While 2001 was a year where TV series still struggled to work with the digital animation switchover and the actual quality anime was left up to movies and weird experimental stuff, 2002 had the TV series finally get their shit together. The movie front was noticeably barren this year, with even Ghibli doing a movie equivalent of a Young Animator Training Project. The OVA market has finally sunk down into the dirt with only one or two titles seeping out. So the TV anime arena really needed to stop looking like arse, which they mostly achieved. OK there was still the occasional arse-lookalike such as Saikano (holy shit how the hell can anybody like that anime it is the worst and I mean the worst), but it seems animators finally got the knack. The list of anime I liked from this year still ended up rather thin on the ground, but it sets a nice groundwork for later years to up the ante.
10: Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
Gainax were still apparently reeling from the collective depression after Evangelion and continued their path towards increasingly absurd anime. Abenobashi is a rather neat piece of nonsense about two kids travelling across dimensions trying to get home. Each dimension is a parody of a certain genre of anime, but it also manages to keep an engaging story about the acceptance of loss going through each dimension leap. It’s an awful shame then that it went and ruined everything with the single worst ending in all of anime that single handedly destroys all of the development, ruins the entire story and renders the whole journey meaningless. It’s honestly a good anime, but that ending…goddamnit Gainax!
9: Macross Zero
Macross Zero is a prequel of sorts to the original TV series about a fighter pilot visiting a tropical island full of magical rock worshippers. It’s pretty typical Macross fodder with music having power and fighter jets and Itano Circuses up the hoohah. It’s absolutely gorgeously made, with even the CG looking respectable long before any other Japanese animation studio got CG looking right. That’s…unfortunately about all I have to say about Zero though. It’s fine. It’s entertaining enough. It’s a popcorn flick. But the depth never really grabbed me and the lore was all a bit silly, leaving it feeling oddly forgettable.
8: Hare Guu Deluxe
It’s more Hare Guu. It’s more of the same. More Guu endlessly torturing Hare and more of Hare yelling the whole time and more of a surprisingly heartfelt story about family and love and stuff like that. I’ve always liked how Hare Guu manages to work in that story in between its utterly bonkers regular proceedings. I don’t really see why this had to exist when the TV series ended on a great note, but we got to see a cute little baby so whatever my motherly instincts kicked in and gosh isn’t it adowabubble.
7: Lupin III: First Contact
I was hoping for First Contact to reveal some hidden depth and motivation behind the Lupin characters, seeing as it’s an origin story. There is absolutely none of that at all. It’s about as typical standard Lupin as you can get, which I found disappointing. However once I got over that, First Contact is actually a pretty good specimen of standard Lupin. It uses the key characters well. It’s paced in a way so that when Goemon starts doing the completely ridiculous stunts like chopping a bolt of lightning in two, it actually feels shocking and funny rather than the same ridiculous stuff happening throughout the movie. It’s no Cagliostro, but I’ve seen about 10 of these Lupin things now and none of them come anywhere near to Cagliostro. Still, this is one of the better ones.
Castle of Cagliostro > Alcatraz Connection > Eternal Mermaid > First Contact > Secret of Mamo > From Russia With Love > Fujitits > Bye Bye Liberty Crisis > Green vs Red
6: Azumanga Daioh
What was it that Azumanga had that the countless other 4-koma adaptations about a bunch of girls doing nothing didn’t have? Well, Azumanga had a brilliant sense of comic timing….well, that’s pretty much it. I think if people who hold up Azumanga as the show that ‘got it right’ went back to it today, they would be a little let down as I was. Azumanga didn’t hold up to the rewatch as well as I was hoping. That said, it can still be hilarious, particularly whenever it goes into the surreal. Plus somewhere along the line its narrative about the wonders of high school and friendship and growing up did manage to penetrate my cold dead heart and I understood, at least in part, what it is other people see in these kinds of stories.
5: Tamala 2010: A Punk Cat in Space
Yeah bitches, putting this indie artsy pretentious movie over anime comedy classic Azumanga. Tamala has a similar story-telling style to something like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Shots linger on strange trippy imagery that can get into some truly disturbing territory, which contrast effectively with the cartoony aesthetic. It’s all a big commentary on capitalism and marketing icons. It’s not accidental that the main character looks a lot like Hello Kitty. It doesn’t all work, in particular a stupid 20 minute monologue from an old bloke sitting on a couch explaining the plot of the movie, but it’s one of those movies that mostly defies criticism because it’s so weird and out-there that it’s hard to quantify what it does that’s so gripping. I think it might mostly be down to the music.
4: The Cat Returns
Cat Returns was originally just supposed to be a project for young prospective Ghibli animators, but apparently the Ghibli higher-ups liked what they saw enough to make it into a full movie. And huzzah for them for allowing them to spread their wings, because Cat Returns is massive bags of fun. It’s the funniest movie Ghibli has made, with loads of neat visual gags. It manages to pack in a nice story about believing in yourself and haven’t confidence in who you are and your identity without ever losing its sense of humour. Plus it bypasses a load of problems I usually have with Ghibli films. In not taking itself entirely seriously, it means I’m able to laugh along with the silliness rather than having it drag me out of the story. It’s kind of a forgotten Ghibli title, which is a shame because it’s become one of my personal favourites.
3: Haibane Renmei
Haibane Renmei is not something I’d normally enjoy that much. It’s about a bunch of girls faffing about in some alternate purgatory-esque place doing not very much and occasionally getting angsty. That’s why its position here should really stress how perfect this thing is. It’s got a similar feel to older fairy tales before Disney got their hands on them and modernised them. There’s a creepy, almost tragic edge to this world they live in. So many details about the world are left open to interpretation as they focus on the character’s more personal journey, but they manage to pack in so much information that you want to scour the episodes to decipher the clues and make your own mind up what this world actually is. Also that opening episode with the wings sprouting is an image that will never leave me.
2: Full Metal Panic
I didn’t expect Full Metal Panic to hold up to a rewatch, but turns out I still totally enjoy goofy cold-war era paramilitary stories, especially when they include a whole load of silly anime stuff. You know, like the captain of a state of the art technologically advanced submarine being an albino teenage girl who commands her crew using her moe-ness as a weapon so the crew don’t want to let her down. Or that there’s giant robots, which we all know improves every anime. Full Metal Panic is one of the most anime anime out there, if you get me, and I unashamedly love it for that.
1: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
My favourite episode of Stand Alone Complex is the one where a bunch of characters we never met before or since sit in an internet chatroom and discuss the world they’re in and the apparent aim of this cyber terrorist The Laughing Man, simply because it pushed me that much harder to think hard about what was going on in this world. The extraordinary depth in constructing its story and characters in Stand Alone Complex is phenomenal. Watching the series was always an effort in intense concentration, but one which thoroughly rewarded you for every minute you paid attention. It’s the most in-depth complex political thriller and I love it for that, and this is coming from someone who honestly doesn’t really like the Tachikomas that much.