The 12 days of Anime 2015 edn. Top 5 Anime of the Year

Here is where the crème de la crème are compiled. This is based on overall quality, not the number of wins or mentions in other categories, and is heavily subjective.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Blood Blockade Battlefront

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This Bones’ adaptation of a Yasuhiro Nightow manga was one of the most cinematically impressive, musically stunning series that I have ever seen, thanks in large part to Rie Matsumoto’s strong sound directing and high-octane action sequences. However, the visual and story pacing often felt rushed, which also resulted in this being perhaps the most tiring action heavy anime series I have ever seen, and the swift changes in tone from slap-stick comedy to heart-wrenching tragedy didn’t always work. To add to that, though many of the cast were memorable, there were way too many charters for the majority of them to get any sort of development, though Leo did satisfyingly mature over the course of the series. Hopefully strong sales in Japan can encourage Bones to make a Season 2, though a change in staff seems necessary for these aforementioned problems to be solved.

See my full review for more detail.

  • Yuri Kuma Arashi

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A favourite among critics for this year, Yuri Kuma Arashi simply screams Kunihiko Ikuhara, with cryptic symbolism and artistic liberty seeping out of every pore of this SIlverlink production. As I mentioned in my review, Yuri Kuma’s effective story structure and use of repetition is something that few series do right, or even attempt, and the strong aesthetics and background art more than make up for the otherwise average animation. However, Ikuhara’s unusual style acts as a blessing and a curse, with the high-concept story and directing preventing this tale about discrimination and conformation to societal consensus from sticking the landing. Also, though Ginko has substantial development and the ending of the series ultimately works, lead Kureha isn’t a very interesting character, and the symbolism can sometimes feel ham-fisted. Yuri Kuma is an experience like few others, but the style of its storytelling prevented it from being as strong as it could have been.

Click here to read my full review.

Now, here is the Top 5-

5 – Owarimonogatari

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Kicking off with a strong 50 minute special delving into Araragi’s actions and establishing Ougi’s villainous presence, Owarimonogatari may well have had the strongest debut of any series this year. Even as the 7th entry in the Monogatari franchise, Shinbo’s direction is still fresh and creative, though a greater feeling of maturity and the diminished juvenile undertones really underscore the development of the Monogatari cast, with Araragi and Hanekawa in particular feeling like veterans at this point. The Sodachi Lost arc was an emotional highlight, with palpable tension and the effective utilisation of mystery elements, making for one of my favourite Monogatari arcs to date, as a stand-out from both a directorial and story-telling perspective. Though Shinobu Mail didn’t quite manage to live up to the first half of Owarimonogatari, falling into the traps of earlier mediocre arcs with too much insubstantial dialogue and frustratingly vague plot progression, the franchise continues to be one of the biggest and most reliable anime franchises of the 2010s.

 

4 – Snow White with Red Hair

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As the most pure, unadulterated entry (potentially the only real child appropriate one) on the list that certainly doesn’t lack the depth of character intrigue of the other four on this list, Snow White with Red Hair was an imminently watchable, consistent series that overcame its lack of a strong story with likeable characters, strong aesthetics and music, and a charming atmosphere that brought the essence of Disney fairy tales to life in a blend of something new and exciting. Protagonist Shirayuki was an effective blend of a kind, considerate female and one capable of holding her ground against royalty without coming off brash or rude, and her drunk escapades and measured way of doing things is expressed through actions instead of words, with the series usually opting for organic character interactions instead of unimaginative exposition. The cast around her is also strong, varying from the typical selfish jerks intent on pillaging castles to layered, experienced soldiers or insecure allies. Snow White is whimsical and engaging throughout its entire 12 episode run as it never fails feel fresh and imaginative, and is beautiful from beginning to end. Season 2 cannot get here soon enough.

3 – Maria the virgin witch

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The most overlooked entry on my list, Maria the Virgin Witch went above and beyond its ecchi fantasy tag to deliver an intellectually and emotionally charged series with historically accurate depictions of war alongside magic with a story of a woman’s maturity at its core. Yes, Maria was my favourite character from anime this year, as I mentioned, but other protagonists like Ezekiel and Joseph, even some antagonists such as Galpha and the priest, developed greatly over the course of what may have been the single most efficient and effortless anime of 2015. Blending comedy with enrich characters, implying rape respectfully and depicting atrocious acts without devolving into a Tetsuro Araki-style celebration of nihilism, Maria deserved so much more than it got.

For my extended thoughts, see my review here.

2 – Noragami Aragato

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Neither shounen action anime series nor Bones productions are renowned for their strong thematic exploration or consistent quality story telling. This year, Noragami broke both of those expectation to provide a sophisticated and emotionally resonant tale of family, love and betrayal. Building upon the solid foundation of its 2014 predecessor, Noragami deepens character relationships and provides strong development for Yato, Yukine and Hiyori. In the world of Noragami, everyone has justifications for their actions beyond the desire to cause harm to others, and there is never a villain with whom the audience cannot empathise. The series was definitely the most watchable of the year, with each episode having a ton of content, and this applies for both the action packed payoff episodes and laid back cool down ones. The series works as an action series due to good choreography and ever increasing stakes, it works as a comedy due to the witty and memorable characters, and the ties to Shintoism and tradition blended with modern family values makes it work on a dramatic level as well. With strong production quality and a great OP and ED, Noragami Aragato is almost my favourite series to have been released in 2015. Though it may be an ambitious statement to make, the Noragami franchise may well be the best work from studio Bones since Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

1 – My Teenage Romantic Comedy SNAFU Too!

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This series was not as stream-lined as those mentioned above; the dialogue can be very long and on occasions harshly cryptic, with readers of the light novels sometimes being needed to decode some of the more ambiguous conversations. However, SNAFU has the biggest heart of any series to have aired in 2015, surpassing even Noragami, and blowing away its trivial (by comparison) first season’s easy comedy and light satire with hefty drama and smart, sometime disturbing criticism about highschool archetypes, self-consciousness and the general difficulty of trying to bond with people who think so differently to you. Hachiman and the series as a whole have committed to focussing on the future and present, rather than sticking to theories based on past events, and turbulent character development has encapsulated several characters here. Yui went from an airheaded obligatory love- triangle filler to an emotionally aware and present female who matches, and in some cases surpasses, Yukinoshita. The less interesting characers, such as the otaku nerd or gender bender, have had their involvement severely compromised, and the mature, intellectually rich cast of SNAFU, when combined with realistic designs and strong animation, SNAFU barely feels like an anime. It was the best series to have aired this year, and may well be a highlight of the entire decade.

My thoughts on both seasons, in detail, may be read here.

 

On the whole, 2015 was a fair year for anime, albeit somewhat top-heavy and the summer season was unapologetically weak. I greatly anticipate 2016, and hope for many great years of anime to come.

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