We've reached the end of another year in the anime community, and it's fair to say it's been an extraordinary one. Patient fans were rewarded with the richest and most diverse crop of new shows in years, as the industry stretched its legs and proved that it was still capable of producing classics, along with a whole host of entertaining, worthwhile stories. Here, we'll pick and choose the worst and, more importantly, the best of 2011.
The Rapid Fire Awards
Worst character - Saber (Fate/Zero)
- An endless source of boring monologues about honour and duty and blank facial expressions. By far the least interesting thing about the show she is ostensibly the main character of.
Worst Show - No.6
- Granted, there were even more horrible shows this year, but none had the nastiness of tricking you into thinking that this might be halfway decent and then savagely kicking you in the balls with crappy characters, stupid plot and risible dialogue.
Show that was actually quite good but would have had to dispense ice cream and handjobs to live up to the hype - Fate/Zero
- Type-Moon fans, grab some damn perspective please. This was decent, sometimes great, sometimes desperately boring. Nothing more, nothing less.
Honourable Mention - Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Yes, it's amazing. Yes, it's one of the best shows in years. But to read the internet you'd think it was the bloody Second Coming or something
The B Gata H Kei award for ridiculous fanservice which didn't stop the show from being quite good- Korean Zombie Desk Car
- Haruna, put some pants on. Seraphim, put a bra on. Show, please concentrate more on the wacky fantasy, that bit was fun.
Honourable Mention - Ben-To
Biggest Tearjerker - Tatsuya draws in the sand (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
- Heartbreaking. Just utterly heartbreaking
Honourable Mention - "Your brothers love you" (Mawaru Penguindrum)
Yaoi couple of the year
- Takuto and Sugata (Star Driver)
- Rider and Waver (Fate/Zero)
Huh? This was a thing?
Honourable Mention - To Aru Majutsu no Index II
The Norio Wakamoto Award for chewing the scenery - Norio Wakamoto as Bishop Biagio in To Aru Majutsu no Index II -
Best thing in the entire show.
Honourable Mention - Satoshi Tsuruoka as Caster in Fate/Zero.
You could carve slices off of the ham in that performance
Best show of 2011 that isn't anime but deserves a mention anyway because it's bloody awesome - Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger
- Seriously, it's space pirate Power Rangers who can turn into other Power Rangers. What's not to like?
Best New Show I watched in 2011 that wasn't made in 2011 - Toradora!
Most anticipated show of 2012 - Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean
The Awards which actually matter
'Gravity 0' (Star Driver)
paired scratchy, uptempo guitars with a fantastic art deco colour scheme and terrifically energetic 'moving' animation ..... 'Oath Sign' (Fate/Zero)
conjoured up a great power ballad that evoked the epic feel of the conflict and mixed it with ufotable's excellent visuals ..... 'Connect' (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
managed to be beautiful and wistful and, uniquely, also provided a fantastic connection to the plot.
Winner: 'Sweet Drops' (Bunny Drop)
PUFFY's song is the perfect match for the wonderful tale of Rin and Daikichi - it's upbeat, bouncy and catchy as hell, but also tinged with a slight note of sadness and pathos. It's paired with Production I.G.'s terrific crayon sketched animation, evoking a wonderful childhood aesthetic bouncing along in time with the music. Simply irresistible.
'Magia' (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
provided a thumping finale to every increasingly desperate episode of Madoka
, paired with nightmarish imagery ..... 'High High High' (Bunny Drop)
was a perfect comedown for every episode, again glorying in soft focus crayon style ..... 'Zzz' (Nichijou)
provided a delightful, gentle epilogue to the manic craziness of the main show.
Winner: 'For You' (Wandering Son)
Rie Fu's achingly gorgeous ballad was the perfect capstone to every episode of the smart and sensitive preteen drama, filled with love, longing and joy, and beautifully sung. The accompanying animation was wisely kept simple, but seeing Nitori wander through the blowing cherry blossoms as the song kicked into high gear was one of the best images of the year.
rainbow tinged mecha battles were never less than spectacular ..... Wandering Son
painted its world in a wonderful wash of soft focus watercolours ..... Puella Magi Madoka Magica
put us inside a paper cutout and crayon scribbled hell and a world where architects were allowed to run rampant ..... Hanasaku Iroha
made the rolling green hills of Japan more inviting than ever.
Winner: Mawaru Penguindrum
Anime is a visual medium, and the best shows realise that they can speak just as loudly through their images as their words. Penguindrum embraced that philosophy wholeheartedly, throwing all of the crazy that was too much for the script up onto the screen, often to stunning effect. It wasn't just eye candy though - rather, the visuals spoke to us and told us things about this world, about this story that couldn't adequately be expressed by just saying them. The literally faceless masses who occupied the world, the vivid realisation of places and times that could did never exist - they all fed back into the wondrous , dreamlike aura that permeated the show It embraced a crazed arthouse heritage, flitting rapidly between paper cutout imagine spots, pets as parents and neon filled acid trips to create a heady, unforgettable blend. Never an outstanding show technically, Penguindrum wins on unrivalled artistic merit and a serious eye for style.
brought a fantastic, larger than life persona to a show that desperately needed it ..... Wild Tiger (Tiger and Bunny)
lent an affable, world weary everyman to a superpowered world ..... Kyubey (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
brought the creepy in spades and provided this year's most memorable, iconic villain.
Winner: Daikichi Kawachi (Bunny Drop)
Daikichi may not be as big a name as some on the list. He's no conqueror, or monster, or hero. He's just an ordinary guy, struggling with a situation that he couldn't have foreseen. And that's the beauty of the character, the reason why he's sitting above all those aforementioned. Daikichi feels real, like the kind of man you and I could bump into in the street, or even be one day. All of which just makes his selflessness and the sacrifices he's willing to make for his ward, even more special. In a medium that tends to be dominated by crazed supermen, it was the simple kindliness of an ordinary man that left the biggest mark.
Rider and Archer delivered a memorable helping of smack talk to Saber (and a faceful of spears to Assassin) in Fate/Zero #11
..... Takuto uncorked the rainbows and provided some outer-space heroics in Star Driver #24
..... Himari and Sanetoshi were lost in the library between reality and madness in Mawaru Penguindrum #9
Winner: Puella Magi Madoka Magica #10
It's not like the whole idea of this episode was unexpected. After all, we knew Homura Akemi was a time traveller, and there had been some hints that she was from an alternate timeline. But I don't think anybody was prepared for the devastating impact of the story told within this episode. It managed to both simultaneously entirely reshape the clever, multi-layered mythology that Madoka had already built for itself, and deliver a devastating emotional punch to everyone watching all at the same time. So often when mysteries are unravelled they tend to be at least partial anticlimaxes, but this was one of those rare cases where every clue, every piece of foreshadowing, was paid off more powerfully than you could possibly have hoped for. When even your closing music is a plot twist you know you've crafted one of the most brilliant experiences imaginable.
Honourable Mention: Bunny Drop
Bunny Drop is proof that 'slice-of-life' doesn't have to be shorthand for pointless moefest or by the numbers high school drama. Instead, it displays the greatest strength that the genre can bring to a story - by living with characters day in and day out, the triumphs and tragedies carry that much more weight, become that much more meaningful. There are no perilous showdowns in Bunny Drop
, and the fate of the world isn't at stake. The closest we get to high drama is when somebody catches a cold. But it still succeeds in captivating us because it does what every great show does - makes us emotionally invested in the characters. Because we care, every small step, every tiny little victory along the way is worth as much as any grand battle. And in Daikichi, as we've already said, the show may have one of the most likeable protagonists of the year, a genuinely good and honest man, who makes sacrifices we can all relate to and is rewarded in kind with a happiness he couldn't have begun to imagine.
His ward Rin meanwhile, embodies the best aspects of the cute anime girl - she's adorable and vulnerable, fascinated with the world around her, but unlike so many modern characters there's substance beneath the moe overtones. She's much more interesting when she talks back, as opposed to staying painfully shy, and together they form a wonderfully deep and meaningful pair. Along with a slim but well realised supporting cast, backed by superb art and wonderful music, every second of Bunny Drop was a joy to watch. In any other year, this would have been a strong contender for the top prize. As it is, it perhaps pales a little compared to the crashing epics that ranked above it, but there's no shame in sitting back and watching life go by slowly.
Honourable Mention: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
I'll be honest - for much of the year, there's no way I could have seen this sitting at anywhere other than the top spot. And really, there's not much argument against it as the year's best show - it excels across the board in every area. The plot is one of the tightest and cleverest ever constructed, carefully constructed to gut punch you at every opportunity. The art is extraordinary, a dazzling blend of architectural flourish in the real world that seamlessly transitions into a nightmare realm of paper cutouts and crazed scrawlings. And the characters are everything you'd hope for, transcending their cutesy outward appearance to show real depth and emotion as they were battered by the story surrounding them. The show plays your emotions like a harp, before cutting the strings and leaving you to flounder, taking a dark glee in every second. Anybody who watched it felt every moment of triumph and anguish as it happened on the screen.
To me though, half of the story of Madoka
was told in the frenzied Skype chats, the shocked reactions on Twitter, the incredulous blogs and comments that dissected every new twist and turn. To be part of the anime community as it followed Madoka was to feel part of something special, something truly ground-breaking. It's rare that a show comes along that bring such a huge (and legendarily argumentative) community together, but you really sensed it happening in this case, and it was so much fun to be swept up in that frenzy. Madoka
doesn't take the top spot, but I want everyone who reads this to know that that doesn't diminish the fact that it was unquestionably the most gripping, finely constructed story of the year - no show hit harder, shocked more or was more beautifully paced and planned. Not awarding it the win was an incredibly difficult decision (you can see it was nominated in every individual category), one which I’m still not sure I got right. In a year of extraordinary quality, nothing came closer to touching perfection.
Winner: Mawaru Penguindrum
Sometimes though, there can be meaning in madness, beauty in barminess and elegance in excess. Sometimes, something can speak to you so deeply that the flaws in it can seem almost irrelevancies in comparison. Mawaru Penguindrum
is such a show, something that goes so far into pure, beautiful insanity that some kind of twisted brilliance emerges out of the other end. It's difficult to articulate what exactly draws me so strongly to the show, as they aren't really things that can be put into words. Penguindrum is a show that relies so heavily on symbolism and personal interpretation that I've heard impressions range from genius to utter rubbish. There's certainly little defence of some common criticisms of the show - it's hugely confusing, the mood whiplashes wildly all over the place and there are more plotholes and loose threads than you can count. To call it an acquired taste is an understatement.
...if, like me, you fall into that specific, tiny niche that is willing to bear the problems, and ride out the inconsistencies...then there's nothing quite like this. Watching the show is to be drawn entirely into another world, one where reality and myth, conscious and subconscious blend together in some sort of mad, feverish dream. To accept that in this world, sometimes the line between real and unreal is thin, and sometimes not extant at all. To be taken on a rollercoaster ride from funny to creepy, from surreal to brutal and from despairing to hoping against all the odds. The beauty and madness that was unfurled onscreen was unmatched, not only in the 'Let's do drugs and watch the pretty colours!' way, but also in darker, more twisted and more profound ways. I guarantee nobody who has seen this show will ever look at a chisel quite the same again
Penguindrum is not the cleverest show of the season. It is not the most important, nor the most popular, nor the most influential. But I do not watch, and I do not write, to make cold, hard judgments. Instead, I came to anime to see the weird and the wonderful, the beautiful and the oddball, and to find stories that could not be told anywhere else. Penguindrum
asks a lot of you - it asks for total commitment to its largely ridiculous premise, and asks for surrender entirely to the strange pocket universe it builds up between the start and end credits. But in return, I found something truly special, strange and incredibly beautiful that spoke to me in a way that few other works of art in any medium have, and one that felt utterly, irreplaceably unique. And that's worth celebrating, don't you think? read