Looking over the past year’s offerings I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of what I felt were my favorite series that aired, and that it could be the beginning for others to think about the same thing and/or catalyst some discussion as well. The result you will see below.
2015 was a pretty decent year in anime, but if I had to categorize it for myself I would say that it’s greatest strength was offering a high number of really well done adaptations from manga – man, the list is really full in that regard, and there are a fair number that even improved on the source material in my opinion. If there was a weakness I think it would be “settling” for weak or sloppily written stories or characters/development, something seen both in adaptations (a few light novel adaptations come to mind) and even (perhaps most frustratingly for me) with anime original material.
Please do note that these series are primarily a list of what I enjoyed the most. They reflect my taste more than anything else, and while visual or audial or storywriting or acting based comments or such have a place in it they are not intended to be an “objective evaluation” of the elements that make up the art medium itself. I am not an “art critic” nor a “specialist”, nor should readers expect such highly trained or cultivated viewpoints from me. I am a fan writing to other fans and sharing my experiences and tastes first and foremost. Anyway – on to the listings!
10) Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka s2 (Fall): I heard many anime fans throughout the year mentioning that 2015 was a great year for the second seasons of anime series, and this one was no exception. However, for me the second season of this stupendous adaptation of a Kirara 4koma manga (perhaps the most successful since Hidamari Sketch) was not so much an “improvement” as a continuation of its greatness. There has been no “lull” in its pace, and it has continued to soar, to be incredibly animated (White Fox studio keeps to it’s standard in season one!), to work comedy wise, and to slowly but surely develop the characters (and introduce quite a few new ones, including Cocoa’s older sister Mocha). By the by, the ED of this season should be classified as a hazard for those who are weak of heart: it was so adorable it almost made me break out in hives! I had expected this was going to be great, and sure enough it became my favorite series of the Fall 2015 season. When this series was over many viewers (myself included) felt sad that the crew was “going away” and immediately expressed hope for a third season. I do not know how far along the source manga is material wise, but count me amongst those who would love to see a third season as well!
9) Show by Rock! (Spring): This was a series that I somehow knew I would enjoy from the earliest announcements even though it looked frankly odd. How in the world to sum up this bizarre series’ storyline in the tiny paragraph summary in this post’s format? Umm … it is based on a rhythm game for phones, and essentially it is a coming of age story where the MC is whisked away to another dimension against her will and “saves the day” while herself maturing in the process, I suppose, but it comes across as thoroughly and effectively silly in the best sense of the word – it is endearing, engaging, hilarious, downright weird and (surprisingly) at times pretty scary, thanks to the main villain, named Dagger. Not only is the MC (named Cyan, who is a quintessential “catgirl” in this alternate dimension, by the way) a wonderful lead character, but the humungosized cast breathes quite a bit of creativity. To my surprise the series (which I took delight in blogging, by the way) sold super well on BD discs, and the announcement has already been made for a second season. Bring it on I say!
8) Non Non Biyori Repeat (Summer): Here we come to the first of the “successful second seasons” for a series. When Non Non Biyori itself first aired I enjoyed it, but it had some aspects to the story and the characters that I did not particularly like, and I felt honestly undermined the series as a whole. Well, I don’t know if other people expressed similar feelings, but season two had none of those unenjoyable aspects and built off of the series’ strengths. To be honest season two surprised me, and I eagerly looked forward to its airing each week. But the greatest strength of this series (as I have said so many times people are likely bored to death hearing me) is the character of Renge and the series’ use of silence on the screen while the character (most often Renge herself) gazes at the situation – the silence speaks volumes in these cases, and often are able to speak more eloquently than any dialogue that could have been written. Extra mention should be made to the extremely effective OP of this season!
7) Hello! Kiniro Mosaic (Spring): This was probably the most successful of the second seasons allotted a series for me. We have here yet another successful Kirara manga 4koma comedy adaptation. It really is hard to say much about the series itself – the characters are all interesting, are extremely endearing, extremely funny (the comedic timing and material is really executed excellently in the adaptation as a whole and the second season especially), the VA work is really first rate, I feel, and the soundtrack for the series as a whole, including the OP and ED, really are a light hearted, wonderful, consistent whole. Of course such light hearted material is not for everyone, but for many it consistently is able to put a smile on their face every … single … episode. In this sense it is “classic Kirara”. All in all this is a series that is intended to make you smile and breathe a bit easier, and it succeeds marvellously. One would be hard pressed to find other series better suited for this; it stays very true to itself, and for those who enjoy such things it is definitely a joy to follow. Oh, and before I forget, the OP for the second season has got to be one of the most powerful “earworm” songs I have heard in a looooong time.
6) Ore Monogatari (Spring-Summer): Now THIS was a great series (another adaptation of a manga). If I were to sum it up it would be “infectious good will”. However, this shoujo romance, while it was able to maintain such a hilarious and charming image as a whole (the lead pair are just plain great characters both by themselves and especially together) is in many ways laced through with realism as well. It is not “just a shoujo series”; it is that yes, but there is a whole lot more to it as well – in particular there is quite a bit of depth across a decent sized cast. Every single one of them comes across realistically and often endearingly (even the “villains”, curiously enough), and I myself felt feeling that the author of the manga loved every single one of the characters they drew and wrote about, and that affection comes across in the anime adaptation as well. Madhouse did a great job with this one, and although I felt the ending was only “good” in contrast to the rest of the series (which was “really good”) I am plenty happy that they were at least able to end in a way that “made sense”, if you get my meaning. Highly recommended, and it has a lot of rewatchability!
5) Himouto! Umaru-chan (Summer): This series. Argh! Soooo good! This series was without a doubt my single biggest surprise from the year 2015. It is also based on a 4koma comedy manga, but like Non Non Biyori it has moments in the story that are surprisingly … deep. While the comedy itself just clicked in every way, shape and form for me part of the most interesting aspect about the adaptation, though, was something the studio (Doga Kobo – much more at home in comedic themed anime in my opinion) also was able to pull off well in other 4koma adaptations … and that is hinting at the background aspects of the story not spelled out in the episodes (or the manga itself). The effectiveness in portraying this actually “transmitted” (or perhaps brought to my attention?) a depth to the story in the source material I had not previously noticed, and something which, once noticed, is always invisibly hovering in the background of every chapter one reads, every episode one watches, silently watching but somehow almost always “sensed”. For an adaptation to pull that off is great work as far as I am concerned. And in this series as well the OP is incredible – but incredible not because of the enjoyability of the music itself, but incredible in how absolutely perfectly it summarizes the many sides of Umaru herself.
4) Kekkai Sensen (Spring): When it comes to sheer brilliance and creativity, Kekkai Sensen, or Blood Blockade Battlefront, definitely takes first place this year. If the final episode had been of the same level of greatness as the rest of the series (it was merely “good”) then I would have been in even more trouble than I was in ranking series. This series by Bones was just plain brilliant, and brilliant in every possible way. This series is lots of things at once, but it is especially effective in the elements of black comedy mixed with its surreal, urbanized Planescape style setting (anyone out there remember the old RPG?) … and is set in New York City of all places – that is, not Tokyo. It’s interesting, but somehow the strange setting/world sometimes feels as if it were one of the main characters. The characters themselves are incredible, practically leaping off the screen to stare you down, the animation unearthly (seemingly endless in its variety and animated with a freshness, swagger and even brash vivacity), the audio and BGM choices are simultaneously perfect and out-of-joint at the same time. And … yet again, the OP and ED for the series (especially the OP in my opinion) are just … perfect. Can we have more series like this, please?
3) Death Parade (Winter): For me Death Parade was probably the most thought provoking in the sense of “deep issues”. This series was a lushly animated (in a classy, “indoor”, dark, film-noir, gothic’y art style) presentation of a brilliantly told and gripping dark story that focused on the judgements and choices one undergoes after one’s death that help determine one’s eternal state – it masterfully engaged the viewer into being involved and engaged in the trials the souls were undergoing, challenging the viewers psychologically, morally and sometimes even philosophically – and in a way that did not feel cheapened or manipulative to me, but thought-provoking. It made you think … and more than that … it made you think about serious things. Things that are often ignored or shoved under the rug or into the closet. Things that are uncomfortable, but deserve to be seriously considered over a lengthy period of time. And yet at the end of this intense series, despite all the darkness and moral, intellectual twistings or deformation we encounter we are given an extremely uplifting final message, but a message that does not feel forced or contrived or fake, yet is at the same time both simple and deep: “treasure and value the time you have while you are alive”. We need more anime like this too!
After such brilliance as Kekkai Sensen and Death Parade one might wonder where else could one go? And truth be told in my opinion technical wise I think those two series were the “greatest” of 2015. However, this post is about the series I ENJOYED the most. And there are still two other series which I absolutely loved, and loved so thoroughly and intensely that in terms of ranking they take the top spots. Choosing between them was incredibly difficult, with the number one spot edging out the number two only by a hair in the category of the “enjoyment factor”.
2) Koufuku Graffitti (Winter): Well, first and foremost this series has a special place in my heart as the first series I blogged as a writer for this site, but there is far more to it than that. The story itself is fairly simple – at its most basic level it is a common theme one sees many times in both anime, manga, movies and novels: “the experience of food is better when shared”. But there is so much more to it than just that. Ultimately it is the story of the beginnings of the main character beginning to recover from the trauma of her grandmother dying and the difficult family situation she finds herself in, and it is a story told with subtlety, tact and attention to detail in a very quiet way, but in a quietness that is both delicate and … even a little elegant at the same time: the character development of Ryou is truly a beautiful and memorable thing to watch. While the series is based on a Kirara 4koma comedy manga as well, it received a treatment that was incredibly moving, and was an obvious labor of love in so many ways. Sadly, it seemed to fly under most people’s radar, even stealthily moving in and out of those who enjoyed watching it. For me it truly was a hidden gem (perhaps THE hidden gem) of the entire year.
1) Akatsuki no Yona (Fall 2014-Winter): What Mikakunin was for me last year, Akatsuki no Yona was for me this year. This is the series I was most excited to see and most anticipated week in and out – there was something about this series that just engaged and not just grabbed, but violently seized me from the start and never let go. It is yet another manga adaptation, and an extraordinarily faithful one for that matter, and even while the production values lag a bit behind some of the other giants in the top ten list that aired this year the sum total of no other series wrapped me so thoroughly around its fingers like this one did. It was so well done, was so careful, so delicately skillful throughout the episodes in developing the characters, and the rewards it gave us were similar. One felt “satisfied” somehow, like the feeling when one eats a meal you and others have spent a long time in preparing, or when one sees a painting stage by stage coming step by step closer to it’s completion. No other series this year had me literally trembling with excitement more often than this one did. I … I wish I could convey how much this series moved me directly to the hearts of the readers directly instead of frustratingly pecking away at this keyboard! While the anime itself has long been over (though we did get a brief OVA some time ago), the manga continues on in the same slow, deliberate, painstaking way that characterizes it for those who yearn to be drawn into the world portrayed here. Even with that, though, one hopes dearly that a second season might someday dawn….
I should also add a few series that for me qualified for the Honorable Mentions category: The Mirai Anime OVA Aki no Kanade,(a lovely single episode about Taiko drumming by J.C. Staff studio that was absolutely great and seemingly missed by 98% of the anime population!) Gatchaman Crowds: Insight (the second season got really serious and thought provoking subject matter wise, though it stuck to its usual bludgeoning and over-the-top manner of presentation), Kamisama Hajimemashite s2 (another second season of a series that was much better than the first), Gangsta (a great series on the whole ruined by a crash and burn ending), Parasyte – the Maxim, and finally One-Punch Man (surprisingly reflective, incredible VA work and downright gorgeously animated – the budget for this series must have been through the roof).
My favorite currently ongoing series (which includes series that are midway through their split cours) include Ushio to Tora (superb shounen material, a genre that is not really my cup of tea either – can’t wait for the final cour in Spring 2016), Akagami no Shirayuki-hime (yet another incredible manga adaptation that was like a warm summer day – everything looked so effortless, belying the great skill and care Bones Studio invested in producing this series), Concrete Revolutio (a super hero themed series that I actually found myself enjoying MORE than One-Punch Man – the second cour airs in Spring 2016 as well) and Gundam Mobile Suit: Iron Blooded Orphans. (What sorcery is this?! A mecha series, and on top of that a Gundam series?! Who would have thought?!) Ushio to Tora, Shirayuki-hime and Concrete Revolutio all could very well have made a run for the money in the top 10 ranking, but fortunately for me I did not have to tear my hair out any more than I already was when trying to decide what to select.
Biggest disappointments of the year include Sailor Moon Crystal, Charlotte, Re-Kan, Comet Lucifer, Rolling Girls and to a lesser extent Plastic Memories. No. I refuse to go into tearing any of these series apart. Don’t ask. ^^
And there we have it! Looking over the past year it general it looks like Summer was probably the strongest season for me – it had the highest number of great and strong series and series that I was engaged in. In some ways Summer was exhausting! This was followed by Winter and Spring being about equal – Winter has the highest number of really great series year round, while Spring had a couple of great series and a “stronger bench”, if you will (basketball term there). Autumn was the weakest season overall for me, but probably had the highest number of surprises.
Please feel free to add your own lists in the comments section below.
See you all in the Winter 2015-6 season!
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