It was a bit of a surprise to all of a sudden think “I’ve seen some pretty decent anime series made in these past ten years; maybe I could even set down a few thoughts about them.” The surprise came from the awareness I’d started watching “anime known to be anime” a decade and a half before the beginning of those ten years, and had been interested in a specific vintage and genre of “anime not known to be anime” for a decade before that. Observing other long-time fans, I have to admit to sliding into the supposition they show a focus, small or strong, on works from (or ultimately before) their formative years with a hard-to-miss undercurrent of “anime isn’t what it once was.” For that matter, this very year I spent a lot of time returning to my own “anime not known to be anime” (along with works I could connect to them); finding time to watch more recent series again seems much more of a challenge, just as I’m somewhere between selective and cautious settling on new series to watch and haven’t yet seen some much-talked-up shows of this decade for a variety of reasons. Even so, that much shifting back and forth between “new anime” and “old anime” can seem a somewhat rare ability to me, although of course it could well be a small thing to boast of. Still, once I’d gone through the perhaps-incomplete source of some Wikipedia categories I could find at least a few possibilities to bring up for each year of the decade, and more surprising than that I could fine some “first place standouts” among those standouts.

All years are transitional; looking back at 2010 might make it seem more so. We were still in the fallout years of the “anime boom” of the start of the previous decade going sour, and some did seem very tempted to keep pontificating about the industry in Japan having retrenched to “sure things” for a last, deep-pocketed audience, with the dread word “moe” hanging over it all. Sound of the Sky’s character designs seemed very much a nod and wink back to the very popular K-ON!, the difference being setting those cute girls in a cosy, somewhat militaristic post-apocalypse. Even so, that the sense of “this might be as good as we’ll ever get from now on when it comes to ‘fantastic new worlds’ being set up again” has changed over time, and the strange, even somewhat optimistic charm of the world of the series for me, makes it a personal standout.

Where Sound of the Sky might be linked to one work from Kyoto Animation, Angel Beats! has been connected to another, somewhat earlier one. Beyond that, its apparent popularity perhaps helps to keep up to this day the refrain the series isn’t as long as its first plans had it and its secondary characters didn’t get fitting and proper development, but again something about its “high school purgatory” sticks in my mind. Princess Jellyfish, anyway, could be seen as stretching beyond the safe boundaries of the time with its tale of some unemployed young women, none of who are exactly fans of the safe sorts of things to be fans of in anime series, having to push out of their comfort zones to try and save their home. It did point to a longer manga series, but wasn’t entirely dissatisfying by itself. Squid Girl was the first series from this year I managed to hit on when trying a personal project of “watching one episode of one series from each year over decades” to mark a few “it’s been this long for me” anniversaries; at the time, it seemed an uncomplicated comedy appealing specifically because it had me thinking a bit of uncomplicated North American cartoons. Going from there to movies, Mardock Scramble did stretch out over several years to adapt one science fiction novel into three films; it appealed to me at the time for seeming to be a throwback to “the way anime once was” with modern polish. Again, since then things seem to have changed a bit, even if I’m now conscious the cautions have just shifted to “we only get variety because those foolish enough to go into anime are being overworked to depletion,” merely a different sort of dark projection ahead from the ones from ten years ago. With that in mind, though, I can still look back to the decade that was.