If there’s one thing I love about anime, it’s the rich casts of characters it so often fields. If there’s a two and a three, it’s the late-90s late night boom era and the compelling narratives out there just waiting to be pieced together. Recently, the latter two aspects led me to Sentimental Journey, a 1998 adaptation of the Sentimental Graffiti dating sim franchise and the directorial debut of Big O helmsman Kazuyoshi Katayama. Said Katayama narrative would make the show part of a fun narrative either way, either as a “Kiddy Grade/Shingo Suzuki-esque nurturing talent” type or a “before they were known, they were still great” type. It still makes it more fun that the series ends up being the latter sneaky-great type, as solid an argument for the dating sim adaptations of that era as anything not named To Heart.
When anime franchises get rebooted, it’s fairly typical for the new staff to take it in a new direction and make something extra-special to celebrate the anniversary of a classic product. For examples of this done incredibly well, look no further than the 2012 Lupin III series or the 2009 Mazinger reboot. For the example of this done perfectly, take a gander at Kenji Nakamura’s take on the decades-old Gatchaman franchise and watch him take an already stellar skill set to a whole other level.
Meet the show with the year’s best villain, the year’s best protagonist, the year’s best two-person dialogue chain, the year’s most relevant-to-society themes, the year’s second-best opening (got Jaeger’d by the number one), the year’s best panda, and the best one-word BGM track in anime.
Meet Gatchaman Crowds.
Dusk Maiden of Amensia is a fusion romance/mystery show about a guy and a ghost girl trying to solve the mystery of her murder, with really awesome backgrounds. Am I the only one who thinks romance series and pretty background art go well together? If I’m not the only one, read on to find out why I liked this show as much as I did.
With the obvious exception of Ozamu Tezuka, no single person has created more classic anime characters than Go Nagai, the father of super robots (Mazinger Z) and perverted comedy (Harenchi Gakuen). So it makes sense that his characters get the reboot treatment a lot. Demon Prince Enma is the most ambitious interpretation of his work I’ve seen to date, taking characters from a comedy featuring demons with butts for heads, aging them 10 years, and thrusting them smack in the middle of a dark, shrimp and grits horror story.
Point of order before I begin, there is a certain flavor of story arc that only the best of creators can play. I call it the “dice in a cup” arc. It’s the term I use to describe what happens when characters in a scenario feel like dice spinning around in a heavily-shaken cup, slamming against each other and changing trajectories in way that feel at the same time natural and totally unpredictable. This is one of those things that’s very eye-testy; it’s very hard to quantify, but you know it when you see it. Demon Prince Enma has one such arc, a testimony to its general excellence.
Full disclosure: Mysterious Girlfriend X is a show about a couple that swaps spit on a daily basis. If you’re the type of person who rejects shows on premise, you probably won’t give this one any more of a chance than reading the plot summary. Once you get past that one hurdle, though, the show is a decent romance which gets a lot of extra punch from an ominous, quirky soundtrack and an approach that treats the characters with dignity.
There are a lot of mecha anime out there, and while I haven’t seen too many of them, I tend to really enjoy the self-aware mecha shows that take unique takes on the implications of the genre; stuff like Dai-Guard, where the focus is a hot-blooded protagonist dealing with various impracticalities of the genre, or Fist Planet, where the mech pilot just clowns around to pass the time in his dull job, or Gad Guard, which is all about the downsides of having a robot minion that does whatever you want.
One day, I had heard a certain 90s mecha by the name of Gasaraki mentioned in this context enough times that I had to give it a look. Suffice to say it’s a lot less in the style of Ishikawa Ken (Getter Robo) and a lot more in the style of Kaiji Kawaguchi (Zipang, A Spirit of the Sun), a gripping political thriller.
Ten-Tenna Toori no Kaidanji (hereafter referred to as Ten) is a manga that ran in Monthly Kindai Mahjong for a 14-year period from 1989 to 2002, and the work that catapulted the award-winning mangaka Nobuyuki Fukumoto into the Japanese spotlight. Though it is less well-known in western circles than the author’s other works (Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji, Akagi), it is by no means an inferior product. Indeed, it is in many ways his best work, a sublime combination of the author’s trademark gritty, greasy yakuza storylines with dynamic storyboarding and a quasi-religious journey through the author’s philosophy on life.
Seitokai Yakuindomo (SYD, for brevity’s sake) is a very strange beast. At a glance, it looks like a fairly run-of-the-mill comedy, and describing the bathroom humor-littered source material probably won’t win you many fans. As a novel, it probably wouldn’t have many. But, thanks to a combination of ultracompetent soundtrack and excellent comedic delivery, the series actually ends up being quite an entertaining ride.
Now let’s dissect those layers
Giant Killing is an anime about professional-level soccer that aired in the run-up to the 2010 world cup, which should really be everything you need to know about the savvy IQ level of the ones making it. Being from America, I didn’t follow a particular professional team, and had a passing interest in the upcoming world cup. This anime changed that attitude, mainly by building a large-scale fun cast and integrating realism to a level I’d never before seen from a sports anime.
My image of soccer, post-Giant Killing
When I saw the first couple episodes of Blue Exorcist, I got the impression of a show that would be right at home on adult swim. It had flashy priests vs. demons action, decent drama, and a somewhat over-the-top plot (satan’s son on a quest for revenge against dear ol’ dad). That is pretty much how it played out, and the result was a notable, if imperfect show in one of the greatest seasons in recent memory.
Key art always looks like this, but A-1 makes the actual show look almost as smooth