Well, that’s that: the curtain falls on 2012. An interesting year, in many regards: the WiiU finally gets released (and no, I don’t have one), portable gaming enters a new phase, and gigantic film projects see the light of day.
I spent most of it traveling. Cons, cons and more cons- I hit 14 this year- distracted me from much of the nerd-sphere in 2012. But I still managed to experience a few notable contributions to the geek canon this year. Quality over quantity, I would hope.
Wreck-It Ralph: What kind of world do we live in today? A few years ago, Pixar was at the forefront of Disney Animation, producing some of the best animated films in this country, and destroying Dreamworks right and left. (Dragons? pssh, not when we got Buzz Lightyear to save the day!) Then chief creator John Lasseter was pulled out of Pixar, given full control over Disney’s entire animation department, and set loose to change the future of the company. In 2011, Pixar gave us Cars 2, and Disney unveiled Tangled.
In 2012, Pixar gave us Brave, and while that was a heartwarming, beautiful fable about the love between mother and daughter, it didn’t hold a candle to what Lassie threw at us in November.
Like Toy Story before it, Wreck-It Ralph was a loving tribute to the bond between man and machine, gamer and game, player and toy. But it was so much more than that. It was an open greeting to gamers from any generation, be it the old arcade days, or the new shooter co-op networkers. It was a massive in-joke, targeted at both the children flocking to see the huge-handed antihero save the day, and the parents “dragged” along to chaperone. It was an alternative to the father/daughter dynamic that Disney championed all through the 90s. It was by far the BEST VIDEO GAME MOVIE EVER MADE! Why? Because unlike any adaptation or “re-invention” of a classic story, Wreck It Ralph wasn’t trying to be something it wasn’t- it was a film about games, for the people who play them. It wasn’t even a video game movie, really, it was a movie about the love and power of video games themselves.
My only question now is, “When Can I See You Again?”
Summer Superhero Blockbusters: I refuse to acknowledge Avengers vs Dark Knight Rises. That’s just not a fair comparison. Both films embodied their respective “genres” and “publisher” perfectly, from Avengers’ bombast and pitched battles, to the cerebral brilliance of Bane. Both films managed to conjure powerful emotions, and keep me rooted to my seat through multiple viewings. Both films left me feeling infinitely satisfied, and yet yearning for more More MORE.
If last year’s crop of hero films set the bar high, this year’s made it impossible to reach. That’s really all that can be said, now that the dust has settled (and the BluRays are on repeat). Given Marvel’s track record these past two years, the sequels might live up to the newly wrought hype, but if not, it doesn’t really matter either. And despite there being news of a new Batman franchise (to lead into a Justice League counter to Marvel’s majesty), I’m in no rush to see how that turns out. Seriously, if this is the last I ever see of these series, I’m happy.
Oh, and Amazing Spider-man was pretty good too.
Children Who Chase Lost Voices: While this film was technically released last year, it received little real fanfare among the anime-watching demographic. Which is a shame, since this film highlights many of the reasons why director Makoto Shinkai is being called the next Miyazaki. Lush settings, developed characters, silent gods and terrifying monsters abound in this fable about death, loss, the afterlife, and learning to cope. Not since Spirited Away has a film managed to evoke so much emotion, while still remaining firmly in the realm of whimsy and fantasy. This one is not to be missed.
Nintendo 3DSXL: I resisted buying a 3DS pretty much since it was released. Either the 3D hurt my eyes, or the price was too steep, or there were no games I wanted to play on it- take your pick, I just stalled on buying one for most of the past year, and most of the previous one as well. Finally, seeing a very generous discount on the newly released, gigantic 3DSXL over the holidays, I had to finally buckle down and grab this monster.
I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but this unity managed to fix every issue I had with the older model. While I still don’t use the 3D very often (or on a very high setting), its clear that with the XL, Nintendo wanted to prove it was more than just a simple gimmick. A pleasing interface, larger screens that display better resolution than the DS LL ever did, and a worthy selection of new titles have helped convert me into a believer. I still don’t think the 3DS was a necessary release by a long shot, but as an upgrade to an aging DS unit, it’s a more than worthy successor.
Revolution: Since the planet seems to be on the verge of some type of impending armageddon (and definitely NOT the Mayan one, since you’re alive to read this), it’s little surprise all the shows devoted to doomsday- from series about real life preppers to fears of nuclear annihilation to zombies feasting on flesh. Even co-creator Eric Kripke dabbled in the end times during his last two seasons on Supernatural, and JJ Abrams spend a chunk of LOST waxing philosophical about the state of humanity.
But in Revolution, there’s more than just a dystopian alternative future to look forward to. In a world where technology has failed, and electricity just a memory, it is the deeds of the humans living during these trying times that drive the “story” of us all. But whereas other shows rely on aliens, gods and other unreal critters to take us down and force our survivalist instincts to kick in, on Revolution we are our own jailers, as much as we are our only hope. Humanist, provocative and more than a bit surreal, this is a dytopian show about a very real possibility, and it asks more of us the viewer than it asks of its characters.
Psycho Pass: I could easily wax endlessly about the virtues of this series, but I already did a few weeks ago. Let me simply state that the more of this show I see, the more adamant I am about this being the best anime of the past 5 years. If you’re not watching Psycho-Pass, you’re doing it wrong.
NonNonBa: Sometimes fans of manga forget that there’s more to the medium than shounen fights and girls falling in love. NonNonBa is one of those times. Equal parts autobiography and exploration of the hidden world of youkai, Shigeru Mizuki manages to lend a healthy dose of both realism and humanity to his landmark gekiga book, giving a strong emotional tie to its young hero, and highlighting the “quaint” mannerisms of pre-war Japan, family ties and the realms of mystery that only youth can conjure up. NonNonBa is a splendid example of what manga can accomplish, and does it without big battles, shirtless fighters or swooning ladies.
Otakon: I never thought I’d be writing these words, but Otakon was my favorite convention this year. Out of a personal-record-breaking 14 cons attended in 2012, Otakon has managed to stand out as the best weekend I had. Not to say that this was a landslide opinion of mine- it faced stiff competition from at least 2 other cons- but it goes to show that sometimes I’m wrong. In this case, my insistence that the biggest anime con on the East Coast could never top the smaller affairs I prefer was proven dead wrong.
Otakon did everything right. Solid guest offerings, decent merchandise variety, wide panel selections and intriguing official programming. It also seamlessly executed the weekend, with no real stumbles (at least in my humble opinion). But what really worked was a flawless melding of fandoms and people, bereft of “annoying” quirks/memes and “holier than thou” attitudes. This was my fourth Otakon, and while I thought last year was the experience I had been craving, it will be 2012 that will go down as the year it all came true.
Cards Against Humanity: Anyone who has ever played Apples to Apples knows this tale- eventually, after hours of seeing the same cards and questions roll around, one player will inevitably look at the question at hand, and drop the Helen Keller card, despite it being terribly inappropriate for the situation. Some people around the table will laugh, some will stare blankly, and some will admonish the person for “being disgusting.” And the game will roll on.
Now imagine a game of Apples to Apples where EVERY card is pretty much that situation. That, my friends, is “Cards Against Humanity.” Or, as many of my fellows refer to it, “Apples to Apples for Horrible People.” This game, an early success story courtesy of crowd-sourcing juggernaut Kickstarter, became a mainstay of game rooms and lobbies during the 2012 con season, in some cases pulling together people off the street for a few hours of completely inappropriate fun, at the expense of political correctness, tact and often sleep. The incredibly simple concept of pairing up questions like “What is there a ton of in heaven” and “White People Like_____” with answers ranging from “The 3/5 Compromise” to “Assless Chaps” crossed “boundaries” between attendees (and in one case, non-attendees who happened to know of the game) and led to some very interesting stories over the course of the weekend.
While technically released in 2011, this game will go down as one of the biggest card games of 2012, simply because of its simplicity and appeal. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to play this game, just go to their website and download the free PDF version, print and go. You will not regret it (at least not the “acquiring part”).
Supernatural: I wanted this show to end two seasons ago. I couldn’t understand why the series had to go on after saving the world from the Apocalypse, returning Lucifer to his cage and setting things right, aside from the desire for more $$$ on the part of the producers. What followed after the standout 5th season were two hot damn messes of broken plots, throwaway characters and a whole lot of straw-grabbing (albeit with some true gems mixed in from time to time) that lacked much of the appeal and strong narratives that made the first seasons pure gold. Blame was tossed around, the showrunner was canned at the end of season 7, and fans just hoped for one last chance at glory before their favorite series went the way of the dodo.
Season 8 has completely wiped those feelings away. A return to sharp writing, experimentation and appearances by fan-favorite guests have breathed a new life into the fading series about brothers battling the forces of darkness. While not plodding back into familiar territory, or retreading past story lines, Supernatural has managed to set itself apart from contemporary shows like Grimm and Fringe, once more showcasing why this series has managed to gather such a rabid fan base and cult favorite status among a television landscape full of such shows.
If this is the last season, it will surely go out with a bang. But a part of me hopes its not.
Some honorable mentions:
Skyfall: James Bond + The Dark Knight + Skyrim = BEST BOND EVAR!!!! It’s hard to believe that Sam Mendez directed this, and not Christopher Nolan.
Django Unchained: Too late to be included here, this is the best spaghetti western since…well…okay, this is the best spaghetti western of all time.
Pokemon White 2: This can be summed up simply- 147 hours. That’s how much time I’ve spent playing both White 2 and Black (since the White 2 release), all in the name of breeding the “perfect dragon.” Right now that title goes to a Dragon Dance Haxorus named Nidhogg, but there’s a Garchomp with Outrage breathing down its neck.
ConnectiCon: Otakon’s closest competition this year is fast becoming the blueprint for how future fan conventions will play out. This Massively Multi-Genre event crossed boundaries while increasing its profile and experiencing growingpains with stride.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia: While the series can lack focus at times, and has a hilarious copout of an ending, episode 10 is the hands down creepiest thing I’ve seen in an anime aimed at the younger demographic.