Ubu Roi’s Top Ten Worst of 2011

Here it is once again, my annual attempt to prove I have a sense of humor by bagging on bad anime. You know, just because I can. For those of you who need reminding, the rules are this: these are my opinions and mine alone; if you don’t share them, then so be it. I do this because I like snarking, not because I have any pretensions to being a professional anime reviewer. Another thing to keep in mind is that the ranking, or even appearance in this list (and the Honorable Mentions, when I do those) has nothing to do with how much (or if) I enjoyed the series. Sometimes, I pick on a series just because some aspect of it deserved picking on, even if the series overall was one I watched regularly. And this is a year in which a lot of anime deserved picking on. The “Worst Concept” category was insanely competitive, but I had to really work for candidates in the “Worst Pacing” and “Worst Direction” categories. Either I’m getting pickier about what I watch, or the overall skill level of the studios is getting better, even as the source material gets worse.

This was “The Year of the Light Novel.” While it’s been more and more popular to adapt light novels over the last few years, this is the one in which just about every anime series was adapted from a light novel series. The notable exceptions, such as Guilty Cross and Fractale, only served to remind us why that is. I grant you, not every original series can be a Puella Magi Magical Madoka, but at least most can tell a coherent story from start to finish. The major problem with light novels is that they rarely sustain more than a three-episode arc at best. Stretch it and you end up with a bore-fest like Shana. Compress it and you lose so much of what makes it good, like Ichiban no Uchiro Daimou. This means that any adaptation, be it 12 or 24 episodes, tends to be rather acoherent and of uneven quality, where weaker stories got used. That’s not to say an original 26-episode series will have an even level of storytelling — there’s always the “teen slump” wherein time has to be killed because there wasn’t quite enough material to run the full two cour. But at least it’s an obvious time-killer in which nothing is supposed to happen (episodes 13-17 of Railgun, I’m lookin’ at you), not a terribly sub-par story that doesn’t fit, shoehorned into the middle of stronger segments. (Helmijistan arc from Full Metal Panic, anyone?)

This year is a little different; with the problems of my computer system and loss of about 3/4 of my library to computer woes, I can’t go back and get as many screenshots as I’d like, nor can I check my recollections. I’m writing this only the day after getting my system back up with XP, and don’t even have viewers and such installed yet. So this is going to be text-heavy as it will be several more days before I’m fully up and running.

In case you’re interested, or just feel like inflicting pain upon yourself, here are past entries in the series:

Worst of 2010 No Honorable Mentions in 2010
There was no Worst of 2009 — It was that bad.
Worst of 2008 Honorable Mentions
Worst of 2007 Honorable Mentions
Worst of 2006 Honorable Mentions

And now, without further ado, the Worst of 2011.

10. Worst Sequel Award: While Squid Girl tried – it really did – the major problem that it had wasn’t that it was a bad sequel, it was that it was a bad show to start with. A concept ripped off from Kerou Gunso, only the stupid squid girl invader gets (effectively) enslaved. I don’t like that sort of psycho torture, so it was always on my “hell no” list. Then there was Shana III, or F. Oy. It deserved the prize for Shana II, but that was last year. Instead, I’ve got to go with Baka to Test 2, given that while the first show was occasionally funny, it seemed to forget that the plot (such as it was) involved the pathetic class F trying to climb the ranks and take class A’s room away from them. The second show dispensed with any semblance of a plot, starting with a three-episode beach arc. That’s right, not one episode, an entire arc. Which wasn’t even that funny.

9. Worst Train Wreck / Spaghetti Bowl of a Plot: Gosick. Another set of light novel adaptations, and despite all the weaknesses that implies, a strong middle-series set of arcs was wasted by a bizarre and barely coherent ending arc, in which four years of WWII were compressed into thirty minutes — and it happened in the 1920’s. This leaves aside the whole multiple back-stories, miracle substitutions, convoluted history, occultism, convenient appearance and disappearance of characters, and truly terrible mysteries that anyone with half a brain could have solved.

8. Worst “You got Your Plot in My Fanservice” Award: So.. Maken-ki. H.O.T.D. or Infinite Stratos? Maken-ki gets the award. Not that it had much of a plot, which really should have disqualified it, but I had to give this one to something, and H.O.T.D. just couldn’t carry the concept of “plot” anywhere. “Let’s survive the zombie apocalypse!” isn’t a plot, it’s a scenario. And both of them had more plot than Infinite Stratos ever dreamed of having.

7. Worst Concept: What a competitive category this year! Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere made a strong bid for this one. In the end, I think it was less the concept than it was the explanation of a setup so complex as to defy anime explanations, and a really, really bad first half of the series — especially the atypical, idiotic first episode. Then there was Ben-to — recreational rioting for cheap eats. Problem was, it was actually funny for a while, until it started trying to develop a plot — and fall miserably into incest twin hijinks, yuri stalker hijinks, and…. oh, never mind. Guilty Cross gets DQ’d for this award, because, frankly, it didn’t have a concept, just a huge pile of tropes and stupid people all around. Moshidora, aka What If a Female Manager of a High School Baseball Team Read Drucker’s “Management”? Whaaaaaa? Then there was Astalottes Toy. Semen-drinking succubus…age 10. Ewwwww, I said worst, not “most disgusting child porn” concept. And Qwasar no Stigmata had a sequel too, but hey, since they ramped up the sex and toned down the violence in the first series… I mean, fueling heroics with breast milk? Schwing! What’s bad about that? So, yes, Oppaidaisuki aka Tale of the Secret Blade of Witch’s Milk gets to walk, er, jiggle off with the prize. I mean, seriously… women being valued based on the size of their mammaries? Never happen.

6. Worst Pacing: A Dark Rabbit has Seven Lives. Or was it nine? I lost track. Dark Rabbit seemed to introduce antagonists almost at random, dispense with them too quickly, and then drag out the most mundane, time-wasting nonsense. The onsen episode was bad enough; the two-episode “beach training camp” was worse.

5. Worst “Was There a Point to This Show?” Award: Dantalian No Shaka… also a serious contender for “Worst Disappointment.” A haunting OP and terrific visuals give way to a show that ultimately goes nowhere, and spends its last few episodes tossing in new mysteries, even to the point of wasting an entire episode on two characters never before seen (and only once afterwards). Not explaining Huey’s connection to the librarian was also pretty cheesy. I’d say something about a protagonist that wins battles by reading books, but I actually kind of liked that aspect; it beat the hell out of missile spam.

4. Worst Disappointment As noted, Dantalian no Shaka was a contender. So was Fractale, but in its case, I was half-expecting it to be a disappointment; it makes the list mainly because, for a brief moment around episode 4, I thought it was going to be something good. Then there was YuriYuri, which should have been titled TeaseTease due to lack of explicit yuri. No, the prize has to go to Gosick. Besides a title I never quite got, it was replete with mysteries that weren’t, drama that wasn’t, and suspense that was more tedium than tense. And that was just the first five episodes. This show kept throwing up impossible, illogical and inexplicable events and settings, such as the seaside convent built below sea level behind a series of dikes, with gates that could have no other purpose than to let water in to flood the place….An academy that might as well have had three students for all that any others ever mattered….and not one but two bizarre backstories. The flavor felt wrong at times too, mixing science and mysticism in ways that were more suitable to the Victorian world rather than the post-Great War one the story was set in. But the worst failure of the story has to be reserved for the male protagonist, who seemed to have only three functions: serving as a target for Victorique’s abuse (and later, poorly expressed affection), being the target of the inspector’s expository rambles, and screaming “VICTORIQUE!!!” at the top of his lungs. I submit that a well-trained parrot could have performed all these functions just as gallantly as “the third son of an Imperial soldier.” Which, as Kujo (“Arf! Arf! I’m a devil dog!”) later admitted, meant nothing at all.

3. Worst Animation (of An Unripe Cantaloupe or Otherwise). Viewer’s choice award — post your selection in the comments. Due to the loss of so many series, I can’t do an honest job of reviewing everything I saw earlier this year. Not that I ever do, but I like to refresh my memory, at least. (If I have to pick blind, I’ll pick Freezing).

2. Worst Direction: A Dark Rabbit has Seven Lives Where to begin? Where to end? Maybe its problems were really with the source material? I’d have considered it for Worst Concept, but I don’t think this show had a concept. Like Guilty Crown, it was a random collection of tropes tossed together. And of course, a vampire that never sucks blood, but creates a zombie out of some kid she just met. And then spends nine years sealed in an alternate dimension, yet has no problem joining high-school and keeping up with the lessons. And rules that keep changing as to where/when she’s safe from her enemies. And the guy gets a power-up that doesn’t do anything. And training that doesn’t seem to help. Annoying secondary characters and a technicolor-haired lead female round out the cast beside a cardboard protagonist whose primary battle tactic is to charge ahead and die repeatedly until he someone else wins. (Prize bit of wisdom from the SSB: “If you die, you lose the game, right? So doesn’t that mean everyone in Rift lost the game before it began?”)

1. Worst Show of 2011: Now this was a competitive category. I was tempted to hand it to Dark Rabbit, but how can I give such an award to an anime that never had any pretensions of being anything other than light entertainment in the first place? There was Dantalian no Shaka‘s incoherent non-ending. Bad, but not enough. And I just can’t give the award to H.O.T.D..; it wanted to be a B-grade schlocky series, and it succeeded wonderfully. And by ‘wonderfully,’ I mean terribly. Then there was Hidan no Aria, a very strong contender, which ramped absurdity up to, well absurd levels. But again, it never took itself seriously. Maken-ki? Oh, so deserving, but again, it wasn’t pretentious enough. Fractale? Pretentiousness to spare and I don’t like the director. (Is ‘pretentiousness’ a word? Whatever.) But it lacked that certain something… No, I’ve got to give the “Worst Show” award to the far more pretentious and deserving Gosick, a show in which any random woman can be hired to be the queen for ten years but prophet figureheads have to bred in accordance with prophecy, dismembered heads can be kept perfectly for a decade, tiny girls weighing 50 pounds (soaking wet) can pull a teen boy up a cliff, two people can aim a pistol better than one, governments have a “Ministry of the Occult”, little girls can be Sherlock Holmes, and police detectives can’t see what’s right in front of them. Well OK, maybe the bit with the cliff….

And onward we go, for the Honorable Mentions shall follow later this evening…

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