While the anime market continues to go through a period of correction and dealing with wider distribution methods, there were still a whole lot of releases on DVD and Blu-ray during 2009. Whether buying for yourself, for that special anime fan in your life or if you're curious about what fans found to be the best titles of this past year, we've got a list of the best releases that should be in everyone's stocking this year.
Building on the success of prior visual novel adaptations, Clannad is the show at the top of its game as it follows a recovering delinquent named Tomoya in high school as he befriends several girls and comes to find value in his life and in the lives of others. It’s all about the slice of life with various romances, friendships and relationships involved as it explores their emotions and how each of them impacts the other. Few shows achieve this level of emotional connection and visual beauty that will leave an impact on you for quite some time afterwards. The 24-episode series is available in two half-season collections for the first season from Sentai Filmworks.
9. Darker than Black
A story about a near future where the world has radically changed as the sky can no longer be seen, special operatives exist that act as Contractors dealing with all manner of missions while trying to discover what's hidden behind the cities that have become surrounded by Gates that obscure everything. Told in two episode stories, a deep and complex world is slowly explored with men who do dark things with amazing abilities just outside of the view of normal people. With lush animation and very structured and detailed stories, a full blown world is realized here. The 26 episode series is available in six single disc editions from FUNimation.
8. Romeo X Juliet
A story told a thousand times over, “Romeo & Juliet” gets a new interpretation here in the anime world with a 24 episode series that sets it in a science-fantasy setting and empowers Juliet to be far more modern than most interpretations. With more time than the usual movie length story, the series is able to really make you feel even more for these characters and with the new dynamic between them, the politics of the city and the sheer fun of the adventure with the inclusion of fantasy elements. The 24-episode series is available in two half season collections from FUNimation.
7. Gurren Lagann
Most little boys grew up wanting a giant robot under their tree and Gurren Lagann is definitely the embodiment of the big giant robot aspect with a wild dash of insanity and creativity. In a far flung future where mankind is beaten down underground, two men decide to breach the surface and fight back against the aliens that are intent on keeping mankind down. Like most shows from Gainax, it goes above and beyond expectations with a universal approach from a series that starts deep underground as the characters grow from boys to men while the women provide much bounciness along the way. The 27 episode series is available in three collections from Bandai Entertainment.
6. Death Note
When a mysterious notebook falls into the hands of a high school senior in Japan, the world is set for change. That notebook allows whoever posses it to write a name in it and that person will die. Light begins his quest to change the world for the better with visions of his justice being served on the evil of the world to make it a safer place. When people start dropping like flies though, he enters into a game of cat and mouse that reverses back and forth several times with the world’s best detective. Add in numerous other characters as well as the creatures that created the notebooks who get playfully involved. The 37-episode series is available in two collections from Viz Media.
5. Ouran High School Host Club
Poor girl, rich school is certainly a familiar story and Ouran High School Host Club works it very well as young Haruhi arrives in her new school only to find that she’s going to have a hard time getting along with everyone. Her big problem at first is that since she dresses as a boy, it causes conflict about who she really is. But when one of the wealthiest and silliest boys in the school falls for her, he brings her into the Host Club world where she becomes very popular both with the clients and the other Hosts. It’s filled with a lot of slapstick comedy while being combined with standard girls storylines about romance, relationships and getting by in social situations like this. With a cast of beautiful young men around Haruhi, there’s always a lot going on here that will make you laugh, smile and feel connected to them. The 26-episode series is available in two collections from FUNimation.
The only Blu-ray release on this list, Akira is quite simply the must own movie and this is the must own edition. The movie is now past the 20 year mark but still contains amazing animation as it details psychic and genetic experiments that went wrong coming back to haunt a futuristic Tokyo. When a group of ragtag teenage bikers get caught up in a government crackdown, the tagline of the film is literal as Tokyo truly does explode because of it. While it's a streamlined version of the original manga with quite a few changes, it's as powerful as it was back in 1988 and has never looked as good as it does here.
3. Code Geass
Alternate world storylines are among some of the most interesting out there and Code Geass sets it up well with a world where Britannia has conquered huge parts of it, including America. And now they’ve finished conquering Japan and renaming it to Area 11 until the people there are worthy of true citizenship. With Britannians live almost as aristocracy there in the near future, one man is given the power to control the minds of others – for a brief time and only once – in order to fuel a rebellion that could free not only Japan but much of the rest of the world. And he’s a Britainnian as well. Code Geass goes over the top at times and it’s filled with various kinds of silly politics and aristocratic material, but it’s the kind of show that goes to these levels in a way that makes it exciting and intense. The 25-episode series first season is available in three collections from Bandai Entertainment.
2. Heroic Age
Greek mythology is entirely adaptable and Heroic Age takes the classic period and its sensibilities and shifts it to a far flung future. With various alien Tribes around the galaxy, mankind is the most recent to ascend to this level and they’re intent on finding the oldest of the Tribes, the Golden Tribe, which will give them the power to save their race. Other races fear mankind though and have found their own members of the special Tribe known as the Heroic Tribe which acts as the heroes upon which all their hopes rest. When mankind finally finds their own member of that tribe in Age, the final conflict bears down on them in grand form as war spreads across the galaxy. The 26-episode series is available in two half season collections from FUNimation.
1. Black Lagoon
One of the more Western-oriented shows of the last few years, Black Lagoon takes place in Southeast Asia in the early ‘90s as it focuses on a group of mercenaries known as the Lagoon Company. It’s a typical ragtag group that gains a new member when an innocent Japanese salaryman ends up being stranded with them and he manages to fit in and slowly adapt to this world of heavy booze, heavier gunplay and twisted individuals that make up the scummiest port city in the world. Rival gangs, old friends, old enemies and more fill out this show as the innocence is lost. Not for the weak of heart or those that don’t like lots of violence, swearing and sexuality. This 24-episode two-season series is available in a single collection from Geneon and FUNimation.
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