Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010: A Monolithic In Memoriam - Part 2

The Good

While they didn’t exactly fly under the radar, 2010’s cream-of-the-crop admittedly did little in the way of making themselves known in the moe-saturated landscape.  And that’s a shame really, considering the creaminess of this year’s crop.  In any case, here is my list for 2010’s Top 5, joining the ranks of so, so many more.

Kaichou wa Maid-sama!
A show about a misandrogynistic student-council president whose secret of working a part-time job at the local Maid-Café is discovered by a flawless Casanova whom she considers a perverted space alien.

Quod erat demonstrandum because naming your series “The Student-Council President is a Maid!” is advertising it as schlock that is so unabashedly cheap and exploitative that you run the risk of even the target audience being offended.  Actually, come to think of it, that’s kind of ingenious in a satirical sort of way.

But seriously, this romantic-comedy is invitingly fresh and sunny, sporting solid humor, a slightly-contrived, yet nonetheless-engaging plot, and lead characters that are much, much stronger than they need to be.  Maid-sama! is truly a worthy addition to the shoujo hall-of-fame alongside hits such as last year’s overlooked Skip Beat! 

A show about a family-restaurant and the day-to-day exasperations faced by the members of its eccentric staff.

I’m well-aware that the fanbase for this show is diminutive, but teeth-bearingly devoted and that its appeal is rather niche.  But it’s such an adorable, energetic lil’ firecracker that I couldn’t help but smile contentedly at the goofy, wacky antics of the spaceiest group of co-workers around.

I can see why the mainstream market wouldn’t regard Working!! as anything more than an amusing, dispensable little time-waster, but, as mentioned, those who do embrace the lightweight, colorful, totally-off-the-rails sitcom for what it is have a hard time letting go, myself included.  To all the naysayers, Working!! might neither be popular nor good, but to us, it’s good because it’s Poplar.

Durarara!! is like Baccano! all grown-up.  It takes Baccano!’s raw sandstorm of energy and distills it into something more textured and sophisticated, all while allowing its chaotic heart to shine through the lacquer.  And like Baccano!, Durarara!!’s strength lies in its eclectic cast of cuh-razy oddballs from all walks of life, all of whom are just as lovable as they are lovably unhinged. 

The rough edges may have been smoothed out, but like the chaos, the gnarl is here to stay, as proven by a sinister and thrilling narrative dealing with what goes on behind-the-scenes in this bizarro version of Ikebukuro, all to the rhythm of snapping spines, clanging blades, and fiery-mouse clicks.  And yet, the magic of Durarara!! is how the series  pulls it off so casually and humbly, with a suave smile that somehow manages to thoroughly captivate while simultaneously screaming ‘stepford.’

A show about a circle of reclusive, obsessive female shut-ins and how their lives radically change once a crossdressing man enters their lives and attempts to liberate them.

There’s not a damn thing about Kuragehime that I don’t love, but let’s just go with the most obvious.  Kuragehime is pure genius for the fact that it completely and enthusiastically shatters the illusion of women in anime.  Just look at how the series so unconcernedly eschews conventional beauty as if to say upfront, “Let’s cut the crap; this is what’s really going on.”

This is a series about laying the issues of societal withdrawal, severe escapism, and otaku-obsession bare for all to see without dabbling with all of the distracting, wanton nonsense that exists only to curry favor à la Oreimo.  Yes, Kuragehime is a lighthearted affair, and yes, most of its cast is composed of loony, overblown caricatures, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s consistently meting out some very enriching and illuminating ideas about femininity, isolation, otakudom, xenophobia, and the realization of one’s potential in life.

Also, those silly little exploratory jellyfish intermissions are the cutest things.

The Tatami Galaxy
A show about the exploits of a starry-eyed, fiercely-determined college student and his attempts at making something out of his college life.  The twist? He seems to have been given the real-life equivalent of 1Ups.

Surprisingly, it’s not all that difficult for me to convey just what it is about The Tatami Galaxy that has propelled it all the way into my top ten five FOUR series’ of all time!  I’ll just jump straight into the run-down.  For one, it’s got a wicked, anachronistic narrative style, the likes of which have been glimpsed elsewhere (Higurashi and ugh… Haruhi '09), but have never felt so natural and ungimmicky. 

For two, it’s intellectual without feeling inaccessible, pretentious, or mind-rending, partly due to the subtle nicking of the heartstrings in order to stimulate emotionally as much as mentally, but mostly thanks to the fact that it actually makes sense and savvily invites interpretation without being too abstract or murky.

Most importantly, however, The Tatami Galaxy is relevant.  As a university student, watching Watashi’s struggle to find and grab hold of that ethereal sense of belonging is a plight that I can relate to without even trying.  And even if college isn’t up your alley, Watashi’s journey is a very pointed look at life in general as well. It’s about discarding those rose-tinted glasses, taking a withering look at the gray panorama of reality, and realizing that to succeed you must color not your vision, but the world around you itself.

And it is the point at which a series can be dubbed “life-changing” where choosing to add it to the zenith of what one has experienced is met with a resounding “Duh!”   Make no mistake, The Tatami Galaxy is indeed 2010’s best offering by a landslide.

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