A bit late, but I still want to write down my list of the most outstanding TV episodes of 2009. The reason why I make a list of single episodes and not whole anime is due to the fact that full series hardly reach the same kind of perfection because of the largely different staff working on the individual episodes (which leads to varying quality). It’s usually talented staff that makes an episode stand out from all the others, but also other factors like time – that’s why first and final episodes have generally more polished animation. Below are 10 episodes of 2009 that impressed me in one way or another (in no particular order):
Script: Masahiro Yokotani
Episode Director: Ryoutarou Makihara
Storyboard: Junichi Sato
Animation Director: Akiko Matsuo, Keiko Akiyama
The direction and animation quality of this episode are nothing less than phenomenal, which isn’t that surprising once you see the credits. Episode director was no one less than Ryoutarou Makihara, who happens to be one of the most talented young animators of recent years. His directing and animation have some kind of unique sensibility that makes everything feel so natural and unforced, particularly the characters are so much more in his hands than simple drawings as their presence on the screen is really highlighted by the vivid animation. Umimono #11 is his first job as episode director (he did mostly key animation so far) and an amazing demonstration of his skills and understanding of animation. The character acting is brilliantly done with lots of strong expressions and meticulously executed movement without any kind of stiffness in the drawings, I was really impressed how well he infused these bishoujo designs with life. The action parts are just as great, not to forget the excellent effect animation near the end. The team of involved animators is truly exceptional for this kind of TV anime as it includes talents like ryo-timo, Shingo Natsume, Kenichi Kutsuna, Yasuo Muroi, Kiyotaka Oshiyama and Takaaki Wada, which really shows in the movie-like animation quality. The rich character animation and Makihara‘s directing give the episode much impact and make the tragic and dramatic happenings of this episode unusually intense, it has a kind of emotional power that is completely missing in almost all recent anime. Makihara brought all the things to this – overall – generic series that I like to see in my anime: surprising and visually strong moments causing tingling sensation, storytelling and visuals complementing each other to draw out the best of each scene, interesting animation that captures a character’s feelings and keeps your eyes glued to the screen as well as sensible drama that is actually moving. Makihara wrote on his blog that the staff of episode 13 (DVD-only) is also really amazing so I’m really looking forward to this, and furthermore he directs an episode of some unspecified TV anime that airs next month.
Script: Reiko Yoshida
Episode Director / Storyboard: Naoko Yamada
Animation Director: Yukiko Horiguchi
As with most Kyoto Animation series, the quality of K-ON! is consistently high because of them doing most of the animation work in-house, though important episodes get special attention and are always handled by their best artists – in this case by director Naoko Yamada and character designer Yukiko Horiguchi themselves. I recently rewatched this episode and it was still every bit as great and enjoyable as when I watched it the first time in April ’09. Horiguchi’s animation direction is wonderful, there are few other anime where watching the characters is equally amusing. I really dig the lively character animation in her episodes as there is nearly constant movement and many different expressions and poses that feel never re-used or something, the acting is consequently convincing for a bishoujo/moe show. Take, for example, the scene where Yui searches for the light music club: her expression and movement is unusually reserved and defensive but nevertheless very good in establishing this different side of her character, her thoughts are even easily readable with the sound turned off. It may also be the strong female influence (as the staff mainly consists of women) that makes K-ON! stand out from all the other spiritless moe stuff, female animators seem to care more for the little details in the behaviour and body language which bring about a rare feeling of liveliness and spontaneity in the animation, this is probably one of the reason why Kyoto Animation‘s work feels noticably different from most other anime in this male-dominated industry.
Horiguchi‘s vivid animation direction perfectly matches Naoko Yamada‘s vibrant and fun directing which leads to this steadily entertaining and visually compelling episode full of innocent humour and funny moments.
Script: Fumihiko Shimo
Episode Director / Storyboard: Touko Takao
Animation Director: Mariko Takahashi
Kyoto Animation‘s Clannad impressed me in many respects, be it the constantly high animation quality, the sensitive directing or the fine script, which bring about a truly intense and satisfying experience, even if it’s overly melodramatic at times. The script by Fumihiko Shimo – who wrote every single episode himself – is really superb in establishing a strong narrative structure, especially the depiction of the characters – how they change as time goes by – has hardly ever been better in anime. With the second half of After Story they certainly overcame all the limitations associated with this genre and created some of the most memorable anime episodes of recent years – with episode 18 being the finest one in my book. This episode covers some of the most important scenes of the story and KyoAni put accordingly much effort into it. Episode director was Touko Takao, who seems to be in the confidence of the higher-ups as she was even entrusted with storyboarding on the Haruhi movie (along the two directors Ishihara and Takemoto). Her directing is generally very convincing (episode 12 of AS was also great), she has a good sense for appropriate staging and color choice and tends to extensively use digital refinement, some of the gorgeous scenes she arranged in this episode should be proof enough, particularly the parts in the flower field at sunset are incredibly beautiful. The dramatic intensity of the developments is also enhanced by the good animation which perfectly captures the emotions and appeals through its gentle and unforced nature, it makes the characters so believable and human and the drama even more affecting.
Script: Yukito Kizawa
Episode Director: Yukihiro Miyamoto
Storyboard: Nobuyuki Takeuchi
Animation Director: Akio Watanabe
Bakemonogatari #1 is the best episode I’ve seen in a Shaft anime for a while and one which successfully manages to enhance the storytelling through the visuals. The beautiful compositions, color palette and timing of the individual cuts create an appealing and visually interesting experience that you hardly find in TV anime, and in contrast to most other recent Shinbou shows it doesn’t display too much stillness but has actually some good animation to give it a more dynamic appearance that makes it communicate much better. Unfortunately most succeeding episodes don’t come even close to this quality – even if some nice ideas are spread out all over the series – but that doesn’t change the fact that Bakemonogatari starts out really strong.
Script: Yasuyuki Suzuki
Episode Director / Storyboard: Akitoshi Yokoyama
Animation Director: Hiroki Tanaka
Every now and then you come across a Naruto episode which really stands out from most others through the high quality of its production. This happens when a bunch of talented artists get together who know how to infuse it with creativity so that it can overcome the bounds of its limited source material, episode 131 of Shippuuden is certainly such a case. The team of Akitoshi Yokoyama and Hiroki Tanaka realized this episode (with Kenichi Yoshida and Tatsuo Yamada helping out with supervising the animation), who established their own profound aesthetics thanks to their great sense for framing and timing that led to some of the most exciting action sequences of last year. Particularly the distinctive animation style of Hiroki Tanaka is visible all over the episode which manifests itself in the stylized and versatile nature of the drawings, this and some nice directional touches by Yokoyama make it visually very appealing and a truly unique Naruto episode.
Script: Tatsuto Higuchi
Episode Director: Katsushi Sakurabi
Storyboard: Hideyo Yamamoto
Animation Director: Shigeru Uchihara, Yuji Miyashita, Yumi Nakayama, Seiya Numata
This episode includes some of the key points of the plot so it’s hardly suprising that the experienced Katsushi Sakurabi (Tsukihime, Gunparade March, Yomigaeru Sora, etc.) was assigned to direct it. It’s certainly the Toradora! episode I remember best (together with #24 which was also directed by Sakurabi) due to its moody and dramatic tone. However, it’s not just the superficial drama known from usual bishoujo series, but it actually has impact because the strong acting and smart directing add a great deal to the overall believability.
Technically the expressive and exaggerated drawings in the great final scene stand out as Seiya Numata supervised the animation of those parts and even did some cuts himself, therefore it’s no wonder that it’s easily one of the most memorable scenes in the whole series.
Script: Seishi Minakami
Episode Director: Kazuki Akane
Storyboard: Kazuki Akane, Norio Matsumoto
Animation Director: ryo-timo, Isao Hayashi, Yusuke Tanaka
The last episode of TBD:02 is a great example of a TV episode replete with extraordinary action by exceptional animators. The action is powerful, fast and arranged in unusually exciting ways as Norio Matsumoto himself helped out with the storyboarding, which led to some of the most spectacular sequences in recent TV anime. The animation staff includes talents like Shingo Yamashita, Keni’chi Kutsuna, Tomoyuki Niho, Yuuki Hayashi and of course ryo-timo and Norio Matsumoto, who obviously had a lot of fun to fill this episode with interesting movement and ideas as their imagination wasn’t limited by the model sheets, though here they sticked a bit closer to the designs compared with the infamous episode 7. Nevertheless, episode #12 displays many different styles – from ryo-timo‘s sketchy drawings to Yamashita‘s roughness – which certainly helps to get out the best of each scene.
Script: Makoto Nakamura
Episode Director: Hiroshi Ikehata
Storyboard: Shingo Suzuki, Hiromitsu Kanazawa
Layout/Animation Supervisor: Shingo Suzuki
Character Animation/Drawings Supervisor: Hiromi Masuda
Hiroshi Ikehata alias aho_boy undoubtedly ranks among the most interesting directors of TV anime these days as he tends to work with young and energetic animators whom he gives the room to do something out of the ordinary, the almost legendary Hayate no Gotoku #39 and Soul Eater #34 are good starting points for checking out his qualities. His latest efforts include several Fullmetal Alchemist episodes and its forth opening as well as Princess Lover #1 which shows how fun even such generic scenarios can be if the right persons are involved. I’ve already written an entry about Princess Lover! some time earlier as the whole series is pretty good (at least on the technical side), but the best episode is still the first one. It’s a fun ride full with interesting movement, amusing moments and a good layout sense, particularly the scene with the coach and the sword fighting at the end are worth mentioning. There were only three key animators on this episode (disregarding the 2nd KA) and the character designer and animation director of this episode – Shingo Suzuki – was one of them. The other two are veteran Hiroshi Okubo and Kouichi Kikuta, so the high animation quality shouldn’t really surprise. I hope that GoHands gets another chance to do some project of their own, even if their work as subcontractor is also decent.
Script: Hiroshi Ohnogi
Episode Director: Shuuji Miyahara
Storyboard: Shinji Ishihira
Animation Director: Katsu Ôshiro
I can’t say that I like Yasuhiro Irie‘s version of Fullmetal Alchemist as much as Mizushima‘s, altough the new version has also its share of great moments. From all of the 42 episodes that have aired so far, #19 was the one that impressed me most. Not only the drama was handled in a more convincing way, but the whole episode had evidently more impact, episode director Shuuji Miyahara sure has some good sense for creating this kind of gloomy atmosphere that draws you in (and fortunately he abandoned the use of inappropriate comedy elements). The frequent use of close-ups paired with the great animation makes the characters feel much more tangible than in your average episode, but the real highlight is the thrilling, visually impressing and incredibly powerful scene where Mustang burns Lust to death, which still stands among the best moments of the whole series. The voice actors did also an amazing job here.
Script: Manabu Ishikawa
Episode Director: Yukio Kaizawa, Kimitoshi Chioka, Kenji Nakamura
Animation Director: Takashi Hashimoto
Kūchū Buranko has many good episodes, but the last one still sticks in my memory as being the most successful in visualizing the mental condition of the central character (the doctor) and in creating some kind of tension which defines the overall tone of the episode. The script is very good as well.