Probably a bit late but oh well.
I didn’t see much anime TV from the spring season and didn’t watch anything that started in the summer so my options are a bit limited. Based on clips and some write-ups about the show I think I would have liked Usagi Drop, but I decided to read some of the manga it’s based on first. And, I didn’t enjoy the first episode at all so I dropped it straight away, but Tiger & Bunny went on to get such a warm response from a lot of fans and critics that I’m sure I’ll revisit it at some point.
My favourite anime TV show from last year was a drama called Wandering Son. The series is based on a manga of the same name and tells the story of a group of classmates at a Japanese middle school, a couple of which are struggling with confusion over their own gender identities. The show had a distinctive visual style that was quite simple and quite beautiful. The plot was obviously melodramatic but still maintained a firm grasp on reality and the story was interesting. The characters seemed improbably mature for their young age but were pleasant enough. The ending of the series wrapped the plot up in a disappointingly derivative and neat way, seeming a bit out of context, but not ruining it entirely. In general I liked the fact that the show was mature and calm, yet sensitive and warm.
A close runner-up was Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which presented a deliciously dark and slightly bizarre take on the classic magical girl genre. Like Wandering Son it felt fresh and I was more than satisfied with all the elements of its production. Unfortunately, also like wandering Son, the series had a disappointing ending. Both shows ended just before the spring and sadly I think the Earthquake/Tsunami in Japan and the immediate aftermath had dramatic effects on the shows productions.
Film wise, as ever not a lot was released in the UK last year, and the assumed 2011 date of release is arguable. I thought that Arrietty, the story of miniature people living in secret in an old house in rural Japan, was in some way a welcome return to form for Studio Ghibli, delivering a simple but excellently realised family adventure. My favourite anime film last year though was the much hyped Redline. The film portrays the events of an illegal futuristic alien automobile race between the fastest drivers in the galaxy as well as the relationships between a couple of the top competitors. The edgy story and extreme characters are straight forward and obvious, but they’re not standard cut outs and there’s no pretentions of depth, so there’s not a problem. The story, characters and fictional world are never boring and along with the fast pace there’s more than enough to hold viewers interest. The reason this film will be remembered, and I assume the main reason it’s got such a strong positive reception in the west, are the visuals. While it’s not quite unheard of (unseen in this case) the explosive, lurid, madcap scrawling style of this artwork has rarely been done like this, and perhaps never to this extent. The detail and almost organic dynamism squeezed into every frame is brilliant. My only real criticism though is that with so much bizarre opulence onscreen it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what’s going on. Indeed probably because of this, I found it hard to fully engage with this work, and so, was not as blown away by it as some fans seem to be.
I’m not entirely sure what anime TV shows are coming later this year, but I’m hopeful I’ll get to see the new Hosada film and the third Evangelion title.
Wandering Son is still available on CrunchyRoll, while I downloaded Puella Magi Madoka Magica fansubs from [gg] I think. Arrietty and Redline are available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray and I believe you can rent or buy Redline in SD and HD on PSN.