Despite the anime market being a victim of the ongoing economic downturn in 2010, a remarkable number of creative, intriguing and downright fun titles landed on shelves this year. Here's my short list for the best of the new anime releases from 2010, in no particular order. Note that for this category, I'm concentrating exclusively on titles that were newly-licensed releases for that year, not re-printings of previous titles (which will be in a follow-up list).
If there was a more hotly-awaited anime release this year, I don't know about it. The first installment in the Rebuild of Evangelion -- the "reboot" of one of anime's most controversial and popular shows -- more than lived up to expectations. It's the same basic story as the original: young Shinji Ikari is drafted, against his will, into piloting a giant fighting machine that might be mankind's last line of defense in the face of annihilation. The original is still worth a look, but so far Rebuild is told more succinctly, to better effect, and features a far more polished presentation.
© khara. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy of Pricegrabber.
2. Soul Eater
At a private academy in "Death City", young students pair up to either transform themselves into living weapons or wield them. This was one of the first major releases for the year, and it was worth the wait: a show that's a big hit, fun to watch for most every audience, and sports a great cast of characters that keep our interest and sympathy all the way through. The eldritch, Tim Burton-inspired design of the show is another major plus.
© Atsushi Ohkubo/SQUARE ENIX,TV TOKYO,MEDIA FACTORY,BONES,DENTSU 2008 Author / Atsushi Ohkubo. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
Akiyuki's life on placid Senten Island is shattered when a terrorist attack destroys his school bus. In the ensuing mayhem, he's transformed into a biological fighting machine, and must learn to master his newly-imbued powers to protect his friends and family from a coming war. Gorgeously animated, with an ambitious story and a sprawling cast; the kind of show that earns the term "instant classic".
© BONES / Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Aniplex. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
An immortal woman and her sidekick have been concealing their secret by hiding in plain sight and running a detective agency. When they encounter a young man who has the weird feeling his memories aren't really his, they're drawn by degrees into a colossal plot to steal control of the power that grants immortality. It's violent and sexual -- it's definitely not for younger viewers -- but it's also smartly written and features an absorbing storyline that evolves across decades and generations.
© 2007 XEBEC • GENCO/Yggdrasill Executive Committee. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
Billed as anime's answer to the Jason Bourne franchise, it's actually somewhat to the left of that. Eden starts with an amnesiac who may or may not be an international spy and then leaps into a much larger and more complex story. Other people have commented on how Eden touches on many things -- the post-9/11 world, the problem of hikikomori (young shut-ins) in Japan. It's far from perfect: its pacing is a little laggy, and it ends in a way that is clearly designed to get us to watch the planned follow-ups. But it's also a truly original show, not derived from something else, and for that reason all the more worth checking out.
Licensed by Fuji TV through FCC to Funimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
Samurai military history, turned up to eleven, with action so insanely improbable and visuals so over-the-top there's no way to respond to it except to stare in gleeful disbelief. Is this a great, timeless show? Good grief, no. Is it a fun one? Absolutely. The sheer level of camp acting (shilling for ham), the ludicrousness of the battle scenes, and the way everybody in the cast plays it totally straight guarantees you'll sit through it with a massive smile on your face.
© CAPCOM / TEAM BASARA. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
Edo Rocket came entirely out of left field to take me by surprise, and quickly distinguished itself from the typical run of so-called comedies that didn't generate a single laugh. Set in the sunset years of Japan's classical past, it gives us a fireworks-maker who's given a most unusual mission: make a rocket that can reach the moon. It's a great example of how anime can take inspiration from history without being constrained by it. (It's also quite funny, which is kind of a prerequisite for a comedy.)
© 2007 Kazuki Nakashima/Gekidan?Shinkansen • "Oh!-EDO ROCKET"production partners. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
Originally a manga by the influential Shotaro Ishinomori, this series revisits a masked-dark-hero story of his. Set in an alternate near-modern Japan, where security is high and tensions even higher, a journalist returns to his hometown to look into the mystery of a series of murders committed by a masked vigilante. I liked the setting and the general mood of the show, which is dark without being unwatchably bleak.
© 2007 SHOTARO ISHINOMORI / THE SKULLMAN PROJECT. Licensed by Sentai Filmworks, LLC. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
9. Glass Mask
A girl with aspirations to become an actress is taken under the wing of a former diva and groomed ruthlessly to take on a role that no one else has been allowed to perform. Adapted from a long-running shojo comic, it keeps much of the melodrama of the original (includings its not-so-politically-correct overtones) -- but that's also a big part of what makes it so compulsively watchable.
© Suzue Miuchi · Hakusensha / MASK OF GLASS Project. Licensed by Sentai Filmworks, LLC. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.