Back for the third year running, and super-objective as always. Clearly these are the only awards in the anime industry that matter.
As usual though, a brief explanation first: no, these are not, strictly speaking, my awards for anime titles released only in 2015. These are my awards for anime titles released from the start of spring 2015 and finished by the end of winter 2016 – because a) anime generally goes by seasonal cycle rather than by year, and so I personally prefer to do the same, and b) reading best-of lists in late December and early January gets old really fast, hence I like to take a breather before writing up my own.
As with the previous two years, I’m counting only televised shows that I watched through to the end. Movies, OVAs, and any shows that I dropped before the final episode are automatically out.
The Congrats-For-Not-Being-Shit Trophy (aka Biggest Surprise Title)
Runner-up: Osomatsu-san (Fall-Winter)
I didn’t assume this would be terrible, but that’s only because I assumed it’d be of absolutely zero interest either way. After all, I’d never even heard of a 1960s gag manga called Osomatsu-kun, so why should I have cared about a remake? So I told myself before watching the opening episode and realising that not only was Osomatsu-san funny, but also that it was alternatively dark, dirty, dumb, and completely off its rocker – all in the best way possible. Sure, some of the gags and even a couple of entire episodes were pretty hit-and-miss, but I think what sold me the most about Osomatsu-san was that it didn’t feel pretentious or like it was trying too hard to be cool or profound. If anything, it seemed like it was openly mocking itself for its own consistent stupidity, not to mention giving a huge middle finger to anyone who happened to be watching and saying that if you didn’t find it funny, it didn’t give a crap. And as a result, it turned out to be one of the biggest surprise hits of the year.
Winner: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar/Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (Winter)
Much like Osomatsu-san, I get that Grimgar wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The meandering slice-of-life feel probably seemed incredibly dull to anyone preferring a more action/adventure-based fantasy, the fanservice probably seemed incredibly unnecessary to anyone not of the male Japanese teen persuasion, and the entire concept probably seemed incredibly off-putting to nearly everyone who’d watched (or even just heard about) the anime fandom’s favourite whipping boy, aka Sword Art Online. Whatever your position on Grimgar though, I think we can all agree that it was nowhere near as awful as we all naturally assumed it would be, which is what this award is all about. The story was coherent. The characters got development. The artwork was absolutely superb. Even the fanservice was pretty minimalist in comparison to expectations, and I’m guessing that had to come as a major surprise even to those who were weren’t extremely skeptical to begin with. Grimgar took me aback as I think it did just about everyone, and for the most part, it did so in a really good way.
The Shiny Entrance Medal (aka Best Debut Episode)
Since I only ended up watching this series after seeing the comments on other anime blogs about it, the twist at the end of episode one was basically ruined for me by the time I got there. That didn’t make it any less interesting to watch, however – the journey being more important than the destination is doubly true for a show like this one. As far as the episode itself went, the scattering of visual cues alone were enough to tell me that something was very off, while the way in which it was all revealed within the final few seconds was really well executed; shocking not because it was done amidst a lot of blood, gore, and screaming, but precisely because it wasn’t. I’ve seen moe blended with horror before – most notably in Higurashi – but where that was all over-the-top theatrics, Gakkou Gurashi tended to approach its horror aspects in a far more understated manner, which made for a highly compelling debut.
Winner: Osomatsu-san (Fall-Winter)
The fall season was probably the quietest for me in terms of anime viewing over the past year – which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing mind you, but boy did Osomatsu-san come as a breath of fresh air. Or more a typhoon really. It wasn’t just that it was funny, but that it burst in with a debut episode that managed to parody itself, and anime in general, without coming across as lazy or self-indulgent. While a lot of parodies end up being little more than an extension of the very thing they’re making fun of, Osomatsu-san managed to avoid this in my eyes chiefly by being unabashedly crazy. It was the type of thing I looked at sometimes and couldn’t decide whether I was watching one of the sharpest titles I had seen in recent years or one of the most stupid. I get that for some people Osomatsu-san stood squarely on the latter side of the line, and that’s okay, but for me that first episode in particular was pure comedy gold.
The Blue Ribbon of Fabulosity (aka Best Character)
Second runner-up: Fujinuma Sachiko, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi/ERASED (Winter)
There are comparatively very few parents in anime that get to play a major role in the story, and even fewer that get to play a major role while being genuinely awesome people in their own right, so I was probably predisposed to liking Satoru’s mother from the get-go. However, it would also be fair to say that I instinctively liked Sachiko’s incredibly straight-talking and down-to-earth persona, to say nothing of her obvious intelligence and fierce strength of will. The fact that she also happened to be a hard-working single mother who cares not only for her own son but his friends as well, taking Kayo under her wing when Kayo’s own mother completely failed her, is what made me fall in love with her character even more than I already had.
First runner-up: Suna, Ore Monogatari!!/My Love Story!! (Spring-Summer)
The biggest reason Suna didn’t run away into the sunset with this award is because his character, while insanely bro-tastic, only really worked thanks to the presence of Takeo. Because let’s face it, without Takeo, Suna would have been That Guy – seemingly objectively perfect but emotionally distant, the one the girls quite literally scream over but who turns out to be actually pretty boring under those flawless good looks. The Yuki from Fruits Basket, the Shouta from Kimi ni Todoke, the Yamato from Say “I Love you”… they’re basically all the same person with a few minor tweaks, and Suna would probably have joined the list were it not for Takeo. The fact that Suna immediately refused every single girl that asked him out because of how their judgmental they were towards Takeo was one of the things that showed his character as being different from all the rest – and what made it truly beautiful to watch is that he honestly didn’t think of this as self-sacrificing or even anything out of the ordinary. He just took it as read that that’s what friends do. And in my books, anyone with a friend like that would be very lucky indeed.
Winner: Karamatsu, Osomatsu-san (Fall-Winter)
Okay, so Jyushimatsu might have won the popularity contest (MUSCLE MUSCLE! HUSSLE HUSSLE!), but Karamatsu won me over the minute he strolled into Totoko’s room looking like he was about to star in an old-school porno, complete with overlarge glass of wine and tacky gold chain. The rest of the time, he was usually decked out in sunglasses and a leather jacket (well, when he wasn’t busy wearing sequined jeans at job interview) and spouting random Engrish – the kind of guy so utterly convinced of his own suaveness that he went fishing with a love letter and bouquet of flowers as bait. The fact that he was voiced by the same actor who also played Nozaki (Nozaki-kun), Grizzly (Shirokuma Café), and Houtarou (Hyouka – one of these things is not like the others) was icing on the cake.
The Holy Eyedrops Award (aka Best Visuals)
Runner-up: Non Non Biyori Repeat (Summer)
Given my own location, I have a very special place in my heart for rural Japan, especially when it’s depicted in my favourite medium, so it was wonderful to see it once again portrayed so lovingly and realistically in this second season of Non Non Biyori. I don’t know if it’s technically possible to be nostalgic for the kind of place you’re already living in, but Repeat somehow managed to make me feel that way anyway, probably even more so than the first season did. The lush colour palette, the wide sweeping camera shots, the way the very best of the visuals were left uninterrupted by dialogue or even much background noise, all made for a truly beautiful viewing experience. Pure eye candy, in the best possible sense.
Winner: Hai to Gensou no Grimgar/Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (Winter)
Say what you will about Grimgar, the show’s artwork was unparalleled this anime year. The backgrounds in particular were superbly detailed and looked like a series of watercolour paintings, and this wasn’t limited just to outdoor shots either – everything from the cracks in the stones making up the fireplace to the texture of the straw mattresses on the beds were gorgeously rendered. The several music video-style scenes that took place over the course of the series felt like they were mainly put there by the creators to show off this level of attention to detail – and who can blame them? Had I created something that looked this damn good, I’d want to flaunt it at every available opportunity too.
The First Miniature Crown of Swank (aka Best OP)
Runner-up: Lupin III (Fall-Winter)
The theme itself might not have been new – someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the main theme song has been around since the second anime series back in the late 70s – but original composer Ohno Yuji returned to work on this most recent installment of the Lupin III franchise, modifying the already seriously classy track into something even more jazzy and stylish. The visuals that went along with it were a perfect fit too, both effortlessly cool and charmingly retro, and put me strongly in mind of Cowboy Bebop – never a bad thing. I also thoroughly approve of instrumental openings, and I don’t think I’ve heard one this funky and fun since Baccano!.
Winner: Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider/Everything Becomes F (Fall)
I accept that not everyone likes KANA-BOON, but personally I think their particular brand of indie-rock is streets ahead of most other Japanese groups performing in the same genre – in fact, their second studio album was actually one of my favourites of 2015. ‘talking’ itself was catchy enough that it made me want to start dancing around the room every time I heard the OP… only I usually didn’t, because I was too busy watching the accompanying visuals. Rotoscoping used for the powers of good! I’ve also been a fan of dance used in opening credits ever since I first saw Sengoku Basara, but this colourfully interpretive style is really unique when it comes to anime, and it worked.
The Second Miniature Crown of Swank (aka Best ED)
Runner-up: Lupin III (Fall-Winter)
This show pulled off an ED that to my mind was nearly as good as the OP, albeit in quite a different way. Swapping jaunty, swinging jazz for the kind just begging to be sung by a woman with a seductive voice in a dim-lit vintage nightclub, ‘Chanto Iwanakya Aisanai’ (‘Say It, Or I Won’t Give You My Love’) was almost exactly that. The fact that this song was performed by a well-known enka singer in her late 50s rather than a young J-pop one is fabulous, as are Ishikawa’s powerful vocals. The video looked just as classy as the song sounded too and even managed to tell a story with it, which EDs rarely bother with. I only wish every anime would put even half the amount of care into their opening and ending sequences as Lupin did.
Winner: Kekkai Sensen/Blood Blockade Battlefront (Spring)
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this ended up being just about everybody’s favourite ED of the past anime year – it certainly made copious appearances on those best-of lists. I don’t know that I actively like any other songs from Unison Square Garden that I’ve heard thus far, but this one was loose enough that I didn’t really care if the song itself wasn’t top-notch. It was fun, which is what really counts for me, although I suspect most people found the dancing even more so. Kekkai Sensen was a weirdly entertaining story with a weirdly entertaining cast, heroes and villains both, so being able to see them all together and goofing off like this struck me as a highly appropriate (not to mention amusing) way of finishing off each episode.
The Golden Ears Award (aka Best Overall Soundtrack)
Winner: Kekkai Sensen/Blood Blockade Battlefront (Spring)
No runner-up for this award, because no OST even came close to matching Kekkai Sensen’s – not even Kajiura Yuki’s Boku Dake ga Inai Machi/ERASED, who you’d think would easily have snatched first place. It’s not just that Kekkai Sensen had an awesome ED (and pretty sweet OP too, come to that), although that certainly helps. It’s that entire soundtrack was fabulous – full of swinging jazz very reminiscent of 1920s/30s New York in tone, which suited the show and its setting like a glove. There was also a great variety of both instrumental and vocal tracks, all of which were highly atmospheric and used to great effect. As far as I can tell this was composer Iwasaki Taisei’s first major project, anime or otherwise, so not only was this a highly stylish OST in its own right but also an amazing effort by a newcomer.
The Wooden Spoon of Shame (aka Worst Overall Title)
Runner-up: Dance with Devils (Fall)
I’ll say right up front that this show was nowhere near as bad as I had feared from the title and synopsis – mostly because I was expecting a re-telling of Diabolik Lovers only with ‘devils’ instead of vampires. Thankfully, the MC had an actual backbone this time around despite her penchant for making terrible life choices, and also nobody once referred to her as “Bitch-chan”, so that’s gotta be worth a few bonus points right there. The hilarious cheesy musical numbers might almost have made the overall experience worth it, too. Almost. That said, saying that anything is “not as awful as [insert terribad title here] isn’t exactly praise, and I don’t count an anime a success just because it didn’t significantly add to my mental trauma, so I stand by my decision despite the comedy value of the piece.
Winner: Makura no Danshi/Pillow Boys (Summer)
Well, that went about as well as you might expect. It was nowhere near as skeevy as, say, Sleeping with Hinako, but it was probably about as exciting. Oh well, I suppose at least the premise was good for a laugh? A first-person anime about twelve bishounen (a different one for nearly every episode) who also happen to be anthropomorphic pillows sounds like the kind of thing a random fangirl would create and stick on YouTube just for the lulz, but evidently someone thought it made for a legitimately decent idea, so here we all are. I feel I should point out that this show was still more palatable to me than the countless titles released the same anime year, or even just the same anime season, involving gravity-defying chesticles and/or moe-rrific lolis, but that doesn’t really make up for the sheer insipidness that was Makura no Danshi either, so… yeah, I’m fine pretending this whole thing never happened if you guys are.
The Diamond-Studded Tiara (aka Best Overall Title)
Second runner-up: Kekkai Sensen/Blood Blockade Battlefront (Spring)
Admittedly, I didn’t actually like Kekkai Sensen all that much at first. I thought it was interesting, but it took me a while to really get into the swing of it. Once I was in though, I was all in. The oddball cast became endearing rather than just plain weird, the distinctive visuals began to gain some significance instead of being just artful but random patterns, and the buildup of episodic stories became emotionally meaningful as opposed to just a haphazard collection of explosion-filled vignettes. Matsumoto Rie clearly knew what she was doing here, even if I initially didn’t. The only major complaint I had was the finish, whose long delay got in the way of my momentum and at any rate ended up being only adequate when it should have been good. As a whole however, Kekkai Sensen was still easily the best show of its season and a highlight of the year overall thanks to its infectious and almost frenetic energy.
Runner-up: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi/ERASED (Winter)
I accept the criticisms that BokuMachi faltered in its second half, because in general I’d have to agree – the tight focus and taut writing of the first half was lacking in the second, as was the same high polish of its cinematography. I also completely understand what people mean when they say that BokuMachi sacrificed much of its subtlety and poignancy for the more clichéd and overdone traits of its mystery/thriller genre at times, in particular the sensationalist portrayal of The Bad Guy and the constant use of cliffhangers. Having said that, I think the positives managed to vastly outweigh the negatives in the end, especially since no other series this year got my heart racing in the same way BokuMachi did. The fact is, the thriller aspects did have me on the edge of my seat, and I was all but wriggling with impatience to see the next episode. And lest we forget, the most heartwarming and simultaneously gut-wrenching scene of the show didn’t occur until episode 8, so it certainly wouldn’t feel right to say that the second half was bereft of emotional punches.
Winner: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (Winter)
What can I say about this show that hasn’t already been said better by other bloggers out there? Rakugo Shinjuu is a fantastic series, and also one of the most un-anime anime titles I’ve ever seen. Everything from the story itself to the cinematography stood out not because it was in any way flashy or flamboyant but rather precisely because it wasn’t – despite being technically a drama, it steered clear of loud dramatics and instead went for the kind of restraint that at times I would have called downright minimalist. At the same time, it was extremely powerful in terms of presentation, since while the artwork and animation weren’t anything particularly showy, the actual camerawork was nothing short of stunning. Every little detail, from the shifting of a character’s feet to the amount of negative space taking up a frame, gained a huge amount of importance, which was underscored in turn by the subtle choices of music (or lack thereof) and some utterly superb voice work. Just for the record, I’m totally okay watching anime purely for fun, and I also don’t think ‘good’ anime necessitates being deep or profound, but at the risk of coming across as pretentious anyway – this is the kind of thing that elevates the medium from entertainment to art.
And to wrap things up, here are all the new shows over the past anime year that I also finished but did not make an appearance in the above awards. I enjoyed all of them to some extent, so these should (for the most part anyway) be considered honourable mentions rather than snubs: Ajin, both seasons of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime/Snow White with the Red Hair, Arslan Senki/The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Durarara!!x2 Ten and Ketsu, Gangsta, Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Alternative Architecture, Junjou Romantica 3, Kanojo to Kanajo no Neko/She and Her Cat, Kono Danshi, Mahou ga Oshigoto Desu/This Boy is a Professional Wizard, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, Noragami Aragoto, Working!!!.
Question of the post: Agree? Disagree? Totally affronted by my taste in anime? Let me know in the comments!