Hanasaku Iroha 13

With this episode, the first half of the 26-episode run of Hanasaku Iroha comes to a strong close. And even though [C] ranked slightly higher this season, I consider this my second-favorite of the season, after runaway best, AnoHana. What’s more, I’m actually looking forward to the second half. This series has staying power.

Unlike those two 11-episode series, Hanasaku Iroha really is one of those series that benefits from being stretched out. It’s chock full of great characters, great atmosphere, and great slice-of-life…and has looked consistently awesome. I haven’t seen True Tears, and Canaan was underwhelming, but going forward this definitely could give my standing favorite P.A. Works piece, Angel Beats!, a run for its money.

This week was a family reunion of sorts, as the prodigal daughter Satsuki returns as per Ohana’s request. The horror stories of her little brother Enishi, who stayed by his mom’s side in the business, are really nicely depicted. Satsuki, for her part, has the typical gripes about the place and her mother not having changed a bit. But she isn’t just there to criticize; in fact, she invites her daughter and mother to her room and the three generations of Shijimas have a nice heart-to-heart-to-heart.

During this, a tossed(?) Ohana spills the beans about Ko; her mom and granny both think she’s giving up too easily; but this isn’t the only family reunion that took place. The other was Ohana returning to her family at Kissuiso; her friends Nako and Minko are like sisters to her, and she’s come to love the inn and everyone she works with. This is her life now; a life in Tokyo with Ko just wasn’t in the cards. Of course, this is her mom’s fault for shipping her here in the first place, but what happened happened, something good came out of it, and Ohana is staying put. She misses Ko, but she’s where she wants to be. Rating: 4

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RABUJOI’s Top 15 Anime of 2010

15. B Gata H Kei – A surprisingly solid and funny series that really delved into the unclean mind of a teenaged high school girl approaching the threshold of adulthood. Her antics and attitudes toward her eventual boyfriend were the source of constant entertainment.

14. The World God Only Knows – Having a character with a ridiculously obsessive gaming habit really invigorated what would have otherwise been a placid but uninspired sequence of romances. That his vast gaming experience gave him such an edge in analyzing and conquering real-life girls’ hearts proved a winning theme.

13. Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt – No shows matched the manic intensity and sheer irreverance for dignity as this latest Gainax installment, which had excellent, diverse animation and a kick-ass soundtrack.

12. So Ra No Wo To – The first anime-only “Anime no Chikara” series didn’t turn out to be the best, but it was still quite good, being perhaps the anime that most closely resembled a Miyasaki-like alternate fantasy world, richly depicted.

11. Katanagatari – Spreading out its twelve installments over tweleve months gave this series the most presence this year, and when each month ended it created great anticipation for the next. Some months were better than others, but the chemistry, music, and clever battles were more than enough to put this epic journey on the list.

10. Working!! – Sometimes you just need a simple, happy, straightforward slice-of-life without villains, monsters, or the world on the line. Working!! was just the ticket, with an eclectic cast of oddballs just working at a restaurant.

9. Star Driver – While only half over, this series was the best of the fall, and firmly established its penchant for gorgeous vistas, short-but-sweet battles, cinematic score, and intricate tangle of characters, most with dual personas.

8. Senko no Night Raid – The anime that went there: China in the 30s, to be exact. It told a story different from history, but it didn’t go all nationalistic about it; there was no black-and-white here. But there were spies with superpowers, which was awesome.

7. Durarara!! – This show did such a good job establishing the rich, energetic city of Ikebukuro, Tokyo, the real place was one of my first stops on a summer trip there. But it wasn’t just the soul of the city it captured, but the complexity of its people and their hopes and dreams. It could have ended better but few series started as good as this.

6. Angel Beats! – From episode one, this series pulled you straight into the afterlife and played by its own rules. An etherially beautiful yet confined setting, a sizable cast of lost souls, a soaring soundtrack, and the right dose of comedy earns Angel Beats! its high standing. More than anything, it was just fun.

5. House of Five Leaves – Though I was originally hung up on its creepy and altogether unattractive character designs, I wisely stuck with this ultimately gorgeous, atmospheric story of a time in Japan long past when life was tougher. It’s a well-told, well-acted, authentic story that really drew me in.

4. Occult Academy – In any series here deserved 26 episodes, it was this third and latest “Anime no Chikara” series. It did a great job developing Maya’s character, but too often went on side-tangents and had an incredibly-rushed ending. Still, the best episodes of this series can be counted among the best single episodes of the year for the sheer awesomeness they packed.

3. Shiki – Shiki started off slow and strange, but its meticulous build-up paid off in the best way. It too suffered from odd character design, but once one was acclimated to it it really complimentary to this dark and twisted horror story. Vamps and werewolfs are so overdone these days, but Shiki really contributed something unique and terrifying. Its soundtrack was also among the best of the season.

2. The Tatami Galaxy – Density. That’s what this series had in spades. Visual and verbal. For those who could keep up with the rapid-fire narration, it was an immensely satisfying and hilarious ride, with an ending that tied it all together.

1. Armed Librarians – The Book of Bantorra – This cool, confident, unrelenting anime wrapped in late January, making it just eligible for a 2010 list. January was a long time ago, but the awesomeness of Bantorra still shines clearly in my memory. No series throughout the remaining months packed so many interesting characters, stories, twists and turns into its run.

Angel Beats! Special Episode – Stairway to Heaven

The Afterlife Battlefront is at it again one more time in this unexpected OVA, which takes place at a point in the story where the bulk of the characters are still around. Angel Beats! was one of my favorite anime of 2010, so it was great to see it back and firing on all thrusters. Yurippe devises a scheme she hopes will lead Angel to lure them to God. She orders everyone to create “maximum tension” and have an unreasonable amount of enthusiasm from every single moment (or at least pretend to). In theory, the appearance of such life-fulfilling experiences would lead them to pass on to the beyond, but they won’t, because they’re just acting. It’s hoped this will flummox Angel and send her running to God.

With a fluctuating “tension meter” ever present, the sustained instances of high-tension got predictably chaotic and, well, tense. The entire gang gets to participate, each contributing their unique characteristics to the cause (Yui’s rocking out is fitting, while Shiina’s manic sewing is particularly cute). Also predictably, Otonashi only ever reduces the tension, all but refusing to get into the spirit of things. No matter, it seems like Yurippe is on to something, as Angel eventually leads them on what turns out to be a wild goose chase based upon a hilariously convoluted misunderstanding. While hardly masterful, this was a solid, fun addition to the Angel Beats! archive. Rating: 3.5