You are now entering the Nine Days of GLORIO, our non-stop year in review. Each day for the rest of 2013, a member of the Glorio crew will share some of their highlights from the past 12 months, all culminating in our Top 10 Anime of the Year. For Day 7, Zigg tries to class up the joint as he muses on the ups and downs of watching anime in 2013.
It’s been a funny old year for anime. But then, so is every one I suppose. It was a year filled with some pleasant surprises, some big disappointments and everything in between; a year where some shows punched well above their weight in areas I didn’t expect, and others tripped where they should have soared.
One of the most encouraging trends which emerged this year was the increasing number of shows that chose to place characterisation at the heart of their efforts. Much anime has been hamstrung due to the medium’s blind obedience to a few set character archetypes – idiot hero, angry tsundere, shy girl etc. I felt that this year saw a conscious effort by quite a few shows to break away from that and instead develop their characters as more rounded, believable beings.
Perhaps the best part of this was that this trend wasn’t limited to shoujo or slice-of-life shows – instead, we saw several major mainstream productions take up the torch of character drama and buffer their action chops with great personal moments. Probably the most convincing example of this was Magi, which successfully managed to combine the freewheeling spirit of the traditional boy’s own adventure with a level of nuance that was surprising, as well as creating one of the best female characters in recent years in Morgiana. Even Railgun, practically the definition of the anime pulp adventure, found new life in exploring the relationship between Mikoto and her sisters, channeling feelings of guilt and helplessness to create one of the year’s most unexpectedly brilliant stories, and one that managed to surpass its initial telling in Index by several orders of magnitude. From the supernatural romance of Kotoura-san to the sci-fi sweep of Gargantia this renewed focus on those at the heart of the story helped breed much more personable shows.
This was definitely a down year for those who looked for artistic substance in their shows however, and I feel that big ambitious productions coming a cropper was another recurring theme. The year lacked an arthouse centrepiece, made notable by noitamina’s further drift from its original intent. While The Eccentric Family made encouraging noises, by far and away the most notorious attempt at a pure auteur work this year was the much debated Flowers of Evil, a show with powerful and insidious ambitions that were sabotaged by terrible production values. While I’m not inherently against the concept of rotoscoped animation, it crucially damaged the menace and air of abstraction the show attempted to cloak itself in. That, and the inherent pacing and structure issues that come from adapting a text heavy psychological drama meant that the show remained an intriguing curio rather than the alternative delight it may have aimed for.
The fate of the year’s other big ‘smart’ show, From the New World, was even more tragic. Beginning as a tense, fascinating dystopian fantasy that dabbled in taboos like social engineering and childhood sexuality, the story degenerated into a mush of inane politics, half-baked action and discarded ideas that transformed the show into a desperately boring and morally dissonant wreck. In terms of potential against actual realisation, it may have been the most crushing disappointment of the year. That’s definitely a critique of the year as a whole – while there were plenty of shows that were entertaining, great pieces of entertainment, there was not anything which I felt went above and beyond to deliver a profound or enduring experience. The year needed a Penguindrum or an Eden of the East, an intelligent, unashamedly adult drama that forced you to think and reason your way through.
Early on, it looked like that show may have been Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet; a show which snagged me with its gorgeous alternate future setting and kept me in with superlative character writing and what appeared to be a dense plot that worked on several layers. Ultimately however, it was not to be. While Gargantia remains a good show (and I’m far less down on it than many of my co-authors) it too suffered from a rushed and unfulfilling back half that basically abandoned what made the show interesting. In fact, after this and New World, it’s pretty easy to make a case for another trend – good shows being unable to seal the deal and close their stories up successfully. Magi also lagged badly towards the end of the original series (and the less said about season 2 the better) while Samurai Flamenco didn’t even get that far, swerving half-way through, though whether that is a bad thing or not remains to be seen.
Speaking of endings, I’d be remiss not to mention the Oreimo ending, one of the most howlingly terrible things I’ve ever had the misfortune to commit to my eyes and ears. It was a low point in a year which didn’t exactly cover itself in glory beyond the top shows, and showed worrying signs of the problem of narrow focus groups that has plagued the industry for some time now. No show personified this more than WataMote, which celebrated the essential hopelessness of otaku life in a way which might have been ironic in a smarter show, but just ended up sort of sad, smutty and occasionally distasteful. Elsewhere, tired, uninspired rubbish continued to clog the airwaves, occasionally dropping into tasteless and offensive territory. Even the mighty Kyoto Animation couldn’t stem the tide – Tamako Market was a crushingly boring piece of nothing, while Beyond the Boundary sabotaged any chance it had at relevancy by pandering so hard to the otaku fanbase it became impossible to take seriously.
Yet despite all the reasons for cynicism, the year’s ending on a bright note. Though it’s not the second coming that many claim it is, the bombastic Kill la Kill has been a shot of pure adrenaline to a flagging medium, and a timely reminder that artistic flair is far more valuable than raw quality of animation when it comes to creating a distinctive style. It remains to be seen whether Trigger’s writing can match up to their Tex Avery sensibilities, but even the limited burst we’ve gotten has been some of the best stuff of the year. In a similar vein, the daffy Yozakura Quartet manages to craft an original mythology while also being a bright, silly and immensely enjoyable character drama. It’s difficult to explain why it’s as likeable as it is, but it has great charm and effervescence which makes watching it a joy.
I don’t think 2013 will go down as a banner year by any means – it’s been too inconsistent, and the highs arguably haven’t been as high as some times in the past. In many ways it’s been a year of unfulfilled potential, with too many shows promising much and then underdelivering. Hell, I haven’t even had a chance to talk about how heartbroken the Rozen Maiden revival left me. But, as there always are, there were dark horses that emerged, and enough interesting, funny and engaging stuff to keep me rolling along for another trip around the sun. Thank you all for reading and commenting all the way through the year, and here’s to 2014…