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'09 Anime & Manga I Though Would Suck (But Didn't)

Like the title says...


Sure, I could sit here and give you a top-10 list of what were probably my favorites for the year, but look: I'm fickle. My top 10 list for 2009 today would be a totally different one than if I did it tomorrow. Not to mention, that's what everyone does. So instead, I'm going to give you a few..quirkier lists.
 
Today's is: '09 Anime & Manga I Thought Would Suck (But Didn't). So, these are anime and manga (and movies) that I thought were going to completely and utterly blow that turned out to be rather charming...or at least not suck as much as I thought they would.
 

'09 Anime & Manga I Thought Would Suck (But Didn't)

 Hanasakeru Seishounen
 Hanasakeru Seishounen
1. Hanasakeru Seishounen (Crunchyroll; Spring 2009)
I sat down to watch the first episode of this shoujo reverse-harem series thinking: blech. One girl, a bunch of pretty boys, and it doesn't look like a comedy-- this is gonna be one of those awful fantasy-fulfillment kind of shows, like Neo Angelique or something along those lines. The first episode didn't do a lot to change my mind...at the time, I thought the animation was mediocre, and that Kajika looked like the kind of female character who exists only to fix everyone else's problems with her own amazing charm; that she'd go through and "fix" each of the young men in the show, getting past their various issues and reaching into their hearts to purify them, or some such nonsense.

My fears weren't totally unjustified, and yet I found myself continuing to watch, even now. Kajika may be a bit of what we call a "mary sue," a "perfect" girl, but the world around her is given remarkable depth. The drama isn't Kajika's quest to improve the lives of attractive, wealthy young men, but rather a political drama starring greed, obsession, and evangelism in ways that resonate rather well, albeit in a rather simplified manner.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying Hanasakeru Seishounen...even with the pretty boys and Kajika's remarkable good luck.
 
 Itazura na Kiss
 Itazura na Kiss
2. Itazura na Kiss (Digital Manga Publishing)
I just reviewed this title recently, so I don't think I'll need to go too in-depth here, but I was surprised by how very much I wanted the next volume of this series. After the first chapter or two I wasn't feeling so great about the manga. Kotoko can't do anything right no matter how hard she works, and even when she is on the right path someone tries to scheme to knock her off of it or just vex her. All she has is the quintessential trait all such girls do in manga, from Sailor Moon's lead to Fushigi Yuugi's to many, many others: a heart of gold. But unlike most of those series, you rarely see a true shining moment.

And yet, there I was at the end of volume one, itching to read more. So I have to give Itazura credit: it draws you in. You want to see that final moment when Kotoko really does succeed, hands-down.

 Saki
 Saki
3. Saki (Crunchyroll; Spring 2009)
Most of you guys know this story! To me, Saki looked like nothing more than a plethora of moebait, as though the whole show was designed to dominate the SaiMoe tournament-- which it did for the most part, although its top characters wound up eliminated from the final round in the end.

But I thought, surely if it's THAT popular, there has to be something to it, right? And I began showing the episodes here, via Crunchyroll. And sure enough, the characters-- while based primarily on a single archetype to define them --proved energetic, lively, and in some cases they even had remarkable depth (for this kind of show). On top of that, the drama of the mahjong itself was much more interesting to me than I expected, and that's without having a single iota of the game explained to me (until very, very late on, when John wrote a feature on it).

To this day, my only big complaint is Floppy Tits, who I found occasionally distracting. But, come on, if my only complaint is that one character's boobs were too big, that's not too bad, is it?
 
 Dragonball Evolution
 Dragonball Evolution
4. Dragon Ball Evolution (20th Century Fox)
Now, don't jump all over my case just yet-- I'm not calling this a "good" movie. But I definitely went in expecting to vomit all over my companions, and left actually feeling amused. So it definitely didn't suck as bad as I thought it would.

It's completely unintelligent, and the characters are pretty much nothing like their manga counterparts. As an adaptation, it's pretty clearly a failure. But it is more watchable than most people will tell you, and bear in mind that most of those detractors didn't actually go see the movie anyway.

Sasameki Koto
Sasameki Koto
5. Sasameki Koto (Crunchyroll; Fall 2009)
After finding Aoi Hana's first episode pretty bland, I didn't expect to be much more interested in Sasameki Koto...but once again, I was surprised. I think the reason I tend to not get into the yuri anime I see-- most notably MariMite --is that there's usually a certain...elegance to the drama, they're somewhat light and airy feeling. But Sasameki Koto feels strongly grounded in a real world setting with very real characters with myriad wants and desires and foibles. (This is not to knock the other yuri series mentioned; they simply don't do it for me.)

Sasameki Koto's other great strength, to my mind, is the balance of comedy-- the kind of comedy you'd see in ANY shoujo romance, character-based comedy with the occasional situational (like when everyone starts cooking) --and the drama, which at least as of episode six or so hasn't been too overblown or melodramatic. Sure, it's a soap opera, but I find it much more compelling than some others of its type.

 Gurren Lagann
 Gurren Lagann
5. Gurren Lagann the Manga (Bandai Entertainment)
After the first volume, and my first date, I really didn't think that the Gurren Lagann manga would have much to offer anyone who had already watched the series. After all, so much of the series was about these really dynamic, vivid battle sequences-- how could a manga one-up that?

But when I'd checked out volumes 2 or 3, I found my answer: it didn't need to. Instead the manga fits neatly side-by-side to the anime, adding just enough little touches-- foreshadowing to later events, additional dialogue, and some truly hilarious omake 4koma panels --to be worth buying, if you're a hardcore Gurren Lagann fan in need of a new fix.

 Astro Boy
 Astro Boy
6. Astro Boy (Imagi Studios)
I know, I know, I was always really perky and excited about the movie prior to its coming out, but I have to say there was a part of me that thought it was going to turn out to be a really generic kiddie flick. And on some level, it was-- it was no Finding Nemo, to be sure.

But Astro Boy surprised me with the care that was taken to including themes near and dear to Tezuka's heart aside from the main one about robots-- attention was paid particularly to the environment, for example. The politics were perhaps a bit heavy-handed, especially if you sit there and really look for it, but all in all I really enjoyed the movie, especially the obvious and less-obvious references to Tezuka's life and works.

 Rinne
 Rinne
7. Rinne (VIZ Media)
Okay, I never thought Rinne would outright suck-- Takahashi's too consistent for me to think that --but after the excessively drawn-out romantic action-drama of InuYasha, I wasn't especially looking forward to another supernatural series, especially with the lead looking like a Kagome twin.

But Takahashi totally pulled it off again. She gave us a setting that's just a slight skew of our own, characters who start out defined primarily by a single trait-- but never the trait you expect, and they eventually start to gain depth --and of course, her trademark mix of slapstick humor and witty one-liners. So far it's considerably more Ranma-style Takahashi than InuYasha-style, and I find myself looking forward to VIZ's weekly online releases quite a bit.
 

The end!

But make sure you come back for my next list: 2009 Series I Thought Would Rock (But Sucked). And of course, share your own thoughts on the above series, and any others that surprised you this year.
John_Martoneon Dec. 13, 2009 at 11:42 a.m.
Hmm. Interesting list. I don't want to just jump on the show's we've shown here, but I also was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Skip Beat, which was '09 I believe.
giaon Dec. 13, 2009 at 11:51 a.m.
@John_Martone: The anime came out in '08, actually, but we watched it here in '09, so you're more than welcome to it.
Dream moderator is online on Dec. 13, 2009 at 11:59 a.m.
@gia: I couldn't survive my watch of Sasameki Koto. Much as I don't mind yuri titles like Marimite and Blue Drop, Sasameki Koto's greater focus on comedy such as the addition of a cross-dressing male character and Ushio's always happy-go-lucky personality made me ditch the show after 3 episodes. Aoi Hana's cardboard cutout characters left a worst impression on me than Sasameki Koto where I ditched it after 2 episodes.
giaon Dec. 13, 2009 at 12:01 p.m.
@Dream: I admit I haven't kept up on Sasameki Koto too thoroughly, but given how much DRAMA! there can be in yuri titles, I like seeing the comedy, personally.
ThePsychoGameron Dec. 13, 2009 at 12:05 p.m.
I thought they all would suck, and all of those are still in that category, for now at least
crusader8463on Dec. 13, 2009 at 2:02 p.m.
 I'm sorry gia, normally I'm all for everyone has the right to their own opinion but saying that "Dragonball: Evolution" is anything but a movie designed to aid in the torture of prisons at Guantanamo bay is just wrong. There is no acceptable way to justify to anyone that they should watch that movie unless secretly your actually a: 
 
A) A torturer.
B) A dominatrix talking to her slave.
C) Talking to a masochist.
D) Hate whomever your talking to.
E) Some demon that feeds on the pain and anguish of us mere mortals.
 
So if your any of those by all means recommend the movie to people, other wise i think it is your solemn duty given your position of power to rewrite that section of the article. Just saying, that movie needs a PSA and a suicide coach to come with it before any dares to sit down and watch the whole thing.
 
If the cast of the movie is actualy holding a gun to your head as you write this and can not get away, at least recommend the Giantbomb Quick look. I don't know how they did it, but they somehow made it an even slightly bearable viewing experience.
 
FLStyleon Dec. 13, 2009 at 2:37 p.m.
I still refuse to watch Dragonball: Evolution but I thank you Gia for introducing me to Saki and Skip Beat! Here's to another year of anime/manga goodness.
 
@crusader8463 said:

"  I'm sorry gia, normally I'm all for everyone has the right to their own opinion but saying that "Dragonball: Evolution" is anything but a movie designed to aid in the torture of prisons at Guantanamo bay is just wrong. There is no acceptable way to justify to anyone that they should watch that movie unless secretly your actually a: 
 
A) A torturer.
B) A dominatrix talking to her slave.
C) Talking to a masochist.
D) Hate whomever your talking to.
E) Some demon that feeds on the pain and anguish of us mere mortals.
 
So if your any of those by all means recommend the movie to people, other wise i think it is your solemn duty given your position of power to rewrite that section of the article. Just saying, that movie needs a PSA and a suicide coach to come with it before any dares to sit down and watch the whole thing.
 
If the cast of the movie is actualy holding a gun to your head as you write this and can not get away, at least recommend the Giantbomb Quick look. I don't know how they did it, but they somehow made it an even slightly bearable viewing experience.
 

"
That's really weird, I just re-watched that last night, it's one of the best.
Dream moderator is online on Dec. 13, 2009 at 2:44 p.m.
Still not really the best year for me. Same goes for 2008. The past couple years, finding good anime is like finding a "diamond in the rough" while it was quite easy to find what would be good, subpar or bad from 2007 and earlier.
giaon Dec. 13, 2009 at 8:43 p.m.
@Dream: Definitely not the best year. Just wait until the next list >_<
PenguinDuston Dec. 13, 2009 at 11:13 p.m.
@crusader8463:   
 
The question is, if the scenario you described above did occur and the torturing dominatrix demon-girl let you choose your own "poison" from two choices, would you pick Dragon Ball: Evolution over Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li?  Here's a video I found in case you are having trouble deciding. ;-)
yuetheguardianon Dec. 14, 2009 at 3:38 a.m.
my series that surprised me was Kampfer for a gender bender show I thought thjat characters were actually very well done and the joke genuinely funny, I will admit I am behind and need to catch up (stupid vacation) while there are some slightly perverted jokes none of them feel out of place, oh and I will never look at bloody bears the same again.
constanzadellarosaon Dec. 14, 2009 at 10:10 a.m.
Rinne took me by surprise too. The characters are very different from her last work thankfully. 
 
@yuetheguardian: same happened to me with it. When I saw it I just thought 'This is Ikkitousen with a gender bender twist'. I was wrong for good. Now those creepy stuffed animals and seriously bipolar girls are my weekly dose of  LOL.
N15PCAon Dec. 14, 2009 at 10:37 a.m.

Dec. 14, 2009
I really like Sasameki Koto and Aoi Hana has well. 
It think it's really funny that Sumika older brothers all look like Ryu from Street Fighter. 
To me Sasameki Koto might be my favorite anime of the year.  I have to look back at this year anime and really think about it.    
 
I also like the show Taisho Yakyuu Musume.  What other show in anime is about girls baseball in the 1910's in Japan.  
 
I been thinking about watching Sora No Manimani.  Has anyone else seen it.  Is it any good.   
   
Sigueon Dec. 15, 2009 at 11:24 a.m.
Basquash was surprisingly awesome. They knew how ridiculous and stupid the entire concept was and they ran with it, creating this amazing, bizarre experience that I find a little difficult to describe. The concept, the plot, everything about the show is downright ridiculous, but it takes itself very seriously. Despite a slump in the later half of the show, it finished on a bang and was overall a very enjoyable show.
sunfloweron Dec. 18, 2009 at 8:34 a.m.
I was really surprised by Itazura na Kiss also.  I watched the anime, and at first it was like watching a relationship from the 1950s or something, where women are inept clutzes and men save them from themselves.  But the characters and relationship develop in such a way that, well, makes them more real even if they still reside within that framework.  The only thing that makes me sad about the manga is that the mangaka never got to write the end.  She told her husband in detail how she wanted it to end before she died, and he allowed the anime to take her notes and finish the story, so at least there's an ending out there.  But be prepared that she never got a chance to finish the manga. :(
 
It's kind of heartbreaking, that.  You could feel the love what her husband did for her and her work and her fans.
Black_Roseon Dec. 18, 2009 at 11:19 p.m.
The biggest surprise to me this year was 11 Eyes. I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I have so far. 

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