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 (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 (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 (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?
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 (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 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 (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 (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.