The best N anime that I saw in 2015
This is much like last year's best N, namely what I consider to be the best or most enjoyable things that I saw in calendar 2015 (regardless of when they were made or released). As is now standard, my general rule is that only shows that have actually ended count because you never know what eye-rolling things a show may finish up with. This specifically affects Concrete Revolutio, which would otherwise rate quite highly. Overall I feel that 2015 has been quite uneven; to put it one way, it has some superstars but its bench is not very deep.
- Shirobako: This stands clearly above almost everything that finished
in 2015. I've already written plenty in my winter retrospective and I really don't have more to add.
I'm really glad both that we got a show like this and that it was about
anime, because through it I both enjoyed and learned, and I think the
passion of everyone involved in its creation shone through.
(As odd as it sounds, I don't think we need a sequel although I sure wouldn't turn one down.)
- Sound! Euphonium: The only real competitor for Shirobako, this
show is ultimately a tight observation of characters going through
stresses and being themselves. It is grounded by KyoAni's grasp of small
moments and small gestures and given flight by some excellent writing. I
wrote more in my spring retrospective.
(As a character drama where cruel things happen to some people, it will not be to everyone's tastes.)
- Gatchaman Crowds Insight: This took the easy answers that the
original series gave us and turned them back on themselves to show
us the flaws and weak points. This time around there was no clear
evil, just good intentions going in various ways, and that made it
all worse. Which was the show's point, really.
- Symphogear as a whole: I'll be honest; I'm cheating here. While I liked Symphogear GX, I'm not sure it was good enough on its own to rate this high in my list. As a collective whole (which is how I watched them), the three series do definitely qualify. I enjoyed them quite a lot, goofy cheese and all, and they were one of the best things I watched all year.
Things that I consider good but not necessarily memorable over the long term:
- Mushishi Zoku Shou - Suzu no Shizuku: This final bit of Mushishi
was in many ways a classical story for the show, great but
bittersweet, and it was executed with the show's typical
excellence. There is no more to look forward to, but Mushishi
went out on a high note. I meandered more on Twitter.
(I rank this as 'not memorable over the long term' because in the large scale of things it is not the kind of Mushishi story that sticks in my mind. The really affecting stories involve something important about Ginko, and in this one he played his usual observer role.)
- Psycho-Pass: The Movie: This was an excellent distillation of the
show at its best, simultaneously cynical and optimistic. Akane got
to be awesome, Sybil got to be sleazy, and so on. Fortunately you
don't need to know very much about the terrible second season in
order to watch this. I suspect that some people feel that it has
some plot holes by the end, although I disagree with them.
- One-Punch Man: This landed the comedy (for me) and the spectacular
animated fights (although they sometimes lacked weight and impact).
It mostly missed being any deeper than that, which is a pity because
it did manage to have moments where it managed more. Still, what I
watched was a fair amount of fun and wow, a lot of it was spectacular.
- Little Witch Academia The Enchanted Parade: Much like the original, this was straightforward fun. We don't get a lot of that, so I'm giving it recognition just as I did the original back in 2013.
- Yurikuma Arashi: It was very Ikuhara. This matters, as does its various
messages and sub-messages, but I cannot say that the show made its
way into my heart. I am glad that it got made and got watched, so it
earns a place here.
- Punchline: This had its goofy and less than successful parts, but
on the whole I find myself looking back on it with increasing
fondness. In retrospect it aimed fairly high and achieved a
surprisingly large amount of what it aimed for, with some genuine
twists and surprises. If you're not moved by the song from the end
of the last episode
(spoilers), you have a heart stonier than mine.
- Yozakura Quartet - Tsuki ni Naku: This little OVA delivered the
whole Yozakura Quartet experience in a compact bundle of animation
firepower. My overall fondness for Yozakura Quartet has only grown
since Hana no Uta, so I'm giving this
installment a place here for being plain solid fun.
- Garo - The Crimson Moon: As time has passed since the show ended, it's
become easier to remember just the high parts (which could be very
good) and gloss over the less successful parts. Call this a special
merit award for aiming high, trying hard, and doing surprisingly well.
- Ghost in the Shell The New Movie: I would like to love this more
than I do, but in the end I can't. We got more of all of the various
things ARISE has been giving us through its run, it was reasonably
spectacular, and it did end up giving us a reasonable amount of
overall answers. But it did not cohere in the way it really needed
to in order to have real impact.
- Rakuen Tsuihou - Expelled from Paradise: This is a perfectly
solid action movie that wears its themes on its sleeve. It gains
extra notability for having entirely 3D CG that I felt worked
fairly well; consider it a glimpse of part of the future of anime.
- Strike the Blood: I watched this during one of my periods of
boredom with currently airing shows. It was reasonably entertaining and
decent for its genre, but it gets a special merit honorable mention
for having that rarity in shows like this, namely a collection of
strong and effective female characters.
(StB is not as objectively good as some of the things that did not make even this section, but it was more enjoyable overall.)
Specifically excluded because they are continuing shows are Concrete Revolutio, Akagami no Shirayukihime, and Gakusen Toshi Asterisk. Evaluated only on what has aired so far, CR would be a top show (ahead of at least Symphogear), AnS a good show, and Asterisk at least an honorable mention (yes, really).
(I'm also not going to try to put forward opinions on the Animator Expo series of shorts. Some of them were very impressive, but they don't really fit on the same scale as actual shows; being so short, their merits and drawbacks are completely different. Anyways, I don't think they're watchable any more.)
Notable things that don't make my list for various reasons:
- Perfect Insider: This had some great aspects (ie, Moe), but in the
end it's dragged down by how it ended and by how it took various
annoying bits of character philosophy seriously. If I end the show
rolling my eyes, it does not make the list.
- Blood Blockade Battlefront: On an episode to episode level this was
well directed and often compelling. Where it fell down is on anything
beyond that; it was essentially a series of stories from an ongoing
manga, and so there was no overall story and nothing went anywhere.
The attempt to add an overall original storyline unfortunately went
down in flames in the end in a long-delayed last episode, ultimately
for structural reasons.
- Maria the Virgin Witch: The show aimed high and was periodically
great, but in the end I can't overlook its flaws (including its
ending). For me, the root cause of the problems is that the show
wanted to have its cake and eat it too; it wanted a setting where
God was real without really thinking about the implications of this.
The resulting rough edges rubbed me the wrong way all through the
show. See also.
- Knights of Sidonia S2 - The Ninth Planet Crusade: I wish I could love this wholeheartedly, because the high points were just as good as the first season. Unfortunately as a whole it's dragged down by turning into an interminable harem show for the middle of the season. It started well, finished quite well, and was periodically good in the middle, but the harem hijinks just give the whole thing a sour taste that I can't get past.
I did get around to seeing Madoka: Rebellion this year but it does not otherwise make this entry for reasons covered here. The short version is that it in no way strikes me as an important thing to see either in terms of Madoka or simple overall quality.
My notes say that I finished 42 series, OVAs, and movies in 2015, which is way up from previous years. I have no idea how I managed it. I did watch a number of movies and short OVA series, which is a quick way to increase the count, but even with that I watched more than I thought. However, as you can tell from how short my lists here are, many of them were not that memorable, not that impressive, or simply not that good. I watched a lot of stuff out of inertia and because it was just good enough to keep me tuned in on a week to week basis.
Compared to last year, the highs from this year are amazing (I'm pretty convinced that Shirobako is a show for the ages), but there's not very much in the solid middle of the road. A number of things stumbled, some of them fairly badly. This was a very divided year.
(It's interesting how well this entry lines up with my year end APR votes (bearing in mind that APR is restricted to TV shows), even though I wrote them separately. Last year I flip-flopped, but not this time around. I have some theories about that, but they're for another entry.)
My views on Madoka: Rebellion
(There are some spoilers here.)
I finally got around to seeing the third Madoka movie last year. This is the controversial one, the one with an all-new story and various other things. You can read a lot of commentary about it around the net and I'm late to the party, but I feel like saying something.
On the one hand, what pretty much everyone says about the movie is true. It is basically fanfiction, which makes it essentially indulgent fanservice of the 'not naked people' kind; it's giving the fans the easy, comfortable thing that they (we) all wanted. All of the major characters have been changed around, smoothed over, neatened up, and turned into the popular fan views (and desires) of them. The movie even invents a relatively absurd partner for Mami. Everyone works together to fight things, we get some nice set-piece fights, and so on and so forth. The character fanservice continues even as the movie reveals more and more things and reaches its climax.
And yes, the movie has somewhat of an explanation for all of this. It doesn't really matter; a creator can always find some way to justify this sort of stuff if they want to.
On the other hand, the movie is also about the only genuinely interesting resolution to Homura's story arc that we could have had. I won't say that it redeems the movie, but it does make it interesting; a version that took the easy and obvious way out at the climax of the movie would be clearly worse. It's also a resolution that makes sense if you interpret Homura as fundamentally selfish and unable to let go, which is actually a running theme in the TV series from some angles.
(It is Homura's cycle of decisions, trying over and over again to save Madoka instead of letting her go, that wind up creating so much power in Walpurgisnacht. But for the ending of the TV series this would have been an utter disaster.)
But being intellectually interesting (in part for the fan reaction to its ending) does not make Madoka: Rebellion particularly important to see. The movie contributes essentially nothing to the TV series and is not good enough on its own to be particularly compelling. I mean, it's a movie, it looks pretty. But it doesn't have an edge and it's lazy and indulgent, with only a few scant moments of genuine emotional impact. It's more interesting as an artifact than as a movie to watch. Regardless of Rebellion's underlying motives, it's a movie that is only really for fans of Madoka (and it will enrage some of them).
(Part of this is that it's impossible to detach Rebellion from the rest of Madoka and consider it as a stand alone work. Its story is inextricably tied to the series and it can neither be watched nor considered in isolation.)
Some people consider this in part a meta-commentary on Madoka fandom (eg). I suspect that they are right, partly because I don't think the first part of the movie could have been written without an awareness of fan memes. However this doesn't make the film any more engaging to me; it remains an interesting intellectual exercise, not an affecting one. But then I hiss at End of Evangelion, so you can take my opinion with some salt if you want.
(See also Bobduh on, in part, Rebellion as fanservice.)