2016 Top 10 Contest Winner: A Look Back at 2008

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.

Ghost Hound

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.

 

True Tears

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.

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15 comments

  1. H

    So excited for the post on Ghost Hound. I love that show and still consider it one of the best examples of psychological horror in anime. I think my favorite aspect of the show is how Tarou deals with the aftermath of the traumatic event from his past and how it contributes to the mysterious goings on of his present day life. It was really fascinating to me to see a main character that is going through therapy since this isn’t something that gets addressed all too often in anime. The material is unpredictable and often pretty creepy with the setting feeling almost like a character itself. The cast were all really well acted and the fact that they are all so young made the plot that much more hard-hitting. The backgrounds were incredible as well as the sound design, which did a lot to instill the emotions of what was being shown. It also has one of the best opening songs of that year. It’s a shame that this one went under the radar for many people since it is among Production I.G.’s best. Really glad you picked this to talk about.

  2. You raise a very good point. Therapy is very rarely discussed in anime (or anywhere else in Japanese fiction), as it’s still much more of a taboo subject there than in most Western countries.

  3. e

    Yay Ghost Hound :D. I definitely agree about the sound being phenomenal. So much that I am of two minds about suggesting to watch the show at night for maximum effect…
    I have a soft spot for the character design as well. It’s round-faced and big-eyed done right. Plus the memorable story and Tarou. An atmospheric gem in any case.

    BGI is still my to-go series for saintly childhood friend-rival and depressed kid(s) coping with unhealthy unhappy mothers, in hindsight I wished they had handled the romance differently though. The anime for good or bad stopped before things got reallly complicated.
    Sand Chronicles sort of lost me halfway and I barely remember it now *dodging rotten tomatoes*.

  4. J

    Seeing your write-up on Ghost Hound and the praise for the sound in particular just reminded me of how much of a shame it is that Ryuutarou Nakamura passed away, given his great use of sound in not only Ghost Hound, but also in anime like Kino no Tabi or Serial Experiments Lain. I remember watching Ghost Hound a couple of years ago and enjoying it – certainly nowhere close my alltime favorites, but definitely very solid, though I did feel as if it lost a little bit of steam towards the end.

  5. A

    I don’t share your raving review about Ghost Hound. It starts very strong, true, very very strong. But it seems the writers didn’t really know where they went, and it felt more and more as they were improvising as the serie advanced, losing the power and the ability to project feeling they had in the beginning.
    Worse, the ending is just downright bad, feeling like a filler (OOC cast, completely clashing in tone and production values with the rest of the show, bad deus ex machina by the truckload to try to tie up the loose threads…).
    Ghost Hound is certainly interesting and worth a try, but I can’t really consider it an elite show when it fall after the half-point and completely break down toward the end.

  6. I completely respect your right to be wrong!

  7. A

    Spoken like a good talk radio host!

  8. A

    Come on, even if you love the show, you have to admit that the ending was terribad at least, and didn’t even look like the rest of the serie.

  9. I don’t “have” to do any such thing, and I don’t. People tell me I have to hate the Boku Dake ending too, and I think they’re just as full of it there. You like what you like and I’ll like what I like – that’s how it works.

  10. A

    Let me jump on the praise Ghost Hound bandwagon: One of my favorite shows of all time, and I’ve inducted many “academic” types into anime through GH. Love just how creepy the experience of watching it is (in a dark room especially), and I notice something new every time I rewatch.

    You would include it in your Top 20 of all time? Pardon me for maybe being out of the loop, but have you told us the Guardian Enzo Top 20 before? That’s a list I’d like to see.

  11. Someday, maybe…

  12. Z

    Let’s try that again, shall we?

    Weirdly enough I watched Ghost Hound back in March to help vet it for a library teen anime group. From my notes:

    “Okay, I finished it. I enjoyed the journey much more than the destination.

    It was a good series, but the end felt really forced and rushed. They gave two of these kids very specific powers; then one of them never uses that power again, and the other only really uses his to run around when he is distressed (with the exception of frightening a thug at the end, and even then the rules that have applied to his power before are ignored). Visually it was very soft. Not quite “Mushishi” or “Natsume Yuujinchou” soft, but certainly edging into that territory. It has a really effective use of silence, “radio tuning noise” and meditation gongs during “normal” scenes. It did a great job of ratcheting up the tension. There were lots of morally grey characters, and only a few whose motivations were “because I’m the bad guy”

    There is no nudity, but themes touched on in the show include: (list of troubling themes removed due to spoilers). So, maybe it’s not the best for the young teen crowd, I don’t know. In general, I would definitely recommend it though.”

    As you can see, my review skills are nowhere near any of yours 😉 It’s all down and dirty and personal opinion with me. Also, apparently the pleasure of the journey overrode my disappointment in the ending, because when I saw you list Ghost Hound I thought “Oh, I watched that not too long ago, it was pretty good.”

  13. l

    Two shows? And you went along with my weird curveball? Thank you so much! I’m looking forward to watching both of these this winter season.

  14. The wrong one is doing the thanking here, but you’re very welcome. Your support of LiA is very much appreciated indeed.

  15. B

    Nice post !

    Ghost Hound is on my waiting list

    Since you wrote about what made true tears great anime for you

    I also want to mentions the reasons to why I liked this anime

    I actually ended up enjoying the secondary love triangle way more than the Hiromi , Shin’ichiro , Noe love triangle. Many people complained about the secondary characters and called them useless (The third girl to be specific) and they didn’t like the addition of the third girl but I completely disagree with their opinion. When you really think about it, the writers actually did a very smart job. I liked how they decided not to turn this anime into harem by cutting the third girl from the main story line and I loved how they gave the best friend his own development by not reducing his role into the stupid/useless friend. If the writers didn’t give the secondary characters their own story line, This anime would have been so cliche and unrealistic. It would just be you average harem anime. Majority of the people also said that the third girl (Aiko)lacked so much development but I dare say that she ‘s one of the most interesting third wheel characters I’ve ever came across in anime like this ,If you noticed the characters of her type (especially the ones that Okads has written ) and many more are always portrayed in a very sympathetic way (example: Kanama from NNA , Zessica from aquarion , Ami from toradora , Anjou and Tsuruko from Anohana and many more ) they are all very likable and sympathetic but unlike these characters. Aiko is portrayed in a very negative way and is a character with many flaws. She comes off as an unlikable/ unsympathetic character to so many people. Aiko is a character who plays a number of roles in the anime and not just one or two like the rest of the characters ,It’s very rare to see a third wheel character in anime portrayed like this not to mention that Aiko situation is one of the toughest I’ve seen when it comes to third wheel characters but what really shocks me so much is the fact that many people didn’t see the character like this because the expected this anime to be the typical harem anime scenario .They are many more reasons as to why I don’t think that Aiko is a waste of character but the post will be too long.

    In the end the girl who the protagonist chose is the one that made the most sense , she was the most realistic choice in my opinion, The other two girls are both not suitable for the mc .

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