Saturday, December 31, 2011

Anime -- 2011 in review (part 1)

In total, I have watched all through just 3 series from the last year, am in the middle of two that have completed, one that hasn't and am about to start on one that has. Plus a scattering of older shows finished or in train. This post, old shows considered.


Mobile Suit Gundam


I remember when the future looked like Gundam - O'Neill colonies throughout the Earth-Moon system, but no internet. Now add brutal robot combat, the usual Tomino level of named character futile deaths, mixed with toy commercials. Like the following year's Space Runaway Ideon, this has an element of a treadmill, where each episode the enemy -- here the L2-based Principality of Zeon -- uprates its mobile suits each episode and our guys with their carrier and mobile suits continue to level up to meet them.

After ten episodes of this, the action moves ground-side, with a long meander from south-east Asia, through to the Black Sea (with a number of side trips -- "we need to reprovision with salt"; our hero has an angst attack and has wandered off with the Gundam; ...) thence to Ireland (where we meet a traditional red-headed Irish girl, with the traditional Irish name of Miharu), then across the Atlantic to a Federation base in South America, having circumnavigated the globe rather than going direct.

Then, finally, we return to space for a series of skirmishes, culminating in an escalating final battle where pretty much everything gets destroyed; but the power of Zeon is broken and all seems well (until the next series).

Even after 30 years, and with an indifferent American dub, the series holds up as more than just a piece of history. The anti-war message may be unsubtle, but there is a feeling of how even the significant players like the Gundam team are just a part of a larger concern; and the daring and charismatic recurring antagonist, Char Aznable is in turn just a minor, though equally significant, character on the Zeon side.


Catman


A quirky little flash series about a down-and-out in an alternate Canada peopled by anthropomorphic cats. It's slice of life anime done right. That means without any cute girls, school, or even cake, but with a whole lot of drinking, swearing, bowling, getting beaten up, and freezing to death on the street. And catchy ska BGM from the Planet Smashers.


Hyakko

Images quoted for purpose of review.

A series I passed by back in the busy year of 2008, as another cute girls at school series like Hidamari Sketch or Sketchbook Full Colours; but which turned out to have rather more energy and enthusiasm about what it's doing. We start by having the ditzy bonde Ayumi as the first viewpoint character lost in her vast new school, then accumulate the oujo-sama Tatsuki (also lost), and the core group is then completed by the sudden eruption from an upper storey window of the tomboyish Torako, followed by her constant companion, Suzume (who are solving the navigation problem by heading in a straight line).

The series takes a little time finding its feet, and goes thematically all over the place, from out and out comedy, to amped-up melodrama; but as we learn about the quartet and the rest of the class of equally idiosyncratic types, everyone is refreshingly nice (except for the boys in the senior years, who are jerks, and Torako's family, who exist mainly for injecting drama).

Not an undying classic of the ages, but still a nice feel-good series to have watched over the holidays; especially as it was set in early summer, sunny and bright, a perfect antidote to the midwinter blues; the one exception, the April rainstorm that opens the final flashback episode, where the melancholy dawn of the first day of the school year breaks. That scene was the one where the incidental music was most noticeable, and it seemed to fit the bitter-sweet flavour of the whole episode.


Natsume Yuujinchou -- seasons 1 and 2


Another series from 2008 (and then 2009); somewhat like Mushishi, in that Natsume Takashi has the ability to see spirits that pass by normal people unobserved. However, unlike the competent adult Ginko, who has to deal with fungal or insectile mushi, the youkai that highschooler Natsume can see are people of a sort.

This unsettling aspect of his life, reactions to and conversations with the unseen, has left him shuffled from relative to relative. This time he also stumbles across some of his late grandmother's possessions -- including the eponymous book in which she inscribed the true names of many youkai; and into a shrine where a powerful spirit is bound who Natsume accidentally frees.

Having spent many years bound in the form of a lucky cat, the spirit now appears as a human-visible cat most of the time; and sets himself up as Natsume's bodyguard : no-one else is getting that book but him.

So with the rascally Nyanko-sensei to guide and protect him, he starts to find and unbind some of the youkai in the Book of Friends. The series thus starts as a simple monster of the week; but as the extended cast is gathered, it becomes as much about resolving problems amongst the youkai, and Natsume worrying about how his life is balanced between the two worlds.

While being much the typical anime protagonist most of the time, the show avoids getting Natsume into any of the usual romance clich├ęs, without actively excluding girls from his social circle (such as it is). The fact that many of them are spirits, and one explicitly declares that she was much more interested in his grandmother, helps avoid that sort of thing.

So a quiet and delightful little series; and in the new year, I shall move onto the recently aired 3rd season, and the about to air 4th.






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