2010 in Review – The Top 11

It’s that time of year again – namely – the end of it – where we look back and take stock of what transpired over the last twelve months.  In that spirit, here’s my “Top Eleven” of 2010.  A couple of notes:

 – Why 11?  Honestly, the last few shows on the list were so close I couldn’t eliminate one.  Besides – let’s honor the new year as we review the old one!

 – I only included shows that premiered in 2010 on this list, contrary to some sites out there.  If I were including 2009 shows that finished in 2010, Cross Game would undoubtedly be #1 and it wouldn’t be all that close.  FMA: Brotherhood would probably come in at #3 or #4.

So without further ado, the list:

11. – Tegami Bachi Reverse.  What an outstandingly consistent show this is.  Of course, consistently bad doesn’t help you – fortunately this one is really good.  It’s one of the most emotionally transparent anime I’ve seen, unabashedly sentimental and heartfelt.  The backgrounds are gorgeous and the music superb, but I’d watch it just for the mangled English proper names.

10. B Gata, H Kei. This is a show that really surprised me. When the heroine, Yamada, announced she wanted “100 fuck buddies” in high school in the very first episode I was sure we were going to get a pretty broad sex farce. Instead, it proved to be a surprisingly complex and balanced look at teenage romance.

9. Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai. This is the other major bait-and-switch of 2010. Based on the description I was banking on yet another incest fantasy a la Kiss X Sis, but that couldn’t have been more wrong. Mind you, we still may go that route in the “true end”, but this was a different show altogether – satirical, challenging and smart. I didn’t love Kirino – she was hard to take some weeks – but it was towards a larger goal, and I adored Kuroneko as a supporting character.

8. Working!  This was a terrific year for comedy, and this refreshing slice of life, following young adults working at a family restaurant in Hokkaido, was a great one.  Having worked in food service as a late teen I can vouch for the brilliance with which the series captured the lifestyle.  Great characters top to bottom, though I did feel the show focused too much on one girl – Inami – and her annoying dysfunction at the expense of the others.  Still, this was consistently funny situation comedy and seems ripe for a sequel.

7. Shinryaku Ika Musume.  Another winning comedy, this one about a squid girl who comes to the surface to invade and punish humanity for polluting the seas.  This one totally works because it embraces the absurdity – no effort is make to rationalize any of the preposterous situations.   Told in three short installments per episode, the comedy was razor-sharp and the cast extremely likable and diverse.  Again, this one really should have a second season on the way at some point.

6. Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu.  What, more comedy?  You bet – I told you it was a great year.  This one is based on a series of light novels and quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.  The first ED (“Baka Go Home”) does a better job musically and visually explaining this brilliant madness than I ever could – I’ll just say it’s fearless, spectacularly original and you should really watch it.  And that’s not even talking about Hideyoshi – winner of favorite character polls (both genders) and adorner of body pillows everywhere…

5. Kuragehime. Another in a long line of winners airing in the Noitamina time slot (there are three on this list).  From the brilliant movie parody OP, I knew this was special.  It’s a fairly simple story about really complex, damaged people – alternately funny, romantic and terribly sad.  The biggest flaw is that 11 episodes is going to be nowhere near long enough to do the story of the characters justice.

4. Mitsudomoe.  I admit it – I really hated this show after the first episode.  But it totally, totally won me over – the ugliness was toned down just enough to make the characters likable.  Sharing a director with the first season of Minami-ke, the brilliance of Mitsudomoe was in almost always knowing how to walk the line between going just far enough and going too far.  As with Shinryaku Ika Musume, this one was told in three short skits – generally involving misunderstandings.  This was the Monty Python of anime – and the silent movie treatment of the “Hot Tub” chapter was a perfect example of an anime using music and motion to make a great manga moment even better.  Season two starts next week!

3. Giant Killing.  Maybe the best pure sports anime ever, in terms of what it says about sports.  This series took the game of soccer (football) and studied every aspect of it – off the field and on.  The fact that the series was about professionals allowed all sorts of interesting storylines and character development we don’t see in school sports anime.  Some of the best stuff involved the fans, and what it means to support a franchise heart and soul.  Truly an excellent series top to bottom – I only wish it had been longer.

2. Shiki. Another Noitamina property, currently wrapping up its run.  It took a little while for me to love this show, but once I did I was hooked.  No series in years has used the art of anticipation and suspense like this one.  It’s more of a Greek tragedy than a horror series in some ways – we can usually see what’s coming before the characters can, but that’s part of the art of the story.  The war between vampire and human has galvanized and polarized the fan community the way only really great writing can.  This isn’t cheerful stuff and it won’t fill you with hope or love for your fellow sentient beings, but it will anger, captivate, thrill and disturb you almost every week. 

1. Sarai-ya-Goyou (House of Five Leaves).  Fittingly, the list is topped by yet another Noitamina show.  For me, it’s the highest praise possible to say this show reminds me of Seirei no Moribito.  The story proceeds at a deliberate pace, never hurried, always taking time to show the small details of life in 19th Century Edo.  The tale of awkward, shy samurai Masa, kidnapper Yuichi, and their circle of friends and associates will slowly creep inside your soul and take root – it’s hard to overstate how much I cared for these characters by the end of 12 episodes.  The writing was subtle artistry with never a wasted syllable, and the backgrounds, animation and music sublime and beautiful.  Truly, this was a work of art – what anime can be when brilliant, talented people are allowed to pursue their vision.

Just missed out: Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, Durarara, Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin.


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