With the end of the year come year-end lists, talk about favorite anime, favorite seasons, and the like. But, in all the flurry of closing out the old year and moving into the new, it can be easy to forget some of the smaller things that made the previous year what is was.
This post is dedicated to those small things. The individual efforts, the little pieces of goodness, the solitary shining spots.
These are TV Anime 2015’s best moments…
Aoi Miyamori Appreciation Paragraphs
In a year where I once again found many new anime characters to love and revisited man old favorites, one young woman—courageous, dedicated, hard-working—who stood above nearly all of them: Shirobako‘s Aoi Miyamori. I don’t really relate with Aoi all that much. My job is nowhere near as stressful as hers is, I don’t work in a field even remotely similar to hers, and my coworkers are all exceedingly competent and capable. But that doesn’t matter. I still love everything about Aoi Miyamori. I admire how she struggles against exhaustion, frustration, and worries over the future—and still gets her job done. I’m as dazzled by her amazing fashion sense as I am by her weaknesses and immeasurable strengths.
Some people have told me Aoi doesn’t have time for a boyfriend in her busy life. That’s fine. If all I can do for her is make her lunch and dinner and give her hugs to help her be less stressed, that’s good enough. (Disclaimer: yes, I realize Aoi Miyamori is a fictional character, let me dream of being a nice waifu for her, okay?)
Studio 8-Bit EDs
The very sensation of looking back at a studio’s yearly output and thinking, “You know what 8-Bit did well? They had a lot of really great ED sequences,” is a rather odd one. But it’s true! The two Studio 8-Bit shows I watched this year, Absolute Duo and Comet Lucifer, each had multiple EDs—and all of them were varying levels of good to great. From Absolute Duo:
- “Believe x Believe,” ethereal and lovely. Beautiful visuals.
- “Apple Tea no Aji,” bouncy, cute, and fun. Apple rabbits!
- “2/2,” (NSFW) nicely directed, some unique instrumentation.
And from Comet Lucifer:
- “Oshiete Blue Sky,” reminiscent of “Apple Tea no Aji.
- “Hadashi no Mama demo Kowakuni,” scrolls are fun!
- “Hito Tsuninaritai,” featuring Orange’s cool CG work.
It’s not a coincidence, by the way. Atsushi Nakayama directed both productions, and was the Unit Director for the EDs of Absolute Duo. So, good going, Nakayama. This is a cool thing you’ve got going. (By the way, the show’s first promotional MV is awesome, too.)
Michiru Oshima and Masahiro Ando Make Beautiful Music Together (Again)
The first season of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime saw composer Michiru Oshima and director Masahiro Ando reunited for the first time since their phenomenal joint effort on 2012’s Blast of Tempest, and somehow their work together this time was even more magical. Many good anime soundtracks are good just because they work well within the context of the show or because they have some standout songs. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime‘s OST is not like that. Oshima’s score is comprehensively brilliant and, guided by Ando and sound director Kazuhiro Wakabayashi (who served in the same role for Tempest), becomes an marvelously essential piece of the show’s success.
The music swells at the perfect moments. The backing tracks create impossibly resonant moments between music and scene. Just as some visionary directors have that ability to make their direction a noticeable part of their storytelling without it being a distraction, Ando, Oshima, and Wakabayashi have elevated the musical element of Shirayuki-hime without it ever taking over the show to the point of imbalance. It’s marvelous.
BONES Revives Good Male Protagonists
Everyone knows that male protagonists in anime are kind of a crapshoot, especially as of late. Even the ones that manage to keep their heads above the most intolerable level of magical high school genericism are often crowded out by far more compelling, engaging, and generally likable female characters. So, for a couple of male anime protagonists to come out of this year, not also as best of their respective class, but also as some of the best characters of the year is stunning. The fact that they’ve both come from shows produced by the same studio, even more so. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Leonardo Watch of Blood Blockade Battlefront and Jiro Hitoyoshi of Concrete Revolutio, both of whom have fascinating, emotional personal arcs within shows that allow them to really bloom. These guys aren’t just lynchpins of their respective shows; they’re quality characters in their own right. Leo often rides along on his everyman charm (and his interrogation of the “nice guy” trope), while Jiro’s idealism and fortitude make him a fantastic tragic hero.
Now, I know crediting BONES for these two guys isn’t quite proper (good job, Nightow, Aikawa), but I just cannot avoid the fact that this studio—however it happens—continues to produce characters and shows that I adore. It’s just how things seem to go. So, for today, send some love to the management of Studio BONES, to their producers, and to all the people who continue allow this studio to be one of the shining lights of modern anime through acquisition of good IPs. You guys rock. And thanks for giving us two of the best male anime protagonists of the year.
The One Show I Swear I’ll Come Back to
It’s Wish Upon the Pleiades! A show I started, dropped, tried again, and dropped again, Pleiades hasn’t exactly had the best viewing record with me. Why do I want to come back to it, even so? Even having heard from many people who have completed it that it’s not really a standout show, as a genre piece or otherwise? Because it was pretty. Because of space. Because of the cute character designs. Because I decided I wanted to watch it. When? I don’t know? In what fashion? I don’t know. But I’m making a promise to you right now, 2015 Gainax car-commerical anime—I will return for you.
Mari Okada “Destroys” Gundam
Wataru Uekusa Makes the Best ED of the Year
As you might note from my avatar and (if you’ve heard me talk about it before) my love of Japanese kawaii music band Karasu wa Masshiro’s MVs, I’m kind of a bit fan of director Wataru Uekusa’s work. He’s got an incredibly distinctive design and animation style, as well as kind of a trademark type of thing he likes to make. All of those strengths came together along with idol group Ayumikurikamaki’s “Honey Honey Honey” to put together what was the best ED sequence of the entire year. Best song. Best visuals. End of story. Go home, you “Sugar Song to Bitter Step” mainstream plebs.
Nyarko and Mahiro Finally Kiss
Okay, so this one isn’t technically a TV anime on its own—but it’s the finale to a TV series, so I’m counting it. Haiyore! Nyarko-san has been one of my favorite anime for along time, and this year finally saw the release of the OVA that brought the show’s two seasons to a close. Sure, it was somewhat non-committal, but with Nyarko-san F giving us a Mahiro-Nyarko kiss both in a dream and as real canon, I’m not complaining one bit. Frankly, an actual, generally satisfying conclusion like this was one thing I never had hung my hopes on to ever see, but here it is in the year 2015, folks. Dreams come true, after all.
The Year of Nao Touyama
Let’s start by making a quick list of good and important roles Nao Touyama voiced in 2015: Lelei la Lelena from GATE, a reprisal as Karen Kujo from Kiniro Mosaic, all of the Kongou sisters from KanColle, a reprisal Yui Yuigahama in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO!, and another reprisal as best girl of best girls Chitoge Kirisaki from Nisekoi.
This is not the full extent of her activities, but despite that… this is an alarmingly good rate of voicing characters who are the best thing about their respective shows (in some cases, beating out some really solid competition). With my mainstay favorites Yui Horie and Kana Asumi generally sticking to side characters these days, it’s a joy to hear Nao Touyama’s lovely voice leading the way in these shows. While her genki roles are definitely her trademark, it’s been a pleasure to get to hear her show off other parts of her range with roles like Lelei and in scenes like the more dramatic moments of Oregairu.
Here’s hoping for much more Nao Touyama in 2016!
Push…and Push…and Push!!
Blood Blockade Battlefront‘s fifth episode was the single greatest episode of any anime—airing or not—that I watched this year. An explosion of ridiculous visuals, ridiculous music, and one hell of a vocal performance, the episode was like a reprise of Kyousougiga‘s episode 00, one of my all-time favorite episodes of any anime ever. Those are a lot of big superlatives to fling at an episode that was sound and fury and sound and fury, but all you really have to do is watch it and experience it for yourself. The glorious thundering of Aligura’s absurd vehicle. The high-pitched squeaks of Aligura herself. Leo’s hapless tumble through it all. The gut-bustingly funny tomato sequence. I cried watching this episode. Not because it moved me or anything like that, but because I was just so darn happy that something like it existed. I watched this episode on one of the worst days of my final semester of college, and let me tell you what—I felt ready to take on the world after it. “Hello, doumo, bokura wa koko,” indeed.
The Best Character in a Show I Disliked
Annnnnnd it’s Ezekiel from Junketsu no Maria (and not just because she was voiced by Kana Hanazawa). I had big problems with Maria, as some of you may remember. However, the biggest redemptive factor in the show (besides Maria’s pluck) was Ezekiel’s character. Putting aside the fact that she was supposed to be an angel of the heavens, Ezekiel wound up being Maria‘s truest exemplar of what real Christianity looks like. As she actually experiences the reality of Maria’s existence, as she enters in with Maria and walks beside her through her life, Ezekiel starts to put aside her certainty in dogma and learns to see and understand Maria where Maria is at. It’s a beautiful example of learned empathy, and yet despite that Ezekiel never entirely justifies Maria. She simply acknowledges Maria’s perspective as a valid one.
I’ve got assorted kinds of issues with how things ended up with Ezekiel, but nothing is ever going to take away her standing between the well-intentioned, naive Maria and cold justice from the heavens. It may not have been the real Christian God that Maria showed, but we caught a glimpse of that reality through Ezekiel. I’m grateful.
2015 was the year I really started to appreciate sakuga (that is, “good animation,” for lack of a better definition). While I’m still certainly in the earlier phases of this growing interest, I feel I’ve learned enough to be able to say point out some of my favorite cuts of the year:
- After showing up in a few different place in 2014, Ryouma Ebata basically disappeared during 2015 (presumably for Dimension W‘s pre-production), but he still managed to put out a beautiful effort for Absolute Duo‘s OP.
- Highlighting Yutaka Nakamura’s work feels a bit cheap, but his efforts on Blood Blockade Battlefront and Concrete Revolutio are things I’m seriously happy wound up in some of my favorite shows of the year.
- More BONES. Show by Rock!! was a show I dropped, but eventually came back to. And I’m thankful I did, because it meant I got to see Yoshimichi Kameda’s cool-as-heck cut of Grateful King’s entrance.
- Takahiro Shikama’s Nakamura-homage fight in the second half of Garo wound up being my favorite fight scene of the entire 2015 year. It’s a phenomenal bit of animation, but it also carries the emotional weight of the few preceding episodes in a way most fights could only dream of.
- Sadly, no one’s been able to source this final cut to a specific animator, which comes from Hello!! Kiniro Mosaic. It’s proof that sakuga doesn’t have to be serious. It can be silly and fun, too!
Even more than normal, I’m curious what you guys might have in your back pockets on this topic! Take some time to share some of your own favorite moments/characters/scenes/episodes or whatever from this past year in anime—no full shows allowed!