Anime Person of the Year 2011?

If it wanted, anime could go back to business as usual after this, but it would be a great injustice if it did so.

It’s the time of year when people like to reflect on the events and people who shaped the last last twelve months and that’s not different among anime fans, particularly bloggers. So while the 12 Days of Christmas are underway again this year in various locations, and in various incarnations, most of which are particularly focused on the moments and episodes that defined the year, it’s also worthwhile to take a glance at the individuals who made headlines in the anime world this year (and gave people like me something to write about). So, my question is, who was anime’s “Person of the Year” in 2011.

My criteria isn’t too dissimilar to that of Time Magazine‘s (since I am rather unashamedly ripping off their concept), in that the nominees are those who made headlines this year, and need not be laudable individuals whose achievements in 2011 are an inspiration to us all… even if Time’s choice this year of “The Protester”, as wishy-washy as it is, is exactly that. (If it’s any solace, at least they didn’t pussy out on the scale they did last year when they chose Facebook‘s Mark Zuckerberg over Wikileak‘s Julian Assange.) So who got anime fans’ tongues wagging this year? Who were those admired and reviled in equal measure, those who started on a great mission and those who fell far short? Who was anime’s Person of the Year? Well, following Time’s lead in pussying out, I’m not going to answer that question today, but I will propose a few nominees.

This is so me.

Ikuhara Kunihiko

After an entire generation of shoujo/josei fans had their minds blown by Revolutionary Girl Utena and permanently hemorrhaged by Adolescence Apocalypse, Ikuhara Kunihiko took a twelve year break from directing, only to return in summer this year with Mawaru Penguindrum, a series which I don’t think is an overstatement to call the most ambitious anime to come out for a decade. Penguindrum has just been such a surreal, bizarre and draining experience to watch. Every episode has been a shock to the system, with Ikuhara stomping on conventions and expectations like Monty Python‘s foot. I’ve had no idea how to react to the vast majority of Penguindrum episodes, except for the instinctive thought that what is unfolding before us is either genius or insanity and that either way we are blessed to be witnessing it. With one episode left, my only expectation is that I won’t fully comprehend the series after just one viewing, and the only thing I’m more certain of is that people will still be finding things in Penguindrum like symbols, motifs and themes that Ikuhara has deliberately left to be found, interpreted and debated about for years after the show’s finale airs. Penguindrum is a great anime because it pushes the boundaries of what convention thinks the medium is capable of, and anime as a whole will be worse off if the industry ignores what Ikuhara has achieved with this show.

Urobuchi Gen

Before this year, Urobuchi Gen was only known in visual novel circles, most notably for his work on Saya no Uta and, to a lesser extent, as the author of the Fate/Zero novels, a prequel of Type Moon‘s Fate/Stay Night. But this year, his reputation as a storyweaver of the macabre and the cruel became well known when he teamed up with Shinbo Akiyuki to help write Madoka Magica, an anime that was not only a near-universally acclaimed critical hit (and my personal choice for the third best anime of the year) but also the biggest commercial success of its time. My suspicion is that Madoka Magica was an anime that Shinbo has wanted to make for years, but has only been allowed to do so this year. But I doubt it would have been nearly as shocking and effective without Urobuchi’s sadistic tendencies, or Aoka Ume‘s character designs which helped create the visual aesthetic necessary for the contrast between the girls’ personalities and what they end up suffering through, which made the show work. Urobuchi’s “mahou shounen” Fate/Zero has now been adapted into an anime by ufotable, receiving rapturous applause from those of us who thought the Fate/Stay Night anime was a soft touch, and a disappointing, misdirected waste of potential. At this stage I wouldn’t quite say Fate/Zero has been as good as ufotable’s other Type Moon adaptation, Kara no Kyoukai, but considering its execution so far, if all future Type Moon adaptations were handled by ufotable, it’s highly unlikely you’d hear me complain about it.

Self-insert director, Yamamoto Yutaka.

Yamamoto Yutaka

Well, as I said in the intro, Person of the Year doesn’t have to be someone people liked. Following on from two individuals who have been widely praised comes Yamamoto Yutaka, who, to put it mildly, has not had a good year. And while I’ve said previously that I don’t think the extent of Fractale‘s panning is justified, Yamamoto’s proclamations of being anime’s saviour and threats to quit if this anime failed have left him exposed as an easy target for ridicule. Leading up to Fractale, Yamamoto was the most vocal of a small handful of industry insiders who were critical of the state of anime, which helped set up Fractale, with all its ambition, as a make-or-break project as far as Yamamoto’s reputation went, and his conduct in trying to promote the series didn’t help things. The thing is, a lot of Yamamoto’s criticisms of anime were valid, or, at the very least, worthy of consideration and debate. But Fractale‘s failure makes him look myopic when judged on its own, and hypocritical when compared to his complaints about the medium.

In all honesty, I just can’t see Yamamoto as a bad guy, and yes, that’s in spite of the hypocrisy. Apparently, when asked recently what his favourite anime was, he replied by saying he didn’t like anime, which is both sad and I suspect wasn’t the case until recently. With the right material, he’s a very capable director, and I defy anyone who’s seen Kannagi to tell me differently. Yamamoto has become a pariah in the eyes of anime fans for just two reasons, that he’s outspoken and that, in the case of Fractale, his ambition outstripped his talent. But honestly, I can’t see either of those offenses as graven sins. Directors like Ikuhara and Shinbo have been praised this year because, rather than talking, they just went out and made good anime, but I can only hope this episode doesn’t discourage other anime directors when they feel the need to speak out and be critical. Because every creative medium needs people in influential positions who are prepared to speak up and criticize the industry when it’s required.

Vucub Caquix and ajthefourth

So now it’s time to look a bit closer to home, so to say. In all honesty I haven’t had the time to cast a keen eye on developments in the aniblogosphere, particularly over the past few months, which is my lame excuse for not updating this blog as much this year or leaving as many comments in other places. But there has been one blog that’s caught my eye and that’s the new blog by the intrepid duo of Vucub Caquix and ajthefourth named The Untold Story of Altair & Vega. Vucub Caquix in particular has had a big twelve months, guiding the newly formed SCCSAV from conception to birth in the latter stages of last year and helping it grow to the vibrant group of 138 fellow fans meeting several times a week to watch anime, both new and old, that it’s become today. But it’s the work that Vucub Caquix and ajthefourth are doing together on The Untold Story of Altair & Vega that I think is particularly admirable. It’s the best new blog I’ve found this year (although, like I said, I haven’t had the time to watch closely, so maybe there’s another new site that I’ve missed) and their conversational, analytical style and ability to be extremely attentive and insightful has been impressive. Their Penguindrum coverage in particular is pretty much a must-read.

So, who have I missed? And who do you think has been this year’s Anime Person of the Year?

21 Responses to “Anime Person of the Year 2011?”

  1. Fair and great assessment of Yamakan. +1.

    I’ve read way too many rage posts about him, and it’s refreshing to hear somebody talk about him without saying “FUCK” every other word. Rage bandwagons are scary things, and leave even the brightest people out in the street, torches and pitchforks in hand.

  2. Gen Urobuchi for me but AniPlex Producer Hiro MARUYAMA responsible for works such as Madoka, Fate/Zero, A Channel and even Tiger n Bunny is a worthy candidate as well.

  3. Wow, geez, thanks!

  4. Arigatou…soshite…arigatou! ^ ^

    P.S. My vote is for Yamakan. After all, who has been MORE talked about than Yamakan this year? Ikuhara and Penguindrum flew under the radar pretty much until the series actually aired (unless you were one of the few that watched Enma-kun) but Yamakan’s name has been on our lips and at the tips of our fingers since the beginning of the year.

  5. I like Penguindrum, but most ambitious in a decade? Same 24 episode series like Gankutsuou/Planetes/Infinite Ryvius has the ambition and scope that blows Penguindrum out of water. Then there are Monster, Mushishi, etc. could go on…

  6. @flomu
    I don’t think Yamamoto has been given a fair trial. Yes, he made a mistake when promoting Fractale by turning people’s attention more towards himself than towards the anime. But the level of vitriol is unwarranted.

    (Thanks for subtly pointing out that I mispelled Urobuchi’s name). I wasn’t aware of Marayuma Hiro’s work this year, but it looks like he’s been very busy.

    @Vucub Caquix
    As I said on Twitter, I’m just calling out good work where I see it. You should be proud of what you’ve achieved this year.

    As should you. I’m kinda leaning towards Yamamoto as well. Ikuhara has made one of the best anime in years, but Yamamoto may have changed the way anime directors interact with the media and their fans forever. Not in a good way, but it’s a change nonetheless.

  7. @gaguri
    I still haven’t seen Planetes (soon) or Infinite Ryvius, and while Gankutsuou is close, I’d say Penguindrum has it covered. Disagree about Monster and Mushishi. Monster is a well executed thriller in animated form and Mushishi is a sombre iyashikei anime. I wouldn’t say either is as ambitious as Penguindrum.

  8. I think the most important thing the industry can learn from Mawaru Penguindrum is that ambition needs to be matched by coherence, something sorely lacking from Ikuhara’s mess of flashbacks, half-baked ideas and discarded carcasses of plot points. It could have been a great, great series, but it frittered it all away on account of its own Attention Deficit Disorder in my opinion.

  9. @Hanners and Gaguri

    It’s not getting full points for perfect execution, but I don’t really think it has a lot of “half-baked ideas.” Penguindrum is centered around one solid concept (the concept of family), and tried to tie in various commentaries on pop culture, japanese history and society, and high art/literature in a fairly cohesive (though seemingly sprawling and unoriented) work. In terms of ambition, I think many bloggers other than myself can agree that the degree to which Penguindrum attempts to address recent events in Japanese society ranks it as ambitious and, quite honestly, refreshing.

  10. It’s funny how much diversity of opinion there is about Mawaru Penguindrum. It’s much more a love it/hate it kind of show than Utena ever was, which I guess makes a lot of sense since it’s so much more out there. Read some fairly good arguments on both sides of the divide, either praising it or eviscerating it.

    I’d say that it’s worth it, mainly because if you look closely at the themes, the character interactions, and all the visual foreshadowing from preceding episodes, not only does it hold up but it becomes clear that the creators of the show had everything planned from the beginning. So the problem with the show isn’t so much about the creators making accidental mistakes as it is about them making deliberate ones because they were a little arrogant and wanted things just so. This is either a great strength or a debilitating weakness depending on how you look at it.

    Personally what I think makes Penguindrum great is exactly what makes Utena great, which is that practically every theme and character and bit of imagery ties into the message of the story, from the terror of the Child Broiler on down to the farting penguins. It’s a story that really only could have been done in animation, presented in a manner that only could have been done in animation, and while it seems contrived and maybe even a little exploitative on the surface, almost nothing is wasted. I think that Film Critic Hulk defined a masterpiece as “A FILM THAT SEEK TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING (OFTEN VERY SPECIFIC) AND IT EXECUTE THAT GOAL (OR SET OF GOALS) FLAWLESSLY THROUGHOUT,” and while I’m not sure if Penguindrum is a masterpiece (maybe the end will say for sure?) or even as good as Utena (which is a masterpiece) I think it’s pretty close.

    So yeah: it’s insane and borderline incoherent to the average person, but along with its predecessor it’s one of the few anime I’ve seen that you could probably write a college thesis on. There’s a lot there.

  11. I’ll be honest, I know PenguinDrum is good, but whenever I hear about it being the best or the most ambitious anime this decade, I always hate it a little, since I feel I’m missing on this masterpiece that everyone can see but me. Granted, I can see it’s got much more depth than most anime, but why does that matter? Why should symbolism make my anime viewing experience better?

  12. @fumoffu!!

    The presence of symbolism isn’t there to make necessarily any ONE person’s viewing experience better, but the fact of the matter is that it does for a portion of its audience. Penguindrum has easily wound its way among my top favorite anime of all time precisely because of the nature of the metaphoric language it uses and that I had someone patient enough to listen to me while I parse out the meaning with varying degrees of success, but my opinion of how I regard it is, in the end, only my opinion.

    I love it, others don’t. That’s the wooly nature of the internet for you.

  13. Good and interesting choices. I have heard good things about the Fate/Zero anime adaptation, enough that it might overcome my dislike of Fate/Stay Night and get me to watch it. At any rate I will certainly perk up at the mention of Urobuchi Gen’s name in future.

    ‘The Untold Story of Altair and Vega’ has been amazing through Penguindrum and I really admire both authors ^_^

    Regarding Penguindrum I will say (after just skimming the comments above) that if symbolism has to be analysed in depth to be effective, it’s probably not that great. I like symbol analysis, but I love any series where repeated motifs make instant, subtle connections without me having to think about why those things connect or put their meanings into words. Now that’s symbolism!

  14. I’ll be honest and to-the-point: Penguindrum is great and all in a FABULOUS MAX kind of way, but it won’t be considered as one of my favorites of all time. It’s theatrically fun and all, but it’s not my kind of show frankly because it’s not my style.

    The sheer symbolism is another thing: I’m okay with it, but too much of it is not good for me. And for this show, there is a lot of it. I like it if symbolism simply accompanies literal/direct narrative. Sometimes, I feel that symbolism is a tad too much here, almost to the point that the story itself is about symbolism and that would confuse the crap outta me.

    I have a rough idea on what to grade for this show, now that it’s coming to a close. As to what I feel for it, I don’t hate it but I don’t love it either. Perhaps I’m of a minority here…

  15. I don’t know about you but that Ikuhara Comic cracks me up every time I see it. I consider this a good year in general just because I’ve started to learn and remember the names and studios of shows I enjoy.

  16. I liked the Yamakan when he just spoke.
    When he spoke, and said he would do happen and gave me fractal … that was one of the largest “senvergonhices” I’ve ever seen, I came to feel myself offended.

    At the end of each episode I thought … “ok, it’s bad, but that’s okay”, until I remember the promises he made.
    This guy is just an idiot. The world is full of idiots, but at least the majority is silent without willing to appear.
    It is very easy to talk about the problems of anime vaguely, without present solutions, and worse, contribute to the existence of all these problems.

  17. Anyone can be a critic but for Yamakan (unfortunately) he was also the critic and a writer.

    In that situation I’m afraid the bold talk had to be backed up by action.

    Failing to act left him open to mockery.

    The vitriol could have been toned down.

    But he did make himself an acceptable target of satire and humour for his attempt to be the Superman of Quality, Characterisation and the Anime Way.

  18. ah penguindrum, it’s been such a long time since we have someone who was able to put together comedy, seriousness, symbolism, and an overall theme to an anime without screwing up horrendously. still having a bitch of the time figuring out the theme of it all, but you know it’s there. kate beaton is an awesome comic artist as well.

  19. […] Anime Person of the Year 2011? From that madman Ikuhara, to that madlikeable Urobuchi to that madcrazy Yamakan (Yamamoto), to those madtalented Vucub and AJ, Sorrow-Kun gives us something to think about as the year winds down… […]

  20. You forgot Mari Okada.

  21. […] Anime Person of the Year 2011? From that madman Ikuhara, to that madlikeable Urobuchi to that madcrazy Yamakan (Yamamoto), to those madtalented Vucub and AJ, Sorrow-Kun gives us something to think about as the year winds down… […]

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