The year is coming to an end, and as we reflect back on everything, it is the season for anime lists and more excuses for silly alliteration.
This will be the first in a series of posts about my thoughts on my favorite anime productions from 2013. This post will feature five works, effectively a 10 – 6 listing (but I’m not bothering with numbers), while additional individual posts will follow each day for this week covering the rest. There will be six posts in all, and the normal weekly category write-ups will also continue, so there will be a fair amount of content surging about this week!
As everyone naturally has different parameters for these kinds of end of the year write-ups, here are my basic ground rules
– Productions started before 2013, but ended in 2013, are eligible.
– Productions started in 2013, but have not ended, are not eligible.
– Personal favorites does not always mean critically best
In practice, this actually affects very little. The first only makes way for two impacted series to be on the list in this initial hub post, while the second really only restrains the still airing Kill la Kill. I would merely prefer having full shows to consider when trying to include them for these kinds of entries.
The third one is a reminder that, while I will certainly aim to give ample reasoning for my choices, do not take these write-ups personally if they do not jive with your own considerations. I like stuff. You like stuff. We might like different stuff. And that is pretty swell, if we can each find different things we appreciated in the same calendar year.
Another thing I should mention is, of course, I can only write about what I have actually seen. By my count, I have watched nearly three dozen titles that would qualify for 2013, and yet certainly I never claim to be one of those kinds of folks who aim to be on top of every little thing of a given moment. I miss out on certain productions, and some things did not fit into my schedule or the like. I’m no professional.
What I am is someone who watches things in my spare time and writes about it in my spare time.
So stay for a bit and allow me share with you over the coming days some choice anime that I thought were particular favorites of mine over these past months.
Non Non Biyori
Leading off this whole New Year’s and Favorite’s Of The Year affair is a sleepy countryside Girls Doing Things slice of life series animated by Silver Link and based on a little manga in Monthly Comic Alive.
A lot of folks would likely be more ready to place the studio’s really big work of the year, their adaptation of Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui! (WataMote), over this one. I’m also not really one to really have a predisposition towards the ever produced works of the all cute girl cast situational comedies. I have watched and enjoyed things like Lucky Star well enough at the time of viewing for instance, but I would likely never revisit them. Non Non Biyori was sold to me by someone on the basis that this is the sort of Girls Doing Things show a grandmother would tend to like, and that intrigued me.
By and large, they were right. And I enjoyed it for that.
The series delights in its scenery of the rural farm community the cast lives in, to the point where it kicks off with nearly two minutes showing it off to the tune of a recorder being played. For a sitcom, it does not aim to bust out of the gates or make grand entrances. What it wants is for you to maybe grab a blanket and a light beverage. Things are going to get pretty cozy here, which is a definite strength of the series in my eyes. The times when it is funny is because it has eased you into an achievable quiet place, where you laugh at something simple but relatable from ones own childhood. It is a series for folks who sometimes remember made up games playing outside, or domestic situations like what may be on an old VHS tape recorded ages ago, and can reflect and find humor in that here.
Fittingly, the cast is small with virtually no extraneous individuals, and the relationships are woven in such a way where the first half of the series focuses on each of the primary ones before shifting us back towards whole group dynamics. It is an approach that when combined with the easy going and slow rural pace of entire production leads to interactions and situations feeling far more organic rather than contrived.
Suguru Koshigaya for instance, who plays a relatively small role as the only male student in the little country school and the brother to the two Koshigaya sisters, never says a single word in the entire series. Yet I know more about his hobbies and disposition than I do from other series whose brother characters actually spoke words aloud. There is an episode all about Renge Miyauchi, a first grader and youngest of the cast by several years, actually meeting a similarly aged kid to herself who was visiting the community for vacation. In turn it deals in the kinds of emotions those serendipitous friendships of time and location, and does so in a way that invites one to consider the times they have been in similar situations as a kid with similar thoughts about that awesome new special friend.
Non Non Biyori is a series that is all about taking the long way home, where one is going out of their way to take in the world around them and consider the little developments and relationships that have brought us so far in our own adventures.
I got myself in a small amount of kneejerk response flak on Reddit earlier when I suggested this series might be an Autumn 2013 darkhorse for me when considering what I might pull out of the season for possible inclusion on an end of the year favorites list, since programs like Kill la Kill are excluded from my consideration for this year since they are currently incomplete.
Miss Monochrome delivered for me though, and I still think it is among The Best Four Minutes Of Dry Economic Idol Commentary Each Week That Was Underwatched.
A real world digital idol character in the vein of Hatsune Miku, she is the creative brainchild of Yui Horie, a voice actress who has been in the industry for approximately fifteen years giving speech to everyone from Naru Narusegawa (Love Hina) to Hanekawa Tsubasa (Bakemonogatari). Naturally, Horie is herself the voice of Miss Monochrome as well, a computer generated concert avatar for a modern age.
For her anime series, and appropriate for a character who personally adores black and white so much, everything is very much to the point. The series is fundamentally an episodic sketch show, with emphasis on the episodic sketch. The individual running time of these, which allows for the entire thirteen episode series to be completed in under an hour, means it aims to make full use of each moment in support of whatever point or joke they aim to deliver. Yet in execution, it manages to do so in a manner that does not allow itself to be overbearing or bloated by trying to do too much with too little time.
As an example of what I mean, there is one episode where Miss Monochrome thinks that if she had some kind of signature prop, it would allow her to be more successful in her attempts to become a famous idol singer. Many entirely functional objects are used with great gusto by her in the attempt, ranging from brooms to beating futons. It is then suggested that she could perhaps consider something like vegetables, inspired by a leek on a cardboard box.
On the surface, that is an amusing enough zinger at Hatsune Miku, who has become associated with leeks in her imagery. At the same time however, it is contrasted with the use of all of these far more useful or functional objects that gain Monochrome no attention. Idol gimmick objects are just that: gimmicks. A leek or other idol signature item is not often actually useful in the fashions often delightfully depicted by a famous singer using them as a prop. It is a cold and borderline alien marketing use not indicative of the real world functionality. Miss Monochrome spends much of the series as a convenience store cashier, a real world place where functionality matters a whole lot more, but does not impress the masses in the same way.
The entire series is constructed of moments like these, of why certain things work out for idols and their associated fantasy industry but not elsewhere. It is a light and amusing series on one level (Ru-chan the Roomba may be my Anime Pet Of The Year, were I to have such a category), but on another it has some nice socioeconomic commentary considerations as well regarding how weird fame and the idol industry can be. It is easily approachable on the whimsy end, and yet has a keenly constructed eye that aims to waste nothing.
…have you seen the title of this blog, and the username I carry myself under? Of course something where everyone is running around in full professional attire is right up my alley.
More seriously though, as a serial police science fiction drama, it covers a particular style of genre territory that we have been sorely lacking in for some time now. With the primary investigation of the series taking up virtually its entire running length, it allows for ample consideration of motives, perspectives, philosophies, and approaches to societal structures, how crime is generated, and how offenders are prosecuted. It is a solid approach that allows for an ample amount of world and team building for its duration as we see them attempt to navigate various obstacles, in a system where police Inspectors are deployed with ex-criminal Enforcers as attack units and an the spot psychological scan can determine someone’s entire future.
With the primary cast made entirely made of adults, it in turn often treats them in adult ways. The more carefree oriented Shuusei Kagari for instance, while often relaxed and prime for a joke off the clock, will still be serious when tasks must be done or is discussing matters of personal freedom. His humor factor is measured in such a way where while they might contrast even more serious team members, he would not even register as a drop in the bucket in many other series. Likewise, it is a series that can have two female characters in a sexual relationship with each other without it being made into much of a big deal.
The series primary protagonist, Akane Tsunemori, can admittedly be initially off-putting or determined as useless by some folks. A product of a system where psychological profiling and a placement examination essentially determines ones entire professional life, she received high marks that would have allowed her to join many different corporations or more prominent elements of the public sector. As someone who only chose to join the police force due to nobody else scoring anywhere close to her in that area, she figures there must be some purpose there she can fulfill. As such however, she is admittedly rudderless at the start, and recognizes herself as such, as she comes to terms with what she can actually do with the police and why she scored so highly. She has a definite development arc as she works her way through the criminal investigation at the core of the plot, but it does take time for it to unfold.
All in all I am glad that this sort of ambitious anime original project was greenlit, and I’m especially thankful that it was well received enough to be gaining a second season and a future theatrical film. A post-cyberpunk eye towards profiling assessments, it is particularly fitting for a world where our own lives and dispositions are trying to be figured out via employer run social media background checks and the like.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about trying to synthesize Gatchaman Crowds here is that I have already written so many hundreds of words on the series in its own dedicated little feature. By all means, please check that post out if you would like to get into more lengthy details of what I thought about this program and the variety of things it is up to regarding the nature of superheroes in this digital age.
But, my most crystallized and very miniature summation would be that the show is primarily doing two very important things: telling the viewer that the increasingly dark and moody nature of Serious Superhero Productions of the last few decades is Really Lame, and secondarily it is showcasing the idea that the viewer can be the hero.
Hajime is already doing awesome community support stuff before the series begins, as she enages relief efforts for disaster recovery and the like. She wants to talk to all of her opponents and get their perspectives and philosophies. She encourages the Gatchaman team to meet up at a kindergarten because that is the exact kind of community relations and inspirational foundational interactions they would really benefit from and it is the kind of thing a superhero should want to do. She is vibrancy and never letting herself getting dragged down by the “weight” of superhero responsibility. She was already a super responsible person!
A lot of the series is really using her a vector for bringing that aspect into the team and into a superhero universe setup to really assault the notions that modern superhero portrayals have in many respects lost their way entirely. Hajime is a barrier breaking bomb of a person as she tries to scrub out all the corrosion and toxicity that has built up as superheroes have attempted to be so much more Super Serious And Cynical, and she will teach folks how to scrapbook and practice good internet habits while doing it.
At least from my perspective, the series allows me to really get back into the inspirational nature of superheroes, rather than worrying about an excessively coldly calculated bodycount.
Polar Bear’s Café (Shirokuma Café)
This was such a delightful part of my schedule for months on end. Conceptually, it seems all rather straightforward: animals are just like people in society, and can hold jobs and communicate just as anyone else. Indeed, often alongside humans.
So we have our café. And it is run by Polar Bear. Who is a polar bear. He wears a little blue shawl behind the counter when serving café mocha’s and the like, and a fancy driving cap when he is out on the town. He makes lots of “dad humor” wordplay puns. He has a childhood friend named Grizzly. Grizzly owns a bar. Polar Bear pranks him sometimes. And so on and so forth.
The thing is though, there is a surprising amount of heart to a lot of this show. We often have the titular café as our central hub, and it transitions into a very easy “where everyone knows your name” sort of establishment atmosphere as different characters in the series forge friendships with each other, talk about their problems, reflect on the past, celebrate holidays together, work around each others strengths and weaknesses, and all the rest. There is Panda’s experiences being a part time panda at the local zoo alongside a full time panda, we have the romance problems of Penguin, moments shared as Llama and a human realize they grew up in the same town and make a day trip to return there together for a time capsule long since buried. And there are moments of sadness, be they either reflected memories or events from the present.
At lot of shows focused exclusively on people don’t feel as human as this one, and we get to be in their world for fifty episodes as we experience most of a full year complete with all the seasonal changes and experiences that would have to offer as we keep our friendships and activities here consistently dynamic.
Between my complements towards Non Non Biyori and Polar Bear’s Café, perhaps some would say I’m just getting old. While fundamentally true, I’m still someone who is always primed and ready to enjoy some of the most ridiculously dire old OVA’s and the like ever made. But while a murky night in a who knows where dive bar is one thing, there is also something to be said for the strong comfort of the familiar and warm hangout spot shared between friends. Polar Bear’s Café was that feeling for me, distilled into a weekly television show.
…And that wraps me up for today! Maybe some things were surprising compared to other lists out there, maybe they were not.
There are five more individual posts to fill out this list over the next several days (please enjoy a handy link to the tag), I hope you look forward to them as much I will.