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