Well, it’s finally the holiday season again. It’s a magical time of year when a glacial chill grips the Northern Hemisphere by the balls and tells it to turn and cough. Next our bank accounts all mysteriously run dry, and we have to tell ourselves that attempting to win dance contests to earn the money back is a stupid idea considering I haven’t ever danced competitively in my life, so stop trying to plant the idea in my head, Chris, and just let me turn tricks.
It’s time to break out the Lovecraft-inspired Christmas carols, pour out that eggnog that’s been curdling in the back of the fridge for the past year that made every leftover taste suspiciously like egg salad, and ready our collective body for the intensity and unbridled creativity of the aniblogosphere’s 12 Days of Christmas posts. I guess these are technically supposed to start ON Christmas, and not necessarily in descending order, but nobody gives a flying fuck about Christmas after Christmas, and descending order is the coolest order.
Anyway, since my idea pool is running a bit dry at 3 in the am and I figured I’d might as well kill two eggnog-inebriated birds with one stone, I’m starting off with my Top 12 shows for the year. For those not in the know, Kiddtic is hosting a neat little contest (And he’ll hopefully check here for my entry to save me an iota of work) where bloggers pick their favorite shows of the year, he sees ‘em and tallies ‘em, and people can win free stuff. For any bloggers out there who still wish to get in on this, make sure you do so by the 16th, or you’ll miss a pretty cool opportunity. Right, enough shameless advertising, it’s time to get to the list!
Alright, so this is kind of cheating as far as a 12 Days post goes, but it’s best to start with something easy. It’s a pretty approximate list, with each number being interchangeable up to five places, but I’m satisfied with it.
12. Maria Holic Alive
Maria Holic isn’t one of the best series out there. Hell, I’d hesitate to even call it very good in the best of times. But to me, the sequel improved on a lot from the first series. It’s no longer a tangled mess of Shoujo Ai clichés underneath a veneer of unearned bullying, only redeemed by a neat opening number and an ironic closer. The comedy actually works more than weirds out, Kanako’s hapless protagonist status is more her own fault than her environment’s, and Matsurika gets a few decent sized roles. And yes, it’s still a tangled mess of Shoujo Ai clichés, but it’s all pulled off with much more heart. Far from perfect, this is nonetheless the most improved sequel that I’ve seen this year.
It’s still not necessarily good though, and wholly skippable.
11. No. 6
For the first seven or eight episodes of No. 6’s run, it was looking to be one of the more intriguing plots of the year with Shounen Ai undertones that were just that: Undertones. It wasn’t made explicit that Nezumi and Shion were attracted to each other, but there were plenty of hints that gave their relationship an air of believability. If it weren’t for the wasp tornados and talk of a pissed off nature god, this would have earned a higher place on the list for being a solid scifi series with good implementation of sexuality. If the characters didn’t stop being consistent after that point, it would have earned a far higher place. As it stands though, it’s a textbook example of a good idea ruined by a god awful twist, but the first seven episodes are well worth the watch.
10. Fireball Charming
Cute, witty, charming, succinct… Fireball Charming was a perfect little time waster that wasted hardly any time at all with surprisingly sharp gags and clever banter. For the two minute length of each episode, I was hardly ever left feeling disappointment at anything but the criminally short length. If a personification of any series could be my ideal romantic partner, this would be it.
9. Ano Hana
As “Otaku bait” a show can get while still being accessible enough for a more general audience, Ano Hana was a beautiful glimpse into the life of a mourning group of friends as they deal with their long-dead friend’s conspicuous absence/inconspicuous presence. Why are they still torn up about this to such an extreme after so many years? Why does one of them decide to put the “Men” in Menma? I was willing to put my incredulity aside for the vast majority of the show’s run, because it was just that damn compelling. Even though I may have disparaged the ending as overwrought and overly manipulative, I can say that whether I like it or not, Ano Hana is one of the best shows of the year. It’s well written, mostly believable (Hey, I believe in ghosts), and very well produced… in short, there’s nothing to really hate.
8. Natsume Yuujinchou San
Natsume is one of the few shows that have made me cry on more than one occasion. It’s a blissful, idyllic trip into the very elements that make us human: Compassion, trust, understanding, pain, loneliness… This had continued unabated into the third season, with Natsume reaching some sense of closure in his life and coming to terms with his bond with the youkai, and any episode that had Taki in it easily made my summer much less stifling. If it weren’t simply a sequel and more of the same, I would have rated this higher. While more of the same is good in this regard, I do like to give some room to creativity. Despite that, I can’t wait for the fourth series.
What can I say, I’m a comedian at heart. If a series manages to go with such an absurd premise as pitched battles for half-priced bento boxes and makes it come across as absolutely serious, it will win quite a few hearts (And several of mine) without too much effort. Take everything I said about Fireball Charming earlier, delete the part about it being criminally short, and you’ll have a pithy description of my feelings for Ben-To. Maybe that deserves to be looked into with a therapist, but for now it’s a pretty big compliment.
As a comedy, Nichijou isn’t actually all that great for the most part. There are maybe five gags that I could list that honestly made me chuckle, perhaps three or four more that just made me smile. Still, what Nichijou lacks in a funny bone it makes up for with a dorky smile and beautiful animation. Nichijou is just fuzzy enough to warm even the most frigid hearts while not coming across as too saccharine. By the end, you will know your favorite gags, most likely involving the Professor and Nano, and you will even start to warm up to the less memorable ones as part of Nichijou’s undeniable charm.
As a comedy, it’s middling at best. Yet, it makes you care enough about it that you’re sad to see it end. It’s a very special kind of show that can do that, and Nichijou delivers with style.
5. Usagi Drop
Aka the show that made me not want to strangle Puffy for a little over a minute. Much like Nichijou, the best word to describe Usagi Drop would probably be “warm”. Usagi Drop is a very warm series, from the subdued color scheme to the heartwarming episode plots that are bound to give you some degree of diabetes. Rin isn’t a realistic kid, but I’ll be damned if she didn’t make me almost not want to hate children as a whole. While it does delve into the occasional bit of depressing subject matter, it never dwells on the topic for more than a few minutes, nor does it wallow in it while it takes that time out to be frank.
Usagi Drop was perfect summer fare: Uplifting without being manipulative, cute without being overwhelming, mature without losing a sense of accessibility to anybody not in the market for heavy subject matter. Who would’ve thought watching a thirty year old raise his five year old aunt could be so entertaining?
4. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
Blah blah blah deconstruction blah blah blah unexpected blah blah blah plot twist blah blah blah Kyubey. Really, any description of this show will come out the same, so just watch the damn thing already. I almost hesitate to put it this high up on the list because I value the importance of character development so much, but everything else is almost perfect and comes together beautifully enough to warrant a Top Five spot on any list.
3. Tie: Steins;Gate/Mirai Nikki
Okay, now THIS is cheating. Still, both series are/were complete dark horses, not expected to fare nearly as well as they have been. I’m lumping them together purely because of their common cell phone theme.
Steins;Gate would have likely earned my second place spot for the year had Fate/Zero not been so damn amazing (Spoiler alert), and a spot in my Top Series Ever list somewhere around the middle. With a somewhat clumsy start, Steins;Gate set out to be the next in a long line of quirky otaku slice of life tales before time travel started factoring into a large section of the plot. Before the audience knew it, they were in for a ride as one of the key characters was killed again and again by the fiendish organization CE- I mean SERN, only temporarily averted by time travel.
What made Steins;Gate so great for me wasn’t the good plot or the eccentric cast of characters. What made it great was just one part of that eccentric cast of characters: Okabe Rintarou. He was the soul of the show with his deranged ramblings and his downright ridiculous mannerisms, and he never stopped being a joy to watch. Even more imperfect than Madoka Magica, it nonetheless captivated with its smart direction and occasionally clumsy attempts at explaining how time travel works. This is definitely the best Sci-Fi anime I’ve seen in years, and should definitely not be missed.
As for Mirai Nikki, it came out of the blue and became one of my absolute favorites of the year. Not much else to say, other than it knows how to utilize a cast of wholly unlikable characters to create a suspenseful story that never lets up its quiet intensity, even when regular intensity starts to attempt to usurp its position. Though if I had to choose one for my number three spot, it would probably be Steins;Gate.
Fate/Zero would easily be in my number one spot for a number of reasons. I love scaled down representations of alliances and treaties, historical characters tickle my fancy in a very particular, enjoyable, non-sexual way, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look pretty and Iskandur isn’t the best character of the year. Objectively, I should rate Fate/Zero a fair shake higher than everything else this year because it’s just that goddamned good at only halfway through. However, thanks to the abnormally stupid power of subjectivity, my coveted-as-of-this-moment Top Anime of the Year is… Drumroll… Stalling Tactics… Drumroll again…
1. Mawaru Penguindrum
I know, I know, this is quite the stunning upset. I mean who would have guessed that the show that I keep saying is “Poised to take my top spot for the year” over and over again in my overly-gushing posts would end up in my top spot? Sarcasm at nobody in particular aside, Penguindrum is easily my favorite show of the year, despite easily being one of the most flawed. Why?
It’s the only one that’s kept me eagerly awaiting a new episode week after week, disappointed when the inevitable cliffhanger would come about because I’d have to wait ANOTHER week for an unsatisfying conclusion and another cliffhanger. It’s thrown me here and there, spat in my face, stomped on me with stiletto heels enough to leave bleeding puncture wounds, and I’ve loved every minute of it because of the excess of… well, everything. The animation’s also gotten pretty good, the comedy’s dead-on the characters are appropriately tragic, and the symbolism’s spread thickly enough to make a nice philosophy-bagel to nosh on. Really, it wasn’t a close call. Mawaru Penguindrum is easily my favorite show of the year, and no matter how it ends, that won’t change.
Also, I’m still a sucker for the Survival Strategy stock footage.
Well there you have it, the complete list of my top series for the year. Only eleven more posts to go, and it’s all downhill from here!