Pre-post note: This is an end of year post written by myself and a fellow exec of the Sydney University Anime Society, posted a few days before new year.
As 2012 draws to a close, we begin that brief period where we need to think twice every time we have to write down the year. So let’s face the New Year, and obviously the best way to do that is ass first, with eyes drunkenly half-focused on the year just passed. With that said, let’s talk anime!
alsozara: I’mma not pull any punches on this one, I think 2012 has been a pretty mediocre year for anime. I’d have to say that the quality has been, on average, fairly poor this year. 2011 had a few A+ titles, for sure, but I’d have trouble picking a series better than a B+ this year, and even series of that level were pretty scarce. To qualify, I’m discounting anything that didn’t finish this year, so a lot of the shows airing at the moment are being left out of this. One big positive milestone I’d like to briefly mention is the first use of kickstarter as a funding platform for an anime project. The wonderful Yuasa Masaaki is working on a new project and managed to reach and slightly surpass the funding goals set. Keep an eye on this, kickstarter could be a big thing for indie anime projects in the future. I’m gonna chuck this over to you, autosomal, before we knuckle down into the meat of this post. What were your overall feelings about this year?
autosomal: Being relatively new to anime in general, I’m trying to be positive about the series I have a go at. I think there were a few gems this year, with some interesting ones definitely from left field. Now we don’t mean to sound authoritative – don’t take our criticisms too seriously! To repeat alsozara, it wouldn’t be appropriate to judge series like PSYCHO-PASS and The Pet Girl of Sakurasou just yet – we’ll come back to them and give our final thoughts next year!
alsozara: Man, I think it’d be fair to judge Pet Girl just from the title, to be honest, hahaha, but yeah, I’d certainly agree that some of my favourites were not what I was expecting from the preview charts.
Before we get into note-worthy titles, let’s list some of the shows autosomal and/or I didn’t get around to that people are probably gonna cite as being gaping omissions, or just the latter of those two that we don’t think deserve the top spots:
Fate/Zero (Season 2)
alsozara: Have heard good things about it but don’t want to have to struggle through Fate/Stay Night first. Will probably skip Fate/Stay Night and get onto it later. It sounds shounen-y though so I doubt it will change my mind about top picks of the year. That said, Urobuchi is alluring.
Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)
alsozara: Finished airing in 2012, and lots of people seem to love it. I was impartial and indefinitely stalled it round the sixth episode. Being crazy just isn’t enough to be engaging.
alsozara: OK, not finishing this one probably was a bit of an omission on my behalf. To be honest I made it about 5 episodes in and indefinitely stalled it. It was just so, so banal. Maybe it does get better later, but failing so miserably to hold my attention is reason enough to disqualify it from top picks, as far as I’m concerned.
autosomal: You’ve got to love seeking adventure in the everyday to live this series. I’m going to leave this to you, dear viewer, to judge for yourself. I enjoyed Oreki’s slow and steady development and the interesting character interactions, but this is by no means a Holmesian undertaking in mystery.
Sword Art Online
alsozara: I actually did watch this one through. Greatest comedy of the year. Seriously though, this one’s already been totally butchered around the aniblogosphere. Adding anything else here feels hopelessly quaint.
autosomal: Its saving grace lies in the orchestral soundtrack… and character design… but little else. It is by no means unenjoyable, but this adaptation has been criticised to death, so much I can’t take it seriously anymore when thinking about it in retrospect.
Lupin III: The Woman Named Fujiko Mine
alsozara: Again, stalled. The episodic nudity kind of distracts from some of the more interesting material. Will definitely get back to this one though. There’s a lot in it for sure, and the animation is gorgeous.
Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)
alsozara: Meh. Another indefinite stall for me <_< The writing really wasn’t sharp enough to carry the cynicism and supposed parody. In the first few episodes, I just didn’t laugh. The subject material was kind of courageous, I guess, but sometimes it’s better to aim for a lower target you can hit better.
autosomal: This got off to a surprising start, and the hope that following episodes would match the wit of the first made me complete the series. Watashi had to be one of the more interesting female MC I’ve seen in a while. Some arcs worked like a charm (I was grinning ear-to-ear at the two ‘manga’ episodes), while some ended up… dull. By the end of it I had the impression that the anime was simply flaunting how crazy it was, and little else. I spent episodes wondering “what in the world am I watching” then checking out the analyses on aniblogs. Would recommend if you’re up for something different, cynical and at times mind-boggling.
autosomal: Left this series on hold after 2 episodes. Good concept, but much lost in translation.
- I can get my cute girls elsewhere!
alsozara: “Too much lost in translation” is pretty much exactly what I heard. Heck, even the people subbing it said so. Written by the same guy as Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei though, so that kind of tempts me.
autosomal: Being unfamiliar with most shows in the shounen genre, I’m interested to see how it’ll work out, but I’m up to Episode 3 and I can’t stand the interaction between the male and female MCs. This one’s on hold.
alsozara: Didn’t even start this one. Sounded bland shouneny.
My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun)
autosomal:With its refreshing, sketch-like art style, the anime adaptation makes no bones about the characters and who they are, and Shizuku’s subtle yet satisfying development was throughly enjoyable. Minus points for the effective yet annoying effort at turning it into a love… n-gon. Although the last episode was open-ended
and a bit unsatisfying, it could possibly leave room for a second season. But wait, there’s an OVA!
alsozara: Easily my favourite shoujo of the year. Though I haven’t seen Chihayafuru and everyone seems to love that. That said, obviously not top of the year worthy.
autosomal: With supernatural happenings that begin with body-swapping (heaven forbid they ever occur IRL), Kokoroko tests the friendship and dynamics of its five protagonists to their limits. Minus points for relatively flat character development and the never-ending stream of teen angst. I definitely enjoyed this series (and I’m biased towards the art and character design because it’s Kyoto Animation).
alsozara: Man, this series had so much potential that it just refused to tap. It took the safe route at every turn and relied on teenage stupidity rather than trying to evoke genuine drama. Still, the exploration of the white knight character was kind of interesting, and the potential was certainly there.
autosomal: I’m actually glad that each of the characters were ‘taken apart’, so to speak. Like in My Little Monster (above), no character is portrayed as perfect, with their strengths and weaknesses laid bare, and I think that’s to the benefit of both series.
autosomal: for having a fitting soundtrack and great insert songs (Kokoro no Senritsu being the standout for best choir song in anime ever), but minus points for its forced drama and sometimes awkward execution.
alsozara: Lol PA Works.
alsozara: Nisemonogatari is note-worthy, if only for how elegantly it buried and destroyed all the best aspects of Bakemonogatari in favour of smut and desperately padded slice-of-life antics. There is no middle finger big enough. Don’t get me wrong, the high points were still pretty high, but a few good episodes cannot a series make. Between this and that Medaka Box… thing, I’m really not sure what to think of Nisio Issin anymore.
autosomal: I’ll never look at a toothbrush in the same way again. Nor twin-tailed primary school-girls.
…go to Chuunibyou (see below), Sankarea and Sword Art Online for portraying male protagonists who are expected to be Prince Charming and sort everything out for their damsel in distress, even though they are flipping teenagers. Maybe I’m becoming more rooted in reality, but I notice how everyone around them are either plain evil or powerless to change the situation. But I guess sometimes it doesn’t hurt to self-insert..?
And although Acchi Kocchi was a decent effort and well-adapted from the four-panel strips, I gave up rooting for the OTP (how can a guy be so dense!?), and it ended up becoming too repetitive and saccharine.
alsozara: Yeah, spot on, autosomal. Once you start to see self-insert pandering it’s impossible to unsee.
With that out of the way, my note-worthy picks. autosomal can chime in as we go on any show he wants to put in his own two cents for as we go.
Binbougami-ga! managed to surprise me immensely by actually being funny, which already puts it head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of comedy anime. The two main leads had a great dynamic and Sunrise really knows how to get the best out of the visual humour. There were some pretty awful messages buried in the half-baked drama, and the comedy was dropped for aforementioned half-baked drama a bit too often, but hey, it consistently made me laugh, so I’ll give it credit for that.
The latest offering from the wonderfully eclectic director Nakamura Kenji. Tsuritama managed to be colourful, upbeat, and intensely charming while maintaining an impressive air of gravitas throughout. Also, it has to be said. Fishing as a narrative catalyst for character development and interaction? Bloody brilliant.
Ok, hard-hitters now. Natsuyuki Rendezvous is my tied top series of the year. Mature setting and characters with subtle, well-incorporated comedy. Real, complex issues tackled in impressive style. Couple this with layers of flower and fairy tale symbolism, and some real ambition to utilise the tools of the medium in telling the story (e.g. the entire dream-world section). Still not too sure how I feel about the ending, even so this is a one of a kind show that I consider a firm step in the right direction for anime.
(autosomal: Hooray, not another high school romance! This also gets my equal top spot this year, as an effectively told story supported by a beautiful, fitting soundtrack.)
Apollo on the Slope
Finally, my other tied top pick of the year, Apollo on the Slope/Kids on the Slope. Come on, it’s directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, it’s gonna be hard for anyone else to compete. An incredible jazz soundtrack, excellent characterisation, and some of the best direction I’ve seen in anime in a while. Strong themes of freedom, guilt and redemption are woven in very neatly, and there’s a heroic amount of content squeezed into 12 episodes without it ever really feeling rushed or poorly developed. Again though, I’m not too sure about the ending, which held it back from competing with some of 2011’s hard hitters, but a fantastic show to be sure.
To balance how dry and effusive that praise was, here’s a picture of a dog in a hat:
Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
- I, Lelouch vi Britannia… beseech thee to… forge a lover’s contract?
I started Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! (Regardless of my Adolescent Delusions of Grandeur, I Want a Date!) for my weekly dose of comedy and crazy antics from the “delusional” Rikka, the ex-chuuni Yuuta and their motley crew of friends. And heck was it enjoyable. The lavish CG imagine-spots, Rikka and Yuuta’s double act, the oddball anime-original characters Dekomori and Kumin… Jun Fukuyama did a great job voicing Yuuta, bringing in his previous roles from Working! and Code Geass to comedic effect.
I became anxious about how the drama towards the end of the series would be handled (won’t spoil you peeps here, but it deviates heavily from the light novel), but Chuunibyou was wrapped up with a nice message, reminding us that we don’t have to sacrifice our imagination to move forward in life.
This series takes equal top spot for me with Natsuyuki Rendezvous, and gets bonus points for getting a grown man squealing in his seat every time he recalls that confession scene.
(alsozara: I goddamn love Jun Fukuyama. That is all.)
Mysterious Girlfriend X
- It’s not that bad a plot device, just takes a bit of getting used to. Think pheromones. but liquid!
I’m going to guess most peeps dropped Mysterious Girlfriend X (Nazo no Kanojo X) after the first few episodes, disturbed by the unusual plot device. It’s used very, very effectively though, as MGX explores the daily interactions and trials in a high-school relationship. I thoroughly liked Tsubaki’s good-natured, boyish innocence, and watching Urabe open her heart bit by bit was heart-warming. The 90s-style art was complemented by an absolutely beautiful soundtrack. Definitely worth picking up again.
Daily Lives of High School Boys
A Square Enix X Sunrise collaboration, Daily Lives of High School Boys (Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou) takes the cake for consistently guaranteeing a barrel of laughs each episode, as it takes apart all the conceptions and tropes that make up the anime high-schooler. The ridiculous internal monologues (read: Literary Girl) and amusing situations the characters are in… you’ll have to watch it for yourself to really appreciate the humour.
- 97% high-school boy goodness. Minus points for the terrible (yet hillarious) portrayals of high school girls.