Top 10 Favourites of 2012 - With Chroma
Well, I guess I'm copying Echoes' post because I'm that uncreative. Sorry (not sorry). I am aware that I'm going to be basically following up on Echoes' post, but I did realize after reading that great post that I didn't have a Top 10 Favourites of 2012 post of my own. So here I am, stealing the idea straight from the last post.
Want some rules? Well too bad, because here they are. The production's release date had to start and end in 2012 (so no ongoing series!). Did I say rules? I meant rule. My brain is but a mashed potato right now.
10. Saki Achiga-hen: Episode of Side-A
Y'know, for a series that has "Saki" in the title, you sure do almost never see her. Of course, it's evident that this is a side story, but that fact sticks with me at all times. That however, is besides the point. What's important is that we view the show in its entirety, and having said that, Saki's supposed side-season maintains its lovable charm and strange intrigue in its game of choice- Richi Mahjong.
I consider Achiga-hen to be very, very loosely based on actual focus of Mahjong. If you want to feel the realistic tension of actual Richi Mahjong, I would recommend you go out and watch Shobushi Densetsu Tetsuya or Tohai Densetsu Akagi: Yami ni Maiorita Tensai. No, what you watch in Achiga-hen is what I like to signify as "Intrigue Mahjong". Almost every single character in this series has a symbolic (almost even metaphorical) power that allows them to gain the upper hand in games. For example, one character is able to strain her mind to basically view short glimpses of the next few turns of the game, while another character always seems to win after declaring three steals. Such powers obviously don't exist in real gambling, but with such a diverse lineup of quirky characters with fascinating powers to boot, it's nothing short of an interesting watch.
Little cues to its predecessor are respected as well. For what I said in the first line, moments where you see titular protagonist Miyanagi Saki are extra special, and it feels like that was intentional. The entire series revolves around a circling tournament where each member of the competing schools gets a chance to shine, but with Intrigue Mahjong being the game of choice instead of actual Richi Mahjong, I found myself not really caring about what the scores were. "What's her specialty? What kind of crazy animations will stem from this power?" was closer to my thought process when sitting in the spectator seat.
One thing I can tell you, this series can easily get you pumped up and wanting to actually go in and play some rounds of Richi Mahjong with people. You feel empowered by the big hands that the characters constantly score off of (which sadly doesn't occur often in the real game), and you feel you can take on the world. My recommendation is to relish that emotion and take the opportunity to learn the game if you haven't already. There are many other sites that teach you slowly and allow you to practice with no cost or time limits. Start off at GameDesign's Flash Mahjong and practice as much as you wish against the semi-challenging computers. Once you feel you can run a game against real people, websites like Tenho offer free and exciting play against real people with the click of a button. From there, who knows? You could go on to like other series and their subsequent portrayed games, like Chihayafuru (karuta), Hikaru no Go (go) and moments of Nisemonogatari and Summer Wars (hanafuda/koi-koi), which are all deep and enjoyable.
I have seen a surprising amount of negativity towards this series for having such a quick ending, but I don't think that's where the magic of Another resides. What many considered to be slow and boring scenes of characters out in the cloudy atmospheres invoked feelings of slowly creeping development for me. Now, it's incorrect to claim that Another doesn't thrive off of its gruesome death scenes, but there's a special slow buildup using gloomy overtones that completely sold it for me. A curse doesn't usually sell itself bathed in colourful and cheery lives, after all.
So hey, let me point something out here. Another complaint I hear from everyone is that the majority of the characters have little depth, and I absolutely agree. They're placemats for the shock moments- the targets of the curse that will be killed off by the end, so why develop them in this short twelve episode series? I'm actually standing here to say that the lack of characterization from the other characters drew me more towards the most covered protagonist, Misaki Mei. Bearing an medical eyepatch and a pseudo curse of her own, she is by far the most interesting character and was voiced beautifully by Takamori Natsumi. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that Misaki has two sides to her, and both were portrayed in a crystal clear tone.
Once again, most people will be drawn more towards the gory shock moments, and there's really nothing wrong with that. Another's death scenes are in-your-face horrific, and it really adds to the dangers of the curse. People don't die quickly and painlessly from bullets and such, but rather in the sickest, slowest methods you can imagine. Close your eyes and imagine that you were in danger of having a knife slowly dug into various parts of your skin, but not to the point where you could die from blood loss. Your wounds were being cauterized, just so more suffering and agony could be implemented and carried out. It's the sick, gut-wrenching fear of physical trauma that gives it that same "shudder feel" that the famous Higurashi series did. These tragedies could happen in real life, and that's just what makes it all the scarier, which works marvels for a series selling itself in the horror genre.
As for the ending where the remaining survivors struggle to find an effective counterattack against the curse, it definitely did feel like a throw-in, but I believe that was on purpose. Everything is hinted at early, so the quick-witted will determine who or what is causing the curse in the first bits of the series. The purpose of the ending in my opinion was to create a bittersweet feeling- one of victory but also of defeat, and in that aspect I think it fared adequately. It's a good watch if you let yourself go and remember that most horror movies aren't pieces of literature. They're made to scare and/or give you chills, and Another definitely gave me quite a few bone-chilling moments, no doubt.
8. Yuru Yuri♪♪
We were quite well trolled in the first season with a sample clip of Akari's amazing and obsessive sister Akane, who was to be voiced by the ever-so-lovable Horie Yui herself. However, the final episode came and the sibling never..."came out of the closet", shall we say. Her inclusion in this second season alone would push the series onto the list, but luckily, we're back with even more of what made the first season great on top of that.
For a little backstory, Yuru Yuri was a series that almost flew under the radar for me. I saw a promotional poster for the time of its release with a very undescriptive synopsis, but I liked the character designs and thought to check it out to have an easy-to-watch series in the mix. The first episode at the time didn't even catch on for me, and this was back when I was dropping series at their first episodes if they failed to hold my interest. Since then, I've opened up and learned to give a series enough time to develop, and I'm so glad I came back to Yuru Yuri in retrospective. The characters are all very cute and likeable, and their strange interactions with one another are just so entertaining that you can't help but wonder what you'll experience next.
The series title itself eventually clicked with me and amuses me to no end. It's unapologetically hilarious, allowing the touchy concept of yuri to present itself in the most lighthearted and amusing ways possible. This is in no way an ecchi series, and any inclusion of "yuri" is for 100% pure comedic purposes only (though fantasies are a frightening thing at times). Heck, you could probably even watch this with that one friend who thinks all anime watching folk are creepy hentai stalkers and still have a good time.
The palette of warm colours is always lovely for the eyes, and in the auditory division we have even more great songs packed into a soundtrack. If I was to look at the two seasons overall, I would even argue that this second season did better with its music, and that's really saying something. We also get a better look at the characters who had stayed in the background for the first season, and it's amazing that they're just as lovable as the main cast themselves. If you haven't familiarized yourself with this series yet, you owe it to yourself to add a great piece of comedic and adorable joy to your collection.
7. Kokoro Connect
And yes, that includes the recent Michi Random arc that was mentioned in the original series itself. Kokoro Connect got a lot of flak for what people called an "abrupt, unsatisfying ending", which seriously bothered me considering the series ended on a preview for the last four episodes; quite an intriguing preview at that as well, if I do say so myself. In the end, Kokoro Connect delivered exactly what I wanted from it- a solid finale.
But enough about its ending, let's talk about the series as a whole. Once again, Kokoro Connect is a series that almost flew under my radar and was kindly recommended to me by a friend. The potential for some drama mixed in with school life piqued my curiosity, and I was promptly presented with a setting that could give me what I wanted. Each of the arcs features a new phenomenon that eventually causes tension between the close friends; be it through swapping bodies or through being able to hear unwanted thoughts, each premise is unique and allows the series to shine in different ways. The characters for the most part are likeable; there are a few that are less memorable than others, but on the whole it doesn't really affect how well the show can operate.
With the lighthearted comedic moments tossed into the series itself at first, it's all the more surprising how hard the series can hit you at times. When these friends fight, they fight. Nobody is spared the gritty and small details because of the friendship quo, and if something is seriously out of place, they strike it back into place with an iron fist. There's a few points where it sort of steps into overly melodramatic levels, but these are properly placed to allow the regular drama to flow naturally. In my case, I started rooting for one relationship, but right near the end I started to shift for the other. That actually doesn't happen much with me, given the linear nature of so many anime series. Character impressions are quite solid, and actions they take really do change your viewpoint on them overall. When a series can do that so easily multiple times without thinking about it, it's doing something right in my books.
Speaking of drama, there's a lot of it surrounding the series itself. Poor Kokoro Connect has seen nothing but trouble since it was released, and it mostly revolves around a controversy that involved several people linked to the series and an unfortunate seiyu who thought he'd be landing himself his next role with them. Needless to say, such controversies eat away at the potentials for the series, and it's already been announced that the fantastic opening by eufonius will be completely replaced in the Blu-Ray releases due to a member of the band getting involved in the aftermath. It's unfortunate too, since overall sales of the show have been impacted as well. People presume that this is the reason why there has been no mention of a second season, but I personally am satisfied leaving things off here (story-wise, at least). To make one last note, the opening music isn't the only nice part of the soundtrack. Minus the one track 'Cry Out' (which on its own is a fine song) that didn't really fit the arc for me, every other arc has a bittersweet song that always presents itself in a unique place within the episode/preview itself, and that's something I absolutely love seeing done right.
6. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
Now that I look at this list overall and am reaching its highest levels, I'm realizing that I've been fancying series a little outside of my regular boundaries, and I'm quite liking that. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun is a light comedy tossed into an easygoing romance shojo series, and it's definitely one that I was encapsulated with from start to finish.
What a series like this lives or dies on is in its characters, and it's simply amazing that I would fail to find even one person in this series I didn't like. Most shojo romances slowly draw out the relationship between the protagonists, but in this case it's basically established by the end of the first episode. I'll point out the one jarring thing about the series right off the bat and say that if you're expecting big progression in the romance, you'll come up a bit short. However, even with this intentional decision, the series always maintains that simplistic and roundabout play that keeps the characters interesting, and to me that provided more than supplementary. Every scene provides great interactions between the characters, and it creates this strange charm that you simply can't escape from.
Now, I did say that each character is hard to dislike, and that's because the cast starts off as a simple pair and slowly incorporates each new character cautiously and with great care. It could be the cutesy blogger Natsume or the extremely shy Oshima, but nobody feels wasted by the end, and that's something quite precious. Who you'll come to love from the get-go however are the awkwardly romantic couple themselves, Mizutani Shizuku and Yoshida Haru. When I say that their relationship doesn't really make huge progressions, I really do only mean that in the romantic sense. The two share so many memorably great moments together that you end up getting a different kind of development between them by the end. Picture how many unique scenes you can pull with a sarcastic studybug on one side and a socially awkward (but somehow still likeable) delinquent on the other.
Lastly, I'll mention the soundtrack. Not only is both the opening (by Tomatsu Haruka) and the ending (by 9nine) extremely enjoyable, but every piece of background music will put you in the appropriate mood, and you'll be able to easily recognize them from their first notes alone. If you're heavily against the shojo romance genre, perhaps this will be the perfect lighthearted series that breaks down that wall for you. By the end, you may even forget it was intended for a shojo audience, since I truly believe anyone can enjoy such a fun show.
5. Ano Natsu de Matteru
A series that translates to "Waiting in the Summer" and feels appropriately set in that season, but released in the Spring season? What a strange thought indeed. But hey, most things in Ano Natsu de Matteru are far from normal, and I can only mean that in the best way possible.
Revolving around the simple premise of a group of high school friends wanting to spend their summer making a film that would be forever remembered, we're slowly introduced to the mix of regular and zany cast. While the entire cast is likeable and memorable without a doubt, there is even less doubt in my mind that you'll never forget the amazing Yamano Remon. This sly girl appears early on, and once that happens, the show is basically in her hands. You just never know what crazy things this girl has running in her brain, but one thing you can be assured in- it will be absolutely memorable and probably hilarious.
But hey, a rom-com doesn't run on one character alone, right? Plus we can't just have comedy alone. So to take in the romance part, all I can say is that it's not overly special, but very sweet nonetheless. Let's actually say the built relationships run more bittersweet, as that is where the drama of the series draws power from. The circle of friends finds itself slowly twisting more into a zigzag of relationships (one that can be summed up in a diagram from Remon herself), and their project of making a simple movie finds problems when its cast can't fully cooperate with each other. The romance is packed neatly into the series, but is never really too pushy with its presentation. There are some great moments of heavier conflict as well, and keen-eyed viewers will realize that Ano Natsu de Matteru is from the same producers of the fantastic Ano hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. However, it should be mentioned that it doesn't exactly reach its counterpart's levels of amazement for me, and if you enjoy this series, you should definitely not miss out on the other.
Finally, it should be mentioned that just like AnoHana accomplished a tear-jerking story in 11 episodes alone, Ano Natsu de Matteru pulls off a gripping series that refuses to let go in an even 12. I dare not spoil anything else in this series, so all I will do is recommend you watch it and prepare yourself for one amusing ride.
4. Sakamichi no Apollon
Music is one of the bread and butter staples of my life, and I have a particular affinity towards the classics. Sakamichi no Apollon returns me to an era where jazz was king, and I absolutely adored every single moment of it.
Kaoru comes from a well-endowed family, with a result-obsessed mother who forces him to play piano and to improve within the realms of classical music. Having moved too often between schools, Kaoru has given up hope of maintaining true friends and enters his new high school with a col demeanour upon his face. When he butts heads with the classroom delinquent Sentaro, he learns that they both have a love for music. Fuelled by Sentaro's burning passion for jazz music, Kaoru is gradually included in the jam sessions Sentaro holds in the basement of a record shop owned by his classmate Ritsuko's family. As Kaoru sees the beauty in Ritsuko during his visits, he finds himself sandwiched between the friendship the trio shares, his quest for true love, and the wonderful soundtrack that ties it all together.
Blending together a majestic series of classics, Yoko Kanno includes familiar tracks like 'But Not For Me' (made famous by Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald) and 'My Favourite Things' (made famous by Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music') and gives them a fresh, modern jazz feel. The soundtrack is unforgettable, but it's nice to see that even the characters, story and setting hit quite on point for me. Sakamichi no Apollon did a great job of immediately distinguishing the characters and giving them likeable (and even positively dislikable) traits, then using their strengths and faults to present the dramatic tensions between them. It's only their shared love of music that will always bring them back together. That's as pure of a concept you can give for music.
3. Tari Tari
Lots and lots of drama this year, and I'm alright with that. Did I also mention lots and lots of music? Tari Tari once again focuses a lot on music, but takes a very different, more worldly approach.
Let's face it, K-ON! was a moe series mostly using the genre of "music" as an additional focus. I won't lie, when that series came out I totally bought into it, and it inspired me to pick up the guitar for the first time. I still love that series and appreciate what it did, but taking a look at a series like Tari Tari, I realize even more how different the two are. The characters in this series are given much more depth, and as a result it appropriately fits in the drama genre as its secondary premise. It's one of those great series that will make you smile, laugh and maybe even emotional at times. I have mentioned this to people before, but I honestly do consider Tari Tari to be the Hanasaku Iroha of the music genre. Albeit my stronger liking for the latter series, the former definitely retains a similar charm. And please don't take this as me realizing I don't like K-ON! as much, because I still adore that insanely well composed show.
But hey, this is a musical series too, right? Why yes! Do you remember when I mentioned that the series has a worldly take on the concept of music? I did literally mean that. Opting to avoid staying simply in the J-Pop genre alone, Tari Tari looks more at the core of music itself. Choir music, samba-esque, classical, you name it. Oftentimes, the episodes will even add a bit of lovable flair by leading into the ending with a unique song. For instance, the first episode leads to the ending with the main protagonist practicing her singing to a catchy J-Pop tune in a public park, while another episode ends as two of the choir protagonists harmonize with a simple piano behind them. These little touches add emotional depth to the episodes and really do make you want to watch more.
People seem to have somewhat mixed opinions on the series, so as long as you haven't seen it for yourself yet, I ask that you don't be swayed by blandly written synopses or reviews (I know reading my personal recommendation is a bit contradictory, but still). I recommend giving it a shot if you have a semblance of interest in music and/or a charming little tale of life, as it really does depend on the person for this series. I regrettably watched this the first time whilst being heavily distracted, and as such I couldn't remember much more than the music itself, but with a rewatch done for this article, I can very lovingly say that it's one of my favourites of the year. Nay, possibly even one of my favourites of all time.
2. Chunibyo demo Koi ga Shitai!
Kyoto Animation is still my absolute favourite studio of all time, and their reign of amazement continued with 2012. Unfortunately, the fantastic K-ON! Movie could not make this list as it aired right at the end of 2011, but I really do think I could have found a place for it. Luckily, we have a case of the chunibyo (a "seventh grade syndrome" of over-fantasizing reality), and KyoAni shows us how great it can be.
We seriously have yet another romantic comedy hitting this list right now. However, this series tackles both so efficiently that I absolutely fell in love with both aspects in a stronger sense than the previous entries. I know I've said this enough in this article, but the selling point is the character list, and by god are the characters for this series lovable. On the top of this list is the absolutely pinch-her-cheeks adorable Takanashi Rikka. Why, I also believe that's two series on this list featuring female protagonists wearing medical eyepatches too, isn't it? The difference is that Misaki Mei's eyepatch hides behind a shroud of mystery, whilst Rikka will end up showing you what lies beneath in the very first episode. To be fair however, the series plays around a bit with the concept of it throughout the 12 episodes, and it's a great connection to the character herself. Chunibyo is an infectious disease, and it has struck some of our other hilarious and over-the-top protagonists, so expect some great interactions.
In the comedy aspect, you'll receive all you can handle and more in the first half of the series. It's simple and it's downright hilarious, probably even to the point of Nichijo, which is really saying something. When the romance genre starts to creep in, the comedy slowly takes a back seat (but does not get banished), and that doesn't exactly sound too great, does it? Well, normally I'd completely agree, especially attempting such a swap halfway into a single cour series like this. However, the romance is absolutely charming and only adds more and more depth to the series. Do you know that feeling you get when you're absolutely dedicated to seeing two characters successfully getting together? I can almost guarantee you that this series will draw that feeling out of you. The scenes used to move the romance forward were very clever as well, as we get to see just how strange characters enter the world of relationships together. One absolutely unforgettably adorable scene for me was Rikka using her signature parasol (well, the Schwarchzchild, as she called it) to hide her blushing face from her little crush. It's absolutely adorable and is only one of the many great offerings the show provides.
Oh, and just to look a bit at what else this show has to offer, it has some of that amazing Kyoto Animation flair that I've come to love so much. I dare not spoil it, but there's a gimmick to the series between the characters that just makes the animation quality explode. Once you've had a side-holding laugh and a good look at the very first of these scenes, I'm sure you'll just be itching for more. To cap it all off, the music for the series ranges from cutesy to badass; my favourite of which being the mind-numbingly fantastic ending, 'INSIDE IDENTITY'. Unless you're dead, go out now and check out this series. You'll laugh, you'll love, and you'll immediately place Takanashi Rikka in your favourite characters lists. Check it out even you are dead, by the way. ;)
Speaking of Kyoto Animation, did I mention they nailed 2012 for me? Three absolutely charming productions, but even the sweet charms of K-ON! and Chunibyo could not quite reach the zenith of what Hyoka did for me.
I already know what you're thinking, and for the majority of people this series wasn't much more than "charming because it's KyoAni". However, this series carries so much more for me, and after I promised myself to only take short glimpses into it again in for tidbits for the article, I quickly found myself going through the entire damn show again. So it's another rom-com, right? Wrong. Hyoka is, at its base, a mystery series. Ooh, the possibilities! Well, let me quickly start by recommending that you don't fall into the trap that many did when this series first came out- don't expect a giant mystery to end all mysteries. Where Hyoka shines is in its short bursts of intrigue with episodical (or sometimes extending into somewhat bigger and arc-bearing) mysteries. "What does Hyoka even mean?", "Who is this mysterious thief who has struck the annual school festival?" and "How did a Valentine's Day chocolate go missing right under the noses of those guarding it?" are just some of the questions that will strike our small group of main protagonists, and you'll quickly find the charm of KyoAni's new eye-shining animation of pure curiosity.
I saw the characters in a very different light to most, and I believe that's one of the big reasons why I loved this series so much more than they did. The fan-favourite Chitanda Eru quickly became popular after showcasing her gleaming amethyst eyes and her cutesy look to the world, and I fell in love with it at first too. However, she slowly took a seat on the sidelines as I realized that her character was more one-sided than the others. The producers cleverly put her in unique settings to fill that void, but through characterization alone I drifted from the fanbase. Another disagreement was for Hotaro Oreki, the "bland and boring" protagonist himself, who acts as the Sherlock Holmes for the series. Oreki sparks a strange intrigue of character in me, and I just loved trying to get past his outer shell of "being bored with everything". What's great is that Oreki seemingly shows little to no emotion over what he's doing most of the time, he has strong moments to himself where he does. These moments stand out in the series, and as a direct result, it feeds itself back into the character, making him even more mysterious. However, my absolute favourite character was Mayaka Ibara, who was supposed to play the "friend off to the side" role and quickly showed me that she was so much more.
Every piece of this series fits together like a puzzle- how appropriate for a mystery series. There is an arc that is not only a murder mystery presented to the viewer, but hides a deeper mystery around the conjurers of the murder itself. That cog spins into the next, and completely sets the tone for how characters share conversations with each other. There's even a one episode mystery involving a chocolate thief and romantics on Valentine's Day, which seriously left chills in my body with its incredible direction. The animation is nothing short of stunning, and this is definitely the series KyoAni spent the most time designing their characters on. The background music is hauntingly fitting, and it's one of the best mixes of classical and modern pieces I've ever heard in a production. At its very base, the charm of Hyoka can be defined as "those feelings you get as you stack thoughts in a mystery and come to the right conclusion", but underneath that you'll find so much more. Just go in knowing that this isn't Sherlock, and I honestly do think it has a chance of captivating you in the same way it did for me.
So there you have it, folks. It's been a fantastic year for anime, and surprisingly, it's shaping up to potentially be an even better year with our currently airing series. To be fair however, fantastic shows like Psycho-Pass and Robotics;Notes did start in 2012, but new 2013 series like Chihayafuru 2 are already drawing me in. I'm very much looking forward to what we get out of the new year. Thanks as always for reading!