Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bakemonogatari

How the hell did I miss Bakemonogatari? The main reason I passed it over, if I remember right, is there was blood in the first episode - as a general rule, if an anime series has comedy/romance I'll watch it, but if I see any kind of blood/gore I avoid it like the plague. I think seeing the stapler scene in the first episode on other blogs turned me off, but in Bakemonogatari's case I did myself a disservice with that rule. I guess the moral is that sometimes you really should try the first episode even if a series seems like it's not your cup of tea, and you might be surprised. You'd think after three decades of anime watching I'd have learned that a long time ago, but I'm glad that belatedly I decided to check this out.

There's a million blogs out there that have far better reviews of this than I'd be able to write, so I'll keep it short - having just finished marathoning the 13 episodes that are out so far, I'll post a few random thoughts:

The Good:

- Hitagi. In a world filled with stereotypical characters, Hitagi is nothing if not unique. Their first date in episode 12 was just classic. She's just a very complex character, and that's not something you find in, well, anime like Kampfer.

- Zetsubou-sensei/Koyomi. Just a great lead, he's not perfect but he genuinely does his best to help people, which makes him easy to root for. That and I'm glad he seems dedicated to Hitagi and isn't going for the Masaki Tenchi school of indecisiveness.

- Mayoi saying 'Ararararagi-kun' and blaming it on stuttering.

- Iincho, and Hocchan voicing her. Looking forward to more neko-mode iincho whenever episode 14 airs.

- Atmosphere. Some series have it, some don't, and I think this one does a good job - from the underground tunnel lined by torii gates, to Oshino's place, to the impossibly long spiral staircase in the first episode.

- All of episode 12. One of the best anime episodes I've seen in a long time, Koyomi and Hitagi's first date.

The Bad

- Koyomi keeps reminding me of Zetsubou-sensei (same seiyuu), especially when he tsukkomis, which is all the time. Not really a bad thing as much as it's hard to picture it's not Nozomu talking.

- Shinbou's predilection for still shots, distance shots, real-life pictures, anything to avoid having to actually animate something. I know, it's artsy, blah blah blah, and maybe I'm just cynical, but to me it's just an obvious way to save budget. Yes, when two characters are talking I'd like to see their facial expressions and not extreme closeups of their eyes or a viewpoint from a half-mile away where I can't even see their lips moving.

- Fanservice. I don't mind fanservice in general, but this is the kind of anime I'd like to show other people in my family, and I think the service would get in the way. It really wasn't necessary to the story to have Tsubasa's pantsu show up a tenth of a second into the first episode, although I'm sure service helps sell shiny discs by the crateload.

Overall, I'm trying to say although I'm very, very late to the party, I loved watching Bakemonogatari - I'd highly recommend it, and more generally I learned it's good to give anime you think you might not like a chance, because you could be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Summer Anime: Winners and Losers

There's nothing more subjective than talking about which anime you like and which you hate, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun to do anyway. Just keep in mind my opinions are worth about what the electrons they're printed on cost, and that when I'm talking about a series being a 'loser' that's only in my book and your mileage will vary.

Winner - Sora no Manimani

The character designs somehow screamed "aimed at little kids" to me, but that's not true - this has turned out to be my favorite series of the summer, although I didn't expect it to be. A story about a high school astronomy club may not sound interesting on paper, but I give them a lot of credit - there's a solid cast and this always manages to put a smile on my face. The basic storyline is our hero, Saku, returns to a town he lived in as a child after moving all over the place, and is reunited with his hyper-genki, star-loving childhood friend Mihoshi - throw in a couple other bishoujo and supporting characters, add the cast growing up and starting to fall in love for the first time, stir, and you've got a surprisingly funny series. Hime especially cracks me up, her reactions to other girls getting close to Saku are priceless.

Loser - Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu

I never in a million years thought I would drop Haruhi - after waiting so long for a second season, and having loved the first season, this should have been an easy winner, but I honestly can't bring myself to watch Sighs. It doesn't help that Sighs was the novel I enjoyed the least, and obviously Endless Eight is Endless didn't help. I dropped this after the third Endless Eight iteration, picked it back up when Sighs started, then dropped it again. Sighs just really doesn't make Haruhi very likeable, and I think she's at her best when she does show a bit of humanity under the tsun-tsun exterior. Not to mention pathetic-mode Mikuru just makes me want to smack her and tell her to stop whining and grow some balls, being afraid Haruhi will make the world end if you stand up to her is no excuse for not having a spine.

Winner - Yoku Wakaru Gendai Mahou

I know, the first episode had as much nopan as Saki, so how can anyone take this seriously? I've never believed that fanservice = bad series - I've loved series that have no service at all, and I've loved series that have tons of it. To me, what matters most is a good cast, and the cast of Gendai Mahou keeps me watching. Yes, Yumiko is an ojou-sama stereotype, and Koyomi has more in common with Fuuko than her voice actress, but they make a good team, and I think when they're on screen together is really when this is the most fun to watch. The plot makes very little sense, the animation's uneven, but the story of Yumiko making a good friend and Koyomi gaining more confidence just makes it impossible for me not to root for them both. And no, I don't mean in the yuri sense, although if they went there I wouldn't complain.

Loser - Princess Lover

Bishoujo series, even though some fans look down on them, to me can be really good - Kanon, Da Capo, Lamune, there are plenty of examples of the genre that I really enjoyed. Princess Lover isn't one of them. First, I admit it's a shallow reason, but the character designs just kill me, specifically the fact the whole female cast is like an X-cup. I know anime dimensions don't correspond to reality, but there's a fine like between big breasts and grotesquely oversized breasts, and Charlotte's J-cup knockers fall in the latter category for me. In real life, her spine would snap from the weight of those gazoombas. Add to that the fact it can't seem to decide what the hell it is - is this a comedy like the onsen episode? Action series like the car chase in the first episode? Some series can do everything well, but this can't. The onsen episode was mildly amusing, but honestly Fumoffu did it much better. Dropped after it started turning into a Die Hard sequel, with Charlotte trapped in the building.

Winner - Taishou Yakyuu Musume

Honestly, the background music for this series sounds like it's out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon half the time, but aside from that, it's got me hooked with a great cast and a fun, laid-back story. I wrote about it earlier, and since then it's kept my interest well - some episodes are stronger than others, but it's fun to watch, and honestly that's the main thing I look for in anime. I'm also impressed that it's taken a pretty realistic approach - the girls don't suddenly level up and beat all the guys' teams to a pulp the next day, they're still practicing, struggling to beat elementary school kids, and learning what it's like to play as a team.

Loser - Kanamemo

It has Hocchan in it, it has good character designs, moe aplenty, and a slice-of-life feel to it - Kanamemo is the story of a group of girls who deliver newspapers, with their boss improbably being a loli in elementary school. It also sucks in my book not because it has a lot of fanservice (censored in the TV and Crunchyroll broadcast) but because the characters just don't do a lot for me and the 'comedy' always fails to make me laugh. Hocchan's character just grabs Kana's non-existent boobs all the time. The 'Chief' is an elementary school girl. Kana herself is so naive she must have been locked in a back room in her grandmother's house for the last ten years. There are lesbians and some other characters, but honestly none of them really makes me want to watch this. Mika is a typical Kugimiya Rie character, which is fine since although they get a lot of hate tsunderes are still entertaining for me, but she's a loli too and doesn't get that much screentime. Worst of all, though, is the swimsuit episode where everyone bursts into song, like they're gunning for Best Musical suddenly - if I could forget one episode of anime this season, just completely wipe it out of my memory for all eternity, that episode would be it.

Winner - Gintama

Gintama's one of those series I go back and forth on - some episodes are pure toilet humor and I stop watching halfway through, but then the next episode will have me laughing my ass off. I re-watched episode 88 the other day, and no matter how many times I see Zura rapping, or the 'filthy Tower of Babel' it just cracks me up. I'm not sure how funny it would be if you don't know the characters from watching it all along, but episode 88 is probably one of the top 10 anime episodes of all time for me, when it comes to pure comedy.

Loser - Umi Monogatari

Great character designs, scores high on the bishoujo scale, decent animation - but I still couldn't keep my eyes open four episodes in. Relaxing gondola-rowing type music during fight scenes is just not a good idea, and the plot is pretty mediocre. I know, I watch Gendai Mahou so I shouldn't complain about plot, but I think again it's the cast of Umimono that lost me the most - Marin is ultra-optimistic but just comes across to me as an airhead, while other hyper-genki characters this season like Mihoshi at least promise to show some depth too. And Urin...worst name for an anime character of all time.

Friday, July 03, 2009

First Impressions: Taishou Yakyuu Musume

Summer season is looking pretty strong so far, especially now that I've seen the first episode of Taishou Yakyuu Musume, based on a light novel about a girls' baseball team, set between the world wars in 1925 Japan (during the reign of the Taishou emperor). JC Staff is at the helm so at least I won't have to look forward to the same episode four times in a row, although there is a Broadway musical number in the first couple minutes of episode 1 that's it's probably better just to pretend never happened.

If you've seen Princess Nine you're not unfamiliar with the premise of Taisho Yakyuu Musume. A wealthy girl named Akiko decides to put a girls' baseball team together and play against guys, after a guy who plays baseball tells her at a party he basically thinks women should just get their asses back in the kitchen already. Akiko first recruits her best friend Koume, who's more or less the heroine of the story, and tries to build a team from there, although the obvious obstacles are getting permission from the school and the girls' families, learning to play the game, and then somehow beating a guys' team that's likely to have a lot more practice and experience under their belts. Koume's parents run a "Western-style" restaurant, but her father is pretty much a traditionalist and won't let her wear serafuku to school. It's funny how in every generation you have the struggle between parents pushing tradition and kids pushing the envelope, and I'm sure that'll play a big part in the story as well.

It's an interesting premise with a lot of potential, and baseball can be pretty entertaining to watch (for me, anyway - and after Saki I'm dying to watch an anime series with a game in it that I actually understand). Maybe I'm shallow, but I'm also a sucker for good character designs and this has them in spades - brilliantly following the Asakura Otome Rule (pink ribbon = instant moe level up) Akiko is especially easy on the eyes. If you're looking for fanservice you'll likely be disappointed, but the setting is interesting too - the 20s were a tumultuous decade, with Japan's modernization continuing at a brisk pace, and the mix of old and new is easy to see just in the mix of serafuku and kimono in Akiko and Koume's classroom (although I wonder, what kind of school gives students a choice of uniforms)?

The rest of the cast we haven't seen too much of yet, but there's some potential there too. One of the girls in kimono gives me a Yakumo vibe for some reason, and the rest of the cast looks interesting too. Usually the portrayal of foreigners in anime makes me cringe (I'm thinking Weiner-kun or whatever his name was in Karin) and there is a teacher with the requisite blue eyes, blond hair, and D-cup - but mercifully her accent isn't too bad, and I'm sure she'll end up their club's adviser down the road, probably since no one else at the school likely knows how to play baseball anyway.

There doesn't seem to be an obvious romance element to the story yet, and there may not be - but I've got to think that Akiko likes the guy who told her women belonged in the kitchen, and that's why Akiko was so upset by what he said and now is trying so hard to prove him wrong. And something's up with the cook at Koume's house, so wouldn't surprise me if it turns out that he likes her too. But we'll see - even if the theme of the series is just friendship and overcoming the odds, I'll enjoy watching this. Definitely looking forward to next week, only complaint is that we're getting it in 4:3 (hoping this is like K-On and Clannad and the 16:9 will follow in a couple weeks on a different station). It does looks like it won't be as heavy on the drama as Princess Nine, which is probably a good thing (for me anyway).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In the Wake of the Week

Random thoughts from this week's anime watching (spoilers everywhere):

- Poor Imo-chan...it's too bad navis can't *remote* control ships,
then she could keep eating all the maruyaki she wants.
- Why the hell is Nerval making pasta? As much as Sorakake can be
kind of thought-provoking at times, other times it's 100% WTF. At
least he didn't order Pizza Hut.
- It's good to see with Tsutsuji, Lum's fashion sense lives on 25+ years later.
- Yumina looks like an idiot with a bird sitting on her head, but two
birds is even worse. Am I the only one whose first thought was what
happens when they have to poop?
- Is it just me or is the arrival of the second season of Haruhi kind
of anticlimatic? After all the false starts, for it to show up almost
out of nowhere just...lacks impact, I guess.
- Haruhi's personality didn't seem to change at all from junior high
to high school - but I guess you could say she hasn't changed all that
much over the course of the series in high school either.
- In its first year of existence the light music club gave exactly one
concert? At this rate I'm not thinking the Budokan thing is going to
happen...
- Bummed we didn't get a Valentine's Day episode in K-On!, I know it's
all girls but can't you just picture Mugi giving Sawako chocolate?
- Megane guy in Hatsukoi Limited is a character we've seen about a
million times before, but I still liked episode 7 more than I thought
I would.
- Kei and Kusuda are still my favorite characters though...they could
put Kei's picture on the Wikipedia entry for tsundere.
- Good to see Hinagiku getting lots of screentime.
- Could Kiss x Sis get any closer to the line without crossing it?
- Riko >> impassable wall >> Ako.
- Silfa...meh. Need another Ikuno or Sasara episode.
- At the rate they keep adding new characters, Takaaki's going to have
the largest harem in anime history.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Hard to Believe, Yes Way, Reappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi

Wow. Just....wow. Another season of Haruhi - strangely enough,
looking outside, I don't see mushroom clouds or burning pitch falling
from the sky on the Damned, but I've got to think it's coming. Yes,
there have been enough false starts that I was convinced the world
would end before we'd see a second season of Haruhi, but apparently
I'm wrong - as every anime blog on Earth is reporting, they slipped a
new episode, "Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody", in with a re-airing of the first
season, with more new episodes to come. It's been so long that maybe
they felt they needed a stunt like this to try to rekindle what's left
of the fanbase, but airing more Haruhi without much advance warning is
an interesting marketing move - I'd expected they would announce the
date for the new season a year in advance and build mad crazy hype all
along the way. Since I loved the first season, I'll definitely be
watching this - I think I can hear the roar of a thousand fansub
groups starting their engines in unison now...

Friday, April 10, 2009

(Late) Spring Impressions: K-on!

It's hard to believe that the winter season is over, and the second
week of the spring season is here already - I haven't posted in a
while but since it's a slow Friday before Easter at work, might as
well Swiffer off this blog and throw two cents into the ether.

K-on! is the series that's probably getting the most press right now,
and while not everyone's enjoying it (Hinano and JP gave it the kind
of review you'd give cancer
), I was impressed by the first two
episodes. To me, the characters are likeable and entertaining, the
animation is fluid, the character designs good - I doubt at the end
I'll look back and say it was as good as, say, Toradora, but so far
I'm still hooked. Someone compared this to Manabi Straight, and laid
back, slice-of-life, moe series are usually just what I'm looking for
to relax at the end of the workday.

The other popular comparison is to Lucky Star, and while I can see the
parallels between the four main characters I think K-on! flows a lot
better - Lucky Star (as much as I love the series) does have that
derived from a 4-panel manga "feel" to it as it jumps from moment to
moment, while K-on! seems to have a more coherent, linear storyline.
Getting good character development in an anime derived from a 4-panel
comic seems unlikely, but I'm hoping K-on! will deliver. Having said
that, I think it'll be hard for K-on! to top Lucky Star in my book,
since I love Lucky Star's characters - but they had 26 episodes to
grow on me, while K-on!'s only had two, so you never know.

It looks like Mio's getting the most love from fans so far, and I can
see why based on episode 2 - hell, even Yui was almost moegasming over
her. I think Yui has the most potential for development though,
starting out as fairly unmotivated and not knowing anything about
music, will she end up rivaling Nagato on the guitar? Probably not,
but I'm hoping for a Live Alive-like performance by the end of the
series, even if it's not in a stadium.

So far my biggest complaint is the 4:3 aspect ratio just looks off to
me since I'm so used to 16:9, hopefully it'll air in widescreen in a
couple weeks. Mugi's eyebrows were vaguely disturbing at first, but I
guess I'm getting used to them even though apparently I don't have
thick eyebrow moe.

I was looking forward to the second episode enough that I watched it
raw on YouTube (let's just say their definition of "high quality" is
very 2005) and as usual with my sorry Japanese skillz I got maybe 10%
of the dialogue. The subs are so fast there's really no need to watch
the raw though - this morning Coalguys had it subbed already. On this
kind of trajectory by the time my daughter's old enough to watch
anime, subs will be out before shows even air, if anyone still sends
signals over the air by then.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Is Anime Doomed?

Another doom-and-gloom article on the anime industry in the Japan Times today - although with the Dow below 7,000 and the world economy imploding, even if fansubs didn't exist I doubt DVD sales would be exactly booming. The article's mostly the same things we've heard before - animators in Japan make next to nothing, 90% of inbetweening is offshored now, eliminating the traditional entry-level position for aspiring animators in Japan, US DVD sales are falling off a cliff and everyone blames fansubbing, etc.

The article did mention that Crunchyroll has signed up 10,000 people for paid subscriptions - I'm one of them, but still, it's more people than I expected. Multiply by $6.95 a month and that's only $70,000 though, which I can't see saving the industry. They quote a TV Tokyo exec saying they hope that to rise to 50,000 by end of year, but that seems pretty optimistic to me. Personally, I'm not a big fan of streaming-only - I'd much rather be able to download a DRM-free subbed episode for $2-3 like Gonzo and Crunchyroll are doing with Druaga. I'm hoping that like the record industry finally realized that selling MP3s was better than selling nothing, the anime industry will realize that selling their own fansubs beats the hell out of selling nothing at all. I've loved watching anime since I was a little kid, and I have to believe as long as there are people who love it and are willing to pay something for it, although it may end up a smaller industry than it is today, it will continue to survive.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Crying Watching Lucky Star

Not bawling crying, mind you, but this scene always manages to bring a
tear to my eyes (where Konata's dad explains to Konata, with her
mother's ghost watching, that the one thing he was confident of was
that he loved her mother more than anyone else could). A lot of the time
when a series that's mainly comedy tries to pull off drama it doesn't
work very well, but whoever directed this scene I give them a lot of
credit.

On another note, the latest Haruhi-coming-in-April-oh-wait-it's-not
rumor would have felt like taking a mallet to the nutsack, but
fortunately I've heard that story before enough that I was cynical and
didn't get my hopes up. It has me wishing JC Staff would just do the
second season, because otherwise by the time it airs I'll be old and
won't be able to find my own pants, much less figure out how to watch
X.68030 format fansubs or whatever else kids are using by then.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Random Thoughts: Asu no Yoichi

So no picture, since I'm without my laptop at the moment - I know, it
seems like I'm violating a cardinal rule of anime blogging to write
about something without a screencap, but here goes anyway...

Asu no Yoichi is one of those series that I check out each season
without really having any expectations for it, and so far it's seemed
kind of average, delivering what looks like a typical harem
love-comedy, but with the twist of the male lead being a badass
old-school samurai who was raised in the mountains and is just
encountering modern life for the first time. It's an interesting
enough premise to keep me watching through episode 2, and Yoichi's not
a bad character, with God-like swordfighting skills and a generally
noble character that I think helps keep the viewer from getting
annoyed (since let's face it, there's nothing more obnoxious that a
lead like the guy in Girls Bravo who has few redeeming qualities but
still has bishoujo throwing themselves at him like he was either the
last man on Earth or a multi-billionaire).

The story's simple enough--Yoichi, who's been raised in the mountains
his whole life by his father, has no experience with modern life but
has learned everything his father can teach him, and become an
amazingly strong swordsman. But his father's concerned he needs to
experience the modern world to truly complete his training, so he
sends him to a dojo--which has four girls living there (an onee-san
type, tsundere, fujoshi, and loli). Yeah, this is where it sounds
really generic, since it looks like they're heading towards the girls
all liking Yoichi (surprise) and Yoichi getting in various
understandings due to his lack of common sense about the modern world.

It sounds like something I'd usually drop, except that it does manage
to be pretty funny at times, and the fanservice isn't as blatant as
you'd expect. Yoichi writing haiku like "the girl with small breasts
did her best" and not seeing anything wrong with that, cracks me up,
and the way he gets misunderstood and beaten down by the onee-san may
be predictable, but it's still entertaining and reminds me of Love
Hina a little (admittedly not a perfect series, but I have a little
nostalgia for Love Hina since it was one of the first series I saw
digisubbed when I got into anime). If Toradora's an A, Asu no Yoichi
is a C for me so far, but that's still passing so I'll stick with it
and see how it goes.

The Nullset sounds like he had about the same opinion as I did, giving
it a B- so far (but he actually has screencaps):
http://thenullset.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/winter-anime-impressions-%E2%80%93-asu-no-yoichi/

AnimeDiet also has a good point that the first episode was stronger
than the second...the second ep really did feel more generic, but I
guess I'm holding out hope it may get more interesting from here:
http://animediet.net/anime-reviews/2008-q4-fall/toradora/winter-2009-roundup-1-akikan-asu-no-yoichi-toradora-regios

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Random Thoughts: Minami-ke Okaeri

The first episode of the third season of Minami-ke was good, but the
second had a few really classic moments, especially Devil Chiaki and
Curry Fairy Hosaka. For someone who has made absolutely zero progress
in even speaking to Haruka, the object of his affections, Hosaka sure
spends a *lot* of time thinking about her and drifting off into
delusion-land.

It's kind of hard to place why I like Minami-ke so much--the animation
quality is so-so (to me, at least, not as good as the first season,
which Doumu animated), there's no real overarching plot, and there
have been zero established couples formed so you could argue it's
lacking in the romance category too, but somehow this is the winter
series I was looking forward to the most. I think what really makes
it shine for me is the cast--like Toradora's cast, it's just a group
of people that I'm genuinely glad to see each week, and I think I
could watch 108 seasons of the Minami sisters and their friends
without getting tired of them. Nothing is more subjective than what's
funny, but Minami-ke always puts a smile on my face too, and I think
that's a good enough reason to look forward to more.

It's a great cast overall, but my favorite character is definitely
Chiaki--the Angel/Devil Chiaki faceoff was great, and later in episode
2 I love how she got the Curry Song stuck in her head...

Random Thoughts: Rideback

I'm not usually a fan of anything with mecha (with a few exceptions)
and I'm not a CG fan either, but...somehow the first episode of
Rideback just sucked me in anyway. I guess I'm a sucker for unique
premises, and you don't get much more unique than a ballerina tearing
a ligament, quitting ballet, and ending up riding a sort-of humanoid
mecha motorcycle, presumably to one day fight against an oppressive
world dictatorship. The animation quality was just amazing the first
episode, the character designs have a retro feel (but I'm used to them
already), and while the storyline has the potential to get
serious/heavy I'm still addicted (yes, I know I usually avoid anything
with a serious plot and load up on rom-coms instead). The scene with
Rin and the sakura petals as she's starting her new life in college,
and especially how the whole scene with her first ride on the rideback
captured the exhilaration she felt--it was worth watching for those
two moments alone. Yeah, the whole rebel group taking over the world
thing was a little far-fetched, but you could argue the very design
and concept of most mecha are pretty impractical and far-fetched too.

Random Thoughts: White Album

So far, I like the character designs and the setting, the animation
quality is solid too, and the characters have some potential...but
it's not a Toradora-level cast that I really look forward to seeing
again each week. My biggest fear with this is when I hear people
comparing the male lead, Touya, to Takayuki from KGnE--based on that,
it's hard for me not to think this has train wreck written all over
it. I think in the end, I'm just not a big dorama fan, and that'll
probably ruin this for me--I dropped KGnE pretty fast and if Touya
starts playing the field out of indecisiveness the way I think he
will, I'll probably be dropping this too. Still, for now since I'm
not watching *that* much this season, I'm curious enough to give it a
few episodes.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year! / Looking Back on 2008

Yes, this was the first episode I watched in 2009--Admiral Nagato for the win...

Happy New Year to everyone out there in the Internets, hopefully those of you in college aren't fighting too bad of a hangover this morning. I spent midnight holding a bottle, but it was a bottle of infant formula, so no hangover for me, just a little sleep deprived as usual lately...

I should start by saying thank you to all those of you who've stopped by this blog and/or commented over the past year, and all of you who have your own anime blogs, which are always a great source of information, viewpoints, and entertainment for me.

Looking back at 2008, it may not have been the greatest year for anime I've ever seen, but there were quite a few series that I really enjoyed watching--here are a few of the series I liked:

Winter

Minami-ke Okawari: Most people hated Okawari after the original Minami-ke, and while I agree that the original was better, I love the cast enough that I was thrilled to get a second season regardless. Okawari had some episodes that were better than others, but remembering Fujioka's facial expression when he got a good view of Kana in the onsen in the first episode always cracks me up. Here's hoping Minami-ke Okaeri, which will start in a few days, will be even better.

True Tears: I fell in love with this series early on, but to be honest I never finished it--somehow, when the drama kicked in I just lost interest. This is something I really should go back and finish watching this year....

Clannad: I'm avoiding After Story because I read enough spoilers to know it's a little more drama than I want to watch, but the first Clannad series that ended at the end of winter definitely had its moments. Tomoyo and Kyou stole the series for me, Kyou in the gym shed and Tomoyo landing an insane number of kicks on Sunohara were both great scenes, and although Fuuko and Kotomi's arcs fell kind of flat for me, there were still enough entertaining moments throughout to make up for that.

Spring

Tower of Druaga: Not the greatest series ever, and the ending on a cliffhanger thing really pisses me off--but this did have an awesome first episode, sending up the whole RPG genre. Hocchan getting attacked by the roper was one of the funniest anime scenes of the year for me. Unfortunately, after a strong first episode this series started following some of the cliches it was making fun of at first, and that made it a lot less fun to watch.

D.C. II S.S.: I love the Da Capo franchise and was hoping for DC II SS to make up for the first DC II series, a.k.a The Koko and Minatsu show. While D.C. II S.S. did have its moments, and finally delivered the Asakura sisters' storyline that I'd been waiting to see animated for years, somehow it wasn't able to top the original Da Capo for me. I blame Yoshiyuki for the most part--he just seemed indifferent for most of the series, and it didn't help that the series ended with no clear choice between Yume and Otome. If this had a more conclusive ending and a stronger lead, I think it really could have been awesome, but instead I was left with the feeling it could have been much better. I guess I can always hope Kyoani remakes it someday...

Kamen no Maid Guy: Insane comedy is usually my sweet spot, and this did deliver the crazy--the character designs and animation were just OK, the fanservice a little in your face, but I still want a Maid Guy Badge someday :)

Summer

Strike Witches: The no pant thing was a little over the top...but this series still had a great cast of characters, and managed to pull off comedy, action, and drama pretty well, in an interesting setting. Best of all, this followed Druaga's model where you could pay for a DRM-free copy, subtitled, the same date it aired in Japan--this is my dream for how I wish all anime gets distributed someday, so I was more than happy to cough up $3 an episode to BOST.

Zero no Tsukaima (third season): Louise is so tsun-tsun she's almost a parody of tsunderes in general now, but I'm still a sucker for this show. Not as good as the original season for me because the endless Louise beatdowns of Saitou are wearing thin, but still glad to see the cast again. Tifa's a great addition to the series, it's too bad after the first half of the season he didn't get a lot of screentime.

Fall

Toradora: I love this series--I've talked about it before, but this may end up being my favorite of the year. It just has a really compelling, unique cast of characters, and the relationship chart is complex enough to be true-to-life.

Kannagi: Already did a short review of this, but solid animation and Nagi's antics are enough to make this a series I was looking forward to every week.

Hyakko: Not every episode is funny, there's been a lot better school slice-of-life out there, and sometimes the animation is eye-rendingly bad, but I do like Torako and the rest of the cast, so it's been a fun series to watch.

Last but not least, I should mention Gintama--I didn't watch an episode of this until a couple months ago, but I've marathoned through the most recent subs, and it's pretty addictive. Mediocre animation and character designs, but when it's funny it's really, really funny, and it can do action/drama well too when it has multi-episode arcs. Zura rapping has to be one of the funniest things I've seen in anime this year.

Overall, it's been a great year for anime--here's hoping we'll have a lot more great series to watch in 2009.