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17 January 2009 @ 04:05 pm
Series I watched this year  
Somehow I tried to take advantage of the fact I had a lot of free time this year to watch a whole bunch of TV series and anime. I didn't actually review most of them, so I'll try to compile my impressions there.

The Awesome

Rome: A pretty excellent show all around, with gorgeous production value, a great effort in trying to have a more vivid and sensual view of the Antiquity and capture the alien mindframe of those times, especially regarding death, stellar acting and eventful episodes. This is pretty much win all round. I especially liked Octavian, as rather delightful adorkable magnificent bastard still growing up, Atia the monstrous yet sympathetic mother, Pullo, Niobe, Antony and, okay, basically everyone. I actually haven't finished watching it, having one or two episodes left, I suppose I didn't want it to be over >_>;;

Dexter: I watched the first two seasons last year (I think?). The first time I heard of Dexter, it was a friend reccing it to me as this show about a serial killer that was only killing bad people and my initial thought was eeek yet another American story about relishing in violence because it's only done to bad people while satisfying the ridiculous obsession with serial killers and I didn't want to touch it. Then I caught one episode on TV while I was staying at my parents' and I got hooked. Dexter's overall a very well done show, I think what makes it work is the tone of sarcastic comedy, outsider-looking-in tone that Dexter narrates with; and, yes, the fact that it's never actually apologetic of what Dexter does and regularly point out that he's not a hero and he's doing it because he likes killing people. The other thing that makes it work is the rest of the cast; I especially have a lot of fondness for Angel, Rita, Doakes and Laguerta (I'm actually a bit annoyed at Debra although it got better in the last season). The other thing I really like about the show is the setting, for some reason, I love how it uses Miami, the bits of Spanish and the migrant populations that live there.
Anyway after a brilliant first season, and an uneven, flawed second season, I thought the show was back in great form in its third season, thanks in great part to the amazing character of Miguel Prado. Had much fun watching it although I found the last episode a bit badly paced.

Hikaru no Go: Overall a good adaptation, if not always well paced and not going quite at the end of it. Sure the manga's better, but it's definitely worth watching. One of the best sport shounen ever, with great characterisation, clever storytelling and very compelling thematics.

Paranoia Agent: See review here. An excellent, creepy and occasionally funny mindfuck by Kon Satoshi about modern anxieties and the role of the pop culture worship of the cute in it.

Twelve Kingdoms: See review here. Modern girl transplanted to fantasy world for once done right, with some interesting world building and some kick ass female characters.

Otogi Zoushi: I'm a bit angry at myself for not having done a full fledged review for this one.
A story in two part, the first one taking place during the Heian era cast with legendary/historical characters pursuing an epic quest for the five magatama in order to heal the capital in a magical ritual. Minamoto no Hikaru cross dresses as her diseased brother Raiko to replace him in this quest, and meets one by one companions until she's got a full Five Man Band.
The second one takes place in modern age Tokyo, with the same characters in their current reincarnation, as Hikaru investigates various strange urban legend like phenomena searching for her brother who disappeared mysteriously one year ago.
This series is very well paced and plotted, with some very interesting ideas in the ways the two parts parallel each others. The characters are likeable and often well exploited for comedy. The two parts have a very different mood, but I liked both atmospheres a lot. I loved the visuals and animation in the first part which really managed to capture a classic Japanese drawing style to it, I didn't like the visual so much in the modern part. Thematically speaking, it does some very interesting stuff, first with friendship, and second with onmyoudo philosophies and Japanese folklore. Overall a great series that deserves to be better known.

Sarah Connor Chronicles: Probably the best SFF series on TV right now. Fast paced with great characters and acting and some intriguing storytelling, this is a great action show with an awesome handling of the aestheticism of fear. And then there's the female warrior characters, Sarah and Cameron mainly, but others as well. I love it.

Seirei no Moribito (or Guardian of the Sacred Spirit): In a fantasy world, Balsa, a spear-wielding woman bodyguard is hired by the mother of the young prince Chagum to protect him from the assassination attempt done on order of the King due to Chagum being possessed by a water spirit.
This anime nears perfection, whether it is on storytelling, characterisation, action sequences, animation and visuals or thematics, it has no weaknesses but that it can be a little bit slow paced at times, taking its time to introducing elements or just bit contemplative. One of the thing I loved most was the morality - no one is really a villain -, the interweaving of storylines about Balsa's past with their running away with Chagum, the elements of gender roles reversal, the thematic exploration of violence and of imperialistic rewriting of the History of a colonised people. The closest thing I'd want to compare it to is to Mononoke Hime, mostly for the lack of villains, and the tension between the spirit world and the human world and how to find a way for them to live together - although they are very different stories of course.
Balsa is a wonderful main character, a thirty year old woman who is a good fighter yet calm and quite clever. Shaman Torogai is one of the most wonderful old female mentor I've seen in a long time. Tanda the childhood friend healer is also awesome and I kinda have a crush on Shuga. Chagum himself is anything but an annoying brat, and his growing in the series is very well handled.
Seriously, everyone should watch this.

Avatar the Last Airbender: See reviews here. The last part of the third season concluded in an awesome way what was already a great season. It was fun, hilarious, epic, heart-warming, exciting and sweet. Seriously, try to watch this if you haven't yet.

Cowboy Bebop: I've watched this before, of course, but it was a very long time ago, and with a bootleg version for most episodes which had barely understandable subtitles, so I always meant to watch it again in better occasions. So I finally did. After having been disappointed in Samurai Shamploo I was a bit afraid that Cowboy Bebop wouldn't be as shiny as my glossy memories. Yet it was, and even better. One of the best Noir Space Opera series there is (it stands the comparison very well to shows like Firefly and Farscape). With tight episodic storytelling, endearing characters, beautiful action sequences, a multiple exploration and mixing of various genres and tones from comedy to tragedy, and the best soundtrack in the history of anime; Cowboy Bebop remains a must see. One of the thing that struck me the most on rewatch was how well built the world was, with a coherent history and a very pleasantly multicultural universe. The only bad point is still, as I remembered, the gender politic. While Faye is unquestionably my favourite character; there's no doubt she gets the bad end of the stick in terms of stories and agency and getting results, not to mention the most ridiculous outfit in the history of anime."

The Good

Nodame Cantabile (drama): See review here. A great quirky, funny and heartwarming comedy romance with great music. Also the manga is even better and on going, although without soundtrack.

Saiunkoku Monogatari: In a pseudo-Chinese fantasy world, Shuurei is the daughter of a noble yet poor father who's always dreamed of being a member of the government bureaucracy in order to help people, a post forbidden to women. She finds herself presented with an expected opportunity to help when one of the Emperor's Grand Advisor proposes her to enter the young Emperor's harem temporarily for the express purpose of teaching and motivating the Emperor to take his obligations more seriously.
This is not a flawless series: the animation and the graphism are pretty poor; some of the plot twist are so obvious it hurts, the pacing is uneven, the large cast of characters are too much all friends with each other for no real good reason, and it abuses of a few shoujo-ish tropes. Yet I am extremely fond of this series and I think it's worth checking out. Despite the most obvious plotting, most storylines had at list one twist that took me totally by surprise so the plotting and depiction of court intrigues isn't actually that bad. Despite the shoujo feel, the focus is on said court intrigues first, and on the romance second; and despite my fears when seeing the large cast of bishounens, only 2 or 3 of those are in love with Shuurei which remains within my limits of tolerance, and there are other cool female characters in each storylines. Although Shuurei doesn't have as much agency on the plot at the very beginning of the series, this changes and improves as the story progresses. And even the bad animation has it's good point since that allow the focus to remain where it should be rather than one cool action sequences.
Okay, but why do I like it so much? This is a fantasy series where the heroine is a girl who wears pink, is a great cook and house cleaner, and who saves the day via skills such as negotiation, diplomacy, community organisation, paperwork, accounting, investigation, sheer guts and hard work. Seriously, how many fantasy stories do you know where the world saving isn't done via use of violence and questing for magical artefacts? Where one storyline, for example, is focussed on how to save a province from a medical crisis by organising a convoy of doctors, finding the money to fund it, and teaching them in emergency the experimental process to cure this illness (okay Ann McCaffrey's Lady of Dragons does the latter, which, now that I think of it, is perhaps the only Pern book I still look back fondly on)? It's not that violence has no place in this story, it does, and the many bishounens will take care of it also it will be horrendously animated (or not at all); it's just that the violence is only helpful at preventing the bad guys from preventing you from saving the world. And in case you're thinking, huh, but that's boring, no it isn't. The show is pretty good at showing all these skills in action in a way that's pretty epic and awesome. What else? There's the characters, many of which are adorable and hilariousl - I'm especially fond of Reishin, Ensei Rou, Tan-Tan and Ryuki, but, really, most of them are loveable.
This is is a pretty long story (it's an adaption of a long series of jousei light novels I believe), and the second season of 39 episodes is currently being fansubbed at an excruciatingly slow pace, with many hints of mysteries yet to be revealed (especially about the elements of magic we've seen so far).
Also if you play Exalted, this is kind of a must-see, especially if you're not sure how to play/have stories for Eclipses, because this is the ultimate "So you want to play an Eclipse?" handbook.

Claymore: A dark fantasy shounen revolving around an organisation of female warriors called Claymore supernaturally empowered with demonic blood to fight against the same monsters that plague their world, and running the risk to eventually become one of those monster one day as well. This series provide excellent plotting and dark and gritty world building, good characterisation with some interesting gender tropes subversion and excellent horror and angst. I would have rated it higher but for the fact I'm not crazy about the graphic style, the animation is sometimes a bit hasty, and because of the pasteted on yay finale (The manga goes further and avoids those flaws).

Card Captor Sakura: I'd watched quite a deal of CCS before, of course, back when I was 14 year old and it was the only anime on TV, and that was the main reason I was watching it along with the fact it was cute in that domestic way, and I thought Touya was cute (except at the time it was Thomas, dub oblige). But I wanted to try watching it in full at least once, so I did. It's still an adorable anime, with an interesting plot, fun actions ideas, adorable characters and the occasional weird CLAMP twists, but those are a bit dulled in the anime. I think what I love best - beyond some characters - remain that sense of sweet domesticity, and people caring for one another. Seriously I can't see how anyone could hate CCS, it's just too adorable all around.

Farscape: I've been rewatching this series here and then and am up to near the end of Season 3. I was surprised to find out I haven't actually watched that many episodes back when I was watching it on TV (probably mostly due to the fact it was hard to find subtitled, and that the dub is near unwatcheable because they gave Scorpius the voice of Gargamel. Yes, I'll let you contemplate this in horror, they gave Scorpius the voice of Gargamel.) One of the thing that struck me on rewatch was how cheerful camp some of the episode were, in that pulp SF way; and the reliance of Weird Shit of the Week episodes without much care for coherence, consistency, world building or believability. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, it's overall a very fun ride, with excellent characterisation, groups dynamics, and the occasional innovative storytelling. The story also improve as it goes, carrying more resonance, darkness and continuity. It's also excellent in its depiction of space as flesh, blood, spit and WTF. It actually has some pretty shitty racial and sexual orientation depictions, despite its use of subtext. Of course it's got some amazing female characters though, and I'll always be terribly in love with Aeryn Sun and Chianna. Crichton isn't bad either, Zhaan is very cool in S1 (I feel like she gets a bit annoying in s2 though :(), and Scorpius is an excellent villains.

Futurama: I had caught a criminally low number of episodes when it was broadcasted on TV, so, much like with Farscape, I thought it was time to remedy that. Futurama is hilariously funny and great parody and satire of SF and will occasionally even break your heart.

Desperate Housewives: This is the only regular American TV show I've been watching which I've been failing at watching regularly, being late of 4 or 5 episodes... I think this is a good sign that I perhaps don't enjoy watching it as much as I did previous seasons. However i don't dislike it, so... hmmm. I don't know?

House: With the show in its fifth season, while I still love watching it, I must admit it starts losing steam. Mostly because however outrageous House gets, we just sort of roll our eyes at him with blasée indifferences. Mostly I like it because it's still well written and I love the sarcasm, and I miss the original ducklings but it's not like I dislike the new ones though, especially Kuttner and Thirteen. I still hate Wilson, though.

Slayers Revolution: I have only the last episode left to watch for this. I'm not watching it 'till I don't have a new episode to download. I'm pathetic that way! Anyway, I very much liked this new season of Slayers, it had some very good balance of drama and comedy, the usual wonderful group dynamics. The peanut gallery of recurrent characters weren't quite as fun as they were in previous seasons though, but it didn't really stop my fun. Anyway it's not very original, but it's Slayers damnit, and I love Slayers. Also I have some reviews here but they don't go very far.

Skip Beat: A faithful adaptation to an excellent manga. So far the anime has managed pretty well to capture the energy, awesomeness and sheer insanity of the manga. The animation isn't great, but it's efficient and the voice acting is pretty good. If you like comedy shoujo with awesome female leads where the focus is on female lead being awesome first and on romance second; you should definitely check this out.

The Flawed yet Compelling yet Flawed

Code Geass: See reviews here. I'm not sure what remains to be said about Code Geass. It is an infuriating, compelling, hilarious, fabulous, occasionally honestly intriguing and always entertaining show. It's offensive yet makes some sharp point; it's full of fanservice yet has cool female characters, it's got plenty of characters who just stand around trying to look cute, yet has some extremely interesting characters. The narrative is all over the place and full of plotholes yet you're always riveted to your screen. So, yeah...

Battlestar Galactica: See reviews here. I didn't reviewed the first half of s4 because I was mostly annoyed with it. Most episodes had some cool shit, in terms of acting and visuals, always BSG's strong points, but I felt very much lost in terms of the overall narrative, which had never felt so fragmented before. With the last and final part of S4 starting now, we'll see if the writers will be able to put the show back on track for a decent and satisfying conclusion.

Mirage of Blaze: Young high-school boy is told by a mysterious man that he's really the reincarnation (well not really, more like possessed-at-birth but it's a bit complicated to explain) of a Sengoku era general and the leader of a group of similar reincarnations who fight against the many ghosts of the Sengoku era underworld who like plotting to cause havocs in modern society. Also his best friend gets possessed by one of those ghosts, so could he please hurry and remember his past lives and exorcise him?
At this point my opinion of the anime is a bit too contaminated by what I read of the series of novels it was adapted from. From what I remember it's a decent story with intriguing ideas in terms of supernatural world and underworld intrigues having effect on the modern world (seriously, if Wraith the Oblivion had looked more like this, I think it would have sold more). The Japanese history references are sometimes a bit too confusing to follow but it makes for a very fun atmosphere building. The anime hasn't always aged well in terms of overall aesthetics - more in a way that it comes across at trying too hard to be cool, especially regarding the main characters - which makes it often hilarious in its DRAMATIC. Then there's the intense, dark and hilariously melodramatic romance between the two main male characters, which is frustratingly unresolved in the anime, and only gets more hilariously melodramatic, intense and badwrongoffensive (rape's bad, mkay?) yet compelling in the novels - it's sort of mesmerizing and embarrassing in the way it hits some of my kinks and yet at the same time so wrong and silly you cannot do anything but mock. On the other hand this is what I died to read when I was 14 years old.

The Okay I guess

Samurai Shampoo: See review here. Some episode were great and hilarious, but I was a bit bored at too many of them to say I loved it. Still an entertaining show, with great animation and music.

Maria Sama Ga Miteru: Set in a Catholic high school for girls which have a tradition of having each elder student pick one younger girl to instruct and protect them in a special relationship where they call each other "Soeurs", the story follows a young girl chosen by a member of the Student Council (they get named after Roses and have especially idolized by the corpus of the students) to be her petite soeur. The story is a pretty sedated storytelling of the day-to-day life of the members of the various girls of the council students and their relationship with one another.
This is a story with a pretty weird (to me) aesthetics, not only in terms of all the homoerotic subtext and text, but also in terms of the idealised nostalgic feeling (it's supposedly set in modern days, but it frequently feels older) and how it relates with class dynamics: that is, all of them are girls of obviously rich, prestigious families, and the accomplishment expected of wealthy conservative girls is idealised in the series. However it's a pretty pleasant to watch, it's not exactly exciting, but it's funny, cute and sweet. It's got some pretty cool characters (apart from our PoV character which I frequently find annoying), and it's also pretty interesting to see this exploration of a female only space to tell stories. And it's full of femslashy goodness, of course.There is two series + one OVA series so far, with a new series starting right now, which I will probably also watch when I'll find time.

Shounen Onmyouji: In the Heian era, 13 year old Masahiro is the grandson of the aging legendary Abe no Seimei and tries to be a good onmyouji as he comes to age and learn to fight against demons etc.
I have a few episodes left to watch, although I'm almost done. This is a series with excellent production value, a topic I'm typically interested in, and some very endearing characters; yet that frequently left me cold because the plotting is boring. The first part in particular has some extremely boring villains, as a result of which it's hard to care much for the story (this is an excellent example of how action series work or don't work depending on how good the antagonism is built) - it gets better in the second part with a new, more intriguing character. The use of the token female character as a damsel in distress and plot device doesn't help either. At the same time, it's not really a bad series and it remains quite pleasant to watch, but it's easy for me to get distracted away from watching it by the shininess of other better series.

Junjou Romantica: This is one of those shows.... if you like yaoi, I mean the kind of story where the plot is all about the romance between two guys, you'll probably like because it's very well done yaoi, but it's very typical yaoi in terms of the sketchy and possibly offensive tropes used. So yeah...

The Boring, dropped it after a few episodes

Gokusen (drama): Badass Yakuza heiress teaches at a boys' school full of delinquents, trying to cover her family origin while helping her students and teaching them important values.
I made the mistake of trying to watch this after reading the manga. Possibly if I had done the reverse I would have loved it, because it's not bad. It's just that the manga is so wonderfully awesome and hilarious and amazing, and that the drama changed too much things about the characters that I could never get into it. Dropped after six episodes. (Seriously, read the manga)

Meine Liebe: I think this was supposed to work by having lots of pretty boys appealing to specific fetish tastes - Ouran Host style. Sadly it has no plot. Or charm. Or organic character interaction. I think the only thing it's got is good production value and potentially interesting Alternate History setting. I continued watching for 6 or 7 episodes because it's not unpleasant to watch and they kept teasing us with the possibility of plot, but, seriously, if you can't develop a plot in six episodes you fail. It just felt too annoyingly artificial.

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha: TV Tropes failed me for the first time ;_; they said this was a great magical shoujo show with a twist intended for adult audience. I was bored to tears. Dropped after 5 episodes.

The Not Sure Yet

Oniisama e: Although I watched more than ten episodes, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this series yet. The thing is, I find it interesting, but I'm not sure I find it enjoyable to watch. On the one hand there's the nostalgic factor (it's very much old school shoujo anime, with sparkles and melodramatic still images of doom); and it's quite mock worthy and DRAMATIC, and of course it's full of creepy and intense femslashy relationships; on the other hand, I kinda hate the main character and, err, actually I don't like any character, and it's a bit gloomy. I usually like gloomy but I dunno. I'll probably keep watching and make myself an opinion at some point though.

Whoa. This took me so long to type I started yesterday and only finished today. Next time I'll try to do more reviews as I go >_>;

Anyway, I'm off to see the new BSG ep!
Tone: contentcontent
Tune: eRa - Impera
Anne-Elisa: I love manipulative bastardsetrangere on January 17th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about Cowboy Bebop being totally awesome, and the gender issues being disappointing. :(
It's one of the thing, you've gotta wonder, what were they thinking? Especially given that Cowboy Bebop is relatively thoughtful on other fronts compared to most anime.

Wow, I really want to watch that show now.
YAY! I'm glad I got at least one person interested into this show. I got it via download, but the first season is licensed in the US. (I think it's Tales of Saiunkoku there). Anyway, Mininova is your friend ^^

It has some similarities with the story I'm trying to write.
Interesting! Is that the one we talked about?

Also, I still haven't seen Slayers Revolution, WTF.
HAHA. Well, maybe it's wise to wait until Evolution-R is complete before watching it.

Okay, so of course there's the main four, is Xelloss also a major character?
Yes, of course. It's not Slayers without Xelloss ♥ ♥ ♥ (this is why the first season is my least favourite <- is shallow)

Linaharemstress on January 18th, 2009 05:07 am (UTC)
It's one of the thing, you've gotta wonder, what were they thinking?

I knooooow. :( I keep asking that...

Interesting! Is that the one we talked about?

Yes it is. You may recall I was having troubles with the main character, and well, I made her cooler. :P She's a concubine to a lord's son and she starts working to solve this problem they're having in the castle.

(this is why the first season is my least favourite <- is shallow)

Hahaha, ME TOO. XD
Anne-Elisa: omg yayetrangere on January 19th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
Yes it is. You may recall I was having troubles with the main character, and well, I made her cooler. :P She's a concubine to a lord's son and she starts working to solve this problem they're having in the castle.
That sounds extremely cool!