After getting their start in 2008, Sentai Filmworks spent the next few years working through a range of releases, including some experimental shorts, while looking for the big shows they could get in on. 2011 saw them picking up and bringing out some big key works that would help to define them at that time while still dealing with grabbing older shows like Ghost Sweeper Mikami and the experimental shows like Coicent and Asylum. They’re starting off our Decade of Anime as we spend the next year looking through a lot of what went on from 2011 to 2020 through the anime studios and their releases.
Clannad/After Story/Movie: – Put together Key with Kyoto Animation and just watch the beauty unfold. While there’s a lot of visual beauty to be had here with this idyllic view of life in Japan, in school, and all that you go through, there’s a lot of drama and issues being explored here as well. It’s a romance to be sure and one with a curious edge to it at times, but bringing out the original series, the After Story series, and the film in relatively quick order (with re-releases to follow through 2020 no less), this is a property that resonated for a lot of people who might otherwise claim that they never get emotionally invested in their shows. This is one of those series where the events leave you feeling wounded and hurt as it goes along, hurt for others, and wanting to help them through it so they can help you through it. Clannad is one of the few series that I think will really stand the test of time.
High School of the Dead – Still within my top five of the decade and a real tragedy that there won’t be more, this is one of the few anime shows I revisit almost every year and just enjoy. The visuals hold up incredibly well, it has an engaging twist on the whole modern zombie side of things, and it has this sense of a big world picture it wants to play on and was just about to start really doing that just as it ended. It also, of course, has an incredible amount of fanservice – both of the sexuality side and of the bloodshed side. The result is something that will drive younger audiences to it easily but it has a lot of other aspects to it that will appeal to older viewers as well. The fanservice for the female characters may be a little too much for some to take, I’ll admit.
Angel Beats! – With a strong pedigree behind it with PA Works, Key, and Seiji Kishi, this show had a lot of expectations upon it as it was following up some very beloved series that were more focused on the romantic elements. While that does become a piece of this project, it’s not as central and we get a lot more action and strange elements playing out within it. But it comes with some striking animation and seeing how the students handle being told what their world has changed into and what they need to do to survive and navigate it successfully. It has a lot of odd moments as it takes its time to reveal itself but it’s the kind of series that as a whole is thoroughly engaging and leaves you wanting more.
Guin Saga – With 145 volumes published over the years for the novels since 1979, this is one of those quiet holy grail series that I’m delighted to have even just a sliver of. The original work is just incredibly sprawling and we get a good sense of the worldbuilding going on here and what it’s trying to achieve. The anime took a couple of years to get picked up and it’s seen a couple of releases since then, but it’s the kind of fantasy style series that really engages with its serious approach, engaging characters, and the sheer richness of the world. It doesn’t get near enough the attention it deserves.
You’re Under Arrest – This year saw the release of the Full Throttle series and the second season collection, which had been unreleased before I believe. I’d gotten into the OVAs when they first came out and over many viewings really came to love the sweetness of the show. The ongoing series had a harder time maintaining that simply because it’s ongoing, but both of them present their own charms and devices to it and get to spend time expanding and exploring the cast as a whole that they’re highly enjoyable works. The simplicity of the low-key kind of policing going on here is a welcome change from how most of these kinds of works go and dealing with the struggle two women have in being friends and co-workers in the modern world hits a sweet spot as well.
Amagami SS – I love romantic dramas in anime and lament that we don’t get enough of them like this one. The show over this and its second series work are wonderful in looking at a different group of characters and their dynamics as they shift who is dating who, reinventing itself along the way so that you see what works best not just for the character but for you as you become invested in their lives. There’s a lot of heart here, a lot of good dialogue and feelings explored, and it’s done up in some beautiful animation that knows exactly how to capture the right look to set a young man’s heart afire.
Samurai Girls – This series had to make the list simply because it was a big one for me during its simulcast run. One of the early batch of shows that got that legal streaming treatment, it was a visual delight with the style used that made it feel different. It accented that with a samurai in the near-future alternate world style design that made it all the more captivating. And then it mixed in a whole lot of material involving sex and boobs with the harem design and a culture that was there to really enjoy it. It’s a really fun series with great action that sticks with me to this day.
To Love Ru – While all distributors deal with varying levels of fanservice shows, this one when it came out was a welcome surprise since it had been a couple of years after the initial broadcast and you felt a reticence from companies about picking it up. It plays with the fanservice in a big way and really delights in it which makes it even more enjoyable. It does suffer as it goes on into other series with the whole cast growth and the trying to top itself sexually with the fanservice, but even then there are great moments of all of that plus some real warmth with the cast. It’s seen several releases and a couple of sequels while only recently becoming available for streaming, showing just how problematic this property was to get to audiences.
Demon King Daimo – This was another series that was early on in my doing simulcast reviews and I loved getting the home video release to see how different it felt from the weekly runs and how that changed my opinion on it. I’ll still not say its a great show but it is a show that delivers some great fanservice, a good mix of magic and science, and hits a lot of the cliches and tropes in the right place to work against all odds. It’s very much “trash” in many ways but it’s utterly enjoyable trash in that way that makes you grin and enjoy it far more than you feel you should.
Hidamari Sketch: Sketch x Hoshimittsu – The third season of the property, Hidamari Sketch should always be in a top-ten chart unless it’s a crazy year overflowing with goodness. This adaptation of the short-form manga with the way it jumps about in time and works with a really good cast of characters simply delights. As it shows them going through their ar school years and we see graduation and new students coming in, the dynamic is one that a lot of other works do their best to avoid in order to not have any real structural change. But getting that here makes it a better show as we see the older kids struggling with their reality while the younger ones become peers to those that are just coming in. It’s cute and silly but it manages to avoid being cloying and sickly sweet.
Chris has been writing about anime, manga, movies and comics for well on twenty years now. He began AnimeOnDVD.com back in 1998 and has covered nearly every anime release that’s come out in the US ever since.