And I’m back ladies and gentlemen after somewhat of a hiatus. To make up for it, I bring you a 2011 year in review, which will be divided into 3 parts. Part 1 will include comments about the industry in general, notable staff and production studios. Part 2 will include disappointments of the year, as a blog post will hardly be complete without sufficient ragedumps :p. Part 3 will include the various lists of top animes and characters for 2011 and my projected outlook for 2012.
On the whole, 2011 has been a great year. It was very much needed comeback year where it restored my faith in the anime industry after the very sub-par years of 2009 and 2010. In those years you would be lucky enough to get one solid show per season. Chances were, that if 2011 was like 2009 and 2010, I may have ragequitted anime entirely as I have become quite intolerant of crap from any entertainment medium as of late.
So what made this year different from the likes of 2009 and 2010? The answer is simple. Unlike 2009 and 2010, where slice of life, fanservice or otaku bait moe-shows were dominating the industry (since they were safe bets on making profits), 2011 portrayed not just quality slice of life shows, it also showed good amounts of variety. Sci-fis outside of mechas, mysteries, thrillers, dramas – these were some of the genres that were significantly lacking in the 2009-10 era, which was at least satisfactorily addressed in 2010. Hence, this year the anime industry stepped out of their comfort zones and took risks, with a significant portion of them paying off.
So how exactly was 2011 driven by variety and quality? The vanguard of this perception came from the number of anime originals that were present this year. What I mean by anime originals are material that were not derived from any source material (manga, light novels, visual novels etc) but original scripts and stories that were made into anime directly. In the anime original repertoire this year we had Fractal, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Tiger and Bunny, C, Ano Hana, Hanasaku Iroha, Blood C, No. 6, Mawaru Penguindrum, Guilty Crown and Un-go. Of course, not all of these words were good and successes, but the fact that the industry had the guts to innovate and create material without the safety insurance of already successful source material is a welcoming sign.
Perhaps the most influential individual in driving this anime original boom is a particular writer by the name of Mari Okada:
Mari Okada is responsible for writing scripts for three anime originals this year. Those were: Fractal, Ano Hana and Hanasaku Iroha. With the exception of Fractal, the other two were commercial successes, with Ano Hana being a massive hit. Ano Hana was acclaimed by many to be the best melodrama TV anime series since Clannad After Story back in 2008 with its DVDs/Blurays selling more than the Key trio combined (Air, Kanon and Clannad), the apparent “kings of melodrama”. Because of her successes as a writer, this has jump-started her as being a behind the scenes industry superstar, where just about every studio wants to get a hold of her. To give an example of her popularity in the industry, in the upcoming Winter 2012 season, Mari Okada will be doing the series composition of three series: Kenshin movie, Aquarion EVOL and Black Rock Shooter, the last one classified as an anime original. Okada is also the individual award winner for the 2011 Animation Kobe awards, joining the ranks of Hideaki Anno (Evangelion), Hayao Miyazuki (Everyone knows this guy) and Mamoru Hosoda (Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars). She is the only script writer to get this individual award alongside Yousuke Koruda, when all other recipients have been directors.
To add to her repertoire, in the past Okada had done the anime version scripts for two Type-moon series (Fate/Stay Night and Canaan), big hit shojo series Vampire Knight, romantic comedy favourite Toradora, romance series True Tears, and coming of age drama, Hourou Musuko.
However, with popularity comes criticism and self-arrogance. In the past year, it appears that Okada has developed somewhat of a crossdressing fetish, with Hourou Musuko (not really Okada’s fault as it’s part of the source material), Ano Hana and Hanasaku Iroha all putting at least one male character in drag (in Hanasaku’s case, the entire male cast eventually). Furthermore, Okada openly admits to liking fanservice, going as far as even attempting to make Ano Hana an erotic slapstick comedy, only to be declined (and thankfully… whew) by its director Tatsuyuki Nagai. When Okada is at her best, she is without a doubt one of the best writers in the anime scene currently. However, her somewhat “arrogant” attitude of pushing for unnecessary erotic or fanservice elements somewhat hurts her. Hence, it appears that Okada is a writer that performs her best when she has an ironfisted editor to edit out unnecessary elements from her script. Unfortunately, she seems to be immune to editors as of late. Even more unfortunately, studios seem to have the wrong impression that Okada is “good at everything”, when in reality her specialty lies in slice of life and drama (See Fractal and Gosick for commercial failures in which she was involved).
Other Notable Individuals
Mari Okada is far from the only notable individual in 2011. Another behind the scenes superstar is writer Gen Urobuchi:
In 2011, he was responsible for writing the script for titanic hit Puella Magi Madoka Magica (for many, this will be their anime of the year) and the series composer and original creator of Fate/Zero, prequel to the popular Visual Novel franchise Fate/Stay Night. Previously, Gen was famous for his involvement with Visual Novel company Nitroplus, where wrote the scripts for Saya no Uta and Phantom of Inferno. For more a more comprehensive analysis on Gen as a writer, I recommend Triple R’s blog post.
Another notable individual that should be mentioned is director Aoki Ei:
Aoki is a new talent in the industry, with this year’s achievement including co-operating with Gen Oroubuchi in directing Fate/Zero and with Mari Okada and Takako Shimura (original manga author) in directing Hourou Musuko.
In addition, we had veterans such as Akiyuki Shinbo with his involvement as the director for Madoka Magica, Yuki Kajiara for her involvements for her musical compositions for Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero and Kunihiko Ikuhara, who decided to come out of his hiatus to direct and script for Mawaru Penguindrum.
Notable Production Studios:
When looking at things commercially, A-1 Pictures comes out as the clear winner for 2011. For the shonen crowd they produced the highly popular Ao no Exorcist series. For the male otaku crowd, they produced both an adaptation of the popular Idolmaster games, and season 2 of the Working manga. For the fujoishi crowd, they produced Uta no Prince Sama, an adaptation of a popular bishonen game. And for their megahit, Ano Hana was popular amongst the general populace in general, bringing in fans from all demographics and genres. All four of the mentioned series were commercial successes as all managed to sell well above the 10,000 DVD/Bluray sales mark, with Ano Hana selling over 30,000 per volume on average. A-1 pictures pretty much nailed every anime demography.
However, A-1 Pictures was not alone. Other notable studios include Brain’s Base with Mawaru Penguindrum and Natsume Yuujinchou 3rd season (with 4th coming up next season), AIC with Hourou Musuko, Boku wa Tomodachi and Persona 4 (despite being pretty bad imo, is selling like hotcakes), Production I.G. with Usagi Drop and Guilty Crown, Shaft with Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Denpa Onna and Sunrise with Tiger & Bunny, Gundam Age and Gundam Unicorn.
Furthermore, some of the big name studios each have a big title to their names: Ufotable has Fate/Zero, P A Works with Hanasaku Iroha, Madhouse with Chihayafuru and the Redline film (which came out in DVD/Bluray this year after many delays) and White Fox with Steins Gate.
Hence, 2011 saw talent from a variety of individuals and studios. Not only that a significant amount of these shows were commercially successful. This was unlike 2009 and 2010 where attention was given to a select few (*cough* Kyoto Animation and Shaft) with very little anime original material (and thus innovation) being developed.
And that concludes Part 1. Look forward to Part 2 when I go into more of the pessimistic sides of 2011 :p. Meanwhiles, please comment, critique and add any other notable individuals and studios that I may have forgotten to mention.