Top 10 Favorites of 2011 - With Echoes
Heya everyone. Now that we are two weeks and some change into the new year and the anime of 2011 have had time to really sink in (That's my excuse for being late, and I'm sticking to it!), I figured it was about time to make a list of the best that 2011 had to offer in terms of anime. Before I dive right in, I'll just make the up-front admission: this is a list of what I most enjoyed in 2011, my favorites if you will. However, I have given the list a good amount of thought, and I will offer (to the best of my ability) the reasons why I ended up selecting each and every one. As the title suggests, this will be free of spoilers. I won't reveal any plot points that happened beyond the first few episodes. Then, without further ado, I present to you my choices for 2011.
10. Yumekui Merry
A bit of a controversial pick right off the bat. The tenth spot is often the hardest spot, even harder than number one. I find that there's always at least a handful of worthy contenders fiercely contesting the spot, and making the cuts always makes my soul ache with guilt. Now, onto why I actually believe this show deserves a spot on the list. Do note that I am not a manga reader (that goes for all of the shows on the list), so I will be judging this series based on its own merits, how well it is presented as a standalone experience, and not how well it was adapted from its source material.
First, and likely most importantly, Yumekui Merry has a fantastic cast. The female lead, Merry, is one of the coolest female leads to show up in a while. She's capable, spirited, cool and incredibly funny. I quickly fell for her, and she's a character I remember fondly. Additionally, the male lead, Yumeji, is incredibly likeable. He neither hogs the spotlight nor stands by the sidelines wasting space, and comes across as a cool, kind and collected guy. The side cast: from the kind female friend Isana, (genuinely one of my favorites examples of a character of that archetype) to the borderline psychotic villains, are all memorable and enjoyable.
Next up are the visuals, which are simply gorgeous. Bright, vibrant colors and beautiful, unique character designs all around. The scenery and characters from this series are burned into my mind, and I couldn't be happier. The premise of entering dreams (and daydreams) allows for some fantastic locations, which I think they took good advantage of, and I found the results very pleasing. The story progression moves at a nice pace, and though many had issues with how the series wrapped up, I enjoyed it all the way to the end. A last thing that bears mentioning is the soundtrack and the opening. The soundtrack to Yumekui Merry provided wonderful atmosphere, with a lot of piano-centric pieces, and the opening is simply awesome. Full of energy, power and passionate vocals, I found it to be one of the year's very best.
It might be on the bottom of this list, but it's still one hell of a show.
9. Maria†Holic Alive
Hey, at least no one saw this one coming, right? Actually, no one saw this show at all. Maria-Holic is, sadly, a very under-appreciated series. It's a miracle that a second season even got made, and you better believe I'm on my knees thanking whatever cosmic force is responsible, because this show rocks. No summary could do this show justice, but it essentially revolves around the hijinks of Miyamae Kanako, a raging lesbian who attends an all-girl (weeeell, almost..) Catholic high school, and wants nothing more than to ogle her classmates. The humor is spot-on, filled with references, great timing and what I'll commit the understatement of the year by calling "eccentric comedy." Want to know how to pronounce the names of Lovecraftian deities of ancient lore? Here's your chance to hear someone discuss how, in an anime. I thank the heavens I'm alive.
This show is about two things: the characters and the humor. The cast is large and varied, with some of the year's most memorable characters. The dorm leader is unforgettable, and might have just made you sleep with your lights on if she wasn't so damned appealing while acting diabolical. I pine to hear her voice every day, I truly do. Shaft provides the animation for this one, and they do a splendid job. You get exactly what you would expect with Shinbo Akiyuki in charge, and his distinctive visual style fits the series perfectly.
I've tried, and no doubt failed miserably, to convey how funny and compelling I find this series, but it's just one of those things you have to see for yourself. It's not for everyone (not by a long-shot), but if you're one of the chosen few, you'll have a blast with this one.
8. Yuru Yuri
Hell yes. Yuru Yuri is easily the most simple and basic shows on the list, the closest show to being just moé-fluff. But it's not. Everything from the premise to the too-cute-to-be-allowed-to-exist character designs might lead you to believe you're getting a dime-a-dozen slice of life with questionable comedy and overdone pandering, but Yuru Yuri easily leaves its would-be peers behind in a cloud of smoke as it races to the finish line.
Make no mistake about it though, this show is moé to the bone, and unabashedly so. Characters are cuter than kittens, and the premise seems very trite. (Girls hanging out after school in a club room doing anything but what they're supposed to, where have I seen this before? I can't quite put my finger on it...) Where Yuru Yuri truly rises and shines however, is in its comedy. Now, I'll be the first to admit that not every single joke works, but damn if they aren't insanely close. The jokes and deliveries are well written and well executed, and the character chemistry is simply perfect. The cast play off each other beautifully, resulting in some of the finest comedy this year had to offer. But remember, I said "some of". If you don't at least crack a smile watching this, you might just need to check your wrist for a pulse; you might no longer have a heart.
From simple to deliciously intricate. Steins;Gate delves into the most confusing, paradoxical and beloved of science fiction tropes: time travel. Who doesn't love a good time travel story? Well, this is a great time travel story. Offering inventive solutions to some of the well-known plot holes often created by time travel in fiction, Steins;Gate delivers a plot that's sure to engage and excite viewers. Self-proclaimed "Mad Scientist" Okabe Rintaro and the young genius Makise Kurisu form what could convincingly be argued to be the best leading pair of the year. Their chemistry is great, and their personalities exist truly to complete each other's. Okabe is one of the funniest, craziest, bravest bastards you'll see all year. Unforgettable scenes include his attempts at communicating through gangsta-English with a street vendor, and just about every crazy speech he suddenly burst into completely unprovoked at the most inappropriate times.
The voice acting here is simply unbelievable, with Miyano Mamoru delivering this year's funniest male lead by far. It's not even a contest, he takes it hands down. Asami Imai, one of my most beloved voice actresses, delivers a fantastic performance as Makise Kurisu as well. I shan't dig any deeper into the plot or the character developments, as to not spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it yet. That would just be cruel; this great addition to the sci-fi genre deserves to be seen by anime enthusiasts and non-fans alike.
6. Maho Shojo Madoka Magica
"Boooooo, boooooo, what's this doing at number 6? You suck!"
I understand this complaint, and with the immense popularity this show has garnered, I'm sure there will be plenty of people for whom this show will take the much-coveted #1 spot. I do love this show, and I'll tell you why soon. This is not me trying to imply that the show is in any way overhyped, overrated, and certainly not that it's bad, not in any way. There's simply five shows I enjoyed even more than this gem, and that says more about this wonderful year than it does about Madoka Magica itself. Now that I've gotten some practice for when I run for public office, let's get on to why this show is just plain amazing.
Like the earlier entry Maria-Holic Alive, this show was made by Shaft and directed by Shinbo Akiyuki, and that shows. The character designs draw a lot of inspiration from Hidamari Sketch, while the backgrounds and general visual style are incredibly unique. This is a dark show, both in tone and in color. The vibrant colors of the main characters form a great contrast to the many dark locations the series takes place in. If the story sucked, you'd still stay to watch this visual wonder unfold. Luckily, the story doesn't suck, it's quite the contrary. The story is a wonderful dark take on the classical maho-shojo story. Girl meets a magical furry creation which grants her the power to fight crime. That's a tried and true formula, and it's wonderful to finally see a dark take on it. It's almost scary how well it worked. The plot wasn't just a gimmick to mess with the heads of maho-shojo fans either, it was well written, well paced and had a nigh-perfect resolution. (Which does leave me wondering what the movie will be about, but that's another discussion entirely.) The cast was strong, and the villain was top-tier; I'm sure many of you still see that grinning, frozen face in your dreams.
I cannot end this without mentioning the outstanding soundtrack composed by a long time favorite of mine, Kajiura Yuki. This is, in my opinion, the best soundtrack of the year. It's one of those soundtracks that both creates fantastic atmosphere (watch some of the episodes again after having listened to the soundtrack on its own, you might be surprised as to just how big of a role it plays in creating the right mood) and is great to listen to on its own. I've listened to it dozens of times, and I'm sure there are dozens more to come.
5. Mashiro-iro Symphony
Mashiro-iro Symphony is a curiosity. Much like Yuru Yuri, on its surface, it seems like a very typical installment in an overcrowded genre. However, this series is anything but a trite harem series. It starts off strong, with one of the most beautiful first episodes of the year. Try watching it if you haven't and see if you don't get drawn in. It is reminiscent of the holy Key-KyoAni trinity in many ways, and I don't make statements like that lightly.
The character designs are unbelievably gorgeous; they are my pick for the absolute best of 2011. While the animation isn't stellar, it doesn't need to be. The art-style carries this show visually, and they did a marvelous job in that department. The cast of characters is very strong, succeeding and transcending their stereotypes with grace and poise. There's not a single character I dislike in this series, and thankfully they made a prudent choice in not including any comic-relief male sidekicks. Phew. The male lead will probably surprise you with how likeable and how good of a character he is. Without a sob story of a background to build sympathy, or any extraordinary acts to elevate him to hero status, he earns his reputation by being a consistently genuine and kind character throughout the series, and as [insert spoilerific names some wonderful girls] grow to love him, so will you. Which brings us to the most important aspect of the series, and the reason it's so high on the list to begin with. Before you realize it, this show turns into a genuine love story.
"Wh-wh-whaaat, a genuinely developed romance in my harem series?"
Yes, quite so! It's one of the most beautiful, romantic and heartwarming series I've seen all year, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Expertly handled in every regard, this series should be held up as a shining example of what the "harem" genre should aspire to. This series might just turn out to be everything you think it wouldn't be.
4. Shinryaku!? Ika Musume
The invasion continues. And I'm bending my knee, selling out my country and our world, swearing allegiance to this seaborne invader. I think it's the right decision in the long run, though. Future historians will judge me favorably.
Shinryaku!? Ika Musume is the continuation of the tentacle-to-the-face surprise hit from last year, and it delivered everything that I wanted from it. It's a miracle that this show is as good as it is. They essentially just came up with one brilliant character and ran with that. They say that a great comedian could read the phone book and it would still be funny. I don't think I'd be opposed to Ika Musume reading me the phone book. Hell, I might just pay for the privilege. The jokes are pure gold, and though Ika Musume is clearly the star of the series and the driving force behind everything, the side cast is certainly nothing to scoff at either. Everyone at the Lemon has their own quirks, and together, they form a comedic equilibrium that seems to never swing out of balance. Kanemoto Hisako deserves an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Nobel Peace Prize for her performance as Ika Musume. I'd put "de geso" or something to close this out, but hey, I'm not that cheap.
3. Carnival Phantasm
The idea behind this show is just brilliant. Characters from all your favorite Type-Moon franchises come together and interact through glorious antics and insane humor. I'm not even a big-time Type-Moon aficionado (I've seen the FSN anime, the Tsukihime anime [Yes, it exists, get over it fanboys] and of course, the outstanding Kara no Kyokai, but never played any of the games outside of Melty Blood), and I can still enjoy every single microsecond of this insane collage of characters and wacky jokes.
The jokes here are sent from heaven. There's no other explanation I can think of, so until science comes up with conclusive proof that these jokes weren't fashioned by some celestial creature, I'm sticking to that theory. They are beyond the reckoning of mortal men. How can this be so funny? Forget "Why are we here?", this is the real conundrum of existence that philosophers need to solve. These episodes are pure joy from beginning to end, and it is simply great to see all of these characters act outside of their serious environment for once. They're rich characters with a lot of personality, and this shines through in the equally rich writing. Whoever put all of this together clearly knows more than a thing or two about comedic timing.
A good portion of the sketches and parodies are things that casual fans can appreciate, and much of it is accessible even to those who have never heard of Type-Moon. (Though I'd still advice anyone to watch at least Fate/Stay Night beforehand for a more fulfilling experience.) One of the many great skits is the parody of the maho shojo genre, even with fake previews for the next installments, which are always utterly nonsensical lies that never end up coming to pass. Jokes never outstay their welcome; they keep things fresh with an amazing array of different skits and occurrences. The opening is also supremely addictive, cute and funny- probably the year's very best in my opinion.
In short, this is the best comedy of the year and you need to watch it...if you want to.
2. Mawaru Penguindrum
Mawaru Penguindrum. Where could I even begin? Do you like great shows that seamlessly blend over a handful of different genres, and do so while juggling a non-chronological narrative between many different groups of extremely compelling and enigmatic main characters? You do? Then this is the show for you.
Penguindrum starts off looking most like a comedy with a few serious issues snuck in here and there. It evolves along the way into a romance, retains a sense of mystery throughout that rivals the best detective stories out there and picks up the mantle of a brilliant drama along the way. It does all this while showing us fantastic characters that practically leap out of your screen, as do the vivid colors that fill the episodes from top to bottom at every moment. The visual design compliments the story perfectly, and it is nothing less than breathtaking.
I really don't want to even try to get into the plot, which is complex and must be experienced for oneself. I would be remiss if I did not mention the thick symbolism that this series is filled with, some of it obvious to the casual observer, and some of it requiring deep immersion and some piecing together on the part of the viewer. I'm sure I'll discover a treasure trove of fun and interesting details I missed the next time I watch this beautiful series, which I intend to do in not too long; a surefire sign of a successful product. This is a truly inspired series in every regard, and it's still only number two on my list.
1. Ano hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai
More commonly known as AnoHana, this series experienced a short run of merely 11 episodes last year. Despite its temporal restrictions, this series made the best of every second offered to it and produced an evocative, emotionally powerful drama that I can, without the slightest hint of hesitation, call a masterpiece.
The characters, the setting and the vexing circumstances the male lead Jinta finds himself in draws you in, never letting go for as much as a second up until the end. The cast of characters is absolutely perfect, and they all (some more than others, of course) get their chance to shine in the limelight, showing us their ugly, yet beautiful humanity. The emotions, the characters, the stories and background, they're all beautifully human. These people aren't perfect, they all have their complexes and issues, but as the series progresses, so do they. And with a masterpiece such as this, perhaps even you as a viewer can progress in some manner and take something important away from this series.
It's hard to say this without it sounding like a hyperbole, but this is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life. I say this with considerable conviction, and I saw this as it aired; the feeling has lingered and not diminished in the slightest. I cried three times watching this. Bawled. Genuine tears rolling down my cheek, lots of them. And I'm a 23 year old, fairly cynical man.
If something that can move me like this...something that can bring out the most beautiful side of humanity in such a genuine, down to earth manner isn't fine art, then nothing is.
Peace, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this year in anime half as much as I did, because if you did, you had a great, great time.