Before you get too excited, this is not a top 10, 5, or even 3 list. I enjoy skimming those as much as the next, but if I haven’t been cataloging every single thing I touched over the course of a year, it may as well become “Top Whatever of the Second Half or Last Third of 200X.”
I can’t help but reflect, though, and I prefer to kick off the first month or so of each new year by focusing on the good of the last rather than the bad. Sure, 2009 may have been a bust for a lot of us for a variety of well documented reasons, but enthusiasts (such as yourself, perhaps!) could easily find some kind of silver lining in whatever their medium of choice may be.
Maybe we can come back to the bad later if we’re feeling particularly dour, but for now let’s take a look at a few things that made the year shine. It wasn’t perfect, but 2009 was most definitely a good year for…
… Streaming Anime / Simulcasts
While it didn’t come without its fair share of snags and hold-ups, streaming really delivered full force in 2009. Whether your preferred method of delivery came via Crunchyroll, Hulu, or direct-from-the-tap services like FUNimation’s, there’s been no shortage of content for the Internet-bound anime viewer.
Hooking anime directly to your veins is one thing, but bigger splashes were made as more and more series enjoyed broadcasts simultaneous—or at least reasonably close—to their Japanese airing. It was back in April of 2009 that FUNimation announced they would be airing episodes of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood four days after they air in Japan. Despite issues with a leaked episode of One Piece, they’ve held true to their intentions, and it won’t be long before we’re all taking this wild twist for granted (are we already?).
The amazing part is that most of this stuff, with the exception of membership services that grant earlier access like Crunchyroll’s, is absolutely free. Enjoy it, kiddos, but don’t forget to buy DVDs of some of those cartoons you enjoy so much from time to time. Advertising bucks can only go so far, after all.
As far as manga goes, the real no-brainer answer for this category would probably be VIZ Media. If ever a week went by without a title of theirs on the New York Times manga chart, I sure didn’t see it. However, for all the hotcakes-sellin’ copies of Naruto and Vampire Knight, the true toast of the year harkens back to a mangaka of legendary status: Osamu Tezuka.
A good deal of the Tezuka love came in the form of subsequent releases that got their start in years prior. Vertical’s excellent publication of Black Jack immediately comes to mind, and 2009 saw some of the very best volumes yet, from the third (released in January) to the eighth (November). We have reviews of quite a few of them here on the site, but a couple thousand words on the matter could never replicate the experience of sitting down with one of Tezuka’s greatest characters. With more volumes to come in 2010—the ninth drops on January 19 if you’re chompin’ for it—there will be no shortage of Black Jack love in the new year.
In addition to Vertical’s efforts, Digital Manga published Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth—originally serialized in Big Comic from 1968-1969—in June, bringing us another single-volume work that is decidedly different from his other lengthy pieces like MW and Ode to Kirihito.
Most staggering of all was the publication of Helen McCarthy’s The Art of Osamu Tezuka, which should be on every fan’s shelf sooner rather than later. I didn’t get a chance to pick it up myself until 2009 was at a close, but what a beauty it is. I would even recommend it to those that find themselves not so keen on Tezuka’s style; if anything will make an appreciator out of you, this will. The book itself is of absurdly high quality, and the included 45-minute documentary DVD boosts the value exponentially.
Taking my previous comment on 2010 Black Jack volumes into account, perhaps the current Tezuka love affair simply can’t be classified by year alone. Heck, as I type this Vertical’s Ed Chavez is probably preparing for tonight’s Vertical Vednesday over at Kinokuniya in Manhattan. In addition to the rest of his talk about the industry, he’ll be officially announcing their latest Tezuka title, which looks to be another mighty 700+ page tome (check our news for updates). Sounds like we may have to put some serious money aside for the God of Manga in the new year.
I should mention that I also entertained just including a broader category for manga as a whole. What a doozy of a year. If you slept on stuff like Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, it’s not too late to make up for past mistakes!
… Indie Game Developers
Most people reading this that are into gaming likely dipped into at least one or two indie titles this past year. It’s easier than ever to stumble across some unknown, modest-budget gem thanks to services like Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, WiiWare, and most recently DSiWare. While it would be foolish to say that independently developed titles are synonymous with top quality, the risk of entry is low, and it’s all the more satisfying when that sparkle of brilliance is discovered somewhere amongst countless downloadables.
Though I don’t have one myself, it would be a disservice to neglect mentioning the iPhone as part of this continuing growth. For instance, one of my friends downloaded a really great game called Ant Attack recently. It’s an NES-style throwback title that has you racking up points while squashing ants and other beach/picnic/kitchen menaces with the phone’s touch-screen (check out a medley of the excellent chip soundtrack by Bit Rat here. The cost of this easily overlooked title? 99 cents, just like many of the offerings on Apple’s device.
I’d probably include this category even if nothing substantial reared its head in 2009 other than thatgamecompany’s Flower, which was made available via PSN in February, but it remains a strong inspiration. Jenova Chen’s stunningly simple title rocked many (you can read our review here), and for good reason. Despite a seemingly story-free atmosphere, Flower weaves a deft narrative that comes across to the player as effortlessly as gliding the petals with the Sixaxis motion controls.
It takes more than access to a dev kit and the desire to rake in dollars (by the dollar) to make an indie title worth talking about, but the potential for exposure is much greater now. As much fun as I had this year, I can only imagine it’s still in the process of snowballing to something much larger.
This may very well be the death knell of any article for those outside of what Daryl Surat would refer to as the Dread Spectre’s grasp. Regardless of your personal opinion on moe across all mediums, just one glance at the letters page of ANY issue of Otaku USA dated after our moe feature shows that it matters to quite a few of you, to say the least.
In fact, moe is one of the few subsections of otaku culture that doesn’t even have to be fully understood to run wild. What percentage of people throwing the word around do you think have a complete, 100% grasp on what it entails? Is it even necessary to sustain it? The fairly broad terminology itself has served as the catalyst for many misconceptions—the good, the bad and the ugly, if you will. To some it’s the new world order, to others it’s the End Times; an apocalypse you can watch from the safety of your computer chair.
Relatively speaking, and I can’t emphasize that enough, shows like K-On! were huge in 2009, lighting up Japanese charts and sparking the inevitable westward bound tidal wave we’re sure to hear more about at some point. I suspect this isn’t going to die off in 2010, but either way it should be interesting to see how trends in anime, manga and beyond change and evolve…
…or if they do at all.
Indeed, it’s both an exciting and occasionally frightening time to be otaku. Wherever the star-spattered rails twist and turn, we’re looking forward to traveling the great Galaxy Express with you all into the mysterious future!
Full Metal Alchemist is © HIROMU ARAKAWA/SQUARE ENIX, MBS, ANX, BONES, dentsu 2004