12 Days of Anime #1: Best Anime Scene of the Year

*For the full effect, read the following text aloud in the manner of a melodramatic old-time radio announcer.*

DANGER! The mighty electromaster MIKOTO MISAKA is being menaced by Telestina’s gargantuan robot! This high-speed freeway battle is not looking good for our young heroine! The fearsome war machine is impervious to all of Mikoto’s attacks, including her mighty railgun, and its deadly ROCKET FISTS are destroying everything in sight! With only seconds left before total annihilation, can Mikoto find a way to defeat this horrible menace and save the day?

12 Days of Anime #2: Fighting Evil by Moonlight

Sailor Moon is one of those quintessential anime that everybody has heard of, but almost nobody has actually seen. Old timers have vague memories of watching it on Toonami, and they’re plenty of Sailor Senshi fanart to be found, but only a few of us young’uns have bothered to sit down and learn what all the fuss was about. Well, as part of my rediscovery of retro anime, I decided to take the plunge. I was expecting something silly like Power Rangers, with a shallow story and a monster every week.

Funny thing is, Sailor Moon has a way of both fulfilling and subverting your expectations.

All the super sentai tropes are there, with great quantity and little deviation. Luna and Artemis, faced with a threat from the evil Dark Kingdom, recruit teenagers with attitude to form a team of color-coded warriors. These girls battle a neverending onslaught of weekly monsters using their stock-footage transformation scenes and elemental attacks, eventually challenging and defeating the ruler of the Dark Kingdom herself. In a nutshell, this is the show that defined the magical-girl tropes, for better or worse. It’s the pioneer, the trailblazer, the legendary matriarch whose influence is still felt today.

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12 Days of Anime #3: Yoko Littner

I mentioned in my previous 12 Days of Anime post that I watched Gurren Lagann for the first time this summer. You probably don’t need me to tell you it was awesome. So I’m not going to.

Instead, I’m going to tell you how awesome Yoko Littner is. Let’s get the obvious point out of the way first: that is one hell of a character design. She’s easily one of the best-looking females in anime. I also appreciate that she constantly carries a very large gun around. I’m not entirely sure why I developed such a strong attraction to girls with guns (I suspect it has something to do with Sigourney Weaver crafting that assault rifle/grenade launcher/flame thrower in Aliens), but Yoko appeals to that fetish in a hilariously exaggerated fashion. I mean, look at that railgun. It must be really heavy, yet she can carry and even aim it from the hip with ease. That’s fantastic.

But what I really like is that Gainax cared enough to give her a great personality, too. Her usual mood can be summed up as confident and fiery. But there’s more than that. She’s perfectly comfortable showing affection (unlike certain annoying tsunderes I can think of), she’s intelligent, she isn’t impulsive (unless she needs to be) and, as we see in the second half of the show, her fighting prowess is not her defining characteristic. Yoko can put on glasses and live the peaceful life of an elementary teacher and not lose what makes her a fun and likable character. You know what else is cool? We actually get to see her mature from a teenager into a young woman, and her personality changes to reflect that.

And, frankly, it was nice to see a supposedly strong female character actually be strong. She’s not like those pansies from Samurai Girls who fret about a simple kiss. Yoko’s the only character in the show who fights alongside Simon through the entire series, and she loses two boyfriends in the process. But does she ever blame him? Yell at him? Complain that it’s not fair? No. She mourns their deaths, but understands they sacrificed themselves for a higher purpose. And then she moves on with her life.

12 Days of Anime #4: Salvation From Hell

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt was easily one of the most anticipated anime of the fall season. Conceived under the influence of excessive alcohol by the brilliantly insane folk at Gainax, it had the creative team behind Gurren Lagann mixed with artistic inspiration from Jhonen Vasquez and Genndy Tartakovsky. It was a match made in heaven! And after the borefest known as Hanamaru Kindergarten, everybody was eager for Gainax get back on top of their game. We expected something incredible, something that would sear our eyeballs and burn our brains. We wanted another Evangelion, another FLCL, another Gunbuster.

Perhaps because of our high expectations, PSG was a disappointment at first. Sure, it was frenetic and fun, but the comedy was incredibly one-note. The whole ‘barrage of lewd humor’ bit had been done far better in other anime, including this summer’s Mitsudomoe. So we wound up with a show that was pretty to look at and had a kickass soundtrack, but was otherwise unremarkable. People were starting to lose faith. Had Gainax laid another egg?

Then, salvation came from the most unexpected of places… the fiery pits of hell!

Yup, these devilishly sexy villains managed to singlehandedly save PSG from the purgatory of mediocrity.  The Demon Sisters brought a sorely-needed vibrant energy to every episode they starred in with their forceful personalities. This was a turning point for PSG; instead of an endless barrage of tired sex jokes, we got actual story and clever parody. Of course, there was the occasional off episode, but on the whole it was a vast improvement. It’s no wonder why these two hellish vixens have gained such widespread popularity… perhaps even greater than that of the protagonists themselves.

12 Days of Anime #5: Super Robot Revival

This will probably seem strange to those of you who know me as the super-robot apologist on Bakacast, but I didn’t watch Gurren Lagann until this year. Well, to be precise, I watched a couple episodes soon after it finished, but I never got farther until early in 2010. That was when I realized the entire series was on Hulu, so I plowed through it in a few days. Despite a few problems I had with certain aspects of the story, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Unfortunately, watching Gurren Lagann made me realize how rare it is to find any super-robot shows–much less good ones–being made today. It just isn’t the popular genre that it was once (that honor now belongs to slice-of-life). But, lo and behold, a new challenger approached: Star Driver. Both the series description and the first episode promised all the fabulousness of Code Geass with none of the angst. I was immediately intrigued. And while Star Driver has certainly had its low points, I’ve had a lot of fun watching it anyway.

But I’ve recently realized something. With a few notable episodes to serve as exceptions, I didn’t end up sticking with either of the shows for the robot fights. They became a secondary or even tertiary concern. A nice bonus, if you will. What really makes both Gurren Lagann and Star Driver shine like glittering stars are their characters.

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12 Days of Anime #6: Girls Love Girls’ Love

I promise this is the only image from this series I'll use, mainly because it's the only one I CAN use

I’ve never been shy about the fact that I enjoy things intended for a female audience. I like the emphasis on emotions and relationships, romantic and otherwise, and the calm atmosphere is a refreshing break from the typical frenetic fare targeted at males. Despite the gender gap, most elements of these types of stories aren’t alienating to me; my closest friends growing up were female, so constant chatter centering on hair, makeup and clothes is almost nostalgic.

However, there was always one point where both my childhood friends and shoujo manga would begin to lose me: boys. Not only did I have trouble relating to many of my male friends, but I was never attracted to them. So, while I enjoy the perspective shoujo stories are told from, I always have trouble sympathizing with the main character’s romantic interest. That’s not to say I can’t enjoy and appreciate it anyway, but if heightened empathetic appeal is one of the primary draws, it certainly does bring the enjoyment down a notch. The solution seems obvious, but for a long time it was notorious for having its own problems.

More cute pictures after the break!

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12 Days of Anime #7: Battle of the Tsunderes



I have something of a love/hate relationship with A Certain Scientific Railgun. One the one hand, it was my favorite show of the previous fall and winter seasons, easily beating out dreck like Kampfer and Sora no Woto. On the other, it had some rather blatant and annoying flaws, two of which were the huge amount of filler and constant stream of hamfisted friendship speeches. Despite these problems, which have driven many a casual viewer away from Railgun, I still can’t help loving it.

Why? Because Railgun has absolutely fantastic characters.

Kuroko, Saten, Uiharu… I love ’em all. But the highlight is easily Mikoto Misaka, the mildly tsundere electromaster protagonist. Although I didn’t crush on her like I did with Maya, it still felt like Mikoto was a close, personal friend. After the show’s finale, I was sad to see her go; it’s not often I get that emotional about the end of an anime. That’s how vibrant and endearing her character was. She literally made Railgun worth watching.

Compare that with a certain other tsundere who has ruined an otherwise fantastic show, OreImo. Mikoto succeeded everywhere Kirino failed, and proved that the characters really do make or break anime. Story, pacing and art quality are all important, but the characters are the lynchpin that hold everything together.

More after the break.

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12 Days of Anime #9: Weird Japanese Games

I may not be the biggest fan of the recent crop of games from Japan, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any awesome ones that came out this year. In fact, I can think of at least three off the top of my head: Bayonetta, Vanquish and Nier. Now, there are two things I realized when I came up with those three games. First, thank God for Platinum Games. And second, all three of them are unashamedly bizarre.

Seriously, they are. Bayonetta brainstorms the craziest action scenes ever, and then finds ways to make them crazier. Vanquish gives you a gun that transforms into all your guns and lets you press one button that makes your character do a rocket-leg power slide. And Nier? Nier is a secret sequel to Drakengardone of the most insane games ever made–that manages to be almost as crazy as its predecessor. That is the level of weird we’re dealing with here, and I love all three of them for it. I’ll break down exactly why after the jump.

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12 Days of Anime #10: Discovering Retro Anime

Ever since my earliest days of otakudom, I had intended to get into retro anime. I kept hearing about the awesome old classics like Tenchi Muyo and Sailor Moon, but I wasn’t really sure where to start. For a long time, the oldest show I had seen was 1999’s Crest of the Stars, not counting the odd Gundam series or Miyazaki film. I was just too absorbed in modern shows to bother with anything classic. Then, this February, I ran across an article on Mania.com called “10 Great Out of Print Anime We Want Back.” Despite being rather mundane in its own right, this article had one passage that particularly intrigued me.

9. Project A-Ko

Another ‘80s title that saw release in the West in the early ‘90s, Project A-Ko is an action comedy that actively parodies other action movies. The premise centers around the rivalry between Eiko (A-Ko) and Biko (B-Ko) who constantly fight over the affections of the bubbly Shiiko (C-Ko). The popularity of Project A-Ko spawned a few followup OAVs, though none were as well received as the original. But its irreverent humor and ridiculous premise are prime examples of the type of insanity anime was able to get away with in the 1980s.

Dusty is a huge fan of cheesy 80s action movies, and I’ll admit I somewhat enjoy their wacky, over-the-top nature. I mean, Schwarzenegger might be a horrid actor, but seeing him casually toss buzzsaws through people’s skulls is pretty epic. Upon hearing that Project A-Ko was a parody of these kinds of films, it jumped straight to the top of my must-watch list.

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