The top 10 anime of 2010: the cream of the crop

I didn’t really go much into detail with regard to the later entries of the top 10 not because they were bad anime, but because they were merely decent to above-average entries that every year would probably have. On the other hand, however, I feel that these five anime were really in a league of their own for this year, especially the top three. One made something already exquisite even more beautiful; another resurrected a franchise in the dregs of its own stupidity; and one was the landmark event: it was just far and away the best anime of 2010. I must forewarn you that the individual entries of these great anime are relatively lengthy, but I felt I had to give more respect to these gems of 2010.

5. Kuragehime

Yes, I recognize that I was unable to complete my write-ups on Kuragehime despite our relatively lenient schedule of lectures. There was honestly little to write after the fifth episode, although there were tidbits that I wanted to explore. I would have written a post reviewing the complete show, but it can be seen there’s roughly a month’s break between my last two posts. I didn’t have an Internet connection for the past month. That was also partly to blame.

This series just barely made it in my top five after being a strong contender for my top three. One of the foremost reasons is that the source material remained unfinished, alongside too few episodes. There was simply too much information to cram in 11 episodes that the later episodes suffered. I honestly don’t think it was the director’s fault, seeing that he was able to execute Baccano and Koi Kaze extremely well. There was just too much to fit in too little. Nevertheless, I still think the series is worthy of watching, especially because the central characters and quirky and unique, not to mention extremely interesting individuals. I hope that there will be a second season, but I also hope, concomitantly, that the manga will be complete by then so that hopeful viewers like me won’t be disappointed twice.

The story is essentially Cinderella-esque, although Prince Charming in this permutation is a heterosexual transvestite, and Cinderella is an outcast who could not see her own beauty. The focus on this duo waned with the shift towards the rescue of the Amars’ home, and the ending just left a bitter taste in my mouth. There was no resolution with regard to the romance, and although the four major players are already in the game, the ending left much to be desired.

I also think that the transformation of both protagonists just wore out as the series progressed. There was also unnecessary focus on the Amars, who were mostly contemptible women who defended their way of life as if that were right. Despite being uneven and poorly concluded, however, Kuragehime’s plot and the issues it tackled were quite novel: this was otaku-ism from the point of view of a woman, after all.

The OP and ED were great songs, as well.

4. House of Five Leaves

I’m honestly open to avant-garde anime, which is why I’ve watched a good amount of those series dubbed by many to be pretentious. I find that just like any other anime series, some are good, and some are horrible. House of Five Leaves isn’t really avant-garde in that it deals with surrealistic settings: it’s avant-garde primarily because of its art as well as going against the grain of usual samurai anime. There is very little action to be found in the series, and it’s a series that’s better savored than marathoned. Nothing essentially happens for the most part, but as a character study it is very well-written.

The series adheres to the minimalism popularized by Ernest Hemingway in his novels, in that one can only ponder for the most part because what is important is what is unsaid. The series is not for those who seek to be thrilled or who seek action: it is for those who enjoy the act of thinking and problem-solving.

Masanosuke is a ronin often fired not due to his lack of skill, but due to his wanting personality. As far as samurai go he is above-average, if not one of the best, but he seems like a coward for the most part. He does not have the desire to kill that people in that job description need to have, but he is a skilled swordsman. Upon meeting Yaichi he discovers the crimes that Yaichi perpetuates, only to realize later on that it was Yaichi’s revenge against his past.

There is more mystery among the Five Leaves than there is resolution, but there is an undeniable closeness among them because they are a cabal of criminals. Masanosuke, despite his personality, shows his value to the Five Leaves in their different excursions by helping them in danger or simply being a good friend. It’s one of the better slice-of-life series I have seen, and I’m glad that despite the short run the series was able to conclude well: Yaichi discovers at the end of the series what truly happened to his kind servant during his childhood years, with Masanosuke around to comfort him (in a non-homosexual manner, although this can be argued against).

In the back of my mind, I always hoped Masanosuke developed a romance with Otake even though I knew that was nigh impossible. He was such a great guy to the Five Leaves, however, that I wanted him to be happy. The ending itself, however, suggested that he was happy as it was.

3. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

No fucking way, right? I am, after all, the one who threw heaps of insult on the first series and who already thought it was overrated as early as that time. Although more people would join me now that most of them have seen Endless Eight, I’ve always disliked the popularity of Haruhi because I thought it was a series with little merit. Little has changed through the years, although unlike both series, this movie deserves all the praise it got.

I have never been much of a fan of the Haruhi franchise, especially because I thought that the first season was an exercise in mediocrity. The first season had its production values going for it, but I saw the anachronistic storyline as little more than a gimmick. The story wasn’t exceptional; Haruhi wasn’t someone I could easily empathize with, and the positive feedback I believe was undeserved. That hasn’t really changed much these past few years: I no longer bothered with watching Endless Eight, especially because I did not need to see what I already did years before people started to see the fraud in the franchise. Even the new episodes of the second season did little to really rectify the mistakes made as regards Endless Eight.

I’m not magnifying anything, however, when I say that the movie changed all that. It brought the series back into respectability (which was a gargantuan task given the fetidness of Endless Eight), and I believe it was much better written than the first season, although it was quite exhaustive and exhausting (163 minutes is no laughing matter – the movie is long).

The thing with Disapperance that propels it above the first season is that the movie does not utilize an anachronistic, gimmicky storyline, and it does not focus on the stupid antics that were the crux of the first season (thus I dubbed it stupid). It dealt with something more primordial: it dealt with human relationships that centered on Kyon.

It was no longer about Haruhi hatching another plan and the rest of the SOS executing it: it was about Kyon discovering how important his friends, especially Haruhi and Yuki, are to him. It was in their idiosyncrasies that they became his friends, and he only realized that when he lost them also because of Yuki’s concern for Kyon’s well-being. In addition, I believe that, subliminally, Yuki also wanted to experience the freedom of being human, and that was why she enacted the world’s transformation: maybe she wanted to fall in love with Kyon. More than this, however, the movie presented Kyon’s evolution from an unwilling participant to being a decisive force in the group; from someone who sat on the fence, he became someone who finally took responsibility for his actions and made choices that were wholly his. It was, however, also wonderful to know about the camaraderie and latent romantic emotions that have subtly evolved through the course of the series within the SOS group. Haruhi slept beside Kyon for three days when he was in a comatose state; Yuki’s novel recreation of herself was someone who could feel and was quite attracted to no one except Kyon. I like to think that the silent, timid, yet smiling Yuki was the Yuki the real her wanted to be if given a chance: she wanted to show that she could also feel. The scene after the movie leaves the viewers guessing if Kyon’s kindness towards her and his realization that he had committed grave transgressions against her by leaving everything up to her in the past also had, in a way, allowed her to develop emotions that were inevitable if she kept being around them, and around Kyon. She did something with her face that she felt she had to hide with the book: it may never perhaps be seen by Kyon, but she smiled at the thought of that kindness by him towards her. If someone argued that there was not one iota of romantic interest from these women towards Kyon, I’d simply shut up and slap him: women friends don’t do that for and toward their male friends unless they were someone special.

This is what Haruhi should have been in the first place: the focus should have been on how the characters evolve with time and with one another, and not on their mundane hijinks. I have honestly few problems with the film other than I could have watched it earlier so as to have focused on it more.

The film was a great one overall, although because of the fact that it wasn’t as evocative as the other movie in this list, Disappearance ranks third in my best anime of 2010.

2. Eve no Jikan: Gekijouban

I could have watched Eve no Jikan two years ago. People had nothing but praise for it. I am seriously glad I didn’t, because at least there was something I could place in my top three that was well-deserved and was nothing short of a masterpiece. There were six ONAs that aired during that span, and while the movie and these vignettes contained essentially same contents the movie had supplemental scenes that tied the six vignettes together and coalesced them into a more fluid whole.

While I didn’t think Disappearance was a pushover (and the previous entry would prove that), I didn’t think it was as evocative as this film, or as timely. Technology in the world today is pushing the envelope every single day that one becomes surprised at the fast obsolescence that different electronics are prone to: what was hip today is suddenly passé tomorrow. Inevitably, technology will be whetted and honed to the extent that it can simulate humans: there are already prototypical robots today that can move like humans and generally look like them. It will only be a matter of time when there are robots that act like people and robots that will be difficult to distinguish from people.

It is that time in the Time of Eve, and while the title seems to be a paradox, it is also incredibly apt. While the notion of Eve (and Adam) seems to be antediluvian, it also projects an image of purity and the absence of corruption. This purity is beautifully tackled and regarded with the kindness of the different robots within the film. Tex is this purity’s prime example. An image of obsolescence surrounds him: he is the passé existence in a world of human-looking androids; he looks like a robot and moves like one. He is obsolete.

His functions, however, have already become quite advanced. It was only the physical side of things where he was lacking; he was already cutting edge, however, with regard to his rational functions and perceptive ‘thinking.’ As robots existed primarily as slaves in this world they were not given much value, even though their emotional functions have slowly been evolving and progressing. In contrast to the world of the Ghost in the Shell series, however, the robots in this world efficiently follow the laws of robotics proposed by Isaac Asimov. This was not a world where the robots developed viruses and wreaked havoc to humanity: the only virus they developed was the aberration that Yuki herself also developed in the course of her relations with the SOS-dan: they developed emotions.

Tex was one of these robots who had awakened to these emotions, although because of the hierarchical master-slave relationship, he could not do anything but absolutely obey his master’s wishes, even if it was to the detriment of his relationship with Masaki, the child he raised and was happy with. It was with this climactic scene that a pivotal issue was presented, but wisely unanswered by the director. I admire the fact that the director avoided proselytizing: it was enough that he posited that issue – and he left us viewers to account for it.

He asked the same persistent question that Heidegger asked through his entire life: what is humanity? What entails humanity? He posited the ontological question of human existence through this intercourse, and leaves us to answer the question. While this was also subliminally tackled in the Disappearance movie, I felt that that movie was more of a catharsis that revolved on Kyon. It was a wonderful watch, but it clearly only told a story of a certain person’s catharsis and realization with regard to his emotions. There were no issues that included and involved the viewer: the movie did not seek to question the viewer’s ideals but sought to tell a good story, which it pulled off successfully.

To put it in an analogy, it’s like watching a beautiful game of chess between Magnus Carlsen and Veselin Topalov. Each move is pronounced, beautifully thought of, and analyzed. But it’s their moves. It does not involve the viewer. It’s a wonderful match between the two, but the viewer is merely an outsider. On the other hand, I thought that Eve no Jikan was like a chess game played by the viewer itself not against the film, but against his preconceived ideas of humanity. It may very well be only a personal preference, but I enjoy a chess game, or a DotA game that I play more than I enjoy watching masters of the game play it. At least I am involved. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy watching the masters and learning from them; I simply enjoy something that involves me personally.

Is humanity limited only to humanity? I cannot answer that, but I believe it isn’t, because even less sentient beings like dogs can save their beloved owners from catastrophes, but there were people like Adolf Hitler who antiseptically planned on the elimination of six million Jews. All I know is that it is difficult being a real human to others.

I remember a lecture on Philosophy two years ago made with regard to Kant’s ethics. The only statement of the categorical imperative I remember (that has never left me these past few years) was its statement on how to treat other people: treat every man not merely as a means, but each and every one as ends in themselves. One must not treat people merely as instruments; one must grasp and recognize that they are also people facing you, people with problems and with sufferings on their own. It is a difficult path to traverse and I fail myself more often than not, sometimes in my haste, sometimes in my stupidity. It is nearly an impossible commitment, but it is this ethics that Kant proclaims that presents our being as human to other humans.

I cried during the film’s climax because it was the fulfillment of that deontology. I was still teary-eyed after re-watching that scene, because it presented the robot as more human than Masaki’s father. There was so much concern and mansuetude despite that pervasive silence, and despite all those years past, Tex was still there to protect Masaki. There was no more master and slave: there was merely friendship and filial concern. Humanity, the movie showed, is not limited intraspecially: it is a state of life, a mode of action, and something that evinces itself in the truest of humans.

1. The Tatami Galaxy

First and foremost, you must have seen this coming from miles away. There is only one series in my top five on MAL that is from 2010, and it is at the number one position. There is only one series I watched five times, and only one series I could probably watch five more. There are only two series that have made me bawl: one of them is Honey and Clover, and the other one is this one series.

I am talking about The Tatami Galaxy. I could repeat the word ‘brilliant’ a hundred times and it still couldn’t contain my love for the series. It is just that good. Although I have said that I will no longer write about Tatami Galaxy, I deem that it is relevant for this post (besides, I’m talking more about myself than about the series itself. Thirty write-ups on it are more than enough.).

I have said that The Tatami Galaxy was a landmark occurrence. I have never been more sure after I had seen the last episode of the series, and even after seeing those movies (top two and three) nothing could still trump this series. It was as momentous as Roberto Bolaño’s final novel, 2666, when it came out in 2008.

Back in June, I prognosticated that while it was possible that Tatami Galaxy would be dethroned from its top position of 2010 on my lists, it was extremely difficult. I would have to see an anime series as creative, cohesive, cogent, and coruscating, and that was nigh impossible because Tatami Galaxy is one of the best anime series of all time, and it did it within eleven episodes.

It was directed by Masaaki Yuasa, who, as many people know, is known more for his colorful and idiosyncratic anime productions as well as his unorthodox art and storytelling. He is regarded by many as one of the best and most recognizable anime directors of anime currently. In his past productions, however, he had to multitask. Not only did he have directorial responsibilities, he was also heavily invested in the storytelling process. This led to sometimes uneven episodes or a plot that was poorly translated into the screen, sometimes full of sound and fury signifying nothing. This was most evident (from a personal perspective) in Kaiba. It was a good series but it was very uneven at times and the ending was most unsatisfying: for me, the ending felt very rushed and lessened my enjoyment of the good series. It was more audiovisual in nature and evocative than it was well-plotted.

This was different with Tatami Galaxy. There was already a source material provided, and all Yuasa had to do was direct and interpret the novel the way he wanted it. He also had a crew that supported his idea of how the series should pan out, but only to such an extent that he would not overdo it. I do not recall whether it was his director of photography or some other major personnel behind the scenes, but there was someone reining in Yuasa’s creative juices from exploding all over the place. They were able to channel his energies of vanguard execution to the presentation of a surreality that was very believable and very rational despite its iridescent and hallucinatory qualities. It was both surreal and believable at the same time: it was ultimately grounded in realism although its images were not. The result was nothing short of a masterpiece.

It was a series that could cater to such divers audiences: it could be a series enjoyed for the story it presented creatively by people who did not seek to look deeply into the series, or it could be a series enjoyed for the complexity that was unnecessary but helpful in one’s appreciation of the story (and this was my approach). The images could be enjoyed for what they looked like, but they could also be enjoyed for what they connoted.

It was also a series I desperately needed.

I am currently slogging my way through medical school, and unlike most people in this field I don’t have much of an interest in medicine. I think I ultimately want to make my parents happy, and then make myself happy, so I will become a doctor and then only later pursue my interests in literature and writing. When this series was airing I was at that teetering point: I was honestly quite tired of studying and I was already in my second-year not even knowing where I was going.

I wanted to go back to my past. I wanted to live life over, but this time, pursuing the things I love. I was like Watashi, only that he was given the chance to change his past and I wasn’t. Upon watching the series, however, I didn’t need that chance. The message of the series is oft-repeated, oft-said one: Carpe diem! Seize the day as if there was no tomorrow. There has never been a series that had transmitted its message to me as well as the series, however. It is not about the environment, or the place, that is important: it is one’s state of mind in facing one’s problems. I ran away from mine just like Watashi did. But I wasn’t running away any longer. I may sometimes whine about my status and my problems, but I have never again thought of running away to my imagination or to the possibilities of my past. It was something I had to be reminded about.

At the end of the series, after Watashi’s catharsis I could also see myself triumph against my own limitations: the moths that have bound me to my past were also the moths that were going to lead me to my freedom and to my future.

You are Watashi. I am Watashi – and that is the beauty of this series, especially for me.

PS. Before I completely forget, however, let me also heap praise upon what most probably is the best OP and ED combination of the previous year. The OP by Asian Kung-Fu Generation was both upbeat and catchy, but the ED by Etsuko Yakushimaru was simply majestic. I obtained most of soutaiseiriron’s music just because of this ED, and I use it as my alarm tune every day. I still keep on playing the Z80 version, even until now.

Acknowledgments

I haven’t been able to properly greet every one a Happy New Year, so I hope that you’ve all had one. This part of my post is dedicated to the people that have helped me a lot and graced me with their kindness in 2010.

My thanks go out to:

Angelus, for providing me monetary aid so that I could obtain my holy grail of vintage gaming as well as for sticking along with my blog through thick and thin. If ever we have the chance to meet, let me buy you beer :);

Crusader, for providing me monetary aid as well (for the same reason that Angelus did) and for being kind enough to help someone like me. I hope to buy you a beer, too;

Baka-Raptor, for sending me Opal Mehta’s novel. That was a great belated Christmas gift. I will return the favor eventually, although I really don’t have bad books in my possession: I mostly read only classics;

Aicha, for personally contacting me and giving me confidence in my site;

Rafael, for sharing to me his wonderful translation of the Kara no Kyoukai novels;

and

the readers of this site, for sticking with me even if I sometimes post only intermittently.

Happy new year, everyone!

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7 Responses to “The top 10 anime of 2010: the cream of the crop”

  1. Baka-Raptor Says:

    You pretty much took my review of The Disappearance word for word. Did I include it in the package?

    Endless Eight ruined Tatami Galaxy for me. I still gave it a good score, but halfway through the series I found myself asking, “Can’t he just end it already?” It’s a good candidate for a rewatch in a few years. By then I’ll surely regain a little patience.

  2. J Says:

    Thanks for bringing some attention to The Tatami Galaxy because nobody I’ve spoken to has even heard of it.

  3. hayase Says:

    >>There was also unnecessary focus on the Amars, who were mostly contemptible women who defended their way of life as if that were right.

    I don’t think they were that contemptible. Surely, their way of life isn’t something that is truly sustainable (I also wonder how they could live like that). Instead of contemptible, I feel it’s a pitiful situation. Contemptible seems a pretty strong word, don’t you think?

  4. hayase Says:

    >>Eve no Jikan/In contrast to the world of the Ghost in the Shell series, however, the robots in this world efficiently follow the laws of robotics proposed by Isaac Asimov.

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I did watch the ONA. Thought-provoking too. But have you seen Battlestar Galactica? (Unfortunately it’s not anime.) There are no laws of robotics but if you have time in the future (it’s 4 seasons long I think), maybe you would enjoy it (and then you could tell us what you think hehehe).

    >> Tatami Galaxy

    If I didn’t miss anything, Tatami Galaxy would indeed be the most thought provoking series of 2010.

    >>I am currently slogging my way through medical school, and unlike most people in this field I don’t have much of an interest in medicine. I think I ultimately want to make my parents happy, and then make myself happy, so I will become a doctor and then only later pursue my interests in literature and writing.

    Good luck! By the way, if you can, blog for as long as you can, and don’t burn out! =)

  5. Michael Says:

    Baka-Raptor:

    Endless Eight sucked. They should have just straight up poured more money into Disappearance. It may have been more of a masterpiece that way.

    Thank you very much, once more. The thing is, it was Watashi’s bullheadedness that seemed so natural, so realistic. We never really face our own problems even if it stared us down in the face unless we recognize that we have these problems. We often just run away, which is what Watashi did. It was a bit frustrating at times, but so human.

    J:

    Thank you for reading this blog! 🙂

    hayase:

    I think their lifestyles are pitiful but I did not appreciate their treatment of Kuranosuke early on in the series, and that was why I think of them as contemptible. They should also accept him for who he is, as he’s already doing that despite their idiosyncrasies. It’s just a pet peeve, however.

    I’ll look into Battlestar Galactica, but I really don’t have much time right now. It’s only anime that I watch, and even then, not consistently enough.

    I agree. It was just hands-down the best series and anime of 2010 for me, mainly because it was also very thought-provoking and yet very human.

    Thanks for the comment.

  6. Angelus Says:

    Glad you enjoyed “Disappearance”. I’ve been raving about it so much ever since I saw it, but the problem with trying to get other people to watch it is that it only makes sense if you’ve watched at least some of the series. Maybe the six episodes of the eponymous “melancholy” arc plus Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody and Live Alive would be enough to get the flavor of it.

    Anyway, if ever I’m in your neck of the woods (unlikely but not impossible, I suppose) I’d be delighted to take you up on that beer offer 🙂

  7. Marty Says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a little while now and it seems that we have the same taste. If its not too much trouble, I’d really like to know your favorite manga and anime of all time. (Mostly manga, I’m running out x_x) Thanks!

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