Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Year in Review - 2011

            Now that 2012 and the beginning of the winter season is upon us, there is no better time to look at the notables of 2011. With this being the first full year that I’ve kept up with the airing shows in Japan, I’m lucky to have 62 shows to choose from, which in retrospective is probably a high amount. Here are my thoughts on the best and worst of 2011.
Keep in mind that I have not watched anything close to all of the shows this year, meaning there may be some egregious omissions. Hopefully these will serve as suggestions for those looking for the shows you may have missed, or just a reminder on the highlights of the year.
            For the sake of fairness, Fate/zero is considered to be part of 2012. Because it is.

Top 5 Anime of 2011 (in no order)
The iDOLM@STER – Probably the biggest surprise of the year, the faithful iDOLM@STER anime didn’t disappoint much. Admittedly, this wasn’t for everyone; as a fan of great animation and music shows, it wasn’t difficult for me to like this show from the beginning. Most people found it hard to get through the first few episodes, which were generally formulaic and focused on the slice-of-life parts of the series. For others, the storyline of “idols striving for success” was a turn off, a continuation of the “cute girls doing cute things” genre. For those who stuck around until the end, though, the surprisingly deep characterization (of the main characters, at least) and drama elevated the show and gave a much more powerful impression. The concert scenes and character designs were perfect, too, so kudos to A-1 for pulling off a great anime. This is likely the most underrated show in the recent past. (Miki is number one!)
Usagi Drop – Another slice of life pick, also from the summer. There is little to dislike about this show – the simplistic animation, the heartwarming storyline and the “cute” factor (Rin!) sum up to make Usagi Drop one of the best of the year. As I’ve come to expect from at least one of the shows in the noitaminA slot, the uniqueness of Usagi Drop was the relatively deep issue that it delved into. The fact that Rin is an unwanted child defines much of her interactions with other characters, and the way that Daikichi and she overcome it is what makes this so brilliant. The short stories are well written, well animated, and well executed, with most of them thought-provoking or highly enjoyable to watch. Rin was by far the cutest character in 2011, hands down.
Steins;gate – It’s normally a difficult task to write a story based on time travel due to the inherent paradoxical difficulties that arise when doing so, as well as keeping theories consistent and coherent, yet Steins;gate does it masterfully. Although the first few episodes, much like The iDOLM@STER, are rather slow, the story picks up quickly and never lets up. What were probably the biggest points for me were the characters; after a couple of episodes, it seemed like what they did really mattered. While I didn’t have the most experience with conspiracy plots (aside from perhaps Higurashi), the events were suspenseful and I wanted the characters to win their battles. Even though I spoiled myself before the series had ended, the plot twists were still surprising to an extent. Put a well-constructed plot, great characters, and some good voice-acting too, and you’ve got yourself a success.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica – Honestly, who wasn’t expecting this? As the most recent deconstruction anime to come out of SHAFT’s doors, Madoka shines in so many different ways. While it’s difficult to really say anything of substance without effective spoiling everything, I can say that Urobuchi Gen did a good job with the writing, even if at a few points my interest waned. I can say that SHAFT’s quirky animation positively benefited the show atmosphere, instead of hurting it as it’s done in the past. I can say that the animators knew how to make an episode epic and full of emotion – namely episode 10. And I can say that the music was great. Of course, there were some problems, biggest of all was the wait that viewers were forced to endure (due to the tsunami), some questionable pacing and scientific fudgery, but the positives outweigh the negatives, even for a person who is cautious when it comes to SHAFT. The Japanese seem to agree – Madoka has sold tens of thousands of Blu-rays and three movies are planned for the future. And of course, it’s generated yet another new meme, damn it.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai – Rounding out the top five, Ano Hana brings serious drama to the group. As another noitaminA show, it only had eleven episodes to do its job, which was quite the task considering the depths to which the show tries to describe its characters. There must be something about shows that emphasize characters, as this is again a strong point of Ano Hana, along with the (relatively) realistic plot and crisp art. I was hooked on the series by the first episode, and it really never let up (even through the more mundane middle episodes), and is a fine example of what noitaminA drama should be like. The symbolic meaning of the titular flower is appropriate for the show. It’s certainly something I won’t forget for a long time.

Honorable Mentions: TIGER & BUNNY, Ben-to

Best Opening Theme 
"connect" by ClariS (Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica)

This was a tough one, considering I liked a lot of them, but this one’s definitely the most memorable. The fact that I was already a fan of ClariS (Oreimo) made it a standout.
Honorable Mentions: "CHANGE!!!!" by 765PRO ALLSTARS (The iDOLM@STER), "Hyadain no Kakakata Kataomoi" by Hyadain (Nichijou), "Authentic symphony" by Choucho (Mashiroiro Symphony)

Best Ending Theme
"cross over" by 9nine (Star Driver)

This was another difficult choice to make. There’s just nothing much I can say except that this song  makes me happy every time I listen to it. Hearing it in the final episode only made it sweeter.
Honorable Mentions: "Ai no Yokan" by Itou Kanae, Hayami Saori, Koshimizu Ami, Asumi Kana & Toyosaki Aki (Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai II), "secret base" by Kayano Ai, Tomatsu Haruka & Hayami Saori (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai)
Best Animation – Nichijou (Kyoto Animation)
As would be expected from Kyoto Animation, they did a great job on the animation of Nichijou. While most of the series stuck with a relatively simple drawing style, the quality shows with the high-action scenes, the details that are a little bit harder to notice, and the absolutely awesome opening sequence. Of course, they do only produce a show a year now, so this quality shouldn’t be so surprising anyhow.
Best Music – The iDOLM@STER
There wasn’t much competition here, considering IM@S prides itself on its music. The episodic inserts were nice, and the music included from the games suited the moods well, even if some of them were off-tune. Almost all of the anime original songs, however, were fantastic, including the two opening themes READY!! and CHANGE!!!!, as well as songs like Marionette no Kokoro and Itsumademo, Dokomademo. Some of those seiyuus can really sing, too, like Asami Imai (most notably in her Yakusoku and Aoi Tori as Kisaragi Chihaya) and Yumi Hara (as Shijou Takane).
Most…Intriguing – Mawaru Penguindrum
Even if I wasn’t completely sold on the quality of Mawaru Penguindrum, there’s no denying the fact that every week for the last twenty-four weeks, I pretty much understood about a minute of the show. With the metaphorical visuals that director Ikuhara implements and the even more convoluted character relationships, I was usually left with more questions than answers after those twenty-four minutes. While it should have been expected following Ikhuara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena, the entire show still deserves a “WTF?” GAINAX would have been proud.

Most Underrated – Dog Days
Most took this too seriously (and were disappointed), but at heart it’s just a fun show that, at least for me, really was fun. A second season is expected, so I’ll definitely be watching that too.
Biggest Disappointment – Nichijou
As a personal note, if I could vote Guilty Crown, I would. But alas, Nichijou wins the award, as Kyoto Animation’s yearly show just didn’t click with me. While there were some parts that were fabulous (max), most of the humour was hit or miss. For me, it was miss. And frankly, I’m still waiting for that Little Busters adaptation. KyoAni could do better.
Most Overrated – Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
Yes, this was one of my favorites of the year, but there was just much too much praise given after the show’s conclusion. Practically every poll that existed with Madoka as a choice had Madoka polling at the top, regardless of the actual poll content. The forum boards were saturated with Madoka memes. While much of it subsided by now, Madoka is still given too much credit for what it deserves. (This is also indicative of my indecision.)

And now, a quick look at 2012 – here are a few shows and movies to look out for.

Most Anticipated
Fate/zero  This should be self-explanatory. Ufotable hasn’t disappointed yet. It’ll be hard to wait until April for this.
Sword Art Online – Based on the extremely popular light novel, I’m interested to see what A-1 will do with it, seeing as their recent works have been good. The light novels were great, too.
Evangelion 3.0: You can (not) redo – After a three year wait, we finally get the third installment of the Neon Genesis Evangelion remake. This should be good.
Nisemonogatari – As the sequel of Bakemonogatari and another one in the “Monogatari” series, high expectations.


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