As this decade draws to a close, we celebrate the last ten years in anime. Certainly, the industry has progressed far in the last ten years: anime has become more popular, both domestically and worldwide; it has matured significantly as an art form, featuring cutting-edge CG technology and beautiful, streamlined animation; and it has become massively commercialized, with anime goods proliferating and saturating the market, far outstripping demand in many cases. The rapid, irreversible commercialization of anime has been further exacerbated by a (relatively) new artistic movement in the industry: moé.
Certainly, moé did not revolutionize the anime industry. The artistic beginnings of moé were not in this decade, or even the last. Like all artistic movements, it underwent periods of growth and development. What this decade did see, however, was the exploitation of moé. Instead of utilizing moé as a set of aesthetic choices, used to bolster, reinforce and beautify a work of anime, it became an end in and of itself. The industry quickly realized that their idealized representations of women— well-mannered, upbeat, bright and beautiful— resonated well with anime’s predominantly teenage male audience. Thus, the industry shifted more and more towards the production of moé-oriented titles, especially during the latter half of the decade.
This shifting trend, compounded by the comparatively larger volume of anime production during the past ten years, led to a disproportionately large shift away from producing titles mainly geared towards younger children, the former mainstay of the anime industry. While popular mainstream titles such as One Piece and the long-running Doraemon are geared towards a younger audience, one observes that these titles have, in some cases, been on air for more than ten years. It follows naturally that most of the titles produced within the last ten years were oriented towards a significantly older audience than the traditional target audience for prime-time anime.
An older audience meant different interests. No longer were anime fans satisfied with the “monster-of-the-week” formula that entranced children for weeks on end. More substance was needed. Sadly, the industry remained willfully negligent of substance, and chose instead to go with style— something that they knew the sex-starved, hopelessly romantic generation of otaku that they had created would devour ravenously. Instead of creating better plots, or better characters, animation studios focused on being flashy. Fanservice ran rampant. Characters became disturbingly flat— mere tropes, rehashed time and time again.
Yet, to the average otaku without a job, this formula was perfect. For them, anime was an escape from reality, not a representation or allegory thereof. While most people expect a great work of art or literature to accurately reflect the human condition, the otaku wishes for much less. He wishes only to be left alone, in a world free of problems; he neither has the time nor the desire to reflect on the problems of his own life.
And so the industry fed the otaku. Constantly reinforcing each other in a positive feedback loop, anime became more and more exclusive as the decade went on. Studios began producing shows that were geared specifically towards the otaku demographic, and not outsiders. And since otaku loved moé, more and more, animators relied on moé as a substitute for good storytelling. After all, in a visually-dominated industry, good animators are a dime a dozen, but good writers, on the other hand, are scarce and valuable.
Thus, as we look back on the last ten years, I have a list of my own: a list of ten of the worst anime to come out in the last decade. These shows are absolutely horrible. They scrape the bottom of the anime barrel. They represent everything I despise about the anime industry. However, you may notice that towards the end of the list, the tone of the article changes a bit. That is because I believe the shows on this list become progressively worse, yet, paradoxically, become progressively better— call it irony, call it sadism, but I actually enjoyed myself when watching some of these shows. From a critical perspective, none of these shows are noteworthy of any sort of achievement. But to me, these ten have a special place in my heart. Please note that I am not in the business of watching bad anime, so these are the ten titles that jump to mind. I’m well aware of the fact that series far worse than Ikkitousen exist. I happen to have the great fortune to have never seen such a series. Thank God. In any case, the list (Spoiler warning):
10. Queen’s Blade
My first introduction to Queen’s Blade came not in the form of a trailer, or an episode of the anime, but rather, a .gif image (warning: NSFW) that fellow reviewer Shadowmage sent me one day. I remember it clearly: it was titled “tits.gif.” Curiosity overtook me, and I opened the image. True to its name, it was an image of tits… expanding tits that eventually exploded into a fireball of I-don’t-know-what. I knew that whatever show this sequence came from had to be god-awful. And I was right. Queen’s Blade has almost zero artistic merit. No surprise, when one considers that Queen’s Blade, the original work, cannot even be called a “manga”; it is, rather, a compilation of scantily-clad women getting themselves into sexually stimulating situations while fighting. The entire show was censored heavily for broadcast, to the point of it being completely unwatchable. One wonders if the creators of this show were simply trying to push the limits of accepted standards regarding obscenity on television, as Queen’s Blade seems to serve no purpose other than that. Well, perhaps it was created to see how many creative uses breasts could have. In any case, it’s not a show that anyone should watch.
Taking classics of literature and moéfying all of its characters seems to be a common way to create really bad anime. Consider Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Chinese epic penned during the 15th century. Celebrated all across East Asia, its characters and their exploits are well known to most school-age boys. A more perfect target for moéfication probably never existed. Thus came Ikkitousen, one of many series based off of Romance. Like all other combat-themed fanservice anime, Ikkitousen uses combat as an excuse to strip its female cast members of their clothing. What makes this show distinctly worse than shows such as Queen’s Blade is the fact that it takes itself seriously. Not a bit of facetiousness can be found within Ikkitousen, and it expects its audience to be engrossed in the poorly written script and badly animated characters. Truly a lame excuse for a fanservice anime.
Kyoto Animation might have made it big, but they should not have the gall to create something as offensive as K-On! This show is just not funny. Period. After watching the entire series, I wished that every member of the Light Music Club (with the exception of Mio, of course) would just go and die. Not a good sign for a character-driven anime like K-On. The jokes fall absolutely flat, the main lead is both irritating and offensively stupid, and the series doesn’t amount to much more than moéblobs frolicking around, doing nothing productive. Every character is a cliché, and put together, they are about as interesting as cardboard boxes attempting to socialize. I could forgive all of that, however, if K-On hadn’t recycled characters. I understand the need to quickly create likable characters through the use of established conventions governing what the average otaku perceives as moé. Fine. But recycling a character from within the show itself? How lazy does an animation studio get?
7. Shuffle! Memories
Speaking of recycling things, Shuffle! Memories takes the crown. Everything is recycled in this show, which was originally meant to be some sort of extended re-cap for people who didn’t get to watch the original Shuffle… except the original Shuffle was mediocre at best. To add insult to injury, the chronology of the original show is completely shuffled (excuse the pun, I simply could not help myself) into an absolute mess that will leave any viewer perplexed. Ultimately, there is no one who would benefit from the watching of this show. People who have already watched Shuffle have zero incentive to watch the show again in Suzumiya Haruhi-esque ordering, and people who haven’t watched Shuffle… could simply go watch Shuffle. Perhaps the show was a weak attempt to cash in on the success of Shuffle… except that Shuffle wasn’t exactly a financial success to begin with. So what is Memories? A festering, pointless turd. That’s it.
Here’s where things start getting a bit interesting. Akikan is a series of light novels written for the sole reason of promoting artist Suzuhira Hiro’s works. For those of you who have never seen the show, Akikan’s concept is simple: canned soda transform into girls. But since they’re still canned sodas, they need carbon dioxide to live. It’s up to our brave protagonist to provide carbon dioxide to the various canned soda girls he finds, usually in the form of a make-out session. The concept is so ludicrous that the series becomes hilarious to watch. In addition to the shameless fanservice, the extremely over-the-top raunchiness of this show makes it absolutely hilarious to watch… if only the pathetic excuse for a plot didn’t kick in. The creators couldn’t have possibly believed that people would take the plot seriously, not with such a ridiculous premise… could they? By the end of the show, the jokes became stale, the girls became irritating, and the plot… was still unnecessary and just as annoying. So close to achieving awesomeness, Akikan. So close.
5. Sora no Otoshimono
Sora no Otoshimono is excessive. In an amazing way. After a quick introduction to the characters in the first episode, this show goes completely nuts. The next few episodes deal primarily with flying panties, exploding panties, and a robot made of panties. The sheer amount of absurdity packed into this show is, well, absurd. From watching flocks of flying panties go south for the winter, to seeing a house covered with exploding panties from wall to wall… this show beats viewers over the head with its excess. To make things even better, the characters aren’t completely boring. While I have to admit that I don’t care too much for the plot, it’s at least somewhat interesting. However, as long as there’s exploding lingerie in this show… I’ll keep watching.
4. Fight! Ippatsu! Juuden-chan!
TIF said in his review of Jyuuden-chan that one doesn’t need brain cells when watching this show. A more accurate observation has never been made. If Sora no Otoshimono is excessive, then Jyuuden-chan is extravagant in its debauchery. Playing less like an anime and more like a montage of strange sexual fetishes, this anime makes no excuses for its uncompromisingly repugnant depictions of… well, anything that suits your fancy. I’ll admit: the first time I saw the titular character urinate all over herself after being beaten with a bat, I was a bit shocked. I wasn’t even too sure what liquid was flowing from her nether regions… and realized that it didn’t matter. The damage had already been done by that point. While I certainly don’t subscribe to TIF’s notion that Jyuuden-chan is a brilliant parody of the moé-obsessed anime industry of today, I do believe that it is an exercise in absurdity. What I like about Jyuuden-chan is that it never takes itself seriously, unlike some of the other shows on this list. It fully realizes just how ridiculous it is, and embraces it. The result: a train wreck of a show in terms of substance, yet manages to somehow still be watchable… and somewhat enjoyable at times.
3. Kodomo no Jikan
Have you ever wondered what it may be like for little girls to whisper dirty things in your ear? If you have, then Kodomo no Jikan is the show for you. While Japan has always been obsessed with pre-pubescent little girls, Kodomo no Jikan takes the term “Lolita Complex” to a whole new level. The show has no purpose apart from slaking the thirst of those who hunger for little girls. While I have to admit that the girls are adorable, especially upon first sight, the series fails to capitalize on their visual attractiveness, and instead beats viewers over the head with the exact same joke, over and over. The series quickly becomes stale, and to add insult to injury, anything remotely resembling fanservice is edited out in the most obnoxious and obstructive of ways, including full-screen censorship in some cases. Which makes me wonder: why make a show like this if most of it is going to be censored by television networks anyways? Sure, one could always elect to purchase the Blu-ray version if he so wished, but after seeing twelve episodes of all fluff and no substance, who would want to buy the Blu-ray to see more fluff? Yet, I could forgive Kodomo no Jikan for all of its pedophilic and borderline illegal faults, had it not shown a little spark of genius halfway through the series. It shows that the director of Kodomo no Jikan was completely capable of creating a good, solid anime based on the material he was given him, but rather, chose not to. And that is inexcusable.
2. School Days
The granddaddy of the harem genre. Nothing you’ll ever watch in your life will ever come close to matching the epic of School Days, also known as Nice Boat. The protagonist isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill wishy-washy harem anime lead. In fact, he’s the exact opposite. A despicable, triple-timing whore of a man, Itou Makoto may be one of the most hated anime protagonists of all time. Not only does he frequently cheat on every girl he ever claimed to love, he seems to always be able to get chicks despite his infidelity and passably average looks. He is an eyesore and a target for hatred among otaku, simply because of his unwarranted popularity. The greater bulk of the show is terrible; watching Makoto dance around and deftly sleep with five or six girls at a time certainly isn’t my idea of time well spent. Fortunately, the show takes a turn for the massively epic during the last episode, the infamous “nice boat” episode, in which Makoto gets exactly what’s coming to him. A sigh of relief and a wave of glee washed over the millions who watched the show as Makoto finally gets his throat sliced by one of the numerous women he’s cheated on throughout the course of this train wreck. Justice was done in the end. School Days taught us that even in the twisted alternate reality of the harem genre, basic ethics should still hold valid. It affirmed our belief that there is a God, and that He is good and just. A more fitting and satisfying end to an anime will probably never be created, ever again.
1. Strike Witches
By now, most readers of this website should know about my undying love for Strike Witches. The swan song of a once glorious animation house, Gonzo’s best-selling magnum opus is a tour de force of panties, panties and more panties. When asked, “What is Strike Witches about, anyways?” former reviewer Kurier replied, “It’s about sexy girls with giant guns flying around and fighting aliens. With no pants on.” I challenge you to find something that strikes you as unappealing in the previous summary. The most genius part of Strike Witches lies not in its use of panties, but rather, in its neglect of the fetish— by creating a world in which no women wear pants, the viewer becomes quickly accustomed to Gonzo’s alternate reality. By episode 2, I stopped questioning the main cast’s wardrobe choices. I accepted the lack of pants as a fact of life, and simply moved on. With the panties out of the way, I moved on to seeing the substance of the show… and liked what I saw there. Granted, the girls are more or less cookie cutter clones of some stereotypical anime trope, but at least they have spirit. Some of them even have interesting back stories. It’s just a shame that the plot was so weak… or rather, that there was a plot at all. It completely ruins the show, and had Strike Witches been the story of a squadron of pantless girls living their everyday lives, it would have been a masterpiece… of sorts.
Ten shows, all representing trends in the anime industry that I despise. The shameless moefication of literature, the overuse of fanservice, the lack of substance… these are all issues that plague the industry today. Looking forward, what can we expect from the next ten years?
I do not claim to be a seer, and anyone who says that they can see ten years into the future would most definitely be lying. See this analysis more as a list of things I hope to happen in the next ten years, rather than things that will happen. Consider this second list my “wish list” for the next decade.
First, I hope to see the death of commercialized moé. This may actually not be far off. Even on 2ch, one of otakuism’s most rabid and extreme bastions, users are beginning to complain that shows nowadays focus too little on substance and too much on fluff and presentation. The success of several shows which are definitely not moé in recent years (Akagi, Baccano!) also bodes well for this prediction. I don’t believe that moé, as an art form, will remain stagnant throughout the next decade; just look at anime ten years ago. The status of moé has changed drastically throughout the last decade, and its definition will continue to evolve as we continue onwards into the next decade.
Secondly, I hope to see the anime industry (and its fans) emerge from their fortresses. Anime has become too exclusive, and has become self-serving and elitist. As I asserted in a previous article, the fandom is kept in check by a strict, self-enforced hierarchy that makes entry into the fandom extremely difficult. Shows are becoming self-referential at times, and while I, as a seasoned otaku, enjoy the inside jokes and references, I also feel slightly left out when all my non-otaku friends are watching anime with me and they don’t laugh at the same jokes. Perhaps its time the industry began making shows that everyone can relate to.
And finally, I hope to see more independent, small productions. While Shinkai Makoto remains the greatest example of an animator-director that simply does whatever he pleases, he has become so famous that his works could barely be considered “indie.” Indie works are often on the cutting edge of design, and web-based methods of transmission, such as Youtube and Nico, have given indie animators the ability to disseminate their work throughout the world free of charge. While productions created by large anime houses are often slicker, more engaging, and feature higher production values (certainly claims that have been made dubious in the past decade), it’s always nice to see that someone out there is taking the path less travelled, blazing forward. Stagnation is the death of all art, and if the anime industry wants to recover from its slump, it must innovate or die. Quickly.
And thus, with nothing but the greatest optimism in my heart, I begin my second decade as an anime fan. I welcome the industry, with all of its faults and issues, with the greatest warmth and enthusiasm. I’m ready for another great ten years, Japan. Show me what you got.
Tomorrow’s installment will feature Kavik Ryx and his review of the decade.