The Top Five Best Popular Anime of 2009

So what were the gems of this forgotten year?

Well you guys have waited for this list long enough. Sorry it took so long to come out. I tried working on a review that ultimately didn’t pan out, I had Anime North in Canada to go during the Memorial Day weekend, and I had a lot of work to deal with as soon as I got home. I suddenly got the urge to replay the Zero Escape games, and as much as I love them, Virtue’s Last Reward sure takes up a lot of time. I had the busiest A-kon in my entire life, and as fun as it was, it was also really draining. Plus I have my responsibilities with the Dallas Anime Meetup, which at the moment is facing some criticism that we desperately need to take into account in the near future. There’s not a lot going on in my life compared to most people, but that still doesn’t change the fact that my free time isn’t quite like it was a year or two ago.

Also, I might have gotten sucked into the world of K-pop as of recently. Yeah I know I’m really late on that front, but to be fair, so are a lot of my Dallas anime friends.

Still, it’s been a month since the worst list came out and I don’t want people to think I’m one of those haters who thought 2009 had no good anime to provide (or at least no good anime that wasn’t obscure hipster bait). It may be a fact that most of the anime that were popular then didn’t have much staying power, but they were still big hits that lots of people watched. And regardless of 2009’s reputation as a forgotten year, I still remember the anime I liked from then to this very day, and shouldn’t that be all that matters? Well okay, it’d be nice if some of these anime actually got blu-ray releases in the States, but let’s not derail this post from its intended purpose anymore than is necessary, okay?

Now most of you already know what’s going on here considering my list of all-time favorite anime hasn’t gone anywhere and the only stuff I’ve recently removed from it has been the Clannad movie (yeah it took a while for that film to stop being special to me didn’t it?) and The Wind Rises (still like the film, but I like other Ghibli movies and tales about achieving your dreams despite the costs more), neither of which came out in 2009. But I liked other anime as well. After all, I wouldn’t be able to make a top five list if I didn’t. I’m sure you’re anxious to see my selections and I’m definitely anxious to get to the point, so why hesitate? You’ve already waited long enough. Let’s count down the best popular anime of 2009, folks.

Does anyone still remember Ryukishi07?

He’s mostly palling around with his friends from Key these days and hasn’t released anything worth remembering in years, but back when I was a young anime fan, he was one of the biggest names in the visual novel industry. With ironic moe being what it is now, it’s easy to forget that he was one of the earliest pioneers for that direction, using standard visual novel setups as a gateway for some truly fucked up psychological horror with what’s considered by many to be his magnum opus: Higurashi – When They Cry. And while those games still achieve a reasonable level of fame thanks to multiple re-releases and cult followings, the same can’t really be said for the anime, mainly because now that we have so many options, a lot of us are realizing that it’s kind of shit.

Holy cow this animation is horrendous.

I mean no one back in 2006 thought the animation was good and the faces had been memed to death by the time I jumped on that series a year later, but nowadays the anime (and to a lesser extent the entire franchise) is seen as comparable to the Resident Evil series in that despite its popularity and the nostalgia factor, the story is badly written and the attempts to be scary are more tedious than anything. None of his anime adaptations since that show ended have been well-received, let alone had blu-ray releases in the West. And if I’m being honest, I think the guy has always been bad at writing in general. I checked out some of his manga and let’s just say that a Deadpool cosplayer trying to recreate scenes from Doki Doki Literature Club would have been more entertaining than sifting through that trash.

But just because something is horribly written doesn’t mean that it can’t be entertaining. During extremely rare occasions, when you do something horribly wrong, it can turn out horribly right. That’s pretty much the entire plot of The Producers. That’s how a good amount of Nicki Minaj songs come off as. And when it comes to Ryukishi07 adaptations, I personally think they’re at their best when they get in on the joke that is his story and dialogue.

Fifth Best: Umineko no Naku no Koro Ni (Deen)

Everything that dates Higurashi as of now is exactly the reason why Umineko is a thousand times better than every other attempt to translate Ryukishi07’s works into a non-interactive medium. Between the ghastly direction, ridiculous attempts to take itself seriously, and a cast of characters who would be cringey to watch if it wasn’t for how they constantly deny the existence of magic when it’s happening right in front of them on fifty different occasions, Umineko ends up becoming an insightful farce of the very genre it’s attempting to push forward.

The opening I’ve linked above best sums up what’s so entertaining about this series. Although completely ridiculous in terms of presentation, there’s a certain camp in regards to how these barmy-looking characters treat everything like an opera that makes the show more timeless than Higurashi’s pseudo-horror approach. It’s the same sort of ironic retro approach that makes Resident Evil 4 a real standout compared to the other entries in that series. Yes what’s happening on paper is shit, but what’s happening in practice is art that might have been too ahead of its time. The series was poorly received for its intended audience and now we’ll never get a western Blu-ray release of one man’s struggle to constantly maintain his stupidity so that the witches don’t kill him off for good.

…oh and that fucking idiot Ange is in this show!

Get off the screen you useless waste of space!

Even in manga form she’s an annoying piece of shit.

Oh my god, you’re the worst Ange. You’re the worst thing in existence!

Ange wasn’t enough to ruin the show for me, but she was bad enough to knock it down a lot lower than it would have been. She just doesn’t seem to understand that Umineko has no place for self-serious brats who belong in bad chick flicks as one-off extras.

If Ryukishi07 ever comes back into the limelight, hopefully he’ll have the self-awareness to fully realize his strength lies in the world of camp and not in the world of the one genre that anime will never be able to get right. Then maybe he’ll finally create a masterpiece that’s worth remembering for many years to come.

Twenty years later and Evangelion is still influencing anime.

It’s kind of hard to pinpoint what exactly stands out about this franchise compared to other big game changers in this medium, especially since Evangelion itself copied a ton of other products; but to this day, there are many anime trying to recapture what made it successful. And like most copycats, they’re still have trouble finding their own identity, reminding me too much of the better predecessor I could be watching instead (although good luck doing so legally).

I mean to be fair, a lot of them start out with an idea for a different direction, but eventually they borrow so much from Evangelion that they end up diluting their overall goal and end up getting thrashed on the Internet for it. As someone who’s been criticizing this medium for years now, I’ve come to realize the importance of making sure that every element of your story supports what you want to say in a reasonable manner, especially if you want to be respected in the long-term. Hell, the original Evangelion itself had a lot of fat that could have been cut, especially by modern standards. That’s pretty much the main reason why you’ll never see it on my personal all-time favorite anime list.

Although I have to admit, some entries in the franchise do tempt me.

Fourth Best: Evangelion 2.0 You Can Not Advance (Khara)

When it comes to refining what Evangelion created, I can’t think of a better example than the second entry in the Rebuild saga. It has many of the positives that gave the franchise the colossal reputation it has, whilst cutting out a lot of the elements that date the original series and integrating the evolutions anime as a medium has gone through since the late 90s in a way that feels natural whilst still being unmistakably Evangelion. While the other Rebuild films depend a little too much on knowing what the series is like in order to bolster the narrative, You Can (Not) Advance can easily be watched as a standalone film not too dissimilar to some of the best Hollywood sequels like Terminator 2 and Aliens.

As can be implied from the subtitle, this movie is about Shinji (and the rest of the characters for that matter) trying to turn his life around and becoming a better person, only for events far beyond his control to prevent that from ever happening. It’s a really cool twist on Evangelion’s original formula where most of the problems the characters faced came from their own damaged selves. And you don’t even need to know about what Evangelion is originally about to appreciate it because a lot of us can relate to life screwing with us despite our best attempts to better ourselves. The cast is a lot easier to like as a result, but at the end of the day, they’re still not destined for a happy future. And I really appreciate how Anno can make things easy for his audience whilst not sacrificing his unique vision.

I can’t say for sure what my overall opinion of the Rebuild series is on the whole because the final film has yet to be released as of this time of writing. But regardless if it sticks the landing or not, I think I’m going to like You Can (Not) Advance for a long time. The animation is great, the characters are great, the story is told well, and the mecha fights are awesome. If only more franchise films had the freedom to mess with the canon like this project did, maybe I’d actually be excited for the upcoming My Hero Academia movie.

Yeah, what was Bones’ track record when it came to their films again? Pretty sure it was very bad.

Third Best: Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood (Bones)

Not really much to say about this one given how everyone seems to like it. And for good reason, as it’s a good series. It starts off as this weird combination of slow and rushed admittedly, but once it gets past the material covered in the first anime, it pretty much fulfills everything most anime fans want from Japan’s cartoons in terms of visuals, story, character, action, romance, philosophy, and everything both casual fans and elitists can enjoy. I’m personally not big into “epic” anime like I used to be which is why it’s only #3, but that’s just my problem. A lot of people either have this or Bakemonogatari as their favorite anime series of the year, and I honestly can’t blame them.

Shame that Travis Willingham can’t do the Roy Mustang voice anymore though.

Seriously Travis, did all that time spent at Critical Role turn you into an old man or something?

But yeah, FMA: Brotherhood is good. Everyone likes it. I like it. Next anime.

Some of you are probably wondering how I decide if an anime is popular enough to spotlight on these lists. Well, I came up with three possible conditions of which each anime I recognize has to fulfill at least one: it has to have at least 35,000 votes on MAL, it has to have a score of 8.3 or higher on MAL, or it has to be a big hit in Japan (first volume sells over 5000 blurays, movies do well at box office, etc.). And because this next anime I’m going to spotlight was more of an underwatched critical darling that nobody really talks about anymore and you can’t even watch legally, I prayed that at least 35,000 MAL users recognized it so I could put it on here.

Second Best: Aoi Bungaku (Madhouse)

Thank you MAL. I guess even you can get it right sometimes.

You know how a lot of people worship Space Dandy as one of the most ambitious animation projects to come from Japan? This is the series that would ask Dandy to hold its beer. Not only is it also a series comprised of many talented directors getting together to create art, but said art is focused on bringing some of the most acclaimed pieces of Japanese literature to life. And let me tell you, I’ve read some of the original books, and these works have all won awards for very good reasons. The anime could have stood to be a little more faithful with the source material admittedly, but Aoi Bungaku still does a splendid job of enrapturing its audience with visually pleasing works that pack more story and thought-provoking philosophy in 1-4 episodes than most shows can accomplish in thirteen, as well as reminding me of what Madhouse used to be like before their career went the same path as Eminem’s.

To this day, I’m very sad that you can’t watch this show legally, let alone buy it on Blu-ray in the West. Apparently we’re allowed to remember Myself;Yourself exists, but not a show where the director of Ore Monogatari and the guy who brought Death Note to life collaborated with each other to entertain us. With such a great pedigree behind this project, you’re probably thinking to yourself that my number one anime must really be something to place Aoi Bungaku as only the second best. Well, yes and no. Keep in mind, I’m only a human whose every writing on this blog has always been 100% subjective.

But before we get into what my number one anime of the year is, here are a few honorable mentions that I don’t like all too much but have enough positives for me to at least namedrop.

Summer Wars (Madhouse)

This would have been in my top five if I was five years younger. Now that I’m older though, I can see the lack of strong storytelling underneath all of the big emotional moments. Still if you just want a fun popcorn movie, there’s definitely worse out there.

Natsume’s Book of Friends 2 (Brains Base)

I think out of all the Natsume seasons I’ve seen, this is my personal favorite. It just has the right mix of character development and emotional storytelling that marks the series at its best before it eventually got too repetitive to watch further.

Gurren Lagann: Lagann-hen (Gainax)

I admit to agreeing that this movie adaptation of the post-timeskip arc in Gurren Lagann is better than the series’ interpretation. Sure it’s a little dumb that everyone gets their own Lagann, but at least Nia gets to do something before she croaks in this version.

Astro Fighter Sunred 2 (AIC)

All hail General Vamp. The best super villain in all of fiction.

Redline (Madhouse)

Oh hey, it’s that one film that Madhouse pumped eight years worth of animation into to the point that they nearly became bankrupt. And then everyone loved the movie so much that they recuperated their losses easily. Wouldn’t I have looked a lot less stupid if I had put this on the top list instead of Umineko? Hahahaha…ha ha….haaaaaaa!

Mai Mai Miracle (Madhouse)

In the non-popular anime section of the runner-ups, I’d like to recognize the predecessor to In This Corner of the World as a film that’s simply…watchable. Well I’m sure the slice-of-life fans will love this anime at any rate.

Shin Mazinger Z (Bee Media x Code)

Given how many people are paying attention to Go Nagai now, I wonder how big this anime would have been if it had come out today? At the very least it deserves more recognition than most of the post-Gurren Lagann mecha anime.

Alright, that’s all I have. Let’s get to saying what the best popular anime of 2009 is.

…yep. Who didn’t see this coming?

The Best of The Year: Eden of the East (Production I.G.)

I’m kinda sad this show has gotten so backlashed these days after being one of the most popular and critically acclaimed anime of its time, because even with all of its faults and the passage of time, Eden of the East still contains everything I like about anime in one moderately complete package. Great production values, insightful commentary, decent humor, and a good love story to boot. Honestly, Eden of the East’s claim as the best popular anime of 2009 wasn’t very hard given the competition and Aoi Bungaku might be “objectively” better. But I’m not kidding when I say that binging all eleven episodes of this series was exhilarating when I first watched it and continues to be a fun ride with each subsequent revisit.

I loved this anime when I first saw it in 2011, two years after it came out and I had been spoiled on all of the major plot twists, and I still love it now. This is the kind of series that deserves to be held as a pioneer of what animation is able to accomplish. Not as a failed project that deserves to be swept under the rug alongside the majority of Hidive’s catalog. But to be fair, it’s not a series I want to see turned into another annoying trend, especially considering how bad the sequels themselves got, so maybe it’s a good thing Eden of the East has been delegated to cult status over the years. I mean as long as I like it and own the blu-rays, who cares right?

And with that, I’m done with looking back on this year. Feel free to comment below what your favorite popular anime are and look forward to some upcoming anime reviews now that the Spring season is almost over.

======================================================================

  • Man, getting screencaps from anime you can’t watch legally is a pain.
  • Frankly, 2009 was probably forgotten for a good reason now that I look on it more carefully.
  • Still going to review Darling on the Franxx, although I’ve got to admit my motivation has taken a hit given how everyone has ripped it apart as of late.
  • For those wondering why Cross Game isn’t on here, I don’t remember the thirteen episodes I’ve seen of it and I honestly don’t care.

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