2008 in Review and Predictions for 2009

You know, even though I mostly focus this blog on stories about the anime industry and the American fan culture behind it, I am still an avid collector of manga and anime DVDs. So that means that along with keeping tabs on the latest news and traveling to many conventions this past year, I’ve been watching and reading many new series.

For the next two weeks, I would like to take a break from my normal postings and do a little bit of a review of 2008. Looking over my collection, I’ve pulled together my top picks for new anime and manga releases in the past year. Hover your mouse over most of the titles for cover art and shopping information via Amazon.

And because I just can’t keep my editorial opinions to myself, I have also included a list of the best and worst companies and organizations of 2008, as well as my predictions for the anime and manga industry in the new year. Let’s see just how accurate my predictions actually are when I look back at this a year from now. 😉

And just to be clear, I’m only listing series that began their availability in America in 2008. Series that had been available prior to 2008 or that are not legally available in the US are not counted.

Top New Anime Releases of 2008

10) xxxHolic
CLAMP has always had a track record of good series, and this interesting dark-comedy is no exception.

9) Rocket Girls
♬ I looky for you~!♬ Maybe I just had a hidden interest in space travel, but this cute short series about three teenage girls becoming astronauts had me hooked from the very beginning.

8) Otoboku – Maidens are Falling for Me
I’ve written about my fondness for “guys becoming girls” plots before, but this story about a boy cross-dressing to get into an all-girls school actually managed to bring tears to my eyes with some emotionally powerful moments.

7) Emma: A Victorian Romance
It might be a little slow, but a sweet story with some very lovable characters made this a very enjoyable period piece.

6) Negima?!
Studio SHAFT brings their creative touch to the popular Ken Akamatsu franchise.

5) Lucky Star
It might not be the second coming of Haruhi, but as I point out in this review, Bandai does a solid release on this fan favorite… even if the t-shirt does look stupid when being worn by yours truly.

4) Five Centimeters per Second
I felt a little disappointed that this film did not live up to the greatness of Voices of a Distant Star. However, the ending sequence is probably the finest three minutes ever animated, and it completely blew me away when I saw it at a film festival earlier this year.

3) Gurren Laggan
Although I hated the second half of this series, there is no doubt that it was the hottest property for the US anime industry this past year. From slipping out of the hand of ADV to an experimental “sub now, dub later” approach from Bandai Entertainment, this title finally got a few fansub watchers to pony up the cash to buy a DVD.

2) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Originally a Japanese novel from the 60’s, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has seen many different adaptations through out the past few decades. However, the franchise was revived and finally brought over to the US with this modern anime adaptation. With a limited coast-to-coast theater screening last summer to a DVD release last month, this fantastic film has won over many of American otaku in the past year.

1) Strike Witches
That’s right, I believe the top anime property to hit America this year was actually never released in America. It was the third series to have ever been released globally via the internet, but Gonzo finally hit gold based on the fact that guys would prefer to see girls wearing no pants. The fandom response was tremendous, and this made the show the most financially successful series for the studio in a long time. There’s still a lot of money to be made off of the niche otaku market, you just have to be creative in the way you try to sell it.

Top New Manga Releases of 2008

10) Phoenix Wright
This video game franchise had become a major hit among American otaku, so it was very smart of Del Rey to team up with Capcom to bring this manga adaptation to the US.

9) Me and the Devil Blues
This supernatural retelling of the life of blues legend Robert Johnson was the most unique comic I’ve read all year. It was very odd to see a Japanese artist write about Southern black culture.

8) A Girl Who Runs Through Time
As I had mentioned in my anime list, this story has been adapted many times over the past few decades, so CMX brought over this lovely bishoujo manga version from 2004 to coincide with the release of the anime movie.

7) Maka Maka
Hot. Lesbian. Sex. Do I really need to say more?

6) The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
While it may not be the best entry into the franchise, the manga adaptation is a good appetizer to the English release of the light novels this upcoming spring.

5) solanin
There’s life after college? Well, I didn’t have it nearly as bad as these characters after I graduated last year, but this hip one-volume series from VIZ provides a very interesting, funny, and tragic look at a group of friends just beginning to figure out adulthood.

4) Maid Machinegun
As I had written in this review, this is an absolutely charming light novel that dives into the mind of a maid cafe waitress with a very wild imagination.

3) Sunshine Sketch
Comedy is cultural, so it is often hard to translate over to another language while still maintain the same level a hilarity. I find that four-panel gag comics often suffer the most in English. That is why I couldn’t believe I found myself laughing to hard at the end of each little episode of this cute comic. It really brought me back to the days of reading Azumanga Daioh for the first time.

2) Manga Sutra
Originally released as Futari H in Japan, this is Tokyopop’s best kept dirty little secret. Unlike what you often find in hentai manga, this comic takes a very realistic approach to sex by following two newly wedded virgins figuring out just how to do it. Newcomers will easily identify with the protagonist’s struggle in the surprisingly complicated act, and seasoned veterans will still find the intermittent facts and statistic about sex to be very interesting. Not to mention that it’s also pretty freaking hot.

1) Yen Plus Magazine
After years of waiting for a new manga anthology to come out in America, I was delighted to see this monthly filled with a great selection of Japanese, Korean, and OEL titles. I immediately ordered a subscriptions and have been reading each issue thoroughly as they been coming out.

Top Companies / Organizations of 2008

10) Vertical Inc
Talk about niche. You probably never heard of these guys, but they have been publishing many works of Japanese literature in America for quite a long time now, and this year they released many many classics from Osamu Tezuka including Black Jack and Dororo.

9) Yuricon / ALC Publishing
I was just introduced to this independent publisher when I recently attended the MangaNEXT convention the other month, but the women behind it, Erica Friedman, is quite simply the most passionate person I’ve ever seen inside of the industry. She pours her heart and soul into the yuri genre, and I feel like I’m going to be exposed to a lot more yuri manga in the future because of her.

8) Bandai Entertainment
While Bandai’s Ken Iyadomi really ruffled my feathers at the end of last year, this company has really shown tremendous improvement with their plans for global Blu-ray distribution and a global broadcast of a new series this upcoming winter season.

7) Right Stuf / Nozomi Entertainment
I think I ended up really getting into these guys because of all the people I follow on Twitter. They have been taking a lot of fan favorite niche titles and releasing them in bare-bones boxsets. But besides for that, they put out a bi-weekly podcast called Anime Today which is always filled with the best interviews inside of the anime industry.

6) Del Rey
If you ever have the chance to attend a Del Rey panel at any anime convention, you need to do yourself a favor and attend it. The crew behind this company are the biggest goofballs in the industry, and they always have a fun time with the fans whenever they attend conventions. Oh, plus they’ve been producing the finest quality manga titles for the past four years… so the fact that they also have an awesome personality is just icing on the cake.

Crunchyroll gets a lot of credit for the simultaneous releases of Gonzo series this year, but the truth is that the real brains behind the operation was BOST TV. They were the ones who actually took the time to translate and subtitle each episode, often with a very little time to do it. And unlike that other website, BOST TV had been 100% legit from the very beginning.

4) VIZ Media
They’re #1 in manga and #2 in anime, so that really gives them a free pass to take it easy. However, they have been using their additional revenue to really experiment with new things this past year. This includes adding popular series like Naruto and Death Note to free online streaming services, and screening the Bleach movie and both live-action Death Note films to movie theaters across America.

3) Yen Press
I really fell in love with this newcomer to the market this past year. They’ve been putting out some top-quality titles, aiming for the otaku niche with their partnership with Square Enix, licensed the ever popular Haruhi manga and light-novels, and then had the balls to begin a new monthly manga anthology. But the really amazing thing is that they only started just a year ago and they’ve grown this huge in just a short amount of time. That, my friends, is what I call gumption.

2) Gonzo / GDH
Gonzo changed everything this year. After facing some financial struggles, Gonzo became the only Japanese studio open-minded enough to begin to release their brand new series online just hours after being broadcast on Japanese TV. As I mentioned earlier in my anime list, this experiment was very successful for them with the release of Strike Witches, and it is setting a precedent that more anime studios will be going for in the years ahead.

1) FUNimation
This year, we discovered that FUNimation actually made up a 33% of the entire American anime market. However, they’ve been using this power and success to rescue many anime titles that were left dead by other anime studios. Also, they have been making tremendous progress in bringing anime legally online while still putting pressure on piracy and illegal fansubbing groups. Quite frankly, FUNimation has been doing everything right this whole year, and if there is anyone with the right resources and motivation to save a struggling market, it is these guys.

Worst Companies / Organizations of 2008

3) Anime News Network
This long running website made a couple of blunders this past year that disappointed me very much. First, they broke my heart by beginning to review unlicensed fansub series while still demeaning amateur anime bloggers doing the same thing. And then after months of much hype and much delay, they released a video streaming service filled with major bugs and design flaws.

2) ADV
This giant epically fell in the middle of the year, and they did so in the most ungracious way possible. They ran out of cash and could no longer continue to put out new anime and manga titles. But instead of admitting to this, they denied any bad news and continued to mislead the fans until their Japanese holders finally took away their properties and began handing them over to distribution studios. But don’t worry fans! According to ADV, I’m sure we’ll see the next issue of Yotsuba& come out sometime soon! They swear it! (-_-)

1) Crunchyroll
As I so vividly detailed in my last post, these guys are the biggest douche-bags to have ever hit the industry, and there’s nothing more I can say about that.

Predictions for 2009

This is a critical turning point for the industry, and at the moment, things are looking pretty gloomy. The DVD market is shriveling up into obliteration, and the Americans can do nothing about it.

As far as the giants go, FUNimation and Viz will continue to pull their weight and influence the Japanese as much as they can. Bandai, on the other hand, is sitting on the edge right now. If they can finally work out the licensing issues with their Japanese overlords and bring new content to the internet ASAP, then they could potentially change everything. However, if they continue to shy away from the ‘net, then I predict that BEI will be gone within a few months into 2009.

I don’t see any minor anime companies making a big difference in 2009. Media Blasters have curved out a successful routine for themselves, so they will continue to license bargain bin titles and sell them to whoever is willing to buy it. ADV will make big promises, but unless they find some magical new way to turn a profit on their current titles, don’t expect for them to meet any of those expectations at all.

The stars of 2009 will be the Japanese themselves following Gonzo’s lead and releasing new series globally online. TV Tokyo taking control of Naruto’s online distribution is going to make a huge impact within a few weeks of the winter season. More Japanese studios will follow this lead for the spring season, and I can easily see a dozen new Japanese series being available globally like this for the summer season of 2009.

As we saw with the ho-hum releases of Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, and Lucky Star, I don’t see any current series making a big splash in America if or when they see an American release. All the top titles will be coming fresh out of Japan next year, and hopefully they will all be available legally.

The manga market will remain fairly stable and I doubt you will see anything groundbreaking. Tokyopop’s money struggles will finally start to disappear and they’ll gradually return back to normal, albeit a little more cautious about their spending. They will be returning to the convention scene with the NYCC this February, and I expect them to remain in the public spotlight all the way until the New York Anime Fest next fall.

I do not see any publishers going under due to the bad American economy, but this will most certainly prevent any growth over the next year. Kodansha will put off launching their American manga division and will continue to let Del Rey take care of things until things settle. Don’t expect them to release any new title under their label until 2010.

Unfortunately, the only manga casualty I see for the next year was my #1 new release this year, Yen Plus magazine. So far, I have not seen enough fan support to justify its publication, so they are losing money on it, I hope Yen Press rids itself of this burden and focuses more on releasing graphic novels.

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