So it has certainly been another year in which anime was made and released. And in grand tradition of everyone everywhere who writes about their hobby in which things are released during the year, I have got lists and stuff! And some discussion on some other things that were notable about the year. A pretty standard retrospective, really.
A small note about the lists – any multi-cours series that ended in 2012 (i.e began in 2011) qualifies for the lists about the year, but any multi-cours series that continues into 2013 only qualify for lists about the season they started in, with only what has been seen so far being used to judge it. Similarly, a series that had multiple seaons this year will be grouped into its franchise for the lists about the year, but will be considered separately for the season lists. It’ll make more sense when you see the lists.
Let’s talk seasons
It’s a pretty established fact that the solstice seasons (summer and winter) are weaker than the equinox ones (spring and autumn), this year being no exception. This year’s summer was by far one of the worst seasons for anime I’ve ever seen, with only about 3 series that started that season (that I watched) that I would describe as ‘good’. Winter, however, was surprisingly strong. It wasn’t great, but there were a fair few gems in there. Autumn (or Fall, if that’s how you roll) was arguably the strongest of the year, but Spring was no slouch either.
Here are my top five series from each season:
5. Bodacious Space Pirates
Inconsistent, awkwardly paced and with some annoying characters, Bodacious Space Pirates could be tiresome to watch at times, but when it had its shit together it was an absolute blast, with a charming group of main characters, a goofy premise that never took itself too seriously, and some great fun when they went on adventures on the high galaxies. Had it moved at a faster pace and had more adventuring, it could have been a lot better, but on the whole it was still pretty entertaining.
4. Thermae Romae
It may have been 3 episodes of fairly cheap flash animation brought in to fill the gaps in Black Rock Shooter’s schedule, but god damn was it hilarious. Lucius is easily one of the best anime characters of the year, if only for being a manly as fuck adult Roman architect.
3. Inu x Boku SS
I’m not gonna say that this series was particularly special, but it really did it for me – the characters were interesting, different and memorable, it had a pretty good sense of humour, the character development of Ririchiyo was actually pretty great, and her relationship between her and Miketsukami was built well too. It may not have been especially original, but I really enjoyed watching it.
2. Daily Lives of High School Boys
This show was fucking hilarious. Satirizing many conventions of slice-of-life anime while presenting its own absurd but grounded skits, Daily Lives of High School Boys was fucking hilarious. And as someone who went to an all-boys secondary school and 6th form, some of the conversations (particularly when it came to relationships and romance) were not that far off from ones I’ve had in the past. It did a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of that environment. Also, it’s fucking hilarious.
1. Ano Natsu de Matteru
Despite an auspicious start (a generic description combined with a fanservice laden first episode) this turned out to be a refreshing, engaging and absolutely fantastic romance. Its approach to the romantic development between the main couple (i.e. they became a couple pretty quickly) was a really nice change of pace from the usual approach, never letting it drag its heels to prolong the build-up, and capitalising on the change of the relationship dynamics between the entire cast as a result was a fantastic move. It was also unbelievably fun, using its sci-fi basis to create some ridiculous but well-realised situations. And the drama was handled well! Despite the odd premise, the drama worked and wasn’t overly-done! All in all, easily the best show of the winter season.
5. Phi Brain S2
It was stupid as hell, and had its moments of… questionableness (*cough* sexist beach episodes *ahem*), but it was also entertaining as hell, and got legitimately good approaching the end. Not that it was never legitimately good, just that it was good in its uniquely Phi Brain-ian way, and then it good by any other standard. With the establishment of the characters in the first series, it focused on character development to great effect, while the puzzles got even more gloriously ridiculous and/or insane.
4. Sakamichi no Apollon
Fantastic character development and wonderful moments both joyous (when they played music and had fun) and melancholic (the drama), it wasn’t quite the return from Shinichiro Watanabe that we expected, and in some regards it could be considered disappointing, but its portrayal of schoolboy friendship, passion and cultural change during 60’s Japan was ultimately excellent.
3. Acchi Kocchi
Cute and funny and little else, but focusing on that with laser precision, I probably looked forward to Acchi Kocchi each week more than any other series that season. It left a big grin on my face every time, and that’s good enough for me.
2. Space Brothers
You want a feel-good series that isn’t just about a chill, upbeat atmosphere, but rather about a bunch of awesome people going for their dreams with everything they’ve got and having fun along the way? This fucking show. It may be slow-paced as hell, but all that does is give more time for the secondary and side characters to be developed more thoroughly and become awesome themselves, and make the payoffs all the more sweet. It may not be ending any time soon, but it never stops getting better. Fuck yeah, Space Brothers.
It may have taken a while to really get going, but even before it did the characterisation was absolutely excellent. The relationships between the cast were realised fantastically, developed slowly but brilliantly, and the show really took them places and made it all meaningful. The mysteries may have been nothing memorable, but they matched the naturalism of the show and the cast, and frankly served as a vehicle for the aforementioned character development. Easily one of the most mature and subtly intelligent shows KyoAni have done, and is it ever the better for it.
There were a fuckton of great series that started the spring season, to the point I’m not even satisfied with this list – excluding the likes of Jormungand, Tsuritama, Haiyore! Nyaruko-san and Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna was really hard, but none of them quite left the impact on me that the others did. They were all, however, excellent for their own reasons, and well worth checking out.
5. Kokoro Connect
If this were any other season, this wouldn’t be here. But it was a weak season. Not to say Kokoro Connect was bad – when it was good, it was great – but you were more likely to see it being melodramatic, inconsistently paced and needlessly fanservicey than you would good. But at its core, it has a decent enough premise, and the execution isn’t unbearable. There’s just nothing else to take this place.
4. Natsuyuki Rendezvous
Another series that likely wouldn’t be here had it not been for the weak season. Again, it wasn’t bad, and actually had a decent atmosphere, but it really didn’t leave much of an impression, and got kinda dull at points.
3. Tari Tari
Ah, now we’re getting to the actually enjoyable series! Tari Tari was charming, upbeat but not all sunshine and rainbows. The characters would encounter difficulties, ones that would have a lasting effect on them, and the final arc involved them fighting for a very small victory, which in some ways was quite refreshing. The hardships faced were quite realistic considering their circumstances, and the way everything didn’t necessarily work out alright in the end helped make them more ‘real’. And I liked that. It may not have been an especially memorable series, but it was very solid and a joy to watch.
2. Chouyaku Hyakuninisshu: Uta Koi.
Stylish, diverse, progressive tales of romance during feudal era Japan, it may not have attracted much attention but I absolutely enjoyed this series. It may not have been consistent, but it was hella memorable and, at its best, glorious.
1. Jinrui wa Suita Shimashita
Now this was the one, true, standout of the summer season. Different in every goddamn way to anything else airing this year, all in fantastic ways, it was a surreal look at a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is going extinct and gentle, sweet-loving, utterly insane fairies are taking over. Rife with satire and social commentary existing at various levels, but also really funny and entertaining as hell with a sharp-witted, cynical as fuck young woman significantly more intelligent (probably) than everyone else around her as the main character… fuck was it good. It wasn’t consistent – some episodes were pretty weak – but it was very good overall. And generally, yeah, fucking excellent.
5. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
It’s not over, but according to the manga fans, the worst arc is over. And holy FUCK was it kickass. It may not be a particularly deep or intelligent series, but FUCK is it entertaining and fun as hell. GAR as hell battles and characters and manly tears everywhere, it’s just awesome in its brilliantly over the top and flamboyantly manly way.
4. Jormungand: Perfect Order
Probably the only reason that Jormungand wasn’t included in the spring list is because Perfect Order just takes it and makes it better in every way. The plot is coming to a head. There is so much intrigue. The characters are being developed even further. The action is even better. The stakes are being raised that much higher. In every way, Jormungand: Perfect Order is better than Jormungand. And it’s also excellent.
3. Shin Sekai Yori
It may not have finished yet, but fuck damn is it awesome. It effortlessly builds this atmosphere of tension, paranoia and horror amidst this interesting post-apocalyptic world which it builds slowly and superbly. Every detail in this world is revealed at just the right time, avoiding info-dumps except for contexts where it works. I don’t see it getting any worse either. Truly excellent.
2. Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb
Yuno what it is. That is, more Hidamari Sketch! Or rather, everything Hidamari Sketch is but more, better and more satisfying in every regard. I was smiling all the god damn time. Loved it.
1. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
This was a hard one to place so highly. During the course of its run, it was absolutely excellent. Charming, lovely, funny as hell, in every way it was KyoAni doing what KyoAni does and doing it excellently. It even handled some serious drama pretty fucking well! But the problem comes with the ending, which was really quite disappointing. In the end though, it was my favourite for its duration, and better (or more enjoyable) than any other show this season, but not what I’d normally call #1 material? For the most part though, a lot of fun.
Maaan was it hard to cut some stuff out. Robotics;Notes, Kamisama Hajimemashita, Sukitte Ii na yo, Magi, Girls und Panzer, all of them absolutely marvellous. If it were possible I would have made it a top 10, but I wouldn’t be able to pull it off for the winter and summer seasons. Just know that there were a ton of really, really good series this season.
But what about the year overall?
Maybe 2011 spoiled us, but I can’t say there were any series that stood out as particularly memorable or lasting, in the grand scheme of things. 2011 gave us Steins;Gate, Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai, Mawaru Penguindrum and of course Puella Magi Madoka Magica. All of them generally critically acclaimed and likely important and influential for years to come. There were none like that this year. A couple of great KyoAni series, but nothing like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On! or hell, even Lucky Star. There was the return of Shinichiro Watanabe, Sakamichi no Apollon, but it wasn’t anywhere near as big or important as Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo. The only real contender as I see it is Nisemonogatari, but only insofar as it being part of the Monogatari franchise. By itself, it’s nothing special.
What this means is that there’s nothing to point to when talking about 2012. It’ll just be a year in which anime happened, not standing out for any reason. There’ll be some that are remembered fondly and be frequently recommended, but none of it ‘defined’ the year.
The other big thing to note about the year is noitaminA. It’s almost a cliché to discuss it at this point, but noitaminA had a weird year. It started out with the second half of Guilty Crown and Black Rock Shooter of all things (and Thermae Romae but that was just filling the time), but next season had Sakamichi no Apollon and Tsuritama, both really quite noitaminA-y series. Summer saw an incredibly bland-to-boring pair for the timeslot, and finally autumn had two pretty good series, but two that could have lived in any other timeslot. And that’s probably it, really. noitaminA is no longer a label to denote innovative, experimental or at least interesting anime, it’s just another timeslot. Winter 2013 will just continue Robotics;Notes and Psycho-Pass, and apparently spring 2013 is just going to have a rebroadcast of Katanagatari then. I think it’s safe to say that noitaminA is dead, insofar as it’s just another timeslot now. I’ll still be keeping an eye on it, but it doesn’t stand for anything in the way it used to.
Anyway. What I’m sure you’re all here for/have skipped past all the preceding text for:
Swabl’s Top 10 Anime of the Year
10. K-On! Movie
K-On! – in London! K-On! is always great, and this film was an absolute blast. The attention to detail paid to the environs in London was also really impressive. It was pretty much exactly what I was hoping to be, cute and funny and really joyous and just a bit sentimental, considering it was their graduation trip.
(season one review)
When you take both series of Jormungand as a whole it’s a pretty great series. Not quite on the level of Black Lagoon, but definitely approaching it. Sometimes anti-heroes are just great to watch. But outright villains? You better believe it. You don’t get many series like this these days.
8. Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb
I wish my smile could go wider to reflect how this series makes me feel.
7. Phi Brain
(season one review)
God damn is this series fun. The first one started a little iffy, but after a while it picked up steam and became frankly excellent ([review!]). The second just took that, and took it even further. Puzzles and yaoi undertones have never been so enjoyable. Roll on season 3!
6. Space Brothers
This series makes me feel so moon.
5. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
The ending may have been a disappointment, but I can’t deny just how much I loved watching this show.
4. Ano Natsu de Matteru
I’m really not sure how J. C. Staff pulled off such a great series, but they did! I blame the director (he also directed Ano Hana).
3. Jinrui wa Suita Shimashita
Fucking fairies, man.
I really liked this series. A lot didn’t, or couldn’t get into it easily, but I loved it. KyoAni should do more ‘mature’ series like this more often. Their cute, moe-moe slife-of-life comedies are great and all, but they can definitely do something bigger than that.
Chihayafuru was excellent. A cast of brilliant, likable, engaging characters that you can’t help but cheer on proliferate a story which may follow a fairly standard sports anime arc, but handles it in a wonderful way where there’s genuine tension and the characters are developed with their relationships and oh my god EVERYTHING about this series is good. How it took a traditional card game involving poetry and slapping cards that lie on the ground and turn it into something exciting and dramatic and moving and funny and stylish and so, so good, I have no idea, but I absolutely loved it. Hearing it get a second series – which as of writing, is only in a couple of weeks away! – was easily the best news of the year. It deserved it so much. It may not have been widely watched, and even commercially bombed in Japan, but next to everyone who saw it, loved it. I know I certainly did, and it was easily my favourite anime of this year.