This will basically be three lists, one of the best OVAs, one of the best movies, and one continuing the countdown of my favorite series of the year. Oh, and at the start there are a few “Worst of”-awards that I found to be typical for this year.
Biggest Waste of Great Visuals
Houkago no Pleiades
Houkago no Pleiades was a short little OVA for Gainax, to promote the Subaru Car brand. They knew that they couldn’t get a good story out of this even if they tried, so they just delivered some random story about schoolgirls and magical powers that instead just looked really good. And while the visuals indeed were pretty, I would rather have them seen back up something interesting, rather than a freaking car commercial.
Armored Trooper Votoms – Case;Irvine
Don’t get me wrong here: I am all for trying out new things. For that, I applaud this move. The thing is, however, that this just was not very good. In fact, now that I think back on it I can’t remember anything about it anymore, other than that it had some really annoying and underdeveloped characters. It was half-assed and I expected a lot of this, and as a Votoms-fan, that made this my biggest disappointment in terms of movies and OVAs this year.
Biggest Rape of a Franchise
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kira
Now this is just an atrocity. Especially the first episode completely raped the Higurashi franchise of its status of an original franchise that takes cute girls into a completely different direction than usual. I mean, it would have been fine if this OVA would just show some random punishment games, like they did with Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kira. Heck, the creators could have made these episodes fun and I would not have complained. With this though, the creators threw away all pretense and just made this a pandering OVA. The second episode was just dull, with a very bad attempt at a mahou shoujo parody, but the first episode. Oh dear god. Why did it have to ENTIRELY focus on the male cast of this series, IMAGINING things? Why did it have to focus on their sexual fantasies?
My Top 10 OVAs
2011 was a very interesting year for the OVAs. Whereas 2010 involved big productions that often had more than 3 episodes, the best OVAs this year were on a smaller scale, with a lot more one-shots than usual appearing. There were in particular a lot of one-shot originals and one-shot epilogues that caught my attention this year.
I’m a fan of the .Hack franchise. Heck, .Hack//Sign ranks amongst my top 5 favorite anime ever, and even though some other installments of this franchise aren’t as… solid (*coughduskrootscouch*), I still find it a fascinating series to be based in a giant MMORPG. The pity with .Hack//Quantum is that it was way too short. We need more TV-series for this thing, but the story that it told in 3 episodes was interesting, solid and quite charming.
#9: Otona Joshi no Anime Time
Now here is one that caught me completely by surprise. Before it appeared I didn’t even know it existed. And here it comes and delivers a surprisingly heartfelt episode about a single mother and the memories of her childhood. It has a bit of an unfortunately cheesy title, but make no mistake: the rest of this 20 minute OVA is surprisingly well written and realistic Josei.
The great thing of these 20 minute OVAs is that they’re great to experiment with. Norageki was a fun little thriller with a ton of mystery, that wrapped itself up surprisingly well. Its characters weren’t particularly detailed, but they were enough to keep the plot interesting, and it was the plot that really made this little OVA memorable. We don’t often get science fiction anime in bite-size chunks like this, and it was well worth the 20 minutes invested.
#7: Tales of Symphonia
This has really turned into one ambitious OVA project. Heck, I remember that it was announced back in early 2006, and it’s still going on. Ufo Table are really taking their time with this, and the results show in the script here: this is an OVA that translates the game’s core concepts, yet takes plenty of freedom to actually tell its own story, rather than just being a commercial for the manga. This year’s installment wasn’t the best this series has shown, because of the characters it focused on, but that’s just personal preference.
#6: Armored Trooper Votoms – Alone Again
This was the widely anticipated conclusion of the Votoms Franchise. And in the end it turned out to be completely different from what I expected it to be, and yet it was a really good story here, focusing on the grown up kids of Cocoa and Vanilla. This was a very welcome surprise, because I had been interested in these kids ever since they appeared in the Gen-ei hen. This movie again did a great job of expanding upon the Votoms franchise without being derivative.
More one-shot OVAs, and with this we pretty much get the single best standalone OVA in years. The direction of Kyousogiga was just amazing, the visuals were incredible. And if that wasn’t all: it also has a lot of heart. Toei went all out on the graphics here, but they also made sure that it was an incredibly charming ride. The plot itself was a bit confusing, and you have to pay attention to actually be able to understand what the heck is going on, but that made it even better.
#4: Black Lagoon – Roberta’s Blood Trail
This year showed the conclusion of Roberta’s Blood Trail, and I’m amazed at what a solid job Madhouse turned it into. Every episode was very solid to what it aimed to be, and the build-up and eventual unexpected payoff was just excellent.
#3: Kara no Kyoukai – Epilogue
The more I think back to this epilogue OVA, the more I love what the creators did here. It’s hard to describe exactly what without ruining the surprise, but let’s just say that this OVA just focused on one thing alone, and did that brilliantly. It was exactly the thing that was needed to give the different involved characters some significant extra insight. Heck, this OVA was deep and incredibly well written.
#2: xxxHolic Rou – Adayume
xxxHolic succeeded where Tsubasa Chronicle failed: even though I’m not a manga reader, I could follow it and sympathize with it. The character development at this point is just completely amazing, and more than worth it, considering how incomplete the anime is. It was a short OVA, but it just added so much to the cast with so little.
#1: Yozakura Quartet – Hoshi no Umi
Ryousuke Sawa was before active as the animation director of Birdy the Mighty Decode 02, Noein’s Key animation and he was the animator behind the running scene of Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo. And now someone gave him the opportunity to actually direct a full 3-episode OVA series. The result is just glorious. There was so much eye candy put in these episodes, ranging from the most insane and over the top action scenes imaginable, to highly expressive characters whose personalities just sparkled off the screen. This was the best possible reboot that this show could have hoped for.
My Top 10 Movies
These are my top movies of the year, or at least the ones that got released this year, because there always is about a nine month delay for these things (one particular movie on this list even took 2 years to finally show up). This was a big year for the family movies. Seriously, half the movies on this list are intended to be watched by all ages. To balance things out though, there also were a bunch of movies with very mature themes, along with a few great ones that were aimed at teenagers. It all balances out pretty nicely this way.
#10: Towa no Quon – 03
In this list, I list movies individually, so yes, it would have been possible that I listed all four the Towa no Quon movies separately. Now, it is not THAT good of a franchise, so that didn’t happen here, but what made the third movie stand above the others was that it ditched the cheese and action, and instead turned into a full on thriller in the middle of a dream sequence. It became a bit non-linear and a story that was hard to tell what was real. An as an added bonus it significantly improved the characters who in the first two movies clearly struggled to stand out.
#9: Mardock Scramble – The First Compression
Mardock Scrable was one gorgeous looking movie, and it also was the prequel of a very interesting story to boot. It had a ton of nudity and sexual violence, but it also was very good at fleshing out its characters, and in particular the main ones. The meat of the story definitely was saved for the future movies, but a very solid start it definitely was.
#8: Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo
Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo was Makoto Shinkai’s attempt to do something different from what he had done before. The result is a mix between his style and that of Ghibli. I wouldn’t really call it a rip-off, because it definitely has its own story to tell here, and in any case the two styles here blend really well with each other. It’s got some great character development, although the big flaw here is that the female lead’s motivation is very weak. I mean, she has no goal throughout the entire movie, and is more like swept away with the events. It’s a bit hard to create good tension out of that.
#7: Heartcatch Precure Movie – Hana no Miyako de Fashion Show… desu ka?
Rie Matsumoto, she’s a new director that we should keep our eyes on. She did two major works this year, the Heartcatch Precure movie and Kyousogiga, and both were just full of heart. The Heartcatch Precure Movie captured exactly what made the TV-series so great, and even though it was a random side story it stood on its own as a worthy addition to the series with some very well developed characters and an excellent scenario about a trip to Paris.
#6: Karigurashi no Arrietty
Arrietty was the movie version of the story of the Borrowers. And with this, Ghibli again did an excellent job bringing it to life. It created a unique culture of little beings who thrive on borrowing small things from people, and it built some very nice characters out of them. It had a bit of a strange villain overall, making the conflict around this movie a bit lackluster, but it really captured the emotions of the main characters here. I also loved how well the animation was able to capture how big everything looks to the titular Arrietty.
#5: Yona Yona Penguin
Since Rintaro is one of my favorite movie directors out there, I was really eager to watch his latest work, Yona Yona Penguin. What I got was a movie aimed at very young kids, that was just completely adorable. The lead character running around in a penguin suit alone made it more than worth watching, but he really captured the emotions of young children here. The finale of the movie also really worked. All of the subtle build-up really come together there and made for a really heart-warming climax. Oh, and the soundtrack too was really excellent.
#4: Uchuu-Show he Youkoso
This was a space adventure movie that was one hell of a ride. It’s just about a bunch of kids that gets pulled into an intergalactic storyline here, but the amount of creativity that has gone into the different worlds they visit is really impressive. It’s got an interesting story with some well developed characters, that actually fits for a show that’s all about children. It was one of A-1′s first attempts at making an actual movie, and yet the animation looked really interesting. The best part of this movie was the huge amount of creativity that went into it, though.
#3: Fafner in the Azure – Heaven and Earth
It’s rare for a movie to actually be as good as the series it was based on, but Heaven and Earth actually did it. It pushed the story of Fafner further and developed its setting more, and actually evolved the franchise in quite a limited time-frame. All of the characters were able to show off their development, the graphics also kicked ass. Thanks Xebec, for finally showing again that you can also make good series.
The top 2 of this year stands miles above the others. Redline was just completely unique. The visuals are by far the best of the entire year. So much talent has gone into this movie, and its storyline is simple, yet mature. It had a few too many one-dimensional characters to really make it an outstanding movie, but still, this is one of those movies that you just need to watch.
#1: You Are Delicious
Yes, the best movie of 2011 is a dinosaur movie! Don’t look at me, I was also completely surprised when I watched it and realized what an incredible gem we have here, and I really nudge everyone who is looking for a family movie to give this one a chance, because this was pretty much the best family movie we’ve seen in many, many years. At first sight this movie just seems to be your standard story about this tyrannosaur that takes care of a small baby dinosaur, but I was amazed at how much detail this movie puts into these characters. The premise of the movie is just a tiny part of it. So much more happens to these characters, and the character development that resulted from it was just amazing. The cast of this movie turned out to be incredibly likable, and I definitely recommend checking this movie out.
My top series of 2011: #20-11
#20: Letter Bee
Letter Bee’s final quarter that aired this year was not as strong as what it had previously been. The reason for that is that the creators went into anime original territory, and they suddenly had to wrap up a story in 13 episodes that belongs in a much longer time-frame. However, it definitely deserves points for actually realizing this, and starting off as early as possible, in order to prevent one of those last-minute rush-jobs of endings that you see everywhere, and they actually did wrap up the story in the end. It just wasn’t as good as what it could have been, but it still was worthwhile here. The big flaw here was that the main threat they chose to go with was a bad one, and didn’t allow for interesting storytelling at all. There was no complexity whatsoever to that. The creators did keep true to the characters, though, and they actually came up with some very good character development in the end that fitted in the story.
I wasn’t the target audience for this one. Ideally you need to have seen or played through Fate/Stay Night in order to fully enjoy it. It remains a great series if you haven’t done so like me, though. This series rocked in the way that it didn’t really have one main character: it had a whole bunch of important characters, all with their own goals, personalities and backgrounds, and those meshed together really well. The show is strongly rooted in ancient wizardry and that painted a great picture of the world this played in. There were a few times the dialogue went on for a bit too long, though, like when characters are in the midst of a battle and decide to break the mood by explaining what they’re doing.
At first sight, Karuta seems like a really simple game compared to other games like Shougi or Go, especially if you’re good at memorization. It was Chihayafuru’s task to convince us that it indeed was a challenging game with a lot of depth. And after 12 episodes, it did exactly that. Courtesy of a terrific characterization and a story that is perfectly paced so far, all of the different characters together showed through their passion for the game how interesting it can be if you put your mind to it. In particular the lead trio has an excellent chemistry for this.
#17: Kamisama no Memo-Chou
This year had three major shows that were about a small girl who solves mysteries: Gosick, Dantalian no Shoka and Kami-Sama no Memo-Chou. The best of the trio turned out to be the latter, and this also was pretty much the best thing JC Staff had put out since Aoi Hana. The key here was the script, which was both excellent at creating mystery with great twists, as well as creating great dialogue between the different characters. Alice’s monologues were always fun to watch, and the dialogue between the rest of the cast felt very genuine, especially for a mystery series. There’s a lot of nice character development for the lead male as well, which made him grow above the usual male lead quite nicely. The main problem with this show was that it was too bloody short. It clocks in at 12 episodes, with one double-length first episode, but at the end of the show there still is a ton of potential left in the setting. It only took an in-depth look at about half of the cast. A second season would be perfect for this show. Alas, though: it bombed in terms of the DVD sales.
#16: Hana-Saku Iroha
Hana-Saku Iroha was another one of those series that threw many people off with its first episodes. Its first two episodes were completely different from what it would showcase after that. The show started off with two really tense dramatic episodes, only to change into a strange slice of life show with colourful characters afterward. It took me a long while to get used to that, especially since the individual episodes tended to get really forced at times. The third episode is the prime example of that. And yet, after 26 episodes, the character development it got in really was impressive. This show was at its best when it took in-depth looks at its different characters, both the main and the side characters. it’s a series that celebrates hard working, and around this theme the cast really grew together. They were awkward at first, but it really was fun to watch the adventures of the cast together as they kept an old inn running, all combined with an excellent graphics budget.
#15: [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility Control
C was ambitious. It probably was one of the most ambitious series of the entire year with its promise of building an epic story around economics with pokemon elements and aiming to be a social commentary. Its ambition was massive, and in the end I’m still surprised that they actually managed to make it slightly fit in just 11 episodes. Sure, it’s rushed beyond belief, but it still got to make the points it wanted to make, it ended on a strong note, it still turned into a very entertaining series and it still got to showcase the great ideas it had. The character department is just one mess that didn’t really produce any likable characters. The visual also probably would have been amazing… if it wasn’t for that damned earthquake. That definitely was a shock when I found out about it, and I hope that everyone in the affected area had the best luck in trying to recover from it.
#14: Dororon Enma-Kun Meerameera
Now this show was complete madness. It started off with two very mediocre episodes, but after that it completely fired off in one ride of complete insanity. And with that, it ended up as the best fanservice comedy I have ever seen. There is just so much energy in this series, even though its mindset is completely juvenile. The music also was the best of the entire year, with the creators showcasing modern renditions of classic tunes from the 70s, for which this show turned out to be an excellent homage to. Oh, and then there was the ending. It was here where this show departed the realms of crazy, and just went into the complete surreal with one of the most unique endings I have seen in a long while. I of course refuse to say exactly what went on, but if you’re looking for entertainment that doesn’t care how dumb or stupid it gets, then this is a show for you.
Blood-C definitely had a ton of people who hated it, and yet also a ton of people who loved it. Belonging to the latter, I can see how it is very easy to be turned off by this show, thanks to is extremely risky pacing. For a really long time, hardly anything of considerable significance happens. Instead, we have a lead character who lives her life and fights monsters, in a slightly odd world. It’s a series that thrives on atmosphere, and as the show slowly goes on, you’re supposed to get a clearer and clearer idea of what the hell is going on, until everything is revealed in an amazing climax. In the meantime, it had some of the best fight scenes of the year, an excellent soundtrack, and some completely brutal gore. This show is SO not for everyone, but I really love what an enormous risk it took with such a series structure, and how it kept kept its trump cards to itself until the last moments. Usually I dislike shows that take too long building up, but for me the storytelling and mystery really were enough to make this an exception.
#12: Supernatural the Animation
Blogging the episodes of this series was… a challenge. This show released its 22 episodes as a series of OVAs in about two months time. Despite all that though, Supernatural had a very good story that nicely combined random stories with an overall storyline. It had a few weak episodes here and there, but overall it was consistently excellent. It used a lot of flashbacks to a lot of different periods in the lives of the main characters, and therefore painted a very good picture of who they were the storyline packed some great twists, the show looked excellent with its interesting use of colour palette and it made great use of the fact that it was a story about adults, rather than teenagers.
Un-Go was a series that like C, tried to stuff as much as possible into just 11 episodes. The big difference is that this series actually got away with it, thanks to some smart use of fleshing out the characters through the story and dialogue itself. The show overall had an incredibly tight pacing, and every line of dialogue had a meaning to the story. Every episode here delivered, and the different mysteries in this series did a great job o involving the setting of this series into the core of each mystery. This show really loved pulling twists that turned out to be completely different from what they first seemed, and that was the fun about this series.