And with this, the year has nearly ended. This will be the final post of me this year, and I wish a happy new year to all of you in advance. All I’m left with now is to throw a number of genre awards, along with my favorite series of the past year (oh and of course this is all just my humble opinion; feel free to share your own top series of the year). Take care, and be careful with fireworks, everyone.
Worst First Episode
This year featured a lot of very crappy flash shows that are all strong contenders for this award, if they weren’t just five minutes long. The pain thankfully stops quite soon. The same unfortunately could not be said for Maken-Ki, C3, Hoshizora e Kakeru Hoshi and worst of all: Mayo Chiki. This show is the kind of bad that becomes horrible. The convenient stupidity of the plot was just way too much, beyond all of the bland characters of the other bad shows these year, these were the most offensive.
I’m not handing out this award to series that I dropped somewhere along the way, or the shows that haven’t finished yet. Persona would have been a good contender if it wasn’t for that rule, and alongside that are Sacred Seven, which completely failed to be even remotely entertaining beyond the unintentional, Dragon Crisis really takes the cake though. I have no idea how it did it, but this series somehow pulled it off to actually get progressively worse with every single arc of its. It started off… okay, I guess. The kind of “okay” that made me silently hope that it would get better. Instead, the creators just completely gave up and ended off with some of the most uninspired arcs out there that completely failed to be any kind of interesting and instead just went for a dull harem route.
This is not just about Noitamina delivering a bad series. It has been unimpressive in the past (for me it did so with Library Wars). This is about Noitamina delivering a bad series, while selling out at the same time. 2011 marked a very sharp turn in Noitamina’s usual strategy, and the timeslot started to focus itself on a teenaged audience. Fractale in this already was a disaster, but that was just a show that was really poorly balanced. With Guilty Crown, the creators are intentionally making it very generic. Shu is intentionally being a wimp, the cast is intentionally just a set of tools to make Shu look awesome. That is really the worst part about this show. The runners up for this award were the shows that had some really good promise, but in the end were botched by huge pacing problems, like Kaiji and Fractale.
Most Pleasant Surprise
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-Tachi wa Mada Shiranai
Major surprises this year include Gosick turning great, Blade spending so much time on backgrounds and Enma-Kun’s sudden chance into insanity after its very mediocre opening episodes, but the biggest has to be Ano Hana. I said this before, but when I first just saw the promo art of this series, I really had my doubts whether it would work, as it just included a picture of a ditzy looking Menma. After that more and more information about it got released, and it started to look more and more solid, but I really did not expect to be such an emotional roller-coaster, right from episode 1. I literally threw my hands in the air as I saw it.
Best Animation Studio
Nearly every year, there is just one studio who stands above the others. This year, it was Brains Base. When in a year, you release four series at once, more than any other year so far, and the worst of them is something of the caliber of Kamisama Dolls, you’ve got something to be proud of. I mean, Kamisama Dolls just pales in comparison to the other shows they did this year, from the crazy Enma-Kun to the refined Natsume to the roller-coaster ride that was Penguin Drum.
Most Promising Studio
Jinni’s Animation Studios
Every year I give this award to a small animation studio who either just started out, or showed signfiicant improvement. This year… was rather dry on that department. There is Wao World, who finally headed into television-series, but Showa Monogari wasn’t exactly an improvement over movies like Furusato Japan and Symphony in August. There was… um… 8-Bit, which delivered the middle-finger that was Infinite Stratos, but then my eye turned to the 3D CG Studio that was Jinni’s Animation Studio. They worked on the first season of Fireball before, but the differences between Fireball and Fireball Charming definitely shows that they learned a lot during the past years. Appleseed meanwhile also showed that they are very solid at rendering, although they still need to overcome the botox faces problem. Still, I believe that these guys have potential for the future.
Best Old Series I Happened to See This Year
I wached a lot of real gems this year, ranging from Kurau Phantom Memory, Rose of Versailles, Black Jack and Infinite Ryvius to finally getting to check out the now legendary Cowboy Bebop and Legend of Galactic Heroes. But all in all, I do have to say it: Gankutsuou was pretty much the best thing I watched this entire year, bar none. What Gonzo did here with its re-imagination of the classic story by Alexander Dumas is just completely amazing. The graphics are completely stunning in every single way, the character-development is just completely amazing, the story is incredible. Everything just fits in 24 episodes of awesomeness.
This was a tough one to decide. For me, great action isn’t just a lot of pretty animation, but also depends a lot on the direction, tension and use of characters, music, etcetera. This really came together with series like C and Blood-C, where the former was fast-paced and very creative with both its visuals and ideas, whereas Blood-C’s choreography was just completely amazing and a very solid second place for this award. In the end though, the food battles in Ben-To deserve this award. It’s the first time that I hand this to a comedy series, but even though the series itself had its problems at times, the food battles were just the point where everything fit. The entire concept of fighting over food was just completely unique, but every battle here stood out in the creative uses of every day items, the actual use of strategies, the camera angles wer awesome, and the music was just fantastic for these skits.
This one was a no-brainer. Level E has been the best comedy to appear in years. Especially its first arc was just completely fantastic, but even beyond that, it had some of the funniest banter I had seen in a long while. There are a ton of characters here that kick ass, but the prince, Kraft and Yukitaka take the cake here. This show was wonderful in how it both trolled its characters and its audience. The runners up this year also were completely hilarious, though: Ben-To and Dororon Enma-Kun would have also made this a great year alone if Level E wasn’t there, not to mention Hyouge Mono’s unique physical comedy.
Blood-C’s horror style was not the easiest to get into, since it depended heavily on atmosphere. If this atmosphere didn’t work for you, then this series was not for you. However, if it did work, then this turned into an incredibly tense and brutal horror series with an agonizing build-up. Steins;Gate also had a great atmosphere, and Supernatural also succeeded in achieving this.
Best Slice of Life
Tamayura ~ Hitotose
I’ve always found the definition of “Slice of Life” a bit tricky. For example, Natsume Yuujinchou had some wonderful slice of life moments, but I with its focus on Youkai stories it’s not exactly a true slice of life series. Ano Hana I guess is about the lives of a group of teenagers, but it’s not about how they live their daily lives. As for the ones that do feel like focused on portraying the daily lives of the lead characters,there are five that stood out this year: Hana-Saku Iroha, Usagi Drop, Kimi to Boku, Tamayura and Ikoku Meiro no Croisee. I decided to go for Tamayura because it best encapsulated how these characters are spending their time and living their lives, while at the same time showing how they evolve over time and develop their hobbies.
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-Tachi wa Mada Shiranai
There were two romance series that stood miles above the others this year. Like, there’s no contest beyond them. The first is Hourou Musuko, who broke many traditions, and featured what was by far the most realistic romance I’ve seen in a while. The best however, was Ano Hana, which managed to make me bawl my eyes out surprisingly often through its romance.
Un-Go was great at writing short mystery stories with a ton of twists. Mawaru Penguin Drum used its own symbols very neatly to create a very mysterious series. Blood-C used its mystery in a very daring way by only waiting for the last possible moment to explain everything. The best mystery of the year though, belongs to Steins;Gate. The story for one is incredibly well constructed, and it makes terrific use of the fact that it’s about time travel throughout its plot, though through subtle clues that are never overstated.
My top series of 2011: #10-1
#10: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica really tried to redefine the mahou shoujo genre for the older audience, and as a deconstruction of the whole genre, it really succeeded in this. With a story that flows like water, it started off with a seemingly innocent mahou shoujo setting, and in the end completely subverted everything about it. It’s pretty much the best thing Shaft had made in years, and the visual direction was consistently stunning throughout the entire series.
#9: Hourou Musuko
Hourou Musuko really surprised me in how it started off already very good, and it just kept getting better with every single episode. The acting was just amazingly down to earth and realistic characters. Its decision to start in the middle of the manga, rather than at the start really worked in the way that it already gave the characters a very complex background, and it continued to develop them into better and better characters. The drama it got out of them int he end was amazing because of that.
The plot of Steins;Gate was just completely stunning, as I’ve said quite a few times in this summary before. It’s multi-layered beyond belief, and in ways that at first you wouldn’t even hold imaginable. Especially the second half just keeps changing. Now granted, it does have a very unusual concept of time travel, which at times I found a bit hard to buy, Okabe’s rants also tended to get a bit monotone after a while, plus the otaku references all flew a bit above my head. But what this show did well, it did incredibly well.
#7: Tiger & Bunny
Tiger & Bunny just was that show that immediately caught my attention with its unique concept of having sponsored superheroes fight crime. It’s both meant to be a criticism to the modern media, but also an homage to the superhero genre. It’s chock full of likable characters, who work especially well as a team, but in particular the lead character Wild Tiger stands out as memorable, where his characters is really well balanced between his strengths and flaws. The only shame about this series is that it suddenly dips in during the finale. This show is the most fun when it shows the different stories about its characters, whereas the main storyline unfortunately paled a bit in comparison.
#6: Heartcatch Precure
Okay, this show aired for only one month in 2011, but I still really want to include it in this rankings, because of what a great job it did in redefining the mahou shoujo genre. Everything just fit with it, the action was amazing, the characters were all really well developed, with Tsubomi and Yuri being the best, and the finale of the series really was the epic finale we’ve hoped for. Everything about this series just looks so much more professional than usual and even though it’s fifty episodes long,I enjoyed every episode of it.
#5: Natsume Yuujin-Chou
With this third season, Natsume Yuujinchou actually slightly surpassed itself, which is really an impressive feat considering how good the first season was. The individual stories of this season in particular stood out as really heart-warming and down to earth, but the real gem is how much attention it devotes to Natsume’s development. Every episode adds something to his character, and he already was very well developed to start with. I love how this show looked into his past and also his future, and how it stressed how much he has grown as a character, and yet despite all that happened, this show just remains consistently subtle, and about a boy who just felt very isolated for a long part of his life due to his ability to see something that most people can’t.
#4: Hyouge Mono
Now, this was without a doubt the most unique series of the entire year. I still cannot fathom how the heck Bee-Train actually got the funding to go with a project as crazy as this. I still cannot imagine who in their right mind green-lighted the production of this show. Whoever it was though, I really want to thank him or her for opening up the road to long series that are miles away from the mainstream, and allowed a show that is about a bunch of old guys talking to be produced. The amount of attention that this show put on aesthetics and the so-called “Wabi-Sabi” is just amazing, and it did so for three entire seasons, and it’s still not finished. And as if that wasn’t enough: the facial expressions. The acting in this series is just completely priceless, where characters on one hand are able to deliver some really solid acting, and on the other make some of the silliest faces imaginable. You wanted Bee-Train to branch out and do something other than gunfights? Hah! You got it!
#3: Level E
Now, Level E was just completely delightful as a comedy. It was masterful at trolling, it contained the most hilarious episodes I’ve seen this entire year, and the way it consisted out of a number of unrelated stories made it a very varied series that was different for every single arc of its. The characters were all just awesome to watch, the banter between them was just wonderfully hilarious, but also its backdrop of aliens on earth had some very neat ideas and was a very interesting setting to play with. In this year Studio Pierrot and in particular David Production really showed how awesome a comedy can be when you add in a little bit extra and really try to make it stand out as unique.
#2: Mawaru Penguin Drum
Oooh, deciding my top 2 of this year was really hard. I love both series, and both series completely dominated my monthly rankings in the seasons they were shown in. Penguin Drum was the long-awaited comeback by Kunihiko Ikura, of Utena-fame, and it delivered an incredible character-study. It had a plot full of symbolism that seemed random at first, but fit in the context really well. It’s a show that’s open to quite a bit of interpretation, and it really requires you to read inbetween the lines. There were parts at which it perhaps got a bit too surreal, and I guess that there were a few twists that it just pulled for the heck of it, but it was a consistently entertaining ride that kept throwing interesting twists around the characters. I’m definitely looking forward to Kunihiko Ikuhara’s next work, although I hope that it won’t take 12 more years for that to happen… In any case, I loved this show and its ambition, but in the end I have to give the best show of the year title to another show….
#1: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-Tachi wa Mada Shiranai
Ano Hana is a show that made me cry more often than probably all other series combined this year. It was the single most emotional series for me, and in the end, it even hit me more than Penguin Drum. Every episode of this series developed the characters of this series immensely, and it turned into one of my favorite Noitamina-series ever made. In just eleven episodes, this show didn’t just nail its main character, it nailed all of the side characters as well. This series really aimed to become an emotional roller-coaster, and therefore it perhaps got a bit too dramatic at times, but it never delved into cheese, and just kept getting to me, closing off with a really emotional finale. It’s a close call, but Ano hana in the end stands as my favorite series of 2011.