Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2008 Year-Ender Anime "Best" List

So here I am with Part 2 of my 2008 year-ender report. This time, the list contains the "best" animes to come out in 2008. I use the year loosely, of course, as some of the titles -- Ghost Hound, in particular -- actually started airing in 2007.

Anyhoo, the title in bold is the winner and the other titles inside the parentheses are runner-ups.

Best Dark Series

Ghost Hound is comparable to classic dark series LIKE Serial Experiments Lain and Boogiepop Phantom. While the narrative of Ghost Hound is not as loopy or nonlinear as the other two, its theme of the spiritual/supernatural world disrupting reality echoes the general themes of the two titles I just mentioned. On top of that, Ghost Hound is sci-fi. Or at least, in some aspects, it's sci-fi because it deals with psychology and scientific concepts like electromagnetic fields of the earth and the human psyche but it's also a philosophical piece in its dealings with theology and the spiritual aspect of culture. In truth, however, Ghost Hound can be viewed as a simple coming-of-age story with a psychological twist.

Best Comedy Series

I did not expect much from Toradora. After all, I did stop blogging the series after two episodes. I thought the characters were stereotypical, the plot rehashed, and the theme predictable. But, after suddenly picking up the series one random day, I found I was right yet wrong in every way. Toradora is exactly what it says it is and then some. In an era where farce in anime is all but overused, this series is refreshing in its absolute disregard for trend. It's comedy but it's not farce. It's the sort of anime that can afford to be clever without necessarily making fun of its characters. Or it does poke fun at its characters but never reaches that point where the humor becomes scathing. It's just good old fun, the way light series of this kind have always been before the "farce" trend started cropping up.

Best Production Value

From the beginning, Real Drive has impressed me with its animation quality, the extensive use of background colors (the series uses some of the widest palettes I've ever seen in an anime), and the beautiful character designs. Sure, there is the obligatory recap episode but even that one made use of entirely new scenes. In terms of sounds, Real Drive also delivers. The soundtrack is not good as a standalone piece but used in the anime it has a life of its own. The series is never complete without the auditory experience. Don't get me wrong. Real Drive has its moments, and even now, I'm still not sure if I "get" the entire picture. But what it might lack in terms of plot cohesion, it more than makes up for its excellent production.

Best Opening Theme
"Poltergeist" by Mayumi Kojima (Ghost Hound)

No doubt Ghost Hound has one of the more unique anime openers to date. "Poltergeist" not only fits the "ghost" themes of the anime but also reflects the gray murky tone of the storyline. And jazz, baby! The series creator was right about jazz for this anime.

Best Ending Theme
"Diamond Crevasse" by Sheryl Nome starring May'n (Macross Frontier)

Macross Frontier has some of the best vocal pieces in the 2008 anime line-up. But, of course, it's Yoko Kanno. Unfortunately, I'm not so inclined towards space opera -- of which, much of Macross Frontier themes are made up of -- so the OST does not make it to my top soundtrack. Still, I say it again that Macross Frontier offers some of the best songs. Out of all these, the one that comes out at the top is "Diamond Crevasse." It's a beautiful song as it is but the way it was used in Episode 20 of the series did me in.

Best Voice Cast

The series features my all-time favorite seiyuu, Toyoguchi Megumi, and even though she's a side character my love for the cast was long cemented the minute I found out she plays Klan Klang. Macross Frontier should also be commended for discovering a budding new seiyuu and recording artist in the person of Nakajima Megumi. Here's to hoping she'll make it far in the business.

Best Soundtrack

Ryouko's Case Files is one of those animes that you just can't take seriously. Much like its main character, Ryouko, the series has virtually no substance but is sexy and titillating and if that isn't enough, it fans the flames further with mystery and fanservice. As for its soundtrack, it's sexy jazz music that's surprisingly good. So good in fact that it managed to steal the top spot from Macross Frontier.

Best Art/Animation

Surprise! A mecha anime. Actually, I don't have anything serious against mecha but if I can help it, I usually avoid them. Then this series came along and I was swept off my feet with its brilliance. Xam'd: Lost Memories isn't even mecha in the sense that the Xam'd creature is actually a fusion between two living organisms: a human and a "hiruko." So it's not a machine but rather two consciousness sharing a symbiotic connection. The concept is wow and the art and animation more than delivers the goods.

Best Background Art

Natsu no Sora cheats a little with its use of live photos, but the idea is so clever that I can't help but admire it for sheer ingenuity of the creators alone. The wonderfully detailed background is emphasized even more by the focus on landscapes and buildings and the deliberately over-simplified character designs.

Best Concept

I honestly loved the idea of Library War. I like its revolutionary use of the war theme and giving it such an insane twist that you're torn between laughing your ass off or taking the dystopic theme with a grim face. But most of all, I like the "what-if" question it dangles in front of its viewers.

Best Overall Series

Because Ghost Hound is the only "finished" 2008 anime that lived up to my expectations, it makes it to my top "Best Overall." Not that Eve no Jikan or Xam'd: Lost Memories didn't come close. But the latter two are ONAs so they are on a wholly different level. Come 2009, it's going to be a close fight between Eve and Xam'd. I wonder which one will most deliver.

And that, my friends, spells the end of my year-ender spree. Coming up are first impressions of the Winter 2009 shows.