What a good year! Anime is saved!
It may come as a surprise, as my blog was only very sporadically active this year, but I finished more shows that aired this year than I have finished of airing shows in a while. It seemed like there was a lot of grumbling in the second half of the year that there wasn’t much of anything to watch, but that wasn’t at all the case for me – most of my top ten came from summer or autumn. In total, I finished twenty-three of the shows that aired this year (twenty-one if you count Go! Princess Precure toward the 2015 total, which I’m inclined to since it only airs four episodes in 2016, and I’m not going to bail at this point on it), and of those, I only ended up disliking two (Aldnoah.Zero S2, K: Return of Kings). For comparison, I finished fourteen in 2014, and nine in 2013.
Here are the shows I finished, in no particular order: Vampire Holmes, K: Return of Kings, Go! Princess Precure, Prison School, Dance with Devils, Rokka – Braves of the Six Flowers, Himouto! Umaru-chan, Symphogear GX: Believe in Justice and Hold a Determination to Fist., Re-Kan!, The Perfect Insider, High School Star Musical, Wakakozake, Aldnoah.Zero S2, Blood Blockade Battlefront, Kagewani, Triage X, Shirobako, Yuri Bear Storm, Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls, Sound! Euphonium, Comical Psychosomatic Medicine, Gakkou-Gurashi/School-Live, and Shimoneta. Throw in movies and its, uh, well, I watched Love Live: The School Idol Movie. (Sadly, I still haven’t gotten to When Marnie Was There.)
So, without further ado:
I was a little skeptical of Wakakozake for a while before I finally took the plunge, as the character design for Wakako was pretty off-putting. I’m glad I did, though, as Wakakozake was a wonderfully relaxing and pleasant anime that hit the spot in a scorcher of a summer. Wakakozake ultimately made the cut for my top ten by nature of the fact that I wish they’d make more of it, which wasn’t the case for the other shows that came close but didn’t quite make it for me (Shimoneta, Gakkou Gurashi, Cinderella Girls).
Another short?! Kagewani was hit-or-miss often in the first quarter, with the excellent episode involving a sasquatch cheek-by-jowl with an oddly dull adventure in the sewers, before managing to settle down. Having loved Yamishibai, I’m glad to see the folks who made that branch out a bit. In particular, I was impressed with how inventively creepy some of the creatures featured were, with special kudos to the titular monster, kagewani.
8. Prison School
Every week, I felt a bit of trepidation as I prepared to watch Prison School. In fact, every week I spent at least a third of the episode wanting to crawl under a sofa and cringe to death… and kept going back for more. It’s full-bore dedication to its ludicrous premise (an overly powerful student council imprisons a bunch of powerless boys! Shomin Sample could’ve learned a lot from this), combined with a compelling cast, pushed this past potential competitors. I really liked that most of the characters were both incredibly flawed but also ultimately sympathetic to some degree – even the absurdly-proportioned and super sadistic vice-president. And because the characters were so good, it made me very invested in a story whose description can only inspire disbelieving guffaws. The travails of Kiyoshi and Chiyo filled me with agony and delight, and the loyal dedication displayed by Gakuto almost pushed me to tears. The prison drama I never suspected I needed.
7. Dance with Devils
Given that Dance with Devils came from the same folks who brought us
Hot Topic: The Anime Diabolik Lovers, I had sincere wishes for this to be decent combined with a conviction that it’d be awful. Instead, it proved to be far better than my wildest fantasies could’ve ever been, as we got a decent heroine and wonderfully cheese-tastic musical sequences, with wonderful lyrics like “You can’t hide your true self any longer: emo liar.” While I wish Ritsuka had been slightly more active and clued-in, and that the boys on offer had perhaps one less weirdo/creeper/asshole (it did help that it was obvious that four of them didn’t have a chance!), Dance with Devils was a thoroughly enjoyable show.
6. High School Star Musical
Here’s another show that completely exceeded any of my expectations. Like Dance with Devils, Starmyu, too, featured delightfully goofy song and dance inserts, although its animation in these sequences was slightly better (emphasis on “slightly”). Although it hewed to a fairly standard underdogs-type story, as its central cast is a fivesome of boys who simply didn’t fit in elsewhere in their school’s IDOL EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM (sugoi, Japan has so many of these), the deviations from the formula livened things up. It was also helped by genuine character development, as enough of the archetypes were allowed to spread slightly beyond that to satisfy. But I think the best decision was made in regards to the conclusion of the show, in which SPOILERS we don’t end up learning whether they make the cut or not END SPOILERS. Even though that’s likely a sequel hook, I nevertheless appreciate that ambiguity.
5. Triage X
Triage X was trash, but it was my kind of trash. Sure, it had really terrible pacing, and really terrible breasts, but it also had women stabbing, slicing, and shooting a lot of bad guys. It was basically the second coming of Weiß Kreuz, but with less handsome guys being bummed out about their sisters, and more outrageous fanservice, and WK is in my list of favorite anime. I even liked the characters, archetypes and all. For a pure junk watch this year, nothing could beat Triage X.
I liked something P.A. Works made? Amazing! Shirobako’s premise piqued my interest, but the studio making it worried me, as I have a very poor track record with them. Thankfully, my uneasiness proved unfounded, as Shirobako sounded very few sour notes for me (I flat out did not care about the storyline for the girl who was bored of doing CG tires). I enjoyed learning more about the inner workings and realities of anime production, while also feeling a palpable sense of relief at getting to watch a story about adult women and their careers. And when it did go for the less plausible happy resolution, it felt well-earned. If there’s one anime on this list that I’d recommend to a newcomer to anime, this one is it.
3. Sound! Euphonium
This show and I had a rocky start, as while I could appreciate what it was doing on a detached level, I felt bored. I liked the characters from the start, but not enough to plow through the details about band and instruments that I found uninteresting as an outsider. If my own history in competitive swimming helped propel my enjoyment of Free!, my lack of the same with high school band seemed destined to sink this for me. I even dropped it for a while. But when I did pick it up again at the behest of others, I found myself becoming much more engaged by the characters and invested in their efforts and desires. I’m quite happy that we’ll be getting more of this excellent show.
2. Symphogear GX: Believe in Justice and Hold a Determination to Fist.
Symphogear’s titles keep getting better, although with season four on the way, I have to voice my belief that they couldn’t possibly up the ante in this regard. Explaining why I liked Symphogear GX so much is hard, as I’m more inclined to make sounds similar to what sounds a raccoon makes when confronted with a particularly delectable piece of trash (probably a fish head that is dusted with Funyun crumbs). Just know that it was my second favorite show this year.
1. Yuri Bear Storm
No contest! There could only ever be this as my number one. Yuri Bear Storm was Kunihiko Ikuhara at his most distilled, something which proved decently divisive, although it was perfect for me. A critique of yuri as genre, as well as a broader critique of homophobia in society and culture, this was the sort of show I never expected we’d get. And that’s genuinely all I need to say about it.