2005 Year in Review
Key's Best of 2005

by Theron Martin, Jan 11th 2006
ANIME IN AMERICA: THERON "KEY" MARTIN'S BEST OF 2005
No proper look back at anime in America in 2005 would be complete without awards! Some are serious, some more whimsical, but all except the Rerelease of the Year award concern only non-hentai anime titles (or portions thereof) which saw their first official American release during 2005 – and yes, that means that no titles available only via fansubs are eligible. It's possible I have missed some worthy options, but based on what I have seen and reviewed here are the year's best and most noteworthy in the world of anime:

Series of the Year: Fullmetal Alchemist
Best of the Rest (in alphabetical order): Elfen Lied, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Koi Kaze, Paranoia Agent, Planetes, Scrapped Princess

SPECIAL NOTE: Gankutsuou deserves consideration here, but I can't justify including a series based on a single available volume. Definitely expect it to be a leading contender for next year's award, though.

Although some series may exceed it in individual categories, none offered a more complete, well-rounded, and consistently compelling production than Fullmetal Alchemist. Appealing artistry, good animation, impressively tense and flashy action scenes, excellent vocals, and a capable musical score support superb characterizations and inventive writing, but it's the depth of the series and its effectiveness in both comedic and darkly dramatic moments which truly stand out. It presents powerful stories about serial killers, religious fanaticism, abuse and misuse of power, dealing with the consequences of horrible mistakes, sibling loyalty, and the evils of war while still managing room for heavy doses of action and occasional bouts of pure silliness, and it does it all without relying much on stereotypical anime storytelling elements. It is the year's most entertaining series and one of its most original.

Amongst the Best of the Rest, Elfen Lied is a technical masterpiece which also ranks as the year's best horror story, while GITS: SAC offers an excellent blend of great visuals and extraordinarily complex plotting. Koi Kaze is a masterpiece of writing that is also the year's best romance, Paranoia Agent is a complex, great-looking thriller, Planetes is far and away the year's best sci-fi series, and Scrapped Princess offers a compelling, original, and distinctly different take on fantasy drama. All are titles worthy of being in any otaku's collection.

Movie/One-Shot of the Year: Place Promised in Our Earlier Days
Howl's Moving Castle is the anime movie most likely to get an Academy Award nomination for 2005, but Makoto Shinkai's gentle, understated follow-up to Voices of a Distant Star is the better movie in most senses and less flawed than other top competitors. Gorgeous background artistry, incredible lighting effects, and top-rate character dialogue support a heartfelt story about fulfilling a promise that had been set aside over time. It is a production which further solidifies Shinkai's position as one of Japan's most promising up-and-coming anime talents.

Rerelease of the Year: Neon Genesis Evangelion Platinum Edition vol. 5-7
The improved audio and visual quality and better extras say it all.

Best Writing: Koi Kaze
This delicate, exquisitely-paced, and highly emotional tale about potential sibling incest uses wholly believable characters and flawless plotting and dialogue to create a masterpiece of anime storytelling. So well-executed is the story that most viewers will even forget about the inherent creepiness of the concept. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better anime romance or finer example of quality anime writing in this or any other year.

Best Humor: Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
What happens when you take the comedic potential of a mecha series about a single-minded young soldier secretly protecting a high school girl, isolate it, and make an entire 12-episode series about just that? You get a series with the highest laugh-out-loud quotient of any title this year. Whether it's inappropriate military overkill tactics, comical avoidance of fan service, or a mascot suit tricked-out as a secret weapon, Fumoffu rarely misses a comedic beat.

Best Action: Samurai Champloo
Lots of titles managed tense, dynamic action scenes, but no series was more fluid or impressive in executing its fight scenes or more consistently delivered quality action.

Most Surprising Title: Divergence Eve
This award goes to the title that most exceeded or disappointed initial expectations, and Divergence Eve falls into the former category. Though hampered by an awful first episode, incongruous closer, and cover art which made it look like a light-hearted fan service fest, those who stuck with it and ignored the oversized busts of its female characters found a serious story which gradually turned into a surprisingly good sci-fi horror tale. Hardly a classic, but arguably the year's most underrated title.

Most Bizarre Title: Bo-bo-bo Bo Bo-bo-bo
If this one doesn't win it on name alone, consider that one character is a walking, talking pickle slice and the title character has six-foot-long nose hairs as his secret weapon – and that's just for starters.

Best New Hero/Heroine: Kei Kurono, Gantz; Pacifica, Scrapped Princess; and Yugo, Yugo the Negotiator
Three picks, each representing a different type of hero. Kei wins out over Naruto as the year's best new action hero because, unlike Naruto, he is so atypical for action heroes. He isn't eloquent or funny, wouldn't know nobility if it bit him in the ass, and is an unrepentant, self-centered horndog, but he has such a fierce spirit that he is quite handy in a fight and inspires others by his actions. Pacifica, the best new non-action hero, may not be able to fight or directly use her power, but it's hard not to root for a bratty, sometimes petulant character who is deeply pained by the hardships her existence poses on others and remains outgoing and optimistic despite the fact that nearly everyone in her world wants to see her dead. Yugo is the most original hero: he deals with "opponents" though his attention to understanding them and the sometimes-extreme actions he undertakes so that he can negotiate with them on their terms. A very slick, and very tough, individual.

Best Villain: Lil' Slugger/Shonen Bat, Paranoia Agent
(Honorable Mention: Lucy, Elfen Lied)
Who would have thought an elementary school students wearing inline skates and carrying a bent bat could be so menacing? What makes him better still is his real origin, as revealed in the final two episodes. Lucy counts as runner-up for the sheer menace she can invoke in the right circumstances - and, well, for tearing people in half with her invisible two-meter arms, too.

Biggest Plot Twist: Otogi Zoshi
The first half of the series takes place in the Heian Era; the second half transplants the original cast into modern-day reincarnations of themselves and plays out a storyline deeply connected to events of the past. Arguably one of the boldest mid-series transitions ever in anime.

Best Death Scene: Chrono and Rosette, Chrono Crusade vol. 7, episode 24.
Normally this award goes to violent, messy, and/or dramatic death scenes, but the peaceful passing-on of Chrono and Rosette given everything that's happened to them is one of the year's most poignant and heart-breaking moments.

Most Graphic: Elfen Lied
Elfen Lied has prominent nudity in its opener, opens with a scene of a severed, still-twitching arm, and then proceeds to kill twenty people in messy ways in a 7.5 minute opening orgy of nudity and extreme graphic violence - and that's just for starters! Sprinkled amongst the rest of the series are strongly implied child molestation, animal cruelty, mistreatment bordering on torture, severed limbs, plentiful nudity, and numerous gory death scenes that are enhanced by suitably gruesome sound effects and sometimes involve children. Nudity also follows in the closer, too. No series in 2005 made a more powerful first impression, and even a valiant effort by Gantz (the runner-up) could not keep up despite the fact that it had almost double the number of episodes available this year. It's amazing that this series ever aired in any form on Japanese TV.

Concept Most Done To Overkill: Cute/sexy young maids, Hanaukyo Maid Team
Okay, I can understand the whole maid fetish thing, but this is ridiculous. Also the most overkill example ever of a harem romantic comedy.

Best Series Artistry: Elfen Lied
(Honorable Mention: Le Portrait de Petite Cossette)
Elfen Lied suffers a little from generic character designs, but everything it does is exceptionally well-drawn (especially Lucy's menacing looks) and no series in 2005 had better background art or made more effective use of color. Petite Cossette wins runner-up honors for serving up the year's most vivid and inventive imagery. (Well, other than the following. . .)

Special Award For Artistic Merit: GankutsuouThe Count of Monte Cristo
I didn't feel right giving this one the Best Artistry award based on just a single volume, but what Gonzo has produced here is so visually extraordinary that it deserves special recognition. You have to see it to truly appreciate it.

Best Overall Character Designs: Gantz
The character designs for Gantz may not always be the prettiest, but they are invariably well-proportioned and well-rendered, moreso than any other title this year. Even Kishimoto and Sei, the two well-endowed young women, look reasonable.

Best Individual Character Designs: Hikaru (as herself) and Mansairaku, Otogi Zoshi first season (Heian Arc)
Lots of good choices around, but these are the year's prettiest and best-costumed male and female designs. Not as good in the second season (Tokyo Arc), however

Most Ridiculous Costuming: Daphne in the Brilliant Blue
Nothing could possibly beat out the eye-popping stripper costumes worn by the (mostly) overly-endowed babes of Sirine in this futuristic action series.

Worst Hairdo: Rinna, Stellvia
Though a pretty series otherwise, Stellvia put entirely too much effort into making its characters' hairdos look distinctive, and Rinna-chan's was the worst of the lot.

Best Mecha Design: Alien ships, Stellvia
Not a good year for innovative or interesting robot designs (although Godannar's combining male and female robots did raise an eyebrow over its perverse implications), so I'm going with the most novel and distinctive spaceship design.

Best Musical Score: Le Portrait de Petite Cossette
This one is a close call over Elfen Lied and Princess Tutu, both of which are equally wonderful and just as indispensable at setting the tone and supporting the events in their respective series. The deciding factor? This is the one that's the best listen as a stand-alone OST.

Best Sound Production: Elfen Lied
Sound production in anime is steadily getting better as companies on both sides of the Pacific adapt to the wonders of 5.1 surround sound, and no anime title so far exploits it better than this one. Elfen Lied also wins this award for its exceptional use of sound effects, especially on its menu screens.

Best Anime Song: “Jewel” by Marina Inoue, Le Portrait de Petite Cossette
(Honorable Mention: “Lilium,” Elfen Lied)
Although the closer for this stylish OVA horror series had bland visuals, the deep, rich vocals lent to this Japanese-language song by young newcomer Inoue (would you believe from that voice that she was only 17?) make it a real winner. The runner-up is the beautiful, haunting Latin song that serves as opener, plot device, and musical score anchor for Elfen Lied.

Best Overall English Dub: Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
Chris Patton's deadpan interpretation of Sousuke, Luci Christian's suitably manic performance as Kaname, and uniformly good supporting performances and casting decisions all contribute, but equally important is a dub script which does an excellent job of using equivalent street lingo in early episodes and remains remarkably tight to the subtitles after that.

Best English Vocal Performance – Male: Vic Mignogna as teenage Edward Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist
(Honorable Mention: Leraldo Anzaldua as Gatchaman, Gatchaman)
Rarely cast in a leading role in a series, Vic makes the most of this sterling opportunity by infusing his performance with all the emotion, heartache, and angst embodied in his character as well as capably handling the crazier moments. The teenage distinction is significant because he sounds a little too old when voicing the younger versions of his character. Leraldo Anzaldua deserves mention for being as perfectly-cast for a role as an English VA can be and for nailing the spirit and tone of Gatchaman's vocal style. (Could “Bird, Go!” sound any better?)

Best English Vocal Performances – Female: Kether Fernandez as Midori, Midori Days and Tiffany Hsieh as Nanoka, Koi Kaze
Kether Fernandez earns this distinction both for using a vocal style which enhances the endearing cuteness of her character and for proving that a female English VA can effectively emote while speaking in an unnaturally high-pitched voice. Tiffany Hsieh earns this distinction for straying just enough from the original Japanese performance to portray the credibility and emotion of her character in a way more conducive to the English language while still maintaining all the original personality – not an easy task. And both of these young women are newcomers to anime dubbing, which bodes well for the English voice talent pool down the road.

Best Openers: Planetes and Scrapped Princess
This was the hardest award to assign, as there were many worthy openers in 2005. Does one choose Elfen Lied with its artsy look and wonderful Latin song, the disconcerting laughing heads of Paranoia Agent, the dynamic action and dancing of Tenjho Tenge, the very pretty look of Fumoffu, the infectious tune of Wandaba Style, or the blend of great music and visuals in GITS: S.A.C. 2nd GIG? I ultimately wimped out settled on two favorites. Planetes wins for taking a wonderfully uplifting song with very appropriate lyrics and pairing it with visuals which both introduce the main cast and put the series in historical perspective. Scrapped Princess wins because its great song captures the optimistic, forward-looking spirit of the main character and because its lyrics and beautiful, all-original animation combine to form a prologue for the series as a whole.

Best Closer: “You Won't See Me Coming,” Gankutsuou
This one isn't debatable. The closer is generally the lowest time and budgetary priority in anime series production, hence the reason why they often have limited or no animation. Gonzo Studios went all-out on the one for Gankutsuou, though, producing one of the most dynamic and visually stunning closers ever. And it even has a great song with lyrics appropriate to the story theme!

Best Overall Extras: Otogi Zoshi
A few other series (Chrono Crusade and Gatchaman in particular) may have more diverse collections of supporting extras, but none offer extras as meaty as the round-table sessions and extensive explanations of historical context included on the bonus disk of each volume of Otogi Zoshi.

Best Individual Extra: Kujibiki Unbalance episodes in Genshiken
(Honorable Mention: “Conversations With SSS,” Madlax)

There were many sharp extras on anime DVDs in 2005, but it's impossible not to give this award to a title which not only provides a bonus episode of the series being talked about in the main series, but also give the bonus episode its own menu screen which makes the main title look like the bonus! A truly creative effort. The “Conversations With SSS” on Madlax features the most involved and consistently entertaining alternate dialogue outtakes.

And finally. . .

Best Audio Commentaries: Paranoia Agent vol. 4 and Sakura Diaries vol. 2
The former, done by Japanese production personnel including Satoshi Kon, is the most informative and enlightening audio commentary of the year, while the latter, done by members of the English voice cast having a fun time, is the most entertaining.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of Anime News Network or its sponsors.

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