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> What Were the Best and Worst Anime of 2004?, Source: Animenation
Roze
post Jan 3 2005, 14:47
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Out of the several years so far that I've compiled a subjective list of the best and worst anime of the previous year, this year's list is the one that I feel most tentative about. Even Japanese fans have been known to complain about the sheer quantity of anime that premiered in 2004. This year has produced so much anime that it's nearly impossible to even keep track of it all. And watching it all is undoubtedly out of the question. Simply because I like to keep abreast of contemporary anime (all of it), I've made it personal goal to watch as many different anime series as I can. As that applies to this article, of the roughly 100 anime television series that premiered in Japan in 2004, I've watched at least one full episode of roughly 75 of them. Of course, just watching one episode of a show doesn't qualify anyone to pass judgement on the entire series' quality. But based on my personal experience and knowledge, I think it's fair to estimate a generalization about many anime series from just watching a part of them. So that's what I'm doing here. As such, this list should not be taken with any finality. I only hope that my list will be interesting, and perhaps useful as advice. There are many new anime titles that I've watched this past year that I enjoyed immensely, such as Elfen Lied and Genshiken, but they may not appear here because this list is not about which anime I liked most. This list is my evaluation of which 2004 anime titles I thought displayed the most outstanding cinematic, artistic and literary quality. I'll present my picks in roughly chronological order.

I'm always hesitant to isolate sequels because most of the time they require the support of their preceding series, so don't quite qualify as entirely new shows. But there are two sequels on my list that simply demand inclusion regardless. The first of these is Jubei-chan 2: The Counterattack of Siberia Yagyuu. This amazing action comedy fulfilled the unspoken and undelivered promise of the first series. Unlike the first Jubei-chan TV series, which was mildly exciting and mildly funny, Jubei-chan 2 excelled in both categories, and then some. Jubei-chan 2 finally had the affecting, moving emotional drama that the first series hinted at but never fully developed. The action scenes were brilliant, featuring breathtaking speed and wonderfully creative cinematography. And the show took its premise to new heights that the first series never even suggested possible. Jubei-chan 2 was pure lighthearted entertainment, constructed perfectly- never too intense nor too silly. The result was a virtually perfect action comedy anime.

Maria-sama ga Miteru awed me with its subtle and lush animation and wonderfully diverse cast. The simple show about relationships in a highly formal girl's preparatory school managed to be utterly captivating throughout two short seasons. The show created an elegant and refined atmosphere that transcended the television screen and made the viewer feel like a privileged observer on the grounds of the Lilian School. Not every anime is so adept at creating such a convincing tone and setting, and even fewer shows do it with such effectiveness as to make it seem natural. Every episode of MariMite was a pleasure, an escape from the mundane into a world of beauty and grace. And astute viewers could further appreciate the show's wonderfully detailed animation quality. From the fall of leaves to the way clothing and hair swayed, it was obvious that the animation staff for the show took great pains to make every possible movement as smooth and soothing as possible. This show was simply a treat for viewers that wanted a change of pace from typical flamboyant anime.

Satoshi Kon's first anime TV series lived up to expectation. Mouso Dairinin, literally "Paranoia Agent," brought a rare maturity to television anime. And every episode was a surprise as the show coiled around upon itself and constantly showed different sides of itself to viewers. Virtually every episode introduced a new genre and new perspective while never loosing a sense of continuity. The show's intimate focus on atypical anime characters was refreshing. Furthermore, that focus forced viewers to pay more attention, as this was clearly not a typical anime. The show suffered some lags, and may have expanded its focus a bit too much, but its mere ambition overshadows its small flaws, making it one of the most unique and interesting anime of 2004.

Out of all the high profile and well known anime produced by Studio Bones, including Angelic Layer, RahXephon, Scrapped Princess, and the Cowboy Bebop movie, the often overlooked Kurau: Phantom Memory may, in fact, be their masterwork. This dramatic sci-fi story about two inhuman girls trying to find peace and happiness in the world of humans exhibited a consistently affecting warmth and humanity. Without being heavy handed, the show did a brilliant job of illustrating the way in which humans can be thoughtlessly inhumane, and that humanity has the potential for both kindness and generosity, and cruelty and narrow minded selfishness. This character study of the human race was placed within a futuristic setting that was both fantastic and utterly believable, which is a testament to the skill of the writers and artists that worked on the show. Kurau was frequently moving, not because it was manipulative, but because it methodically developed its characterizations and setting so that viewers would honestly empathize with them. Kurau: Phantom Memory continually impressed me with its ability to convey such a deep sense of compassion and humanity. If Uchuu no Stellvia was 2003's sci-fi human drama, Kurau was 2004's.

The other sequel on my list is Initial D Fourth Stage. Based on the episodes released so far, the show plays as almost a "greatest hits" collection rather than a literal story. Since the setting, circumstances and characters have already been established by previous anime, Initial D Fourth Stage has, thus far, focused almost exclusively on the car races it excels at. The benefit of its generous production and broadcast schedule which allows for plenty of time for animators to work on each episode, and the advances in digital animation technology since the earliest Initial D anime have combined to make Fourth Stage the best, most exhilarating Initial D anime so far. The tension and surprises, and the masterful editing and camera work of Initial D are at their prime in Forth Stage because they are the entire show. The story is conveyed almost entirely during the action instead of between the action sequences. So instead of developing like a conventional story full of climaxes and interludes, Initial D Fourth Stage starts off in high gear and literally never lets up.

While Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was the 800 pound gorilla of last year that forced its way onto my list, it's Innocence this year that demands recognition. The film is virtually critic-proof, even though it's not particularly exciting, arguably doesn't significantly advance the ideology of the first film, and may be too smart for its own good. Undeniably Innocence is possibly the most amazing looking animated film ever made. Furthermore, its very intelligence and refusal to compromise any of its visual or intellectual intentions make it exceptional.

I think that increasingly recently it's become en vogue to criticize Hayao Miyazaki and his films. Some critics have genuine critical objections to express, which I can respect. Others apparently want to be fashionably rogue, which I can't respect. I however, remain firmly within the Miyazaki fan club. Howl's Moving Castle does indeed suffer from some of the same lapses in story cohesion that afflicted Spirited Away, and its story, like that of Spirited Away, is indeed wafer thin. But I think the strengths of the film are tremendous. I don't know of any other animation in the world that paints a believable and realistic world the way that Studio Ghibli films do, and Howl's Moving Castle is an outstanding example of that quality. The world depicted is not our own, but it's no less believable than our own because of the thoughtful detail put into illustrating the world of Howl. From the distinct way in which towns, streets and homes exude a palpable sense of age and use to the way scenes of nature seem genuinely natural, everything in Howl's Moving Castle seems believable and real. And, as usual of Ghibli films, the animation quality is amazing, clearly putting on screen the years of work that went into drawing the film. If we consider Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away to be modern classics, than Howl's Moving Castle deserves no less recognition.

Now I feel obligated to mention several anime titles that aren't among the above mentioned either because I don't feel that they belong among such company but still deserve mention, or because I simply haven't seen enough of them to confidently include them among the aforementioned.

Boukyaku no Senritsu: The Melody of Oblivion, based on the first quarter of it which I've watched, narrowly misses my final nominations only because I'm not yet satisfied with the depth of its character analysis. Although it's heavily influenced by Shoujo Kakumei Utena, I still consider Melody of Oblivion highly original, unique and inventive. It's a visually interesting show that engages our sense of wonder. But at least through its first few story arcs, its characters don't evolve, and viewers never get a look inside their heads. It's a relatively minor complaint, but, at least for me, it makes a significant impact on my understanding and appreciation of the show.

The Re: Cutie Honey OAV series was visually sumptuous, and the entire series exhibited a wonderful sense of playfulness and kinetic camp. However, compared to prior Hideako Anno directed shows like Evangelion and Kareshi Kanojo no Jijoo that were both entertaining and had a strong emotional impact, Re: Cutie Honey only briefly hinted at creating emotional resonance that the audience could feel and empathize with. So while the series was entertaining, it didn't feel substantial, even though it seemed as though it could have been, and even tentatively wanted to be.

The early episodes of Soukyuu no Fafner achieved a rare feat. They made me interested in a robot anime. Fafner exhibited an amazing competence with music and setting, and its cast was interesting without seeming cliché. The only reason I can't give it more credit is that I just haven't seen enough of it to confidently critique it.

The same logic applies to my mention of Zipang. The first episode of this military, sci-fi influenced drama was the most pleasant surprise I encountered this year. The show's adult tone; it's fetishistic devotion to its depiction of naval mecha and protocol, and its overt nationalism all seemed revolutionary to me. I simply can't call the show one of the best of the year after having watched only one episode, though.

I think that Gankutsuou deserves mention. It's impossible for me to sentence the entire show when it's not even half way done yet, but if it continues to develop as its early episode have, it will be a brilliant production. I'm glad to say that its original technique of animating clothing and hair isn't allowed to overcome the more important aspects of the show such as story and character development. The visually dynamic backgrounds are virtually a character themselves because they add so much depth and atmosphere to the show. The series' tone is remarkable because it's heavy and gothic, but never seems unwieldy or smothering. It's a show that pulls the viewer into its world and makes the viewer a complicit player because it's only the viewer that sees the obvious and the hidden, which heightens the viewer's tension. But the show masterfully keeps some things hidden from even the viewer, creating a captivating mystery.

Finally I have to mention Steamboy, a film that's received unanimously positive reviews, and by all appearances is exceptional. Regrettably, I haven't seen it myself and therefore can't include it on my personal list of the year's best.

On the other hand, I'll try to keep my discussion of the worst titles of the year brief, to avoid dredging up painful memories of them. And once again I insist that these picks are subjective. I believe that there's still something to be learned through watching bad anime, and there are viewers that may like any number of these shows for the exact reasons why I dislike them, just as there may be viewers that aren't as extreme in their reactions to these shows as I am.

I still don't know if Chou Henshin Cos-Prayers: The Cosmopolitan Prayers was intentionally made to be as bad as it was. As one third of the Cosprayers/Smash Hit/Love Love trilogy, I have to give some credit to the original idea of telling a single story in reverse through three separate series, but taken in isolation, Cosprayers was the most painfully idiotic and disjointed show I watched this year. As the butt of jokes for the two series that followed it, but which weren't much better, Cosprayers earned only the smallest bit of redemption.

Judging from the Japanese television broadcast version, Mezzo was frequently an atrocity of hideous animation quality, insultingly stupid writing, and terribly rendered action. Sadly, the first two episodes were brilliant, but the rest of the show never lived up to that precedent. It's further disappointing that production studio Arms proved that it was capable of creating a consistently high quality adult action anime by going on to create Elfen Lied. But then Arms sank into mediocrity once again with Kakyusei 2.

After the first Divergence Eve series, I couldn't bear to watch any of 2004's Misaki Chronicle: Divergence Eve. But if the first series is reflective of the second series, which I believe it is, Misaki Chronicle deserves its place on this list.

While it has its fans, enough people disliked Gantz to give it the pet name "Cantz." The television broadcast version of the first series was so heavily censored that it was an unwatchable mess. Regrettably, having its gore and nudity intact did nothing to remedy the show's totally despicable cast, stilted animation quality, poorly integrated 2D and 3D animation, and near absence of story progression. I'll grant that the show is gruesome, but that's utterly all it's got in its favor.

The early episodes of the Space Symphonic Poem Maetel ~Galaxy Express 999 Side Story~ were such a wretched mess of conflicting characterizations and continuity points that I'm glad that my access to it dried up. The strength of Maetel as a character is the mystery surrounding her. Trying to explicate her origin and background in detail is simply a mistake. I thought that the Galaxy Express franchise had sunk to its low with the unnecessary, and bad, Maetel Legend OAV series. But I was proven wrong by this terrible attempt to draw blood from a stone.
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ShinChan
post Jan 3 2005, 18:37
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