Sunday, February 26, 2012

The 2011 Anime Encyclopedia: H to M

It's your friendly encyclopedia businessman, here to do business with you again!

Thank you for the recent purchase of the first seven volumes of the 2011 Anime Encyclopedia set. From AnoHana to Gintama, I'm sure you enjoyed the content?

What? You don't recall making such a purchase? Well, of course you don't. The anime business has always been sneaky like that. One minute, you're at an anime convention. The next minute, you've bought the entire Full Metal Alchemist series, a set of cat ears, and a full-body dakimakura of Kyonko.

Look, you've already bought the first seven volumes, suckers...I mean, sirs! You might as well buy the next six! Don't make us call in Vinnie and the Weasel to help you locate your credit card.

Here's the entries from H to M, and thanks for your business!

H is for...Hyadain.

There were plenty of acts that could raise a flag and claim 2011 as their year to shine as anime-based acts. Supercell made a late charge with their work on Guilty Crown and Shakugan no Shana Final, while School Food Punishment followed up their work on 2010's Eden of the East with electronic ambrosia for [C] ("RPG") and Un-Go ("How to go")—it's just a crying shame the group went on hiatus this year!

You could make arguments for Claris, Etsuko Yakushimaru, Galileo Galilei, and Maaya Sakamoto, but no one act dominated anime compositions like Kenichi Maeyamada—"Hyadain" to all those of you in the know. While Hyadain did compose some forgettable pieces (Nyanpire's "Nyanpire Taisô", Dragon Crisis!'s "Mirai Bowl"), he also provided head-boppers for Mitsudomoe and Baka to Test to Shôkanjû Ni! and has worked extensively with OP-staples Momoiro Clover Z and Natsuko Aso.

Of course, what he will really be known for this year is for his contributions to the Nichijô series. Not only did he compose the ED to the first season, Sayaka Sasaki's dreamtime "Zzz", but he provided the male and female voices to both OP themes, "Hyadain no Kakakata Kataomoi-C" ("Hyadain's U-U-Unrequired Love-C") and "Hyadain no Jôjô Yûjô" ("Hyadain's Amazing Friendship"). Both spawned relentless parodies and homages, as well as acclaim from fans who were happy to see a series cavort merrily in their opening sequences.

Hard to say how Hyadain will follow up his successes, but I'd love to see him work with...

I is geso.

After all of the anime I've seen over the past eighteen years or so, I still tend to gravitate towards the slice-of-life classics for simpler comedy. Considering that shows like Sazae-san and Crayon Shin-chan have been giving us ten-minute morsels for decades (the Shin-chan anime is actually celebrating its 20th year!), I tend to like the Tweet-sized episodes when it comes to nonsense. Three over the span of thirty minutes is perfect.

That's why I was glad to see Squid Girl (Shinryaku?! Ika-Musume) return for a second season—I want more episodic shows like this mindless seaside comedy, and I hope it decides to stick around for good at some point. A little more madcap than Sazae-san, but a little less crude than Shin-chan, Squid Girl has the moe that hardcore Akiba fans prefer, but I can honestly see the series gaining steam and getting a third season. Realistically, I can't see the quality staying consistent if Squid Girl was to be produced all year, but who knows?

The thing that really pleases me is that Squid Girl's manner of speech hasn't irritated me. There are some characters out there that overdo the use of habitual ending particles (i.e. Chiriko's "no da" from Fushigi Yûgi, Suiseiseki from Rozen Maiden's 527-hit "Desu" Combo), but Squid Girl's "de geso" is possibly the cutest thing since Lum's "daccha!" It's certainly miles better than Naruto's "dattebayo!"

Speaking of Naruto, you know what made out like Madoff in 2011?

J is for...(Shônen) Jump.

Not only is One Piece still at the top of manga's Mt. Olympus and mocking the competition from afar, but a total of ELEVEN titles from the current Weekly Shônen Jump manga lineup had shows in 2011. That's not including the fact that Level E, a former Jump title, got its own show for a season as well. In fact, a total of 14 shows in the current lineup have either been animated or are already green-lit for animation (Kuroko no Basket and Medaka Box are launching in April).

That's just a ridiculous rate of appeal. Compare that to Weekly Shônen Sunday (which is running five titles that have been animated), Weekly Shônen Magazine (nine), and Monthly Gan Gan (six). Shônen Jump is not only distancing itself from the field, it's practically lapping them. Hell, its monthly version Jump SQ had four shows animated for last year's lineups (Blue Exorcist, Listen To Me, Girls. I Am Your Father!, New Prince of Tennis, Tegami Bachi).

That's not necessarily stating success, as I still think quality trumps quantity, but it will win you head-to-head matchups. Right now, Shueisha, Jump's parent company, is holding all the cards, while the rest of the business is stuck with the Old Maids.

Speaking of card games...

K is for...karuta.

While fans have flocked to trading-card games like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Chaotic, Cardfight! Vanguard, and every other version of Magic: The Gathering anime franchises can draw up, there really hadn't been any attention towards card games of Japan's past. The best you'd get would be an impromptu game of Uno in Gintama or KareKano, but as far as cards and anime were concerned, there were collecting card games, maybe your rare game of menko, and nothing else.

A total shame, considering there have been classical games of chance in Japan's past (hanafuda, oicho-kabu), which is why the show Chihayafuru was such a pleasant surprise with its embrace of traditional karuta competition. If people can find enjoyment in anime shows that pit random stacks of cards against each other, then why not find enjoyment in shows that emphasize taking cards from your opponent? That's all karuta is—Card Captor Sakura without the costume changes and fight sequences.

That in itself might be the reason some have no interest in Chihayafuru as a story, but the show really has little in terms of faults. There's plenty of energy in both the story and its drama/comedy, but I feel the appeal comes from the character designs, which looked familiar at first glance. In fact, they're done by Kunihiko Hamada, who did the designs for Nana back in 2006. Throw in a love triangle lurking below the surface without the actual term "love" being thrown about, and you have a great story about a girl trying to achieve a unique talent in a society looking for instant success.

Speaking of surprises...hey! It's my good friend and AniMaybe's first ever guest contributor Bradley Meek, ready to give us the entry for...

L is for...Level E.

Yoshihiro Togashi has always been good about subverting and playing with his audience’s expectations in shônen comics like Yû Yû Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter. In this faithful, straightforward adaptation, Level E is where that wit really shines, as well as his love of aliens and the supernatural. This cheeky collection of loosely related sci-fi encounters with aliens hidden in plain view on Earth has the kind of quick humor that Westerners love but rarely get from anime, making it a critical favorite when it first aired. Despite that, it somehow fell off the radar from nearly every “Best of 2011” list out there, and I’m mystified as to why. It was easily one of the most memorable series in the last few years, let alone one.

Maybe it’s because of its inconsistent nature, which is a natural consequence of being an anthology. The first and last arcs are witty, twisty affairs starring a bunghole alien prince who pulls pranks on humans for his perverse amusement. The middle arcs are tangentially related to the prince, but aren’t as colorful or compelling. I actually don’t hold that against Level E, though, since the whole story comes together so nicely, and each story is witty in its own way.

Alongside its quality writing, it’s a unique series in many other ways, and a stylistic throwback to the nineties with solid animation from David Productions. This rare combination of qualities will surely make it something worth watching years later.

Speaking of a surprise return to anime (and thanks for the guest entry, Bradley!)...

M is for...Mawaru-Penguindrum.

Who really saw Kunihiko Ikuhara's return to anime direction happening? After the Revolutionary Girl Utena TV series and movie, he vanished from the face of the earth, and considering he hadn't been a fan of the editorial process for the movie, I had wondered if it was that experience that turned him away from anime forever. Perhaps there was the idea he would someday return to his roots and involve his flamboyant directorial style and odes to Takarazuka in another show, but when would that be?

For the most part, Ikuhara's return as creator/director for Mawaru-Penguindrum was therefore one of the most anticipated returns to anime in recent memory, but it was also surprising that the show wasn't immediately grabbed by a Crunchyroll or Funimation for online screening purposes. The storyline of two brothers trying to save their terminally-ill sister was unique, the bubbly character designs from Lilly Hoshino were both reminiscent of the Utena models and comfortable for a change, and the bumbling antics of the invisible penguin mascots were riotous.

I suppose that's why, of all of the shows that premiered and ran in 2011, Mawaru-Penguindrum was the one I decided to stop following, hopeful that it would someday be brought over to America. However, word of mouth and Twitter buzz about the series brings me to the conclusion that it is one of the harder-to-understand shows out there, which would be exactly what we expected from Ikuhara. A lot like Utena? In its creative devices, perhaps, but the overall story is one that makes Mawaru-Penguindrum one of the more memorable visits of the year.

Speaking of "creative devices", we saw quite a few of them employed in...the entry for N in the next installment of the 2011 Anime Encyclopedia.

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