Winner: Bones (Blood Blockade Battlefront, Show by Rock, Snow White with Red Hair, Noragami Aragoto, Concrete Revolutio)
- Production I.G. (Attack on Titan: Junior High, Haikyuu!!, Kuroko no Basuke, Maria the Virgin Witch, Ghost in the shell: The New Movie).
When looking at the total quality and quantity of each studio’s productions during 2015, many of them were extremely inconsistent in both production quality and overall management. However, both Bones and Production I.G. stayed afloat to produce some of the best-looking and best written series produced this year.
Production I.G.’s work at the forefront of the sports anime boom is excellent, with their efforts on Kuroko no Basuke being especially commendable, given they have now done 3 full 24-26 episode long seasons with high animation quality and strong art direction, particularly whenever superpowers are involved. Their primal art style with Haikyuu!! is another inspired choice, with the spiking of the ball and rougher, sharper character designs making it a visually worthy cousin to Kuroko, rather than a rip-off. They each have different focal points, the former prioritising individuals while the latter focusses on group dynamics and synergy, and both of them are recommendable to sports anime fans. However, what really impressed me this year was their work on Maria the Virgin Witch, a sleeper hit that many overlooked due to its ecchi elements. This will be touched upon later, but for the time being I’ll just say that the accurate representations of church practices, sexual implications and human nature in the 100 year France-England War when combined with I.G.’s earthier colour-palette and great story structure and character development will be remembered by my for years to come. Tow Ubakata continues to wreak havoc on the Ghost in the Shell franchise, though the reception of the movie has been fair enough for it to be called, at least on some levels, a success. Of course, Attack on Titan is being milked for all it’s worth in other series, but with its success that’s to be expected.
From the mid-point of November, there was no question that Bones was going to take the top spot, with four of their five titles from the year ranking among the most beloved and popular of the year (Show by Rock may be excused as a result). Starting strong with possibly their most well-animated TV series, Blood Blockade Battlefront, directress Rie Matsumoto’s brought her entrancing vision to life in a musically, visually and emotionally rich series with a fresh art style and stellar world building. Though the intellectual aspect of the series was a bit lacking, due to the overabundance of plot lines and requirement of at least three viewing to pick up even the base story, the series was so massively successful where it wanted to be. Ditto for Snow White, likely the most beautiful series of the year, which brought the themes, atmosphere and aesthetics of Disney to life in a way I have never seen before in anime, though the absence of a story prevented it from shining as much as it could have.
Their adaptation of the nonsensical manga Concrete Revolutio made even less sense than Blood Blockade Battlefront did, intercutting between the past, present and future in a way that feels more unintentionally confusing than smart. Nonetheless, the intrigue, mystery and vibrant yet different art style brings magical girls, mechs and superhumans to life in a cinematically satisfying way. Fans of Bones works will probably appreciate this, but unlike Noragami Aragoto, the writing, at least so far, lacks bite. Yes, if BBB is their best looking series, then Noragami may well be their outright best written since Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Combining Shintoist traditionalism with complex characters, all of which have their own justifiable motives, Noragami is a shounen abundant in maturity, themes and fights. Each villain has their own reasons for wanting to do things, and no-one here feels interchangeable; every gear in Noragami functions well and in more than one place. The character designs are welcoming and easy on the eye and the general framing and direction is impactful, but the overall animation quality doesn’t quite match up with the aforementioned titles. However, it outshines them handily in story pacing, emotional resonance and ultimately elevated Bones well beyond their typical style-over-substance work.