It was a good season of anime. I realize I’m closing the season on a pretty small selection of shows and that a number of those shows are leftovers from the Fall 2014 season, but even so…this was a good season of anime. I don’t actually know what more to say beyond that. It was good, I really enjoyed it and felt blessed to be watching what I was watching quite a lot, and I’m sad many of these shows are over. And that’s that. Here are the best anime of Winter 2015. Are you ready, Koharu-chan?
[Management: I’ve decided to rename the “Best Animation” category the “Best Visual Aesthetic” category. The idea here is to condense character designs, background art, and general visual appearance into a single category. I’m not really qualified at this point to discuss the actual technical merits of animation, but I can at least tell you what I thought looked good. Additionally, the caption awards have morphed into something a bit different than “the was the best action” show; rather, they’re now more along the lines of “this show had the best romance/action/etc.”]
1. Shirobako (10/10)
Shirobako is proof that you don’t have to sweep the awards board to be the best show of the season. This little show-that-could is really something special—endearing, relatable, superficially unexceptional in many measurable categories, yet somehow a magnificent tour-de-force of intensely personal writing and presentation. I find it an incredibly difficult show to write about because I feel it defies conventional standards of fictional dramatization through the matter-of-fact way it handles its drama. Of course, all of this is funneled through the main viewpoint character, Aoi Miyamori, who is unquestionably the best character of the season and who has become one of my all-time favorite characters. In many ways, I feel Aoi is the sort of person I’d like to become and it’s pretty darn hard to let her go. One last time: Save me, Aoi Miyamori!
Awards: Best Drama, Best Comedy, Best Female Character—Aoi Miyamori (Honorable Mention: Best Story)
2. Akatsuki no Yona (8/10)
At this point, I feel I’ve said about everything I could possibly say about Akatsuki no Yona. It’s an impressively well-crafted production and balances a huge range of ideological oppositions with the moving story of a princess who sets out to understand the world she’s never seen before. Yona’s character arc was among the best of the last two seasons and the complexity of her struggle for strength gave her character an incredible amount of depth. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Yona’s joined by a stellar supporting cast of bishounen. Despite the apparent evidence of Yona being a reverse harem, it never dives into the tropes of the genre and keeps the focus on the characters as people, lending a great richness to the colorful tapestry of faces, personalities, and worldviews that make up Akatsuki no Yona.
Awards: Best Fantasy, Best Harem (Honorable Mentions: Best Story, Best Male Character—Hak,Best Female Character—Yona)
3. Death Parade (8/10)
I know I’m not the only one who feared Death Parade would turn out to be a mean-spirited romp through the darkness of humanity, but happily the show turned out to far more thoughtful, sensitive, and sympathetic with its characters than that. Death Parade, simply, is a story about humanity and how to be human. At times, it can lack subtlety, but I found the directness to be arresting as a challenge to the audience. It doesn’t hurt that Death Parade also boasts some of the best production values of the season, looking consistently good every episode and making use of a jazzy soundtrack and a cool color scheme to inject a sense of melancholic reflection into the show. Death Parade was often a challenging show to watch, but it was a good challenge and the score at the end certainly falls more in favor of hope than despair.
Awards: Best OST (Honorable Mentions: Best Visual Aesthetic, Best Male Character—Decim)
4. Garo the Animation (7/10)
In all honesty, Garo being as successful with me as it was came as a bit of a surprise. Initially, I thought it would be a bit too dark and gritty with not enough weight to its action, but instead MAPPA turned out a fundamentally well-told story that hit hard at all the right times and made the most of its strengths—which turned out to be its characters. Ultimately, Garo is León’s story, the story of how an angry boy learned how to grow into his destiny, accept his past, and care for the world around him. The other characters who surround him on his journey—German, Alfonso, Ema, Lara, and even his mother—not only facilitate a marvelous character arc, but have compelling stories of their own. It’s just icing on the cake that MAPPA strikes gold with the presentation more often than not, displaying in many episodes the fantastic cinematography that may very well be turning out to be the studio’s signature touch. Watch Garo; it’s good.
Awards: Best Story, Best Action, Best Male Character—León Luis (Honorable Mentions: Best OST, Best OP—”B.B.” by JAM Project)
5. Your Lie in April (7/10)
Beautifully presented visually and aurally, but serious structural problems held Your Lie in April back from becoming a truly great show. While it certainly has more moments of sheer greatness than most shows of its caliber, its frustrating use of comedy and the way it forced narrative threads to compete against each other are unfortunately major parts of its legacy beyond the performance stage. But when Your Lie in April takes the stage, few shows can match its power. It’s a shame the story couldn’t quite hold up those performances, but they were triumphs all on their own. In the end, I think Your Lie in April will fade pretty quickly from my memory, but it was a fascinating show to write about on a weekly basis thanks to its invariable tendency to muck up something new.
Awards: Best Visual Aesthetic (Honorable Mention: Best OST)
6. Durarara!! x2 Shou (6/10)
Well, one thing is for sure—this isn’t the same Durarara!! of five years ago, sadly. The frenzied action, stellar production values, and general level of quality that made the original series one of my all-time favorite returns only in flashes in x2. Make no mistake, the style is genuine Durarara!!, but the flashes of genius are more scattered and more restrained here. Considering x2 on its own merits without regard to the original series (a near impossible task, incidentally), it’s still a solid show, but the obvious production struggles really do take their toll on the series’ overall impression. If there’s one thing (and it’s a big thing) that still redeems Durarara!! x2, it’s that the characters we came to love (or, in Izaya’s case, despise) return in mint condition, bouncing off each other with the same chemistry as before, a chemistry that makes ever encounter a fascinating one even when separated from the show’s plotting. For all the sequel’s inferiorities, it’s still Durarara!! and it’s good to have Durarara!! back.
Awards: (Honorable Mention: Best OP—”Headhunt” by Okamoto’s)
7. Log Horizon 2 (6/10)
While there’s a part of me that’s a bit bitter Log Horizon is ending where it is (and it had to, as there’s basically no source material left to adapt), that unhappiness is tempered by the realization that getting 50 episodes of a show like this in the current anime market is…well, it’s unusual. Heck, anything getting 50 episodes is pretty out of the ordinary, let alone a wholesome, consistently interesting show like Log Horizon. This is a show that’ll never be the best thing airing in a season, but it’ll certainly never be the worst thing either. For my part, I preferred this season to the first, enjoying the variety of adventures and the varied plotlines we got. Kanami’s appearances were huge highlights of the show, finally giving a face and a personality to a character who’s been mostly mystery. And, of course, Rudy returns and makes his mark as the best character Log Horizon has to offer. If the adventurers aren’t going home, I’m most happy because it means Rudy gets to stay with them that much longer.
Awards: Best Adventure
8. KanColle (5/10)
It wouldn’t be a season of watching anime if I didn’t pick up at least one light-hearted show before the end of the season, and this winter that show was KanColle. My first impressions of the show match up almost exactly with my final impressions of the show and they’re more eloquently written, so allow me to share those here:
Awards: Best Slice-of-Life (Honorable Mention: Best ED—”Fubuki” by Shiena Nishizawa)
9. Rolling☆Girls (5/10)
Ah, Rolling☆Girls, you were the chosen one! The one destined to become my pet show for the season! Sadly, moegirls, motorcycles, pretty colors, and great music don’t always turn out to be a great anime. Rolling☆Girls was the sort of anime I thought would be My Type of Anime and while it certainly displays a lot of the characteristics that could make it a favorite of mine, it never really all came together. The beautiful backgrounds and sweet effects animation of the first two episodes collapsed into a production mess that seemed to not only include the show’s visuals, but also its storytelling. Rolling☆Girls just tried to do too many things without enough basic technique and so things just didn’t quite click. There were a few standout episodes here and there, but an inconsistent show that can’t even capitalize on its greatest strengths reliably can’t be a great show. In the end, Rolling☆Girls turns out to be a good show, but a disappointing one for not doing everything it could have done.
Awards: Best OP—”Hito ni Yasashiku” by the Rolling Girls (Honorable Mention: Best Visual Aesthetic)
10. Absolute Duo (4/10)
For a light novel adaptation with harem inclinations, Absolute Duo turned out to be far more entertaining and far less offensive than I expected. It says a lot on its own that I stuck with the show all the way to the end, with most of the credit going to the tropey, but likable characters. One of Absolute Duo‘s greatest strengths was the ability to let its characters be silly sometimes, and to do so as their awkward, high school selves, rather than shuttling them into stock anime jokes. Of course, Absolute Duo definitely does have some heavily generic moments poorly executed, but for the most part it lets its characters do their thing without overbearing with the plot. It’s not a series I’d recommend, but I don’t dis-recommend it, either.
Awards: Pet Show of the Season, Best ED—”Believe x Believe” by Nozomi Yamamoto
11. Junketsu no Maria (3/10)
By this point in the list, I always feel obligated to leave a reminder that the numbered rating I assign a show is my assessment of the show’s overall value. The biggest problem I have with Junketsu no Maria, the reason I’m giving it a 3/10 and will never recommend it to anyone, is the way it mishandles Christianity almost from the beginning of the show. The piece I wrote on Maria after the second episode complained of misrepresentation and that concern was sadly validated by the rest of the show. I had hoped for a more nuanced, thoughtful presentation from this show, but it just didn’t pan out. As a Catholic and a Christian, I just cannot justify assessing Maria‘s value at any higher rating—it is far too misinformed and too convoluted thematically to really be taken seriously as a criticism or reflection on religion and its musings on other themes are unfortunately tied up in this central conflict to the degree that they suffer. Honestly, what Junketsu no Maria needed, more than anything, was more of Ezekiel. Not necessarily of her character, but more of her liminal worldview that balanced heaven and earth and everything in between in an empathetic, kindhearted way.
Awards: Best Romance (Honorable Mention: Best Female Character—Ezekiel)
- Isuca (10 seconds)
- Koufuku Graffiti (1 ep)
- World Break (1 ep)
- Fafner: Exodus (1 ep)
- Aldnoah.Zero 2 (1 eps)
- Saekano (2 eps)
- Military (2 eps)
- Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! (5 eps)
- Assassination Classroom (Solid 5/10)
- Award: (Honorable Mention: Best ED)
- Best Short
- Best Sci-Fi
- Best Sports
And that’s all for this season! I still have to watch Gundam Build Fighters Try and Yurikuma Arashi and am considering giving Tokyo Ghoul √A a shot, but other than that I’m happy to close the books on Winter 2015 and look forward to an exciting spring season!