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1999 - The Year in Anime

December 21, 1999

1999 has been quite a year for us American anime fans (the Prince song notwithstanding). Anime finally came full-force into the mainstream, with the Pokemon juggernaut leading the way. Several titles of note hit limited theatrical release in the United States, and record numbers of tapes and series were released. We can not remember a time when anime was more prominent in the United States. Yet not all is well in American anime fandom. Controversy shrouded conventions, as some established companies gave in to the media frenzy and began to see nothing but dollar signs in their businesses, while fans grew increasingly alienated by the behavior of the corporate elite. At the same time, anime fandom itself has splintered into various factions, from the Dragon Ball Z action crowd, to the Fushigi Yuugi shoujo fandom, to the hyper-elitist "digital source-only" clique. There are more anime fans now in North America, and more variation in demographics, than ever before ... but is this truly the beginning of acceptance of anime as an artform ... or will it go the way of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

The Best of '99 -- Things that made us proud to be anime fans.

  • 1. Theatrical release of Princess Mononoke and Perfect Blue, which once and for all to the movie critics of America that animation isn't just for kids, and that anime is not "mindlessness for the masses", but a medium to be reckoned with as a mature artform. What better introduction to mainstream audiences of the power and range of animation than these two brilliant movies? Also, this proves beyond a doubt that, yes, American voice acting jobs can be every bit sophisticated as Japanese performances.

  • 2. The Revolutionary Girls. Shoujo titles finally got equal shelf space as shounen titles, which had previously completely dominated the market. Sailor Moon opened the door, but Fushigi Yuugi and Revolutionary Girl Utena kept it that way, paving the way for a new, discriminating female fanbase that hasn't been catered to in America since the days of My Little Pony and The Care Bears. The current release of Magic Knight Rayearth will keep the trend going well into 2000, where we will see Card Captor Sakura and Gundam Wing (more popular among women than men) on television, and possibly His and Her Circumstances and Marmalade Boy on the store shelves alongside Ranma 1/2 and Dragon Ball.
  • 3. The Pokemon Phenomenon. No single fad in the last ten years has been as overwhelming in pop culture as Pokemon, as these cute little critters dancing their way into the imagination of an entire generation of children (as well as their parent's pocketbooks) in a way unrivaled in history. But this fad also had support from the teenage and college crowd, who grew up with animation from childhood, and Pokemon appeals to the child in all of us, while delivering a few well-placed in-jokes for the anime community into the television show. Children feel empowered by Pokemon, not demeaned by it - and it has the potential to expose more people to Japanese animation as a whole than any other series before it. Thanks to Pokemon, we're seeing more family-oriented anime cross over, like Dog of Flanders, Catnapped, and Card Captor Sakura, and it helped rejuvenate the flagging comic and trading card industries, keeping our anime stores open to sell other products.
  • 4. The San Diego Comic-Con embraces anime. In 1998, Comic-Con hosted Takeuchi Naoko, creator of Sailor Moon. Following the success of that appearance, this year's convention honored anime and manga luminaries Kia Asamiya, Ono Toshihiro, and Amano Yoshitaka, and did so in a big way. Anime panels were much more prominent, and fandom in general was treated to an experience unrivaled by any other convention in the Western Hemisphere, Anime Expo included. Japanese pop culture and American pop culture had truly melded, as there were as many anime costumers in the masquerade as there were American - and Best of Show went to a simply amazing Giant Robo costume. All we need is an anime channel in the hotel, and we're set!

  • 5. Anime dubbing comes of age. At long last, America has a talented voice acting pool that are becoming stars in their own right, though still not as popular as their Japanese counterparts. The quality of dubbing has heightened to a point where, combined with the DVD format, it has rendered the sub versus dub issue moot. Tenchi Forever, Perfect Blue, Princess Mononoke, and Shinesman all are prime examples of what American dubbing can do - and it's truly something to behold.

The Worst of '99 -- And now, things that *didn't* make us proud to be anime fans.

  • 1. Overhyped series. It began with Neon Genesis Evangelion. Some companies have been so eager to push the Next Big Thing that they pick the most stereotypical tripe and push it onto the public in such force that fandom is brainwashed into gobbling it up. First came Tekken (anime's answer to Hong Kong action), then Ninja Resurrection (the new Ninja Scroll), and finally, the topper of them all, Kite (the anime La Femme Nikita). To read the box-art and the surrounding buzz around these series, you'd expect instant success, until you actually plop the money and rent (or God forbid) buy these titles. In the end, all these ended up being were a melange of blood, violence, and sex, everything the mainstream audience expects from anime. If it weren't for Pokemon and Princess Mononoke, these titles could have set back anime's acceptance in America by a good five years.
  • 2. The AX99 fiasco. It began with the three-hour line to get in. And from all reports by those who attended, it went downhill from there. From allegations of corruption and rigged masquerade judging, to Guests of Honor leaving early due to ill-treatment by volunteers, this was by far the worst Anime Expo to date. Fans frequently complained that it was too expensive, that their "official" autograph boards could not be signed by artists who would've been willing if they hadn't been harassed by staff, as well as slander charges pressed against the higher-ups in charge of the convention newsletter. This convention is seen as a black eye in the anime community, and many feel hurt and betrayed by the decision to hold the 2000 Anime Expo at the Disneyland Hotel, which is simply an inappropriate venue for this event, as it is too restrictive of an environment to properly showcase the full range of Japanese animation, as well as being the most expensive hotel in Anaheim. Rumors of boycott fly among anime fandom, and one wonders if what was formerly the premier anime convention in America will survive into the next decade.

  • 3. Liberal subtitling and dubbing. As many good dub jobs there have been, some companies only seem to care about the bottom line. Queen Emeraldas and City Hunter are prime examples of A.D.V. Films's seeming disregard of quality in the face of releasing x number of tapes a month. They buy up titles at an alarming rate, and are releasing them so fast, they don't stop to check if the sub/dub jobs match up with the original work, not to mention the excessive usage of profanity, which is uncalled for and unwanted. When digital source distributors produce better scripts than the commercial releases, why should we bother donating our money for inferior product?

  • 4. Cool Devices. The worst of the worst as far as hentai goes, it is the ultimate degradation of the humanity of women in the history of animation. Little girls are raped, then murdered in a misogynistic, sick fantasy that is so offensive, they can't even put art on the box cover. This is exactly the trash we *don't* want to see on our shores, and it makes La Blue Girl look as innocent as Minky Momo. Is this the image we want to portray of anime? I think not.
  • 5. AnimEigo. Making absolutely no amends for the Kimagure Orange Road "limited release", this company is in dire straits, but tries to remedy this by releasing *more* overpriced limited edition boxed sets. What are they thinking? Not only are they alienating fandom at an alarming rate by reserving their product to the well-to-do, will-pay-anything-for-it otaku set, but they are keeping the general public away from good quality series. It's impossible to find Kimagure Orange Road at the local Tower Records, and it's a crying shame, because this company has the responsibility to the anime medium to get the word out, not keep it under wraps as its own little secret. Sorry, AnimEigo, anime's not a secret anymore, and as long as as your keep acting like this, you will be completely gone by the end of 2000.

The Best of Anime 1999 - Staff Picks - the best anime we've seen this year (though not necessarily released this year)

Christina's Picks - The Best of 1999 in order

  • 10. Homeroom Affairs

  • 9. Princess Mononoke

  • 8. His and Her Circumstances

  • 7. Perfect Blue

  • 6. Black Jack OAVs
  • 5. Card Captor Sakura

  • 4. Magical Stage Fancy Lala

  • 3. Fake

  • 2. Shinesman

  • 1. Cowboy Bebop

And the worst, in no particular order...

  • 5. Kizuna

  • 4. Cybernetics Guardian

  • 3. PonPoko

  • 2. Domain of Murder (Hello Hedgehog)

  • 1. Kite

Carlos's Picks - The Best of 1999 in order

  • 10. His and Her Circumstances

  • 9. Tenchi Forever

  • 8. My Dear Marie

  • 7. The Cockpit
  • 6. Magic Knight Rayearth

  • 5. Marmalade Boy

  • 4. Angel's Egg

  • 3. Perfect Blue

  • 2. Shinesman

  • 1. Princess Mononoke

And the worst, in no particular order...

  • 5. Queen Emeraldas

  • 4. Domain of Murder (Hello Hedgehog)

  • 3. The Girl from Phantasia

  • 2. Gasaraki

  • 1. Kite

The Overall Best of the Year: Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman (Tokumu Sentai Shinesman)

The Overall Worst of the Year: Kite

- Carlos/Giancarla Ross

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