Happy new year everyone! And apologies for the delays. Compiling this post took a bit longer than what I first anticipated. In any case, 2012 was a great year for anime. I can see an upward trend with studios trying out more and being more experimental than previous years (finally more good 52-episode series and Noitamina-series running full cour). Let’s hope that 2013 will be even better!
Worst First Episode
Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru!
Every year I had out these awards for the first episode that I checked out that was the absolute worst. And yet again, it’s the godawful incest shows for me that were the bottom of the barrel: Oniichan Blahblah makes for a good runner up for this award. But even then I wasn’t prepared to how bad this was. I mean, this show isn’t even trying anymore. I still remember how it just pulls off the car accident without a shred of irony, only to have the supposedly dead character walk away like it was nothing.
Liche Light Club
Disappointments are created by high expectations. Last year for example this was Guilty Crown for all the hype it built up for. 2012 didn’t really have such a series though, since I already knew that Guilty Crown was bad at the start of the year and everyone kept telling me that Sword Art Online’s ALO arc would be pretty bad. However, there was one series that just screamed “Waste of Potential”: the story of a bunch of sexually frustrated high school guys who design a robot powered by Liches and go kidnap people. It’s such a great concept for a show with tons of bleak and dark humour… if only it had gotten adapted by some people who actually had some shred of ambition. Now the anime of Liche Light Club is just a collection of bad SM-jokes.
Most Pleasant Surprise
Runner up would be Nazo no Kanojo X for being actually good, AKB0048 really takes the cake: it’s a show about idols who hold guerilla concerts to fight an evil government that has outlawed entertainment. It s such a hopeless premise, and yet the creators made it work by not just glorifying the idol business, but also shows the darker side of the business.
Best Animation Studio
For the first half of the year, it looked like Satelight would end up as my favorite studio of the year with their work on Aquarion Evol, Mouretsu Pirates and AKB0048. Then A-1 came and blew all these titles away with Uchuu Kyoudai and From the New World. Then Magi delivered very solid adventure and not to mention Tsuritama ‘s addictive fun, and then they pretty much out-produced all other studios this year.
Most Promising Studio
This is an award that I hand out every year for promising new studios or small studios that made huge improvements. Dogakobo would have gotten this award with their work on Natsuyuki Rendezouvs. This year was a bit different though, because something very interesting happened with a studio that was already very well established: TMS Entertainment have made a name for themselves decades ago by animating all kinds of western Disney series and the company itself was founded in 1946 as a fiber manufacturer, not to mention that they did make one of my favorite series with Kaze no Shoujo Emily. In the past number of years though, things have been a bit quiet around this studio. They brought their focus more and more on kiddie shows and nothing else, so I had given up hope. And then in 2012, something happened: they delivered three series that were experimental, three series that did not care about living up to their peers, or keeping true to conventions. Lupin, Kamisama and Zetman’s execution bursted with creativity and despite limited budgets, these three series really tried to make the best out of their limited budget and airtime. I am not sure what happened: but keep this mentality going. Try to get this mentality into series of 2 cours length. That would be just amazing.
Best Old Series I Happened to See This Year
I did not watch many older series this year because my private life got much busier, but I did manage to watch Monster. What a series that was. Slow-paced with breath-taking characters. Johan Liebert in particular shines as one of the best villains out there, not to mention how well the creators managed to capture Germany and the tensions around the Berlin Wall and its fall.
Eureka Seven Ao
Fanservice is often used for nudity, but it basically means stuff that is just there to please fans. Although 2012 did have two series that made very good use of nudity: Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo and Lupin the Third. Sakurasou had the tension that it created with its fanservice that brought a spark to the characters, while Mine Fujiko’s sensual portrayal had a really unique effect. Eureka Seven Ao meanwhile was fanservice at its truest sense: even though the story and focus of Ao was entirely different from the first Eureka Seven series, it did pay a brilliant homage to it by having its characters return and be much more than just dead weights who are only in the way for the younger generation.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
So, Aquarion Evol and Eureka Seven Ao had very solid action with gorgeous CG effects, Zetman had very tense action, but what really did it for me was the incredibly over the top action. That gives us on one hand Black Rock Shooter that just kept pulling all sorts of awesome stuff in its alternative world, and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a show that manages to be ridiculously over the top, and yet focus on the small details. This series is completely crazy and its action shows it. It’s a thrilling roller coast er ride from start to finish that hardly ever seems to let go.
Poyopoyo Kansatsu Nikki
At the beginning of the year, Milky Holmes sold me with its incredibly random humour that was incredibly stupid on so many levels. After that there came Polar Bear Cafe, whose best episodes actually rivalled it, and Poyopoyo Kansatsu Nikki, which actually brought some thought into its humour, which is why it got this year’s award. This series was full of those kinds of jokes and it never dragged: it always tried to be fresh and new and it never aimed to waste time.
There really weren’t many horror series in 2012: only Another and From the New World had some. I’m giving it to Another because it was fully dedicated to it, rather than From the New World which just occasionally moved into the genre. Both really managed to create a really freaky atmosphere though.
Best Slice of Life
Poyopoyo Kansatsu Nikki
Most comedies I watch are just for laughs, but Poyopoyo did something more: it was really relatable to watch the every day lives of its characters. It had tons of situations that wer ment to be recognizable for lots of people. Mostly pet owners, but probably everyone else will find a few moments that hit home.
2012 had lots of great romance series that treated their casts seriously: Sakurasou, Sukitte, Nazo no Kanojo, Inu X Boku, Kamisama Hajimemashita, Kokoro Connect, Sakamichi no Apollon and Uta Koi. None of them came close to Natsuyuki Rendezvous though. A romance about adults, which blended in the supernatural really well. The lead couple is amazing to watch in their struggle and the chemistry they have with each other. Heck, for me this was the best romance show in years.
Best Background Art
From the New World
Last Exile still looked gorgeous, although not as gorgeous as in its first half. Fate/Zero managed to look even better with its background art, but From the New world sold me the most with its art that is really varied, detailed and imaginative. The creators really give the artists freedom here, and you can really notice that.
Again, From the New World deserves credit for giving its artists so much freedom, and also K’s incredibly smooth animation deserves to be mentioned, but I think that in the end, it’s Fate/Zero that had the best animation of the year in how clean and crisp it was, and yet how incredibly solid the show looked through its entire run. It’s hard to get that kind of consistency for 26 episodes.
Best Looking Graphics
Lupin III – Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna
This award is not for the best animation, but just for the graphics that looked best. This one was a no-brainer: the creators went with their complete own art style that didn’t care about conventions whatsoever, and it looked amazing. From the New World (again) takes second place.
Zetsuen no Tempest
The best script this year was from Zetsuen no Tempet, and how it used this so wonderfully in order to not just create its own mind games, but also have them build up to each other. Runner-up is Space Brothers with its unseeming ability to make every situation it’s in incredibly funny with an anti-climax.
Uchuu Kyoudai: Uchuu Kyoudai has an amazingly uplifting story, about a guy in his thirties trying to make it for an astronaut. This is the series that returned my faith into slow pacings, and how much you can do if you take your time. Because of that the creators managed to add so many details to the storyline of this series, ranging from a wide variety of characters to so much background detail on what it means to be an astronaut. Eureka Seven Ao, Mouretsu Pirates and Shin Sekai Yori had really good stories too.
Top 15 TV-Series 2012
#15: Lupin the Third
For this re-imagining, the creators gave a very different spin on the Lupin franchise, putting the focus on Mine Fujiko instead, and on her sexuality. Hey turned this into an episodic series that at times seemed a bit random, although the story that appeared in the second half of the series had some really interesting points, not to mention a very good ending. It’s by far the most experimental series of the year, and I really appreciate the creators taking all these risks.
#14: Psycho Pass
Psycho Pass will very likely end up a lot higher on the list next year, but for now 14th place is good for a series that’s only halfway there. It’s a series that looks into psychology, at what defines a psychopath and how people can survive in a society that expects everyone to be mentally healthy. In its first half it packed some really good suspense, symbolism and dialogue, combined with a very good script and that really sold me on this series.
#13: From the New World
From the New World is heavy, putting children and innocent themes of friendship on one hand, and dark horror on the other. The show is halfway finished, and we’re right at the point at which the cast is really being forced to grow up in a very cruel way. On top of that though, this show managed to create a fascinating setting around all this, with its own customs and culture, not to mention the folklore that it put into it.
#12: Fate Zero
Fate/Zero’s second season was one of the most hyped series of the year. From that standing point, it slightly disappointed me, in the way that in the end, you are required to know hat happens in the other Fate instalments of the Fate franchise to really be able to enjoy this, and I have not. Because of that my suspense of disbelief was occasionally broken at some unfortunate times. That’s the reason this is not in my top 10, but despite that it still is a really good series with rock-solid characters and rock-solid production values.
Hyouka showed us a very interesting approach to mystery: instead of showing us epic mysteries with world threatening consequences, the mysteries that our characters had to solve were small, instead of a corpse there is a small prop stolen, or something like that. This show really was good at trying to delve into these mysteries and make their solutions pay off. It stuffed tons of small details into each of these episodes to make them worthwhile, and I love how it gave this series such a down to earth approach.
#10: Mouretsu Pirates
Yes, this is an incredibly girly science fiction series, especially as the show goes on and you realize the size of the part that the local school’s yacht club has in a show that is supposed to be about pirates. But as the show goes on, its strength shows up more and more: it’s an incredibly fun pirate show. It just takes its time to set everything up by creating its own view of how pirates survive in the future, establishing all of the characters and make them act believably. The thing with this series is that every single arc is more interesting than its predecessor as it keeps spiralling out of control. That completely sold me.
#9: Hyouge Mono
Hyouge Mono was only there for one month, so I’m not going to rank it higher than this at the moment, but still, the month still aired in 2012. And Hyouge Mono remains a delight: how on earth were they able to fund it? How on earth were they able to make a series about a bunch of old dudes making silly faces? I do not know, but THANK YOU Bee-Train, for taking this risk. The conclusion to Hyouge Mono was slow (which was the reason why I didn’t rank this show 90 or above), but it made such an impact.
#8: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
This show is unbelievable. With just its first half, it completely blew away nearly all manly actions shows with how ridiculously over the top it was. With a fantastic soundtrack and voice actors who really like to yell their lines out as loud as possible with as much passion as possible, combined with the way how this show can give huge powers to incredibly weak things. It’s constantly glorious to just watch this show surpass itself time and time again with its bombast. And to think that this originated in 1988.
#7: Zetsuen no Tempest
Zetsuen no Tempest took a while to get going in its first half. But holy crap, did it take off! The way in which this show built up its climaxes was amazing, and especially the way in which it used its mind games was awesome beyond belief. It just kept throwing around the table and toyed with things as logic and fate. And that’s just its first half.
#6: Sakamichi no Apollon
Playing music is something that is really difficult to animate. And yet, here the creators did it. Using rotoscoped animation, the soundtrack is perfectly played by the characters. This makes for a bunch of stunning musical performances. I also really liked the romance between the different characters: instead of padding out, the characters here wasted no time and just kept adding things and events to their development. It does have the flaw that sometimes it tends to throw in a twist for the sake of having a twist, but the character development all makes up for it.
#5: Eureka Seven Ao
This one is very likely my most controversial item in my top 10, because a lot of people disliked it. It definitely is a series that is not for everyone. First of all you need to be a fan of the original Eureka Seven, and second of all you also need to like the completely different direction. That the series headed in. This series also takes no prisoners: some plotholes are plotholes, others are just explained episodes earlier but are things that are so easily missed through everything that goes on. This show does not plan to hold your hand, but it also provides amazing fanservice for those who manage to enjoy it.
#4: Natsume Yuujin-Chou
Natsume Yuujinchou’s fourth season had the best opening and closing episodes of all four seasons combined. These really were amazing, and gave it such a strong impression. The middle episodes in comparison were a bit below the quality that we’re used to from this series, but even then this series made such an impact. We can only hope that there will also be a fifth season.
For a long while, I kept saying that Chihayafuru’s only flaw was that it would end prematurely. So yeah, with that second season now around the corner… I really can’t find any faults in this series anymore aside perhaps that it’s about teenagers. Its energy is just so addictive. It managed to make Karuta fun and exciting, even its second half contained so many exciting games that still remained fresh, even though the game from the outside looks fairly repetitive. The characters were the final seal for me: incredibly charming and already well developed even though there still is so much more material left.
#2: Natsuyuki Rendezvous
I already suspected that this show would be awesome with a name as Kou Matsuou behind the direction, but I did not expect this show to be THAT good. Everything about this show is amazing: the voice acting is perfect, the pacing is perfect, the story fits perfectly, it knows exactly what it should do, the characters fit each other incredibly well, the music is wonderfully used, the characters are amazingly life-like and expressively animated. Heck, there were two series this year that stood above all the others, and Natsuyuki Rendezvous may not have the biggest or most ambitious storyline, but everything just worked in its favor here. And yet there is one series that I liked more than this. You can probably already guess which one it is.
#1: Uchuu Kyoudai
Uchuu Kyoudai is amazing. At the expense of a rather slow pacing, it managed to create a fantastic cast of characters around one guy’s quest to become an astronaut. Nanba Mutta is one of the single best characters we’ve had in years. His wit is just amazing and he is an incredibly charming character to follow. Add that to its incredibly genuine style of storytelling that loves to combine anti-climaxes with climaxes that one moment make you laugh really hard and the next feel incredibly sorry or inspired, and yes: you have my favorite series of 2012 that can also very easily become my favorite show for 2013.