2016 is going on into February by the time your reading this, but 2015 needs one look back for the anime worth watching. It was a bad year, yet, but some gems still came out, so here’s a list of the ten best shows of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Assassination Classroom, My Love Story!, Yatterman Night, Ushio and Tora, The Asterisk War, The Files of Young Kindaichi Returns S2, Mr. Osomatsu, Young Black Jack, Classroom Crisis, SCHOOL-LIVE!, Shirobako (Cour Two)
10. One Punch Man
I pretty much knew from the moment I heard this was happening that I’d like it, but the staff went above and beyond. One Punch Man already has talk around it for a Toonami spot, and it is a perfect fit for the block. The manga adaptation is about Saitama, a man who became a superhero and became so powerful that the work became empty because nobody could challenge him. The series was originally a web manga by ONE, but achieved popularity through a remake version from Eyeshield 21 artist Yusuke Murata, which is simply one of the most gorgeous manga ever drawn. To try and one up that, the anime had a series of experimental animators on board, along with one particularly talented man named Yoshimishi Kameda, and the end result is some of the best action scenes ever drawn.
One Punch Man’s animation is stunning at its best, taking all the imperfections and grime of old animation styles and new web techniques and weaponizing them into a powerhouse action series. It’s immensely entertaining from beginning to end, but ONE’s original comedic writing keeps some meat on the bones. Saitama and his supporting cast are hilarious, and damn it, they actually managed to get me to laugh at the one bad character in this series with a well placed Sailor Moon reference. I’ve read the series partly as a parody of superhero works, but also a comedy about mediocrity, about how the world is imperfect and you can never get what you truly want, but there’s still something worth striving for despite. Despite some stereotyping with the other heroes and the lack of a real concrete story due to a lack of material to work with, I had a blast with One Punch Man’s anime and it’s a must for anyone interested in the art of animation.
9. The Perfect Insider
Based on an actual novel and not a terrible light novel wankfest, The Perfect Insider is a really pretentious series, but damn if it didn’t hook me the whole way. It’s a mystery show about an obnoxious scientist and a girl who has a crush on him journeying to a small island to see a famous recluse of a scientist, only for said scientist to be wheeled out on a cart with all her limbs missing. For there, the two try to solve the murder mystery while patching up their relationship. He actual mystery of the show is really, really stupid, and what the series has to actually say is surprisingly basic. However, the dialog is masterful.
It’s slow, but the show develops its three leads far beyond than what you would expect from their archetypes, helping that all three have radically different chemistry with whatever character they’re speaking with. Dr. Magata is the glue that keeps the series together, as her strange obsessions and past fill all of her scenes with a sense of dread and tension. The star is easily Moe, though, who’s outgoing personality bounces off everyone fantastically, including getting a very surprising reaction from Magata. The script pops with little details, the atmosphere is thick and all encompassing, and there’s a good deal of humor in there (especially whenever Souhei applies eye drops). It’s a great, pure character piece we don’t get to see often in this medium.
8. Aria the Scarlet Ammo AA
This is the show where a bunch of lesbian schoolgirls shoot guns at each other and you can buy the services of a ninja with some fancy bread. A spin-off/sequel to a terrible light novel series you should never watch or care about, Aria AA twists the formula by introducing a new lead character with a much more interesting story and a far more ridiculous cast of characters. Aria is probably the dumbest show on this list, but it’s also one of the most endlessly entertaining. I mean, what other show has multiple stalker characters, a little girl in a bathing suit piloting a destroyer mech, and a very tall lesbian with a lolita complex bashing people with police batons? I didn’t even scratch the surface of bizarre and amazing shit in this show.
Aria AA has to be seen to be believed, but it is a blast, one with a good foundation. Our lead Akari has a solid back story and motivation that goes beyond just wanting to be like her idol Aria, and the supporting cast all get their own little arcs as well. The absurdity of the action scenes just add another layer of fun, while the comedy is just yuri trash perfection. I was not expecting a light novel spin-off to be the gayest show of 2015 (besides the gay bears), yet here we are. Why can’t more light novels be about wacky lesbians shooting off guns?
7. Blood Blockade Battlefront
A few years back, a new director named Rie Matsumoto released Kyousougiga, and that series is already considered a modern classic, and for damn good reason. For her second outing, Matsumoto went from original material to a manga adaptation, taking the newest manga from the creator of Trigun and turning the surreal mess of beat poet pacing, superhero action, and dark cosmic humor into something much more meaningful, and even managed to give the series a plot. Blood Blockade Battlefront is a rare adaptation that actually benefits significantly for deviations from the source material (outside there being less Chain, which is bad).
The story, at its core, is about a coward named Leo who gains the eyes of a god from his little sister’s sacrifice, and he wants to be more than who he was by joining an organization of superhuman protectors in Hellsalem’s Lot, former New York City that merged with an alien dimension. Two characters added in this version, Black and White, help move along Leo’s story and give the series its plot, creating a show that balances between episodic adventures in a surreal world and slow paced character moments between people connecting on a deeper level. This show had a great scene where White and Leo have an honest heart to heart about their sibling complexes, and it happens because they watched the movie Twins. I can’t make this up. The mashing of Americana and the bizarre creates a truly memorable world with engaging characters and tense adventures, and the one hour finale does earn its run-time. The series doesn’t quite live up to its early promise, as its not sure what to do with the large majority of Libra and feels like it needed another cour, but it’s a terrifically animated blast that may leave you in an emotional state you weren’t expecting.
6. Concrete Revolutio
Good year for cape shows all around, but the best of the premiers was definitely Concrete Revolutio. Unlike One Punch Man and Blood Blockade Battlefront, which indulge in superhero battles for fun, Concrete Revolutio has more in common with a Grant Morrison story. It takes these symbols of childhood right and wrong, good and evil, and then applies real world morality and philosophy to them. The end result is a truly brilliant show that has so much meaty commentary on the state of the world, the gap between generations, how and why we react when our beliefs are challenged, and even questioning what the real cultural place of these figures our in the modern world.
Japan has a different history with capes than the west. Where we basically made Greek gods with gimmicks, Japan’s icons represented ideals or evolved into them, making it central to their identity, especially in the early days of robot and mech works. This is reflected here, with every superhuman appearing in a real world Japan and changing it reflects a different ideal or demographic, and the fights that start between them are mainly because of how those ideals clash. Everyone has a different idea of what is right and wrong, and it is impossible for all those ideals to co-exist peacefully. To quote the first season’s last major villain, “defending my freedom disturbs the peace! Pursuing your justice violates my freedom! There is no single answer!” It’s an idealistic show wrapped in cynicism come from real world experiences, arguing that people will always try to find that answer, no matter how much fighting takes place because of it. It’s also a big playground for dorks like me, with our main characters including a magical girl, yokai, kid’s anime mascot, time traveler, alien gas creature, cyborg detective, and a guy who drives a centaur car mech and has a kaiju trapped in his arm. Add in the fantastic 70s pop style, and you have a winner.
5. Prison School
Prison School is an ecchi comedy that’s almost flat out porn drawn by a man who made the thing out of spite for his brilliant horror series dying, but his sheer talent made what should have been the worst garbage incredible. The manga has some truly jaw-dropping art, but the anime has an unbelievable amount of talent behind it that create tense sequences out of a guy shitting his pants in public and a guy stopping an attempted murder and ending up with a stake up his ass. Prison School defies all standards, it simply is what it is, and no matter if you like or hate it, you have the proper response.
To quote an earlier review …*ahem*
“Prison School transcends every medium it’s portrayed in. There is absolutely nothing like it, which is both for the best and for the worse. It’s a true masterpiece if I’ve ever seen one, right up there with the likes of Gatchaman Crowds and Yurikuma Arashi, farting in their general direction while reading a bad Naruto doujin where the artist gave Sakura huge tits for some insane reason. Absolutely nothing about it should be good. It may very well be one of the best shows I have ever seen in my entire life, of any animated or live-action or televised or even streamed program.
Good and bad things really are the same. You imbecile. You fucking moron.”
4. Sound! Euphonium
KyoAni adapt a light novel about high school marching bands. This should be forgettable, but no. I’m still thinking about Sound to this very day. And not just because it was INCREDIBLY gay (and let’s be clear here, it was INCREDIBLY gay). Sound! Euphonium is a series that really gets to me because it’s about being an artist, both talented and untalented. It’s about why people do seemingly pointless things the world sees no real value in, and what keeps them going. But it also has a competitive slant to it, and that’s where the show gets really interesting. Kumiko and Reina exists on opposite sides early on, with one uninterested in their chosen activity and the other constantly practicing, but Reina starts to awaken Kumiko’s hidden desire to play in band and do well, and she starts becoming frustrated with more lax members and pointless politics that are slowing everything down, along with her own lack of experience. Everyone in this series sees band as something different, from average goof offs who cheer on someone else, to ambitious go-getters, and even gifted geniuses detached from the squabbles of everyone else.
It’s also a downright masterpiece of production and direction. The music, the backgrounds, the lighting, the character designs, the slightest movements, the shadows, the weather, the moments that come from quiet. It’s all in service of great source material, with complex character dynamics matched with a good mix of comedy and human drama. Sound! Euphonium is that masterpiece every writer interested in the average person wants to write. It’s so filled with age and experience.
And seriously, it’s so gay.
3. Yurikuma Arashi
Ikuhara’s return to anime was already being hyped up as the big show of 2015, and unsurprisingly, it was one of the best right off the bat. This is one of those rare shows that actually got me to cry, a beautiful series with a near perfect ending. The series follows Kureha, a girl who lost her mother to bears years ago, and loses her girlfriend to them as well. She declares vengeance on the entire race, but two bears who have traveled to the human world and taken the form of students end up trying to become closer to her. It’s hard to describe the series without giving away its end game, but it’s brilliantly paced, starting as a strange, surreal and oddly memorizing series of events, and morphing into an emotional powerhouse of a story about lesbian culture.
The entire series is a commentary on modern lesbian culture in Japan, how the sexuality is viewed by both the outside and inside, criticizing the conservative erasure of the old generation and the blatant and violent openness that came into being to reject the old. The bears and the school are two polar opposites outside their sexuality, and they end up becoming their own worst enemies and making a self-sustaining conflict that Kureha and her friends, Ginko and Lulu, try to live within. The style twists from cheesy to oppressive, the world twists and folds to best meet the mood it’s trying to convey, and all that seems bright and happy turns into the images seen in a nightmare as the ugliness of the world becomes more and more clear. The use of repetition in lines and gags even has symbolic purpose, hammering in the themes, how the characters view the world, and foreshadowing major events later in the story. It’s all masterful understanding of how best to use animation to tell a story, even with limited budgets and time for production, and it’s one of the most heart-wrenching love stories I have ever seen.
As a bisexual guy, even though I wasn’t the primary audience, I still felt something really personal while watching this. Yurikuma Arashi, if there is any justice in the world, will be regarded as a true classic.
2. Maria the Virgin Witch
Maria The Virgin Witch is based off a manga with the same name, but only in the loosest sense. The first episode already deviates by introducing a new character who ends up being central in this version. You can pin this series quality more on the anime staff, especially director Goro Taniguchi (Code Geass, Scryed) and head writer Hideyuki Kurata. Can’t speak for the manga, but the anime presents itself initially as a comedy based around the 100 Years Wars being thrown off course by witches and their sex demons, only for it to slowly shift into a bloody drama on humanism (as in actual humanism and not whatever anti-feminists spout). It’s absolutely brilliant, and I was really not sure if I was going to put this or Yurikuma at number two. Yurikuma got me to cry, but I think Maria comes together best as a whole, and it certainly creates one of the most diverse and interesting casts out there.
Maria is obviously focused on the war hating Maria and her desire to see peace in her homeland of France, but there’s far more going on. Every single character, no matter how small, is important in some way, and we see different ways of life through them. The poor farmers trying to get by, the mercenaries who place wealth and pride as their greatest values, the noblemen who want glory, their servants who truly believe in the royals, the children who see things in simple black and white, the church leaders that wish to preserve order, and most importantly, the monk scholar Bernard. He’s the series central and antagonist and most interesting character, a learned man who mainly wants to understand, and while he believes he does while in the church, Maria’s actions start to get him to question the established order of things and has him orchestrating a massive, bloody conflict to get his answer. Nearly every character here is equal parts despicable and relatable, making the series central message about the inherent potential of good in humanity. Even mythical characters, including a dying Nordic god, carry this theme across as the series connects realism and mythology in a way that argues for the existence of both, and it’s beautiful.
Maria is easily the best premier of 2015. But it’s not the best of the year because a second season of one particular show also premiered in 2015…
1. Gatchaman Crowds Insight
Surprise surprise, the second season of what is still my favorite anime ever is the best show of 2015, I am predictable. But seriously, Gatchaman Crowds was a revelation when it first premiered, which makes Insight all the more ballsy. I mean, it’s a season primarily saying that the first season was wrong. Who does that about their own work? And it’s right. Where season one was all about how humanity could use the internet for good and we could change ourselves for the better, Insight is looking at the immediate aftermath of the choice made at the end of that season and how its all gone in a direction nobody accounted for. Turns out humans can’t all agree on the same thing, and if you fail to take that into account, things can go incredibly wrong.
But it’s when the series introduces the Kuu-chan that everything goes right to a smiling hell. Insight is all about how we, as a species, are easily swayed by emotion, ego, and impulse, and that the spread of the internet is making this aspect of ours even worse than before. Getting whipped up for a war was a big national thing back when, but now people turn at the drop of a dime, and almost never thinking about the consequences this can bring. The ultimate message the series gives is to be aware of your own faults and stop and think about your views every once in awhile, not telling you the right views on a given subject, just to use your own judgment after, you know, judging.
Donald Trump is still the leading Republican nominee to this day. Insight is only becoming more and more on the nose as time goes on since watching it, saying something we all desperately need to hear and shining a mirror on our civilization in clever ways, using established institution and history to show the patterns it discusses. It’s still my tops for anime, period.