2001 follows up the trend from 2000 with really terribly animated television series. The fact that Scryed is probably the best looking TV anime of the year is a really damning statement. The switch-over to full digital animation really wasn’t serving them well. I’m sure there must have been some other factors for this too. Over-stretching budgets post-Evangelion leading to a bomb around 1998/99 is another theory I’ve seen thrown around. Whatever the reason, standard television anime in 2001 look really bad and there’s very few out there worth remembering. Thankfully the movie arena picks up the slack, and there are some truly inspired short TV series.
Right, preamble over, onto my personal top 10 anime of 2001.
10: Lupin III Alcatraz Connection
After watching Castle of Cagliostro and deciding that I really like this whole Lupin III thing, I watched a whole load more Lupin III movies and specials. I discovered that perhaps I wasn’t so keen on the franchise after all. Alcatraz Connection is a nice exception to this though. It follows the usual Lupin III formula. Lupin steals something, gets fucked over by Fujiko, Goemon cuts things way too big for him, Jigen does absolutely fuck all. But it’s done extremely well here and is a massive barrel of fun. The scene that stands out for me is a high speed chase sequence involving a tram careering down a very hilly city. It’s also weirdly violent, with characters dying with alarming regularity. Probably my second favourite Lupin III thing after Cagliostro, although again that’s not as high a praise as it sounds.
9: Spirited Away
About average for Miyazaki movies in my opinion, mainly because the story seems to fall apart towards the end. I’m still not entirely sure how all the various pieces of this movie were supposed to fit together into a cohesive narrative. That said, it really is a wonderfully directed and incredibly fun movie. Chihiro’s first visit into that strange world is magical in how each scene is presented. It’s little things that make it work, such as timing the music with her steps. Those are the moments where this movie shines. There’s so little talking that it feels like a section of Fantasia. Again, not my favourite Miyazaki, but I guess it won that Academy Award for a reason.
8: Cowboy Bebop Movie
The main reason this isn’t higher is because the movie is just an extended episode of the TV series. The TV series is fantastic, and if that aired in 2001 would be ranked #1 on this list, but it’s hard to get as enthusiastic for a single episode. It doesn’t feel like a movie and the villain is one of those self-important deep voiced pseudo philosophers (although I suppose that accurately describes the villain of the TV series too). But an episode of Cowboy Bebop is still better than most anime out there. The part I particularly love is Spike being led through the North-African town, because the experience with his ‘vase that is just right for me’ captures that experience perfectly.
7: Banner of the Stars II
I can imagine the staff at Sunrise reading the novels and then burying their faces in their hands when they realised the third season would have only one episode in which Jinto and Lafiel were actually together. It’s really a miracle this season ended up any good at all. It tells a fine high-concept sci-fi story that’s less about Jinto and more about this society they’ve beamed down on. Ultimately, the writing in this franchise is good enough to make any sci-fi story well worth watching. It’s not quite the send off I was hoping Jinto and Lafiel to have, and it doesn’t hold a candle to Crest of the Stars, but a fine story nevertheless.
Noir could have had half the show cut out and it would be way better. It has this weird thing where nobody ever bleeds, even though at least 100 people must have been shot in the chest during the course of that show. Yes, Noir did have more than its fair share of problems. But what keeps me coming back is it remains the one show where I found a female duo to be truly fascinating and interesting to watch. That sounds ridiculous when I write it, but it’s true. Most female duos seem to be the type where one is dumb but insists on being friends while the other goes “gosh, she’s so genki she’s won me over”, which isn’t particularly engaging. There are plenty of female/male duos I love, and male/male duos. But two female characters whose relationship has complexity and depth that evolves throughout the show in an interesting and engaging manner? The only one I’ve seen is Noir. Which is a pretty damning statement on the rest of anime (or maybe I’m just sexist), but that above all is what makes Noir stand out for me.
Re-watching Hare+Guu dropped it down in my estimation a fair bit. I remembered it as being an utterly hilarious yet strangely heart-warming with a remarkably mature and sympathetic approach to serious issues like single mothers and youth pregnancy. The rewatch confirmed that the second part of my original impression remains true. It’s a massive achievement to have a comedy series so utterly bonkers as Hare+Guu to be able to give these serious subjects the respect they deserve while still keeping the tone humorous It speaks to the ability comedy has, something I feel particularly strongly about. The first part though about it being utterly hilarious…yeah, that’s not quite the case. Still incredibly funny at parts, but it has too much yelling and could really do with being 13 episodes rather than 26.
4: Popee the Performer
Popee is disturbing. It takes the aesthetic and tone of a toddlers TV show with the slightly creepy tone they sometimes have, and ramps it up to create something truly terrifying. It uses that same cartoon logic and exaggerated actions and facial expressions to create visions of nightmares and pure horror, all while keeping a wacky tone with jolly music. At times its physical humour can be laugh out loud funny, but just as often I’d screech in horror and shove the laptop away from me. It’s also a series that I’ve come back to twice already to try understand its particular brand of brilliance, and it’s then that you realise how deliberately crafted the experience is. I’m not sure how much I’d say I ‘like’ Popee, but I know the work of a genius when I see it. A disturbed genius, but a genius nevertheless.
Out of all the new anime I watched for this 2001 list, Kogepan was easily the best. It’s no more than 30 minutes long, has a very simplistic art style that makes everything look like it was drawn in crayon, and could easily be passed off as some show for kiddywinks. But kids wouldn’t be able to get all the DEEP THEMES in this story about a burned piece of bread. As by my interpretation, it’s a story about old age and how you feel envious of those young ‘uns with their energy and their youths, but on the flip side you have the benefits of respect and experience that makes you a valuable member of society. Kogepan is marvellous and everyone should watch it.
Yes yes I know, the story falls apart pretty quickly and ends up going nowhere. But fuck it, I don’t care because it’s so damn cool. I love its style, with the circular glasses and oversized hats. I love the English dub, with Integra Hellsing yelling in that wonderfully vicious British accent. I know most people prefer Hellsing Ultimate, but I say fuck that version and it’s wallowing in excess and fetishistic love of graphic violence to the point of ridiculous overkill. Hellsing has the cool frightening sexiness of danger, but it’s mostly implicit, and the actual moment where Alucard goes berserk is presented as being frightening and shatters our view of him being a cool dude. That, if anyone cares to ask, is why I think Hellsing rules and Hellsing Ultimate droolz.
1: Millennium Actress
The ‘best’ Satoshi Kon film. I may have a bigger soft spot for Tokyo Godfathers because its themes and emotion got to me more, but Millennium Actress is the best constructed and well-realised. It’s got this fantastic way of telling several stories at once without any of them getting in the way of each other. The way it manages to weave in the story of this actress with the 20th century history of Japan is great. Plus, even with the rather dark themes and incredible amounts of emotion it has, Millennium Actress never loses its sense of humour. The best anime of 2001 by quite a considerable distance. RIP Satoshi Kon.