It has become a time honoured tradition to find out what AJAS as a collective has thought of the anime it watches each year via the AJAS annual poll. Always full of surprises, the poll has continued to yield results that reflect AJAS’s emphasis on valuing a variety of tastes and genres while continuing to forge our identity as we traverse the swirling miasma full of scintillating thoughts and turgid ideas that is the anime universe.
2010 – The Legend of Koizumi
In a year which saw a healthy mix of styles and genres excel in the AJAS poll, it was a series of short yet epic sagas of one of Japan’s greatest sons that received our biggest praise. Ex-Prime Minister Koizumi battled current and former leaders like Kim Jong Il and Chairman Mao Zedong in epic tales of mah-jong – now that’s something everyone can enjoy! It was passionate, it was hilarious, it was excess at its finest. For a series that was made freely available online and lasted only 8 minutes per episode, it sure was a gem.
2009 – Eden of the East
When you get the director of the two Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series in Kenji Kamiyama, team him up with Production I.G. once again, not to mention land Oasis doing a belter of an OP theme in ‘Falling Down’, you just knew this was going to aim high. AJAS certainly thought it reached those heights. With a plot reminiscent of the Bourne trilogy movies yet voicing a strong message for Japanese society (Baby boomers and NEETs copped it big time!), the stage was set for Akira to unravel the mystery of his amnesia and his part in a dangerous game that would change the world.
2008 – Michiko e Hatchin
Let’s face it – when Shinichiro Watanabe gets his creative juices flowing, the West approves. And like with his previous outings, AJAS certainly approved. With the rough yet exotic backdrop of Mexico as the setting, Michiko tore up the screen proving that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. It had all of the trademarks of a Shinichiro Watanabe work – attitude, funky animation, smooth music, spunky characters and action galore. Good times.
2007 – The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
AJAS does have a soft side. We do appreciate a touching story if it is executed well, has compelling characters and a plot that holds together from start to finish. Mamoru Hosoda made his mark on the anime world when he stepped into the fray with this gem. AJAS took notice. When easygoing Makoto Konno gained the ability to travel through time, she began to remove the negatives from her life. But when she began to neglect her friends in the process, the gift became a burden. One of those heart-warming tales that hit the right notes.
2006 – The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Amidst the moe frenzy that began in late 2005, the illustrious April 2006 season had much to offer, including this. When the feisty, random Haruhi Suzumiya boldly declared her disdain for humans and that she was only interested in the paranormal, the caustically sarcastic narrator-like Kyon would never be the same. With the arrival of said paranormal characters to fill the void in Haruhi’s life, a string of bizarre yet intriguing events followed, along with the obligatory high school cliches. For better and worse, Haruhi Suzumiya would have a profound effect on anime in the years to come, triggering the ominous rise of Kyoto Animation as a major force in the anime studios realm. As well as inspire Haruhism, which is effectively its own religion now. Haruhi as God? Why does that sound dangerously yet deliciously appealing…
2005 – Genshiken
An anime club votes a series about an anime club at #1 for the year. Go figure. But Genshiken entertained AJAS because it dared to tread where very few titles would. It was an honest account of being a hardcore anime/games fan from both the male and female perspective. While most titles referring to anime fandom required previous knowledge of the industry or particular series, Genshiken broke down those walls with simple yet effective humour and an honest mix of characters balancing fandom and life. It was a good starting point for the anime newbie yet a delectable truth for the seasoned fan. Classic.
2004 – Paranoia Agent
In a year that saw a bit of a downturn in anime overall, the late Satoshi Kon blitzed the scene with a very brash, honest tale of very black humour and mind-bending thrills that sent AJAS’s power level Over 9000. When toy designer Tsukiko Sagi, creator of the hit plushie Maromi, is under pressure to come up with another winner, she ends up being attacked by ‘Shounen Bat’ – a boy on roller skates wielding a metal baseball bat. Or did she?! Fact and fiction clash as grizzled veterdan detective Keiichi and the optimistic young gun in Maniwa try to deduce what is really happening, while the attacks begin to pile up and reality becomes distorted by fantasy. A series so intriguing and full of clever yet accurate critiques of Japanese society and the animation industry, Satoshi Kon proved why he deserved to be known as ‘The Dream Weaver’.
2003 – Full Metal Panic Fumoffu
The original series went down reasonably well. But when a second series, stripped of the mecha and war aspect, sporting the zany side stories that couldn’t be shown in the original series, came to life, AJAS was hooked. The outrageous yet insanely funny antics of the mercenary Sousuke and the potent mix of raging fury and feminine tenderness of Chidori led to perfect chemistry in one of anime’s best duos. Everyday life for these two was anything but normal when Sousuke was involved. But deep down, Chidori wouldn’t have it any other way. With stellar visuals, great OP/ED themes, comical in-episode music, a solid character cast and a list of episode scenarios that would be too zany to believe until you watched them, Fumoffu was a gem that puts the current wave of moe to shame for the greater part.
2002 – Azumanga Daioh
There are some things in life that are certain. That AJAS would love Azumanga Daioh is one of them. Anime would be VERY different today if this series had never been brought to life. The 4-koma genius of Kiyohiko Azuma was transferred into the anime realm with precision and excellence. The everyday antics of one of anime’s biggest mix of oddballs made for good times all the time. It was true to its roots and very Japanese, yet so utterly accessible for the newbie and the veteran thanks to its Abbott and Costello style. Anime is so much better off for this title being animated.
2001 – Trigun
The Western World has always enjoyed a good old Western tale, including AJAS. Trigun had enough traits true to the genre to draw the viewer in, then with its zany antics and post-apocalyptic world, it was a feast for the eyes. But what gave Trigun its biggest edge was its characters. Vash the Stampede is an icon and deservedly so – he oozes coolness when the situation demands it then leaves one in stitches. The insatiable ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude of Nicholas Wolfwood and his awesome cross gun. The spunky feminista of Meryl Strife and the lumbering goofball antics of Milly Thompson. Spaghetti western was never better. Even Clint Eastwood would surely approve. Virtually as crucial as Cowboy Bebop was in making anime a proper niche in the West.
2000 – Cowboy Bebop
THE series that turned anime from an underground hobby into a proper niche in the West. And no wonder. Shinichiro Watanabe spent five years fine-tuning this tale before taking the plunge to bring this to life. With the legendary Yoko Kanno teaming up with the Seatbelts to create a soundtrack of bebop jazz to fuel the adventures of the epitome of cool in Spike Spiegel, as well as one of anime’s most lauded females in Faye Valentine, there was no limit to the heights this series could reach. Despite its initial rejection in Japan, its unprecedented popularity in the U.S. led to Japan re-playing it and giving it the respect it truly deserved. Thank you, Shinichiro Watanabe, for daring to be different and doing things your way.
1998 & 1999 – Rurouni Kenshin
There are some moments in time that can never be tarnished. This is one of them. A title that is so steeped in tradition and everything that epitomises an era of Japan that is still cherished to this day. It was so darn good that AJAS was compelled to give it the top spot in consecutive years. One of the iconic series of the 90s came that captured the essence of Rurouni Kenshin with a gripping yet touching tale that gave it an edge that few titles could match. Sadly, it did not see through its source manga material through to the end, but with a new anime incoming in the very near future, hopefully a new generation will be able to appreciate this classic title.
1997 – Vision of Escaflowne
The fantasy genre has seen highs and lows, the whack and the perilous. But Escaflowne was fantasy done right. Sure, the somewhat clichéd tale of being taken to another world has been done many times before. But with the potent combination of Van and Hitomi, as well as its ability to fuse so many genres and styles into one series, Escaflowne proved to be a superior title in the genre and another iconic series of the 90s.
1996 – Whisper of the Heart
Studio Ghibli is synonymous with anime. But this was a tale so pure, honest and touching that even the hardest of hearts would be moved. It was Ghibli’s goodness without the preaching and bitterness that had tainted some of Miyazaki’s titles. Yet it was such a simple tale – coming of age, finding one self, young love and the awkward yet powerful longing that came with it. Perhaps the cleanest love story ever, but it is better off for being so. When Ghibli is done right, it is a spectacle to behold. Sadly, director Yoshifumi Kondou would die tragically young in 1998, ending Miyazaki’s dream of Kondou succeeding him. But this innocent tale has stood the test of time and will surely continue to do so.