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Jessi Silver’s Best Of 2012 At The Fandom Post

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Moyashimon Returns
Moyashimon Returns

Jessi Silver heeded the call in the summer of 2012 when the Fandom Post started to look at doing some digital manga reviews, but that was just the start. Along the way she got into doing some upcoming anime reviews and even spent some time with some music/art book material for well known musicians. Manga fans don’t live by manga alone and Jessi is testament to that. While she writes for the site, she also does some excellent work over at Season 1 Episode 1, or S1E1, which is definitely worth spending some time with.

Best Simulcasts Of 2012

1) Moyashimon Returns – The original Moyashimon series aired almost exactly five years ago, and its wholly unique incorporation of food science with snippets of college life enthralled me from the get-go. Of course, to enjoy the series was to delve into the world of illicitly-acquired downloadable media, and that was assuming that the episodes were even being released in a timely manner; I recall waiting several weeks in-between a few of the episodes because let’s be honest – scientific and biological language is probably not every hobbyist translator’s forte. This year’s release of Moyashimon Returns, a long, long overdue sequel, managed to recapture most of the wonder of the first season, while also demonstrating just how far we’ve come in terms of being able to watch anime at the same time as our Japanese counterparts. Not only that, the show is available to watch legally and guilt-free; who would have predicted five years ago that such a “niche-within-a-niche” piece of entertainment would be readily-available for curious fans to pick up and discover so easily?

Sure, Moyashimon Returns has its share of problems – I could have done without the perverted antics of the characters’ immature and skeezy dorm-mates – and it’s definitely not the best series overall that I watched this year, but it stands out the most to me as not only an example of the progress we’ve been able to make as a fandom, but also the many new options we’ve been given with which to enjoy our media of choice. The fact that the series is also a wonderful example of a diverse group of students and friends working together to accomplish both academic and personal goals is merely icing on the cake.

2) Bodacious Space Pirates – While there are certainly a lot of anime that feature young women in prominent roles, there’s a distinct lack of them that showcase a primarily female ensemble cast without also degenerating into a fanservice spectacle. Bodacious Space Pirates managed to balance the upbeat perkiness of its main character, the space-pirate-in-training Marika, with increasingly high-stakes action scenarios and some interesting sci-fi elements, and did so without making its audience feel like a bunch of voyeurs.

3) Kids on the Slope – The combination of one of Japanese animation’s most beloved directors and some of the twentieth century’s best music was almost destined to become a sure-fire hit, but it’s the more personal story of three teens surrounded by the social unrest of the 1960’s that makes this series a must-see. Not only does this series have a palpable grasp on its time and place, it also captures the strong emotions of its high-school-age characters without seeming silly or overly-dramatic (well, most of the time). Come for the jazz music and great instrument-playing animation, stay for the feels.

4) Space Brothers – Most anime tend to focus on the exploits of teenage characters, but what about those of us who have left that time in our life behind? Space Brothers follows the story of Mutta, an adult character who’s rediscovering and working towards achieving the goals he made for himself as a young child. The fact that those goals involve space exploration are only half of why this series is so interesting. It’s the characters, whose personalities run the gamut of human possibility, and Mutta’s humorous and sometimes downtrodden existence that make this show as fun to watch as it is.

5) Chihayafuru – Leave it to Japan to turn what might otherwise seem like a glorified game of Memory into an engrossing, dramatic story worthy of many critics’ best-of lists. The real key to this is main character Chihaya’s enthusiasm for the game, as well as how it serves as a way to facilitate her friendships, both old and new. Though the first season, which ended late this March, ended on an incomplete note, the fact that its sequel is slated to begin this upcoming January has made me very happy.

Honorable Mentions: Natsume Yuujin-chou Shi, Tsuritama, Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World), Humanity Has Declined

Best DVD/Blu-ray’s Of 2012

1) Puella Magi Madoka Magica – It seems like once in an age that an anime series is able to breathe new life into an overdone genre, but Madoka managed to make the feat seem almost effortless. The series takes its cue from the mahou-shoujo series of the past, providing us with a cute, young female protagonist and a seemingly appealing set of superpowers in which she could potentially partake, than whisks the rug out from under the audience (and the characters) by making the trade-off for these abilities almost too horrifying to imagine. Then, just when the story has delved into the deepest, darkest parts of history and human nature, it’s propelled back into the sunlight on the back of one of the most compelling and heartbreaking friendships ever committed to animation. The result is a story that takes its power not only for its deconstruction of the mahou-shoujo genre, but also its very moving example of the power of young women and the bonds that they have.

The show itself is a near-masterpiece, and Aniplex’s highly-anticipated region 1 release definitely lives up to the hype. Though pricey, the limited-edition boxed sets include a wonderful collection of artwork and bonus items that help to enhance the experience of watching the series. The included soundtrack CDs are perfect additions for those of us who miss the days when anime soundtracks were more available, and the fact that the limited release contains both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the show is great for those of us who like options (and future-proofing our collections).

I wondered when first viewing the series whether it would manage to survive the famously short attention span of the anime fandom in the age of the internet, but the fact that it’s received such a lavish release even in an age when budget releases seem to be more common, as well as the constant chatter it elicits online as well as in real life tell me that this is one of those series that will be around for a good long while.

2) Usagi Drop – Unexpected parenthood seems like an ill-advised subject for an anime series, and yet Usagi Drop is sublime in its portrayal of the gentle, funny and unpredictable realities of the life of Daikichi, a bachelor who takes on the responsibility of caring for his late grandfather’s illegitimate child, the precocious Rin. This show isn’t action-packed, nor does it focus on the fantastic, but with sympathetic characters and a propensity for portraying life’s little joys, it needs little in the way of artificial plot enhancers.

NIS America’s release of the series lives up to their short-but-illustrious history of providing high-end releases that fans want; in this case, that includes both DVD and Blu-ray versions of the show and a companion artbook.

3) Shiki – I’m rarely a fan of horror series, but Shiki manages a precarious balancing act between adhering too closely to genre cliches and going well beyond what expectations one might have of the type of story it tells. Rather than focus on the blood and gore that seems to define many modern-day horror series (though there certainly is a bit of that, too), the series hones in on the moral conundrum that arises when one intelligent species is forced to murder another in order to survive. The show provides a number of answers to that question, many of which are altogether difficult to swallow; in the process, characters who were once sympathetic slowly become despised, and those whose goals were altogether brutal and selfish are often seen in a more heroic light.

I own Funimation’s limited edition DVD/Blu-ray release of the series, and while its extras are limited to some commentaries, the release also includes two bonus disc-only episodes that help to flesh-out the story a bit (one of them is especially good and helps to expand upon the tragedy of the situation facing Sotoba town). The chipboard box also features some striking artwork from the series, which makes me eager to display it on my shelf.

4) House of Five Leaves – Many samurai stories are action-packed and filled with swordplay, but this tale takes a different tone that sets it apart from its brethren. Its “star” is Masanosuke, a nervous, pessimistic masterless-samurai who seems to function as life’s fifth wheel, until he finds a place to fit within a group of honorable kidnappers. And yet, the story’s focus is not entirely on Masa; the main slant of the plot involves the mysterious origins of the Five Leaves’ leader, Yaichi.

The only real downer to NIS America’s release of the series is that it doesn’t also include a Blu-ray version of the show (sadly, neither did the Japanese release). However, the textured artbox, as well as the included hardcover artbook which features both character and production information, has turned this into one of my favorite purchases to both watch and to share with others.

5) Ristorante Paradiso – I often find myself in the frustrating situation of falling in love with anime that don’t seem to warrant physical releases. In some cases, these series are seen via less-than-above-board means. Others receive exposure via North America’s various anime streaming outlets, but never reappear in the form of a DVD. I’m generally pretty good at predicting which series are and are not destined for disc-hood, but there are times where I’m surprised. This is one of those times. Ristorante Paradiso tells the very interesting (to me) story of a young woman coming to terms with her mother’s absentee parenting, as well as her dalliance with an older man. It’s certainly not the type of thing that many people (even myself) can relate to directly.

This material is not the fodder for a large-scale release with a lot of fanfare, which is why it seems fitting that RightStuf’s Lucky Penny line, a budget-friendly line of niche anime series, should choose this as its inaugural offering. Just like the series, the physical release is modest, with two discs and a set of nice art postcards, but just being able to hold the series in my hands after having given up hope long ago that I would be able to do so is more than enough for me.

Honorable Mentions: Detroit Metal City, Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto, Steins;Gate

Best Manga Of 2012

1) Thermae Romae – There’s a common joke repeated ad nauseum throughout fandom that there’s an anime or manga based around almost anything. Name any sport, and there’s probably a manga that uses it as a story element. Food manga? There are dozens upon dozens, based around everything from wine to train-station bento meals. It takes a lot for a manga to surprise me with its subject matter, but author Mari Yamazaki’s Thermae Romae managed to catch me off-guard. It’s the ultimate story of cultural-exchange; down-on-his-luck Roman architect Lucius despairs over his lack of inspiration, then finds himself unexpectedly sucked down a drain into modern-day Japan, where he’s presented with all sorts of ideas to incorporate into the bath houses of his homeland. Through Lucius’ eyes, we gain not only a more complete understanding of an aspect of Japanese culture that may not seem important (or may just fall to the wayside of our understanding) to us as anime and manga fans, but also more insight into the culture of Rome, something which remains fascinating to this day. The best part is, of course, that the manga is also quite funny.

Not only is the manga’s content fun to read, it comes in a really lovely package. Yen Press’ hardcover version features a clear plastic dust jacket, luxurious heavyweight paper, a few bonus color pages and some really excellent notes from the author regarding such diverse subjects at Roman Emperor Hadrian (one of the “Five Good Emperors” of Rome and a lover of baths) and phallus worship(!) traditions in Ancient Rome and their equivalents in modern Japan.

This manga may not be groundbreaking, but its very existence has delighted me more than anything else this year, managing to prove that the manga fandom has a little bit of something for everyone. As someone who’s curious about history and always exited to expand my knowledge of Japanese culture, it really is the total package.

2) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Box Set – Many anime-lovers are familiar with the early Miyazaki masterpiece Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, but the manga which served as both a jumping-off point for the film as well as a continuation of its story has been frustratingly difficult to find and incredibly pricey on the second hand market for quite a while now. Thankfully, Viz re-released the manga early in November in a handsome two-volume hardcover edition, complete with color pages and a slipcase to hold both books. I’m really hoping that more classic manga get this type of treatment in the future – a likely scenario, considering that this set quickly sold out before the holiday season (as of this writing, it’s been restocked).

3) Sweet Blue Flowers – With Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son in the midst of a high-quality release in North America, it seemed like only a matter of time before her other well-known work, Aoi Hana got some more attention. While I’m still hoping for an eventual physical release, Jmanga has once again proven itself a worthy outlet for niche and lesser-known titles by recently releasing the first volume of this manga. It tells the story of Fumi, a high school student discovering her attraction to other girls, and her re-connection with her childhood friend Akira, or “Ah-chan.” The story is very refined, and while it does seem to take its cue from many schoolgirl romance stories, in execution the resulting story is much more subtle and refined. Having enjoyed the anime when it was simulcast on Crunchyroll so long ago (and now looking forward to its upcoming disc release), I’m happy to be able to see the story continue in manga form.

4) Nononba – Shigeru Mizuki is well-known for his use of youkai (traditional Japanese folk spirits) as subject matter. This manga gives some entertaining background on how the author’s interest in youkai, instilled in him by an older female relative he and his friends nicknamed “Nononba,” grew to influence his stories. The manga combines darkness and humor as only Mizuki can, and really helps to build anticipation for the release of his most famous work, Kitaro.

5) Anything and Something – I’m very fond of compilation works, especially when they come from authors who are so skilled at what they do. Anything and Something features several short stories and standalone art pieces from author Kaoru Mori, known for her exquisite attention to detail (and fondness for using maids as characters). Here she looks at the lives of schoolgirls, young women, bunny girls, and yes, even maids, and covers the gamut of moods from humorous to sentimental. My favorite parts of the book are the ones in which the author herself comments on her art pieces and why she drew them. It’s fascinating to be able to gain that kind of insight, doubly-so when the artwork is so appealing to look at.

Honorable Mentions: Paradise Kiss, Danza

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