Top 10 Anime of 2008

It’s that time of year again…time to rank the top 10 shows of 2008.  Of course, the usual caveat: this only includes shows which I watched, which this year was only about 20, so it was a kind of slow year for me.  Nevertheless, this list still boasts a pretty impressive list of shows.

10. Birdy the Mighty: Decode

Birdy the Mighty Decode LogoIsn’t it every boy’s dream to have easy access to a female body?  Well, Tsutomu in theory is living that dream, except the girl is in control of the body because she accidentally destroyed his.  Oops!  What results is a mix of action and comedy which is pretty well executed all told, with Tsutomu frequently getting freaked out by Birdy’s alien ways.

Two things held this series back: animation, which wasn’t exactly top-notch, and the fact that, after Tsutomu gets his body back, they find away in the end to make him and Birdy share bodies again.  I guess Tsutomu just thinks that he can be immortal as long as Birdy is there to absorb him whenever he takes a notion to destroy his body.  The one minus that this sets up is that it implies that the gimmick of them changing bodies is the only real draw of the show, and the writer’s belief that they can’t have a successful show without that gimmick.  I’m not sure that bodes well for the second season, but that doesn’t necessarily impact this season all that much.

9. Kurenai

KurenaiKurenai ekes into the top 10 list by doing a reasonably good job at two things: writing and animation.  Perhaps the best part of this series is watching the struggle and growth of the characters as they have to adapt to new environments, particularly Shinkuro, who is trying to find his true strength, and Murasaki, who has to adapt to living out in the “real world” now, all while having a powerful family chasing after them.

However, this show has a few weaknesses as well.  First, the show’s conclusion in a sense made a compromise with the devil – accommodating an evil family which probably shouldn’t be accommodated in the least, taking the air out of a lot of what everyone was fighting for and protecting throughout the show.  Second, I think overall this series, despite it’s overall good writing, missed some chances to turn Kurenai from simply a good series into a great series.  The theme music, particularly the opening theme, also didn’t seem to match the show at all and just seemed kind of weird.  However, overall it was still a pretty good show.

8. The Secret of Haruka Nogizaka

The Secret of Haruka Nogizaka logoThe mantle of “Otaku Show of the Year” probably goes out to The Secret of Haruka Nogizaka this year as there are anime references galore, as well as every otaku’s dream:  A girl otaku. A hot girl otaku.  A hot, popular girl otaku.  A hot, popular girl otaku who likes you because you don’t shun her once you discover her secret of being an otaku.  A hot, popular girl otaku who likes you because you don’t shun her once you discover her secret of being an otaku and who likes to cosplay as Shana.  I mean, can it get any better than that?

I guess one of the nice things about this show, as opposed to something like, say, Lucky Star, is “normal people can be otaku too.”  However outwardly odd Konota is in Lucky Star is how outwardly normal Haruka is in Secret.  Yes, she illicitly sneaks off to Akihabara every now and then, but overall she’s your normal high schooler.  Of course, the series is also hilarious on top of all of this too.  The main problem is that it’s a little thin in the plot department, but given that the purpose of this series is to have fun, and I had fun watching it, it goes into the top 10 list.

7. Shion no Ou (2nd half)

Shion no OuThe conclusion of Shion no Ou dealt with the big shogi tournament being sponsored by Satoru, Hani-meijin’s brother, from the start of the final state of the tournament where the 9 bracket winners plus 3 of the bracket runner-ups face off in a 12-person bracket to determine the winner of the tournament.  As a result, a few of the games played last through multiple episodes, but the writers are able to keep the show interesting nevertheless.  Increasing the attention on solving the mystery of who solved Shion’s parents just adds more intrigue into the show as well.

The main weakness of this show is that, if watching people play shogi bores you to death, then this show may not be for you, as a lot of time is spent with the characters playing.  I thought that the show did a pretty good job keeping the episodes interesting despite this, but I can easily see if people disagree with that.  However, overall I thought the conclusion to Shion was pretty well executed.

6. Nijuu Mensou no Musume

Nijuu Mensou no MusumeI should note before starting: fansubs have only come out for 20 of 22 episodes.  However, I felt that it was complete enough that I could put it in the rankings.

Having said that, Nijuu Mensou is a show with a very good premise and animation.  It’s set in the mid-20th century – an era which you don’t see a lot of anime shows set in, so it is unusual in that aspect.  And Twenty Faces himself makes this series pretty compelling, to say nothing about Chiko, his all-but-adoptive daughter and title character.

Two things keep Nijuu Mensou from being a truly great show however: reuse of the “OMG Twenty Faces died! Oh, nevermind!” gimmick probably one too many times, and the fact that the series goes into stranger territory than I was expecting for the show.  Nevertheless, Nijuu Mensou still puts together a very solid performance.

5. Soul Eater (first 3/4)

Soul EaterSoul Eater is a very fascinating show.  It’s quite different from just about anything else, yet Bones is able to pull it off pretty well.  However, the thing that really drives Soul Eater is the wealth of unique characters.  While some of the character development is a little odd (Maka and Soul don’t seem to be very powerful for a pair to have almost created a Death Scythe – especially with only six Death Scythes existing the world, suggesting that it’s a very hard thing to accomplish), it is generally pretty good.  All three pairs are compelling in their own unique ways.

If I have one beef with this series (actually two), it’s that it veered off it’s original premise – gathering 99 kishin eggs and one witch’s soul – pretty quickly, and it has a bad habit of drawing things out to death (how many episodes did it take to get through the battle at Shibusen, anyway?)  However, all told, Soul Eater still puts in a very solid performance.

4. CLANNAD (2nd half) / CLANNAD: After Story (1st half)

CLANNADFor the second straight year, CLANNAD comes in at #4 in the list.  Since the first series of CLANNAD exited it’s “four-episodes-an-arc” mode and got more into mixing arcs or telling an overarching story, and since we got into CLANNAD: After Story which, until the lastest episodes, centered around more minor characters, this series has fallen in favor a little bit (though obviously not very much).

CLANNAD is still very much the class of both 2007 and 2008, and presumably will contend for a top spot on this list in 2009 as well.  We might not be in arcs for the main girls, but the storytelling is still pretty good, if not a little slow going at this point, which is why it only comes in 4th on the list.

3. Toradora! (1st half)

Toradora!The choice between 2nd and 3rd was very close, and I think the fact that Toradora was in it’s first half while the 2nd placing show was in it’s concluding half was the main reason why Toradora came in at #3.

Toradora is a very, very good show – one which I think may challenge for the #1 spot in 2009 if they keep up what they’re doing in the first half into the 2nd half of the show.  While Toradora has a somewhat familiar flavor – it is, afterall, essentially a slice-of-life harem show – there is still something about it and (especially) it’s characters which makes it different, and a lot better than shows that it might be compared to.  It pulls off good drama and comedy almost simultaneously and still gets in some good character exploration and storytelling to boot.

2. Shakugan no Shana II (2nd half)

Shakugan no ShanaThe first half of this show didn’t even grace the top 10 list in 2007, just to show how far it came in the second half of the series.  We started with Pheles, then moved to Sabrac, then on to the Bal Masqué’s ultimate plan at the end.  There was hardly time to breathe and Shana and friends moved from one major confrontation to the next, making the second half of Shakugan no Shana II one of the best action shows in quite a while, not just 2008.

1. ef – a tale of melodies

ef - a tale of melodiesImproving on it’s sibling’s 3rd place finish last year, ef – a tale of melodies was nothing short of epic.  And to think that 40% of this show (the Kuze/Mizuki arc) was pretty dull, that just shows how good the other 60% of the show (the Yuu/Yuuko) arc was.  If the entire show was just that arc, ef – a tale of melodies would not only contend for best show of 2008, but also perhaps for best show, period.

This show had (almost) everything – romance, drama, shocking plot twists, and more.  You almost couldn’t help but me drawn into the show.  And the fact that the show isn’t afraid to put your heart at ease, only to tear it out in the next episode just makes this show all that much better.

Kurenai – Anime Review

The Essentials

Name: Kurenai
Genre: Drama
Episodes: 12
Released: April 3, 2008 – June 16, 2008
Based On: Kurenai light novels by Kentarou Katayama
Director: Kou Matsuo
Produced By: Brains Base
US Distribution By: N/A

Major Japanese Cast

Murasaki Kuhoin: Aoi Yūki
Shinkuro Kurenai: Miyuki Sawashiro
Benika Jūzawa: Sawa Ishige
Yayoi Inuzuka: Aiko Ōkubo
Ginko Murakami: Nozomi Masu
Yūno Hōzuki: Ryoko Shintani
Tamaki Mutō: Asami Sanada
Yamie: Haruka Kimura
Renjō Kuhōin: Takaya Kuroda

Major English Cast

N/A

Scores

Animation: 10/10 (x 4 = 40 pts)
Story: 8/10 (x 4 = 32 pts)
Music: 7/10 (x 4 = 28 pts)
Coherence/Story Arc: 9/10 (x 2 = 18 pts)
English Dubs: N/A
Gut Score: 8/10 (x 5 = 40 pts)

Total: 158/190 (83.2%)

Review

Kurenai is about a small girl, Murasaki Kuhoin, who has been rescued from her family’s compound by Benika and Yayoi. The reason for the rescue is the Kuhoin’s family tradition of keeping their women isolated within their compound so they can effectively be used as baby factories for the family and to keep them under control for that purpose.

Shinkuro, who works for Benika mostly by beating up thugs or acting as a bodyguard, is tasked with protecting Murasaki from the Kohoins, who would be searching for her to minimize any influence the outside world may have on her and to keep her family secret, well, secret.

While Shinkuro protects Murasaki in his small apartment, he gets support from two of his friends at school – Ginko, who is an informant, and Yuno, who is his sparring partner – as well as the other apartment tenants who help take care of Murasaki while Shinkuro goes to school.

Kurenai is a pretty well written show which would probably be best classified as slice-of-life as Murasaki learns about the world outside of the Kuhoin compound. The show handles this much better than the traditional “rich girl get exposed to real life” shows, largely because it is done in a way which seems more realistic instead of going for over-the-top comedy.

The strong point for the show is definitely the bulk of it’s writing as well as it’s animation. While the animation may take a little getting used it, it’s quality is still excellent. One of the show’s weaker points is it’s music, with the credit sequences having music that doesn’t really fit the mood of the series, and background music which is very toned down. The ending of the series may also be very hit or miss for the series and, depending on one’s point of view, could make it ambiguous on whether the good guys actually won or lost.

Overall, if you’re looking for a pretty well written and more reality-grounded slice of life series, then you may want to check out Kurenai.

First Watched: April – June 2008
Do I Own: No
Do I Recommend: Yes

April 2008 Impressions

I used to (try) to do this quarterly (as in every 6 to 7 episodes), but it tended to not go too well since I was at various stages of watching different series, and so shows often were not on a quarter mark at the same time, resulting in my putting off, and in the end never actually doing, this. Thus, I shall do what everyone else does and do it monthly, so hopefully I’ll actually do it this time.

In any case, here are my thoughts on the whopping 7 anime series I’m watching this season. Subbed episodes watched in ():

First Tier

1. Nijuu Mensou no Musume (3)

A.k.a. The Daughter of Twenty Faces, a.k.a. Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief.

I like this show. I really like this show. I’m not exactly sure why, as the genre isn’t one I typically watch a lot, but there is just something about shows set in the mid-1900s (but with some fancy technology! who can say no to futuristic dirigibles?) about a mysterious thief and a girl who tags along with him just makes this an interesting show, and it’s being executed beautifully so far I think.

I still think it’s still largely in the pre-story, if you will, three episodes in, but I’ll be really interested to see how this series goes once Chiko actually starts getting into some action.

This probably wins out over Kurenai as the best show so far based on animation, as I think the animation in this show is a little cleaner.

2. Kurenai (4)

And speaking of Kurenai, it comes in 2nd so far this season, albeit a close one. Much like Nijuu Mensou, this is in a genre which I don’t typically watch. So far this has been interesting, and the interaction between Shinkuro and Murasaki is a highlight of the show, though there is still quite a lot which has been hinted at, but not revealed yet.

I think the main weakness of this show is it’s animation. This is kind of an odd topic as the animation is pretty good, but at times it just looks…weird to me.  I’ll probably get used to it eventually, though. Also, I think this series is on a little shakier ground in that I think it has a better chance of falling into something I don’t like, though it hasn’t shown much indication that it will yet.

Second Tier

3. Soul Eater (3)

This is a late pick up on my part based on how well received it appeared to be by other bloggers.  The best way I can describe this show is “kookie,”  but I mean that in a good way after 3 episodes.  The premise seems interesting enough, though the show itself has said that it’s just finished with the prologue, so we’ll see how good it is now that we’re into the real part of the show.  At least this show has been reasonably entertaining.

4. Maid Guy (3)

Maid Guy is in the 2nd tier, but just barely. I think I gave it the benefit of the doubt in that it wasn’t supposed to be much more than a comedy where Maid Guy torments the female lead, and it has definitely been that. The fact that I’ve found it more entertaining than the other series blow this also helps it out (though that doesn’t say much about those other shows).

Having said that, this series is still teetering on disaster and can still become a bore if it’s creators let it. Right now it’s doing fine, but it can definitely go either way at this point.

Third Tier

5. The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk (4)

After a hilarious first episode, this series settled down into what it intended to be: a fantasy, adventure series. That led to a hard landing after the 2nd episode, but I think it has since at least brought itself back to the point where it has a potential to be a good series. It’s not there yet, but it can be. Now that they’re actually in the tower and going around, I’ll have to see whether this series heads up or down itself.  It definitely looks like they’re trying to infuse some comedy into it here and there, but they just haven’t quite hit the mark yet.

6. Real Drive (2)

You know it’s a bad sign when you’ve watched two episodes and you don’t have much of an idea of what is going on.  It has great animation, though that can be a negative when you have a 70 year old man-service scene in the first episode.  Also, if you need to start creating definition cards at the end of the episode which are paragraphs long, perhaps you need to rethink how well you are explaining things in the show itself.  This series definitely has one of the more interesting premises this seasons, but it’s also off to one of the worst starts as well.

7. Special A (3)

I’m invoking the “Shakugan no Shana II rule” and putting my most disappointing series so far in the rear. After a promising first episode, this series has seriously gone downhill fast. I can see the jokes. I know they’re intended to funny. But they just aren’t. Also, who has heard of a school-based romance comedy with no school related activities, no significant romance, and very little actual comedy (at least that makes me laugh much)? That’s what I thought.

First Impressions: Kurenai

Since the second episode just popped up on tosho, I thought I would tell you what I thought of the first episode of Kurenai.

In this episode, we basically set up the fact that the protagonist, Shintaro, has some sort of power (which can cause him problems at times) which allows him him to take on high-risk jobs. His most recent job is to take care of Murasaki, a 9 year old closeted rich girl, and protect her – largely from her father who appears to prioritize image over family and goes berserk when he finds out that Murasaki is missing from the family enclave.

I was intrigued by Murasaki, because while she acted like a little rich brat at times (“someone couldn’t possibly live in a place like this?!”), she at least appears to accept Shintaro and his way of life relatively easily. Sure she fusses for a little bit, and even leaves his apartment and gets lost when Shintaro goes to school because she’s bored, but she isn’t being all like “be my slave!” like someone such as Hazuki in Moon Phase.

There is obviously quite a bit that we just saw a little, tiny bit of which needs to be unfolded in this series, so I’m interested in how it turns out.

The only thing that seemed odd to me was that neither the opening nor ending credit sequences seemed to fit the episode at all. Whether that means we just have weird credits or whether the feeling of the series will shift, I guess we’ll eventually find out.

Spring 2008 Blogging Slate

So, it’s about time that I actually decide what Spring 2008 series I want to blog. My goal for the Spring 2007 season is to have 3 series – preferably 1 full season (24 – 26 episodes), 1 half-season (12 – 13 episodes), and one that can be either. Now, this is complicated by the fact that the length of many series isn’t even known, and even if we think we know it, it may be wrong (e.g. Shion from Fall 2007).

Factoring this in, the following is what I have selected as my Spring 2008 blogging slate:

Kamen no Maid Guy, Special-A, Nijuu Mensou no Musume, and Candy Boy

Kamen no Maid Guy

Starts Airing: April 5, 25:35
Station: AT-X
Episodes: Unknown
Director: Masayuki Sakoi (Princess Resurrection, Strawberry Panic!)
Webpage: http://www.maidguy.com/

From My Anime List:

Fujiwara Naeka is a typical 17 year-old high school student. Or so we thought. She’s really one of two surviving heirs of a tycoon who has the right to inherit his mass fortune when she turns 18 in half a year. Fubuki, a young and beautiful maid, and Kogarashi, a big burly maid guy with a mask, have been assigned to keep Naeka and her brother Kousuke safe from those who would plot their demise, and to steal the fortune she would inherit.

Kamen no Maid Guy preview

Special A

Starts Airing: April 6, 25:30
Station: Chiba TV
Episodes: 24
Director: Yoshikazu Miyao (Gad Guard)
Webpage: http://special-a.jp/

From ANN:

Hikari Hanazono, the main character, has always been second to Kei Takishima. While Hikari considers Kei a rival and somewhat of a friend, Kei loves Hikari. Everyone knows this, but she is too dense to notice. Their wrestling loving fathers first introduced them to one another when they were 6 years old. Assuming that she was the best in wrestling, young Hikari challenged Kei to a wrestling match only to be thoroughly defeated by him. Ever since that fateful incident, Hikari swore to beat Kei in school grades, a sporting event – anything. To do this she has enrolled in the same school as Kei since elementary. Now she attends Hakusenkan, an ultra elite school, that costs her carpenter father a lot of money. Hikari and Kei are the top two students in the school, with Kei holding firmly to that number one position

Special A preview

Nijuu Mensou no Musume

Starts Airing: April 12, 26:05
Station: Fuji TV
Episodes: 22
Director: Nobuo Tomizawa (Futakoi, Ramen Fighter Miki)
Webpage: http://www.chico-tv.com/

From My Anime List:

The story revolves a female thief named Chico, who is the spiritual successor to the Kaijin Nijū-Mensō (The Fiend with 20 Faces) thief character created by famed suspense and detective novelist Ranpo Edogawa.

Nijuu Mensou no Musume preview

Candy Boy

Starts Airing: May 2, N/A
Station: Online (Niconico Anime Channel)
Episodes: 7
Director: Takafumi Hoshikawa (Happy Lesson)
Webpage: http://candyboy.jp/

From My Anime List:

Twin sisters, Yukino and Kanade Sakurai, room together in the dorms at their high school, enjoying school life with their friends and one another. One day, Sakuya Kamiyama, an underclassman, seeks out Yukino, while Kanade learns from a friend that Sakuya has admired Yukino for a very long time. This innocent revelation sets into motion a chain of events that eventually lead to Yukino expressing her feelings for her sister.

Candy Boy preview

Three notes here:

First, no, I don’t have any series which is a confirmed half-series, partly because I’m not confident that any of the shows that I might want to blog would be half-seasons, so I just picked the one I most wanted to blog.

Second, yes, I have four series, not three. The reason for that is that Candy Boy is only 7 episodes long, and starts after my summer break for my masters classes starts, meaning that I’m in the clear as far as school is concerned by then.

Third, these are dependent on being available on torrent subtitled (which can be an adventure sometimes. See: Gunslinger Girl 2) and not licensed.

As for other shows that I’ll probably end up watching (but not blogging) in this season, I’ll probably watch Real Drive, The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of URUK if for no other reason than to try out GONZO’s new anime distribution experiment, Kure-nai, and maybe Allison and Lillia, plus any other series that sound like they have potential based on what other people write about.

Spring 2008 Anime Preview

It’s that time again: It’s time to look at what anime is airing in the Spring 2008 season. Shows are listed in alphabetical order.

There are 7 possible levels of ratings that I’ll give a show:

  • Will definitely blog it
  • May blog it
  • Will definitely watch it
  • May watch it
  • May watch it if I hear good things about it
  • Probably Won’t Watch it
  • Won’t watch it

As usual, I’m leaving out sequels to series that I haven’t seen yet (which I think is all of them this season), as well as anything that seems to obviously be a children’s show. As usual, thanks to the Fansub Wiki for keeping a great list of upcoming shows.

When you’re finished reading this, feel free to go over and take my poll asking which series you’d like to see blogged.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way…here we go!

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