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Theron Martin's Best (and Worst) of 2006

by Theron Martin,

Anime releases in North America in 2006 saw some key series wind down on TV (Fullmetal Alchemist, Inuyasha, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) while others stepped up to replace them and made big grabs for attention (Bleach, Trinity Blood, Eureka 7) and still others (Naruto, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!) just kept truckin' along. It also saw a lot of rereleases and older titles come out as some companies looked for cheaper options, but that didn't prevent the licensing and release of many major new titles. Out of everything that did come out in 2006, what were the highlights (and lowlights)? Let's take a look!

Disclaimer: All awards given here are for titles (or portions thereof) whose initial North American release came in 2006, whether on TV, in theaters, or on DVD. (Technically that includes Satoshi Kon's much-lauded Paprika, but given the extremely limited scope of its release I'm not considering it for 2006.) In the case of series, greater weight was given to those with two or more volumes released in 2006. All opinions are solely those of Theron Martin and are not reflective of the ANN staff as a whole.

Series of the Year: Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Runner-Ups: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG, Fullmetal Alchemist

One is an inventive reinterpretation of a classic novel done with stunning visuals, the second a complex cyberpunk series featuring great artistry and superior technical merits, the third a magical shonen action series at its very best. Ultimately Gankutsuou's deliciously intricate revenge schemes and incomparable artistic vision win out, but all three of these titles stand head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to consistently high levels of artistic, animation, and storytelling merit.

Comedy of the Year: Animation Runner Kuromi 2

Wow, the competition in this category was unusually fierce, with several series – Kodocha, Ninja Nonsense, and Haré + Guu among them – deserving of serious consideration. Any one of them would have been a respectable pick, but I'll go instead with an award-winning (in Japan) OVA release that offered up the year's most consistently and unrelentingly funny content.

Movie of the Year: Barefoot Gen 2

Although released in Japan in 1986, this movie was not, based on my research, formally available in North America until it was released on the Barefoot Gen DVD this past August. It may not be as flashy as the FMA movie (my #2 pick in a generally weak field) or have the cool pedigree, but it tells a better and more substantial story and has technical and artistic merits quite good for its age.

Volume of the Year: Princess Tutu volume 6: “Abchied”

Although this wonderfully atypical magical girl series had some flat points, no other series in 2006 finished stronger or peaked higher. Beautiful, elegant, powerful, emotional, and surprising, its final volume (especially the last three episodes) shows a perfect synthesis of music, visuals, and storytelling. A great set of Extras only further solidifies its claim on this honor.

Scene of the Year: Eureka and Renton reunited, Eureka 7 episode 26

Lots of good choices here. Among other scenes I seriously considered were “Duck dancing as a duck” from the last episode of Princess Tutu (see the series and you'll understand why it's one of the year's most emotional scenes), Roy Mustang's triumphant return to action in the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, and Saki's cosplay from Genshiken, but I am going with what is certainly among the most joyous, feel-good moments of the year in anime.

Character of the Year: Guu, Haré + Guu

Her form is malleable, she can apparently work magic, swallow anything, has an entire alternate world in her stomach, and it's often unclear whether she's helping or tormenting Haré, but what really makes her great is that sly, evil smile and matching chuckle, which always signals that she has mischief on the mind. In an environment overwhelmed with stereotypical characters, she is one of the most fun, original, and distinctive.

Dumbest Series of the Year: UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie

Granted, I'm basing this only off of the first volume because I couldn't stomach watching more, so maybe it gets better, and apparently enough people like it to warrant a second series. If there was a more painfully stupid and cliche-ridden series released in 2006, though, then I didn't see it.

Best English Dub: Desert Punk

Yeah, it took a lot of liberties with rewording things, but you won't find a more sharp-witted or fun English dub in 2006, nor one that is more consistently well-performed.

Best Individual Dub Performance – Male: Sean Schemmel as Onsakumaru, Ninja Nonsense

Personally, I don't see how you could vote against him if you've actually seen his performance. Rarely has a voice actor so completely owned a series with a vocal performance, but Mr. Schemmel tackles the perverted yellow ball with such gusto and perfect sense of characterization that it deserves to be considered among the all-time great anime performances. Honorable Mentions include Eric Vale as Desert Punk, Christopher Sabat as Saiga in Speed Grapher, and Vic Mignogna as Edward Elric in the Fullmetal Alchemist series and movie.

Best Individual Dub Performance – Female: Laura Bailey as Sana, Kodocha

It's a sweep for comedy series! Laura Bailey turns in so much good (and varied) work that she may be the best English VA working in anime today, and her singing, rapping, and insane hyperactivity as Sana is both her best performance this year and the best overall for a voice actress. Honorable Mentions go to Jennifer Sekiguchi for her deliciously dry wit as Guu in Haré + Guu and Carol-Anne Day as Mai in My-HiME, who gives a stand-out performance in an otherwise weak dub.

Worst English Dub: Tie, Green Green and Fantastic Children

That there was actually serious competition for this “award” is both scary and depressing. Although Green Green was actually a slightly worse effort, Fantastic Children's dub does more to drag down what is otherwise a very good series.

Most Inappropriate English Dub: Ghost Stories episode 12 (volume 3)

And let's be clear that this only applies to that particular episode. ADV got a lot of good mileage out of making the English dub for this banal family-oriented series into a dirty-minded topical parody piece, but in this case it crashes badly by continuing to be silly in the one episode it should have played straight (the one explaining how Satsuki and Keiichiro's mother died). The result is an effort whose English version sounds enormously crass if you listen to it both ways.

Best Musical Score: Princess Tutu

Granted, it has an unfair advantage by almost entirely using classical music pieces from famous ballets, but it uses them incomparably well. This one is not even close to being a contest.

Best Opener: This Ugly Yet Beautiful World (“metamorphose” by Youko Takahashi)

A great song perfectly synchs with the visuals, and the appropriateness of its lyrics becomes more evident as the series progresses. Honorable Mentions include Planetes (“Dive in the Sky” by Mikio Sakai) for its uplifting and inspirational tone; Scrapped Princess (“Little Wings” by JAM Project) for its tone-setting song, great look, and serving as a prologue to the story; and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG (“Rise” by Origa) for a combination of great song and look.

Best Closer: Gankutsuou (“You Won't See Me Coming” by Jean-Jacques Burnel) Runner-Up: Paradise Kiss (“Do You Want To” by Franz Ferdinand)

The main pick is a repeat from last year, but no new closer this year surpassed its melding of great and highly-appropriate song and complex visuals. The runner-up, with its cast dancing to the Franz Ferdinand song (thankfully Geneon was able to license it!) came close, though. Other Honorable Mentions include Fantastic Children (“Mizu No Madoromi” by Origa) for its hauntingly beautiful song keyed to important series visuals and Ninja Nonsense ("Kuru Kururin" by kaoru) for its cutesy song with clever visuals.

Biggest Surprise: How Tenchi's mother died, Tenchi Muyo! Ryo Ohki OVA 3 episode 7

Did anyone who's been following Tenchi titles for ages actually see this one coming?

Special Award For Costume Design: Haidee's opera dress, Gankutsuou episode 6

Gonzo is renown for the caliber of its digital artistry, and this dress is perhaps the single finest example of what they can accomplish out of a series replete with visual superlatives. Its transcendent, ephemeral beauty can cause jaws to drop.

Most Effective Death Scene: Gen's father, brother, and sister, Barefoot Gen

Okay, I'm bending my own rule here because Barefoot Gen has been released in North America on VHS prior to 2006, but this one can't be denied. In a movie full of ugly, heart-rending deaths, this one was the harshest – and hardest to take – of them all. Ever had to stop a show for a while just to be able to cope with a scene you've just seen? It could certainly happen here.

Coolest Super-Power: Gennosuke's Suicide Gaze, Basilisk

Yeah, the ninja in Naruto have some cool abilities, and Edward Elric certainly has some nice tricks, but how can you beat a guy who, just with a look, can force a foe to kill himself?

Trend That Needs To End: Elementary school-aged geniuses as teachers in Japanese schools. (Runner-Up: Bandai Entertainment outsourcing its English dubs)

Yeah, so Rebecca in Pani Poni Dash! is a parody of Negi in Negima, but did that gag really need to be repeated? The inappropriateness and unfeasibility of it all is mind-boggling. And Bandai, surely you can come up with some better way to handle your dubs than farming them out to the hack Singapore operation known as Odex Pointe Limited?

Trend That Needs To Continue: Licensing and release of anime-related novels.

It really started in 2005 with the first of the .hack// novels, and this year saw the release of further .hack// novels, the first three Boogiepop novels, and the first CREST/Banner of the Stars novel and the announcement of the upcoming release of the first Twelve Kingdoms novel. Let's hope this isn't the end of it.

Character Most in Need of Medication: Hare, Haré + Guu

A 10-year-old should not be this neurotic. I see Prozac or Paxil in his future. (But having to deal with Guu could do that to a person.)

Best Recap Episode(s): “Tragic Love Song of Destiny,” Inuyasha episodes 147-148

The tragic story of Inuyasha and Kikyo's failed love had been scattered in bits and pieces across more than 140 episodes, but this two-parter brought all the pieces together and mixed them with new linking footage and a few new flashbacks to finally tell the whole story in chronological order. The result is the best two-episode arc in the whole series run and one of the better uses ever of recap episodes.

Best Extra: ADV Vid Notes, Pani Poni Dash!
Runner-Up: “Sock Puppet Theater” Easter Egg on Madlax vol. 6

The pop-up notes are back! Utterly indispensable for fully appreciating the series, but be prepared to use your Pause button a lot. The runner-up was chosen for how delightfully it skewers both the series and English vocal cast, especially Chris Patton.

Biggest Licensing Announcement: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

One might argue a case for Bleach, but MoHS was certainly the biggest and most talked-about new series both in Japan and in the North American fan community in 2006, so its inevitable licensing was unquestionably the most anticipated. And the quirky way Bandai has done it is certainly in line with the spirit of the series. Here's hoping that Bandai does not hand this one over to Odex Pointe Limited!

And finally. . .

Oddest Mecha Design: Junerin, Kirameki Project

One of the year's strangest series – basically a cutesy version of a classic giant robot series – also produces 2006's weirdest and most distinctive mecha design: a giant robot who looks like a doll, flashes panties, changes into a bathing suit at one point, and uses a purse as her primary attack. Um, yeah.

That's it for 2006. Time to look ahead to all those great titles due out in 2007, but that's an article for another day.

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