Well, the decade has come and gone. And it was a very evolving decade in anime. Gone are series done in the once standard hand-colored fashion, with digital animation becoming the dominant form of animation. Though a few series like Pokemon and Detective Conan held off as late as 2002, it is now the standard. And now most anime are not only digitally animated, but in high-definition wide screen. And the explosion of popularity of anime on the Internet is nothing short of outstanding. And a lot of distribution companies in the U.S. have come and soon since then, with two of the biggest companies - Geneon and ADV Films - done in for good. (Though Geneon continues to produce anime, as well as distribute them in Japan, and ADV technically lives on as several smaller companies.)
The decade also brought a high increase in shows intended for late-night audiences. Before these kinds of series were among the minority of a season's anime lineup, but now they're some of the most mainstream and popular! Except for Shonen Jump mainstays like Bleach, One Piece, and Naruto, as well as kid-friendly fare like Sgt. Frog, Doraemon, Pokemon, and Crayon Shin-chan, the industry has seen the change, and they're not probably not turning back. Noir, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, To Love Ru, Clannad, Comic Party, Azumanga Daioh, Spice and Wolf, Nanoha, Aria, and Excel Saga are just a few of the shows that have shown quite a change in the anime industry's genres of animation.
We've also seen near the end of the decade the return of the OAV, a format that seemed to almost die out in the late 90's / early 00's.
Censorship, although always an issue in anime, became quite big this decade, both in the U.S. and Japan. The English version of Tenjou Tenge's censorship sparked a website criticizing every single change made by publisher CMX, and several fan service-heavy anime like Rosario and Vampire and Strike Witches were heavily censored on their original broadcast in Japan.
In short, a lot has changed. There are more series than ever, more adaptions of light novels and video games than ever, and anime has become no longer a thing exclusive to Japan, as sites like crunchyroll show us.
But for all the anime that came out this year, there were 20 particular titles that caught my fancy the most. Which ones, you may ask? Well, I'll tell you, of course! I now present to you now my top 20 favorite anime of the first decade of the 00's!
#20: Spirited Away
Not my favorite Miyazaki film (that's either Kiki's Delivery Service or Castle in the Sky), but Spirited Away is as captivating as any other work from the studio. Incredible animation, wonderful scenery, and all sorts of Japanese mythological creatures makes this movie a real treat for the eyes. So why so low? Well..I don't like Chihiro much. I find her to be pretty weak as a character, and her attitude in the first 15 minutes of the film turned me away from considering this Miyazaki's finest hour. It's also a little on the long side at over 2 hours. Other than that, though, Spirited Away is a great, fun work from the man who can very, very rarely do wrong; Hayao Miyazaki!
#19: Shugo Chara! (1st season only)
Magical girl anime are a dime a dozen in Japan, but Shugo Chara! takes a common staple (girl finds magical mascots who try to help her life) and adds fun twists into it. For example, having a magical girl lead who's not always warm and happy - let's make her cynical and sarcastic sometimes as well, as well as not always get along with everyone all the time! It's really the heroine Amu's growth from a shy girl who everyone misinterprets as her being cool, cold, and rebellious into a kinder, sweet girl that makes the series worthwhile entertainment for shoujo fans. It's also a rare magical girl show with villains who aren't just mindless followers of a greater evil, which gets a thumbs up from me.
It's such a shame that the sequel series are so disappointing in comparison, though..
#18: Rocket Girls
Let's face it: the concept of teenage girls going into space is dumb on paper. But with the right writers and animation team, it seems plausible, like it is in the case of Rocket Girls. Not only did I buy the fact that our teenage heroine Yukari could go into space, but her reactions to everything mirrored my own, something that rarely happens when I watch anime. Her fellow co-workers/friends her age are also as likable as her - island girl Matsuri is an amusing, likable character, and the shy Akane goes through quite a lot herself to keep up with Yukari in terms of her training. And when the girls go into space..it really does feel like you're there. Clever, well-done, and even informative, I liked Rocket Girls from beginning to end.
#17: The Cat Returns
The Cat Returns is fun. Simple, charming, family-friendly fun. The cats are, for the most part, funny, charming, and very likable - especially Muta and The Baron, two of my favorite Ghibli characters. The only downside is Haru, who's kind of a wimp compared to your typical Studio Ghibli heroine, but even she is not enough to drag down the movie. If you want a cute, short, funny, and fun little Ghibli movie, check out The Cat Returns.
#16: Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
The only parts of the original, 2002 GONZO Full Metal Panic! series I really liked were the scenes with the socially awkward (and that's an understatement) Sosuke trying to live a normal school life to protect the high-strung, smart, pretty Chidori (who's not afraid to smack him when he blows up something, which he often does). Fumoffu takes that concept and makes it an entire television series. Kyoto Animation's first stand-alone television series is funny, well-drawn and animated, and filled with fun, chibis, and even some action now and again. Tessa fans might be upset that she's regulated mainly to a two-episode arc, but otherwise I can't see why FMP! fans wouldn't enjoy this unless they really missed the mecha. And if so, well..there's always The Second Raid.
Shy girls goes into club. Sounds simple, right? Then how about this - shy girl wants nothing to do with said club and tries to even quit. Not so typical now, huh? Hitohira stars Mugi, one of the shyest girls I've ever seen in an anime, but it's also through her shyness that her transformation into a girl who can act freely on-stage special. Her upperclassman, Nono, is there to guide her along the way, but she too has her problems, mostly from the fact that the drama club Mugi joined is a spin-off Nono created when she had an argument with her ex-friend who was in another drama club. The two clubs compete for a play position for a festival, but only one will win. I won't spoil it for you, but it's not as cut-and-paste as you'd think. Likable characters and a fairly unique set-up for a slice-of-life high school series (plays) makes Hitohira one of the finer high school slice-of-life series I've seen in the 21st century.
#14: Rozen Maiden (season 1)
If television and movies have taught us anything, it's that dolls can be really creepy. Rozen Maiden stars talking dolls itself, though instead of knives and blood spewing, it's more like a fighting tournament of sorts, with the dolls wielding magical powers. And as odd as the relationship between a sassy doll in red and her "servant", a shut-in junior high school boy, is, it somehow works, especially when more dolls come their way. Although it sounds goofy, Rozen Maiden is, for the most part, not so goofy. The action can get quite serious, and lives are sometimes even on the line. The series always manages to suck you in after you watch an episode, waiting for the next one to see what happens next. There's some good voice talent work here, too, the highlight being Miyuki Sawashrio as Shinku, who manages to juggle many emotions for the typically proper doll. If you don't mind frilly dressed dolls in your anime, Rozen Maiden is a weird, interesting action / comedy / drama series to keep an eye out for.
Of all the visual novel anime I've seen that focuses on one character's arc at a time, Bakemonogatari is one of the strangest of its kind, and one of the best. This series just has a way of sucking you in while watching, whether it be SHAFT'S fantastic visuals, interesting characters, great music, or the generally great writing. Also, Hitagi, who has to be one of the biggest stand-out characters I've seen in an anime in a while, with an attitude that at times makes Haruhi Suzumiya look like a cheerful little schoolgirl. The series isn't fully complete yet, and I didn't care much for the actual characters themselves, but Bakemonogatari is definitely one of the most interesting series I've seen in quite a while, and for that I think it deserves a look.
#12: Bamboo Blade
Sports anime is something I typically don't care for. But if more sports anime were more like Bamboo Blade, I would. It's not the first series about kendo, but it's the first that concentrates on mainly girls, and it does so very well. Likable, charming characters, good kendo battles, cute girls, and clean animation help this series stand out to me among the in-numermous sports anime. Everyone, from the short, shy, talented, but also anime/manga otaku Tamaki, to the perky Kirino, to the pretty but surprisingly violent (to the point of reckless) kendo player Miyako, are all amusing characters that are fun to watch. Watching the team form is half the journey, and watching them fight is the next. And I rooted for them throughout all 26 episodes. A fun, charming series with likable girls, Bamboo Blade proves that you don't need fan service or over-the-top performances to make an interesting sports anime.
#11: Asatte no Houkou
Age-changing drama - a young girl becomes an adult, and an adult becomes a little girl. The basic concept of Asatte no Houkou mainly deals with two girls and their trying to adjust to their new ages for the majority of the series. At the same time, though, you'll come to realize that the two's swapped ages aren't quite as random as you think, which is helped by powerful writing that makes the characters feel real and not walking cliches (well, most of them). The ending is a little random, but the first 11 and a half episodes are as good as you're going to get in a seinen drama this short and sweet. I always have to applaud J.C. Staff and the coloring job they did for this show, which looks wonderful in this age of rainbow colored, overly glossy digital animation.
#10: Gurren Lagann
I barely finished it before the end of the decade, but I finally checked out what many consider to be the return of "classic" GAINAX. And they're right - not since the first two-thirds of His and Her Circumstances have I been this engrossed in a GAINAX series. Good characters, coupled with great animation, impressive mecha battles, and a plot with lots of twists and turns, make this a great series that I almost missed out on this decade. The only downside I can think of is the cutesy Nia, who clashes quite a bit with the cast upon her debut. However, even she can't lower my opinion on this excellent series.
#9: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (first two seasons)
Ah, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and its dark, amusing sense of humor. The SZS series isn't afraid to tackle subject ranging from preview as incentives to buy things to short-lived popularity to the hyping of people who are slightly better at something than somebody else. All this is topped off by the amusing Nozomu, the main lead and a teacher of high school students who's very negative and down to Earth. He doesn't mean to be cruel/mean about it; it's just his way of telling his students like it is. His students are a weird, assorted bunch as well, ranging from the typical perky girl to characters like an illegal immigrant, a girl who demands uniformity and everything being even, a hikkomori, and even a stalker played out for laughs! And unlike other high school comedies, almost everyone has something to offer or say, so you don't have characters that simply are there for no particular reason other than to make one tired old joke over and over again (*eyes Kaorin from Azumanga Daioh*).
There were a lot of high school comedies in the 00's, but my favorite might just be the first two seasons of Sayonara Zetsbuou Sensei.
#8: Fruits Basket
Fruits Basket is an emotional roller coaster of anime. There's happy moments, as well as sad, laugh out loud, dramatic, and even scary ones. The idea of a sweet, kind girl moving into a house with three boys could've spelled disaster, but it doesn't. The whole animal zodiac thing is a nice touch as well, and the transformations that come up from it lead to some pretty amusing situations. But what really makes this series are the characters, who are likable, fleshed out, and have their own wants, desires, and personalities. Add to this an adorable, lovable heroine, and you have one of the highlights of shoujo in the 21st century. Fruits Basket - if you haven't seen it yet, go do so.
#7: Ouran High School Host Club
An example of a simple premise (girl mistaken for boy works at a club made up of boys that caters to girls and hanging out with them) that leads to great results. Like Fruits Basket, what really makes Ouran special is the characters. They might fit into typical archetypes - the twins who look alike, the shota, the tall, silent guy - but somehow it all works. And Haruhi (not THAT Haruhi) is hilarious - if Tohru Honda was the sweetest girl in a shoujo series I've seen, Haruhi is one of the most blunt, down-to-earth, sarcastic ones. She's not mean about it, though, which makes her a likable, strong character. And she manages to be cute without a big rack or a single bit of revealing clothes - a rarity in today's anime. Ouran High School Club is a fun, funny series that I can safely recommend to any anime fan out there, not just shoujo fans.
#6: Galaxy Angel (whole)
Like The Cat Returns, Galaxy Angel is fun. Its characters are shallow, the episodes are only 11 minutes long, the plots make no sense, and more often than not the episodes have no real ending - and yet I love every minute of it. It's moe pandering done right - a gaggle of girls in odd situations that leave opportunity for just about anything to happen. Walk across a dessert in pig costumes to lose weight? Sure! Stop a talking missile from blowing up the Earth by putting his memory into a stuffed doll? Yep. Have the girls assemble a mecha that blows up before they finish singing about it? Let's go for it! And despite it running for four seasons, it rarely loses a beat amongst its run. Even the addition of new characters in the third and fourth seasons don't slow the series down, which manages to remain silly fun to the end.
With high production values and fantastic detail to backgrounds, Kure-nai looks more at times like an OAV or movie than a show, and that's just part of the reason it sucks you in. Another is, believe it or not, the 6 year old Murasaki, who manages to be a believable little girl without being obnoxious or detestable. (A rarity in anime, or animation for that matter.) Care-taker Shinkurou himself is not as wimpy as he seems; when push comes to shove, this guy can kick some ass. There is some annoying filler, and the series' conclusion won't leave everyone happy, but the way the story unfolds is done impeccably, and I couldn't wait to watch what was coming next. How much? I even watched it with French fansubs because I couldn't get my hands on English ones - THAT'S how much I wanted to see what was happening next! Great characters, good budget, and a fantastically told story made Kure-nai one of my favorites not only from 2008, but from the first decade of the 21st century as well!
#4: Haibane Renmei
What's to love about Haibane Renmei, besides the calm setting, fantastic visuals, pretty music, and lovable characters? The excellent voice acting helps, too, especially the fairly young Ryou Hirohashi as Rakka (her first anime role) and Junko Noda as Reki. The concept of a society of angels and humans living alongside each other is not that new, but the way it works here is actually quite clever. And the various secrets/concepts of these fallen angels unfolding throughout the series make each episode matter ; there is very little filler. And the wonderful backgrounds never deter in quality once in the series, as doesn't the writing, which remains top-notch from beginning to end. It might be too slow for some, but Haibane Renmei is a rare series with a lot of heart and effort put into every detail, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
#3: Koi Kaze
Incest is a subject that I never, ever thought anime could make a good series out of. Koi Kaze proved me wrong BIG TIME. After years of separation, two siblings (an adult man and a teenage girl) meet each other and find themselves attracted to one another, slowly bringing them both closer together and apart..especially when the older brother moves back in with his father and little sister! Koi Kaze works because it doesn't paint incest as a simple case of black and white, and it's backed up by fantastic storytelling and characters you really care for. It's not completely perfect (i.e. the unfunny pedophile co-worker), but Koi Kaze is a touching series that tackles a very difficult subject and manages it to wield it into one hell of a story. If you can stomach the subject manner, I highly recommend watching it.
#2: Aria (whole)
If you could define anime with words in the English dictionary, Aria would be listed under "calm". Almost all of the 39 episodes I've seen so far are laid-back, mellow tales of three teenage girls who row boats while hanging out with their respective seniors, as well as each of their mascot cats. And yet it's more than that. Aria is about, among other things, exploring, memories, travels, making new friends, meeting old ones, and enjoying holidays, seasons, and festivals. Aria is a show that likes life and basks in it. Even in its saddest moments, the show always manages to perk a smile on my face, much like it does with fellow admin Stig. Oh, and one more thing - the music is fantastic. Very few anime have soundtracks that stick out to me, but Aria is one of them. I don't even skip the OP, since the series plays animation on top of it (a very nice touch, in my opinion). And the voice acting is excellent, too. Aria is a series I can't recommend enough.
#1: Great Teacher Onizuka
This is cutting close, since the series technically started in 1999, but it DID run into 2000, so I'm counting it. Anyway, what makes the series so great are the characters. Mainly one - Onizuka himself. A wild man of a teacher, he manages to be funny, strict, intelligent, street-smart, and a mentor all in the course of the series. And the amount of stuff he has to put up with - it's amazing he never cracks from the pressure. But that's just it; Onizuka is such a powerful, interesting, charismatic guy that he wins over his students' loyalty to him one arc at a time. and when he's done..that's it. The manga hadn't ended by the time the anime did, but it manages to tell a fantastic story all the same. And the weird part? The manga is said to be even BETTER. If there's ANY flaw in Great Teacher Onizuka, it's the weak animation from Studio Pierrot, who provides us with bad coloring and characters who don't exactly look like the original manga's characters, but try really hard to. Aside from the low budget, though, this is a wonderful series from beginning to end. Some characters can make a show better; Great Teacher Onizuka is one of the few that relies on the strength of one character and manages to actually work! If you haven't seen this series, go do so now!
And those are my top 20 anime of the 2000's. I know many of you won't agree with this list, but that's okay - we all have our own favorite series. If you want to leave me any comments/suggestions, feel free to e-mail me about them. Until them, this is Tim Jones, wishing you all a Happy 2010!
- Tim Jones
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