[With the holidays and the end of the year comes a time for reflection, as well as the end of the season. What better way to spend it than thinking about our favorite Japanese cartoons! Here are the shows we regarded best over 2012! -Josh]
It seems like it's becoming increasingly difficult to wade around the Internet without tripping over a couple of lists showcasing the best of what 2012 had to offer. I mean, why shouldn't it? December is a pretty good month to get into the reflection business, so why not let everyone know just what they've been missing out on? At least, that's how I see my own lists.
"I saw this one show, and you should probably go watch it".
So, that's where I come in. This is my top five anime of 2012. I want people to look at this list and try some shows out, and then I want to read someone else's list and try some new shows out myself. That way we get to enjoy all the good stuff, and not get hung up by the terrible shows that tagged along for the ride.
So here it is. I hope you'll give these shows a shot if you haven't seen them before!
5. Another - P.A. Works
Final Destination, the anime. That was the summary this show had gained after only a few episodes. It wasn't an unfair description either, as there were kids and adults alike falling victim to suspicious deaths with nothing better than a 26 year old mystery for an explanation. It held your hand through the story, making sure you were right on the edge of your seats before building up to the next gruesome killing. There were plenty of feints and sudden sound effects to keep you guessing, but you were always caught off guard when each and every person succumbed to their fate.
Over time, it became quite clear that comparing this anime with Final Destination was completely unfair. Sure, it had crazy deaths and the ridiculousness that comes with it, but there was one fundamental difference. Another has a story. Misaki Mei and Sakakibara Kouichi are spending all of their time looking into the deaths and trying to find a way to prevent them. It's a story about their constant struggle to solve the mystery, and their failures along the way. Final Destination doesn't have much in the way of a story. Not to say it's bad or anything, but you watch those films because they're crazy, dumb and fun, not for the narrative. This is why Another stands out.
What a lot of people don't know is that Another was originally a 677-page novel, written in a magazine over the course of almost three years. While I would have expected a live-action adaptation to happen first (and a TV serial did indeed happen), the story lends itself exceedingly well to an anime. It's an adaptation to be proud of, and one of the best horror stories I've had the pleasure to experience.
4. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Kyoto Animation
I have to admit that I've only recently watched Chu2Koi. As is the case with a lot of my favourite anime, it was recommended by several friends that had just finished it themselves. I figured it was worth seeing what all the fuss was about (especially as it was only twelve episodes long), so I jumped into it about a week ago. I certainly do not regret that decision!
Chu2Koi is the anime that will capture your imagination, then proceed to swirl it around and around until you're six again. Back to a time where you didn't need a games console or a computer to have fun, but rather some greenery and plenty of sugar. The nearby field becomes a forest. The town is an apocalyptic wasteland. That's not a river, but a stream of molten lava. It takes these ideas, and presents them to a group of high school kids that never really lost their imaginations. Or at least, didn't lose the ability to act on them.
I think what really made me connect with the show was pure and simple nostalgic value. I think I was lucky that I didn't run about my town as the Dark Flame Master, but I can remember some great times as a kid picking up a good stick and running about forests pretending to be a wizard or an archer. Sure, I was a little bit younger than the students in Chu2Koi, but that's not to say the old imagination department up in my skull can't relate the two experiences.
3. Jojo's Bizarre Adventure (Part 1: Phantom Blood) - David Production
First of all, I need to be clear about what I'm recommending. As the second part of the Jojo story is still well under way, I feel it would be hugely unfair to recommend the series as a whole at this point. However, Phantom Blood certainly has finished, and those ten episodes deserve a spot on my list for sure.
My experience with Jojo has definitely been a strange one. I watched the pre-existent OVAs a few years ago while at University, and had the pleasure (I think) of watching them with the English dub. For those of you that don't know, the dub isn't very good. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy it, because I did, but having a camp Jotaro and the once-French-now-American Polnareff was more than enough to change what should have been silent observation of some cool-looking fight scenes into fits of hysterics. It wasn't just me, either, as the whole anime society was following suit. I enjoyed the OVAs, but I worry that it was for entirely the wrong reasons. Thus, I didn't know what to expect of the 2012 series. Should I be laughing hysterically, or should I be dumbstruck with just how awesome it is?
Thankfully, the latter.
The 2012 adaptation is visually striking, aiming for a manga-like appearance with the vibrant colour palettes that have helped propel the series to its current popularity. It looks fantastic, and there simply isn't a rough edge in sight. The opening animation is a testament to the hard work and love that has been poured into the production, with a refreshing fusion of cel-shaded 3D models and manga panels setting the mood for what has proved to be an addictive experience. This is proof that David Production are putting their all into the creation of the anime, and partnered with the incredibly bizarre scenario as penned by Araki Hirohiko, they've successfully shown that Jojo's Bizarre Adventure most certainly did not deserve the dub that had me doubting the series in the first place.
2. Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - TMS Entertainment
The Castle of Cagliostro. It can be a sore point of discussion with fans of Lupin, what with the stark differences between Miyazaki's version and the original goofball from the TV series. It's entirely understandable that people would get a little irked when their favourite thief comes into question when these two versions are compared by newcomers to the series, and even I did it when starting this show. The Miyazaki film and the original series are all I could base my opinions of Lupin on. The Lupin in this show is neither the Miyazaki Lupin nor the original series Lupin, however, this is very much a Lupin you should get acquainted with.
This series has a huge hook. Something that draws in the onlookers and gets them intrigued. It's the art, and just how stunning is it? It's certainly got my backing for the best looking show of 2012, as those crazy folk that worked on the equally gorgeous Redline have really given Lupin the Third a new breath of life. It's far from superficial, as I don't think it's even possible to recommend a better fitting series. The crazy cast of characters and the realistic setting they inhabit lends itself perfectly to the new style, so I simply can't help but applaud the execution.
Long gone are the single-episode stories. The thirteen episodes, while seemingly standalone, all end up being woven together into a thick plot that tackles an incredibly deep story about Mine Fujiko and her earlier life. Murder, child abuse, homosexuality and drug abuse are but a mere selection of topics that this show confronts, and masterfully so. Some have said that the show was chauvinistic, seemingly driving a message of male superiority. Yes, it did. The anime takes us back to some of humanities darker days, painting us a legitimate picture of how women were treated. Fujiko certainly uses unconventional methods to get her own way in this hellish place, but that's her character in a nutshell. Always looking out for number one, doing anything and everything she needs to, and I'm sure fans of the older anime will agree. This isn't the Disney-esque Fujiko we saw in Cagliostro, and she's so much better for it.
Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna misses out on the top spot of my list due to a few hiccups in the middle of the series, as it couldn't quite make up its mind about where it wanted to go. However, the show recovered marvellously, and I cannot recommend it enough. You don't need any prior Lupin experience, so there's really nothing stopping you. It's a stunner that really deserves to be seen.
1. Natsume Yūjin-chō Shi - Brain's Base
Did anyone see this coming? No, probably not. This has been a series I've followed since the very beginning, picking it up on a whim and falling in love with the calm, relaxing pace of a story that is anything but. A tale of a young boy that can see and speak to spirits certainly isn't relaxation material on the surface, but for four series' now, it has proven that it absolutely is. The last three iterations were great, but not to the point that they would end up at the very peak of my recommendations for any given year or reason. It took a bit of mental debate to finally decide on the position of this and Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna, so I should probably explain why this won.
To put it simply, it comes down to the tale of Natsume's past, which was finally explored in this series. We were told that his parents had passed away in the very first episode, as he ended up living with several different members of his family in an attempt to have him settle down somewhere. This would abruptly end when Natsume did something 'strange', which would usually be the fault of a spirit. He never meant to cause any trouble, but what use is a young kid explaining that it was the monsters, and that only he can see them? You can't help but feel sympathetic towards him, but again, we've known this from the start.
Natsume's home, the place that he grew up in when his father was still alive, needs to be sold. It was kept in a somewhat good condition by yet another relative, but it's time to let it go. Natsume hasn't been there in years, perhaps in part to how the holders of the key to the house were one of the families that looked after him for a short while. Natsume hasn't been lonely in such a long time, what with his loving new family and a good number of spirits who have been won over by his kindness. However, stepping into the house brought back memories of his father, and he simply cant help but cry.
It takes a lot for an anime or a film to move you to tears. Perhaps it's because Natsume Yūjin-chō Shi is a thoroughly enjoyable and masterfully written show. Perhaps it's because I've lost my own dad, and I can relate all too well to Natsume's pent up feelings. All I know is that this show, about a young kid dealing with an all-too-tough life, is one of the best things I've had the pleasure to experience, and I sincerely hope that you'll give it a go, too.