In the spirit of the Oscars, here are my picks for the best of the best this year. I’m going to bend my rules for this one and allow series that began airing in 2009 for this one, just because I really want to give Cross Game some of the credit it deserves.
Best Actor: Irinu Miyu, Cross Game
Irinu Miyu has been one of the best male seiyuu in the business since he broke in as a 13 year-old in DN Angel. In Kitamura Kou, he’s found his Hamlet – the role of his career. This is an actor’s role – Mitsuru Adachi’s words are full of subtext and the series direction is respectful of that, leaving a lot of heavy lifting in the hands of the cast. Kou is one of the best male characters ever, but Miyu-miyu brings out all of the humor, grace and quiet suffering of this great soul of a young man.
Honorable Mention: Daisuke Namikawa, Sarai-ya Goyou (Masa)
Best Actress: Omigawa Chiaki, Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru
Chiaki is a polarizing figure with her distinctive voice, but I’m a fan – she’s instantly recognizable in every role so range hasn’t been a strong suit (yet) but in Arashiyama Hatori she’s find the role to make her a star. Her edgy, histrionic style is perfect for this walking tsunami of a girl, spreading chaos wherever she goes but possessing a heart of gold.
Honorable Mention: Hisako Kanemoto, Shinryaku Ika Musume (Ika)
Best Director: Tomomi Mochizuki, Sarai-ya Goyou
Mochizuki can do more with stillness than any director in anime today, as witness his stunning work in the underrated masterpiece Zettai Shounen. To have told this rich, deep and complex story in 12 episodes is truly a remarkable achievement.
Best Supporting Actor: Takahiro Sakurai, Cross Game
Azuma is the master of verbal economy, speaking volumes with few words. Sakurai captures his world-weary cynicism without losing his keen intelligence and desire for acceptance. A great performance in a great role.
Best Supporting Actress: Aoi Yuki, Shiki
Aoi Yuki stormed the anime world with her brilliant work as Murasaki in the Kure-nai TV adaptation. She’s almost grown-up now but she perfectly conveys the ageless youth of this vital role. Sunako is the linchpin of the entire story in many ways – she must simultaneously be a figure of sympathy and malice, cruelty and pity, age and childishness. In a great and huge cast, Yuki’s work stands out.
Best Song: Koi Kogarete Mita Yume, Ayaka (Cross Game)
It was a great year for music in anime, but this first ED from Cross Game captures the heartbreak of the first arc so beautifully that it stays with you forever.
Best Original Screenplay: Seishi Minakami, Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin
It wasn’t a great year for non-adapted anime series, but this one was truly ingenious. While the show struggled with the one-cour format, in concept and design it was utterly brilliant – creative, original and fresh. Full of surprises, it also demonstrated a tremendous range of comedic styles.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Kenji Sugihara, Shiki
This might be the toughest category of the year – a year full of wonderful adaptations of manga and visual or light novels and even eroge that built on the success of their source material. I would have been happy to award this to Cross Game or Sarai-ya Goyou, or even FMA: Brotherhood – but I think in Shiki we have the strongest case for the true art of adaptation. The pacing, suspense and deft juggling of so many characters earn this one the top honors.
Best Art Direction: Maho Takahashi, Tegami Bachi Reverse
Quite simply, I think Tegami Bachi is the most beautiful anime on TV this year. The art style is certainly faithful to the manga’s, but so darkly gorgeous and atmospheric – the world presented here is unique and haunting.
Best Picture: Cross Game
In the end, this one isn’t close for me. Much of the credit no doubt goes to Mitsuru Adachi for writing this perfect story, but give credit to Osamu Sekita and Synergy for not messing with greatness. The story of Kou and Aoba is one of the finest relationships ever told in anime, growing with subtlety and patience through 50 glorious episodes. There’s so much that’s great about this show – the supporting characters, the humor, the weaving of baseball into everyday life. If Touch was a beautiful fairy tale, Cross Game is a bittersweet reflection – a mature, almost somber view of the pain life throws at us and the rewards it can grant us if we’ll just open our eyes – and hearts – to accept them. It has no flash, no glamor, no gimmicks and not even an OST – just an incredibly realistic and rewarding tale of youth, love and baseball that only Adachi could craft.