Best anime of 2015

As always, I’m excluding shows that already ranked in my 2014 top (ie, no Shirobako or Parasyte).

1) Durarara!! x2
There was a lot to fear with this sequel. A new studio with little experience, the risk of diminishing returns (especially after the Yellow Scarves arc being a bit of a step down)… Could the magic be recaptured ? Well, YES. The first part stumbled a bit out of the gate, having trouble to find its feet despite having lots of good parts. The second part, though ? Pure gold. A bunch of character-focus episodes that found again the greatness of the best of the first season, followed by the various new threads finally clicking together, and a finale that pulls the rug in a spectacular manner. I can hardly wait for the third part (starting in a couple of weeks’ time).

2) Yuri Bear Storm
Ikuhara is a master at what he does. The characters may be less compelling than his previous opus, but instead the story gains in laser focus and clarity of purpose. This series had a point to make, and made it beautifully. Roar, roar.

3) Mushishi – Suzu no Shizuku
This final special episode was the perfect ending to a great show. It encapsulated every strength, while telling a story that leaves you feeling that everything has been told. Many series would dream of such a conclusion.

4) School-Live!
The idea of combining a zombie survival show with a student slice-of-life structure was pure genius ; it produces a result that’s not only a great iteration of both genres, but a strong series on its own. And it’s executed so well, with careful seeding and foreshadowing of its big twists.

5) Death Parade
After Death Billiards, there was a question as to whether you can build a full series out of it. The answer is a resounding YES : while some of the episodes didn’t quite hit home, enough of them did, and the framing story was good enough to carry the show through. Also, one of the best OP sequences of the year.

6) Gatchaman Crowds Insight
Amazingly, this was even better than the first season. It tackled head-on some of the more problematic bits that had been raised, making itself all about the impact of the Internet and social media on democracy. The main antagonist here was group-think, something the heroes couldn’t just punch. (Well, technically they did, but you know what I mean.) That we can have anime tackling directly those themes is something to rejoice about.

7) Little Witch Academia 2 – The Enchanted Parade
The original special was a lot of fun, with perfect execution of its premise. This is even better, building on everything that made it work and expanding the scope just enough. And you’re left wanting for more, of course.

The main problem this show had was that it was too clever for its own good, and hid its carefully-designed conspiracy & time-travel plot under a façade of gratuitous fanservice and deliberate ridiculousness. If you’re used to this writer, you could see the method in the madness relatively quickly (and he does do good absurdist comedy) ; otherwise, you may have missed this gem.

9) Owarimonogatari
This season was a microcosm of how I feel about -Monogatari as a whole. Ougi Formula/Sodachi Riddle/Sodachi Lost was the show at its best, focusing on character exploration and barely having any actual Oddities in play. Shinobu Mail, on the other hand, was a rambling mess more interested in losing itself into its own ass, caring way more than me about its own mythology. But then, I’ve yet to find any Shinobu-focused arc I cared for. Still, it did have its moments, Kanbaru was a delight as always, and the Tale of Sodachi was more than enough to make up for the second half of the season’s weakness.

10) PSYCHO-PASS : the Movie
I never would have guessed the next stage of this franchise would be an exploration of how the Sybil System handles colonialism, but it’s way more interesting than “let’s have it face an even more undetectable and creepy asshole trying to subvert the system”. Expansion does make sense as a natural progression for Sybil, and the way it shakes down in the end feels like a classic S-F tale. Well done, PSYCHO-PASS, you’ve finally shown you’ve got more than one story in you.

HONORABLE MENTIONS : (aka : all my 7s)
Gangsta got knocked off the top 10 by a hair. This Black Lagoon/X-Men hybrid had just enough style and sense of purpose to carry it over its total lack of any resolution (with a sequel all the more unlikely after Manglobe went under). Also, bonus points for featuring a deaf protagonist and thinking it through.
the Japan Anima(tor) Project as a whole. Not all of the shorts were winners, but enough of them were to make it all worthwhile. Special mentions to “Comedy Skit 1989”, “Bureau of Proto Society” and “Robot on the Road”.
– The “better luck next year, maybe” awards : Concrete Revolutio, a conspiracy mash-up of all of the superhero subgenres at once, and Gundam – Iron-Blooded Orphans, which bit the bullet and made explicitly itself all about family. Both have been compelling shows, but they’re barely halfway through their runs and deserve to be re-evaluated when they’re done.
Noragami Aragoto is every bit as good as its first season, which unfortunately still places it in the bottom half of the top 20. Ditto for Knights of Sidonia – War on the 9th Planet.
Blood Blockade Battlefront had a lot of potential, and there were a few episodes that really clicked, but way too many of them fell just a bit short of working, the main plot wasn’t too compelling, and it focused too much on the wrong characters. Good try, though.
Maria the Virgin Witch was a series that had something to say about the horrible treatment of women’s sexuality (both in the Middle Ages and in a wider context). Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough to make for a compelling story.
The Rolling Girls, just for the awesome world-building.
Yatterman Night, for having good ideas on how to turn the franchise’s premise around, although it did stumble quite a bit at times.
Shimoneta – A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist, because we don’t get enough political satire in anime. That it actually had something to say beyond its initial arc was very welcome, and made up for much of the repetitive running gags that weren’t that funny in the first place.
– According to my notes, the 3rd season of Working!!! was still good, finally resolving some of its long-running threads in clever ways. Good for it.
Rokka – Braves of the Six Flowers belongs to a genre mashup – heroic-fantasy + classic mystery – that greatly appealed to me. It mostly delivered on that front, had fun characters, cool designs, and one of the most hilarious epilogues of the year.
Yamada-kun & the 7 Witches was sometimes a bit rushed ; but it’s still one of the best and funniest romantic comedies in my book.
One-Punch Man was good at what it did, and I love some of the weird superheroes in there. Still growing a bit repetitive by the end, though.
Charlotte had many terrible episodes and twists ; that I still enjoyed most of it speaks volumes for the good bits of it.
The Perfect Insider had a nicely-designed central mystery and fun main characters. Sure, the culprit was completely full of shit, but that’s what villains do.

Best anime of 2014

Well, this is a bit of a conundrum. Last year felt like it had more standout series, to the point that I could just plug in everything I rated 8 or more on MAL and get just the right amount of nominees. Not this year, where I’ll have to go a bit deeper into my lists, and make some hard choices between the 7s.
(It doesn’t help that I refuse to choose anything that was already on my 2013 list, to avoid ridiculousness such as KILL la KILL charting two years in a row. Which is why I’m also disregarding the likes of Samurai Flamenco and Silver Spoon.)

So, without further ado, the list…

[1] Mushishi’s second run
I mentioned a while ago that I found marathoning through the original run of Mushishi harrowing, given the amount of shit (usually) decent people go through in there. I also speculated I’d probably enjoy it more on a more relaxed schedule. Come this year, and it turns out true : once a week is exactly the right pace. It lets each story sink in properly. The storytelling is just as good as ever, if not even better ; and those new tales feel anything but superfluous. They genuinely explore some new ideas about human nature that were yet to be covered.

[2] Barakamon
Exactly the right mix of coming-of-age story (with an adult protagonist !), “kids being kids are adorable” warmth, and very well-paced gags. I knew from the first episode I would love this, and I was never disappointed.

[3] Rage of Bahamut – Genesis
Cue the usual surprise at a pay-to-win smartphone game adaptation being so friggin’ good. But hey, there’s some mileage to be gotten from taking just the generic background setting, as well as enough money to make some jaw-dropping setpieces, and then build a fun original from scratch. Every character oozes charisma, and it’s just way more fun than it has any right being. Now, the actual plot with the angel/demon war wasn’t as interesting, but it was still a good framework for the entertaining stuff.

[4] Hanamonogatari
This year’s token contribution from the -monogatari franchise wasn’t exactly the most outstanding the series’ ever been, but it was still very good indeed, with some neat insights into Suruga. Still as good-looking as ever, of course.

[5] Shirobako
I love me a good work-com, and this is one of the most promising we’ve seen in ages. Likeable characters, with each new episode offering insight into their life struggles ; an uncompromising but not mean-spirited look at the anime industry ; and some genuinely imaginative design ideas to liven up the proceedings.

[6] Parasyte – the Maxim
Speaking of good design ideas, this horror series gets tons of mileage out of its concept, and it’s always entertaining to watch thanks to its well-paced black humour. And I say this despite not being a fan of the genre (having a weak stomach for gore).

[7] Tonari no Seki-kun
One simple idea. Tons of variations. Perfect execution. ‘Nuff said.

[8] World Conquest Zvezda Plot
This series has issues, and the first episode is a mess. But once you’ve grokked that this is a sentai show from the point of view of the Quirky Miniboss Squad (and happen to share the writer’s conviction that smoking is Evil), it’s a fun romp that never takes itself seriously and is bursting with cute ideas.

[9] Nobunaga Concerto
You either love or hate the stilted CG artstyle ; I found it fit the “history book” aesthetics and even the constant dull surprise enhanced the script’s dry wit. And that’s where the strength of the show lies : writing so charming it transcends the tired old cliché of a premise (modern kid thrown into the past and takes Oda Nobunaga’s place !) and turns it into a wonderfully cute series.

[10] Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
2014 was a great year for comedy shows, and this was one of the best of the lot. Consistently funny, with great characters, and having tons of fun gently teasing the excesses and clichés of shoujo romance manga. (Or comicbooking in general, really.)

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
Aldnoah.Zero followed the Code Geass school of storytelling : start big and never stop running. It was often dumb and the villains didn’t make that much sense, but it had enough momentum to keep itself going. I’m dreading the second half a bit, what with the crazy cliffhanger it’s going to have to follow upon, but at least it’ll be interesting to watch.
Amagi Brilliant Park is yet another very funny workcom, with impeccable comedic timing and lavish attention to detail.
Black Butler – Book of Circus : I’m surprised how I keep liking each new season of this better than the last. It helped that the most annoying characters were kept out of focus, and the ending was wonderfully dark after playing the audience’s hopes up.
Gundam Build Fighters Try… wait, why wasn’t the first series even in my honorable mentions last year ? Was it just starting to ramp up ? Because this was definitely near-top10 material. Anyway, this is slightly less good, but it does recapture the spirit of it : fun fights, fun characters, fun worldbuilding.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure – Stardust Crusaders isn’t exactly my biggest disappointment this year (*cough* Irregular at Magic High School *cough*), but it’s a noticeable step down from the awesomeness of Battle Tendency. Still a lot of fun, but very padded out with its “Stand of the week” format.
Knights of Sidonia was more than often a bit odd, and its artstyle making it difficult to differentiate between characters who weren’t even clones sometimes hindered it, but there’s a lot to love here once you get the joke of how it takes the piss out of generic harem routines. More than that, it’s a genuinely fascinating piece of worlbuilding with a proper story attached. I’m looking forward to the second season.
– This is the second year in a row Log Horizon gets an honorable mention, bypassing the “no charting twice” rule thanks to its second season. It did run afoul of the “narcolepsy rule”, though. (No series I’ve fallen half-asleep while watching an episode can get in to the top 10.) It’s a show that can get a bit too sedate and cute at times (and that’s why I love how ridiculously hyper DATABASE is), but when it’s on, it’s golden.
– I enjoyed the first season of Love Live! tremendously, and the second one was at least as good. Losing its “save the school” plotline turned out to be a blessing, as it allowed to give more focus to what the heroines really wanted all along.
Mekakucity Actors was this year’s token impenetrable SHAFT show : outstanding direction and artistic design, obtuse non-linear storytelling that rewards those viewers who’ve sticked with it to the end, and some genuinely creepy episodes all along the way. It’s not for everyone, but I’m glad they keep making these.
No Game No Life was lovely in many respects, with some genuinely clever ways to build setpieces around simple games (including the most epic game of shiritori ever)… It’s just a shame about the rampant fanservice. While it’s overall playful, that slightly nasty undercurrent makes it hard to recommend outside its natural audience.
– I’ll probably have forgotten all about Noragami in a couple of years’ time (aside from its soundtrack joining my Iwasaki playlist), but it was a nice enough urban fantasy romp with impressive comedic timing and cool ideas.
Ping Pong is worth watching for the breathtaking direction alone, but there’s also a lot to be said for a sports show that doesn’t follow the usual plot beats of the genre and lets its heroes lose at unexpected times.
– It’s clear by now that Psycho-Pass 2 is nowhere as good as the first series, but it’s still plenty enjoyable if you can overlook how stupid the plot has become. It’s got plenty of “clever” ideas to cover over the fact that it doesn’t have that much new to say, and that’s good enough for me.
Space Dandy was the platonic ideal of unevenness, and I’m sure that was part of the idea. Some of the variations on the concept missed the mark by being a bit dull or just too bizarre, but there were enough good episodes to make it worth watching. And it actually did land its ending properly, which was a downright miracle.
Still, the World is Beautiful : wow, a fantasy romance where royals actually running the country is the core of the show ! It having what’s probably the best female lead of the season helps a lot, too.
Terror in Resonance had flaws, including a civilian viewpoint character who barely witnessed anything and a botched denouement. But the cop show/conspiracy part of it was a lot of fun, and the direction made the most out of the setpieces.
Witch Craft Works managed to edge into the list at the last minute thanks to a timely marathon. It’s much more entertaining than I initially gave it credit for, with pitch-perfect comedic timing that never fails to have antagonists crushed in five seconds if it can be funny. And it looks incredible, too. Shame about the very boring male lead, but you can’t have it all.

via [Anime] The 2014 Best Anime Vote – Page 7.

Best anime of 2013

2013 was a decent year for anime, although a lot the most note-worthy stuff is somehow divided between 2012 leftovers and Fall shows that aren’t done yet. NoitaminA taking half the year off didn’t help. Still, there was a lot to like here.

Without further ado, my personal favourites of the year :

[1] Puella Magi Madoka Madoka Movie #3 – Rebellion
By far the best anime I’ve watched this year. Not only is it on a completely different level from anything else on a technical level – pure eye-candy from beginning to end – but it also manages to square the circle of justifying its existence despite the original series having a definitive ending already. It could have been empty fanservice (and let’s be honest, most of the movie is), but it’s actually a worthwhile addition to the series.
Continue reading Best anime of 2013