The Top Anime of 2015

In my humble opinion, it’s always best the let the year sink in a little bit before making a list that declares the top anime of any given year. And so, that’s exactly what I’ve done—allowed my favorites of the year to pickle in an aging pot for a while before taking them out and shipping them off to be sold…err, sorry. Too much Harvest Moon these days. Anyways…

To see how things shook out during the year, check out my final rankings posts for each season.

Winter 2015 | Spring 2015 | Summer 2015 | Fall 2015

So, without further distraction, I present my top anime of 2015! Here’s the Best Girl of 2015 to kick things off!

KanColle

Honorable Mentions

  • KanColle
  • Assassination Classroom
  • Garo: Honoo no Kokuin
  • Classroom Crisis
  • Your Lie in April
  • Working!!!

While these six shows didn’t make it on to the final list, all them have at least a few characteristics to get them here. KanColle was—hands down—the best “cute girls doing cute things” show I watched all year, mixing fluff, action, and bad drama in just the right amounts. Assassination Classroom turned out to be a surprisingly rich thematic piece, while Garo gave us Leon Luis’ wonderful character arc. Classroom Crisis didn’t quite turn out to be the spiritual successor to Build Fighters that I’d hoped for, but it was still cute and fun to watch, and Your Lie in April was alternately moving and frustrating—but never boring. And, finally, Working!!! concluded its five-year television run with a wonderful finale special capping a great third season.


And now…on to the main event!

#10. Death Parade

Death Parade did well—it avoided going for the cheap thrills of human ugliness for their own sake, instead taking them and using them to explore the essential, unavoidable loneliness and lack of understanding that arises simply by being human. And, perhaps more importantly, it reaches into that loneliness, into that isolation, and demonstrates that—against all odds—we can find some genuine and worthwhile connection within it. And, of course, there’s a certain level of artifice to all this: as there should be. An inhuman doll judge. A human who lost her memory. Not only far distant from each other, but from their own humanity at the start of the show.

But by the time Decim cries, we’re privileged to see how, in their drawing together, he and Kurokami’s experience of each other’s own personhood bestows upon them a humanity beyond what they had alone. It’s quiet and personal, yet it’s also majestic. Grandiose on the level of humanity at large. And that sort of generous look at the reality of human bleakness is something rare, and important. That Death Parade does this all within the construct of afterlife judgement in the form of achievable redemption or chosen condemnation, yet still manages to project sympathy for the unfairness of a system that demands inhumanity… it is perhaps more than elegant. It is perhaps a radiant reflection of the human capacity for light. I like that.

Here’s my reflection on Death Parade.

Death Parade

#9. Akatsuki no Yona

Akatsuki no Yona is a series similarly grand, but in a quieter, more demure sort of way—despite its nature as a mythic hero’s journey and (superficially) a reverse harem. With every small step Yona takes forward, the show sees the internal strength it requires, and elevates her courage, persistence, and kindness above the physical strength of her companions. And yet, it does all this without forgetting, trivializing, or commodifying Hak or the Dragons—each of them is marked by his own struggle with fate or destiny or freedom, with the inexorable pull of Yona herself and the legendary king she represents.

These kinds of riffs on the mythic structure of destiny and Yona‘s reflections on the myths of society and power and the strange things of the world make Akatsuki no Yona more than just the story of a girl finding herself on a journey to survive and, maybe someday, reclaim her kingdom. It’s also a winding reflection on the motivations that move people in the contexts of such large schemes of action, and about the way those forces affect us. And that’s a cool thing.

Here’re my episodic write-ups of Akatuki no Yona.

Akatsuki no Yona

#8. Gatchaman Crowds insight

Hajime Ichinose is some kind of important person. I don’t mean that frivolously. I mean that in a serious way. It takes a bold show to allow your first season’s protagonist to sit back and watch and think for almost an entire season before acting—and to allow her, when she acts, to chose an action that is simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring. I love Hajime—and she’s not even all Gatchaman Crowds insight has going for it. Beyond Hajime, there’s the rest of the cast and their unique perspectives on the world, the show’s neat visual aesthetic, and its fascinating ideas on humanity, society, and how we communicate with each other.

There’s a kind of boldness to insight that, while present in the show’s first season, I really find exemplary. If Death Parade was a look at human darkness on an individual level, insight is a similar look on the societal level. It scans the human population and finds laziness, a lack of agency, boredom, cruelty, lack of commitment, and general apathy—all of which is horribly, awfully true. And, despite that, insight also finds hope in our individual capacity to learn and grow, without entirely demonizing the good intentions that get us into messes. Rather, insight asks us to seek always for further insights, not for their own sake, but for the sake of understanding—and making the world a better place.

Gatchaman Crowds insight

#7. Shirobako

It seems a long time since Shirobako ended with Aoi Miyamori giving a speech about candle flames following the successful completion of Third Aeriel Girls’ Squad. Some of the immediate charms has faded away, but what hasn’t is Shirobako‘s enduring belief that hard work and passion can make even the most tedious of tasks a little easier—and that, when we look back on it all, we may very well have accomplished something beautiful. In a world where work is often seen (by myself included) as a heavy, annoying obligation, Shirobako finds dignity in even the most unrewarding, unappealing job in the anime industry.

But I guess, really, Shirobako is more about the journey that it is about the end result. You take a thousand tiny to steps to get somewhere, and sometimes you forget them once you reach the end. Shirobako remembers the steps, immortalizes them through its endearing cast of characters—and, for me, most potently in the character of Aoi Miyamori. I won’t go off on another speech about Aoi, but I really do consider her to be a microcosm of Shirobako as a whole: a bit harried, a bit stressed, devoted and loyal, and ultimately triumphant in the small success more than in the big. That kind of smallness is rare and, I think, special.

Here’re my midshow thoughts on Shirobako, which I stand by as applicable to the show as a whole.

Shirobako

#6. Oregairu 2

Oregairu‘s first season followed a loner trying to be a loner and failing. Oregairu’s second season follows a loner who realizes…being a loner isn’t all that great. When I finished Oregairu—well, really even before I finished—I was finding myself doing a lot of self-reflection. About where I was, about where I used to be. About where I wanted to go. And I think that part of Hachiman’s journey, specifically, represents the reason by Oregairu 2 is showing up on this list. If season one’s Hachiman was in denial, season two’s Hachiman realizes he wants more—and not necessarily in a selfish way. It’s simply a new understanding of who he is as a human person and what he’s built to need in life.

We can only lie to ourselves for so long before the illusion shatters, and watching Hachiman and Yukino and the radiant light that was Yui Yuigahama during Oregairu was like watching the facades of outer strength come crashing down, replaced with the deep wells of vulnerability that none of us can ever truly avoid. There’s something to be said for Oregairu‘s courage in tackling this difficult, frightening part of the human experience, but there’s also a whole lot to be said about how well this season of the show pulled it all off.

And, because I can’t let this go, Yui is my favorite. She’s sunshine in the hardest of times, she refuses to give up on her friends, and she’s willing to be hurt to get what she selfishly, generously wants. Thank goodness for Yui.

Oregairu

#5. Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Call it the little show that could. From the director of Kill Me Baby, comes Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, a quaint little light novel adaptation that ultimately turned out to be one of the coziest, most heartwarming anime I’ve ever seen come out of this formula. Despite the enduring presence of the tropes of the genre and the looming specter of the show’s title, Danmachi (an abbreviation derived from the Japanese title) managed to deliver a story that was far more about family, affection, love, and acceptance than about picking up girls or even being the strongest warrior ever.

Bell and Hestia rest at the center; their relationship is the heart and soul of Danmachi. But because their little family gradually expands over the course of the show, and because the strength of their bond both pulls them together and compels others to support them, it’s more than just a comfortable show about two cute characters who are good to each other. It’s also a show about the power of trust and affection and love in relationship with others, and about the strength that kind of connection can grant. It’s the old anime standard, “I can fight because my friends support me,” but played out in a far more convincing way thanks to the genuine chemistry between the show’s two leads. Also, Bell was cute.

Here’s my post on what makes Danmachi work.

Danmachi

#4. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is a sweet series. But more than that, it’s something of a model, an ideal. Although we may dream of finding the perfect man or the perfect woman to fall in love with, often the dream fails to capture the underlying difficulties. Shirayuki-hime doesn’t forget this. The slow, gradual tale of two good people falling in love and wanting the best for the other, it’s rose-colored without being overbearing, delicate without being oversensitive, thoughtful without giving in to the indulgence of over-contemplation. Worry, love, action, reaction, choice. These are the elements that make up the romance of Shiryuki, the herbalist, and Zen, the prince.

I would not ascribe to Shirayuki-hime the label of “ambitious” that I bestow upon other favorite shows of mine. Rather, Shirayuki-hime is a quiet, peaceable existence on its own. Beyond the romance, it brushes past ideas of social classes, friendship, insecurity, dreams, and agency—and these are complementary flavors to the sweetness of commitment and care, rather than dominant traits in their own right. Amidst the glow of love, we see all the other elements of Zen and Shirayuki’s characters in a softer light. We seem them carefully together, and yet distinctly apart.

And, besides all this, with Masahiro Ando’s deft directorial touch steering the story, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime truly blossoms into something special—an herb of warmth and light.

Akagami no Shiaryuki-hime

#3. Owarimonogatari

The Monogatari franchise being good is more or less an expectation at this point, but with SHAFT’s adaptation finally returning to steady seasonal material, Owarimonogatari felt like the return of an old friend. Just as Shinobu returns to Araragi’s side, Owarimonogatari returns. And despite the notable absence of the franchise’s signature apparitions, there was no corresponding lack of reflection on humanity. On the ways we fool ourselves, the lies we tell ourselves, and contortions we go through to avoid facing the painfulness of truth.

It wasn’t pretty (not the show, the visuals looked great), but it was real. And it was something I appreciated hearing. And, uh, that’s about all I have to say about the third best show of 2015—it’s just more really good Monogatari being really good. What else could I really ask for?

Here are my first and second essays on Owarimonogatari.

Owarimonogatari

#2. Blood Blockade Battlefront

Studio BONES picks up its second entry on this list with Rie Matsumoto’s adaptation of Blood Blockade Battlefront, a stormy romp through the streets of an alternate universe’s New York City—a stylish, fun, hilarious, and ultimately poignant exploration of one young man’s evolution from shy, but brave junior journalist to a confident, brave friend. As disjointed as BBB feels at times, it’s ultimately held together (by a thread at times, I’ll admit) by Leo’s everyman charisma, by his “nice-guy-but-not-so-nice-he’s-got-no-personality” demeanor. And it’s not just the scenes of him getting dunked on by Zapp that make him great—it’s the image of him howling “WHIIITTEEEEE!” to the skies, the heroic coming of his empathetic, kind nature played out through his eyes that see.

Of course, it’s not as if Leo is the only redeeming factor for BBB. Director Matsumoto’s vision for the show as more than just a simple action slice-of-life and her distinctive visual style (and the wonderful soundtrack by Taisei Iwasaki) bring the show to life as an audio-visual treat. In the end, I don’t think there was a single show this year that I had more fun with that Blood Blockade Battlefront. And so, here it is. #2.

Here are my (incomplete) episodic write-ups on BBB‘s cinematography!

Blood Blockade Battlefront

#1. Concrete Revolutio

You might be tempted to wonder if Concrete Revolutio is sitting up here at the top of the pack due to recency bias. Let me dispel that notion immediately: Concrete Revolutio is the best anime of 2015, hands down and no questions asked. It’s sprawling, ambitious, bold, and manages to straddle the line between being both heavily intellectual and deeply personal. Concrete Revolutio is a show about the ways we see and understand the world, but it’s more than that. It’s a show about the immense difficulties of seeing those understandings enact in the world at large and about the struggle to know (and do) the right thing.

Best of all, it’s only half done. Ordinarily, this would disqualify a show from even being considered on this list, but Concrete Revolutio attempts (and achieves!) so much in its first half that it might as well be a full show on its own. It’s the show I have the most affection for out of this year. I love every show on this list, but Concrete Revolutio is one of those shows I watch anime for. And, most importantly, this list just wouldn’t have felt right without Concrete Revolutio.

You heard it here folks. Concrete Revolutio is the best anime of 2015.

Concrete Revolutio

5 thoughts on “The Top Anime of 2015

  1. I didn’t like Concrete Revolutio, but I’m very okay with the fact that other people did. 🙂 Otherwise, happy to see that Death Parade, Akatsuki no Yona, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, and Blood Blockade Battlefront all made it on your top 10 list.

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  2. Death Parade is at number 10 on my list too, if I can finish writing it. XD Wish I could have seen Yona and Shirobako in time to include them, I know I would have really liked both!

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  3. For context, here’s my list:

    [DISCLAIMER: This list doesn’t include Conrecte Revolutio. I see it as a split cour, which means it’s an ongoing show, and thus not eligible according to my own criteria. It would come in at spot (3), if you’re curious.]

    (10) Shimoneta [I loved the first episode; episode 4 had a stellar turning point, but it turned in the wrong direction – going for cheap serial jokes rather than satire when there was a choice. Would have been higher on the list, otherwise. Downside: sometimes dirty jokes just aren’t funny…]

    (9) Shokugeki no Souma [Excellent food scenes that can actually make you hungry; great visuals; distinct characters facing off against each other Saki-style; Good fun.]

    (8) Parasyte [Was very strong in the beginning, when it was all about the difference between two species who are forced into symbiosis because the parasitism attempt failed; sadly it went down the shounen route with a disappointingly cliché concept of “humanity” and no real appreciation for alien sentience. Would have been higher otherwise.]

    (7) Junketsu no Maria [Surprisingly nuanced show with a surprisingly visceral depiction of war. Downside: while Bernard was originally an interesting character, I was a bit confused by his devolepment and conclusion, which seemed to hint at a repressed secular humanism that felt – in this form – like an anachronism. I also never quite understood how the show interpreted angels, since Michael and Ezekiel are worlds apart. Other than that, I loved the show.]

    (6) Non Non Biyori Repeat [A second season that improved on the first season. No downside at all. Very pretty, very calming, very likable.]

    (5) Hibike! Euphonium [So KyoAni can still make good shows. Who knew? I remember most people saying they liked the show better once the plot got going, but I’m the other way round – I thought the first half was a lot better. Downside: Minor cutesy issues – the remnants of KyoAni’s K-on virus. Nothing else.]

    (4) Gakkou Gurashi [The way this show used its contrast between the slice-of-life and zombie genres was masterful. People said the manga was better, so I was curious and checked it out. I personally see what they mean, but the contrast – in the manga – was a typical genre thing – there’s nothing special about girls and zombies; it’s well within the parameters of anime/manga. The manga worked better as SF and had more consistent characterisation – but the changes the anime drew attention to the escapism of Yuuki’s school-fantasy in a meta-way that the manga didn’t reach. The manga and anime are different experiences (though very close plot-wise), and thus hard to compare. From the first-episode to the twist, the anime kept me on my toes. Downside: Slice-of-life/fanservice inserts came with diminishing returns, weakening the show towards its end.]

    (3) Yurikuma Arashi [The bears were creepy and cute at the same time, and the show used the tension that arose from that to open you up and insert drama. There’s no happy ending, but there’s hope.]

    (2) Oregairu 2 [Hardest watch in a long time. Oregairu knows what it’s doing.]

    (1) Rolling Girls [A lovely show that celebrates avarage people being avarage by putting them into an extraordinary world and populating crowdscenes with character designs that get almost as much care as your protagonists.]

    Honorable mentions: Monster Musume, Akatsuki no Yona, Re-Kan, Working!!!

    My criteria are strictly personal. There’s a good test: on a re-watch, how nostalgic do I get? There are some surprises: For example, I seem to have enjoyed [i]Re-Kan[/i] and [i]Mikagura School Suit[/i] more than I noticed at the time of watching (sometimes you’re attention is drawn to the eye-roll-inducing flaws, so you miss the cosy background radiation that puts you at ease – it’s the tsunderre mode of watching anime, heh.)

    I wasn’t that taken with Death Parade: it took twelve episodes to arrive at a point that should have been the show’s starting point to make the show interesting. It also made me feel that what kept me guessing was unintentional. It’s incoherent, it’s messy, and where it makes sense it’s boring. It was pretty and stylish though, so watching it wasn’t a waste of time. Obvious disjunct between me and the makers of the show.

    I loved Akatsuki no Yona, although I thought it’s first few episodes were also the best the series ever was. I found it a bit lacking near the middle, but it made a strong come back, and I do hope they’ll make a season 2. Also, Yona is an outstanding performance from Chiwa Saitou.

    I dropped Gatchaman Crowds insight. I was fine with the first season, but the second just rubbed me the wrong way.

    Shirobakko was great fun to watch. I personally would have enjoyed the show more had they taken out the “five friends want to make an anime together” angle, since that didn’t get enough focus to make it worthwhile, and it’s just not all that interesting. In addition, comparing the five friends’ character designs to rest of the cast, they almost feel like palette swaps. The rest of the cast makes the show worthwhile (and Miamori Aoi herself is great at carrying the show).

    Oregairu 2 is at my place 2. Need I say more?

    Danmachi was good fun. I remember it with affection. Didn’t like it’s finale, though.

    Akagami no Shirayuki hime is too much of a text-book romance for me, and the balance between “What is it like to be in love with a prince,” and “What is it like to be a herbalist” doesn’t tilt the way I’d like, but then it’s a romance, so that was to be expected. I remember you praising the way the show used the soundtrack – but I didn’t feel that. Not because I think the soundtrack failed, but because it achieved something I didn’t want it to achieve: it generally heightened the idealistic feel of it all. (Very much like a Disney soundtrack might, or in anime terms – if I remember correctly – Soredomo Sekai wa Utsukushii.)

    Owarimonogatari: isles of brilliance in a sea of tedium. I rate it highly, but watching it was a chore.

    Blood Blockade Battle Front clearly wins the setting-of-the-year price from me, but the individual episodes were too uneven in interest to rank in the top 10. My favourite episodes were burger’n’spores and Aligura drives a monster truck.

    And Concrete Revolutio would have made #3 had it not been a split cour (which means it’ll make my top 10 next year, unless 2016 is a very exceptional year).

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  4. So let’s see…your list has five Funimation shows (which I normally skip), three sequels to shows I’ve never seen, one show I’m planning to get to very soon (Shirobako), and Danmachi, the one show I actually did watch.

    The big problem here is Funimation, because I would’ve gladly watched Death Parade and BBB, and probably Concrete as well, if they’d gone to Crunchyroll (and for sure I would’ve finished Assassination Classroom ages ago, instead of still languishing halfway through the first season). Hell, I TRIED to watch Death Parade and BBB anyway, ads and delaycasts be damned, and got told with both of them because they’re “17+” shows to shove off unless I registered (which I don’t want to do…yes, I know Funi has a “free” access level and no, I don’t care). Now I did just recently become aware of other legal options for them (Hulu will let me watch BBB and Death Parade without registering, and Daisuki has Concrete), but it’s going to be the usual issue of trying to find the time and motivation to do it now that they’re not “in season” anymore, especially when I already have a huge backlog to work on.

    Anyway, enough of my saltiness about Funimation. These were my favorite shows of the year that I actually did see – there’s only nine of them because there were only nine out of the twenty I finished that landed in the top three tiers of my ongoing list. Probably no surprises here for anyone who’s been reading my posts all year.

    Third Tier
    #9: Hacka Doll. The one and only fall show to sneak in here; I gave my thoughts on it last week.

    #8: Wish Upon the Pleiades. My opinion of this show has risen since it ended and I had time to fully digest it, and I’ve pulled it back up on CR to watch favorite scenes again probably at least a dozen times by now. This is one show that I’ll definitely buy if we get a North American DVD.

    #7: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid. Another show I’d buy if North America ever got a DVD, but we won’t (for some reason this still isn’t even out in Japan yet, never mind getting it here). At least I still have my fansubs, so I can go back and re-watch the supercool Einhart/Corona fight (my favorite fight of the year) whenever I want to.

    #6: Your Lie in April. I didn’t have the complicated feelings about it that you did. I simply found that the central story and the drama it aimed for didn’t work as well for me as it did in other comparable shows of this type. I couldn’t put YLIA any higher because of that, despite the many other things that it did do really well.

    #5: Kaitou Joker season 2. “Steady, fun, and consistently well done” is how I describe the first two seasons of this show. It’s too bad the “kids show” tag means the larger anime community is mostly ignoring it, but if it keeps up the level of quality it’s shown so far, I will happily keep watching for as long as they keep making new seasons. Season 3 starts this spring, and you can be sure it’s on my list.

    #4: Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?. For all the reasons you covered, plus being such a pleasure to watch. Danmachi is also proof that fantasy Light Novel adaptations don’t all have to be tired, disposable ads for the print property, as long as the people involved in the production have some skill at actually adapting the story to anime form and the motivation to do so.

    #3: Food Wars. Possibly the best JC Staff series since Toradora, and another show where I’m really looking forward to the second season. They haven’t announced when it’ll start airing, just that it’s on the way.

    Second Tier
    #2: Saekano. Second season comes out this fall, and I’m excited both for more Kato awesomeness and to see where the story goes. Even more than Food Wars, Saekano really needed a second season, since the kids weren’t even close to completing their video game by the end of season 1 and the last main girl had barely been introduced at that point. I might buy this DVD, but it’ll depend on the price and a few other factors, including the quality of season 2.

    First Tier
    #1: Sound! Euphonium – Beautiful animation, terrific story, and two of the best characters of the year. And a show that also demonstrated yet again why I’m perfectly happy with NOT being on social media, as I was free to fully enjoy the show without having the experience tarnished by all the fandom drama. A no-brainer buy if it had been licensed by anyone other than Pony Canyon, but good as it is, this show isn’t worth $200 to me. If they offer us a standard edition release for a more reasonable price, I’ll consider it.

    For a few other 2015 bonuses…

    My top five favorite pre-2015 anime shows that I watched in their entirety for the first time:
    #1 Silver Spoon, #2 Hyouka, #3 Anohana, #4 Cardcaptor Sakura, #5 Angel Beats

    My favorite re-watch of the year (minimum 3 years since the previous watch): Gunslinger Girl

    My three favorite feature films that I watched for the first time:
    #1 Spirited Away, #2 A Letter to Momo, #3 Redline

    The three best short films that I reviewed for my Short Anime Spotlight project:
    #1 La Maison en Petits Cubes, #2 Pale Cocoon, #3 Poulette’s Chair

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