Top Ten Anime DVDs of 2004
There was a lot of good anime released last year, and it was hard whittling the list down to just ten candidates. We felt obligated to eliminate re-issues from the list. Even though there were some great discs that received special treatment or season sets, we didn’t want to push deserving new series off the list just so we could include an old favorite. We ended up with a list that really encompases most of the various styles that anime has to offer. Whether you like action, comedy or more cerebral shows, the anime on this list has something to offer for everyone.
Without further ado, here are the Top Ten Anime releases, as seen by the DVDTalk anime reviewers (In no particular order):
Paranoia Agent - On DVD, the first volume of Satoshi Kon’s first TV series was one of the best anime had to offer in 2004. Pick a descriptor: Dramatic, suspenseful, frightening… Paranoia Agent deserved the DVDTalk Collector Series nod. A young boy on roller skates wielding a golden metal bat is terrorizing people on the streets of Tokyo. But these people are not victims of random acts of violence, and in fact may have been getting just what they needed. Beautifully animated, thoughtful, and made of equal parts style and substance, Paranoia Agent is both a detective drama and character study, and isn’t something just for anime fans to enjoy. (Review and synopsis by Chris Tribbey, alternate review by John Sinnott)
Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex - With outstanding production values, fantastic storytelling, and (arguably) the most recognized title in anime, Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex has quickly turned into a very popular TV series. Based on the 1996 hit movie, GITS TV follows the same characters from Ghost in the Shell, in a futuristic world where the lines between humanity and machines have been nearly erased. Major Kusunagi and her right-hand man Batou lead their anti-terrorism team in the hunt for The Laughing Man, the baddest cyberterrorist around. Mixed with Complex episodes of the central story are Standalone tales, which range from horrific to endearing. Through all this, the Major is coming to terms with her cybernetic body, and her all too-human mind. With an excellent soundtrack and a whole lot of action, Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex is one of the most entertaining anime series of 2004-2005. (Synopsis by Chris Tribbey. Read the reviews of volumes one, two, and three.)
Witch Hunter Robin - Witch Hunter Robin is one of those series that appears to be one thing but upon calm reflection, ends up being something altogether different. On the surface, it's a series about people with supernatural powers that either hunt, or are hunted, by one another as the government tries to get a grip on the growing potential such humans have for destruction. If you scratch the surface though, the themes make for an allegory about racial prejudice written with a lot of care. Enjoy it on whatever level you choose but it's one show that transcends the genre by combining superior writing, excellent music, and a razor sharp attitude towards human nature. While the series started in 2003, most of it was released in 2004; allowing us to bend the rules just enough to let it win a spot on this year's list. (Synopsis by Don Houston. Reviews of volumes one, two, three, and four.)
Kino's Journey - Kino's Journey was a so-called "sleeper" hit for me in 2004 as it had an offbeat way of telling stories about the human condition as seen through the eyes of an impartial observer, that only gets involved when it suits her. Set in the future, mankind has reverted to living in a series of uncharted countries that have no means of communication with one another. Travelers risk the dangers of the road in order to satisfy their curiousity, often coming across situations where misunderstandings endanger them and those they meet. The way Kino's Journey relies so heavily on the writing of the show rather than the visuals (although they are done in a graphically pleasing manner too), makes the cultural gaps between the original Japanese and American disappear in while getting various messages across to the viewer.
(Synopsis by Don Houston. Reviews of volumes one, two, and three.)
RahXephon: The Motion Picture - This is a movie that edits down the entire 26 episodes of the series in order to take the very essence of the magical series about a reluctant young man forced to face his destiny as the pilot of a super powerful giant robot of alien origin. Ayato comes off as more forceful in the movie version as some of the secondary characters are taken out to focus on the major events and themes, culminating in a movie that utilizes all aspects of the production process to make a superior effort. (Synopsis by Don Houston.)
R.O.D. the TV – Read or Die, the TV is a fun, enjoyable show. The story revolves around three sisters who are all Paper Masters, they can shape everyday paper in fantastic ways and cause it to do incredible things. The series isn’t just a super-hero show though. There is a good amount of humor, some action, and very good dramatic moments too. Add to that a couple of interesting mysteries that are slowly revealed over the course of the program, and you have a great show. (Synopsis by John Sinnott. Reviews of Volumes one, two, and three.)
Happy Lesson – I’m a sucker for harem shows; light comedies where one guy ends up living with five or six women. This one has a little twist in that the women who move in with poor Chitose, an orphan, are all his teachers from school. Often laugh-out-loud funny, this short series (three volumes plus one OVA disc) was one of the series that I most looked forward to this past year. (Synopsis by John Sinnott. Reviews of Volumes one, two and three, and the OVA series.)
Azumanga Daioh - This enjoyable show is an oddity among anime. It isn’t based on a continuing manga story like most anime adaptations are, but rather a four-panel humor strip. Fitting with its origins, each show is broken up into four short stories that are often related, but always funny. It was if they pared a half hour show just down to the funny bits, and included only those. The story concerns a young prodigy who gets advanced to high school at a young age, and the friends she makes in her new school. J. C. Staff, the same people responsible for Excel Saga and Puni Puni Poemy, did the animation, and were able to add just the right amount of whimsy to the character designs to make the show funny, but not a parody of itself. (Synopsis by John Sinnott. Read the reviews of the entire series: Volume one, two, three, four, five and six.)
Memories - Based on the work of Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, this collection of three shorts ranged from moving to hilarious. Magnetic Rose (directed by the Animatrix’s Kouji Morimoto) is a chilling tale of love that won’t die, even in the coldness of space. At 40 minutes, this was the longest of the three tales, and is widely held as the best part of Memories; Stink Bomb (done by Wolf’s Rain director Tensai Okamura) is a funny, frantic story where a medical researcher takes a pill he shouldn’t have. The resulting stench kills everything in his path, and he has no idea he’s the reason Tokyo’s about to fall. Cannon Fodder (done by Otomo himself) is a day-in-the-life look at a society built on war. With heavy tones of 1984, this short was dark and had a message to deliver: life centered on conflict is really no life at all. (Synopsis by Chris Tribbey, read the review by John Wallis)
Dead Leaves –This is going to be one of those DVDs that you are either going to love or hate. Easily the most bizarre title released last year, this very odd and violent show that has a unique style all its own. There really isn’t much of a plot; The meager story is only an excuse to get to more action. The show begins with an extravagant opening and keeps on going getting more outlandish and weird as it goes on. The violence is very over the top, with people’s eye’s flying out of their skulls as they are being squashed and every bullet shot seems to cause the target to explode. This violence actually was the source of much of the humor in the show, and worked very well. If you are looking for something different, this is the disc for you. (Synopsis by John Sinnott)
complied by John Sinnott, Don Houston, and Chris Tribbey