Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Year in Review: Anime

One of my major goals this past year was to view a number of anime considered classics by the community/fanbase. While I still feel there are a number of 'classics' I have yet to tackle, I conquered a few major titles this year, as well as some series and films that I simply wanted to watch based on my own personal interest. As a whole, my feelings toward the anime I viewed this year were rather positive - there was only one in the bunch that left a strikingly negative impression upon me. Even something like Deadman Wonderland, a series that I would probably not have otherwise watched had it not aired on the revived Toonami, proved interesting, to say the least. There are a number of series and films I hope to complete in 2013, but before I begin any of those, here is a recap of every anime I reviewed in 2012.

Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor: Her brother Shion and father having left home in the wake of a number of organizations targeting them, young Suou Pavlichenko is left confused as she finds herself wrapped up in the affairs of Contractors. Misaki Kirihara is still present, though her role is scaled back in order to balance the story between Suou's coming of age and learning what being a Contractor is all about and Hei's rediscovering his own aims as he has become a shadow of his former self. The question of where Contractors and humans meet at crossroads is brought back into the spotlight, manifesting more prominently through Suou but also drawing out some comedic moments from the doll July, who grows attached to the lead cast over time. Though the last few episodes feel forcibly convoluted, this sequel series as a whole is far more streamlined and focused than the first. My rating: 9

The Animatrix: An interesting collection of short anime episodes, The Animatrix presents many different interpretations of The Matrix. Some tales focus on events that precede the core films, while most are side stories that bear loose or even zero connections to the major players of the series. There are a few lackluster tales in the batch, but for the most part The Animatrix proves a solid collection. My rating: 8.25

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: Sequel to the series that effectively defined the rules of the mecha genre, Zeta Gundam takes the vision of space colonies and mobile suit combat a step further and puts a more serious and notably darker tone on the story. Many years after the end of the infamous One Year War, the Earth Federation has set up a sort of police force known as the Titans to keep the colonies in line and prevent further uprisings. Unfortunately, the Titans abuse their power, sparking the forces of the A.E.U.G. (Anti-Earth Union Group) to retaliate and expose the Titans' trail of tyranny and terrorism. Lt. Quattro Bajeena, ace pilot of the A.E.U.G., takes aspiring Newtype pilot Kamille Bidan under his wing while hero of the One Year War Amuro Ray takes a backseat to other cast members new and old. As a series originally released in 1985, Zeta Gundam has its silly moments, but it is a classic sci-fi epic through and through and delivers a fantastic sequel story to one of the most groundbreaking anime of all time. My rating: 8.75

Akira: What served as inspiration for other highly experimental anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion has become, in and of itself, a classic of its genre. Tetsuo and Kaneda are rebellious teens who engage in gang races and fights from the seats of their futuristic motor bikes. That is, until Tetsuo is taken away by an unknown organization and subjected to all manner of testing. His kidnappers hope to find a new host that can rival Akira, a legendary child whose mental abilities far surpassed those of any other human. Meanwhile, Tokyo is on the verge of civil war, with protesters going toe-to-toe with police and civilians getting caught in the crossfire. Determined to find out just what happened to his friend, Kaneda seeks out one rebel group in hopes that their connections and skill set might provide him the edge he needs. My rating: 9

Resident Evil Degeneration: Though the trailers for Resident Evil Degeneration highlighted a zombie outbreak in an airport, that is only half the story. As series' veterans Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield peel back layers of the larger story, they discover two separate leads - Leon attempts to track down local Curtis Miller, who was spotted in the airport moments before the outbreak occurred, while Claire looks into a pharmaceutical company named WilPharma. The character models are well-rendered, with plenty of attention to detail like scuffmarks on battle gear and loading mechanisms on firearms. The character models tend to look better when in a heated action scene than when casually walking and talking, however. The action scenes themselves are intense and exciting, if not over-the-top ridiculous. Degeneration revisits territory plenty familiar to Resident Evil fans, but serves as a decent tie-in film. My rating: 7

Sgt. Frog (season two): Avoiding the few low points that came into play during season one, the second season of Sgt. Frog has better footing from the outset. Keroro and his Armpit Platoon have still not yet managed to conquer Pekopon (Earth), but there are plenty of half-baked plans waiting to be hatched. Season two focuses less on parodies of other works, due in large part because the show has better defined itself since the first outing. That said, the parodies it does execute in season two cover a wider range, from the likes of Evangelion to Saturday Night Fever. The show maintains its signature style of humor, with most jokes being appropriate for viewers of all ages but also sneaking in a few that will be better appreciated by older viewers. My rating: 9

Ghost in the Shell: Considered one of the most important and influential anime films of the 1990s, Ghost in the Shell follows Motoko Kusunagi and her team as they seek to unravel the mystery of a hacker known as the Puppet Master. In a world where humans are comprised as much by electronic components as they are organs and flesh, it becomes clear that the Puppet Master is no ordinary criminal, as each lead pulls back another layer of the plot. The idea of the lines between man and machine blurring are familiar to the sci-fi genre, and Ghost in the Shell explores them at only the most basic level. The story simply ends at the moment it is getting good, leaving the whole experience disappointing and seemingly incomplete. My rating: 6.5

Cowboy Bebop: Spike, Jet, Faye, Ed, and Ein make up the ragtag crew of the Bebop, and whose dynamic ultimately plays out like one comically dysfunctional family. As they chase bounties across the galaxy, they run into many different individuals and organizations, most of whom end up bringing along more trouble than Spike and company planned on. But the rounded skill sets the crew possesses is sure to get them out of any pinch, and there's always a few catchy tunes to accompany each action-packed episode. Each planet the crew visits paints a distinctly different vision, from a dusty desert to a giant space casino. My rating: 9

Redline: In the vein of F-Zero, Redline sees racer JP competing at ludicrous speeds with other racers that use anything from traditional wheeled vehicles to crawlers and transformable mecha. The film is hyper-stylized, intensely colorful, and a real visual treat. The story of JP and his partner Frisbee's ties with the mafia make for a decent backstory, while the hidden secrets of Roboworld are considerably less inspired. The film begins innocent enough in nature, though the second half makes clear the fact that this is not a film meant for younger viewers, with a sudden and substantial inclusion of mature content. My rating: 7.25

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation: a retelling of the 1985 classic mecha series, this three-part film compilation becomes more visually pleasing as it progresses, with the second and third entries utilizing far more digital animation than the first film. Though there is a lot of content cut out in order to accommodate for each film running a little over an hour and a half, most of it is the back-and-forth battle sequences, and thus the films are able to retain the core content and most memorable moments from the original Zeta Gundam anime. The new visuals look gorgeous, though the old animation is layered over with a grainy filter that makes it look unnecessarily aged - something that the original anime's DVD release did not have. With Bandai having put so much work into rendering scenes with new-school animation, it begs the question as to why they didn't remake the films in their entirety. That said, the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation trilogy is a huge step up from the typical 'cut-and-paste' approach that most compilation films adopt. My rating: 8.25

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: A retelling of the Fullmetal Alchemist story, now more closely tied to the manga source material, FMA: Brotherhood once again sees brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric searching for a means to return their bodies to normal after a fateful attempt to revive their dead mother cost Edward an arm and a leg and Alphonse his entire human body. The first dozen or so episodes speed by, with Studio Bones apparently under the assumption that most viewers are already familiar with the 2003 anime. From there, however, the pacing is handled darn near perfectly, with Ed, Al, their allies in Amestrian military, Xingese prince Ling, Ishvalan rogue Scar, and the mysterious Homunculus earning sufficient time to develop. Brotherhood carries a darker tone throughout than the 2003 anime, but is also host to storytelling of a more consistently high quality. In short, Fullmetal Alchemist is a modern fantasy epic that can go toe-to-toe with giants of the genre, presenting a genuinely emotional and human story from start to finish. My rating: 10

Deadman Wonderland: An experimental prison facility/amusement park serves as a twisted and shocking environment for young Ganta, a student who has been wrongly accused of mass murder. Ganta learns that, even with his superhuman Deadman powers, he will need to rely on the help of friends and allies if he hopes to break out of the prison. Though a highly original concept, the creative team seems to trip over themselves at times, with the subplots that would actually prove beneficial to the grander story left unexplored in favor of those that explore less important (and subsequently less interesting) supporting characters. My rating: 7.5

Durarara!!: A presentation of modern day city life in Japan with elements of fantasy and folklore sprinkled throughout, Durarara!! is host to a broad range of characters, each of whom sees a surprisingly full development during the series' twenty-six episode run. There are two major story arcs - the first focused on the headless rider Celty as an urban legend, while the second delves deeper into a dark fantasy scenario as well as the game being 'played' by antagonist Izaya that everyone is seemingly a part of. There are many different perspectives presented as the plot unfolds, so while it might seem like one subplot has been resolved in a single telling, this is not always the case. There are a couple of loose ends left by the series finale, but as a whole the anime does well to wrap up each character's story. My rating: 8.25

Serial Experiments Lain: A product of the late 1990s grunge culture and revival of science fiction anime, Serial Experiments Lain is an existentialist piece that explores the familiar territory of the dividing line between man and machine, albeit in a much different manner than one might expect. The Wired (the series' parallel to the World Wide Web) is a medium through which the titular character seeks information on the suicide of her classmate, as well as a number of experiments and theories surrounding the possibility of the Wired as a separate, yet fully realized world. As Lain becomes increasingly concerned about her own well-being and paranoid about the actions of people around her, she begins hacking and heavily modifying her Navi computer, and in turn discovers the true potential her psyche holds when exposed to the Wired. A trippy show, no doubt, but Lain is by far one of the most complex and thought-provoking of all the landmark anime that emerged in the mid to late 1990s. My rating: 9

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos: A sidestory to the larger Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood tale, The Sacred Star of Milos is actually quite removed from Ed and Al's struggle with the Homunculus. There are brief appearances by Mustang, Hawkeye, and Winry, but the film is primarily concerned with siblings Ashley and Julia Crichton, whose parents were skilled alchemists murdered many years ago. There is a rumor that implies that a philosopher's stone may be held somewhere within the curious border locale of Table City, and constant skirmishes between the Black Bats - a rebel squad from the slums - and the local Amestrian military are as much of a threat to the region's stability as the forces of Creta that lie just beyond the border. The film is notably dark, not unlike the later episodes of the main anime, though the primary villains all fit stereotypical 'evil mastermind' roles. My rating: 7.75

Iron Man: As is typical of Madhouse, the animation in Iron Man is fantastic. Unfortunately, the story ends up getting confused, as the initial problem of Tony Stark's new Iron Man Dio suit being stolen is sidetracked by the appearance of the forces of Zodiac to the point where it is almost forgotten entirely. Each time Tony Stark faces off against one of the members of Zodiac, he gets his butt handed to him before he manages to gather his bearings and defeat the menace of the day. Created first and foremost for fans of Iron Man, this anime falls prey to a number of cliché subplots and simply does not stack up to the quality of the comic books or live action films from which it draws inspiration. My rating: 6.75

Casshern Sins: A most gorgeous vision of a world headed toward extinction, Casshern Sins is one of the most original post-apocalyptic works to be realized in any entertainment medium in recent years. The focus is placed on Casshern, a super-powerful being who is not entirely sure who he is or what he has done, though nearly everyone else seems aware of Casshern having killed Luna and in turn bringing about the Ruin, a disease that slowly rusts away the remaining robots. There are few humans left, and now that the robots are effectively mortal, they begin to adopt human characteristics - or, at the very least, behave in ways they believe to be human. Casshern's role as both villain and savior is an interesting combination, and he must learn to control his destructive nature before he can trust his companions as well as himself. My rating: 9.25

Dragon Ball Z: Wrath of the Dragon: The warrior Tapion was once trapped in a music box as a means to seal away a great beast known as Hirudegarn. When a deceitful alien tricks the Z Fighters into opening the box, the threat of Hirudegarn is unleashed on a nearby city and the Z Fighters attempt to fight it while Tapion hopes to keep the creature at bay with his magical ocarina. Tapion acts as a sort of Big Brother to Trunks, and their interactions echo through events in the main series. My rating: 8

Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest: Dr. Wheelo, now freed from his icy prison, seeks to evaluate the power of the world's strongest warriors, gathering Master Roshi, Piccolo, Goku, Krillin, and Gohan in his massive scientific research facility. Dr. Wheelo intends to pit the Z Fighters against his own artificially-created warriors, and then implant his brain in the body of whoever comes out on top. The 'mad scientist' routine is underwhelming, but the fact that the cast is limited to a few key characters helps it stay on track better than some of the later Dragon Ball Z films. My rating: 7

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