Anime in America: The Best (And Worst) Of 2007by Theron Martin,
Theron: Heyo, everyone! I am back once again to hand out year-end awards, this time for the best and worst of 2007 amongst anime titles released in North America. And this year I've invited fellow ANN reviewer Carl Kimlinger to join me in this task.
Carl: Salutations, frequenters of the Anime News Network. My name is Carl Kimlinger, and I am one of several reviewers for the website which you now have the pleasure of visiting. Yearly I squander a wealth of my leisure time viewing copious amounts of the entertainment known as anime, and have thus been deemed qualified to provide support in the endeavor in which you will soon partake. If I might be so bold, may I welcome you to “Anime in America: The Best (and Worst) of 2007,” and mention politely that if anything goes balls-up, it is most emphatically not my fault. Thank you.
Theron: Uh, right. Anyway, here's how this is going to work. Carl and I will face-off on some prominent awards, then I'll do some only I have picked and Carl will do some only he has picked. (Since Carl doesn't feel qualified to give English dub awards, and I don't feel qualified to give Japanese dub awards, we are splitting those.) In all cases only titles (or portions thereof) which premiered in some form in North America during 2007 are eligible; for sake of argument, we are considering Paprika to have actually premiered in 2007 since it was not widely available in 2006. As always, these awards merely reflect the evaluations of Carl and myself and are not necessarily representative of the opinions of anyone else at ANN or any random squirrels you may speak with.
Now let's get to business.
SPOILER WARNING: this article contains crucial plot information about the following series: AIR TV, Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, and GunxSword. If you have not seen those series in full and wish to remain in the dark until you do, do not read the Best Death Scene or Best Scene sections of this article.
Series of the Year
|Carl's Pick: Mush-Shi||Theron's Pick: Death Note|
|Best of the Rest: Paradise Kiss, Beck, Kurau: Phantom Memory, Kodocha||Best of the Rest: Mushi-Shi, Le Chevalier d'Eon, Kurau: Phantom Memory, Black Lagoon, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya|
Carl: No one who has read my Mushi-Shi reviews will be surprised one whit by this. Achingly beautiful, quietly intelligent, and steeped in wondrous awe, this is exactly the kind of series that rekindles my love of the medium. Its hypnotic rhythm, humanism, and naturalist's eye for beauty give it a charm that far outstrips mere entertainment value. The carefully considered ecology doesn't hurt either, though it will only really matter to nature buffs. Of the runners up, Paradise Kiss and Beck are two sides of the same excellent coming-of-age coin; Kurau earns its spot with a combination of understated but convincing world-building, action, and genuine emotion (along with a pair of memorable and adorable leads); and Kodocha (barely) displaces The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by dint of its ability to swing wildly between nearly every tone known to man and succeed at them all (I loved the teary-eyed ending of the first season, appalling over-dramatization and all). I don't watch Adult Swim (television commercials give me an incurable rash), so I'll relegate Death Note, along with Flag and Welcome to the NHK, to the list of titles that show promise but haven't enough episodes released to make an informed decision about.
Theron: 2007 saw a lot of quality series coming to the States, so I was having trouble picking the best of a rather deep pool until I saw the premier of Death Note on Adult Swim. This rare blend of originality, quality visuals, and intense, intelligent writing blew me away and continues to do so every week. It may be a bit corny at times, but is simply more entertaining than the novel, enchanting Mushi-Shi (sorry, Carl) and demonstrates less flaws, and higher quality control, than other contenders. Trimming down the honorable mentions beyond Mushi-Shi proved a greater challenge, as it required cutting out some deserving titles; Zipang ultimately got held back only by its shoddy dub and not enough of Flag was available for proper consideration, for instance. Kurau slightly edges the equally good Noein for the same reasons Carl gives, Black Lagoon stands as the year's best action series, Le Chevalier is a triumph of a clever period piece, and MoHS is just too well-made and entertaining to ignore.
Movie of the Year: Paprika
Carl: What with the wimpy competition, this retina-searingly visual film was a no-brainer. Millennium Actress is still Kon's best, though.
Theron: I'm not as sold on this one as some here at ANN, but no other anime movie first released in 2007 even comes close to matching its combination of spectacular visuals and solid writing.
Character of the Year
Carl: Haruhi Suzumiya, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. For distinctive, iconic charm (check out that silhouette), she's got the competition whipped. Her qualification has a lot to do with her physical presence—that's her body language, not her body, you dirty perverts.
Theron: Light Yagami, Death Note. Watch the development of a villainous genius, a character so wrapped up in his self-righteousness and cleverness that he ignores the fact that his approach to making the world a better place is inherently evil. And he's the main protagonist! Anime sees its share of anti-heroes, but never ones like this. Carl's pick is my runner-up choice.
Scene of the Year
Theron: Tie - Haruhi performs with ENOZ, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya episode 11; “Welcome Back” message, Gunbuster episode 6. The former is the most electrifying moment in an electrifying series, as well as featuring great songs and some the year's best and most detailed animation, and a sexy girl in a Playboy bunny costume doesn't hurt, either. The latter, taken fully in context, may be one of the most awesome and poignant tributes to self-sacrificing heroism ever shown in any media.
Carl: Ray gets his revenge on The Claw at the end of GunxSword. A lot of series had scenes as good as or perhaps even better than this, but are competing so heavily with themselves (I'm speaking mainly of Mushi-Shi, Paradise Kiss and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) that choosing a single scene from them seems almost dishonest. So this bit of stunning directorial showboating gets my nod.
Best/Most Effective Death Scene
Carl: Misuzu, Air TV episode 12. I'm ashamed to say that, when I first watched this scene, it left me crying like a baby; not a pretty sight, believe me. That alone earns it its qualification. Accept only the unforgiving, heartbreaking original; don't be fooled by its pale theatrical imitation.
Theron: Sousuke kills Gauron (for good), Fullmetal Panic! The Second Raid episode 12. I was tempted to go with Carl's pick, too (and I agree that the movie version of the same scene was distinctly inferior), but I've seen better versions of the same kind of scene and done the tragic death thing the past three years, so this time around I opt for one of the year's most shockingly violent, and yet also most satisfying, villain deaths executions.
Theron: Kurau and Christmas, Kurau: Phantom Memory. They may not be a couple in the traditional romantic sense, but Kurau and Christmas undeniably are a couple and have such a close and loving connection that they put even Keiichi and Belldandy to shame.
Carl: Kaname and Sousuke from Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (Runner-up: Misaki Nakahara and Tatsuhiro Sato from Welcome to the NHK.) I'm kicking myself up and down the street for missing Kurau and Christmas (that's what a narrow definition of couple will get you), but I'm sticking by my original picks. Kaname and Sousuke have been around for a while now, but really give off a “couple” vibe in the third season. The stress they're put under nicely highlights the mutually supportive nature of their relationship. The runner-up is more “most interesting” than “best” and they aren't really a couple per se, but their twisted relationship is too good to leave out.
Carl: "Hit in the USA" by the Beat Crusaders (Beck). Impossible to beat for a sheer foot-tapping good time, it's also accompanied by indie-cool visuals which have a great in-joke included in the form of their hilarious pastiche of bad church-sign messages.
Theron: “Red Fraction” by Mell (Black Lagoon). In a year replete with great openers, this one stood out for its hard-core beat, edgy lyrics, and nice visuals, which beautifully set the tone for the series.
Carl: “Moonlight” by Katsuki Yukari (Kurau: Phantom Memory). This delicate serenade earns its place at the top with pure, stripped-down class.
Theron: “Hare Hare Yukai” (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya). This was by far the hardest category for me to choose, as for all the wealth of good openers there seemed to be a dearth of impressive closers in 2007. I like Carl's pick, but to give some variety here I'll instead honor a closer that deserves major kudos for offering complex original animation (an extreme rarity for anime closers), as well as a catchy tune and a nifty dance.
Best DVD Extra
Carl: “A Relatively Leisurely Day in the Life of a Fleet Captain,” Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid volume 4. I'm not a big extras guy, focused as I am on the content of a series. That doesn't mean I don't watch them, I just don't tend to remember them. It is in that spirit that I give the award to this much-needed, funny, fluffy extra episode (the series was pretty grim going at the end) which until now I hadn't even considered as an extra.
Theron: Bonus disks with subbed-only broadcast order episodes, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya vols. 2-4 Limited Editions. Both of us wanted to use the “Special Ending” bonus episode from volume 6 of Fantastic Children for this award, but we ultimately had to disqualify it because it technically got released during the waning days of 2006. Given that, I had to go with Bandai Entertainment's unprecedented response to fan requests in the inclusion of these bonus DVDs. I wasn't a fan of the broadcast order myself, but anyone who's been buying anime DVDs for years now knows this offer was something special. The volume 2 LE also gets the award for best set of DVD Extras, and Carl's pick was, again, my #2.
Theron: My-Otome. I wouldn't even rate this series in the top half of 2007's releases, but somehow it keeps me coming back.
Carl: UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie. What can I say; it takes a lot to make me feel guilty.
Biggest/Most Important Trend
Carl: Series entering limbo before the completion of their run. I name this as a trend knowing full well (and hoping like hell) that it might not be. Companies ceasing activity is nothing new (anyone remember Super Techno Arts?) and neither are releases that enter limbo (remember I'm Gonna Be An Angel?), but the sheer volume of them this year (mostly thanks to Geneon, but also Illumitoon) is such that it cannot be ignored.
Theron: Expanded use of sub-only DVD releases. Technically my choice didn't start this year, but 2007 has seen more prominent sub-only DVD releases, and far more frequently, than ever before. It doesn't signal an eventual end to anime dubbing (anime in general doesn't sell well without dubs), but does show that companies are increasingly willing to take the chance that skipping a dub will impact sales less on niche titles aimed only at hard-core fans than the dub would have cost.
ENGLISH DUB AWARDS
Best English Dub Performance – Ensemble: Black Lagoon
Best English Dub Performance – Male/Female: Chris Patton as Tatsuhiro Sato, Welcome to the NHK; Maryke Hendrikse as Revy, Black Lagoon
Theron: A strong case could certainly be argued for Hellsing Ultimate for the Ensemble part of the award, and indeed I consider that the close runner-up. Black Lagoon delivers just as well in every aspect of its dub, however, has even snappier scripting, and has Ms. Hendriske in a reputation-making performance. Chris Patton, meanwhile, gives one of his career-best performances as the hikikomori at the center of Welcome to the NHK; no other English VA could have pegged that role so perfectly.
JAPANESE DUB AWARDS
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Ensemble: Paradise Kiss
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Male/Female: Tomokazu Sugita as Kyon, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya; Ayako Kawasumi as Kurau Amami in Kurau: Phantom Memory.
Carl: Director Osamu Kobayashi uses his less polished cast to lend a raw immediacy to Paradise Kiss's emotional content, and they reward his efforts by nailing both the vague air of pessimistic realism and the series' impressive range of emotions. In MoHS, Sugita's sarcastic observation-a-second internal monologue regulates the pace and anchors the show behind Haruhi's hyperactive back, and while I have a hard time separating my fondness for Kawasumi's work from the qualities I see in Kurau, her mature performance is pivotal not only in the success of her character but of the series overall. It's also a nice departure from her previous fetishistic work.
And now some awards we have each chosen individually to honor (or lambaste) special cases.
Best Kiss: Hazumu and Yasuna, Kashimashi ~ Girl Meets Girl ~ episodes 1, 5, and 6
So significant, and so loaded with baggage, is the kiss that forms a cornerstone of this series that it gets feature treatment in three different episodes from three different perspectives.
Most Preposterous Scene: Jupiter used as the core of a weapon, Gunbuster episode 6; Earth used as the core of a weapon, Gunbuster 2 episode 6
Dragonball Z, eat your heart out! In two series that reveled in their overblown preposterousness like few others do, these were their most outlandish moments.
Complete Bastard of the Year: Viscount Wolkins, Pumpkin Scissors
This nobleman uses his peasants for target practice with his tank, pointedly eats luxuriously in front of underfed servant girls, throws perfectly good food on the floor for said servant girls, and doesn't have the backbone to stand up like a man when called to task on his behavior. Not one of the year's most prominent villains, but certainly one of the more distasteful ones.
Worst Title of the Year: Ragnarok the Animation
With shounen mind-rot like Mar and Beet the Vandal Buster, yawners like Disgaea, and even a classic pile of steaming Saturday-morning mecha-crud competing fiercely for the award (and with the only Voltron under my belt this year having been officially released last year), the honor goes to this awful role-playing adventure for its utter disregard for logic and the laws of cause-and-effect.
Anime RIP: The Story of Saiunkoku
Of the many series to meet an untimely demise this year, Black Lagoon and Hellsing Ultimate will probably find new homes if Geneon can't keep them on life support, but the likelihood of anyone else being brave (or stupid) enough to tackle this charming shoujo epic is almost nil, so we take the time here to mourn its passing (and beg most unceremoniously for someone, anyone to resurrect it).
Most Uncomfortable Moment: Tatsuhiro's descent into perversion and subsequent plan to escape it in Welcome to the NHK. Simultaneously horrible, true-to-life, and very, very funny. The discomfort comes from not knowing whether to cringe or laugh out loud.
Theron: That's it for this year. As always, there are doubtless good options that we missed since neither Carl nor I get to see everything (despite our best efforts to the contrary), so other opinions are welcome as long as you remember that anything only available on fansubs isn't eligible for these awards. Any last thoughts, Carl?
Carl: Considering all of the time I spent watching bad anime, the above is much like a char-broiled slice of my irreplaceable youth. I hope it was tasty.
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