2015 from what I have been hearing has been a good year for music and games but that’s not what we are assessing here. The true question is, was it a good year for anime? In truth it may depend on your tastes and this year was divisive to say the least. The best anime tended to be love it or hate it affairs but at least there was some interesting things at work. Personally I consider it the year of strong starts with weak finishes. There were plenty of anime whose first episodes held light of a new potential greats but it never quite managed to reach that level.
So Aidan, what made you late this time you ask?(You likely didn’t ask but please, humor me) Well when gearing up to write this summary I came to the shocking conclusion that I just plain forgot to watch some standout titles this year. Putting them on the backlog while I get though my ever expanding pile of steam games. It would be a shame to leave up potential candidates for the top ten simply because I neglected to watch them. That said there were sacrifices, I never got around to watching “Arslan Senki” after all. I also still remain halfway through Jojo stardust crusaders. So I ask for mercy should your favorite show not end up on the list below and keep in mind that top tens are ridiculously arbitrary. I don’t even consider the order to have any meaning as plenty of these can change places. I would say the list below is just ten interesting anime this year listed in no particular order.
So without further ado, the 2015 summary.
Chaos Dragon: Sekiryuu Seneki
I could have went the easy route and stuck something like Punchline or Lances du Mask but anime such as these you just expect to be bad. When I ask myself on just what this year really made me regret anticipating it was most certainly this. Bad anime which are expected to be bad don’t hurt anyone but a bad anime that could have been something great is something to mourn. Chaos Dragon was based on a tabletop role playing session which featured three of the best writers in the industry. It could have been a great experiment to see what improv storytelling these people could dream up. Sadly by based on, they mean they took the setting and characters and pretty much nothing else. For someone seemed to think that they could make a better story and proceed to turn the thing into a Akame no Kill knockoff with poor pacing, inconsistent animation with bad CGI and a plot that just doesn’t make sense. It could have been something great but sadly now it never will be.
Worst First episode
K Return of Kings
Sometimes during the first impressions of an anime seas I feel like a judge on one of those music talent shows. I watch acts come and go till eventually I get some cocky person so convinced that they will blow me away with their performance. In the end they present a sub-par no effort show and yet still hold a ego more obnoxious than my own. Well that’s this show’s first episode for me. A story that’s making no effort to explain itself to the viewer, fanservice that has no idea which target market to aim for, dialogue so obtuse that it might as well be replaced with foghorns for what little it provides and visual so shaded under a blue gradient that just annoys without end once noticed. Was I interested in seeing what the rest of the show had to offer? No, no I was not.
One would think that a show about life and death would have a much more somber piece for its opening animation. But Death Parade threw that all out the window and decided to have an opening with the cast getting together and having a great time. Tonally the opening is a complete opposite of the show with its peppy catchy tune and fast beat that can make you tap along. Accompanied but visuals of dancing and messing around, it really hard to skip when you turn on a episode. A complete contrast to the grim subject matter of the series but perhaps that’s the point. The business of death need not be a somber one and if you are getting sent to either heaven or hell, at least you can be sent off with a party.
Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider
Death Parade was also a disappointment but it didn’t quite let me down as bad as Subete did. Personally, I love the murder mystery genre and wish I had more anime to sate that thirst. Plenty have tried the mystery angle but often resorted to stories that require little thought and are mainly spectacle. Then here comes Subete promising me exactly what I wanted and getting me fully on board for an exciting tale. However Subete ultimately played its cards too early and left the majority of the series attempting to stretch out the paper thin plot to fit the runtime. Enduring its tedium rewards watchers with a conclusion that’s obvious, nonsensical and overall pretentious. So once again I sit with an itch for some great murder mystery and wondering if I should replay Umineko no naku koro ni when it is released on steam.
Most pleasant surprise
Gakkou was a show that truly surprised me, not because of the shows hidden nature as I was already clued into that aspect, but rather how well directed it was. On all accounts Gakkou lives and dies on a gimmick, that being Moe slice of life mixed with a zombie apocalypse. Both are tired concepts yet this show managed to make both feel fresh by using the discrepancy between the genres. It has a rather predictable ending and one or two unnecessary filler episodes however it makes up for its shortcomings through some fantastic execution.
Best animation studio
This was a pretty good year for Lerche, having a pretty consistent track record throughout the year with at least an interesting or entertaining show each season. Monster musume remains one of the most enjoyable harems I have seen in years and Gakkou was a pleasant surprise. Even Ronpa was at least an interesting experiment and Assassination classroom is a fun show. As a studio my opinion of them has gone up as they managed to not only adapt source material well but elevate it. (With the exception of Ronpa which disregarded it completely.) I look forward to their future projects and I hope they can keep up the good work.
Best Guilty Pleasure
Shimoneta to Iu Gainen ga Sonzai Shinai Taikutsu na Sekai
Monster Musume also deserves a mention for doing something different with the tired old fanservice harem but Shimoneta wins with just pure vile creativity. Taking place in a dystopian society that embodies censorship taken to its logical extreme, you could think that this is a commentary on the nature of repression. However whatever commentary Shimoneta provides is either in your face or accidental. No, the real goal of Shimoneta is to make as many sex jokes as humanly possible. The story manages to break expectations as things happen like the shows most boring Mary Sue character becoming the primary show stealer and the utter ludicrous as one episode features a tutorial on how to make a homemade onahole. It does have its weaknesses such as a villain introduced in its later episodes but manages to entertain regardless.
One Punch Man
A no brainer without doubt. Fate/unlimited bladeworks second half did air this year but its splendor did not match its first series. Even if it did I think I would give the award to One Punch Man regardless as the animation here truly had heart and passion. The final bout in the final episode is worty of this title alone but the series managed to keep a relatively high quality of animation throughout with some of the best talent in the industry working on it. The result is a jaw dropping portfolio of visual glory, even if there were times were the art lacked consistency. There are those who truly dislike this show but I think few would discredit its animated feats.
Let me say this, teenagers are irritating creatures. At one point we were all one and chances are you hated the person you were then. Because teenage years are when you think you have figured out the world and believe that you are somehow special in some unspecified way. There are those of us who outgrew this phase and learned to deal with simple truth. The only way to get acknowledgement for being special is to prove you are special through hard work and dedication. Some never outgrew this however and that brings me to Magata Shiki. Magata is the teenage mindset on full display. She thinks she’s figured out life, thinks she is special and therefore makes some of the most idiotic decisions possible. The problem is that the series treats her like she is special, that her mindset is new and oh so deep. No one attempts to challenge her mindset or more importantly, point out how utterly juvenile it is. Magata Shiki is the result of what happens when you isolate a egotistical teenager and allow them to fester in their own flawed logic. The result is an ignorant child who is under the impression that they are a genius. Even if the show demands to see her as some visionary philosopher, she remains proof that just because someone is smart, does not mean they are wise.
With the soaring popularity of One Punch Man, Saitama is becoming a bit of an anime icon. With fanart of him taking on Superman and Batman, as well as a Fallout 4 parody. All that’s really needed for his popularity to skyrocket is an English dub, which should come any day now. But what exactly makes Saitama’s character so special. Well it could be because if his very nature being a parody of the overpowered Shounen protagonist or his personality that walks the tightrope between badass and goofy. Previously only handled by Eikichi Onizuka. But personally I believe his loveabity comes from the fact that dispute his overwhelming power, Saitama’s greatest challenges are the everyday tasks everyone needs to face. Where all is his power is worthless. Non the less it will always be fun to see him respond to the greatest threats to humanity with bored disinterest.
Top 10 anime of the year
10: Kekkai Sensen(Blood Blockade Battlefront)
Remember when I said it was a love it or hate it year? Well this anime is the representative of that view. To those of you who disagree with my number one pick, let it be known that I know how you feel. For Kekkai Sensen was that anime for me. On a technical level I can see how Kekkai can be a good show. I can even see greatness and creatively in its premise and some episodes. Yet despite all this I find it quite mediocre. Kekkai Sensen is very much style over substance and if you are looking for something with a deep plot I suggest looking elsewhere. The plot is a thinly tied thread that goes through a series of episodic adventures introducing characters and then proceeding to use them for absolutely nothing. All to end with an underwhelming conclusion which is open for a potential sequel. This anime holds the number ten spot for one reason, because I know there are those who could truly love this show. Particularly if you are a big fan of Durarara this will be right up your alley. I give it this spot because I admit it has merit for others, just none for me.
9: Death Parade
In my review I stated that Death Parade is a show that is half great. I still stand by that though in retrospect I may have been a bit harsh on it. The premise of Death Parade is deliciously novel and filled to the brim with potential. Half the series capitalized on that potential. The other half didn’t. Regardless this series truly did have some fantastic moments and should Madhouse take up the unlikely chance of creating a sequel I would be on board for a second visit to Quindecim. If we were given a sequel that took the best parts of this series and made the entire season of that then it would certainly make it into the top five.
8: Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
In any story when humanity meets beings from another world, we are generally the technologically inferior. Gate is here to shown that we humans have made some impressive killing machines and if faced with a RPG fantasy world we will certainly give them a run for their money. I will be the first to admit that gate isn’t perfect. It’s comedy is bad, the pacing is a slow burn with no real climax in sight and its missing something to truly make it great. But the story does work with some great ideas and how it deals with the issues that arise with the appearance of another world. Countries hungry to mine it for resources, the difference in political structures, the technological gape in power, culture shock…there are a lot of great things to work with here and the story does make some use of it. It will be the conclusion of the second season that ultimately decides the quality of the show so for now I believe this spot is earned.
7: Ushio to Tora
In truth Ushio to Tora never surpassed exceptions or provided anything besides what was promised. But it did deliver on what was promised. A fun Shounen adventure about a boy and his demon tiger. This title will have viewers filled with that nostalgic feeling previously brought by the likes of Dragonball or Yu Yu Hakuso. Bundled together with an opening that never fails to get me in the mood for some Shounen battle action. It’s a pity the show itself never quite lives up to the battle scale presented in the opening but even that is reminiscent of old style Shounen. This anime managed to keep me constantly entertained throughout and prevented it from getting stale by changing up the formula before it runs out of steam. It’s the anime of yesteryear, today!
6: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works second season
Yes, I am well aware that my old bias is at work here but it would betray my love for the franchise to not have this here. At least take solace in the fact that it is not in the top five and I certainly would be willing to put it lower. This season was much weaker than the first and suffered from too much filler and a dragged pacing. That said it did have a great conclusion, it still is the best adaption of the route to date and its still a beautiful series to look at. I just pray that Ufotable can bring the brilliance of Heavens feel out with the film without the weaknesses displayed in this second season.
5: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Zoku
In the middle of this list seems an appropriate place for this as the story did deal with characters being in the middle of someone else’s conflict. SNAFU didn’t quite excel its previous season, instead providing more of the same which in SNAFUs case is not a bad thing. In a medium filled with rosy depictions of school life and all its wonders, SNAFU is the show to tell it like it is and present a more realistic depiction of school life. The protagonists brand of cynicism never gets old though the fact that he has a harem is always a mystery. In guise of school events, SNAFU shows you many future troubles that those of us in the workforce are all too familiar with. In particular the school planning meetings are so true to life that it’s rather scary. That said this season was bogged down a bit with a ongoing plot about the characters relationships that borders on over melodramatic. That and a ending which is sort of cliffhanger that outright demands a third season.
4: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans
Mari Okada and Gundam is a match that would make anyone raise an eyebrow, yet it has produced one of the better Gundams in recent years. I would hesitate to call myself a Gundam fan, quite the opposite actually. But Orphans has a quality that I like a lot. There’s something engrossing about a bunch of underdog slaves revolting and becoming a significant power. Perhaps it’s because the politics of this series gas been put more to the background or simplified. I was never fond of Gundams nature to get too caught up in politics and even less so when it starts preaching about how war is bad. Orphans does have cartoonist aspects to it and a love triangle it would be better without but makes up for it with some fine Mecha action and a glorious soundtrack.Wherever you stand on this, at least we can argee its better than Reconguista.
3: Junketsu no Maria(Maria the virgin witch)
A while back I remember doing a first episode impression on Junketsu no Maria and being surprised at how good it was. So I made a note to watch it some time later and went on. Now with writing this summary I thought it was the perfect time to go back and watch it. I thought I might find it to be something worthwhile. What I was astonished to find was an absolute gem of an anime. I didn’t just like this anime, I loved it. The moral quandaries, setting, themes, really this anime was everything I originally expected from Young Blackjack. So much so that I regret not blogging it when it was airing. The parallels to Joan of Arc are pretty obvious.The villains have great character arcs and I love how it shows the dangers of blind faith as well as the negatives of refuting god without picking a clear side. That’s this shows strength, there isn’t a good or evil here. Maria may stop war temporarily but she’s called into question plenty about whether what she’s doing is truly helping in the long run. Of course the show isn’t without negatives, the ending for one is suitable but very cheesy. It does tie up all the loose ends of the series nicely though so that there is no need for a sequel. The art can have a few hiccups now and then and I feel that one character wasn’t really given the time to make use of his full potential. There’s plenty of sex jokes as well and Maria is pretty much mocked for her virginity all the time. But in my time watching this show made me remember just why I love anime so much.
2: Gakkou Gurashi!
Breathing life into two overdone genres is already worthy of merit. Being genuinely good is all the better. Gakkou is just a really well done series that exemplifies that a good idea can become a great one with creative direction and smart adaption. The balancing act between soft Moe fluff and grim zombie apocalypse is a recipe that doesn’t always work but when it does, it heightens the effect of both. Watching Gakkou is akin to watching puppies play in a house slowly getting filled with toxic gas. You know the tragedy is coming and the tension carries throughout the series as you wait for it all to come tumbling down. In the hands of another it would be an unremarkable series but here it happens to be one of the most visually arresting things I have seen all year.
1: One Punch Man
Was there any doubt? One Punch Man is one of the most impressive feats of animation made in recent times. The comedy of each episode just makes you smile and Saitama is a loveable goofy superhuman who can turn any threat into a joke. It’s a series that genuinely has more action in the show than it does in the opening. I do admit that this show isn’t for everyone. Truly it’s something that thrives on its cool factor. It doesn’t present any considerable deconstruction of Shounen tropes and its storyline does hit the same beats of a threat showing up each episode for Saitama to one punch it to death. However if One Punch Man is to your tastes then you are bound to love it. If not, at least you saw a display of some of the best animation the industry has to offer.