NHRV Editor’s Choice Awards – April 2009

Today, a new tradition at The Nihon Review is starting: the NHRV Editor’s Choice Awards. Every six months from now on, in the months of April and October (to coincide approximately with the start of a new major season), each of the NHRV Editors will pick one anime that has recently aired and been added to the review database, one anime that they think stands above the others they’ve seen, and deserves recognition on the basis of excellence. Here are our choices for April 2009, the inaugural NHRV Editor’s Choice Awards.

Clannad ~After Story~

Clannad ~After Story~

Ascaloth: Much talk about Kyoto Animation‘s latest Key/Visual Arts visual novel adaptation has ensued since the end of the 2+2-cour series, but whatever the final opinion one may have, it cannot be denied that Clannad ~After Story~ is fated to be one of the defining anime of 2009… even if it’s only 4 months into the year at present. And it is so for a reason; quite frankly, it is hard to top a romance drama of such quality as Maeda Jun‘s best work ever written.

No other male lead of the genre has had as much character development as Okazaki Tomoya. Few other romantic tales have been as endearing as the one between Tomoya and his eventual wife, Furukawa Nagisa. Not in recent memory has there been any other series which emphasised the theme of family so strongly. And all these elements come together to create a dramatic masterpiece which resonates with the human spirit like no other. For this reason, it gets my vote for Editor’s Choice April 2009.

Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou

Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou

zzeroparticle: Part of what made the first season of Natsume Yuujinchou so enchanting was the way it deals with common themes like isolation, identity and belonging, and a friendship forged between characters, regardless of origin. Each of the episodes focuses on one of these themes and none of them are wasted as the series delivers a touching experience by setting it so that the viewer is able to identify with Natsume Takashi and watch him grows through his interactions with youkai.

Enter the second season where the mood is just a little brighter and more upbeat, but if there’s one thing that remains unchanged, it’s the way Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou‘s stories continue to impress with their heartfelt poignancy. The narrative is able to explore new territory like offering contrasting views of human-ayakashi relations so that the audience gets a different perspective other than Natsume’s compassionate and idealistic worldview. Regardless of the subject matter that each episode addresses, Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou continues to be about Natsume’s earnest efforts to aid others. The feelings conveyed are absolutely honest and the stories flow naturally which, in turn, makes for a satisfying experience overall.

Maria-sama ga Miteru 4th Season

Maria-sama ga Miteru 4th Season

Sorrow-kun: Maria-sama ga Miteru is an iconic anime, utterly unique when it first came out and has since been often imitated, but never duplicated. It’s successive sequels have carried on with the same elegant, considered tone, constantly developing its characters and their relationships to deeper and more profound levels. Maria-sama ga Miteru 4th Season probably does this better than any other series in the franchise to date. Not a single moment is wasted as we learn more about these charming characters, while their generally amiable but sometimes troubled relationships evolve and advance.

Unlike previous seasons, Marimite 4th has a tighter sense of focus and much faster pacing, things which allow it to be more effective in its storytelling. The melodrama continues to be compelling and meaningful due to the great writing and its creative use of metaphors and symbolism, as well as the fact that the characters are so delightful. There are a couple of minor flaws: the pacing sometimes gets too fast, and the animation just isn’t good enough for a series where atmosphere is so important, but Marimite 4th is definitely one of the better anime of recent months.

Casshern SINS

Casshern SINS

Shadowmage: For an anime that is an adaptation of a 70s action series, it’s surprisingly hard to fit Casshern Sins into any clear-cut category. This show is a delicate fusion of action and drama presented like a stage theater piece in a wonderfully rendered world. Heavy, somber music colors the show’s post-apocalyptic world a drab gray, and Madhouse‘s artists manage to bring out the beauty of this world.

Though the tales are memorable and the violence visceral, Casshern Sins is not an anime for action junkies or even those who want a great story. The anime largely needs to be enjoyed as a well presented, somewhat heavy handed drama. For this show, presentation is paramount; it’s more about how everything is presented than what is actually presented. The show intentionally lets the dialogue run into dramatic clichés, and it frequently uses long pauses to let the atmosphere sink in.

Casshern himself may not be most interesting person in the world, but many of the people he meets are quite fascinating. Despite losing immortality and watching their world fall apart, these characters live true to their cherished philosophies of life, and they are the ones that make this show something truly special.

9 Responses to “NHRV Editor’s Choice Awards – April 2009”

  1. […] The inaugural NHRV Editor’s Choice Awards have just been announced for April 2009.  You can find out which recently reviewed anime titles our editors thought deserved extra recognition here. […]

  2. […] View post: NHRV Editor's Choice Awards – April 2009 » Behind The Nihon Review […]

  3. I’ve been thinking of watching Casshern SINS for a while, and hearing it described as being closer to drama than action is increasing my will to do so. It’s not the kind of thing I’d usually watch, and that’s exactly why I’m looking forward to it.

  4. Well at least someone picked Casshern Sins…it’s just amazing. Anyway, the question of ‘what’ never really played big part in making or breaking of anime, it’s always the question of ‘how’. Absolutely loving it.

    And although I have to Casshern himself is quite beautiful, it’s the side characters that really stand out. They are like delicate flowers, boasting their most beautiful and fragrant moment, before they wither admist the ruins.

  5. Casshern Sins is beautifully depressing.

    That sums it up quite neatly, doesn’t it?

    Great if you’re in the right mindset for it, not so much otherwise, which is why I’ll have to re-watch it at some point.

  6. I haven’t watched Marimite yet, and not sure whether I should since I’ve never followed the prequels either. Casshern SINS turns out to be a revelation, especially since it’s a series that kinda rubbed me the wrong way initially. The amount of visual symbolism and storytelling through colors and simply amazing. Clannad ~After Story~ is the most poignant series among the four, and compared to the sequel, the series is a lot more focused on Nagisa and Tomoya. I don’t like how the supporting characters are pushed aside for the sake of Tomoya and his new-found family, but the story is a lot better by becoming more linear. Finally, as for Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou, I admit that I find it a little underwhelming than the prequel, perhaps because it’s more upbeat and light-hearted. It’s just me when I say that sad stories are more affecting than light-hearted ones. However, that’s not to say that it’s not as impressive as the first season, because Nyanko-sensei has more airtime to showcase his silly side a lot more.

  7. @AC
    While I can’t say that sad stories are more affecting in the visual medium, I’d have to agree if you were talking about music. I will say that since Natsume’s encountered his undue share of the ugly side of humanity for most of his life, it’s kinda nice seeing him catch a break. Deservedly so, especially when you factor in his good-hearted nature.

  8. Strangely enough, I feel that episode 4 is something that belongs more to the first season, since it’s about parting ways with that adorable baby bird (boy, I sure would want one myself ^^). Plus, it’s the most affecting episode in the series IMHO.

  9. Casshern Sins is easily the best show stemming from last year with its rather unique formula. Honestly, I never expected a show like that to ever produce as much substance as it has. Especially, when it comes to the visuals since they express quite a lot with a great accompanying musical score. In fact, Sins’ OST is one of the better albums out there and even the vocals are not overly disappointing.

    Speaking of side characters, when even a shallow one such as Sophita is memorable enough you know you have got something special on your hands. Braiking Boss himself was a special enough character for myself since he really does not overstep his bounds into a linear path. Boss may have been a clear cut villian in his previous incarnations, but this one is a definite winner in my book. (Especially in part of his seiyuu’s performance since voice acting is a strong part of Sins as well.)

    Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou was like a step up from its previous season for me due to the familiarity with the material. The formula does not change for the show, yet it still executes beautifully enough to create a harmonic balance.

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