Charles Solomon — the animation historian and critic as well as the author of numerous books in the field (among them this year’s “The Art of ‘Toy Story 3‘ “) will be writing more often for Hero Complex. Here, he weighs in on the best anime releases of 2010. Some of those releases “are either remakes or sequels,” Solomon notes, “but they improve on the originals, demonstrating the imagination and ongoing vitality of the Japanese animation industry.”
1. “Evangelion: 1.11 You Are Not Alone”: Hideaki Anno’s watershed series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” mixed giant cyborgs, apocalyptic Christian symbols and Jungian psychology with unmatched panache. Anno is “rebuilding” his epic as he initially envisioned it in four feature films, free of technological and budgetary constraints. When reluctant hero Shinji Ikari battles Ramiel, the geometric blue Angel, the combination of drawn and CG animation eclipses the earlier version. A must-have for anime fans.
2. “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”: Edward and Alphonse Elric violated the laws of alchemy when they tried to bring their mother back from the dead — and paid a terrible price: Ed lost his left leg; Al nearly died; Edward sacrificed his right arm to preserve his brother’s soul in an empty suit of armor. His robotic prostheses earned Ed the nickname “Fullmetal.” One of the biggest hits of the new century, “Fullmetal Alchemist” has been remade to follow to Hiromu Arakawa’s original manga more closely. Although the series has been expanded to 63 episodes from 51, many subplots have been trimmed or eliminated, and the results pack even more of an emotional and visual wallop than the much-loved original.
3. “Naruto: Shippuden”: One of the most eagerly anticipated releases of recent years, “Naruto: Shippuden” is the follow-up to the international hit “Naruto.” Two and a half years have passed since the first series ended. Ninja-in-training Naruto Uzumaki has learned new skills and matured a little, but he remains the exuberant, ramen-gulping knucklehead audiences love. He needs those skills to free his friend Sasuke from the Akatsuki, an evil cabal seeking to rule the Ninja world by controlling nine powerful demons.
4. “Eden of the East”: Akira Takizawa, the hero of “Eden of the East,” wakes up in front of the White House, stripped of his memories and his clothes: All he has is a gun and a cel phone that delivers anything he requests. Writer-director Kenji Kamiyama blends adventure, mystery and comedy into an exciting, off-the-wall fantasy. Although it’s rollicking good fun, “Eden of the East” reflects the economic and psychological malaise of contemporary Japan.
5. “Oh! Edo Rocket: Season 1, Part 1″: Part Jules Verne-esque adventure and part knock-about farce, “Oh! Edo Rocket” is set in a fictionalized Tokyo whose inhabitants chafe at the Shogun’s restriction on popular amusements, including fireworks. Rambunctious young pyrotechnician Seikichi spends most of his time evading those laws — until he meets a mysterious young woman who asks him to build a skyrocket that can fly to the moon.
6. “Soul Eater: Part 1″ : The dark comedy-fantasy “Soul Eater” takes place at the Death Weapon Meister Academy, a school run by the Grim Reaper to create pairs of fighters, one of whom transforms into a weapon wielded by his “Meister” partner. The striking geometrized designs lend visual excitement to the freewheeling silliness and supernatural adventures.
7. “Trigun: The Complete Series Box Set”: Everyone’s pursuing Vash the Stampede, a.k.a “the humanoid typhoon,” but who and what is he? Bounty hunters want the 60,000,000,000 Double Dollars on his head. People in trouble want his help. Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson want to bring him under control: He’s a walking disaster who has cost the Bernardelli Insurance Society a fortune. One of the best-loved series of the ’90s, “Trigun” has lost none of its appeal in the intervening years.
8. “Dragon Ball Z Kai”: In a way, Akira Toriyama’s “Dragon Ball Z” has been the cartoon equivalent of a gateway drug — it’s hooked millions of boys on anime. But the adventures of Goku, Gohan and the Z-Fighters often ramble aimlessly. For “Dragon Ball Z Kai,” the 291-episode saga has been re-cut to 99 episodes, eliminating subplots and streamlining the storyline. The visuals have been reformatted for wider screens, and the dialogue re-recorded in a better translation. The accelerated pace energizes “Kai,” making it funnier and more exciting than the original.
9. “Piano: Melody of a Young Girl’s Heart”: Unlike the snide heroines in many American cartoons, Miu Nomura is a shy junior high student whose life revolves around music. When she meets handsome track star Takahashi, her attraction to him brings new spirit to her playing. “Piano” suggests a sort of anime verité: small, realistic adventures aimed at a young female audience.
10. “The Secret of Kells”: Dubbed “Irish anime” by some observers, “The Secret of Kells” offers stylized designs, sumptuous backgrounds and an exciting story that will appeal to anime fans. Twelve-year-old Brendan lives at the monastery of Kells, guarded by its walls and under the stern eye of Abbot Cellach. When Brother Aidan arrives bearing a wondrously beautiful but unfinished manuscript, Brendan realizes he wants to become an illuminator and complete it. His determination wins the friendship of Aisling, a silver-haired wood fairy, and enables him to defeat the serpentine god, Crom Cruach.
– Charles Solomon
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