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.
So, without further distraction, I present my top anime of 2015! Here’s the Best Girl of 2015 to kick things off!
- Assassination Classroom
- Garo: Honoo no Kokuin
- Classroom Crisis
- Your Lie in April
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.
#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.
#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.
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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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?
#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!
#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.