A Year in Anime 2011: Hana’s Highlights

A year worth celebrating, ne?

Um, so, I was too late to get in on the Secret Santa project or to jump on the Twelve Days of Christmas rollercoaster, the various fruits of which many of us have been enjoying this past month. However, I still wanted to do something to mark the end of the final anime season of 2011. So, here are some of my highlights…

(12) Hanasaku Iroha: And that’s how you do scenery porn

A cast of predominantly girls. Cute girls. Doing cute things. And some rather questionable fan-service. On paper, Hanasaku Iroha (Spring, 2011) didn’t seem like the kind of show that I (as opposed to Comrade Ghosty) would enjoy. However, the stunning visuals, the bubbly and optimistic main character who consistently puts the welfare of her new family and their business above all else, and the extended-family-esque-rest-of-the-cast who work together to make a success of their business; all of these somehow combined to create a comedy-drama that was very easy to sink into and enjoy over the course of 26 episodes. In short: dynamic main character + scenery porn + animated K-Drama-esque set-up = an easy to watch, fun show with something for everyone.

(11) Un-Go: Dem Handcuffs

I’ll admit, the first half of this show (Autumn, 2011) confused the hell out of me. On the one hand, I could tell it was a stylish and intriguing mystery show. On the other hand, it felt like a speeding train with too many passengers on it who didn’t know where they were going or what they were doing or why they were doing it. In other words, I’d sat through several stand alone ‘mysteries’ that felt too rushed and hadn’t yet told me enough about any of the main characters for me to care about them, and nor did I care enough to contemplate sticking around for much longer to find out any more. Thankfully, we soon got a certain double episode. It was mysterious. It had a cliff-hanger. It developed the characters. It introduced a cool A.I.-bot. It addressed relevant, wider social issues. And it had a fridge that got hand-cuffed. In short: it was awesome. As was the rest of the series. And its ED. So, if you like stylish mystery shows set in the near future containing all of the above, I think you’ll like this.

(10) Kimi ni Todoke II: Creepilicious

Now this (Winter, 2011) feels like a long time ago. However, as soon as I recall the faces of Sawako, Chizuru, Ryuu, Kent and co., I can’t help but smile as my highlights from this sweet, gently paced shoujo rom-com-dorama come flooding back to me. The strength of this show lies in its characters, developed marvellously in this second series, and who show us that nice girls don’t always finish last. Well, nice girls with quiet determination, creepilcious smiles, and baddass best friends, that is. So, if you can handle the glacial gentle pace, the pay-off is sweet indeed. In particular, as endlessly adawable as Sawako is, my favourite moment is when Chizuru gets dolled up to accompany Ryuu to his brother’s (and her first love’s) wedding. So much teenage angst, but never ‘heavy’, and handled just right.

(9) Tiger & Bunny: It’s all about the wild tiGAR

Like so many of you in the ani’sphere, I grew to love this show (Spring, 2011), so much so that it feels odd to recall that I wasn’t too keen on it until the second or third episode. At the time, I think I found episode one a bit too rushed and action-centric. However, this feel-good action-comedy, with its loveable characters who are both superheroic and adorably human, especially its central partnership who are also a fun throwback to the buddy-cop shows of past years, is one of the best and most enjoyable shows of the year. There are lots of great moments that particularly shine in this series, but my favourite ones are probably, er, pretty much all of the ones with the lovely Kotetsu/ ‘Wild Tiger’ in ’em. Especially in Dat Hat. Roll on season two!

(8) Level E: ‘Are you ready?’

One of the funniest and most clever animes (Winter, 2011) I’ve seen in ages. If you want laugh out loud funny with a story that constantly keeps you guessing and if you haven’t done so already, then check this one out. It also has several stand alone mysteries and human (or, rather, alien) dramas that are told in a sensitive and moving manner, and the whole thing is peppered with some wonderful in-jokes and references to 90s Sci-Fi/ alien shows and pop-culture. And an awesome OP. In short: it’s a boatload of fun that’s not to be missed. In not as short: I should probably pick my favourite moment within it… This is, of course (for those who’ve seen it), when a certain troll gets trolled. Nuff said.

(7) Wandering Son: Traptastic

In a word: amazing. Seriously, if you know anything about the subject matter, but haven’t seen it yet, then don’t let the ‘oh god this is gonna be heavy’ vibes put you off (also, feel free to check out Comrades Chrono and Crusader’s early reviews here). Yes, it’s (partly) about the difficulties of growing up as a transgendered young person in modern Japan, but it’s kind of magical how the controversial subject matter is handled with such a lightness of touch, how you go from moments of intense pathos to flashes of sheer joy and hope, and all viewed with a deceptively simple watercolour-tinted lens. This is another show that’s driven by its characters, but gosh what characters! It doesn’t matter how brief the screentime for some of them may be, they are all developed thoroughly, and it is each of their stories that are totally believable and completely pull you in. And given how large the cast feels to begin with (trying to keep up with all of those names was no mean feat), that’s pretty impressive. And it has a great OP, too. Another must watch/ one that you should definitely check out.

(6) Kimi to Boku: And that’s how you do cute boys doing cute things.

The best example (Autumn, 2011) I’ve seen in ages of a refreshing and funny slice of life show that is both laid-back and thoughtful. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the five male friends who are the main figures are easy to identify as certain ‘character types’, and thus might not seem very original, but it is their interaction as good friends who have known each other since pre-school and how they react to the everyday dramas and wonders in their lives that are what make this show so enjoyable to watch, smile, and ponder over. In short: it has great characters, great music and cats. What more could you want? Another season? Well, funny you should ask – keep an eye out in April!

(5) Nichijou: Everyday life at its most (sur)real

Now, this (Spring, 2011) was never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you survived the first episode test, you were guaranteed to be laughing for weeks and months to come. Hell, I wouldn’t have thought that a moe slice of life gag manga turned anime could find such a high place in my list (and on my blogging plate) this year, but find it, it did. Aside from some jokes and sketches that were dragged on a bit too long in the first cour, this show was a joy to watch, for when those gags and characters hit their stride, they positively sang. Or should that be, high-jumped before landing in a perfectly executed fish-flop. Adorable robot girls, child professors, guys with goats, deer wrestling, talking cats, talking crows, this show has it all! And on a less gagtastic note, the slice of life/ ‘poignant’ scenes are also gorgeously observed and surprisingly moving, all adding to the layers of this multifaceted show. And an OST to die for. So, for all you zany-comedy-with-a-heart-lovers and slice-of-lifers, I hope you enjoyed/ enjoy this as much as I did.

(4) Arakawa Under the Bridge II: The return of the space girl

Sticking with gagtastic shows, this sequel (Autumn, 2010, but I saw the last epi in Winter, 2011, hence its inclusion here) to the story of Ric and Nino and the rest of the Bridge Village was welcomed with open arms by all who enjoyed season one. It also developed these quirky and much loved characters wonderfully, especially that of the enigmatic Nino, and provided us with some of the best gags and comedy sequences ever. Another show in which there is so much to love, but the moments that stand out for me (aside from the ones I previously detailed) are the many faces of the lovely Nino. Nino-san, I’d also follow you in a rocket to Venus any day!

(3) Usagi Drop: ‘Distilled Cute’

More noitaminA goodness, in the form of a show (Spring, 2011) about being pretty much forced into single parenthood in order to bring up someone else’s unwanted, illegitimate child in a modern day Japanese middle class context. As you can tell, the show doesn’t pull any punches in the way it handles themes such as neglect, illegitimacy, single parenting, marriage, divorce, and incest, and yet its overriding feelings are of love and hope (see also Comrade Mysty’s thoughts on selfhood and Ghosty’s on parenting in the show). In many ways, the adorable Rin is a perfect child. However, she (through her interaction with adopted father Daikichi and their collective development) nonetheless embodies an admirable willingness to persevere and compromise, and also to assert one’s own identity in spite of wider social pressures. A special character, in a special series. And the ED is lovely, too.

(2) Natsume’s Book of Friends (I, II &) III: Dem Feelings

I can’t believe I waited so long to watch Natsume’s Book of Friends (Summer, 2011 for Season III). Not gonna lie, this is a rather emotional show, with the overriding feelings including those of loneliness, isolation, and unrequited or unattainable love. However, the gentle strength of the main character and his determination not to be alone and to help and befriend others even at the most hopeless of times is consistently and incredibly moving. ‘Bittersweet’ is how I’d repeatedly describe the mood of this show, and yet there is always a hopeful note that sort of ‘saves’ things. Add to all that, recurring memories of a spirited young grandmother, a whole host of youkai, some warring exorcists, and a very cool cat, and you get an action-packed show full of supernatural goings on that isn’t afraid to talk about phantoms as well as feelings. In short: the best thing I marathoned all year.

(1) Old Anime and New Friends: More Feelings

2011 was also a year in which I watched a number of classic anime shows, met other anime fans and bloggers, and attended two anime cons (more detail on meet-up and con no. 1 can be found here). As this is a post mainly about my highlights from the past four seasons of new anime, I won’t go on too much about these in this piece, except to say that they were my collective highlight of the year. However, in case you were wondering, some of the classic anime that I watched and enjoyed include: Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Serial Experiments Lain, Irresponsible Captain Tyler, and The Rose of Versailles. Out of these shows, The Rose of Versailles was probably my favourite, due to the tightness and variety of storytelling effects, use of tension and cliff-hangers, character development, non-boring historical details, and visual/ ‘artistic’ experimentation. Though, I’d highly recommend all of these shows, which collectively represent something for everyone. And as for some of the people I watched anime with, met in person, and continue to harass in the name of friendship, let’s just say that they are even more awesome than Oscar-sama.

(Honourable mention) Chihayafuru: Playing games

As this series (Autumn, 2011) is still on-going (and being epi-blogged here), it feels risky to tempt fate and possibly have it all go horribly wrong, however this show is proving to be a wonderful addition to the shoujo genre thus far. An awesome female lead, high production values, love triangles, sparkly bishies… and an obscure card game… and ancient verse… and it all works! And works very well, in fact. It’s funny, sweet, full of tension and (sporting) action, and it has poetry. In short: really enjoying it so far and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to non-shoujo fans too.

So, that’s it! Not a bad year at all, eh? Out of the shows I saw, that is (so far, Steins;Gate is the only one from 2011 that I’ve got on my to-check-out list, but I might be persuaded to add to this). Clearly, some shows might be deemed artistically ‘better’ than others and what not, and I think I’ve taken their storytelling and character development into account, otherwise I’ve just ordered them in terms of how much I enjoyed them. And finally, thank you for reading and allow me to wish you season’s greetings and a happy new year to you all…

…as does Nyanko-sensei, I’m sure! :3

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  1. Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Eh, to be honest, I felt nothing for Wandering Son; I didn’t care about a single one of the characters, and I didn’t care about a couple of the characters, either. Development? Yeah, maybe, from being a twenty-five-year-old to being a twenty-six-year-old. :v

    I felt that Level E was awesome and hilarious and great when I watched it, but now, when I look back… uh, it wasn’t really funny at all. I don’t actually remembering laughing during that show.

    Funny how for some people, looking back creates fonder memories, and for others, it just ruins good ones. :(

    P.S. Yeah, that’s right, handcuff a fridge, great idea guys.

    • Posted December 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Haha, Wandering Son‘s characters are rather precocious (especially Saorin), but my heart completely went out to Nitorin. Not sure what you meant about Level E; you think you found it funny at the time, but don’t actually remember if you did? I guess looking back (especially depending on how much time has passed), would colour someone’s perspective of a show, compared to how they might have viewed it at the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the above order changed a bit after a few more months, but I think I’d find the most enjoyable parts to shine even more so, whereas the mediocre ones would tend to fade away. How fleeting these (anime) seasons are, eh!

  2. Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Naturally, the only one of these shows I’ve seen is #1.

    • Posted December 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Of course. (Let’s hope you won’t have to recreate a certain blind bishie’s hairstyle after all, and that you’ve recovered somewhat.)

  3. fathomlessblue
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I think this is the first ‘top ten’ list I’ve seen that doesn’t mention Madoka. I personally liked it, but hey, respect for not jumping on the bandwagon. I still don’t think the series was the masterpiece that many claim it to be.

    Aside from Hanasaku Iroha and Kimi to Boku, which I didn’t like/watch, and Natsume (which was a season too far in my opinion), these are pretty top notch series, especially Un-Go and its sexual harassment panda. Penguindrum and Fate Zero would definitely have made my list; I don’t think the latter would be your cup of tea, but any anime that has a parental/buddy combo which includes a larger than life Alexander the Great, is a shoe-in for my vote. Steins Gate would most likely be my no. 1 of the year; loved that show! I hope you enjoy it.

    • Posted December 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I dropped Madoka (and Penguindrum) after epi 3 (and 5/6); I didn’t connect with any of the characters and I’m afraid I just thought it was more ‘style over substance’ at the time, though I might complete it someday just to see what all the fuss was about. Objectively speaking, HanaIro is mediocre overall (hence the low ranking), but I found it a fun show, especially live-watching it with EO (and, occasionally, Crusader and Ghosty ), as I ended up doing (funny how hearing grown men’s raeg-commentary can make something seem even more, er, eventful!), though I can see why Kimi to Boku‘s pace and preoccupations may not be for everyone. Natsume was all one warm and fuzzy experience, so I can’t really comment at this point on the need for more than two seasons, though I’d say, in terms of Natsume’s development, I liked where the third season left off. Thanks again for your recs, fb, I plan to watch the first 2-3 eps of Steins;Gate later tonight/ this week – no doubt you’ll hear about my reaction. ^ ^

  4. Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Dem cats! This was a pretty great year, surprisingly. On paper it would have never seemed that way, but it turned out great all-around for both new and old experiences. ^ ^

    And Happy New Year!

    • Posted December 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Ry. ^ ^ Not least of all for suggesting Captain Tyler, which I’m sure I would never have considered watching otherwise (to think I only used to watch shoujo, lol). Yay for new experiences!

  5. Posted December 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    It took me a while to get around to Wandering Son, because I had serious computer problems when it came out. When I finally had a new set up, I was hesitant at first, because I was worried that it would be HEAVY, just as you said. Instead it was much lighter and enjoyable than I feared, and yet it had a very realistic feel to the characters and storyline.

    I have been very impressed with Chihayafuru, so I understand why you included it here as well.

    Best wishes for the New Year!

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Yes, so glad you enjoyed Wandering Son, it definitely needs more love. I also like what you say about the realistic feel, given the subject matter, again I’d give credit to the character development for that. Chihayafuru continues to impress, doesn’t it, I just hope it can maintain pretty much everything it’s been doing so far ’til the end. *Crosses fingers*

      And thanks, Joojoo!

  6. Posted December 29, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Amazing list Hana!

    Nichijou- Ohhhh yes one of the highlights of my year too! A series that brought me a lot of laughs and made me draw a lot of fanart for it. Yeah some of the jokes left me like huh? What just happened? I don’t understand!! Thankfully with characters like Nano, Yuuko and Hakase it made me laugh! I can not wait to buy the DVDs and show my family, well maybe…

    Kimi to Boku- You know something? I was not even going to give that series a shot at all! That is until I got through the first three episodes and was hooked. I think it was the group of friends cracking jokes about each other that made me laugh! And when the blond arrives HOLY CRAP did he cause me to laugh even more…I remember one episode that stood out! I think it was 7 or 8? When one of the twins took that girl out. Such a good scene! I can’t wait for season two to come around.

    Un-go- LOL Handcuffing a computer was so random and funny…not sure why but arresting an object fits in well with a random Nichijou skit…hahaha

    Great year Hana! The one year I got to put a voice to an avatar over Skype! I hope we can find more anime to watch together next year <3 Once I get my PC….mine died so I bummed my moms for now..haha


    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Foshi! And for the (Nichijou) fanart that you posted over the past year, which I enjoyed very much. Re: Kimi to Boku – omg, how could I forget epi 7, that was probably my favourite one, loved the humour throughout that episode, but those last scenes between Yuki and that girl whose name I forget were just so beautifully observed… Was going to write an editorial about it actually, but we’ll see, I guess…

      Hope to catch more of you over the coming year, too! <3

  7. acx
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    ahh sweet…
    now I have some good stuff to watch
    thanks for the list!

    • Posted December 31, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      You’re welcome, thanks for reading and enjoy!

  8. Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I just recently finished Kimi no Todoke and found Sawako’s creepilicious shots are the most hilarious faces that I’d ever seen, contrary to Nino’s every-angle-is-beautiful shots.

    • Posted December 31, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Aren’t they just?! :D Also, the J-movie adaption of Kimi ni Todoke (covers season one of the anime, I think) is surprisingly good, so I’d recommend that if you haven’t seen it.

  9. Hellomotto
    Posted January 1, 2012 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    I can’t say for any other show (jeez, how long has it been since I’ve actually followed seasons?), but Natsume Yuujinchou San was simply amazing. Natsume never fails to bring a smile to my face. Happy new years!

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, HM – and great to hear from you! I know exactly what you mean, really looking forward to the new season. ^ ^

  10. Posted January 2, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    There’s a lot of… cuteness on this list.

    • Posted January 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Don’t worry… tiGAR balances things out.

  11. Posted January 3, 2012 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    Is it the same sort of thing as Panty & Stocking? I th
    “buddy cop shows”

    • Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      It’s a different type of humour to P&S, but everyone I know who watched T&B really liked it – enjoy!

  12. Posted January 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    A few of your top shows are at least on my 8/10+ list, the others I’ve either overlooked or wasn’t interested in. Several on my 8/10+ are not here.

    Hanasaku Iroha – it was a well told story, which is what kept me coming back to it, more than anything else to see what off the wall thing Ohana was going to do next. But in the end I felt I was missing something. 6/10

    Un-Go – a really great idea that lacked some execution in the first half to be sure. I don’t think it reached its potential, but I found it very fun to watch (and am hoping for a second season). 8/10

    Nichijou – Honestly, I want to break this show into three parts and rate them individually:
    Anything with Nano: 10/10
    Anything without Nano but including Hakase, Sakamoto, Yuuko, Mio or Mai, 8/10
    everything else: 5/10

    Tiger & Bunny – I should get around to checking this out.

    Level E – Oh? That screen shot has peaked my interest.

    Arakawa Under the Bridge – this also is now on my “plan to watch” list

    Usagi Drop – yea…8/10

    Natsume’s Book of Friends – I’ve watched through half of the second season, but I just wasn’t getting into it and it fell behind other things.

    • Posted January 11, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      Several on my 8/10+ are not here

      Ooh, feel free to share…

      Clearly HanaIro is at one end and Un-Go and UD are at the other end of both of our lists for a reason. Yes, Nichijou without Nano and friends would not have been even half as good (you didn’t like any of the other gags/ ‘poignant’ scenes, though?).

      Have fun checking out T&B and Level E (they need a 2/3 eps test imo) and Arakawa (one ep test will be enough). Re: Natsumeee… Well, clearly I’ve grown to love this show, but I’m surprised you dropped it/ put it on hold at that point (didn’t you see the first season? Most people argue over whether or not season 1 or 2 is the best, but I think both are pretty strong).

      Thanks for your thougths!

      • Posted January 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Ooh, feel free to share…

        Sure :) Actually, I found a lot to like this last year.

        Fate/Zero 9/10 – given the rather unlikely plot hook I was expecting a silly excuse for over the top fight scenes with otherwise 2d characters and no real story. I was pleasantly, and very, surprised at the way the show developed the characters in believable ways and how well the infrequent fight scenes were done.

        Working’!! 9/10 – both my son and I usually laughed out loud at every episode.

        Dantalian no Shoka – well, if you exclude two or three poor episodes in the middle, my son and I found this very enjoyable. 8/10 if you exclude the bad episodes.

        Gosick 8/10
        Kamisama Dolls 8/10 – starts slow, but the later episodes turn out really well.

        Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica 8/10 Obviously I’m not head over heals about this show, but I still found it fascinating on several levels.

        Ao no Exorcist 8/10 – yes, some of it was lame, but the plot hook appeals to me and I liked a couple of the characters.

        Yes, Nichijou without Nano and friends would not have been even half as good (you didn’t like any of the other gags/ ‘poignant’ scenes, though?).

        The 5/10 is probably a unfair – there were parts outside of the main characters I liked, and some I didn’t like or just didn’t get. Maybe 6/10 would be a better score, but it’s an average to be sure.

        Re: Natsumeee… Well, clearly I’ve grown to love this show, but I’m surprised you dropped it/ put it on hold at that point (didn’t you see the first season?

        I liked the first season, but for some reason something was nagging me about the second season and wasn’t connecting. I’ve not given up on it.

        • Posted January 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

          Interesting, there are a couple that you name that I might un-drop, or that I’ve heard good things about, that I might make more time for in future.

          both my son and I usually laughed out loud at every episode

          Daw, I like hearing about folks who watch anime with their kids (I know of another anime daddy who watched Usagi Drop with his little girl). Glad you’re able to enjoy less dangerous pastimes together. ;)

          • Posted January 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

            I’ve been very happy that we watch several things together on a regular basis and that some of my favorites he has enjoyed also. I’m learning that his tastes seem to be running eclectic as mine do – you’d think an 11 year old boy would only be interested in action adventure, and of course we’ve both enjoyed Last Exile and Slayers. And of course we’ve both watched the first episode of Mouretsu Pirates. But he’s also into the odd-ball fantasy mysteries and he ALSO watched Clannad and Fruits Basket with me. I wonder if he’ll like Usagi Drop or Natsume…it’s to cold and wet to go out target shooting anyway ;)

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