First off, congrats to Laney for winning the 2016 Top 10 contest by correctly guessing 9 of my 10 entries. The prize was to commission me to do a write-up on a series of the winner’s choosing, and Laney threw me an interesting curveball – pick a show from 2008.
My recollection was that 2008 was a pretty “meh” year for anime – certainly compared to 2007, which was the best year the medium has ever seen. I looked back through the series list and sure enough, it was a mediocre bunch – but there were a few shows that stood out. I’ve actually written about a couple of 2008 shows (one started in Fall 2007) before, but there are two which stand out that I haven’t dedicated full posts to – stood out because they’re series I loved, and which were important to me as a viewer. I struggled to decide between them but ultimately figured what the hell, why not do both? So here they are.
2007 wasn’t just a great year for anime, but an incredible one for Production I.G. In the Spring they delivered anime’s greatest-ever TV series, Seirei no Moribito. Then, in the Fall came their 10th anniversary work – Ghost Hound, created by the legendary Shirow Masamune. Ghost Hound is a masterpiece of a very different sort from Moribito, and it’s been generally under-appreciated – both in its own time and since. This is not a warm and cuddly, easily approachable teddy bear of a series – it’s disturbing and confusing and angsty. In other words, in anime terms it’s something of a relic even by 2007 standards.
You expect certain things from any I.G. series, such as top-shelf production values. Those are certainly present here in all the usual places like animation and art direction, but what really stands out in Ghost Hound is the Sound Design – without exaggeration the finest of any anime I’ve ever seen. Since this series is basically a head trip that’s spectacularly effective – GH sort of crawls into your brain through your ear canal and nests there. It’s creepy and unsettling to begin with, but with the amazing sound design factored in the unease factor is off the charts. This is a series to be listened to on a good pair of headphones if ever one existed.
Thematically, Ghost Hound is an interesting mix of Western psychology (Jung especially) and Shinto mythology. It’s all about exploring the hidden corners of human consciousness where we’d rather not look, but also has an extremely engaging human story built around protagonist Tarou and a strong supporting cast. This was the breakthrough role for young Ono Kenshou and he delivers an outstanding performance at the head of a very strong seiyuu cast. Because of the disturbing and sometimes quite scary tone of the show, the fact that Tarou is such a sympathetic and likeable kid (one of anime’s best examples of male moe) is crucial to Ghost Hound’s success.
If you haven’t watched Ghost Hound – and since it’s largely ignored there’s a very good chance of that – I highly recommend it. It’s solidly in my Top 20 anime of all-time, but I will say this – it’s a show to watch when you intend on paying attention and limiting distractions. Absorb yourself in it and let it wash over you and the rewards will be immense – it’s a series that will change the way you watch anime and maybe even the way you look at yourself and the world.
Ah, True Tears. To me this will always be P.A. Works signature series – the one that epitomizes their style and personality. Though it’s technically based on a VN, it’s such a loose adaptation that it’s effectively considered an original series by all concerned. When you watch it, though, I suspect it will seem very familiar even if it’s the first time – because it’s been very influential on the anime medium.
Of all the shipping wars that anime has spawned, the one that erupted when True Tears aired may be the most impassioned I can remember. Normally I avoid stuff like that like the plague, but somehow with TT it’s well-earned – it’s just the essential DNA of the story, and what a great story it is. I consider True Tears to be the quintessential modern anime teen romance along with Bokura ga Ita (though Sand Chronicles would have given both a run for their money if it’d ever gotten an anime). It’s those two series that have most wrapped me up in the on-screen romance in the competitive sense, and that’s a function of the writing – the characters at the center of this story are truly distinctive and memorable.
True Tears is also pretty much unique among romance series with multiple “routes” in that the girl I was pulling for actually won, which almost never happens. I won’t say who that is in case you decide to watch it, but I suspect those of you that know me well enough would be able to figure out my preference pretty quickly. The ingenious part of this series is that it defies easy prediction because no one ending really satisfies the tropes – it really did feel like a guessing game, right up to the very end. I wasn’t yet blogging when True Tears aired, but this series has the distinction of being among the most fun to comment (and argue) about of all-time.
At the heart of this story is the triangle (True Tears is technically a quadrangle, but one of the girls is a pretty obvious fourth wheel) of protagonist Shin’ichiro and love rivals Noe and Hiromi. Those two are beautifully played off against each other because they’re so different – starkly so. As for Shin, he’s the prototypical “good boy” (“stop him before he helps again”) who desperately wants to be a threat. It’s a romance power trio for the ages, and True Tears uses it to full advantage. A warning – this show will definitely put you through the emotional wringer, but in my view it’s all worth it in the end. And when that end comes, you’ll probably be lamenting that they just don’t make anime romances like this anymore.