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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2010: A Monolithic In Memoriam - Part 1

The turn of a new decade can be a scary thing, but anime fandom has been doomsaying from the top of Mount Fuji for years now so the wholesale heralding of the apocalypse is nothing new.  “Grizzled” fans continue to espouse the halcyon pre-2000 era and even newer fans can easily see how the post-2005 moe-boom has transformed the landscape of the industry into something nigh-on unrecognizable from its early-2000’s-counterpart.  It all seems to have gone downhill after the powerhouse that was 2006 with each successive year consistently dipping in terms of overall quality.  Truly, these are the end of days, no?

Well, if 2010 is any indication, I’d say that the future for anime has never been brighter.  And this is coming from someone who would be the first to call 2009 a putrid, stagnating cesspit.  2010 turned out to be such a dizzying one-eighty that even I was wracked with disbelief at the sheer brilliance of some of the stuff that was coming off of the assembly line.

Without further ado, let’s put all the alarmist notions of the death of cutting-edge, quality anime to rest.

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The Popular

Simply put, this is precisely where most of the disparity stemmed from.  Almost every innovative, exceptional, and just plain kick-ass series’ that aired was flattened under the heels of the populism brigade as they proudly marched forth, waving their banners of controversy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with mainstream appeal in general, just so long as it doesn’t cross the line into shameless pandering; a line which 2010 did, in fact, toe on more than one occasion.

K-ON!!
A show about a bunch of high-school girls who are purportedly part of a light-music club, when, in reality, all they do is meet up to scarf down sweets.

I’m sure Kyoto Animation’s stance on the moe-boom is fairly clear; K-ON! is nothing if not a license to invest in an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of money.  We all knew that K-ON! wasn’t going anywhere after the franchise crossed the realm into animated-territory back in 2009, but a full-blown 26-episode sequel in under a year guaranteed it a spot on the controversial chopping-block, specifically from disgruntled Haruhiists.

But was K-ON!! any good?  While I’ll still chastise the franchise ‘til my dying breath for not actually being about the music, the second season was a significant improvement on the first as it decided to flirt with solid, realistic, yet charming character development to the point where the occasional whiff of genuine emotional fragrance emanating from the depths of the music club room no longer came as a shock.  Admirable, really.  Sure, barriers aren’t being shattered and sure the series has never truly deserved the stupid amount of exposure it’s gotten and continues to receive, but just the fact that K-ON!! started to smack of Azumanga Daioh towards the end is worth more than however many strawberry parfaits one is unable to stop.

Highschool of the Dead
A show about the zombie-apocalypse from the perspective of a motley group of Japanese high school students.  Oh, and there are lots of breasts.

You’re telling me that a series centered on oodles of panty shots, gratuitous, gooey violence, and shambling corpses being sent corkscrewing through the streets of Japan served on a slice of slick animation somehow managed to hog the spotlight for the entire summer season?  Okay, okay, here we have a case of a series that’s fairly decent fanservice fare mixed with not only electrifying evisceration, but a shockingly sturdy cast of characters that are infinitely more likable than the your typical crew of thick, hapless tossers.  Highly-enjoyable, but should have been tossed aside as the piece of diversionary fodder that it was.

Durarara!!
A show about a bevy of supernatural elements clashing in present-day Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

It’s worth remembering that once in a while, something will, in fact, stand as proof of the increasingly-defective adage “It’s popular because it’s good,” and Durarara!! still proves that a series  need not forfeit artistic integrity nor originality in order to fan the flames of hype.  Indeed, this was one of the year’s most talked-about series’, because nothing stokes conversation like snappily-dressed bartenders launching vending machines at deranged parka-clad, parkour-certified trolling demigods as a headless motorcycle-riding fairy attempts to unravel the mystery behind a legion of mind-controlled, psychopathic knife-wielders.

Angel Beats!
A show about an ordinary high-school student suddenly waking up in the afterlife and joining a brigade of other similarly-deadified high-school students to take down a petite, villainous albino girl.

Studio Key does Neon Genesis Evangelion meets The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in Purgatory on the eve of the invasion of the Heartless from Kingdom Hearts.  Seriously.  Is a more eminently-curious-sounding, anime-related threesome even possible? 

While it would have been neat to see Angel Beats! live up to such an inconceivably lofty premise-part of me believes that accomplishing such a feat would result in something that the human race is nowhere near prepared for-this, again, turned out to be pretty good as it dared to dance a jig with creativity and was a commendable little experiment courtesy of Jun Maeda, dodgy pacing aside.  Calling Angel Beats! one of 2010’s best is giving it way too much credit, but  it’s certainly more than worthy of being called the year’s most ambitious.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai
A show about your average typical teenager who discovers that his otherwise model-student of a little sister is obsessed with anime and all manner of eroge.

By far, THE most hotly-debated series of the year, despite airing not more than three months ago, Oreimo takes discussion and transforms it into something akin to finding the elusive eroge-game in the needlestack.  Swimming in disquieting simulacra may be, but at least Oreimo offers a glimpse into what stirs us otaku from our slothful slumber; it’s nice to see such frenzy, fervor and, dare I say it, passion being ignited over the integrity of our mutual pastime.

But I suppose controversy marches on and anime fandom takes another towards puzzling obscurity as the industry proves that the prospect of being hailed as a girl-capturing God is significantly less appealing than being able to brag about having a cute little sister who’s married to her otaku merchandise and lifestyle.  Oh, Japan.

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