Roving Thoughts archives


The best N anime that I saw in 2011

This is much like last year's best N: what I consider to be the best or most enjoyable N anime that I saw in calendar 2011 (regardless of when they were released). It is in order for at least the first few entries, but after that things start getting fuzzy.

  • Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars: This is as good as people say it is. Despite strong competition, it's the best thing that I saw this year and I'm very happy to have gotten around to it.

    (Of course, this now makes me think about other excellent classic shows that I may have unjustly skipped over. This year may be the year for watching a bunch of them.)

  • Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: I accept that Madoka is not without flaws and I've read a number of criticisms of it that I agree with. Despite all of that I think it's undeniably a very strong show; it had a powerful story and it told it very well. It was both ambitious and successful. (And other people have already written lots on it with far higher coherence than I'll manage.)

    Some people will not find the story attractive, and I sympathize with them; it's an unpleasant, brutal story. Why do I find it good anyways? Because it's also a powerful story, an affecting one. It never left me unmoved; it engaged me. And it also contained beauty and hope.

  • UN-GO: I've already written a bunch of words about the show, so here I'll just say that I find it an excellent grown-up show that is not afraid to be subtle and smart. It is very much a sea change from pretty much everything else I saw this year. This is anime for adults; most everything else was either anime for teens (at best) or anime for otaku.

    In some ways I think this is a better show than Madoka, although it's hard to compare them directly. Madoka is a more powerful show, but it is powerful in a direct and straightforward way; UN-GO is subtle and quiet. Madoka ends with an answer, UN-GO ends with a question.

    (I feel that Madoka is anime for otaku, but justifying that would take an entire entry of its own. Note that I don't consider 'anime for otaku' to be an intrinsically bad thing.)

Shows that I consider 'below the fold', good but probably not memorable over the long term:

  • Ao no Exorcist: This is not as good a shounen fighting series as Soul Eater, but that's a very high bar. Soul Eater is about perfect; Ao no Exorcist is merely quite good. Provided, of course, that you like well done shonen fighting anime. I understand that it outran the manga and made up its own ending, which may bother manga purists but doesn't bother me because I found the ending perfectly satisfactory.

    (Well done shonen fighting shows eschew various cliches that make not so well done shows drag out, like endless training sequences or long-running fights.)

  • Ben-To: To supplement my note about it, I think that this is in many ways the platonic version of the modern goofy shonen fighting show (as opposed to a serious one, which is what Ao no Exorcist is).

    (For another take on Ben-To, see Akirascuro.)

  • REDLINE: This is the most stylish piece of anime that I watched all year; the creators went all out on that aspect of it, deliberately taking a lot of cues from Western comics and cartoons. Unfortunately they neglected everything else, with the result that both the characters and the plot were alternately pedestrian or over the top and the entire assemblage is ultimately a bit absurd, incoherent, and simplistic.

    But man, the style. REDLINE exudes style right from the start.

    (As kind of a photography geek, it cracked me up that in the future a tourist is wandering around with what looks like a twin lens reflex film camera that's long since obsolete even today. Be careful, that thing's a valuable antique. Of course this is part of the deliberate style of REDLINE; a modern digital camera wouldn't be right.)

  • Star Driver: In the end I would have to call this an impressionistic show; it was never fully concerned with things except at an emotional level. So we got emotional explanations and emotional conclusions, but not so much straightforward plot-based ones. In hindsight I think that this lack of solidity cost it some impact, which is part of why it's wound up below the fold.

    (Although it started in fall 2010, it concluded this calendar year.)

  • Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko: At this distance, I don't think that this was as powerful as I thought it was at the time (and in hindsight the early episodes were more interesting than later ones), but it's still a pretty good show with some great characters and dialog.

  • Dantalion no Shoka: The individual stories and story arcs were nice, but in the end there was nothing more substantial present. Anthologies are pleasant but generally not memorable.

Neither Shana III nor Fate/Zero make this listing for various reasons. Possibly I am feeling grumpy about flaws in both of them right now.

At this point I can't fairly evaluate the Kyousogiga OVA because I've only seen it in a bad, low-resolution version. What I saw suggests that a watchable version of it may be quite good, if very kinetic and fast paced.

Honorable mentions for things that I found enjoyable fun (since this year was somewhat short on it and long on blood and grim):

  • Dog Days: This is mostly old fashioned light-hearted fun, assuming that you can stand goofy fantasy settings with anime's usual occasional interjection of seriousness. For me the nicest bit of it was a hero who doesn't mind getting pulled into another world by surprise. It doesn't have any real villains, but that's not the sort of show that it is.

    I think that it has two drawbacks; a certain amount of fanservice and a truly excessive amount of coincidences in the last episode in order to engineer a happy ending.

    I would happily watch a second season.

    PS: I agree with Author and Beta-Waffle; Eclair is clearly the best character.

  • Kore wa Zombie desu ka: To enjoy this you need to like a certain degree of over the top absurdism, but if you do this keeps topping itself. It also has a reasonably good story and a bunch of interesting characters (even if they're simultaneously over the top). Note that it has a certain amount of gore.

    (Really, I'm serious about the over the top characters. It has an entire clan of vampire ninjas, or maybe they're ninja vampires.)

  • Infinite Stratos: To summarize what I wrote, IS is a more or less average old fashioned harem action/comedy show with relatively minimal fanservice. This means that it's an old style (no grimness really allowed) joyful and light action series (to borrow Author's phrasing).

    (I pretty much agree with SDB's criticisms of IS, but I liked the battles enough to watch it when it was airing.)

  • Sacred Seven gets a reluctant honorable mention; reluctant not because it's not fun (it is, and it features a couple of great minor characters), but because it's kind of stupid. There's a line between fun and overly lightweight and I think that SS is over it. You mostly have to watch it for the silly crazy things happening.

    (It also features the apparently near-obligatory presence of some dark, bloody stuff in the backstory, eventually helpfully shown to us in flashback.)

    But its first OP was great (both the music and the goofy animation), and as Beta-Waffle says, Arma riding his tiny scooter was never not hilarious. No one can come across as a dangerous tough guy on such a thing.

In total I completed 30 series, OVAs, and movies this year (and watched some amount of a number of other things).

anime/BestNIn2011 written at 22:29:22; Add Comment

In praise of UN-GO

Describing what makes UN-GO special is hard, but I'm going to take a shot at it anyways to add to my two brief earlier attempts.

On the surface, UN-GO is a show about a detective solving mysteries with the help of his magical assistant. There are many ways that this could go wrong, but UN-GO avoids them all; it does essentially everything right. In the process the show is not so much about the mysteries as about everything that is going on around them, about the characters and the overall situation and the background. The recurring characters and the ongoing situation are both interesting enough to support this. Everything is interesting and multifaceted, and the show is not afraid to use a light, indirect touch to illuminate things. Above all, I felt that the show was plain smart; it was intelligently written and presented intelligent, multifaceted situations.

(One disclaimer: this is not a puzzle show. The mysteries are not necessarily intricately constructed and while the show does often foreshadow the solution, it doesn't always give the audience enough clues for us to come up with all of the answers ahead of time.)

Part of the pleasure of UN-GO is that it is not direct in the same way that many other shows are. For example, there are some unpleasant and creepy people in UN-GO but the show is by and large devoid of the stereotypical ways of showing this; instead it lets these people talk (and has some of their actions come to light) and then leaves us to draw our own conclusions about them. I've read a description that calls it a mature show, and I agree with the label; it's a low key, grown up show for adults that's appealing in a more subtle way than the usual anime fare.

To repeat myself: note that UN-GO is not necessarily a show to watch if you want to see actual justice happen. The setting has a quietly totalitarian government that is a strong believer in 'realpolitik' and quite often the government covers up the actual crimes with politically expedient false explanations and thus lets the real perpetrators go. This isn't presented as a good thing but at the same time the whole system doesn't wind up going down in flames; any successes that the protagonist scores against the system are limited.

(Also, as mentioned the show contains some supernatural elements.)

After seeing the ending of the show, I'm now not certain that I want a second season. The show ends at a very good point but it is a pivot point; a good second season to have to be very different than the first season.

(Explaining this requires both semi-spoilers and a separate entry.)

On a side note I feel that UN-GO exactly the sort of unusual but very good show that justifies noitaminA. It's not commercial in the conventional sense and I suspect that it wouldn't have been made but for the existence of the noitaminA block.

Liked: very much. I feel that this is an excellent show.
Rewatch: possibly (I'm not strong on rewatches, but this is a good candidate to get more from on a second viewing).

Other reviews or commentary: chaostangent, The Cart Driver, GAR GAR Stegosaurus, metanorn. Reviews may contain spoilers.

anime/UNGOPraise written at 21:58:53; Add Comment

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