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.

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Katanagatari 12 and Wrap-up

There is no scheme that can stop Togame’s blood loss, and so she ends up passing away from Emonzaemon’s attack. After a year of so much idle banter, her final conversation with Shichika is the most poignant and revealing yet. She reproaches herself for using everyone she ever knew as a tool, and for living by calculation and for revenge alone. Meeting Shichika mellowed her out, however, just as it helped him grow into a real human being; ironic considering she used and referred to him as a tool almost the whole time.

Her final order to him is to forget about her and live on. He does not obey. This was a long death scene – more than fifteen minutes, It was quite moving; when Togame finally breathed her last, I am not ashamed to admit to welling up a bit. Togame deserved a scene of this length and breadth. After all, we’ve known her just as long as Shichika…a whole friggin’ year!

Hell hath no fury like a Shichika scorned…though when he storms Owari Castle and begins mowing effortlessly into its thousand-man garrison, he does so not to avenge Togame, but out of a desire to end his own life. Shichika’s eyes have become steelier, and his voice is much less wistful than we’re used to. He means business.

As the Princess meets with the shogun atop the castle, Emonzaemon interrupts and notifies her of the situation. The shogun’s band of eleven retainers take up the eleven deviant blades and occupy the eleven levels of the castle, with Emonzemon at the top as the Princess Hitei’s last defense. “This is the end for us both,” Hitei tells the shogun with a knowing smirk. She wonders if this was her ancestor Shikizaki Kiki’s plan all along: for Shichika to go berserk.

Twelve levels; twelve bosses, and surging battle music. The video game references are obvious, as Katanagatari has done it before, but this is a whole new level (no pun intended). Shichika is able to reuse all of the knowledge he attained fighting the deviant blades the first time around, only this time, he is allowed to shatter the swords. A great trip down memory lane ensues. Each battle is dealt with in a different way, but are all flawless victories. I appreciate the trouble taken to design a whole new group of eleven unique-looking opponents, who are all defeated in short order. The kid with the bladeless hilt was probably the most hilarious; and Shichika doesn’t kill her out of pity

Wanting to die, Shichika sought Emonzaemon, the only one he believed could kill him. He definitely puts up a strong fight, but no longer bound by any restrictions, and no longer prohibited from harming his body, Shichika is unstoppable. He defeats Emonzaemon and becomes the final completed blade, Kyotou Yasuri. Now at the top of the castle, Shichika takes one more life: that of the shogun who sent Togame on the mission in the first place. Hitei is spared.

What then? Well, it would seem Shichika could not disobey Togame, and keeps on living. He travels across Japan, making the map he promised to make with Togame, only instead accompanied by Princess Hitei. It turns out she didn’t hate or even dislike Togame. Her new haircut, outfit, and mannerisms in the epilogue suggest she had a lot more in common with her than not.

So there you have it: twelve months, twelve hours, twelve swords. It was quite a ride, which ended strong. I’ll admit I will miss the time when I could look forward to a new installment each month. While Shichika’s journey continues even without his beloved, petite, white-haired master, our ability to continue watching it unfold has come to a close. Rating: 4

Katanagatari 11

It’s always hard to put into words episodes of such caliber as the eleven of Katanagatari. Penultimate episodes often outdo the ultimate ones, because they build up so many possibilities that are still beyond our sight. It’s always best when a finale is the quintessential embodiment of all the episodes that preceded it, but with so much amazing action, music, atmosphere, dialogue, ideas, and revelations, I can say with certainty it will have to be unbelievably good to surpass this. Major spoilers ahead.

All of Shikikazi Kiki’s Perfected Deviant Blades have now been accounted for. The twin pistols are one of them; they were always in possession of Princess Hitei, who is a descendant of Kiki. Another was the blade that Houou took; it allegedly contains Kiki’s soul, which possesses Houou’s body. This happens when Pengin innocently tosses the sword to Houou, fearful that Emonzaemon is about to defeat him. Houou goes crazy and escapes, injuring Emonzaemon in the process.

Pengin Maniwa is definitely one of the more interesting Maniwa heads; and there’s a good reason an otherwise weak, shy little kid is the second-most feared of all ninja, after Houou: his ninpou is either exceptional luck or the manipulation of fate, such that even bullets will dodge him. Emonzaemon finds a contradiction in the ninpou and defeats him. This, after Togame and Shichika spared Pengin out of sympathy (and as a bargaining chip).

The final blade is Shichika, the last student of the school of Kyoutouryuu, crafted over centuries and lifetimes of accumulated knowledge. Kiki trained the founder of Kyoutouryuu. Kiki turns out to be more intriguing than I could have predicted. He came not from a family of swordsmiths, but of soothsayers. Able to see deep into the future, he was able to take master sword-making techniques from that future to create his Deviant Blades. The reason his physics- and psychology-exploiting blades are so peerless is because they never should have existed in this timeline. (An aside; a spin-off to this series in which Kiki literally visits those futures could potentially be cool.)

Even so, in a battle between Kiki and all his accumulated knowledge, within the body of the ultimate Maniwa ninja, his final sword Shichika, is able to quickly dispatch him. We’re left wondering if Kiki was really within Houou, or if Houou simply went insane, believing he was Kiki. The distinction is broad, but we don’t find out the answer. I’m glad we don’t…I don’t want all the answers yet.

Throughout this episode, Togame and Shichika reflect on the last ten eleven months: how many places they’ve visited; how many people they’ve meet; how much both of them have grown and evolved. Indeed, Togame started out as a noisy tsundere and Shichika a ignorant chunkhead. There’s some great moments where the two confirm their affection for one another, and their intention to stay together after the sword-collecting is over. After all, she has ‘her own battle’ to fight when it is.

Which brings us to the heartbreaking closing scene. Togame correctly predicted that the princess would be in possession of the final blade (the twin pistols), in order to be able to negotiate with Togame, who has the other eleven. So she and Shichika return to Iga to begin the “political war”. Emonzaemon is waiting for them with the pistols. He reveals Togame’s true name –  Daughter of the former Lord of Oushuu, Hida Takahito, Princess Yousha. She’s also a princess. Then, before Shichika can react, Emonzaemon yells “Forgive Me!”, and puts two bullets right into Togame’s chest.

And in three seconds, the young woman we’ve been watching for nearly a whole year, falls to the ground and doesn’t come back up. The narrator then announces that Shichika, the Deviant Blade, has, of this moment, become Perfected. The entire sword-collecting journey, it would seem, was a means of perfecting him..for Hitei. The moment she knew all the swords were secure, she made her move, and it would also seem that Togame miscalculated. Or did she? We’ll have to wait a month…which sucks. Rating: 4

Katanagatari 10

You really feel the length and breadth of the journey Togame and Shichika are undertaking when you have to wait a month for each episode. The scale of the Japan they traverse it largely on foot is felt too, as well as the pace of life in a different age.

Each month has had a different flavor, from straightforward one-on-one battles to this month’s extremely cerebral and zen-like, riddle riddled battle that isn’t even a battle, save against Togame’s and Shichika’s own psyches. This episode also used not one or two but every one of the opponents Shichika initially lost to, including his sister.

I was worried there would be recap, but these characters were brought back for a specific and original purpose as part of a greater illusion by this month’s opponent, a ‘holy man’ with the form of a mischievous child. Since this is the third to last episode, more is revealed about identities, objectives, and motivations, and it portends a great deal of clashing between Togame, the Maniwa, and the princess with the guns. Rating: 3.5

Katanagatari – Thru 7

This is a series that airs only one hour-long episode a month. These episodes chronicle the journeys and adventures of Togame, a spunky young military strategist “strategian” working for the Shogunate, and Shichika, a young swordsman who wields no sword, but whose body is the sword itself. Shichika is Togame’s muscle, as her mission is to collect twelve extremely powerful ‘deviant blades’, all in the possession of equally challenging adversaries. As they progress, so does their relationship.

This series features a huge amount of dialogue; mostly Togame and Shichika chatting about strategy or philosophy or flirting. The banter is quick-paced an witty in a similar fashion to that of the similarly-titled Bakemonogatari. There are some who are put off by shows that are too talky and without enough action, but I’m not among them.

The duels Shichika has with the sword bearers are usually preceded by long conversations, and the battles usually decided rather quickly. Sometimes the pre- and inter-battle discussions are so long-winded, this feels like a parody of typical shonen-style anime, but the talk is almost always intelligent, and the enemies are never transparently evil. In fact, more than one of Shichika and Togame’s foes are actually sympathetic, even pitiable.

Togame and Shichika have good chemistry, and they provide good comedy courtesy of Shichika’s hopeless ignorance of the world (when they first set out, he can’t even distinguish Togame from other people) and Togame always trying to stay one step ahead in their various debates.

I also like the simple but vivid character design, the equally vivid animation and editing, and realy enjoy the high-quality, original score, which in many instances lends gravitas to scenes of exposition or dialogue that would have far less impact otherwise. The month-long wait between episodes, while long, is welcome, almost mirroring the long distances the characters must travel around Japan in search of the swords. The first seven episodes have been very entertaining, and I eagerly await the eighth, out sometime this month. Rating: 4