2008 A Year in Review: Best Anime of 2008, A Year of Fabulous Trainwrecks

Following one of the better years of the decade, 2008 was a year of contrasting feelings. The popular shows were no longer considered good, while a surge of productions geared solely towards niche audiences began to make their appearances more frequently. As such 2008 captured the waning moments of glory before the anime ship started to sink, simply unable to carry the burden caused by the moe stigma. Yet amidst the looming surge of decadence, several titles managed to stay true to the age old ethics of “doing things right.” Without further ado, I present The Best of the Year 2008.

Five Exceptional Anime of 2008:

Kaiba

Leading the pack is Masaaki Yuasa’s Kaiba, a show that is, by far, my favorite from the year 2008. It’s been criticized for its relative obscurity and its supposed pretentious imagery. While I can understand those claims to an extent, for me, it really comes down to enjoyment. What it all boils down to is this: the difference between good and bad when it comes to these so-called “experimental works” is whether the viewer finds them enjoyable or not. Personally, I found Kaiba VERY enjoyable.

Despite the very stylistic and polarizing character designs, the show manages to really capture a wide variety of emotions. By the end of the show, I really cared about these odd looking characters way more than I cared about say the average moe girl. Perhaps the thing that Kaiba does best is world building. I simply adore shows that take the time to construct an intricate world that actually works within the context of the show. I’m speaking of such titles as Last Exile, Berserk, and now Kaiba as well. This is a show that I hope everyone checks out as it is short, sweet, and simply a great introspective look at the human condition. As great a show as any to introduce one to the mind of Masaaki Yuasa.

Macross Frontier

Here we have the next installment in the Macross franchise. A franchise, which throughout the years, has seen its fair share of glory as well as disappointment. SDF is still one of the favorite series of all time. Do You Remember Love is, to this day, my absolute favorite movie of all time. Macross Plus is one of my favorite OVAs of all time. Then we have Macross II, Macross 7, and Macross Zero, which in my opinion, greatly brought down the franchise during its later years.

That changes with Macross Frontier. Once you get past the uncomfortable CG animation, the show becomes quite enjoyable. It has been described as a modern take on the original Macross story. Shoji Kawamori is once again, director and mecha designer. Once again, the love triangle is present. Despite Ichiro Itano not being on the production team, the battle scenes are still action packed and fast paced. Also, gerwalk mode VF-25 has got to be the coolest looking thing ever.

Michiko to Hatchin

AniDB lists this show as seinen while MAL lists this show as josei. While I think the correct categorization is somewhere in the middle, I think we can all agree that Michiko to Hatchin is damn good action packed entertainment. I’m always looking forward to the work Studio Manglobe puts out, despite their success rate for shows being only around 50%. Samurai Champloo and House of Five Leaves are definitely their highlights. In fact, Michiko to Hatchin definitely has that Champloo vibe; outlaws traveling together getting themselves into trouble. It’s a shame this show doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. I could see this show doing well had it been licensed, much like Champloo, it would benefit from having an english dub.

Detroit Metal City

Heavy metal meets Cromartie High School. How much better can it possibly get? I’ve mentioned this before, but as much as I love anime, I feel that it doesn’t do much for me when it comes to comedy. Of course, I’m largely to blame for that, as are all of us. We simply don’t find a lot of the same things funny as the Japanese do. Having a pun explained to us via liner notes severely puts a damper on shows who’s gimmick is cultural references. That said, there are a select few shows that I rank up there along the likes of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. Shows that are downright hilarious. Golden Boy is one of them, so is Cromartie High School. After this year, I can officially add Detroit Metal City to that list.

The show follows Negishi-kun, an aspiring pop artist who begins his new life in Tokyo. However, though a string of circumstances, he has become the lead singer of the death metal band DMC. Negishi takes on dual personalities, his normal self, as well as Krauser II, his death metal persona. Detroit Metal City is short, sweet, and downright hilarious. The humor is dark, the jokes are raunchy, and the lyrics give Marilyn Manson a run for the money. Made by Studio 4c, Detroit Metal City is perhaps their best work that is not an anthology or movie.

ARIA: The Origination

I had to include one of the ARIA’s, it might as well be ARIA: The Origination. This is the third TV installment in the ARIA franchise and is in my opinion, the best yet. This is another title whose strengths lie in its world building. In fact, not a lot happens plot-wise in this show at all. I would describe it as a tranquil slice of life series that you watch if you want to feel good. Which is odd, because slice of life doesn’t really do much for me usually unless they are exceptional. Either ARIA truly is exceptional, or it is the exception (and that was a terrible pun). Anyways, I guess coming straight from Detroit Metal City, having a show like ARIA is the perfect compliment.

Honorable Mention: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2

Ah yes, and finally we come to the one show which perhaps people will remember most from the year 2008. Despite my less-than-stellar inclinations towards the show, I had to mention this no matter what. 2008 was the year of fabulous trainwrecks; 2008 was the year of Code Geass. I could go on and on about the flaws of the show, and what I don’t like about it. But the fact still remains, for the time in which it aired, I was entertained. In fact, from a purely entertainment stand point, Code Geass is unmatched. Just when you thought things are getting serious, they pull a high school festival. Just when you thought things were settling down, they pull a massacre out of nowhere. The show is one huge plot blender and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Exceptional Movies of 2008:

The Sky Crawlers

It would be like Mamoru Oshii to complain about having to use CGI to animate this movie, then have it turn out absolutely fantastic. I think I’ve mentioned this somewhere down the line, but when it comes to CGI, there are people who get it, and people who don’t. There’s also people who have money, and people who don’t. Mamoru Oshii is someone who gets it AND and someone who has money. This is why I think Innocence, despite coming out in 2004, is still one of the best CG animated movies of all time.

About the actual movie itself, The Sky Crawlers is philosophical commentary with basset hound exhibition. Also known as classic Oshii. The movie is slow, but the world in which the story takes place is meticulously and carefully crafted. The characters are one-dimensional dolls, but given the context of the story, it really works to the movie’s advantage. The dogfights are few and far between, but once they do occur, the animation is spectacular. And while the ending of the movie leaves much to be desired, I think there really couldn’t have been one more fitting.

Male Character: Johannes Krauser II, Detroit Metal City

Detroit Metal City really is that show that took it to a “whole nother level” to quote Eugene Struthers. It was a show that turned the dial from 10 to 11 and the driving force behind that was none other than Krauser II. This guy is the alternate personality of Negishi-kun. He is the front-man for death metal band DMC. He killed punk rock. He killed Hip Hop. He even raped Tokyo Tower. And I’m pretty sure he’s immortal as well. Krauser II is definitely the man demon of the year. I mean come on, who else can you think of that can scream the word RAPE 11 times in a single second?

Female Character: Birdy Altera, Tetsuwan Birdy: DECODE

I enjoyed the original OVA series, so when there was another Tetsuwan Birdy, it immediately caught my attention. This impressive remake of an old OVA definitely has that “90s” feel to it. It’s really hard to describe without likening it to something like Mnemosyne. It’s almost as if you went back in time, but kept the animation quality. The director is also someone I’m fond of as he directed both Noein and Vision of Escaflowne.

As for the characters, Birdy Altera definitely sets herself apart from the rest. She is an alien and an intergalactic officer who comes to Earth in search for a criminal. Just from the description, she already sounds like another alien we all know. She certainly has the strength and skills to hold her own. But what really makes this character great is personality. All to often these days we lack strong female leads in non-josei, non-shoujo, action shows.

Ensemble Cast: Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

Here we have class 2-H. A class full of strange girls, and a couple of guys too, but mostly just girls. The “Zetsubou” girls, as many would call them. The show in question is none other than Akiyuki Shinbo’s Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, a sequel to the first season which aired last year. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei portrays Japanese society, politics, and media in a very satirical manner. Much of the comedy draws heavily from popular culture and thus requires prior knowledge of Japanese societal norms to fully appreciate.

The true strength of this show lies within its cast of characters. Each one of Nozomu’s students highlights a particular group of outcasts or social ills perceived in modern day Japanese society. Despite fitting their respective stereotypes a little too well, the show does not downplay this fact. In actuality, the huge cast of characters that make of class 2-H fit remarkably well into the show’s premise of dark humor and parody.

Directorial Contribution: Mamoru Oshii, The Sky Crawlers

It’s always a struggle to understand what goes on in this man’s head. This is a man who manages to make whatever he touches into something “else.” Just look at Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer. That thing got weird fast and I enjoyed every mind-bending minute of it (though the original creator supposedly did not). This is also the master mind behind the 1995 Ghost in the Shell movie adaptation of Shirow Masamune’s manga. Absolutely one of my all time favorite movies, and also one of my favorite manga-ka as well.

The Sky Crawlers is quite possibly Mamoru Oshii’s most daring adaptation yet. I vaguely recall Oshii mentioning in an interview somewhere that adapting the novels was the most difficult project in his career up to this point. The movie itself is nothing short of gorgeous, but it is very polarizing to say the least. To put it bluntly, people who enjoyed this movie are most likely those who are already familiar with Oshii’s directing style. Oshii builds a world, weaves a story, and uses his characters as puppets solely for exposition. This was the idea behind Ghost in the Shell and also what made it so great. This is style is again very prevalent in The Sky Crawlers. As I said before, its very polarizing for the passing anime fan who has no prior experience with Oshii. That said, I can’t imagine anyone being introduced to Oshii through The Sky Crawlers. Go watch Ghost in the Shell or Patlabor instead.

Story Contribution: Ichiro Okouchi, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Code Geass is what happens when you take the series composer for OVERMAN King Gainer, and pair him up with the disaster of a director Goro Taniguchi (ok, he had one good show previously, I’ll give him that). Still, I have to tip my hat off to these guys. Because without them, Code Geass would have not have been Code Geass. Oh Mr. Okouchi, how do I implore thee to continue this franchise and entertain us all once again with your plot bakery. Even the executives over at Studio Sunrise supposedly wanted the series to continue. Though I hope they actually convince this guy to do the script, since I recall there being some sort of conflict of interest between Okouchi and Studio Sunrise regarding the ending of the series.

Production Contribution: Sunrise, Code Geass, Gundam 00, Freedom, VOTOMS

Studio Sunrise, the de facto real robot studio, had there hands quite full in the year 2008. The aforementioned Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 was finishing up. The next installment in the Gundam franchise, Gundam 00, was in the middle of its broadcast. Then there were a set of OVA productions that were definitely worth checking out. Fans of VOTOMS get an OVA titled Pailsen files. Freedom Project was also just about finishing up this year. I really enjoyed this series, but I know A LOT of people did not. Yeah, I can buy that. Freedom had many flaws, but I guess I’m overly biased when it comes to anything resembling Akira. Hell, I even enjoyed Venus Wars for crying out loud.

Voice Talent Contribution: Norio Wakamoto, Code Geass (Emperor Charles)

God exists, and he’s Japanese Britannian. Yes Krauser II was awesome. Yes the Japanese voice of Lelouch was awesome. But at the end of the day, anything involving Wakamoto is simply too good to overlook.

Music Contribution: Shinichiro Watanabe, Alexandre Kassin, Michiko to Hatchin

Part of the reason for the “Champloo vibe” I mentioned earlier was because of the music. The OST for Michiko to Hatchin was produced by none other than Shinichiro Watanabe, genius behind Champloo. And yes, while Kassin doesn’t quite match the greatness that is Yoko Kanno or Nujabes, the influence Watanabe had on the series is very prevalent.

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