Anime in America: Theron and Carl's Best (and Worst) of 2010

by Theron Martin, Jan 3rd 2011

Theron: Welcome, ladies, gentlemen, and other random critters, to this year's edition of our annual end-of-the-year wrap-up! Although my regular job for ANN is doing reviews and seasonal previews, I always look forward to doing this piece because it gives me a chance to look back at the year as a whole, savor that which is good, lambaste that which is bad, and maybe even call attention to some titles, characters, and moments that some may have overlooked. (It also gives me a chance to publicly tease Carl for his habit of always playing Magical Girls in our online anime-themed RPGs, but I digress.) And here to join me, for the fourth year in a row, is my reviewing compatriot. . .

Carl: Being a gentleman, I won't tease Theron for getting his rear repeatedly handed to him by a Magical Girl. Regardless, I'll be joining Theron on this little jaunt down short-term-memory lane. As we speak, another year of anime lies deceased at our feet, awaiting our autopsy, so with no further ado let us begin. Welcome to Anime in America: The Best (and Most Notable) of 2010.

Theron: And one special note: those of you who have read this feature in past years may note that we aren't doing a Movie of the Year this year. That's because neither of us felt that there were any significant (much less award-worthy) anime movies that got a wide release in the American market in 2010; most of what came out were recap movies or series spin-off movies (and yes, Redline, Summer Wars and Evangelion 2.22 are all 2011 R1 releases, kids).

THE STANDARDS

Theron: In general, only content which saw an official, widespread release in the U.S. market during 2010 – whether on TV, in movie theaters, on DVD, or via legal downloads or streaming video – is eligible for consideration here; titles which have only officially been shown at conventions or in a handful of theaters, or which are rereleases, do not count as a 2010 title unless that rerelease offers a new feature, such as a new or added-on English dub. Titles which came out in Japan during 2010 but did not become available in the U.S. by official (i.e. legal) means are only eligible for the Unlicensed Gem award, which goes to the title or titles which we feel are most deserving of being licensed. In the cases of series split over two years, we usually consider only the part of the series which became available in 2010. For Series of the Year and Character of the Year, a minimum of eight episodes or the entire series run (whichever is lesser) has to be available during the calendar year for consideration; in all other cases, the content just has to appear in some release during the year.

SPOILER WARNING: Although we have tried to minimize major spoilers, the Death Scene of the Year award does contain one for Xam'd: Lost Memories.

Series of the Year

Theron's Pick: Eden of the East
Runner-Up: Cross Game
Best of the Rest: Living for the Day After Tomorrow (aka Asatte no Houkou), Spice and Wolf II, Toradora!

Carl's Pick: Eden of the East
Runner-Up: The Tatami Galaxy
Best of the Rest: Toradora!, Honey and Clover II, Living for the Day After Tomorrow

Theron: Some flukes of timing on licensing and release schedules have made 2010 the best year in recent memory for quality writing amongst American anime releases. A normal year sees 1-3 series worthy of an A grade on writing make it to the States, but 2010 had five – three on DVD/Blu-Ray, two only in streaming form so far. All are represented here. Each does something at least a bit different in the way it approaches its subject matter, features captivating characters who step beyond the norm for their roles, and is a prime example of one or more of fresh and dynamic plotting, complex and subtle storytelling, rich character and relationship development, and fine use of dialog. Of these five, Cross Game's superb mix of love, loss, and baseball tells the strongest and most complete story, but its streaming release on Viz Media's video site was only ¾ complete at the end of the year and it is the least of the lot on technical merits, so I can't justify giving it better than the #2 spot. (I probably would have ignored even its comparative technical deficiencies had its outstanding final episode made it out, however.) Eden of the East thus gets the top honor partly because it's the best-looking series of the lot and partly because it lays out a fresh, thrilling tale peppered with scathing social commentary. Amongst the runner-ups, Living deserves its spot for building a carefully-crafted, emotionally charged drama centered on an age-switch gimmick, Toradora! makes the cut for wonderfully reimagining what can be accomplished within the framework of a teen romantic comedy, and Spice and Wolf II slips in (thanks to Funimation streaming its subbed episodes over the course of December) on the strength of its unique plot arcs and the compelling relationship between its stars; it may be even better than its first season, which made my list last year.

For other options, I never watched Honey and Clover past its first set of episodes or The Tatami Galaxy past its first episode (I am not a fan of exceedingly abstract philosophical stuff), so I can't comment on those. Amongst series I did watch, everything else was a decided step below these five, so only the ordering was at issue for me. Had Spice and Wolf II not squeaked under the cut-off, though, then Asobi ni Iku yo! was my next title in line.

Carl: Eden of the East was an easy pick for top honors. Writer/director Kenji Kamiyama often seems as if he's striving for perfection, and he gets closer than ever before in this near-future political thriller about an amnesiac, a cell phone, and the girl who gets mixed up with them. It tops the list merely by dint of aiming for, and hitting with irresistible force, all of the relevant organs: the brain, the heart, the gut, and the funny bone. It is cuttingly smart, politically and socially relevant, and yet loose, human and funny enough that it's never forbidding or pretentious. Runner-up The Tatami Galaxy, a delirious mash-up of Salvador Dali and Groundhog Day by way of Douglas Adams, is a more deliberately difficult work: caustic, obtuse, and bloody brilliant. That it is frequently hilarious and ultimately life-affirming hurts nothing. Toradora! is probably my most conventional pick, but also my personal favorite. Its tale of two teens helping each other with their love lives while slowly falling for each other seems hackneyed at first, but thanks to smart writing and superior characterization is perfectly capable of tearing your heart out and stabbing you in the eye with it. For sheer megatonnage of emotional destruction, though, nothing can beat Honey and Clover II. By all rights Tatsuyuki Nagai's polished conclusion to last year's Honey and Clover should be in the first or second slot, but in deference to the new blood I've relegated it to Best of the Rest status. For its part, final pick Living for the Day After Tomorrow is the epitome of the buried treasure, a modest little charmer that begins with a Freaky Friday premise and with uncommon intelligence and insight takes it in surprising and touching directions.

What all of this glib praise overlooks is the satanic difficulty of choosing those four runners-up. The year's anime output was a devilish smorgasbord of A-list excellence and hidden gems, separated in quality by only the smallest of margins. Cutting out Cross Game, the year's closest approximation of real life, was like cutting off a part of myself. Turning away delights like Princess Jellyfish and precision-plotted chaos like Durarara!! felt dangerously arbitrary, as did the exclusion of Aria the Origination when fellow sequel Honey and Clover II was happily making the grade. Though, in defense of that decision, Honey and Clover II was very much its own series. Which couldn't be said for the second half of last year's winner NANA; thus its absence despite continued excellence. Ask me a week or a month from now to repeat the process and you wouldn't get the same list. Certainly the order would be different, and perhaps even the content.

Surprise of the Year

Carl's Pick: Vampire Knight/Vampire Knight Guilty
Theron's Pick: Asobi ni Ikuyo: Bombshells from the Sky (Runner-Up: Oreimo)

Carl: This award, new this year, goes to a series or movie which defies expectations the most, either for the better or for the worse. First, let the record show that I agree with Theron's pick. But as I had a good idea he'd be claiming it and am annoyed by anything haremish, even when done very well, I opted for Studio DEEN's glossy gothic melodrama instead. When I first watched Vampire Knight I was wary of its flagrant shojo wish-fulfillment and bishonen meat-farms, to say nothing of its trendy, glittery vampires. Now I'm a slavish devotee. Blame it on Kiyoko Sayama's rich, unusually cinematic direction, as well as the pull its obsession with sin and self-sacrifice has on the withered remnants of my Catholic soul.

Theron: Any advertising pictures or basic description of this Sexy Alien Girlfriend/Harem series would lead one to believe that Asobi ni Iku yo! is a typical trashy, fan service-centered effort which panders to the lowest elements of fandom. I was shocked when it instead quickly proved to be both astonishingly clever and made with some of the year's best artistry. The series' creative justifications for, and/or subversions of, common genre conventions, along with a surprising degree of character development, allow it to push its genre envelope while tossing out plenty of humor, action, creative fan service, and deft parodies. It aches for a proper DVD release and dub job after streaming on Crunchyroll over the summer and definitely shouldn't be overlooked as just another harem series. I tabbed Oreimo as my runner-up choice because it amazed me by being far better – and far less creepy – than its premise would suggest. It terms of licensing decisions, the biggest surprise is that Valkyria Chronicles didn't get nabbed by anyone.

Character of the Year

Theron's Pick: Wakaba Tsukishima, Cross Game
Carl's Pick: Squid> Girl, Squid Girl

Theron: Moe has been the dominant style for cute characters in recent years, but Wakaba proves that there is another way. Hers is a vibrant presence which naturally attracts love towards her and an indomitable force of personality which influences the lives of the people around her even years after she's gone. No anime series has ever been more deeply or pervasively affected by the departure of one character as Cross Game is by Wakaba's death in episode 1; it is not an exaggeration to say that she shapes the entire 50-episode series despite (or perhaps because of?) her absence.

Carl: I'm tired of giving this one to well-written and innovative characters, plus I'm feeling contrary, so my vote this year goes to the new queen of the mascot characters, a supersonic-tentacled, ink-barfing cutie come from the sea to subjugate humanity one beach-comber at a time. For effect on a series she's hard to beat; not because Squid Girl is great with her—it's merely loads of fun—but because it would be terrible without her.

Duo of the Year

Carl's Pick: Kou Kitamura and Wakaba Tsukishima, Cross Game
Theron's Pick: Lawrence Craft and Holo, Spice and Wolf II (Runner-Up: Riken Yoshinokazura and Susukihotaru, Otome Yōkai Zakuro)

Carl: Yeah, Wakaba's dead for most of the series, but they're still very much together. A sweet and yet deeply sad relationship, and achingly real. Don't be surprised to find yourself rooting for its survival, even as you know it must fade into the past...if only for Kou's future happiness. Theron's runner-up is a favorite of mine as well.

Theron: Carl's pick is a good one, but Lawrence and Holo didn't win last year for the first series only because they faced incredibly stiff competition and the second series only deepens the relationship between them. The chemistry and emotion between them are the keys to making their franchise as good as it is. Riken and Susukihotaru also deserve mention for being such a great classic duo despite their relatively limited screen time as a couple.

Biggest Bastard

Theron's Pick: Takezou Ayase, Shigofumi – Letters from the Departed episode 2
Carl's Pick: Izaya Orihara, Durarara!!

Theron: Numerous characters in Shigofumi are worthy of this honor, including a trio of teens whose success in bullying one classmate to suicide doesn't stop them from attempting it a second time, a writer who isolates his daughter from other human contact for several years and writes on her body with a sharp writing utensil to inspire himself, and a mother who cheerfully blows off her parental responsibility to be with her latest boy toy. However, I passed on all of those options in favor of the most reprehensible individual in the series, the father of the featured female guest star for the first two-episode arc. What did he do which could top all of that? Just force his teenage daughter into erotic modeling, ask her to prostitute herself, and arrange a like modeling job for his elementary school-aged daughter. Even in death he indirectly contributed to the killing of an innocent teenage boy and more directly destroyed the life of his elder daughter.

Carl: Orihara is introduced while systematically crushing a girl's spirit, eventually persuading her to attempt suicide. He doesn't get any nicer. He's a stone-cold sadist whose tastes run to psychological rather than physical pain and whose preferred methodology is emotional manipulation. If a trusted friend sinks a dagger into someone's back—and it happens unpleasantly often—likely as not, Orihara was involved. He spends most of the second half tearing the friendship of three protagonists asunder and pitting them against each other, mainly for fun but also in order to sink Ikebukuro into a burning pit of internecine gang warfare. Judging from his description, Theron's pick might win in a Bastard Playoff, but it's been a while since I watched Shigofumi and I have since been victim to the Magical Pretty Super Mind-Wipe Attack and don't remember any of it, so I'll stick with Orihara.

Scene of the Year
Theron's Pick: Takashi's “between Saeko's breasts” shot, Highschool of the Dead episode 8, approx. 15 minute mark
Carl's Pick: The Dollars gather, Ep. 11 Durarara!!

Theron: Yes, it's an utterly ludicrous, physics-defying action/fan service moment, but there was not a single anime scene of any type in 2010 which even came close to being as eye-popping as this one. For that matter, this may be the most jaw-droppingly audacious use of slow-mo ever – and I'm not restricting that to anime, either.

Carl: Ten episodes in the making, it is perhaps the most carefully built-to scene this year, and among the most rousing and satisfying. Its effect on our perception of Mikado shouldn't be overlooked, but it's Takahiro Omori's manipulation of the series' artistic conventions that separates socks from feet. Keep an eye on the background characters and an eye out for Baccano!'s favorite monkeywrenchers. I haven't seen Theron's pick and am unlikely to, in no small part because I'm all zombied out. As far as horror goes, Shiki is more my speed.

Death Scene of the Year (warning: spoilers!)
Carl's Pick: Wakaba drowns, Ep. 1 Cross Game
Theron's Pick: Furuichi Taraoka decapitates himself, Xam'd: Lost Memories episode 14 (Runner-Up: Saya Takagi drills a zombie student, Highschool of the Dead episode 2)

Carl: Actually the scene in question isn't where she drowns; that's never shown. Instead it's the moment the Kitamura household learns of her death. It's a single minute of pure silent horror, an exceedingly rare portrayal of a kind of death more profound in its own way than fleshly or even spiritual death: the moment when a person makes the transition from living to deceased in the minds of her loved ones. That's hard to boil down into a pithy phrase; thus the “Wakaba drowns.”

Theron: This award really should go to a certain State Alchemist killing a certain Homunculus in episode 19 of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but that scene was available last year in streaming form so I can't count it here. Amongst series exclusive to this year, Highschool of the Dead had a wealth of flashy and interesting kill scenes, but none topped the very messy, heavily censored scene of Saya finally collecting herself enough from a panic to use a power drill on a zombie student advancing on her. (Now if only my Little Sister Zombie Slayer character could pull that trick on Carl's Magical Little Sister Loli Vampire character. . .) Even that didn't top Furuichi's very sudden exit from his series, however. He was deeply troubled at that point and had gone through an irreversible transformation, so his demise was predictable, but the way he did it wasn't.

Opener of the Year
Theron's Pick: “Mitsu no Yoake,” Spice and Wolf II
Carl's Pick: “Oh Edo Nagareboshi IV,” Oh! Edo Rocket (Runner-Up: “Koko Dake no Hanashi”, Princess Jellyfish)

Theron: Deciding on this one gave me the most trouble of any of the awards, as there were just so many good ones this year to pick from. Early on in 2010 I was certain that To Love-Ru's racy “forever we can make it!” would be hard to beat, as it cleverly placed its Japanese credits within its fan service while a great song played up front. Then Maria Holic came along with its rockin', premise-explaining “Hanaji,” complete with some inventive visuals. Later in the year the beautifully-animated, techno-themed “Back on My Feet” from Xam'd: Lost Memories smashed onto the scene, followed not long after by the great-sounding and even sharper-looking “mind as Judgment” from CANAAN. In their midst Toradora! delivered two worthy contenders in “Pre-Parade” and “silky heart.” Any list of the year's best openers would be deficient without mention of the “Falling Down” version of Eden of the East's opener, a song which fit the series so well that it's a great shame that Funimation couldn't license it for more than one episode. Ultimately, though, I felt compelled to go with the gentle, soulful opener for Spice and Wolf II. While the songs and visuals for other top contenders spoke to the substance of their respective series, “Mitsu no Yoake” also spoke to its series' spirit, such as in one scene where Holo's loneliness from essentially existing outside of human time is symbolized in the way a village grows into a city behind her as she walks along. Openers which can pull that off to the degree that this one does are rare and valuable jewels indeed.

Carl: Aside from being amusing and perfectly timed, there's nothing remarkable about the visuals for Edo Rocket's opening. But the song... It's an evilly addictive little pop confection, performed with self-effacing virtuosity by veteran pop duo PUFFY (that's Puffy AmiYumi to us Americans). It's such cheeky fun—just listen to them aping enka vocals mid-song—that you couldn't wash it from your head with a gallon of bleach. My runner-up is the year's funniest opening sequence. The Singin' in the Rain spoof alone gives it that distinction.

Closer of the Year
Unanimous Pick: “Koi Kogarete Mita Yume,” Cross Game episodes 1-13
(Carl's Runner-Up: “The Blue Danube Waltz,” Mitsudomoe episode 9)
(Theron's Runner-Up: “Wasurenaide,” Kimikiss pure rouge episodes 13-24)

Carl: Cross Game's first opening is very simply a very lovely song. It is used to particularly devastating effect in the series' first episode, which is one of many reasons why that episode is hands-down the best this year. The runner-up is just Futaba sliding belly-first across the ice in time to Strauss's famous waltz, but in context it's murderously funny, and its echoes of the old-school cartoon corruption of famous classical tunes are a definite bonus.

Theron: Carl's pick here is also my top choice, and for the same reasons, so I'll highlight my #2 pick instead, whose beautifully melodic song is a great fit for the temperament of the second half of its series. Also worthy of mention here is “Vanilla Salt,” the first Toradora! closer, and the variant version of "Omoide to Yakusoku” specific to episode 4 of Queen's Blade.

Best DVD/Blu-Ray Feature or Extra

Carl's Pick: NIS America's packaging, Toradora! and others.
Theron's Pick: Gurren Lagann Parallel Works, Gurren Lagann the Movie –Childhood's End-

Carl: Yeah, their boxes are unwieldy, but lord are they beautiful, and the hardback booklets that come with them are treats one and all. I'm a packaging freak, so this is the bit of capitalist lovin' that I most appreciated. I have zero interest in compilation movies, so I haven't checked out the Gurren Lagann movies or their extras. Maybe I should...?

Theron: Although I agree with Carl on the prettiness of those Toradora! boxes, the bonus disk included with the first Gurren Lagann compilation movie contains a treasure which will beat that: four AMVs which are set to musical themes from the series but use entirely original animation featuring prominent cast members in alternate roles. The first is fantasy-themed, the second is pachinko-themed, the third is done in a classical Japanese art style, and the fourth features a role reversal with Viral as the hero opposing the marauding Kamina. For fans of the series, this is wonderfully fun stuff.

Guilty Pleasure

Theron's Pick: To Love-Ru
Carl's Pick: Mitsudomoe

Theron: I'm actually not sure that I should feel guilty about this pick, since it is a good-looking series which stands among the best of both recent harem titles and fan service frolics. Though unapologetically trashy, it is also loads of fun and rather creative in its stupidity. Its OVA and TV series sequels (not yet officially available in the U.S.) continue the entertaining romp.

Carl: No series that has the school nurse mistaking a urine sample for eye-drops should be this funny, or sweet. Perverted, vulgar, oft-disgusting, yet also perfectly hilarious.

Unlicensed Gems

Carl's Picks: Kimi ni Todoke, Nodame Cantabile: Finale
Theron's Picks: Angel Beats!, Broken Blade

Carl: The failure of US firms to license Nodame Cantabile is probably my favorite licensing gripe. Tomoko Ninomiya's tale of music students striving to live their dreams is lively, funny, and crammed like an LA freeway with great characters. Finale is probably the most emotionally satisfying of the three seasons. Get on it guys! Gentle, exceedingly beautiful and thoroughly uplifting, Kimi ni Todoke is a gem of shojo romance with a welcome sequel on the way. Given the phenomenal success of shojo series stateside it's about as likely to be licensed as I am to spontaneously combust.

Theron: Greatly increased streaming and simulcasting options limited the number of quality titles available only via fansubs in 2010, but Angel Beats! would qualify in any year. It has top-caliber artistry and animation, an impressive pedigree (it's written by the minds behind all of the Key-based works), and characters sure to appeal to American anime fans, but it also has a great concept, a highly entertaining blend of action, humor, music, and startlingly strong drama, and a lot of quality writing. It will be one of the top series of 2011 if it does get licensed and released, which seems probable. (And the licensor needs to make sure that it also secures the recently-released OVA bonus episode 14, aka the Bad Ending, which is an absolute riot.) My other pick is more of a long shot. It is a series of short movies which spin an intriguingly different fantasy variation on the standard mecha tale. I'd toss the King of Thorn movie on here, too, but I haven't had a chance to see that one yet and so would be basing it entirely on the manga. And yes, I'm intentionally overlooking Black Rock Shooter because, honestly, it didn't impress much.

Biggest/Most Important Trend
Carl's Pick: Funimation streams Noitamina
Theron's Pick: Explosion of titles available via legal streaming methods.

Carl: Funimation's deal with Fuji TV to simulcast the adult-oriented Noitamina block accounts for a fairly insignificant portion of the simulcast explosion that Theron describes, but from the standpoint of a fan looking for atypical anime, there's no bigger event. Thus far the partnership has provided us with legal access to the strange and beguiling House of Five Leaves, the avant-garde horror of Shiki, the bizarre sci-fi satire of The Tatami Galaxy, and the pure, grown-up enjoyment of Princess Jellyfish. Future prospects include such promising outings as Hourou Musuko and Fractale. No other single initiative this year brought me nearly as much joy.

Theron: 2010 saw several significant trends in anime releases, but the one I most want to talk about – the increasingly edgy nature of fan service-centered titles – has only started to splash into the States so I'll save that one for next year. Other major ones include a gradual increase in Blu-Ray releases, Sentai Filmworks beginning to dub titles again, and a couple of new companies making tentative steps into the American market. Without question, though, the biggest one is the dramatic expansion of anime titles available via streaming methods. One Japanese TV season in 2010 (spring or summer, I forget which) had nearly half its titles officially simulcast via streaming, and while that percentage hasn't held in ensuing seasons, there are still far more series getting simulcast than last year and through far more options, with The Anime Network and even ANN getting in on it over the past couple of seasons. Major streaming sites have massively increased their volume of offerings of previously-unlicensed or catalog titles over the course of the year, too; ANN now has part or all of more than 200 titles available, while Crunchyroll is approaching that number and The Anime Network is significantly over 100. Funimation and Viz Media have substantial offerings, too.

Unfortunately, and contrary to what many fans long claimed in their clamoring for these simulcasts, that massive increase in streaming availability has had a negligible impact on fansubbing. For instance, the entirety of Otome Yōkai Zakuro has been available on Crunchyroll as it came out during the fall season, yet no less than five groups have still done English fansubs for most or all of the series. Deplorable.

DUB PERFORMANCE AWARDS

Theron: I don't feel qualified to do Japanese awards, while Carl doesn't feel qualified to do English awards, so we're each doing our respective specialty only.

Best Overall Japanese Dub: Toradora!
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Male: Shintarō Asanuma as Unnamed Protagonist, The Tatami Galaxy
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Female: KAORI as NANA Komachi, NANA

Carl: Shintarō Asanuma was an absolute no-brainer. Cynical and sophistic with a gaping black hole of yearning at his core, Galaxy's unnamed college hero is a plum role and Asanuma does him proud, spitting out his endless streams of self-justifications and recriminations like some demonic human telegraph machine. Somehow he squeezes real pathos in between the conflicting internal monologues and even makes for a respectable woman (you don't want to know). Picking KAORI was similarly easy. NANA Komachi is a blisteringly difficult role; a shallow, frivolous girl who through some very bad and cruelly hard decisions must become a strong and steady woman. Somehow KAORI swings it, all while maintaining a contradictory lovability (her behavior is far from lovable) that makes big NANA's obsession with her seem perfectly understandable. Amidst more innovative dubs, including the pathologically deadpan Tatami Galaxy and ensemble-oriented Durarara!!, Toradora! beats the competition the old-fashioned way: with lots of great performances. Rie Kugiyama finds real pain and strength within her patented tsundere persona, Yui Horie dazzles with her lightning emotional shifts and sheer unhinged exuberance, Junji Majima channels the ultimate nice-guy, Eri Kitamura undercuts her dual-personality shtick with sly intelligence and old-before-her-time wisdom...the list goes on, right down to the bit players.

Best Overall English Dub: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Best English Dub Performance – Male: Chris Ayres as Frieza, Dragon Ball Kai
Best English Dub Performance – Female: Jessica Boone as Liang-Chi, CANAAN

Theron: The number of titles that were either simulcast (i.e. no English dub), released sub-only, or had dubs added only for the second pass regrettably limited my options this time, especially for the Overall award. From a weak field only two titles registered as above-average, and of those two I narrowly chose FMA over Eden of the East because the higher level at which FMA's best performances peak outweighs the advantage that Eden has in consistency of good performances and casting decisions. 2010 also lacked a stand-out female performance, with the best merely in the Very Good category: Maxey Whitehead as the new Alphonse Elric and Caitlin Glass reprising her role as Winry in FMA, Stephanie Young as Juiz in Eden of the East, and Jessica Boone as Liang-Chi in CANAAN. From that group, I give Jessica the nod for convincingly handling her character's full-blown psychotic turn in the series' second half. The male performance was a clearer choice, as this was Chris Ayres' year to shine. He did a fine job as Arthur in Tears to Tiara but deserves the award much more for his deliciously evil effort as the new voice of Frieza. Other top performances come from the FMA direction, including Ed Blaylock and Jerry Jewell impressively reprising their roles as Fuhrer King Bradley and Barry the Chopper, respectively.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

Theron: Each of us has chosen four awards to hand out in cases that merit special recognition or damnation.

Kiss of the Year: Ryuzo and Fusa Takehara, episode 21 Xam'd: Lost Memories

Theron: Kissing scenes are fairly uncommon in anime, and when they do happen it's usually between teenagers. Kimikiss certainly gave us a wealth of those options this year, but none of its kiss scenes carried quite the impact, or felt quite as special, as this scene involving the divorced, middle-aged parents of main character Akiyuki. This wonderfully-executed scene, which is a classic “I can't go off on this dangerous mission without letting you know my real feelings” moment, was built up to over the course of the entire series and marks a reconciliation of sorts between two individuals who still clearly have feelings for each other even though they have officially been apart for years.

Most Creative Subtitling: MX Media LLC, Squid Girl

Carl: The demented enthusiasm with which MX Media went about filling Squid Girl's mouth with squid-isms deserves some kind of recognition. Her dialogue was a nonstop delight of dorky inventions and cleverly stupid inserts, among them “squidknacks,” the “squid-vasion,” and, my personal favorite, “squidzooks.” Any company looking to license the series would do well to take note of what MX did.

“I'm Not Really A Loli” Award: Mina Tepes, Dance in the Vampire Bund

Theron: She has the look and physique of an upper elementary school girl but certainly doesn't act like one – because, of course, she's really hundreds of years old. Yep, that's how a sexualized portrayal of an underage girl is being spun in this case. (And if you don't think her character was sexualized, you're either missing something or trying to avoid the truth.) That makes her both one of the most fascinating and one of the creepiest characters of the year.

Mr. Self-Destruct Award: Demon King Daimao

Carl: Other series fell apart, and some most dismally, but none so violently as this once-intriguing harem-comedy cum fantasy-action vehicle. One moment it was happily flitting between its solid action premise and its libidinous sub-plots, and the next it was molesting little girls, abusing continuity, and pulling plot twists from places darker and smellier than its rear. It couldn't have fallen apart any faster had it gotten smashed and passed out in front of a speeding semi.

< img="http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/thumbnails/area200x300/cms/review/33456/12-kingdoms-novel-4.jpg?1270441109" height="200" width="147" class="fleft">Biggest Anime-Related Production Gaffe: The Twelve Kingdoms - Skies of Dawn hardback novel flaws

Theron: 2010 saw a few big trouble spots pop up, such as the ghosting issue on the first Toradora! collection, but this was by far the most egregious. It saw the incorrect gender assigned to one minor character, maps that didn't correspond to descriptions given in the text, numerous typos, and formatting code where some katakana should have been. Its biggest problem, though, was the outright omission of part of chapter 16, a problem that I'm told has been corrected for the recent paperback version. Tokyopop did a good job with previous volumes in this series, so hopefully this was just a fluke.

Publicist Wanted: Princess Jellyfish

Carl: It's possible there's a series somewhere in the current crop of streams that flew further under the radar than this warming little tale of female otaku and the cross-dressing "Stylish" who invades their sanctum, but it's hard to imagine what it'd be. It really needs someone to glad-hand for it, or at least a big sign pointing weary anime fans in its direction. There has to be a market for grown-up romance that leaves a lingering glow out there somewhere. Right?

“I Dare You To License This” Award: Seikon no Qwaser

Theron: This mix of super-powered action and pervasive fan service is hardly a good enough series to deserve an Unlicensed Gem mention, but it certainly stands out for how extreme its fan service was. (Censored TV broadcasts of it were virtually unwatchable.) American anime licensors generally haven't shied away from series with plentiful outright nudity and edgy sexual content because they know that stuff like that generally sells well amongst the American fan base, but would they try a series where characters sucking on female breasts to power up occurs every episode or which has a loli S&M queen with a teenage lesbian “pet” who gets rewarded by being allowed to go down on her mistress? (One of the closers even shows the queen riding around on her pet.) In an anime environment which has gotten increasingly edgy in its fan service, this one still goes far beyond the norm – and, perhaps not surprisingly, it already has a planned sequel series, too.

Most Disastrous Stunt: The Endless Eight story arc, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 2

Carl: Not an arc, but the same episode repeated eight times over, with some minimal variation. It's ostensibly about Haruhi and company being caught in an ever-repeating time loop. Its real purpose was to test the loyalty of the Haruhi faithful. I, at least, failed. It was a terrible, terrible waste, both of Kyoto Animation's resources and fans' good faith.

Theron: Boy, somehow we got through this year's review without mentioning solid shows like Heroman and uber-trashy streaming shows like Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, which really should have some kind of award for being one of the nastiest anime series ever made. How'd that happen, Carl?

Carl: It happened because I have to air out my brain for a week after I think about Panty and Stocking, so I try to avoid it. Thanks a bunch. Your Little Sister Zombie Slayer is gonna pay for that later.


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