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Posts Tagged ‘Top 12’

Overlord

After a rather tame two years in 2013 and 2014, I feel like this year was a very strong one (if top-heavy) despite me watching fewer series than usual. Without further ado, here is a list of the series I found noteworthy this year (movies and OVAs not included):

yoru no yatterman

#12 Yoru no Yatterman

To be perfectly honest, the amount of brilliance packed into this series should put it far above most series on this list. Metaphorically, this series can be seen as Japan’s rare but highly appreciated attempt to discuss and make peace with its “tainted past”. Even without that layer, though, there is so much here to chew on. The change of a society through acts of heroism is something we have seen often enough, but Yoru no Yatterman shows that there are half a dozen types of heroism, many thankless and forever unnoticed, and only combined do they give hope of success. The same goes for leaders, with the great mover of a given era often not being the one who can introduce stable change.

That said, there is so much wrong with this series, too! The god-awful humor, several episodes’ worth of filler and the final episode airing only half-done… Remake this into a watchable movie, please, and it can be truly great.

maria

#11 Junketsu no Maria

A unique series with a strong focus on mediaeval Europe and its Church, led by a genki, do-good character who manages to be just a bit selfish and realistically flawed. The series strikes where it counts against the many incongruities of the Catholic Church without forgetting about developing its drama on the level of individual characters. However, the ultimate resolution feels somewhat rushed; the series’ critical approach to over-intellectualization of faith leads it to conclude that we should all just trust our hearts over our minds. This is not a bad approach, and one very much in tune with the contemporary Japanese approach to religion, but certainly it is not without its own flaws, which the series does not touch upon in its finale.

rolling 

#10 Rolling Girls

It seems to me that Rolling Girls takes the viewer some twenty years into the past, when it was not quite clear what sells in terms of animated works. Back then, there was plenty of either redundant or over-the-top content in many productions, but many series also had a quirky charm to them less often found in today’s more streamlined (and oftentimes clichéd) productions.

When Rolling Girls did not work, it was incomprehensible or just not gripping enough. But when it worked, it worked. It is a refreshing soul-searching story where the characters who start out as nobodies are still nobodies by the series’ end. And amidst all the absurdity, both the human drama and space-squid drama ring true, leaving a strong impression. 

seiken tsukai

#9 Seiken Tsukai no World Break

Can you make an anime if given a stone and two sticks? Apparently you can. With literally laughable production values but outstanding sound direction, Seiken Tsukai no World Break exceeded all expectations regarding its entertainment value. Mind you, you do need to watch it with commentary or friends to get the most laughs out of it.

(I do hope all the comedy was intentional, though…)

illya zwei

#8 Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya 2wei Herz

With the previous season doing unexpectedly well on this list last year, it is not much of a surprise seeing Illya here. The production values, the lovable characters and the fluid movement between action, drama and comedy are all still to be found in this installment. Kuro using trace powers to cheat at festival games was one of my favorite comedy moments this year, while using the problems of a budding fujoshi to parallel the building tension between Illya and Miyu made for some good setup.

Two strikes against this series: a few fillerish episodes and a somewhat subpar resolution of the main plotline. I praised Illya’s character arc in the second season, but while solving Illya’s issues through Illya’s development made perfect sense, solving Miyu’s issues through Illya’s development is kind of puzzling. There is another season in the works, so I look forward to seeing the new balance between the characters there.

kiseijuu2

#7 Parasyte Sei no Kakuritsu

An old-school sci-fi thriller with an environmental message. The series starts off strong, starts wandering about somewhat in the middle, but manages to finish things neatly. A stellar performance by Hirano Aya as the main character’s parasitic right hand. several good twists along the way and a pinch of grit where necessary make for a solid entry into the list.   

biyori repeat

#6 Non Non Biyori Repeat

Slice of life shows rely largely on the atmosphere they can produce, and few shows can beat Non Non Biyori in the atmosphere department. When Renge ventures out on her first trip to the school building, it is the kind of setup where the viewer is conditioned to expect something unusual to happen, but NNB easily proves that simple everyday occurrences are quite enough for an adventure if seen from the right perspective. NNB is a series that celebrates life, but speaks as much about the eventual passing of things: Renge’s opening ceremony might well be the school’s last – a tacit admission the show leaves for the viewers to pick up on.

symph

#5 Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX

This year’s Symphogear stayed true to itself, with some of the craziest action sequences of the year, while completely reversing the power balance between good and evil from the previous season. And yes, great music came out of it.

The first few minutes of this season are already near-legendary, what with cutting down mountains and whatnot. After the perfect first two episodes, the season goes into character arcs, some of them hit-or-miss, and concludes in a cinema-worthy slugfest.

This season’s plot might have benefitted from a less-is-more approach, as too many issues were tackled on at once and problems getting resolved in the same episode they were introduced does not make for great buildup. Still, all the characters took a step forward by the end of the season, which is always a good thing.

rokka_no_yuusha_wallpaper_by_redeye27-d92l8za

#4 Rokka no Yuusha

The tale of six seven eight brave men and women who gathered in a forest, then went on to fight a demon king never left that forest.

Rokka was all-out genre-defying. There was bromance, infighting, confessions, investigations… and they never left that forest.

gakkou gurashi

#3 Gakkou Gurashi

I was ready for this to fumble. After all, it would be easier to miss this show’s airing altogether than to avoid getting spoiled about the “twist”. So throughout the first episode, I only saw an acceptable prologue, and all would be decided by seeing whether the series could build anything upon the foundation of that twist.

But no fear – the series would build more than plenty. The twists were mostly a formality, conscientiously telegraphed ahead of time. The real-deal was how the characters reacted to those twists, and why they reacted in those particular ways. As a zombie story, Gakkou Gurashi speaks of survival at all costs, but merely staying physically alive is not enough to keep a human mind going. The frail order of the “group insanity” the girls establish is an inhomogeneous set, with each member accepting their own degree of psychological compromise.

The creation of reality through human will. Great stuff.

shirobako

#2 Shirobako

You know, in Girls und Panzer, Mizushima Tsutomu focused on a highly detailed and faithful portrayal of tanks to establish a firm sense of reality, then went on to do all kinds of crazy stuff with the tanks that you would never see in a live-action movie. Those “cool lies” can only work because their meticulous execution makes them indistinguishable from reality.

Shirobako is a repeat performance here, with some parts of the setting potentially aggrandized, but with the viewer none the wiser. The people, the problems, all of it rings true. Which is why the messages have depth and the over-the-top sequences work as humor.

Shirabako had a nearly perfect two-cour run, with several different episodes feeling ending-worthy. I think it did stumble a bit during the director and manga company clash – those crucial scenes were all metaphor and no meat, not what the series has us used to – and the final episode was more a quiet epilogue than anything else. But altogether the series remains a tremendous accomplishment. Shirobako would easily take the top spot on the yearly list had it aired in 2013 or 2014. It would have taken this year, too, except for…

Hibike-Euphonium

#1 Hibike! Euphonium

If Shirobako had a near-perfect run, Euphonium went the whole way. It was a pleasure to go along with the series’ deliberate pacing, trusting it to take you where it will.

Many people who enjoyed this bring up their musical past, but I could never play an instrument to save my life. I think I played the xylophone in primary school for a few weeks or something. I was class representative for many years, though, and it were the school faction wars presented here that felt all too familiar.

Alongside Death Parade this year, Euphonium is one of those shows that tell you a lot about the viewer. Many people were satisfied to see this as a story where a skill-based meritocracy slowly earns its deserved position and provides the results desired. But the Kitauji compromise the series presents is a much richer canvas, and characters on all sides are humbled by the time the curtain drops.

Visually, the series was breathtaking, but never gaudy. Starting from the color scheme, Euphonium is all about restraint. This doubles the impact during the short moments when the series does go full-out, like during Reina’s phantasmagoric confession scene.

Euphonium might also well be close to my ideal of an anime adaptation. I expect many would be surprised at how the essence of the show was optimized for the new medium without changing the outwardly visible structure. It is a delicate balance, and something that was beautifully preserved here.

Here’s hoping for another good year! Feel free to share your own 2015 favorites.

Full list of titles watched below. The * mark is for the many shows I took a look at but never finished.

1. Absolute Duo*

2. Aria the Scarlet Ammo Double A*

3. Assassination Classroom *

4. Blood Blockade Battlefront*

5. Chaos Dragon*

6. Charlotte*

7. Chivalry of a Failed Knight

8. Death Parade

9. Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan*

10. Dog Days S3

11. Etotama*

12. Fate/kalleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei Herz!

13. Fate/say night: Unlimited Blade Works

14. Gundam Build Fighters Try

15. Himouto! Umaru-chan*

16. Kantai Collection: KanColle

17. Kuroko’s Basketball S3

18. Lance N’ Masques*

19. Log Horizon S2

20. Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid

21. Maria the Virgin Witch

22. Mikagura School Suite*

23. My Love Story!! *

24. Non Non Biyori Repeat

25. Overlord

26. Parasyte -the maxim-

27. Plastic Memories*

28. Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace*

29. Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers

30. Rolling Girls

31. School-Live!

32. Seiyu’s Life!

33. Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX

34. Shirobako

35. Show By Rock!! *

36. Sound! Euphonium

37. The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls

38. World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman

39. Yatterman Night

40. Yurikuma Arashi

41. Yuru Yuri San Hai!

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Tamako

With another year behind us, time to share the best of the recent anime offerings. As always at this place, I have a Top 12 list. What is different from usual is that movies, OVAs and ongoing shows are all off-limits. With plenty of good shows out this year, it was difficult enough cutting the numbers down as it is… Which is very good news!

 

amagi-brilliant-park

#12 Amagi Brilliant Park

This was a very good year for KyoAni. Tamako Market came back with all the visual power and none of the meandering weakness of the main series, making for the best KyoAni work in some time. Free and Chuunibyou had satisfying second seasons, and last but not least, we also got Amagi Brilliant Park.

With a silly and unique premise, Amagi was a huge unknown before it aired. And thankfully, it remained an unknown until the very end, with different wackiness taking place every week. Down-to-earth problems and magical cataclysms went hand in hand in this show, mixing a dream with a familiar “workplace” feeling for a highly memorable result.

chiyo

#11 Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

It is crazy. It is fun. Plenty of people include this one in their favorites for the year, and I am not surprised.

If I liked the remaining characters as much as I liked the Nozaki-Chiyo-Mikoshiba trio, this would have been even higher.

[Vivid] Hanayamata - 11 [E9031827].mkv_snapshot_02.06_[2014.10.22_21.39.38] 

#10 Hanayamata

A simple story of a newly founded club aiming to prove themselves made fresh through exceptional presentation and organic relationships between the characters. Of note is the multi-layered title as well as the OP/ED combination moret than worthy of representing a dancing anime. It is too bad the middle and end of the anime are not quite as powerful as the briskly-paced and gorgeously animated opening episodes, but it is still a pleasant journey into the world of yosakoi.

mikakunin_de-shinkoukei #9 Mikakunin de Shinkoukei – Engaged to the Unidentified

For the most part, I have flawed but memorable series on this list. But from time to time, there are series like Mikakunin de Shinkoukei, which just never stumble and make that their foremost charm point. Simple and sweet, but inventive enough in its take on the central romance story not to feel repetitive, this show is a recommended pick for anyone looking for a dose of cute and relaxation.

yuna 

#8 Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru

For many of the things YuYuYu did throughout its run, there is some magical girl show out there that did it better. Which is why the beauty of the show lies in all the things you can get here and nowhere else.

There is the terror that comes not during a fight, but after it is long over – the time when you wonder if that is really the end or not, the time when you listen to a friend report on her injuries, and then reassure them while hiding your own fears and wounds.

There is that moment when having successfully defeated twelve powerful monsters, you and your comrades take on the last small fry five on one… and nobody can quite get it together and make the first move, because now, now you suspect all the magic and power might not have been free after all.

Certainly a series with some issues, but the interesting bits make up for it. With the last episode having aired recently, I am still reanalyzing some of the events in the final episodes (as well as reading the Washio Sumi wa Yuusha de Aru prequel novel), so I have my doubts about the show’s exact position on this list, but it is definitely worth a try for fans of the genre.

nagi-no-asukara

#7 Nagi no Asukara

Give Okada Mari two cours to work with, and you will get plenty of believable human drama and a sprawling but messy plotline. Okada did that with Wixoss this year, and the same goes for this show.

But the ambition behind this show sets it apart from other Okada works. There is a tug-of-war between the yin-yang worlds of sea and land presented in this show and the individual stories of each character. But at times the two threads beautifully intersect, creating patterns which could not possibly come to be in a different setting – like when a time-skip affects only half the cast, completely changing the rules of the relationship game.

saki zenkoku 2

#6 Saki: Zenkoku-hen

Kan, kan, kan!

I want a Shinohayu anime.

Ritsu, draw faster nghhh…

black-bullet-anime-2014 

#5 Black Bullet

Probably my favorite setting of the year, providing an excuse to pair up mercenaries and overpowered lolis on a planet-wide zombie hunt while also raising some questions of morality and portraying “life” as a powerful and universal, but also selfish force.

And yes, it did use all that potential in very weird ways. Kind of like bringing a shotgun to a fistfight only to try shooting it with your feet…

Log.Horizon

#4 Log Horizon

I mentioned this show last year, and my thoughts on it have not changed that much. It is one of the few anime of this type made with Japanese taxpayers’ money, and it shows. And I do not mean the cheap art and animation (those are certainly present). Log Horizon does not really care for universal appeal, so it does whatever it wants with its pacing and developments. You would kind of expect a series of boss fights to end with some great achievement, but not this show, here they will just have a talk. Talking is important.

I cannot exactly predict where this show will go at any given time, which I happen to like. Keeps me on my toes.

rokujouma-no-shinryakusha2

#3 Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!?

The best part about the show is that it carries all its likely weaknesses on its sleeve. It looks a little cheap, right? And the male-female ratio hints at harem mayhem.

Well, that just means that all the show’s surprises are for the better. This is a story of supernatural, extraterrestrial and sometimes cosplaying misfits locked in a struggle for six tatamai mats’ worth of space for the glory of their respective civilizations. Or saving the world. Or saving up on rent.

When the rivalry and insanity finally give way to camaraderie, an incredible team, or maybe even a family, is born. And there is plenty of trouble for them to face, all for the viewers’ satisfaction.

NoGame  

#2 No Game No Life

So if you thought you need to be smart to write stories about smart people… well, you probably have a point. However, NGNL proves that layers upon layers of presentation do much to cover up the warts.

What really makes NGNL work, though, is its determination to march forward without falling too much in love with any of its gags or ideas. The show is like a magician burning through one trick after another. And certainly, you already know some of those tricks and are not always equally amused. But the magician winks the disappointment away and fluidly moves into the next part of the spectacle.

Still, no show can go on forever. And in the end, when the lights go on, the audience might realize the tricks were just that, empty tricks. How do you prevent that? You do not let the show end. You turn the performance into a part of a greater trick, ongoing even as the audience leaves their seats.

NGNL ends in the middle of things, and had the show not found a way to deal with that (by diverging from the source material, too), it might have fallen off this list completely. But that is not how things turned out, and here it is.

illya4

#1 Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya 2wei!

I do not think there was another anime this year that consistently knew exactly what it wanted to do and how to go about doing it quite as much as Illya Zwei did. Combining a flexible and inspired direction style with Silver Link’s steady craftsmanship, the show constantly provided varied and gripping entertainment.

In a year with shows like Kill La Kill and Ping Pong to compete with on the visual front, Illya owes a lot to the art of restraint. Presenting a wide variety of tricks, but determinately avoiding repetition, the show always knows how to make the most of its potential. Most memorably, the show often chooses to make its statements by not-showing, rather than showing characters and their actions. During the farcical mud-trap rescue scene in the beginning of the show, the technique brings out the absurdity and comedic potential of what should be a clichéd transformation scene. During the mid-show confrontation between Kuro and Miyu, the same technique ends up filling a simple conversation with tension and allows for a dynamic switch straight into the action. Illya takes a similarly free approach to its background music, using its presence and lack thereof to flexibly switch between serious and comedic developments.

No matter the skillful execution, I expected to be able to shoot the show down on the storyline and ending fronts, the former of which kept the original series safely in the “average” zone. But here the show starts making use of its Fate roots to introduce a struggle with the shadows of the past each of the characters carries, giving meaning to many of the events of the first season while simultaneously creating cracks in the characters’ armors. Zwei ends in the middle of the second manga series, and should by all means fall apart at the end, but here the series skillfully puts the spotlight on the paradigm shift ongoing in Illya’s mind. The determination to protect her dear ones and her everyday life was there to begin with, of course, but now she is forced to admit that what constitutes those things might have changed without her noticing. And the show’s willingness to bet on the small changes of its characters allows for optimism regarding the forthcoming third season.

To sum up, 2014 was more about good shows rather than truly spectacular ones. With Shirobako and Parasyte, as well as Fate UBW and Log Horizon continuing into the next year, though, it seems like there will be enough big hitters to talk about next year to make up for it. Here is to another great year for anime and everyone reading this post!

Full list of stuff I watched this year for people who have recommendations. A * mark indicates stuff I dropped, with a ** mark signifying a first-ep drop. (Which does not immediately imply the series is bad, though.)

Akame ga Kill!*
Amagi Brilliant Park
Bakumatsu Rock**
Barakamon**
Black Bullet
Blue Spring Ride
Denki-gai no Honya-san
Engaged to the Unidentified
Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya 2wei!
Free! Eternal Summer
Golden Time**
Gonna be the Twin-Tails!!
Gugure! Kokkuri-san*
Haikyuu!!
Hanayamata
I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying
Invaders of the Rokujyouma?!
Jinsei**
Kill La Kill
Kuroko’s Basketball 2
Log Horizon
Love Stage!!
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions: Heart Throb
Magimoji Rurumo*
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea
No Game No Life
One Week Friends
Ping Pong The Animation
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis**
Riddle Story of Devil
Saki: The Nationals
Sakura Trick*
Seitokai Yakuindomo*(**)
Selector Infected WIXOSS & Spread WIXOSS
Soul Eater Not!
Sword Art Online II
Terror in Resonance
The Irregular at Magic High School
Wake Up, Girls!
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace
World Conquest Zvezda Plot*
Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero

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