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.
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.
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.
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?