I think anime's getting into a groove; after the turn of the decade things have been slowly settling down. If there's a trend, it's that fanservice-style, otaku-focused anime are increasingly diversifying and it's a good time to be a hugpillow-carrying otaku. Thankfully it's not a wash for the rest of us, too. As long as we keep an open mind about how anime today is not like the anime you saw in the 1980s and 1990s, there are still a lot of enjoyable titles to watch.
In 2012, my top pick reflects my perchant for weird anime--as if anime is not weird enough already. Okay, I guess it's just that I like fishing and Spitz covers. Maybe you do too?
It feels like a 2011 show, because I had to wait a whole season to follow Fate/Zero's exciting conclusion. I call it the "HBO miniseries" of anime, because its gorgeous production and gruesome, serious plot make it feels a little more adult than the average harem slapstick comedy or, lately, those Gary Stu Online shows. And yes, I can wax about Fate/Zero's production values all day long. Let's just say that Urobuchi maintains his reputation as his characters' worst nightmares through this adaptation of his 2007 novels, so those of you who know, know.
The overstated game of Karuta aside, Chihayafuru is simply wonderful. It's an inspirational story about hard work and coming of age, about the way fate plays its unpredictable hand. It's also light-hearted and often times exciting to watch, may it be the competitions or the budding romance triangle. Newcomer Asami Seto (also as Konatsu in Tari Tari) showed that she can not only sing, but also emote like the best of them. I just take take a children's card game of concentration super-seriously, but let it be said that it is quite amazing to transform said children's game and elevate it to an unimaginable level of complexity and depth. It's also no coincidence that Chihayafuru boasts probably my favorite soundtrack of the year.
3. Tari Tari
Attacking my weak spot for scenic, oceanside views with cheeky choir arrangements, this show is potent. It's also very messy--it's not entirely clear what the story is going for, but its layers of themes about growing up and finding what your calling and passion are were done well enough. The characters were charismatic in their own silly ways, even Wien and how he swallowed various gags hook and sinker. The overabundant use of musical themes and image songs are a plus; the voice actors are rather good singers, including classically trained vocalist Ayahi Takagaki taking the lead as Wakana. Tari Tari may be clumsy, but it's heartfelt.
The main reason I picked it is because, while it isn't the second coming of True Tears, it carried the same feelings. The image albums and soundtrack, too, keep the memory going for as long as those songs remain on the playlist.
2. Jinrui wa Suitaishimashita
Humanity Has Declined reminds me of high school--the only time in my life that I read a lot of British satires. It's got that sort of an edge--both to make fun of someone in the story but also in a way make fun of real people. I might even be one of those people; maybe you too. It's sharp enough to cut that you don't even notice. The cute fairies and the great soundtrack freshen what could have been otherwise a heavy-handed play against the usual otaku tropes. It's probably an acquired taste, but I think the flying post-processed chicken carcasses should leave most people smiling. It also reminded me of high school in the way it paints that jaded, passive-aggressive struggle that it seems to balance with the karmic nature of how nerds may inherit this declining earth. Mai Nakahara's comeback performance puts this show over many others personally, as she flexed her voices between deadpan and earnestly interested and the shades in between like the pro she is.
The real reason I think Humanity Has Declined makes it to my list for the best in 2012 is that it pulls no punches with what it makes fun of. For example, it's one thing to enjoy how it pokes at the fujoshi and comic market, it's another to realize how it criticizes the frivolous activity from a resource perspective. It gives us both the pluses and minuses of each of the key theme. There's always more than one layer to every point.
One thing that consistently characterizes Kenji Nakamura's anime projects is that they're all really weird. In comparison, Tsuritama is as accessible and easy to understand as it gets. I can see someone turn the story of a boy saving the world through fulfilling a long-lost prophecy in a local legend, into a blockbuster-style feature film. Instead, this is your typical late-night, coming-of-age, quirky Nakamura anime about high schoolers who fish, and someone with a really fierce face. I suppose what I wanted to say is that Tsuritama is just that, a summer blockbuster in disguise. I thought the characters bonded well and it had a moving story underneath. The side characters are appropriately quirky and charming, and the plot is pretty creative--when's the last time fishing saved the world? And the animation is admirable, enough that not only anime fishing saves the world, it also showed you how to tie a uni-knot. It's a late-night anime that can represent the creative and positive aspects of the medium, and I'm glad things like this still gets made.
On a more personal note, I always wanted to do some lure fishing on the open seas. Seeing Yuki and Natsuki work the Mahi Mahi boats was definitely super memorable. Well, it's just one more thing to do on the bucket list.
These are my top five shows of the year. Tried as I might, I was only able to squeeze one genuine comedy in this mix; comedies are probably my favorite sort of anime. It's been a good year, too--Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou and Joshiraku being my other two top funny picks, on the outside looking in on my top 5, and laughing at it, no doubt. Other runner-ups include Hyouka (isn't the Kanya Festa arc just so good?), Mouretsu Pirates (vintage Tetsuo Sato), Sengoku Collection (the perfect anime for film buffs), Nisemonogatari (Best Anime for Dental Hygiene Award), and maybe a 2013 candidate, Girls und Panzer. What are your picks?