Top Seven Anime of the Winter 2009 Season

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About two weeks ago, I started penciling in the picks for the previous three parts as well coming up with the top shows of the season. In the time between the preliminary picks and the final picks there was a few shows that went all out to make me reconsider them. Changing my picks was most apparent in this part, the top seven anime of the season; I revised this list 6 or 7 times before finalizing. I’m satisfied with this list and how the shows are ranked. Since we’re so near the end of the season the only thing that can really upset this list is a catastrophic failure of an ending.

Since there’s a few carryover shows on the list, I wanted to mention before starting that for carryover shows only the part of the show that ran during the winter season is considered here.

7Rideback

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For this season, I picked Rideback for having the most interesting setting, best OP, second best ED, and best animation. These are certainly several reasons for Rideback to place on this countdown but they aren’t the only ones. I don’t normally watch much in the way of mech anime, Gurren Lagann and now Rideback being the few exceptions. One of the reasons why I came to like Rideback was the main character, Rin, is refreshing different and likable – you can’t help but like her and want to see her happy again. Another reason why I like Rideback is that it shows how, even if a one thinks they are unaffected while living under a totalitarian government, sooner or later their lives will intersect the government and the results will not good.

6Asu no Yoichi

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When I decided to watch this, I never thought it had the chance to be one of the top shows of the season. After all it was a harem romantic comedy – those aren’t supposed to be quality shows. I watched the first episode with an open mind, letting either it’s success or failure rest wholely on it’s shoulders and was surprised when it didn’t stink. Watching a few more episodes, I became shocked to realize that it was turning into a pretty decent show. Sure there was fan service but the anime was full of interesting characters that the animators took the time to develop. A further plus of this show is the main male character, Yoichi, is an honorable swordsman that grew up in the mountains and is definitely not like the spineless male loser that typically stars in shows of this type.

I didn’t fully grasp how much I was into this show until the bad guy set his devious plan in motion to get Yoichi and the 3 younger sisters to allow him to take the eldest sister away. I found myself feeling shock, anger, and a desire to see things put to rights; all feelings that one doesn’t normally associate with a show like this. It’s a real shame this was only 12 episodes long, hopefully it’ll get a second season.

5 Toradora

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Last season’s number one pick comes in at number 5 for the winter season. This drop came from not being quite as impressed with Toradora this time around and also from stronger competition. This slight disappointment came chiefly from the show’s ultra-quick pacing, trimming too much of the overall story away and from the increased emphasis of getting to the end couple of Taiga and Ryuuji, to the detriment of the other characters. I’m very happy to get to the ending of the story but I think another 6-8 episodes could have really improved the show.

There was still plenty to like about this half of the series. The increased focus on Taiga allowed more chances for her nice and adorable side to manifest. We learn she genuinely loves Christmas and tries to live up to the spirit of the season. The scene where Ryuuji dresses up as a santa bear for Taiga is one of the most touching scenes of season, rivaling the best scenes of Clannad or Natsume. It was also nice to see Ami being the voice of reason and helping those around her, even if that meant she couldn’t end up with Ryuuji.

4 Shikabane Hime: Kuro

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I almost dropped this show after a couple of episodes because it seemed to care more about fan service then building upon the success of the first season. I gave it a couple more episodes and it started to feel like the story was going somewhere so I figured I stick around. As the series continued, the plot continued to build to higher levels and I found myself getting sucked back into the show. Like Asu no Yoichi, I didn’t fully realize how good the show had gotten until the plan of the bad guys got going. It was genuinely devious and spelled huge trouble for the good guys and the corpse princesses in so many different ways. I love it when a show has intelligent villains.

But it wasn’t just having good villains that salvaged this show. They went back to developing the main characters, answering some lingering questions like why Makina was killed and what exactly is up with that creepy cat. Throw in Gainax action scenes and a few plot twists and Shikabane Hime: Kuro makes it to the number four spot of top anime of the season.

3 Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou

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The first season of Natsume’s Book of Friends was one of the finest examples of relaxing slice-of-life anime made and that makes it a hard act to follow. If I’m judging the second season solely on it’s ability to mimic the feeling of the first season, I’d say that this show had fallen short. However, the show appears to be shifting away from being about the Book of Friends to focusing more on Natsume and his ability to see spirits. And so, judging the second season by the standards of the first is not the best way to get an accurate result. The second season widens the scope of the show. One episode featured a ghost that Natsume shouldn’t have returned it’s name too. Another introduced a young woman that can see ghosts provided it walks over a specially designed circle that she can draw. In other episodes we see Natsume preforming exorcisms, either alone or with the actor/exorcist that we met in the first season.

Through all this though Natsume continues to selflessly help the people and spirits that ask for his help; which continues to make him such a great main character. Another facet of the show that’s being explored more is the deepening friendship between Natsume and Nyanko-sensei. It’s apparent that Nyanko-sensei knew Reiko and Natsume’s personality reminds him of her. One of the parts of the show I especially like to see is when Natume’s kindness is unexpectantly paid back to him – adding to how the show can leave me feeling satisfied after watching it. I hope this show gets a third season, I still think there’s plenty of stories left to tell.

2 Birdy the Mighty Decode 2

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The first Birdy the Mighty Decode was a pretty good show and I was hoping that the second season could match the first season but I wasn’t sure if it could. The reset-ish ending didn’t seem to give the show much to work with for a second season. Turns out I was wrong, really wrong. The second season logically expands upon the plot of the first season and even ties the new characters into what happened. That wasn’t the only surprise of this second season. There was the realistic, gritty action scenes that reminded me of Kurozuka in their furiosity. Also surprising was the improvement to the characters and the time taken for character development. This was one of the weak points of the first season and this big improvement helped push the show from good to exceptional.

This show really has just about everything a person would want in a good anime and I’m really surprised that not more people are watching this gem.

1 Clannad ~After Story~

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If you follow this blog at all, you could probably guess that I’d pick Clannad to be my number one show of the season. I know this show isn’t for everyone, cynics and self-absorbed anime “experts” in particular should not even bother – I can almost guarantee this show would fail for you. I knew before this show started what a Key-KyoAni anime will entail: that I’ll probably shed many tears, magic exists, miracles can happen, and events will probably occur and I won’t fully understand their meaning. All these did occur and I loved the final result.

One aspect of this show that I feel deserves special recognition was how it went further then any other anime that I know. It starts with the characters in high school and instead of ending when Tomoya and Nagisa decide to become a couple or even when they graduate; we watch them struggle to become adults living in an adult world. We watch Tomoya trying to find a job and an apartment to live in and then getting into the position that he could marry Nagisa. Nor does the show end when they finally marry, it continues to show what happens next. It does a real good job of showing why the saying about highs school being the best years of your life came into being. The problems that plagued Tomoya and Nagisa as adults made high school and all it’s petty problems look heavenly compared to their adult lives. Of course, they also show how the joys of adulthood can be profoundly better – Ushio.

I’m really going to miss this show. If KyoAni wanted to create a short third season about the everyday events of Okazaki family, giving it a slice-of-life feel along the lines of Yotsuba&! – I’d so want to watch.

Well, that’s it; my picks of the winter season. I’d like to thank everyone that read and commented on this 5,000+ word look at the season’s best shows. I believe the spring season starts next week so it’s a good thing I finished this up. 🙂


Read Part 1: Cast and Character Awards
Read Part 2: Genre Awards
Read Part 3: VMA Awards

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10 thoughts on “Top Seven Anime of the Winter 2009 Season”

  1. Yay! Well-deserved victory for Clannad! The second half of After Story really is amazing.

    It certainly went further than any moe anime. Jousei and Seinen can have adults sometimes, but Clannad really changed things I think. Making Nagisa and Tomoya grow up into characters that resemble real people. I mean, I know Nagisa got less moe as the series went on, but in a good way. It’s because she was growing up (and it made me love her more~)

    And Ushio~ Ushio~!!!

    Too bad there’s not likely to be anymore (though since there’s no more source material it’s for the best). If there’s more Clannad it’ll come in the form of Tomoyo After. Bleh. Tomoyo x Tomoya = no for me.

    I can’t really comment on much else since the only other thing on the list that I’ve seen is ToraDora and I’m still trying to make my way through the last three episodes (I hate school -_-).

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  2. I have not seen more than a few episodes of these shows, but I see your reasoning. Birdy might be good in part due to writing collaboration of Hiroshi Ohnogi and
    Seishi Minakami 🙂

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  3. hmm, i put shikabane hime on hold back when Aka was on, but I keep reading good things about Kuro, so I may have to take another look.

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  4. Some of these shows are not even Winter 2009 season series so I have to ask what the deal is here. I was under the impression that Winter 2009 series were supposed to have started in Winter 2009. Unless this whole post was just another reason for you to trumpet Kyoani/Clannad.

    Hmmm….Clannad After Story, more enjoyable then I thought it was going to be given my loathing of it’s brand of comedy that it had going on during the first half of the season, but just when I was really starting to like it during the second half it ended up completely dropping the ball on me with the final two episodes. I have a similar relationship with pretty much every show Kyoani has ever done actually so it seems like it’s par for the course. They start bland, improve quite a bit to the point where I get a little hooked and then blow it completely by doing something to make me feel completely alienated right near the end. Haruhi, Kanon, Lucky Star, Munto (Okay Munto never really had me hooked but it was short so I watched it for kicks) and now Clannad After Story, all left me with incredibly mixed feelings. Hence why I referred to my relationship with Kyoani series as a love/hate one in my Spring 2009 preview.

    Anyway I’d probably put Rideback at the top of my list with Hajime No Ippo: The New Challenger and Hetalia Axis Powers following closely. Sora Wo Kakeru Shoujo would go in there somewhere to for being the first anime in a while to make me laugh out loud and not have it be forced. That’s about all I watched this season really.

    I suppose from this whole list I have determined that you really love your romance anime in the same way I love my mecha/sci-fi anime. Then again what blogger doesn’t prefer slice of life and romance anime these days? Is it really a matter of preference or a matter of choice though? Given the ever increasing prominence of the romantic dramedy genre I’m guessing I’m going to have to learn to build a lasting interest in it at some point if I want to stay with the times on at least some level.

    Anyway why Top 7? Luck perhaps?

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  5. @Kaioshin Sama: Thanks for the reply. For those carryover shows like Toradora and Clannad, I only considered the part of those shows that aired during the winter season.

    In regards to SF anime, I’ve been a print SF fan since almost from the moment I could read. Much of live action/animated SF series can’t hold a candle to the best that print SF has to offer so when I watch those series I’m always comparing between the two mediums. So while I can enjoy Rideback, the setting of the series reminds me of the book “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow and I find the book superior to the series. Then theres books like the pair of books from Dan Simmons – “Ilium” and “Olympos”; calling the story epic would be an big understatement. I’d really like to see more good SF series like Kaiba or Dennou Coil but it’s much harder to impress me as a SF series then a good slice-of-life series or silly comedy. I’d probably like mecha anime but most of the mecha shows are from established franchises and I don’t want to spend the time to get to learn the respective universes.

    I picked 7 because with 19 series watched during the winter season, I didn’t want to do the top 10 since I’d be going down to the middle and being in the middle is hardly special and I thought doing only 5 was a bit too restrictive.

    @Kitsune: That might explain it – some good stuff done between the two.

    @FuyuMaiden: I had a feeling you’d agree with my top pick. 😉

    @RP: The first season of Shikabane hime didn’t really click for me until I realized they were showing the events that where going to push Oori into becoming the hero of the show.

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  6. nice choice
    birdy02 should win hand down. but second place behind Clannad not bad
    people tend to get attached to clannad much easier.

    No best villain award ?

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  7. “I’d probably like mecha anime but most of the mecha shows are from established franchises and I don’t want to spend the time to get to learn the respective universes.”

    Heroic Age is not mecha but it’s what I would consider an epic science fiction story and a romantic drama. 26 episodes of all kinds of stuff, really. I ranked it in the 95% category in terms of number of shows I liked less. Aoi Hitomi The Third is also science fiction of the post-apocalyptic period which ended up being pretty good due to the maturity and leadership qualities of certain characters. Nothing has yet beat Legend of the Galactic Heroes in the science fiction department for plot length, character complexity, or the ability to simultaneously juggle dozens upon dozens of characters while never getting any of em confused. The cast is standard for a David Weber sci fi universe series, but generally most novels have far fewer characters than LOGH. Even for a military sci fi space opera.

    For people that liked Clannad perhaps a little too much and are big on the nostalgia (why is the Japanese word so close in sound to the English word that means the same thing) hit, read the character overviews written by this guy here.

    http://whammyman5.livejournal.com/822.html

    Back to Clannad, it’s pretty good. I think if I had watched it without reading the VN first, it wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic. The Fate/Stay night bitter sweet endings, emphasis on bitter/sad, is a kind of flip side to Clannad VN’s bitter-sweet endings. Focus on the sweet part.

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  8. @ymarsakar: At one point I did actually start the VN for Clannad but really only scratched the surface before getting distracted by other things.

    Thanks for the suggestions, I’m always looking for good SF series when I can fit them in.

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  9. Clannad VN tends to start out really slow compared to other VNs like Utawarerumono or Fate SN.

    It was the second VN I read, the first being FSN. Given how dramatic and emotional FSN turned out to be, I was determined to find out if the same was true of these other VNs,so thus Clannad. There was a lot of slice of life stuff going on and a lot of choices. Once I focused in on an arc, however, things got a whole lot more interesting and less confusing.

    There are walkthroughs for Clannad for each part, but they don’t explain why the choices matter or how. Essentially, there are only a limited number of days to start out with. And if you don’t spend the requisite time with the special person, their arc is disqualified. If everybody’s arc is disqualified, game ends after some time.

    For you, I might recommend two methods of approaching it. Either pick out your favorite character in the show and just spend all the time you can with her, as if you are obsessed. That’ll work. Now if the personal favorite is Nagisa, that means there will be the least new content in the VN. Since the anime covered that… pretty extensively all in all. In some sense, the anime decision to turn the club into a group party was actually the more social and fun route.

    The other method is to pick out the character you felt could have been developed more in the anime but wasn’t. The VN will then offer the most new material there.

    Whenever I felt like quitting Clannad, cause the initial investment was just long, I remembered Utawarerumono Vn and FSN VN. The chance at the “reward” was the motivation I needed.

    I can very well understand the Japanese youth market on light novels. It’s not that they have a short attention span, but that they wish to have the highest impact in the shortest amount of time. And that’s true even of their novels in a sense.

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