The image of December that has been bred into our very flesh and bones by the efforts of every possible peer one could possibly be pressured by is a highly dubious one. Whether you are the smart boy or girl your parents have been trying to mould you into or the brain-dead, Santa-hat-wearing consumer marketers have been trying to make you be, you have to and you will look forward to the final month of the year as its absolute pinnacle.
In reality, when December days don’t give you any valid reasons to stay away from school, they tend to be the worst days of the year. Horrible weather, sadistic teachers trying to squeeze the last out of you before Christmas break and all kinds of stress with causes ranging from buying presents to making sure your cards are sent on time.
A phenomenon that is both a December staple and an excellent example of its ambiguity are end-of-year lists. They deliver both a fun opportunity to bring back fond memories of some of the year’s highlights, but on the other hand, they are extremely tedious to make and most of all, if they are not made in some special way, they are, frankly, often quite boring.
Though I did think that I would not be worthy of calling myself a blogger -which I still do, despite my low productivity- if I did not at least write something that could pass for one of these end-of-year lists. When the Anibloggers Community Anime Awards
were announced, I, in great Aquagaze fashion, was one of the first to join. Of course, in great Aquagaze fashion, I am also one of the last to actually put out his blog. I hope it was worth the wait. It probably is not.
Time to kick this thing into gear and get this show on the road with a slice-of-life anime that is more often than not about the scenery than the plot; a light-hearted and heart-warming show which, at the same time, always know which vibe to create; a show that combines the idealized with the all too familiar.
Contrary to what you may think, I am not talking about Hanasaku Iroha
If you want a list of reasons why I, Aquagaze, lover of all anime featuring a cast of four females with ambiguous sexuality turning being lazy into a form of art, have managed to ban all ‘cute girls going cute things anime’ from this list, I can gladly provide you with one. A-Channel
and Yuru Yuri
were entertaining, but not a single four girl ensemble show this year was good enough to come up to scratch with the relatively high standards set by this year’s anime. All but one.
What sets Tamayura ~hitotose~
, including obnoxious tildes to accentuate the ~healing~ vibe, apart from other shows within it’s overly crowded genre is its focus on characters and its breezy atmosphere. It has absolutely mastered where Hanasaku Iroha
crashed and burned: combining the breezy and the more serious into one consistent whole.
culls all heartstrings without tugging at them, develops its likeable cast of characters and the rich past they share and easily liberates them from the archetypes they all started out as in the OVAs that preceded this full TV series.
is a slow burner; a show that is at it’s best when it is watched on a busy train after a long day at school. When the rain pours down from the grey clouds and everything seems pointless, Tamayura
’s mellow melodies, nostalgic visuals and tinier-than-live adventurettes always bring a smile to my face. Life isn’t all that bad. Neither is slice-of-life.
To be honest, I don’t know how to feel about Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai
–which, for the good of my sanity shall be referred to as Ano Hana
from now on- anymore. Pretty much everything that has been said about it, be it positive or negative, is true in some way. Ano Hana
constantly dances the rope between genuinely touching melancholy and cheap melodrama. Its characters are interesting, flawed and developed, but fail to be likeable. Ano Hana
’s legacy is as bittersweet as the vibe it tried to create, most of all because it went out with a supposedly heart-warming ending that turned into an almost morbid circus of sharks jumping through flaming rings. It is a noitaminA staple, but one that needs to be buried quickly. The bitter characters stayed bitter, the likeable characters became bitter and the love triangle that dominated a good half of the show did not get resolved.
, however, is not the show we have always regarded it to be. This is not a show about five friends trying to get over their shared traumas and be friends again; this is a show about five friends miserably failing trying to get over their shared traumas and be friends again. It is a gruelling tragedy disguised as a melodrama about a bunch of overreacting, broken, socially inept selfish bastards who have convinced themselves of the fact that they cannot be happy if Menma is dead. So Menma returns as a ghost, trying to get them to be friends again and she actually almost manages to pull it off, resulting in some of the most beautiful moments I have ever had the honour of witnessing. The second episode, in which Jintan, Anaru and Poppo reminisce their childhood innocence over a good old session of Nokémon
, definitely deserves to take the hypothetical award for best episode of the year home.
Past the halfway mark, though, Ano Hana
quickly starts rolling off its own hill, devolving into a whiny, angsty, predictable mess. However, within it still lurks the brave idea of creating a character-driven drama anime with cute girls and romance in it that does not end well. In the end, Menma finally moves on, but did she bring her old friends any closer? No. All she ever really wanted was the fireworks she could never see when she was still alive. She manipulated Jintan into making everything revolve around her once again. Of course the fireworks were merely symbolic, but they never succeeded in what they were intended for. In fact, they made everything even worse. Anaru and Jintan could be happy together, but Menma’s orchestrated tragedy blocked their wheels with a stick. Yukiatsu and Tsuruko go back to pretending to have nothing to do with their friends like the blasé high-flyers they are. Menma only returned to dig up old corpses and to ruin the lives of her five old friends because she couldn’t stand them getting over her death. Worst of all, I still do not remember the name of the flower they saw that day.
Rants aside, Ano Hana
is a nostalgic, sadly enough often overwrought mess with occasional brilliance, but in the end, it deserves its spot on this list because it is provocative and even controversial. It attempted to do something different. It showed that anime with utterly broken characters and an almost sickeningly tear-jerking plot can end up being popular. How well it succeeds in this is a topic one could dedicate an entire college course to. It had both rabid haters and dedicated fans, and in my opinion, both groups have their appeal. I am most comfortable in my own group of people who have no idea how to feel about Ano Hana
. Nevertheless, I cannot deny it a spot in this top 12. It is too memorable for that.
Are Gainax the only people who can make crazy nonsense and get away with it? Say hello to Kyousogiga
. You probably have not heard of Kyousogiga
until -depending of your reading speed- around 3 seconds ago, unless you for some reason download everything your favourite torrenting website’s home page has to offer. I would not recommend doing that.
There is not much I can give away about Kyousogiga
aside from the fact that it looks absolutely gorgeous. Every single second of its 25 minutes is stuffed with creativity and hilarity. The explosion of colour and synths is supported by an absolutely ridiculous story, starring Rie Kugimiya in the role of her life. For once, the Vixen of Violence ditches her growth deficit, washboard and bad temper for a huge hammer and a big mouth. Giving away anything more about Kyousogiga
’s supernaturalicious plot, including the poor girl’s name, would be a spoiler, but one thing you should know in advance: It will not make sense.
’s decision to stuff a plot worthy of a full series into a 25-minute OVA inevitably causes a lot of the plot’s minor and not so minor details to be left up to the viewer’s imagination, but in this case, lightning-quick pacing is a plus. Kyousogiga
is balls to the wall, but it is not a show that is insane for the sake of being insane. There is a lot of depth and originality to be found in its setting and characters, rendering Kyousogiga
very fit for multiple watchthroughs. When the incredibly wacky adventure has come to an incredibly wacky end, you will be left begging for more. If this ever gets the full series treatment, FLCL
better holds on to its kidneys. There’s a new kid in town.
Are you ready for the shortest justification ever? Bunny Drop
is adorable. What more is there to say that has not been said already? It truly is a show that excels and revels in is simplicity. Its main ambition is to be charming and to Bunny Drop
, being charming is as natural as breathing air. It is true to the words its theme song declares with a joie-de-vivre that makes every French bourgeois quiver in envy: it just wants to make you happy.
, oh brave victim of my everlasting scepticism! Oh foolish successor of the hideous Fate/Stay Night
! Oh slave of an exaggerating hype machine; my respect for you knows no bounds! You showed me that the interesting premise your sequel tried to force feed players and viewers alike with pages upon pages of descriptions of food, harem antics, needlessly complicated explanations for needlessly complicated phenomena and writing that defies the basic rules of writing, can actually work
Compared to Fate/Stay Night
, your average issue of Shonen Jump
reads like Shakespeare’s finest, as Type-MOON’s autocratic ringleader Kinoko Nasu apparently thought that telling the story of an epic war between magi, heroes of legend and evil-doers of infamy would be best delivered from the perspective of a useless halfwit. Nasu’s supposed masterpiece gets seemingly aroused by its own pretentious writing, while it forgets the very basic of the art of the pen: show; don’t tell.
Almost everything in Fate/Stay Night
takes place in and around Shirou’s house and most of it has absolutely nothing to do with the Holy Grail War. When other Servants and Masters finally do attack, we learn nothing about them. What drives those Servants to join the War? Why do these Masters desire the Holy Grail? We don’t know. All enemy Servants simply wait in line to get their proverbial ass handed to them by Saber. Worst of all, Fate/Stay Night
has no official canon. It consists of three different takes on the same story; three versions that cannot be unified in a sensible way. That way, we never know the true motivation and, ironically, their true fate. This is not creative writing. This is merely not knowing which idea to choose.
What sort of brain deficit caused Gen Urobuchi, a man who, unlike Nasu, does know how to write a decent story, to be interested in the Fate
franchise is beyond me, but the lovechild of Urobuchi and Type-MOON ended up being the Fate
’s saving grace.
While it still has its occasional moments of blithering idiocy and shamelessly bad writing –see the scene where Sola-Ui tells her husband that Lancer receives mana from the both of them, in case he would have forgotten- Fate/Zero
is a vast improvement over its (in)famous predecessor. Stay Night
’s bumbling protagonist is replaced by an obviously flawed, but pragmatic badass. Even though Kiritsugu could get away with having everything told from his point of view, the focus often hops from one member of the extensive cast to another, making the backstories and motives of all Masters and Servants in this war clear. In Fate/Zero
, you are actually able to root for a character that isn’t Saber, because they are all interesting and likeable in their own right.
Nearly all harem elements are thrown overboard as the cast is mostly made up of males from all different ages and demeanours. This is only for the better of the few female characters, though. Especially Saber is much more likeable when she can be her noble, badass self, instead of devolving into a harem member that needs protection from a sexist douchebag who cannot even properly fire a bow. Not to mention she looks absolutely stunning in a suit, an interesting design choice that accentuates her androgynous characteristics –both mentally and physically- that Fate/Zero
manages to portray so well.
A truly great epic does not survive on story alone, though. Luckily enough, Studio ufotable’s CGI expertise works like magic on the source material. Through a special animation method that combines regular animation with computer generated imagery, flashy magic like Saber’s wind-clad sword and Kayneth’s floating mercury orb fit in perfectly with the equally stellar regular animation. Especially the shading and colouring stand out and give Fate/Zero
a well-deserved art style it can call its own. Televised anime hardly ever gets this close to cinematic quality.
has its flaws. Its Homeric tendency to reduce most fights to equal parts talking and an exchange of quick blows does not always result in exciting television and some of the heroic spirits chosen to be Servants fail to invoke a sense of familiarity or excitement, even if, unlike in Fate/Stay Night
, the abilities of these heroes and the legends they hail from are all very relevant to the plot. Do not tell me you knew who the heck Diarmuid Ua Duibhne was before he showed up in Fate/Zero
Yuno, Yuno, Yuno. Where on this list would Future Diary
have ended up if Yuno Gasai were nowhere to found? Probably a lot lower, and although Future Diary
has many other characters who are interesting and likeable in their own way, Yuno is still the vicious, bloodthirsty sun around which the entire show revolves. Future Diary
’s entire mood often depends on Yuno’s very fragile composure. How hard it may be to admit, she lifts the entire show to a higher level.
What sets Future Diary
, and Yuno herself, apart from other shows that play around with the same tropes, is the interesting dynamic between the obsessive Yuno and the meek Yukki. Why exactly Yuno is so head over heels for Yukki is still a mystery to people who did not read the source material, but the almost sarcastically vicious tension between the two is excellently written. On one hand, Yukkii is happy that such an attractive and cute girl is madly in love with him and he knows that he will not survive the survival game without her, but on the other hand, she is and will probably forever remain an omnicidal maniac.
Production values are not Future Diary
’s strongest point, but nevertheless, studio Asread still manages to get the job done with great care. Characters often wear different outfits and with the exception of the hilariously bad Playstation 2-era CGI, the animation is decent. While I personally think a more horror-like direction à la Sam Raimi would have worked even better, the direction and even the animation –simply take notice of Yuno’s ambiguous facial expressions- manage to create a disturbing atmosphere. You know everything is going to go horribly wrong. The question is: when?
Every episode of Future Diary
manages to be even more gruesome and disturbing than the last one and while some of the gore is marred by blisteringly unsubtle censorship, the shock value remains. Even if logic is often far to be found and Yukkii’s gullible idiocy will sometimes drive even the most stoic of viewers insane, Future Diary
’s tension, mind games and creative shock value turn it into my favourite show of the fall season. Best of all, we are not even halfway in!
When Aquagaze likes something, you will know it. After all, I hyped up a considerable amount of people for Boku Wa Tomodachi Ga Sukunai
, which, despite being utterly hilarious, you will not find on this list. Yozakura Quartet
is another one of these manga I have nothing but praise for. Badass fight sequences, gorgeous character designs, fun and interesting characters, heart-warming scenes and a proverbial motherload of awesome; Yozakura Quartet
deserves the anime treatment more than anything.
is set in Sakurashin, a town where humans and youkai live together in harmony. The youkai have various magical powers and originally hailed from ‘the other world’, which is connected to our world by the seven pillars defining Sakurashin’s skyline. Akina is the oyakume, a human with the power to send youkai back to the other world, but most of all, he just wants to keep the peace between both species. He gets help from humans and youkai alike, such as Ao, a mind reader; Kotoha, an eccentric girl with the power to turn words into concepts, and Hime, the teenage town major with an epic scarf. Together, they fight whoever threatens the peace in their town, and eat lots of ramen. Lots of ramen.
Earlier this year, a three-part OVA was released which adapted what the studio considered to be the most awesome part of the manga up until now, similar to the Wandering Son
anime. Sadly enough, this leads to the OVA being nigh unwatchable without knowledge of the source material. Yozakura Quartet: Hoshi No Umi
starts in medias res and while it surprisingly –and coincidently- does manage to properly introduce the characters as if this were their very first adventure, some elements that are of primordial importance to the plot of the OVA are only explained in the manga chapters preceding it.
However, for those who do know what a satori is and why the blooming of the seven pillars is a bad thing, Hoshi No Umi
is an insane feast for the eye and ear. The three OVAs are brimming with awesome action, character dynamics, fun gags and miraculous animation; but especially the direction stands out, with creative camera angles and fast cuts. With Yozakura Quartet: Hoshi No Umi
, this list delves into the realm of shows that are nigh flawless. In fact, there is really only just one option: Read the manga, watch this OVA. You have no excuse.
How am I supposed to talk about Wandering Son
without using the words ‘heart-warming’, ‘atmosphere’ or ‘adorable’? I need to stop overusing these soppy words, but honestly, do you have any better words to describe Wandering Son
with? ‘Thought-provoking’? ‘Innocent’? ‘Charming’? All of those words fit, but in the end, the vibe Wandering Son
creates is something unique. Tragicomic, yet bittersweet. Melancholic, yet light-hearted. Innocent, yet cruel.
is dramatic, but it never resorts to the cheap “Let’s have all characters cry and scream ‘Menma’ a lot; that should make the audience tear up” tactics Ano Hana
was such a firm supporter of. Wandering Son
’s drama creeps under the plane of innocence the story is often set on. It treats its controversial subject matter with a subtlety never seen before in anime. Character interaction is often so intentionally awkward it feels as if a bomb could explode any minute now. In fact, Wandering Son
would have the best characterization I have ever seen in any anime if its characters didn’t act well beyond their age.
’s art design is absolutely stunning. Episodes feel like watercolour paintings come to live and characters truly blend into the backgrounds, rather than being slapped on, as is the case with many other anime. The fact that Wandering Son
hails from the drawing tables of AIC, a studio mostly associated with very –pardon my language- ‘mainstream’ anime, like Boku Wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai
, makes it only more noteworthy.
In the end, Wandering Son
is simply beautiful in every meaning of the word. It never bores, frustrates or strains. As far as I’m concerned, AIC can keep making seasons of this. Not only will we have more Wandering Son
, We’ll have less Strike Witches
too. Now that is a deal.
I am a man of the present. I hardly ever watch any old anime and for some reason, I even prefer watching vastly inferior currently airing anime to catching up with some old classic I have not seen yet. My radar picks up a lot though, so when a new project from the writer of this or the director of that is announced, even I can get excited. I was hyped for Mawaru Penguindrum
, even though I have never seen Revolutionary Girl Utena
. I was stoked for Angel Beats!
, even if it ended up being my first Key Visual Works experience. When I realized that I had barely paid any attention to anime films that have some out this year, I went looking for some that might interest me, with that same dubious attitude. Thus I found Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below
, the new film by director-with-a-decent-reputation-of-whom-I-have-never-seen-a-film-before-except-for-some-fragments-of-Voices-From-A-Distant-Star
-that-were-being-played-at-the-manga-section-of-a-French-bookstore-now-that-I-think-about-it Makoto Shinkai.
What I ended up watching was a good old fantasy adventure film where the main characters end up in a magical fantasy world, looking for friends, lost loved ones, treasure, or mot often, a way back out. Nothing new to be found here, but Shinkai presents this Miyazakian story with a sizeable serving of his –apparently- trademark melancholia and skygazing.
Speaking of which, the skies in this film look absolutely gorgeous, as does pretty much everything else. The Quetzl Quatl, godlike creatures that inhabit and protect the underground realm Argharta, could give the Colossi from Shadow Of The Colossus
a run for their money. The dramatic soundtrack soothes and shocks, even though it occasionally asks for your attention so obnoxiously, you lose track of what the characters are doing or saying. Hearing Hisako Kanemoto, who plays the main character Asuna, talk in the exact same voice as the one she uses for Squid Girl initially might even make you feel like her performance is missing something -hint: it’s the verbal tics- but overall, she does a pretty great job.
Trying to make a Ghibli movie might sound like heresy if your name is not Hayao Miyazaki, but Shinkai is fully aware of the fact that no one can compete with the man who can make even your grandmother watch anime. While it still incorporates many elements from Miyazaki movies –innocent female protagonist, mysterious boy, strange creatures, and yes, even the oh-so-obvious environmentalist message- Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below
is very much its own beast. Much of the uniqueness this film has to offer is comprised in the character of Mr. Morisaki, who becomes Asuna’s substitute teacher after her old teacher proves that anime characters can indeed get pregnant and later drags her with him to Argharta, where he likes shooting at things with guns and being an overall morally ambiguous prick. All the man wants is to bring back his dead wife, though, and unlike that other morally ambiguous prick with Orphean ambitions, Morisaki actually develops a fatherly bond with Asuna, who follows him around for this very reason.
In the end, I have no idea how Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below
compares to Shinkai’s other movies, but in any case, it is an amazing film in its own right. The rich imagination and eye-popping visuals lift Shinkai’s newest to the level of film you should definitely watch, and to the position of my fourth favourite anime of 2011.
You should know that, with the exception of my absolute favourites, I hardly ever revisit fiction. I hardly ever reread books or manga, nor do I ever watch films or anime again. Because of my little brother’s growing interest in anime, which I can obviously only support with all my might, I ended up rewatching Steins;Gate
, this time with a snarky fourteen-year-old sitting next to me. I was scared it would be boring, but surprisingly, it was not. At all. That only confirmed just how brilliant Steins;Gate
Time travel in fiction usually equals an immediate one-way-ticket the realm of the narratively dubious, but Steins;Gate
miraculously pulls it off and even manages to abide to all laws of anime logic in the process, without ever losing its grip. Both halves of Steins;Gate
’s equally hilarious and deadly serious story are unlike anything we have ever seen before. Groundhog Day loops are far from original, but Steins;Gate
’s character-driven take definitely is. Rintaro Okabe/Kyouma Hououin is quite possibly the best male protagonist to have ever graced an animated production. Mamoru Miyano’s once again stellar performance guides viewers along the rollercoaster of over-the-top mad scientist antics, genuine fear, despair, dedication and courage. Travelling through time with Kyouma is equally thrilling as it is hilarious.
is a perfect example of circular storytelling. From the start it constructs its own plot, unawares to the characters and the viewers building up layers and layers of problems that will have to be solved later on. Around the halfway point, a twist occurs, which switches around the importance of Steins;Gate
as a psychological sci-fi thriller and Steins;Gate
as a hammy comedy. Even though the twist is very sudden, the genre transition happens so subtly you will not even notice. It forces Kyouma to work through every layer he build up again and deconstruct the world all the way back to how it was during the very first episode.
Above all, Steins;Gate
is also an example of doing metalinguistic reference right. There are quite a lot of otaku tropes weaved into the plot, but most of them come out for the better. Makise Kurisu may be a tsundere, but who wouldn’t be when you are in love with a delusional wannabe mad scientist? Hearing Daru, Okarin and CHRISTINA go off on ridiculous tangents about chanspeak and otaku culture is not only hilarious, it actually helps building the characters. They are nerds after all.
proved that there is still hope for visual novel adaptations; that there is still hope for anime that tries to build actual characters; and that not all attempts at trying to blend humour with serious thriller storytelling end up being complete messes à la Angel Beats!
It shows that anime can well-written, gripping and poignant, while still being very much anime. El Psy Congroo.
Listen, you lowlifes who will never amount to anything! If Steins;Gate
was brilliant in subtly fading from hilarious into dramatic, Mawaru Penguindrum
is brilliant in blending the hilarious and the dramatic in to one. Some of the most dramatic moments are so comically far-fetched you have to try not to smile, while most chaotic gags have a very black shadow cast over them. Somehow, this works. Mawaru Penguindrum
brims with creativity, shimmers with artsiness without fartsiness and swears by the plot-twist-of-the-week (survival) strategy that made Puella Magi Madoka Magica
so supernaturally genius.
Isn’t it electrifying?
Exactly trying to pinpoint just what makes Penguindrum
so utterly brilliant is quite hard for me, though. I often have the feeling that it is too good for me. Penguindrum
is an extremely self-aware show, though this self-awareness does not portray itself in the usual fourth-wall breaking. Director Ikuhara takes post-modernism in anime above and beyond the art style blending of Akiyuki Shinbo and creates a world where recurring motives –the apples, the flashback sequences, the many catchphrases, the tram signs and of course, the penguins; to name a few- run amok and no trope or truth is safe from brutal deconstruction.
Gosh, I must crush it soon…
In some ways, Mawaru Penguindrum
is the more reserved big brother of Puella Magi Madoka Magica
. Both shows have more things in common than the fact that they are insanely awesome. Both shows have a knack of brutally tearing apart everything they had previously established. Both shows have a love/hate relationship with the magical girl genre. Both shows change the ruling structure of their own world around on a weekly basis. Both shows are disgusted by conventional animation and art. But on all these areas, Penguindrum
is often the most subtle and mature one. From that point of view, it might even be better than Madoka
But only from that point of view.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
hits harder. It hits from the very first minute to the very last. It is the primordial, essential and most triumphant example of concise storytelling. It wastes not a single line and it gives its audience not a single breather. It is a rollercoaster ride of plot development, characterization and thrill; a brilliant, poignant, accessible and gruesome pandemonium of emotions. It changed anime for me and the marks it has made on the anime world will hopefully never fade away.
I have wasted blog upon blog upon blog rambling on about how utterly brilliant this show is. I have sung about it. I have refused an opportunity to travel to Monaco just to watch the finale. I have literally used every positive word I am capable of uttering in order to try and scratch the surface of how utterly genius this show is. My opinion on it has only gotten better over time.
I am honestly having a hard time trying to come up with more praise for Madoka
. Nothing I have said here has had any value anyways, as everything that I wanted to say about it has already been summarized by the lone wordcloud announcing its position on this list. It’s the best. Number one. What else is there to say about it?
December might be a bit of a depressing month to me, digging up memories from the past is always fun. I’m more of a future guy myself though. What will 2012 bring? Will the shows I praised here get a second season? Will they be milked to death? What will the people behind these shows work on next? Will 2012 have shows as amazing as Puella Magi Madoka Magica
or Mawaru Penguindrum
? Maybe December is not that bad after all. Not only does it make you remember the good from the year that is about to end, it makes you wonder about the year that is about to come as well. We can never know what the future might bring, but we can hope. Our dreams might just come true.
Finally, a big thank you to all of my friends! Thanks to you, I would never have experienced these shows in the same way I did now! As usual, comments, reactions, conversation starters and constructive criticism are very, very much appreciated. Here’s to a fantabulous 2012!
Please don’t let the Mayas be right. They can't be right, right?