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Added on: 24/12/2008 15:53
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    The Anime Review of the Year 2008 Part 1


    "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Never has that statement been more appropriate than this year, as the anime industry decided to get a head start on everyone else when it came to the recession. At the end of 2007 in the US, Geneon shut up shop, and left a whole bunch of fans dangling, then early in 2008, ADV deflated like a flatulent balloon, when its Japanese investor Sojitz took the ball, the money and most of its series home with it. That had an immediate effect in the UK, as first ADV UK was wound up as an independent concern (thereafter ADV releases would come through Lace Distribution), then the Sojitz originated releases dried up mid series. Then late in summer, Revelation, who were at that point Funimation's sole outlet in the UK ran out of fuel, and put all of their series on hiatus until 2009.

    But then, Funimation happened, as they first became Geneon's distributors in the US, meaning US fans could see titles like Hellsing Ultimate and Black Lagoon finally completed, and then they picked up most of the Sojitz titles that ADV had lost, making sure that those titles would be completed in the US at least (there's still no news as to what will happen to those hiatused titles in the UK at the time of writing). Also, this autumn, Funimation ended their exclusive arrangement with Revelation, and licensed some titles to Manga Entertainment as well. We've already had the first half of xxxHolic's first season, and there is plenty more to salivate over in 2009.

    In the UK, we may have had the disintegration of ADV, who are currently ticking over with some boxset re-releases of old shows, and Revelation pausing for a breather in September, but Beez continued on their merry way, doing what they do best, MVM have been releasing some choice and eclectic titles over the year, while Manga Entertainment have quickly risen to the position of most desirable anime company in the UK. You can also add to that some unexpected releases from some of the boutique labels. Then of course there is the online revolution. This was the year that anime producers realised that if they couldn't beat the fansubbers, then the only thing to do was to outmanoeuvre them. 12 months ago, if you wanted to watch anime for free online you would have had to bend a copyright law or two. Then Gonzo dipped their toe into the water, and surprisingly it turned out to be a success. Odd really, that people want to watch anime for the price of a broadband connection, and don't mind the odd advert or logo. 2009 will bring Naruto online, free and legal, and that may just be the opening of the floodgates that anime needs to become ubiquitous, in a world where it will ever remain absent on our television screens.

    So 2008 turns out to be utterly schizophrenic. We may have had utter upheaval in the business, but we've also had the best year ever for anime released on UK shores. I have been spoilt for choice this year, and I conservatively guess that I have only seen about a third of the new anime released in the UK this year. Totting up the series that started, ended or continued through 2008, as well as the boxsets, the OVAs, and the movies, I've seen around 50 new titles this year, and that doesn't take the retro anime that I've indulged in this year into account. Is the world supposed to look 2-dimensional and cel-shaded?

    I'll get to my top ten anime of the year when my flu wears off, but first I need to let off some steam with some lesser awards.

    Damp Squib of the Year

    You'd think this would be obvious, as ADV's ignominious decline has been well documented and pointed derisively at over the year, as well as lamented and mourned. But the truth is that I don't watch too many ADV series, and it's only of late that the Sojitz loss has affected my purchasing decisions. I do watch a lot of Revelation titles though, and I must admit that the full stop this autumn was infuriating. But, they did manage to complete one series this year, and get more than halfway through all the others they have been releasing.

    The winner is…

    Initial D. VDI Entertainment promised a new way of releasing anime earlier this year, when they decided to release this classic medium length anime series. Released on around 15 or so discs in the US, the VDI approach would be to licence the series without in anyway altering the discs, and just package them as three disc omnibus volumes at an amazingly knock-down price. Ever since I saw the movie and read the manga, I've been interested in Initial D, and volume 1 was a quick purchase. I then pre-ordered the next volume, which was delayed, then delayed some more, and then finally cancelled. A prime example of what happens when you don't bother advertising your product.

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    Bargain of the Year

    This is where I crow about all the stuff that I bought this year. Actually there is a point to this award beyond stroking my own ego. I always hear that anime is an expensive hobby, and because it's a niche medium, companies have to fleece customers just to break even. And that's used by some as a justification to download and burn onto disc, series that are readily available in local stores. But those days are long gone, especially when the year began with MVM cutting it's RRP to £15.99, and Manga going straight for the boxset option, giving you for £25 pre-discount what previously would have cost £60. Just have a browse around Play's anime section, if you can find it, and you'll find hundreds of series discs discounted by 50-75%, and a similar rate for boxsets. I started the year snaffling Appleseed and Paprika for a fiver each, and also got Last Exile and Azumanga Daioh collections from them for under £25. In any other year that would have been a prize catch, but this was the year of the 2-dollar pound, which made importing from the US almost compulsory. I had over 5 new release series boxsets for under the customs limit, Cowboy Bebop for £14, and a similar price for Noein. And don't think the recession has changed matters much, 2 weeks ago I bought the R1 Tenchi Muyo GXP 8-discs worth for £17.99. And that's still not my bargain of the year…

    The winner is…

    The ADV UK closing down sale. Is it wrong to benefit from someone's misfortune? When ADV UK folded this January, all of a sudden a warehouse needed emptying. Suddenly, thousands of discs were at £1 each, and suddenly the Interweb ground to a halt through the customer frenzy. But I managed to snag 6 series, 28 discs worth for £32. My joy was only slightly restrained at the thought that it had come from the demise of a much-loved company. But if no-one had bought the discs, the company would have folded anyway, and the happy coda to the story is that the ADV name still lives on, those series and discs that were hastily cleared out are still available in slightly more expensive boxset form, and I can now watch Madlax and Excel Saga without any sense of guilt. Now you're probably thinking that the £1 a disc sale was a one off, a freak event and that you'll have to shell out a major fraction of your wallet to get a similar bargain. Venture forth to the Anime On Line website, where right now you can purchase all of The Adventures of Mini Goddess, and all of the astounding Serial Experiments Lain for a pound a disc. You can have for £8, what originally would have set you back £160 at full retail prices. Don't say anime is too expensive.

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    Fan Service of the Year

    Sex sells, as we all know, especially to stereotypical anime fans that appreciate a flash of cleavage, a hint of thigh, or a blatant up-skirt panty shot. Anime is replete with these moments, but the ones that stuck in my mind when all was said and done include, Revy's incredibly high cut denim shorts in Black Lagoon, Haruhi Suzumiya's fascination with Mikuru's breasts in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Burst Angel Infinity, because it's Burst Angel, and Witchblade would have won it for the most imaginative use of a merkin, were it not for that pesky story and emotional strength. Fan service has to have no redeeming features what so ever, which is why…

    The winner is…

    Daphne In The Brilliant Blue, for moments like this…

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    Music of the Year

    We were spoilt for choice when it came to toe-tapping melodies in an animated form this year, with two music based anime to begin with. The eighties pop soundtrack was Gravitation's only redeeming feature, although not everyone would agree that eighties pop should be described that way, while Beck offered two doses of Rock, courtesy of a selection of j-Rock bands and some talented English dub artists. If techno was your thing, then Vexille would have been a must buy, coming with a thunderous Paul Oakenfold soundtrack, but any other year, my love for the inventive and eclectic genius of Yoko Kanno would have made Cowboy Bebop a shoe-in, especially coming in its 5.1 Remix incarnation.

    The winner is…

    FLCL. Yoko Kanno is brilliant, but this anime, coupled with the songs of Japanese band The Pillows is simply transcendental. The Pillows took Britpop, twisted it, re-invented it and came up with three albums worth of material that vanished without a trace on initial release. Then director Kazuya Tsurumaki realised that the music fit his surreal and atmospheric imagery like a glove and the rest is history. The sweet thing about the FLCL releases is that they come with a music only track, letting you turn off the dialogue and just bask. Put it this way, if you buy FLCL, you will hunt down the soundtrack.

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    Cash In of the Year

    In a world where the re-release and repackage is standard operating procedure, it takes talent to provoke this cynic, but it's been managed. Burst Angel Infinity almost had it for a full price disc with 25 minutes of new material, bolstered by 2 hours of series recap. Manga Entertainment might have had it with the Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex movies, re-edited and distilled from the first and second series, if only they weren't so enjoyable, and Revelation's release of the Full Metal Alchemist movie 2-disc edition, almost a year to the day after the release of the single disc version could have had Double-Dip printed on the sleeve to save time.

    The winner is…

    Neon Genesis Evangelion. ADV re-re-re-released the boxset, again-again-gain-ain-ain…

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    Female Character of the Year

    This award is going to lean in a certain direction that not everyone will appreciate. I like strong female characters, so the chances of cute or moe popping up is very unlikely. Although I'd defy anyone not to have a soft spot for Shinobu from Love Hina. Women (and girls) who sparked my interest this year included the twisted and manipulative Yuko from xxxHolic, the tough as nails Casca from Berserk, the eponymous melancholic Haruhi, whose manic depression gave non-stop entertainment, the traditional fan favourite Faye Valentine who showed up in the Cowboy Remix collection, and the clothing deprived berserker Masane Amaha from Witchblade, whose maternal side was masked by a costume for which brevity is an understatement.

    The winner is…

    Revy. In a year replete with kick-ass females, Revy is the kick-assiest of the lot. She's the bloodlust driven gunslinger of the Black Lagoon crew, who gives the Grim Reaper a run for his money when it comes to bodycount. She takes no crap from anyone, and shoots first and doesn't bother with the questions. Yet she has a wry sense of humour, and a playful side that she usually keeps concealed. You'll also delude yourself into thinking that under that hard, tattooed exterior there is a soft centre that the right guy could melt. And you're probably right. But inside that soft centre is a hollow point bullet that will take your brains out afterwards.

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    Male Character of the Year

    It's only fair to cater for the opposite end of the spectrum, and the most impressive male anime characters this year included Mushi-shi's Ginko. An ethereal spooky anthology series needs a male lead that is understated and cool, and Ginko is the epitome of cool. Then there is Beck's lead singer Chiba, who is the anticool, but has a mischievous streak that lights up the screen whenever he appears. In terms of the badass quotient, there are two candidates, with Berserk's Guts leaving a trail of corpses behind him with an unfeasibly large sword. If you suggest he's compensating for something, you'll end up bisected. While 'good' vampire Alucard from Hellsing Ultimate actually saved a life by shooting the damsel in distress through the heart to kill the vampire using her as a human shield. In terms of sheer quirkiness, you can't discount L, the master detective who tries to solve the Death Note murders, and who I've described on more than one occasion as a demented raven of a sleuth.

    The winner is…

    Spike Spiegel. He's an oldie but a goody, and it's not my fault that Bandai re-released Cowboy Bebop this year, although it did make my decision making a lot easier. He's got all the cool and collectedness of Ginko, along with a mischievous streak, and when it comes to the crunch he can be badass too. As for quirky, well his hairstyle is similar to L's. Spike is truly a man for all seasons, and he knows Jeet Kune Do as well.

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    Ugliest Anime of the Year

    It takes a lot for me to be repulsed by the look of an anime, after all, I've seen Yugo The Negotiator and Gilgamesh, but some shows do manage to look so ugly that I briefly consider watching live-action instead. I mean okay, Daphne In The Brilliant Blue may be dripping with fan service, but look at those character designs, about as alluring as an ulcer. Gravitation could have used a budget, while Love Hina Again managed to look absolutely nothing like Love Hina.

    The winner is…

    MAR. Yes, it's for the younger demographic, who like bright and shiny, who like characters on a permanent sugar high, but did they really have to invent two new primary colours to burn my retina with. And no expense was spent on integrating the CGI with the 2D animation. If you didn't know any better, you'd think someone was channel hopping between two shows.

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    Villain of the Year

    I can tell you right now that there isn't going to be a hero of the year, they are just too dull. But villains who can creep me out, who can chew the scenery, who can send chills down the spine, or can just make laugh, are all not to be sniffed at. You certainly wouldn't sniff at the Valentine Brothers, Luke and Jan, who would probably rip your head off and spit down your neck for your trouble. The two vampires thought they could match up to Alucard in Hellsing Ultimate, and Luke wanted to be so much like his nemesis that he even adopted the same haircut. Meanwhile Jan pimped and hip-hopped his way through the bloodbath. They may have met grisly ends, but they sure entertained us on the way. Black Lagoon is a series replete with villains, even the protagonists are villains, so it takes a special sort of assassin to make a permanent impact. This show had two, twins to be precise, Romanian twin children who bathed in the blood of their victims, tormented their targets and who would creep out Hannibal Lecter with their incestuous murderous antics. Basilisk had the worst kind of villain, the one that just doesn't stay dead no matter how many times you kill him. Tenzen of the Iga would do whatever it took to dominate Oboro and twist her will, going as far as raping her if necessary. And they were on the same side. Then there is Light Yagami, who once he got the Death Note, figured it would be a nice idea to be a God. He's the sort of villain you like, the sort that you agree with, the sort you actually support, until he crosses that certain line.

    The winner is…

    Papillon. Buso Renkin's arch nemesis is the most memorable villain of them all, because no one else was evil enough to wear this…

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    Prettiest Anime of the Year

    It's only fair that I extol the virtues of pretty anime after I pointed out the ugly side, and there have been some dreamy animations this year. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is an absolutely beautiful piece that shows the best of traditional 2D animation, while 3D CG fans are catered for by the amazing techno tour-de-force that is Vexille. I have never seen as warm and lush a series as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, while for sheer ethereal beauty you'd be hard pressed to better Mushi-shi.

    The winner is…

    Time Of Eve. It's a made for Internet anime, depressingly short at 15 minutes an episode, only six episodes at that, and released achingly slowly at an episode every three months or so. But there is a reason for this slow pace, as the care and attention that goes into each episode is astounding. The character designs are excellent, the world design is lush, intricate and rich beyond belief, and each episode is an exquisite package of perfection. It is the prettiest anime on the Internet.

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    Mindtrip of the Year

    Animation is a diverse medium, one in which the animators' imaginations can be allowed to run riot. It makes for some entertaining anime to be sure, but it also means that some shows head off in directions that require the use of certain chemical enhancements to fully appreciate. Fortunately there weren't so many anime this year as to cause an overdose, but there were enough to justify inventing an award. Class A anime this year included Berserk, a historical mediaeval action series, full of character development and politicking that in its final arc descended into the lower rings of hell. All of a sudden, the wimples and armour, the jousting and the lute music were replaced by a blood red landscape of faces, an army of demons, and a whole sackful of WTF! In a good way. Then there is FLCL, or Fooly-Cooly, or Furi-Kuri. When your series begins with an alien girl on a Vespa clouting the protagonist over the head with a bass guitar, leading his brain to be replaced by a dimensional gateway from which emerge all manner of odd robots, you know you're not in Kansas anymore.

    The winner is…

    The Revolutionary Girl Utena Movie. Picture the scene. You've been hard at work creating an anime series about a girl who goes to a boarding school, pretending to be a boy, who then winds up fighting duels for the hand of the school princess. You've just made almost 40 episodes of this series, and it's really quite popular. Suddenly you get a budget and are told to make a movie of the show. Do you edit the best bits of the series down into the movie, do you create a new animation from scratch that tells the same story, or do you carry on from where the series ends, making a movie that only fans would appreciate? Director Kunihiko Ikuhara did something different, he tore up what had been done before, and started from scratch, putting the characters into an alternate universe, one in which the laws of physics just don't work, and telling the whole story as metaphor. I watched it twice in a row, and I still only have the barest grasp of what's going on.

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    Worst Anime of the Year

    This year, I realised I missed the whole boat on the Lupin III thing when I got to watch my second Lupin movie, The Secret of Mamo (The Castle Of Cagliostro doesn't count as Miyazaki directed that, and he is a genius). No genius directed The Secret of Mamo and it tells, with a dated and tiresome film that I found utterly charmless and unsatisfying. I'm not going to be popular among Lupin fans… Or Gravitation fans for that matter, as it's not a good start to have as your protagonist a character that the audience wants to kill, then resurrect only to kill again. These two titles saved Gonzo from taking a clean sweep, although I only count Burst Angel: Infinity on value for money grounds. The same can't be said for Black Cat, which was a narrative mess, overloaded with forgettable characters, while Trinity Blood was all this, with the added deficit of the worst ending in anime history. (Before you ask, yes, I have managed to erase Voltron from my brain).

    The loser is…

    Blassreiter. I now understand why some anime is given away free on the Internet. I tuned in weekly for this drek like a well programmed drone, and watched from beginning to end everything I hate about Gonzo, a tired post-apocalyptic future setting, a load of conspiracy theories, awful storytelling, miserable characterisations, and a sense of self-importance that is laughable given how tired, worn out, and re-used the formula actually is… with zombies.

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    All votes were cast by me, tallied by me, and the results decided by me. The judges' decision is final. I am the judges. All proceeds of the phone vote go to my wallet. There were no proceeds of the phone vote. Coming soon, my top ten of the year.


    Your Opinions and Comments

    I'm not a big Anime fan, but so many stills of it make me think I'm missing out, heh.
    posted by Robee J Shepherd on 2/1/2009 12:15