, whose real given name is also Yuuko.
-- Every week she reads the shounen manga magazines Sunday and Magajin.

Renton (Eureka Seven) Souta (Otogojushi Akazukin) Nozomi (Precure 5) Nakiami (Bounen no Xamdo)

selected roles (full list here (en), here (en), and here (jp)):

(2000) Daa! Daa! Daa! (TV) as Saionji Kanata
(2002) Galaxy Angel A (TV) as Cocomo Peirou
(2004) School Rumble (TV) as Harima Shuuji
(2005) Eureka Seven (TV) as Renton Thurston
(2005) Mushi-Shi (TV) as Ioroi Shinra (ep 1)
(2006) Otogi-Jushi Akazukin (TV) as Suzukaze Souta (eps 26-39)
(2006) D.Gray-man (TV) as Jean Russell
(2006) Katekyo Hitman Reborn! (TV) as Fuuta
(2007) Yes! Precure 5 (TV) as Yumehara Nozomi / Cure Dream
(2007) Darker than BLACK (TV) as Maki (eps 15,16)
(2007) Bokurano (TV) as Machi Youko
(2008) My-Otome 0~S.ifr~ (OAV) as Elliot Chandler
(2008) Xam'd: Lost Memories (ONA) as Nakiami
(2008) Clannad After Story (TV) as Child (ep 3)
(2008) Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae (TV) as Ichimura Kazuya (ep 10)
(2008) Gintama (TV) as Seita (ep 39-)

Renton (left, Yuuyu) and Eureka (Nazuka Kaori) Nazuka Kaori (left) and Yuuko, working on Christmas Eve, 2008


Renton and Eureka (Sanpei Yuuko and Nazuka Kaori) on stage.
Famitsu interview
On Koshimizu Ami's DVD 1 DVD 2
YouTube searches: 三瓶由布子 Sanpei Yuuko Yuko Sanpei
Ami-Yuuko Wedding


Anime News Network
current 2channel thread

radio show blog
agency site

Famitsu interview

Images from the Famitsu interview: