2006 was a damn good year. Sure it may not have been on the same level as 2004, but we still had a plethora of good shows to satisfy our anime hunger. We also had a wide range of good shows to choose from spanning across pretty much ever genre and sub genre imaginable. This was also Madhouse’s year, as will be seen later on. Thus without further ado, I present The Best of the Year 2006.
Five Exceptional Anime of 2006:
Leading the surge of variety is Mushishi, who was just finishing its run of episodes. This is, by far, my favorite show from the year 2006. It’s one of those shows that give you an indescribable sensation of awe from the atmosphere alone. Mushishi is episodic anime done right. It’s not particularly genre-heavy on the supernatural, psychological, or mystery, but rather a mesh of all three. It tells the unrelated stories of people who encounter the “mushi,” invisible creatures who exist alongside humans, and the conflicts that occur between the two. It shows us that by stripping away emotions such as anger and fear, everything left is as it is, nothing more and nothing less.
Welcome to the NHK!
This is title that follows the trend set all the way back in the late 80s by Otaku no Video. That is, it examines the lives of otaku in Japanese society. Except in the case of Welcome to the NHK, the portrayal is more serious and less comedic. Welcome to the NHK is not for everyone. It’s in part a comedy, but also can be very dark at times. It follows the life of Satou, a hikikimori who is borderline insane. He doesn’t have a job and isn’t attending school, someone the Japanese refer to as a N.E.E.T. Afraid to go out into the world, he’s been holed up in his apartment for nearly 3 years. The manga which existed beforehand (which I have not read) is supposedly even more grim dark than the anime. Nevertheless, it is still one of the best of the year.
Originality is something that is becoming increasingly rare in anime these days. When creators find a formula that works, they are less likely to take risks and more inclined to stick to what has proven successful. Bartender is one of the few series that offers something new to the scene by exploring the restaurant/bar service sub-genre. The show takes a unique premise and transforms it into one of the best slice-of-life anime of the past decade. It’s pace is slow yet deliberate and manages to incite an aura of calmness lacking in many slice-of-life series. Though the show is clearly geared towards older adults, it still manages to draw appreciation from many parts of anime fandom. A great series from 2006, that was largely overshadowed by its contemporaries.
Masaaki Yuasa’s postmodern madness meets classic Shakespearean tragedy. This show is definitely the most polarizing, divisive, and unique amongst the rest of the shows this year. The art and animation style is something else completely. It also draws from pseudo-folklore to an extent. Definitely reminiscent of Yuasa’s previous work, Mind Game. This is a show I would recommended for anyone willing to try something new. I really enjoyed the show, almost as much as I enjoyed Mind Game. However, I will say, while the ending is ultimately satisfying, good luck trying to make sense of the events leading up to it. It took me at least a second re-watch for it all to sink in.
Zegapain proved that Sunrise is still capable of producing provocative mecha titles that don’t have “Gundam” in its name. While watching through the show, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better it would have been if I had watched it when I was younger. It is, in many respects, a shounen show but with a lot more underneath. Zegapain is show that starts small and ends spectacularly. The pacing is perfect, everything is revealed piece by piece and just keeps getting better and better. I honestly think that Zegapain and Planetes are currently Sunrise’s only two masterpieces thus far in the 21st century.
Exceptional Movies of 2006:
Satoshi Kon’s track record thus far has been nothing short of phenomenal. Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress have made there way into my list of favorite anime movies. Slowly but surely, Satoshi Kon has been refining his style and it shows in each of his subsequent works. Paprika is Satoshi Kon at his best, pushing the boundaries of animation and storytelling. It explores the nature of dreams and the effects of controlling one’s dreams through external devices. The visuals are simply stunning, and the musical score is also quite fitting. I expected this film to be of the highest caliber, and Satoshi Kon delivered. This is it people. Paprika is the movie of the year.
Tekkon Kinkreet was a rare case where a great deal of its conception process was spear headed by Americans. In fact, the director Michael Arias is credited as the first non-Japanese director of an anime movie. As what one would expect from Studio 4c, the animation and art style is quite strange yet alluring at the same time. The story follows two street kids living in the fictional “Treasure Town” as well as their struggle against the yakuza who wish to take over the city. The artwork is beautiful and while the story result is not as great as its potential, it is still a damn good movie.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Time travel you say? Well we’ve all seen what happens when time travel is present in media, it usually becomes cause for a lot of unnecessary explanation and technical jargon. Surprisingly, this is not the case here. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is an accessible movie to both die-hard anime fans as well as the general audience. It follows Makoto, a high school girl, who one day discovers she can “leap” and appear at any point in time. She begins to use her powers on various mundane things, such as going back in time to cheat on a test or to eat the last pudding in the refrigerator before anybody else can get their hands on it. Life quickly becomes a piece of cake, having the ability to turn back the clock if need be. However, she’ll soon learn the true meaning behind the phrase, “time waits for no one.” As she continues to use her powers, she begins to realize the effect it has on her friends and family. This movie is the pinnacle of realistic and romantic storytelling and is a must see for both girls and guys alike.
Male Character: Ginko, Mushishi
Ginko doesn’t really get any character back story until half way through the series. He just kind of appears at the beginning and starts doing his thing. The truth of the matter is, that’s pretty much all you need. Watching this man at work is a sight to behold. At first, his character seems rather platonic. But as time goes on, we slowly begin to understand why that is the case. Ginko is what really drives this show. He is, without a doubt, the best male lead of the year.
Female Character: Mylene Hoffman, 009-1
Mylene Hoffman is pretty much a cyborg James Bond with breast cannons. Top level spy during the cold war era? check. License to kill? check. Cold and ruthless? check. Has sex with multiple people across multiple movies/episodes? check. Looks like Sean Connery has competition. Agent 009 is definitely female lead of the year, as well as miles ahead of Re-l Mayer in the badassery department.
Honorable Mention: Hiroko Matsukata, Hataraki Man
Whenever I want to make the distinction between a seinen/josei romance and a shounen/shoujo one, I usually point to Hataraki Man. This is a show that doesn’t romanticize any of the things usually found in those targeted at younger audiences. The characters have flaws that cause them great pain, and eventually lead to relationships falling apart. This is obviously not a show targeted for most people (including me), but I really did enjoy how Hiroko’s character was constructed.
Ensemble Cast: Ouran Highschool Host Club
Ouran Highschool Host Club, despite what it may look like on the surface, really does benefit from superb writing. In fact, that was probably what made the show for me in the end. The characters start off as your stereotypical archetypes, magnifying many of the cliches in romantic comedy. However, this is a show that really does harbor more underneath its surface. By ingraining these archetypes into our minds beforehand, it makes the revelations of their past that much more intriguing. At the end of they day, there really isn’t a better cast of characters than those of the host club.
Directorial Contribution: Hiroshi Nagahama, Mushishi
I could only gaze in awe as the events within Mushishi unfolded before me on screen. It’s one of those shows that I can honestly say, blew me away. Not by any sort of over-the-top action scenes, or mind bending deep themes, but rather by its deliberate exposition overlaid by a pure unadulterated sense of peace. We see the most imaginative and enthralling sequences play out in front of us. The boy whose brush strokes come to life. The mountain guardian being usurped. The rainbow in the sky. The endless cave. The one-eyed fish. The underground river of light. All of these profoundly amazing things occur amidst a backdrop of tranquility and harmony.
Story Contribution: Tow Ubukata,
Le Chevalier D’Eon
This man was already an established novelist before 2006. He had won the 24th annual Hihon Taisho award in 2003 and his works included Fafner, Mardock Scramble, and of course, Le Chevalier D’eon. The novel would act as the blue print for Production I.G’s 2006 series of the same name. The story is set during the French revolution and references real people and events of that time period. Not only did he act as scriptwriter for the series, he is heading the manga adaptation as well. I have not read the novels yet, but in an interview, Ubukata revealed that despite having to rewrite the script for the anime, they were able to keep many of the small nuances prevalent in the novels and subsequently the characters remained largely intact. Thus by doing so, “we stayed true to the plot given to us initially and I feel we actually added depth to it.”
Production Contribution: Madhouse, Black Lagoon, Death Note, Paprika
Madhouse was on fire this year. To this day, I don’t think a studio has ever matched the number of hits that Madhouse managed to produce in the year 2006. On the series side, there was Black Lagoon, Death Note, Hellsing Ultimate, and Nana. On the movie side, there was Paprika and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. All of them great titles in my opinion. 2006 was Madhouse’s year.
Voice Talent Contribution: Mamoru Miyano, Death Note (Light Yagami)
I first discovered anime around the time 2005-2006. Death Note was actually the third anime series I had seen. I figured I might as well since everyone else seemed to be talking about it. The first portion was awesome, it lost itself somewhere in the middle, and it ended decently. In the end, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the show, but I would not rank it among the best. Aside from watching the psychological game of oneupmanship unfold, the thing I really found intriguing was Light Yagami’s slow but steady change in character throughout the show. I thought the Japanese voice actor Miyano did a great job in capturing the emotions that went along with these changes. Also, that laugh at the end…
Music Contribution: Susumu Hirasawa, Paprika
The genius composer behind the Berserk, Millennium Actress, and Paranoia Agent soundtracks returns once again for Satoshi Kon’s latest movie. Hirasawa’s style of using synthesizers and vocaloids fits the premise of Paprika perfectly. The opening sequence alone features a stunning combination of both visual and audio, setting the tone for the rest of the movie.
Honorable Mention: Tomoki Hasegawa, Anna Tsuchiya, Nana
Since we’re coming off the year 2005, I have to make the comparison with another punk rock inspired show. Nana is, in a way, a mature version of BECK. Nana, however, differs in that it is very much a character study, opting to focus on a lot of “other” aspects such as the lives of the main characters. Still, one of the prevailing themes throughout the show is its music. Now if only the Beat Crusaders, Black Stones, and The Pillows would get together for a concert tour…