There are spoilers ahead. If you see a show title you haven’t watched yet, you might want to skip it until you have.
I tend to stay away from stuff like this because the Internet is suffering enough as it is. Are my opinions really so important that I need to piss them into the polluted waters of the Anime Review Lake? Probably not. Not to mention, most people are too lazy to take enough screenshots to form an analysis article, so the competition stays relatively low on that side of things. It’s way easier to just Google ‘anime memes’ and paste the first K-On/pop-culture crossover you find. Plus Print-screen is in such an awkward spot on the keyboard—who has time for that?
Yet, a new year is approaching, and I’ve decided it’s time to put that pessimism behind me. It’s time to subject you to my opinions. Out of the many shows of this past year, I chose five that best represented 2015 for me. This is by no means a top five for the year (it is absolutely not a top five), but simply the five shows I felt I’d remember the most after this year—for better or worse. I chose to exclude shows with seasons that aired prior to 2015 from my list (i.e. Haikyuu, Shirobako, Owarimonogatari,etc. were not considered).
This one should be obvious. I don’t even know what to say. What a show.
What a gorgeous show. It’s not just the backgrounds and usage of light and the general KyoAni quality, it’s the tiny movements. I love watching the characters play their instruments. I love the way Reina plays with her ponytail during her hike with Kumiko. I’m obsessed with every gesture Kumiko makes. KyoAni took all the tiny quirks of human movement and turned them into eye candy. On top of that, I think Kumiko’s voice actor ascended to the next stage of human evolution. Have you watched this? Tomoyo Kurosawa communicates Kumiko’s entire character arc in squeaks and squeals. The rest of us apes are still using words, what’s wrong with us?
I could ramble on about how much I love the technical aspects of the show (to be honest, I’d watch Kumiko sit a room and talk to herself for at least five hours), but obviously there’s a whole lot more going on here. I’ve spent quite a few thousand words detailing just how well-developed Reina and Kumiko are, as well as how powerful their relationship is. They interact like two chemicals mixed together in the sky, swirling and reacting into some beautiful new compound lit up by the setting sun.
The few complaints I did have with the show—Asuka’s unresolved character, the hanging romantic tensions—have been quelled by the announcement of a Season 2. Now all I can be mad about is the fact that the novels still haven’t been translated.
I feel like this one falls prey to the same trap Madoka Magica did for a while. I get it, too. You can’t explain it quickly and don’t want to spoil anything, so you just say, ‘Watch until the end of the first episode at least, trust me’ and then you and your friend sit there for 18 minutes waiting out the moeshit until the zombies show up. You know, the equivalent of saying, ‘Wait until Episode 3’ for Madoka. You essentially put all the emphasis on the ‘twists’ of the shows. It’s as if the mere fact these shows can be labeled as BOLDFACE ALL CAPS DECONSTRUCTIONS makes them good. Which it doesn’t. But they are good.
Okay so Gakkou isn’t really a deconstruction, but they both twist their respective genres and it’s easy to just point to that as their selling point. But it’s not like this show tries to hide the zombies from you. They’re in the synopsis. However, that whole first episode I was convinced that the outbreak hadn’t occurred yet. The presence of zombies didn’t shock me, but the presentation and revelation of this zombie-infested world did. When it’s finally revealed that Yuki was just delusional—that’s when I stood up and started yelling.
From then on, I was more or less addicted to this new brand of macabre moe, to the point that I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Why did I enjoy watching these girls suffer so much? What kind of sick sadism is that? The scene where Yuuki contemplates killing Kurumi definitely stands in my top three scenes for the year. I’m confident that if I saw that scene in The Walking Dead I’d fall asleep, but, for some reason, one cute animated girl deciding whether to put another cute animated girl out of her misery pushes me to the edge of my seat.
This is the point where I make it clear that this is not a top five list. This show was a massive disappointment. Despite Maeda claiming to have learned from Angel Beats, this show manages to commit even worse errors. I’m not blaming Maeda in particular, as so many different minds come together to make an anime (plus I don’t think anyone needs to be ‘blamed’ for anything). I will say, however, that I almost didn’t finish this one.
Narrative structure is seemingly thrown in the trash for the duration of this show. The series opens on an episode that presents a morally corrupt protagonist in a world full of flawed super-abilities, only to abandon that character trait and then reduce the danger of these flawed abilities to something only worth mentioning in passing. Shouldn’t we be afraid of the lack of control characters have over their powers? Where the hell are the stakes for the first half of this show? All these no-name characters are in danger of being tested on by scientists if Nao doesn’t save (read: threaten) them? Who cares?
I can’t even be bothered to search for plot holes in the time travel section because it’s so stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Maeda fanboy and that means I’m a huge fan of his alternate-reality/time-travel/resurrection antics that either ride the line of deus-ex-machina or blatantly step over it. But going back in time to save Yu’s sister from getting killed because of a random girl who is way, way, way too upset over some boy? Come on. Let’s not even mention traveling the entire globe in one episode and picking up ridiculous abilities like ‘see everyone with powers on some Call of Duty UAV map thing’. Also: courage. Everyone else in the world gets to fly or go invisible and this girl gets courage? Apparently all it does is make her run in front of crossbow arrows—is that supposed to be useful? Also: a crossbow.
I didn’t hate everything, though. Nao is one of my favorite characters of 2015. She’s someone with actual goals and interests, which is a rarity across all of storytelling. She talks about post-rock like a true post-rock fan would. Maybe I’m the only one who cares about something like that, but whatever. Charlotte was definitely at its best when Nao was on the screen. Actually, I have an idea. Charlotte 2: Trust Us This Time stars Tomori Nao working as a videographer for Zhiend and other interesting bands. Think Shirobako combined with Hanasaku Iroha except it’s about Nao making music videos. And absolutely no one else from the original show is there. Sounds pretty good.
Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider
This story definitely works much better as a book or live-action film than an anime, but I am glad that it did get an anime adaptation. The art style wasn’t particularly interesting and there were very few shots that took advantage of the fact that this was animation, but, despite that, The Perfect Insider still stood out amongst all the glossy-coated series of the year. I have to praise this show for how uncompromising it remained throughout.
Magata is truly treated as an enigma, and the show never tries to reveal some kind of relatable side to her. Even the characters who think for a moment they have a way to relate to her realize how wrong they are. It’s interesting for a story to have a character communicate at a distance from both the audience and the other characters, and then to never try and fill that gap. I love not being able to fully understand Magata or the implications of her philosophy, and I’m overjoyed that Moe gets so frustrated at her own lack of understanding. It’s honestly a miracle that this story ends and Magata Shiki hasn’t been downplayed into some trope-ridden tortured genius or farseer.
Yeah, the show has issues, too. The dream pods were used well the first time, but then were shoved where they didn’t belong later in the show. Moe was supposed to be a character we could relate to and—although her relationship with Saikawa worked well—she lacked the development we needed to connect with her. Not understanding Magata is fine, but we were left with too many questions about her relationship with her daughter (as well as questions about her daughter). More scenes between the two Magata’s would have gone a long way. If nothing else, this was the first time blood actually looked frightening in anime.
Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought
If you’re interested in honorable mentions and that sort of thing, this series beat out Rokka no Yuusha and Sakurako-san. Without spoiling anything: those shows kept me interested for the most part, but made promises to be unique in some way, and then broke those promises rather quickly. Overall, I enjoyed both, but both underperformed to an extent that left them a bit too forgettable.
Anyway, GATE was one of those shows I watch the first episode of because the art looks passable and the premise sounds just stupid enough to work. Usually I wind up stumbling drunkenly into something like Comet Lucifer, but occasionally I find a show like GATE that is stupid enough to work. Itami is actually a fantastic protagonist, as he isn’t ever consumed by one label or trait. Sure, it’s hard to believe that this guy was just an otaku married to a doujin artist and decided to join the military to support her and somehow wound up a special forces agent and so on, but yet it works.
I think it’s because this show has an attitude or flare to it that even some series that choose to take themselves more seriously—see: Sakurako-san—fail to express. Scenes like the Apocalypse Now-inspired “Flight of the Valkyries” sequence come to mind. And can we talk about how a character named PINA COLADA got more character development than the main characters of most other shows this year? That’s a drink, guys, a drink.
Whatever. Maybe I’m just an idiot. Maybe this show actually sucks and should have been entirely forgettable. Maybe its elements of propaganda are supposed to turn me off. You know what, though? Even if I’m objectively an idiot, I’ll still remember this show. Thus, it takes my fifth and final spot. Long live Strawberry Daiquiri.