Favourite anime of 2015
December 29, 2015 2 Comments
It is that time of the year when anime seasons are wrapping up, and we can look back on those series we liked, and those we did not. There have been a number of surprises this year, along with many disappointments. I have not been blogging much lately for a variety of reasons, but fully intend to start writing on a regular basis with the next season. For now I will simply go through my favourite anime of 2015, in no particular order. This is partly because I am not a fan of ordered lists – I may like a number of series equally, but for a variety of different reasons for example – I also couldn’t reduce it to a mere ten series.
Death Parade was a curious anime – coming from the Death Billiards OVA about the beings who arbitrate over the souls of those who have died. The series further fleshed out the central cast, exploring the intricacies of what it means to be human, and even beginning to question the central premise with which every arbiter goes about judging the souls who appear before them. Much of the series presented the ugliness of humans in distress, at the very edge of reason, and attempting to come to terms with the pain and suffering they may, or may not have caused. We were also treated to a wonderfully moving final story arc dealing with Kurokami no Onna, and her past, alongside briefly touching upon Decim’s own origins and how he views his job.
Every episode was fascinating, but it was the final arc that really struck a chord, complete with one astonishing ice skating scene that should be watched by every fan of anime. It was an emotionally moving series, with a great soundtrack, and a number of truly fascinating characters. My major issue being that most of the characters were never truly fleshed out, and the workings of purgatory were hinted at rather than filly explored.
Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteru no Dorou ka? Aka ‘Danmachi’:
Now this was a surprise, a light novel adaptation that could have been easily dismissed by many simply based on its premise, but one that turned out to be a true delight to watch. The interaction between Bell and Hestia served as the foundation for a fantasy story complete with curious characters, mischievous gods, and an engaging setting. Every major character was fun to watch, with the adventures and growth of Bell serving as the series central driving force. But, unlike many other anime, whereby sudden power-ups, or immense strength in the main character lessen the dangers that they face (hello Sword Art Online), there is never any doubt that despite his incredibly growth, Bell must always be wary of his environment and the constant dangers that his career as an adventurer pose. Certainly not a work of literary genius, but there is a lot to be said for a fun story full of endearing characters.
Yahari ore no Seishun/Oregairu S2:
Oregairu has always been a story that focuses on character interaction, specifically the interactions between a number of characters with complex personalities, and a few social eccentricities. At its centre the series is about the various walls and barriers that teenagers put up in order to fit in with those around them. By following Hachiman – a teenager whose dialogue and thought processes are those of somebody much older – we get to see how easily people can give into peer pressure and accept certain interests, or ways of accepting considered to be acceptable for a teenager. But, while season one set up the character relationships, and introduced us to the specific complexities of Hachiman’s school, season two built upon those foundations and really brought our central cast of Hachiman, Yukino, and Yui to life. Their relationship is a fascinating one to watch, because, despite everything, they still cling onto certain compromises that appear to guarantee a smooth high school life, when in reality, they may only end in suffering. A fascinating, relatively slow paced anime where the characters silence is as important as their dialogue. A special mention must be made for Komachi, the best imouto in anime.
Shokugeki no Soma:
Well this is a surprise, a shounen anime that I actually like. It is now well documented on twitter, and even this blog that I simply do not like shounen anime, or manga. They drag on forever, character development stagnates, and each new arc appears to be taking the story further away from some sort of conclusion. At first glance Shokugeki no Soma fits rather neatly into that description, and it has all the hallmarks of a classic shounen series, but it is one I really enjoyed watching. This is partly because Soma is a curiously offbeat character for this sort of series – yes he may be good at what he does, and constantly overcomes each new obstacle, but unlike so many other similarly themed series, he is neither especially arrogant, or annoyingly immature in the way that shounen characters often are. There is also something to be said for the ridiculous, over the top approach to cooking, complete with foodgasms, and their associated animated scenes. It is an uncomplicated series with a straightforward plot, characters, and narrative development, but it is fun to watch, and made me laugh on a regular basis.
I am in two minds about Kekkai Sensen – one the one hand there were a number of truly awe inspiring episodes, with a beautiful aesthetic, and an eclectic cast of characters, but on the other, it frequently felt plodding, and the finale was less than inspiring, especially since it took several extra months to produce. It makes the list, because, despite everything, the episodes that were good, were superb – it had heartfelt episodes, a wonderfully realised Hellsalems Lot, complete with ever present fog that put me in mind of 19th, or early 20th century London, and we got to watch Zapp be continuously beaten up and picked on by the rest of the cast.
Symphogear is a curious beast, I initially dismissed the first series as a stupid anime that was taking its over the top concept far too seriously, but as the story progressed I gradually began to fall in love with its particular brand of madness. The second season Symphogear G further improved on the concept, adding new characters, while still hating the moon in all its shiny, glowing, white glory. Symphogear GX, or to give its full name – Symphogear GX: Believe in Justice and Hold a Determination to Fist (what a name) – is every bit as silly as previous Symphogear anime, it isn’t quite as good as G, but retains the same over the top silliness, and uncalled for hatred of the moon as previous iterations. As a bonus, episode one starts off with our main cast surfing missiles in space, cutting out a sizeable section of K2 (reducing its height in the process), and Hibiki caber tossing a space shuttle, all within the first five minutes. Now that is how you start a series.
Yuru Yuri san Hai!:
Yuru Yuri San Hai is a bit of a curious series, largely because it chose to dispense with the constant stream of jokes and gags found in previous series, and instead chose to focus on character interactions. It is still a comedy, and a very funny one at that, but many of the jokes have a longer build up, rather than snappy one-liners that form part of a river of humour. Yuru Yuri San Hai also has one of the best sequences I can think of in an anime series – five minutes with no dialogue, with character actions, and the soundtrack doing its work instead. Yuru Yuri San Hai is a very fun series, with a few moments of sheer brilliance.
Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka??:
A series that could so easily be dismissed as ‘cute girls, doing cute things’, and in many respects that is exactly what happens. It is difficult to describe the plot of the series because it generally follows the central cast as they mess around, serve coffee, and occasionally get into trouble. The cast are however, just so much fun to watch, with Cocoa, Chino, Sharo, Rize, and Chiya working together in perfect harmony to create a fun series full of wonderful little moments, slapstick, and gags. The addition of Megumi, Maya, the occasional silliness of Midori, and finally Cocoa’s older sister Moka make for a charming, and above all enjoyable series that is simply a joy to watch.
Garo: The Animation:
Garo blends elements of animism with a medieval, gothic aesthetic, and introduces an eclectic group of complex characters. I particularly enjoyed watching main character Leon, as he gradually grew and matured, changing from a spoiled, immature teenager, and became a true Makai Knight capable of protecting the innocent and slaying even the most powerful horror. The world of Garo is a curious and complex one, and on numerous occasions you may question the true intentions of the Makai Priests and their Knight protectors. Even a battle as simple as good versus evil becomes something more complex as the series progresses. The eventual resolution is equal parts sad, and happy, demonstrating that there is no true victory in the world of Garo. Also, while Oregairu may have the best imouto in anime, Garo has the best irresponsible father in anime. German, or ‘Roberto’ as he is generally known is a great character whose irresponsible personality is often shown to be a façade. His antics are great fun to watch, and his approach to raising a son capable of immense destruction is equal parts calculated and irresponsible – that he can do all this while womanising and running through the time completely naked just adds to this interesting and eccentric character.
Punch Line is another curious series, an off-beat comedy that is hard to describe since small details can ultimately spoil the ending. As a series every action the central cast take builds to a striking conclusion involving super powers, impending destruction, and a spirit cat who keeps watching porn just to mess with Yuuta Iridatsu, the series main character. There are numerous subtleties within the series, from character names, to apparently minor pieces of dialogue and actions that are ultimately central to the series resolution. It is a bit of an odd-ball, a weirdly beautiful series that somehow manages to keep the central twist until the final episode.
Akatsuki no Yona:
This was a very good year for shoujo anime – series such as Akagami no Shirayukihime, and Ore Monogatari demonstrate that shoujo anime can be full of complexities, great characters, and interesting stories. Akatsuki no Yona is my favourite shoujo this year, a series adapted from one of my favourite ongoing manga, and one that introduces a wonderful cast of colourful, and unique characters as they go on a quest to save a central Korean kingdom from apparent destruction. Yona is a fascinating shoujo lead, a female character who initially starts off as a spoiled princess, but gradually hardens, becoming a tough individual with an unbending will, and a glare that could melt steel. Her characters progression is central to the series, with the rest of the cast orbiting her as if she is at the centre of the cosmos – which she is given the series story. It is just a shame that the anime stopped when it did, because the story has really got going at full speed in recent story arcs.
Rolling Girls got a lot of flack when it originally aired – the first two episodes were superb, with a fascinating setting, complete with tokusatsu characters, and beautifully animated battle sequences featuring colour explosions and brilliant effects. It then turned into a road trip, with the central cast going from town to town, helping others with their problems, and occasionally getting into trouble themselves. There are issues with Rolling Girls, including plot inconsistencies, and introducing fascinating characters only to them ignore them for most of the series, it could have also been a few episodes longer since the ending seems abrupt and very rushed. There were also well documented problems during production, and certain episodes aired with clear quality issues. But even with all of these problems I still adore the series, its characters are interesting, the world is colourful and unique, and there are moments when it blows everything else away in terms of quality and brilliance. Not a series without its issues, but one I love regardless.
It was difficult to be anywhere on anitwitter without some mention of Shirobako when it was airing. A fascinating look at the process of producing anime, complete with cameos of famous individuals within the industry, and a great cast of brilliant characters – even Taro, for all his stupidity is fun to watch. While the first half didn’t quite grab me, at least not completely, it was in the second half that Shirobako really came alive. Those final few emotional episodes, complete with one of the best finale’s I can remember really make Shirobako a truly enjoyable and brilliant anime, and easily one of the best series in years.
Non Non Biyori Repeat:
It is hard to express how much I love Non Non Biyori, a series about life in rural Japan that spends as much time simply focussing on landscape, and how empty rural Japan often appears, as it does on character interactions. It is a slow paced, but incredibly powerful anime with great characters, and a number of heartfelt and very powerful episodes. This may well become one of my favourite anime of all time, that’s how good it is.
I am an unashamed fan of Kyoto Animation’s work, a fact I have freely admitted to in the past – something about their series really works for me, I even enjoy their less popular series like Kyoukai no Kanata. Hibike Euphonium could easily be dismissed as K-On 2.0 (and indeed, it has been by many people), but it is far more than that, a series about the complexities of after school clubs, a desire to win, and the consequences of success. It is a deliberately paced anime that spends much of its time in an almost claustrophobic environment of practice rooms and music venues. Watching Kumiko Oumae gradually grow and develop as a character who can admit to their own competitiveness serves as the series emotional heart, but to say she is the only important character would do a disservice to the rest of the main cast, especially Kayou Hazuki, a new band club member who must ultimately sit on the sidelines due to her inexperience. While I love KyoAni’s work, Hibike Euphonium is clearly their strongest series in a number of years, one that highlights their animation and story telling talent, and further reinforces why I love this series. For some more in-depth thoughts, I produced this post when the series was airing.