Theron: Greetings, fellow travelers on Starship Earth! I am Theron “Key” Martin, staff reviewer for ANN, and I will be your host and pilot for this year's journey through our annual Year in Review piece. And joining me once again on our merry voyage through the anime universe is my co-pilot. . .
Carl: …Carl Kimlinger. Good afternoon dear passengers. Please look forward to an entirely safe, totally risk-free, professionally piloted year-end review thingy. It will please you to know that your pilot is not chemically impaired in any way. I swear. And so does that legged snake with Hunter S. Thompson's head.
Theron: Anyway, 2012 could be called “A Tale of Two Series” when it comes to anime titles becoming officially available in the States. The first half of the year was dominated by Aniplex's American release of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a 12 episode series which takes a stark, harsh look at the magic girl genre and has parleyed that into the biggest phenomenon in fandom since The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya first aired. Its quality execution has resulted in some proclaiming it as the best series of the past decade, a claim which I don't agree with but do recognize isn't as much hyperbole as such claims normally are. The second half of the year has been dominated by the official stream of the 25-episode Sword Art Online, which by any measure is easily the year's most popular and talked-about new show on both sides of the Pacific and has propelled its source light novels into utter dominance of the Japanese light novel sales charts for 2012. (It has also sparked the longest and one of the most contentious series discussion threads our forums have ever seen.) Like it or not, respect it or not – and many don't – it is a juggernaut whose impact and popularity should endure well beyond 2012. But while both of these titles can be expected to make appearances in this year's edition of our annual wrap-up, they were far from the only noteworthy releases in the past year. Let's explore the highlights and lowlights of 2012, shall we?
Only content which sees an official, widespread release in the U.S. market during 2012 – whether on TV, in movie theaters, on DVD/Blu-Ray, or via legal downloads or streaming video – is eligible for consideration; titles which have only officially shown at conventions or in a handful of theaters, or which are rereleases, do not count as a 2012 title. Titles which came out in Japan during 2012 but did not become available in the U.S. by official (i.e. legal) means are only eligible for the Unlicensed Gem award, which goes to titles which are most deserving of being licensed. In the cases of series split over two years, we usually consider only the part of the series which first became available in 2012.
WARNING: Although we have tried to minimize spoilers, the Death Scene of the Year award does contain an early major spoiler for Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
Series of the Year
Sword Art Online
So, I Can't Play H!
Best of the Rest:
OniAi, To Love-Ru - Trouble- Darkness
Theron: In the history of awesome anime series, nothing can top the stupendous accomplishments of SAO. Its fully-realized characters (including one of the most incredible heroes ever), wonderfully-complex villains, and tight, skillful writing make it such a joy to watch that anyone will appreciate it. And it even features sister/cousin love, too! Of course, it has a lot of company in featuring incest and fan service, as there were other brilliant entries in 2012. . .
Carl: Oh, I've had enough of this. System Command, ID Heathcliff. Enable administrative privileges. Cancel mind control experiment on subject Martin.
. . .such as. . . Wait, what? What was I saying? DAMN YOU, SUGOU!!!
Anyway, here are my real selections:
Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Runner-Up: Love, Chunibyo, & Other Delusions
Best of the Rest:
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Fate/Zero season 2, Kurenai
Carl's Pick: anohana
Runner-Up: Kimi ni Todoke
Best of the Rest: Kids on the Slope, K-ON!! (season 2), Jormungand
PMMM was my standard-setter for the year, and for most of the year it wasn't seriously challenged – not because it was that overwhelmingly good, but because nothing else truly distinguished itself as a top-tier title. Though it failed in its character designs and rendering (which, incidentally, looked even worse on the big screen in the movie versions), it showed great ambition and cleverness in the way it delved into the mechanics behind being a magical girl and how they could be exploited in dark ways. The resulting harsh journey systematically destroyed hope before reconstituting it again with a lovely but bittersweet conclusion, along the way throwing all sorts of nasty twists and revelations into the mix and supporting it with some creative artistic elements and a powerful musical score. It is a strong, compelling, and worthy addition to its genre. Late in the year, though, one title did threaten it a little, and from an unexpected direction, too. Love, Chunibyo, & Other Delusions
(to use The Anime Network's official title) started as an amazingly fun and inventive comedy about teens wallowing in delusions and didn't skip a beat as it explored romance and the much more serious “why” behind female lead Rikka's stubborn adherence to her fantasy world. High-end artistic and technical merits from Kyoto Animation and an emotional climax secure its place as the best 2012-originating series that I saw during the year. Amongst the others, Dusk Maiden
started with a cleverly funny first episode and liberally mixed humor, horror, and drama elements as it built the relationship between the ghostly Yuuko and the corporeal Yuuta and explored the mystery behind how and why Yuuko died and why she can't remember it. The writing goes into some very dark places, and gets more deeply psychological than one might expect, but it brings the series to a very satisfying resolution (and no, the gimmick in the last scene doesn't spoil the series enough to knock it off this list) and features a creative artistic effort, too. Fate/Zero's second season was a decided improvement over the first because it mostly stepped beyond the tedious set-up aspect and focused much more on plot and character progression, great action, and establishing the circumstances for Fate/Stay Night. It deserves a place here if for no other reason than accomplishing the extraordinary feat of actually making its predecessor series better. Kurenai, a hold-over from 2008 which finally saw its long-overdue license and release in 2012, uses a distinctive visual style but makes the cut more on the strength of the quality interactions it builds between its two leads.
Several other titles did get considered. Sankarea looked promising but had weaker technical merits and floundered on its pacing in its later stages, Blast of Tempest had a chance until it bogged down toward the end of its first cour, From the New World still has potential but hasn't been consistent, Broken Blade had the technical merits and some compelling content but also stumbled on consistent storytelling quality, Kokoro Connect was good but never quite made the step up to top-tier work, and anohana and ef: a tale of memories missed the cut in favor of Fate/Zero primarily because they weren't quite as emotionally compelling for me as they apparently were for some others. (Both are still good series, though.) As for Carl's other picks, Jormungand is one of the very few series debuting in 2012 that I never ended up even sampling and I never got around to finishing out the other three, so I can't comment on them.
Carl: I know I have some explaining to do here. Leaving Madoka Magica off my list is not going to go down well with some. And I understand why. Frankly it never blew me away, but nevertheless I thought it an exceedingly clever genre reinvention—one of the cleverest I've ever seen. It is all the things Theron says of it, and more. For me it was the only series besides Hellsing Ultimate to threaten to knock one of the five from my list. But the hard truth is that I just didn't enjoy it the way I enjoyed the others. This is not the place to get into the reasons for that—and frankly I don't understand all of them myself—so let's put it down to taste and leave it there for now.
Don't make too much of my list's ranking. I got it by rolling a die. Okay, not really—but I could have. I like all the shows on my list pretty much equally, and most of them for apples-and-oranges kinds of reasons. Kimi ni Todoke is a lovely romance, gentle and populated with thoroughly huggable characters. It soothes and warms like a good blanket on a rainy day, and is not incidentally the year's most purely beautiful series. Kids on the Slope is a sensitively-written coming-of-age drama, built around a rare (for anime) male friendship and steeped in Yoko Kanno and Shinichiro Watanabe's deep love of jazz. It is an atypical anime in that it looks to period films and Japan's recent history for inspiration, a trend I wish more would follow. Jormungand is a lean actioner, stripped to its violent core and propelled forward at a gallop. It is a clean, mean thrill: no mucky morals or philosophical messaging, just gun-running mercenaries running guns and killing those who get in their way. The second season is heavier on character and heads in an ambitious sci-fi direction, but is a brutal blast regardless. K-on!! is a series that gets its share of abuse for being cutesy and frivolous—some of it from me—but it won me over with its craft and single-minded devotion to lifting spirits. It is a joy to watch, pure and simple. anohana is designed mostly for breaking hearts. A drama about five friends and the girl whose death shattered their lives, it's an aching look at growing up and growing apart and a periodically devastating examination of grief and grieving. I gave it the top spot for its embarrassment of memorable characters and also the indelible mark it leaves on the heart.
Of Theron's picks, I've already explained PMMM. I let Chunibyo slip past as it seemed outside my tastes—apparently a grave mistake, and one I will rectify when I have the time. I watched the first part of Dusk Maiden, but it never clicked for me. I skipped Fate/Zero's second season based on my lukewarm response to season one. Kurenai is one part of my greatest regret this year: that I let so many superior series from yesteryear slip under my radar. Kurenai, Intrigue in the Bakumatsu, A Certain Scientific Railgun — I'm kicking myself for missing them all. Since I watched them so long ago, I cannot remember whether they should be on this list. So they aren't. I feel I should also point out that this is the first time that Theron's list and mine have had zero overlap. Curious.
Movie of the Year
The Secret World of Arrietty
Theron's Pick: Redline
Carl: For me, this year's movies came down to two: Ghibli's Arrietty and Theron's pick, Madhouse's Redline. Both are visual feasts that run more on the pure joy of animation than on their specific content (gentle adventure in Arrietty, nonstop racing action in Redline). Ultimately my choice came down to preference: the subtle magic of Arrietty, with its gorgeous attention to detail and movement, over the fist-in-the-face visual inventions of Redline. And Arrietty is indeed magical, its tale of the tiny people called Borrowers bringing to delightful life the imaginary worlds of childhood (as it should, being based on the English children's staple The Borrowers).
Theron: 2012 had nowhere near the depth of anime movie selections that 2011 had, but it still had a pretty good collection of offerings. Of those, the one that most impressed was Redline. I am not a big fan of the very distinctive visual style used in it, but there's no denying that it is a gorgeously-animated, fantastic-looking, and highly imaginative effort, so much so that the story basically doesn't matter. Pretty much every other anime movie that came out in 2012 had flaws that dragged it down; for instance, I was nowhere near as much of a fan of Arrietty's visuals as Carl apparently was and simply couldn't watch it without constantly thinking of the American cartoon The Littles, which was on Saturday morning TV when I was a kid.
Surprise of the Year
Carl's Pick: Say, “I Love You”.
Theron's Pick: Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father!
Carl: This award goes to a series or movie which defies expectations the most, either for the better or for the worse. I'll admit that I'm not completely caught up on this over-faithful paean to the classic tropes of first-love shojo romances. There's an apt reason for that: I'm terrified that it's gonna crash and burn. Thus far it's been a beautifully directed treat that nimbly dodges the pitfalls of its tale (of frumpy loner Mei's romance with uber-popular perfect-boy Yamato), mostly by way of strong characterization (particularly of Mei) and unflinching, sometimes touching honesty. But every time it approaches another stinker of a cliché you can't help fearing that this is it for the show. So far it has defied that expectation at every turn: a continual run of pleasant surprises. Still, it's hard on my nerves. The first episode of Theron's pick fooled me good: I never got past it.
Theron: Glad to hear that, Carl; I had a very favorable impression of its first three episodes, but the fall season was just too deep for me to keep up with everything that looked promising (heck, I didn't even get around to following the newest entry in my beloved To Love-Ru franchise, though its odious censoring had a lot to do with that), so this one kinda fell by the wayside over time. My pick here had a concept which suggested that this was going to be a trashy, otaku-pandering fare at its worst, and indeed the first episode gave little reason to hope for better. I thought I saw a spark there, though, a single scene which jumped out at me: a scene where the main character's sister sharply rebukes him for something inappropriate he had said about their dead parents. Scenes like that don't normally appear in titles destined to be purely lowbrow fare, so I stuck it out. I'm glad I did, because the serious turn that the series took at the end of episode 2 showed far more ambition than just an ordinary fan service fest. As the series progressed and dealt head-on with the consequences of a college student working hard to follow in his sister's footsteps by keeping a trio of sisters together in the face of tragedy, it picked up a weight and emotional resonance that never would have been initially expected. Some surprisingly great supporting cast members and a powerful scene where the main character and two elder sisters must explain to the 3-year-old that her parents aren't ever coming back again contribute to making this a far better series at the end than where it started.
Character of the Year
Mikoto Urabe, Mysterious Girlfriend X
Koko Hekmatyar, Jormungand
Theron: Anime saw several scene-stealing supporting cast members in 2012, from Blast of Tempest's Aika to Sankarea's Mero to Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father's Raika (and for reasons other than just being a hottie), but none of them topped Mikoto, whose especially abnormal version of normal won out over the array of non-human girlfriends in the spring season. Girlfriend characters in anime have been taken to extremes over the years to create distinctive characters, but Mikoto still distinguished herself with a unique style, attitude, mindset, and Japanese vocal effort, not to mention the whole “bond through drool-sharing” thing or her wicked skill with the scissors that she perpetually carries in her panties.
Carl: There are strong female leads, and there there's Koko: arms dealer extraordinaire, lethal strategist, megalomaniacal madwoman. As merchant of death and leader of a crackerjack team of mercenary bodyguards, she spends most of the first season as an alluring cipher: all snaky smiles, affectionate playfulness, and utter and unapologetic amorality. In the second season she acquires more human dimensions—softening here, betraying uncertainty there—while slowly but surely revealing the out-and-out villain beneath her Machiavellian anti-heroine exterior. As Bill and Ted might say: whoa.
Duo of the Year
Sawako and Kazehaya, Kimi ni Todoke
Lynn Lambretta and Jenny Doolittle, Bodacious Space Pirates
Carl: Simply the year's most loveable couple: sweet, kind, self-effacing… Never have two people so deserved one another.
Theron: I was sorely tempted to go with Asuna and Kirito from Sword Art Online, who were arguably the year's premier power couple, and Waver and Rider certainly deserved consideration again for the second season of Fate/Zero. Some of the romantic couples which formed in the fall season's romances also merited consideration, too. I ultimately went with this duo because of how unexpectedly neat a pair they turned out to be. The moment in episode 17 where they finally officially admitted to being a couple (as depicted above) was a glorious revelation and doubtlessly made fans who had been shipping them together since the early stages of the series (despite little evidence of such a relationship) deliriously happy.
Kyubey, Madoka Magica
Noboyuki Sugou (aka Fairy King Oberon), Sword Art Online
Carl: Madoka Magica's cuddly but creepy mascot character may be a bit of a cheat in this award. After all, unlike true bastards, he doesn't do anything out of ill will. He simply hasn't the emotional tools to recognize that his plans are magnificently cruel… or to realize that he's an evil little shit. Still, his manipulation of the girls is so horrific that you can't help hating his fuzzy guts.
Theron: Carl argues the case for Kyubey quite convincingly, but 2012 offered so many other excellent choices that I felt a need to spread the “love” around. The Master of Synapse from the Heaven's Lost Property franchise deserves a look for actions like giving his servitor Angeloid Nymph the choice of either tearing the wings off her beloved pet bird or going on the scrap heap; Dan'ichiro Sanka, Rea's father in Sankarea, merits consideration for his creepy possessiveness, ruthlessly discouraging anyone from getting close to his daughter, and taking nude pictures of his daughter every year on her birthday to “chart her growth;” the manipulator Heartseed from Kokoro Connect does apologize for his actions, but that does not excuse the emotional ringer he puts the main cast through (or almost getting one of them killed); and Akihiko Kayaba from SAO only trapped 10,000 people in a deadly VR MMO game, resulting in thousands of deaths over the course of two years. Sugou wins out over all of those for being so completely over-the-top with his old-school villainous bastardry, the full extent of which cannot be described here without revealing major second-arc spoilers but which he takes to very personal levels as well as being a bastard in a grand sense.
Scene of the Year
Madoka makes her wish, Puella Magi Madoka Magica episode 12.
The school festival concert, K-ON!! episode 20.
Theron: While there were other great and immensely satisfying scenes this year (Asuna and Kirito finally reuniting in the real world in the Sword Art Online finale immediately springs to mind), this pick really couldn't have been anything else. Madoka's wish was the culmination of everything that she had learned over the course of the series and everything that she was as a character, all wrapped into one masterstroke. Not every PMMM fan (boy, am I the only person who cannot type that without thinking of the song Set Adrift on Memory Bliss?) was happy with that being her wish, but it does brilliantly acknowledge that the ultimate perversion of the spirit behind the wishes, and not the wishes themselves or the way that the girls put their lives on the line as the price for those wishes, was the real problem.
Carl: I'll admit I'm a sucker for concert sequences, but this one is still special. Up until this scene the series studiously avoided showing the girls perform, so their performance is musical catharsis: as viscerally satisfying as it is warming. The sequence nails the thrill of live performance, gets all the details just right, and also pulls together the girls' friendship, their evolution as musicians, and the school's regard for them in one long, humorous, and embarrassingly uplifting live set. Afterwards we're as much fans of the band as their audience is.
Death Scene of the Year (warning: spoilers!)
Mami is killed by a witch, Puella Magi Madoka Magica episode 3.
(tie) Mami loses her head, Puella Magi Madoka Magica episode 3; Yuuko becomes a ghost, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia episode 10.
Carl: For impact on a series, Mami's demise is hard to beat. This is the moment when we realize that Madoka Magica has teeth. Not just any teeth either: big, gnarly, character-chewing teeth. There's no choice but to watch the rest of the series on edge, waiting for those teeth to start chewing again. And boy, do they chew.
Theron: Wow, was this also a banner year for stand-out death scenes, especially compared to 2011! So deep was this year's field that none of the graphic spectacles in Another or Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse, the noble (and not-so-noble) deaths in Fate/Zero season 2, or the jarring death and zombification of Rea in Sankarea could even rate a Runner-Up status. That's because two death scenes stood head and shoulders above everything else in 2012, and each had such strong merits that I could not pick one over the other. Some fans of PMMM argue that one or more of its later death scenes pack a more emotional impact, but Mami's sudden decapitation was the jaw-dropper, the game-changer, the moment which accomplished the exceedingly rare feat of sending shockwaves through fandom and making viewers sit up and take notice that this was not going to be your typical magical girl series; such series just don't unceremoniously and unheroically kill off their most popular character, and in fairly brutal fashion, too. Such transformative moments only come along a handful of times in each decade. In many respects Yuuko's death is the polar opposite: a revelation that viewers had been anticipating for ten episodes and which took four agonizing minutes of episode time (and probably multiple days of actual time) to play out. Watching the heroine pleading for a rescue that won't come and struggling not to fill her heart with hate and unwarranted accusations as she faces a lonely, painful, and undeserved death is an intensely uncomfortable viewing experience, but it is also a masterpiece of writing and visual execution which defines the background and plot for the series and contributes greatly to making Dusk Maiden one of the year's highlight titles.
Opener of the Year
“Fate” by Kokia, Broken Blade
“Satsugai,” by Detroit Metal City, Detroit Metal City
Theron: Unlike with Closer of the Year, I didn't find any overwhelming stand-out here, but Broken Blade's opener did set a fairly high standard for other titles to match. A great song pairs with some nice visuals for an overall strong effect. Honorable Mentions include Dusk Maiden's awfully-named opener “Choir Jail” (which features some lip-synching and gorgeous, sweeping scenery shots), Love, Chunibyo, & Other Delusions' well-animated “Sparkling Daydream,” and Fate/Zero's “to the beginning,” a basic but effective blending of a great Kalafina song and good visuals.
Carl: I'm tired of picking beautiful, thoughtful openers and closers for these awards. So I'm giving my nod to this uproarious faux-metal anthem to murder and rape. It's beautifully put together, nicely rocking, and captures the feral charm of the series' eponymous band in a way that the episodes themselves rarely do. It's also gut-busting funny.
Closer of the Year
"Maids Sanjō!" by Maids, And Yet the Town Moves
“Magia,” Puella Magi Madoka Magica episodes 3-8
Carl: I said I was tired of thoughtful songs. In the series, this is the song that the characters' makeshift band sings about themselves. So it's supremely silly—but also totally freaking awesome. You've never heard a band with an electric violin and accordion rock so hard. The ending sequence itself is designed to look like a street gig, which works wonderfully.
Theron: This was the easiest pick of the year for me, as no other closer in 2012 even came close to matching the power of Kalafina's superb musical effort. Appropriate lyrics and interesting (if sparse) visuals also contribute. A distant runner-up would probably be Fate/Zero's melodic “Up on the Sky, The Wind Sings” by Luna Haruna, which chronicles the relationship of key characters Kiritsugu and Irisviel in such involving fashion that I want an OVA made to give us the full story.
Best DVD/Blu-Ray Feature or Extra
Funimation's suite of Princess Jellyfish extras.
Occult Academy hardback booklet.
Carl: The Princess Jellyfish box set puts together one of the most lovingly crafted sets of extras I've ever seen. It includes a series of six goofy little videos that assemble into a single ingenious promo, four great omake episodes (each featuring a different character), a surprisingly entertaining video in which two seiyuu learn about jellyfish, and a branching “field guide” that brilliantly disguises the show's liner notes as a guide to Princess Jellyfish wildlife. All together they do what extras should do: give new joy to established fans and a complete package to the new ones.
Theron: No real stand-outs here in 2012, so this award goes to the best-looking Extra, the hardback booklet which came with NISA's Premium Edition release of Occult Academy. It looks great and has a lot of neat bonus features to go with the episode summaries, including maps of Waldstein Academy, concept art, highlights of occult items scattered throughout the series, and so forth. A Runner-Up here would probably be the new Japanese audio commentary track on the Ninja Scroll Blu-Ray featuring director Yoshiaki Kawajiri and animation director Yutaka Minowa reflecting back on the making of the movie from 20 years later.
So, I Can't Play H!
Is This a Zombie? of the Dead
Theron: Yeah, it's trashy and mostly about the nudity, but it's also fun and actually turned out to be a bit better than expected in writing and storytelling senses. It even has a decent romantic element to it, too.
Carl: The first season of this cross-dressing magical zombie-boy comedy was actually too good to qualify as a guilty pleasure, but this season… It's basically a ten-episode, inconclusive retread of the series' central joke. Still, I found it bizarre and perverse and funny enough that I watched right to its shrug of a conclusion.
Carl: I got nothing man. Every non-licensed show I followed this year either turned out to be not worth the effort (Joshiraku) or was licensed shortly thereafter (Say, “I Love You”).
Theron: I only ever saw one episode of this one, but the visual quality on it was top-rate and writing was pretty good. I've had several people tell me that it plays out as one of the better series of 2012, too, so I putting this one up here more on recommendations of others than personal experience. A more marginal choice is .hack//The Movie, an all-CG production which barely qualifies as a gem on the strength of some gorgeous CG artistry in its scenery and vehicles; its story is fairly typical as titles in the franchise go. A hold-over from 2011 which first started circulating in 2012 and is definitely worth mentioning is The Princess and the Pilot, a nice-looking and likable Madhouse Studios production about a half-breed airplane pilot tasked with the high-risk, high-rewards mission of using a two-seater scout plane to surreptitiously transport a future Empress thousands of kilometers across an ocean patrolled by hostile aircraft.
Biggest/Most Important Trend
Theron: We're skipping this one for 2012 because neither of us saw any major new industry or content trend worth expounding upon.
Most Overused Story Element
Desired brother/sister incest.
Video games becoming real life.
Theron: This is a new regular category this year because both of us independently decided that we wanted to do it for individual awards. Carl's choice is an excellent one, so for variety I'm going with my other personal beef. While 2012 is hardly the progenitor of this trend (it's been prominent in ero games and hentai doujinshi for years and has appeared in anime at least as far back as Revolutionary Girl Utena's Nanami), it's getting to the point where something like this is popping up at least once every season. In 2012 this gimmick appears in NAKAIMO, OniAi, and the second arc of Sword Art Online, and I could be forgetting others. That's at least two times too many for the year.
Carl: Accel World, BTOOOM!, Sword Art Online, Ixion Saga DT… There's an obscene glut of this kind of series, and I'm sure there's more depending on how you define the concept. Some of the shows are pretty good, but even the best has the same irritating undercurrent: that us video-gaming youngsters need to have some reality spanked into us; that somehow the only way to get us to return to reality is to turn reality into a video game.
Dub Performance Awards
Theron: I don't feel qualified to do Japanese awards, while Carl doesn't feel qualified to do English awards, so we're each doing our respective specialty only.
Best Overall Japanese Dub:
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Male:
Takahiro Sakurai as Atsumu "Yukiatsu" Matsuyuki, anohana
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Female:
Mai Nakahara as Me, Humanity Has Declined
Carl: There wasn't a real stand-out dub for me this year, though there were many that deserved commendation: K-on!! for managing toxic levels of moe with class and surprising affect; Kimi ni Todoke and Moyashimon for great ensemble chemistry; Polar Bear's Café for its unique feel; and Kids on the Slope for its rigorous old-fashionedness. Ultimately Anohana won out, for the utterly boring reason that it had more great acting per length of plot than any other show. It's crammed with excellent performances, as veterans and emerging talents alike dig into an ensemble cast of evolving, emotionally charged characters. The pushier scenes in the final episode work only because of the acting muscle behind them. Even in that company Takahiro Sakurai stands out as the deeply disturbed Yukiatsu, deftly balancing his hateful tendencies with the feelings that drove him to the edge, creating a character who you can like (or at least understand) even as you recoil from his behavior. Mai Nakahara's turn as the nameless protagonist of Humanity has Declined is, in stark contrast, a bravura comic performance: all droll wit and comic sangfroid, razor-tongued charm and exhausted resignation—a truly grown-up performance from an actress who once seemed doomed to rot in the role of vulnerable genki-girl.
Theron: Normally I wouldn't comment here, but there were two Japanese performances that I heard in 2012 that Carl apparently didn't that I thought were worthy of special note – and as it happens, both involved voicing young girls. Aoi Yuki has been one of the most prominent female seiyuu of the past four years, but her breakthrough role was unquestionably her co-starring performance as the precocious 7-year-old Murasaki in Kurenai, and it is a delight to listen to. Hiromi Igarashi also turns in one of the most convincing renditions of a 3-year-old that you'll ever hear in anime as Hina in Listen To Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! I would put either on the same level as Mai Nakahara's performance.
Best Overall English Dub:
Best English Dub Performance – Male:
Kent Williams as Momoko, Shangri-La (Runner-Up:
Ian Sinclair as Ryner Lute, The Legend of the Legendary Heroes
Best English Dub Performance – Female:
Shelley Calene-Black as Hamyuts Meseta, The Book of Bantorra
Theron: Though the series was nothing special otherwise, the English dub for Shangri-La sizzled, with nary a weak performance to be found and a ton of especially strong ones. Kent Williams, as the deliciously saucy, ribald, “sexually reassigned” Momoko, narrowly edges out Ian Sinclair's laid-back, attitude-laden Ryner Lute for the top male performance of the year, though other male performances from each of their respective series were also competitive. Competition for the female award was even tighter, with several performances worthy of consideration: Lindsey Seidel (as Kuniko) and Jad Saxton (as Karin) from Shangri-La, Cassandra Lee's dead-on interpretation of Kyubey in PMMM, Luci Christian as Aria the Scarlet Ammo's Riko and LotLH's Ferris, Leah Clark as the two-faced Minatsuki/Hummingbird in Deadman Wonderland, and Cynthia Martinez for The Book of Bantorra's Noloty. Ultimately, though, Shelley Calene-Black was just too perfect a fit as Hamyuts in what might be her best performance since Noir.
Theron: Each of us has chosen three awards to hand out in cases that merit special recognition or damnation.
Action Scene of the Year:
Kirito vs. Gleaming Eyes (level 74 boss), Sword Art Online episode 8
Theron: Oh, there are definitely a lot of good candidates out there for this one: Fate/Zero had some great battles, someone recommended to me a Hunter x Hunter battle from episodes 35-36 that I'll freely admit is among the most thrilling of all shonen action battles, Redline had tons of ridiculous action, and so forth. Nothing in 2012 made an impression on me like this battle did, though; I must have watched this sequence a half-dozen times in the week following its release, and I never do that. The first image of Kirito confronting Gleaming Eyes (see picture) while others struggled to rescue endangered warriors sent a chill down my spine, a reaction I hardly ever get from anime. The musical support, threat level, what was at stake, and the desperation which forced out Kirito's trump card – all of it contributed to an awesome visual experience and terrific display of badassery that even detractors of the series generally respected. (And yeah, others made a few blows on Gleaming Eyes, but let's face it: this was basically soloing a floor boss.) SAO has its faults, but staging battle spectacles isn't one of them.
Funniest Title: Detroit Metal City
Carl: Vicious, crude, and utterly merciless, this rock n' roll comedy, from the director of Mushi-Shi of all things, skewers every musical subculture known to man while also presenting some of the most inspired sight gags and twisted situational comedy around. Nearly every one of its six-minute vignettes ends with us gasping for air, and like all great comedy it backs its jokes with a sharp core of truth: about the pretensions of artists and about the fears we have for our dreams and the course of our lives.
Weirdest Fetish: Moe girls with eye patches.
Theron: What's up with this strange fascination? At least two series new in 2012 featured female leads wearing them (Another's Mei and Love, Chunibyo, & Other Delusions' Rikka), a third offers a non-moe option (Bodacious Space Pirates' Luca), the release of ef: a tale of memories brings Chihiro into the picture, and the rerelease of Strike Witches adds in Major Sakamoto. Binbogami ga! also has Momiji, who technically doesn't wear an eye patch but always has her right eye concealed. I'm sure I'm forgetting at least one or two others, and we have Asuka from Evangelion 3.0 coming up in Stateside releases next year, too!
Careers To Keep An Eye On: Toshimasa Kuroyanagi, Atsumi Tanezaki
Carl: It's hard to know exactly how much of Say, “I Love You” is Toshimasa Kuroyanagi (for whom no picture could be found) and how much is his partner in direction Takuya Satō, but the series is so skillfully directed that even if it's just a fraction we should take due note. In his relatively short career Kuroyanagi has worked with some of the best, and it seems it wasn't without picking a little something up. Atsumi Tanezaki, on the other hand, has worked with hardly anyone. The crucial role of friendless cutie Natsume in My Little Monster is to all intents and purposes her debut, and she hits it out of the park. Her work is at turns funny and sad, sweet and heartbreaking—polished and assured in a way that is utterly at odds with her lack of credits. Keep her in sight; I think she's going places.
About Damn Time Award: Funimation finally releasing A Certain Magical Index, Shakugan no Shana 2, and other backlogged titles.
Theron: Back in the summer of 2010 Funimation announced the licensure of 17 titles, but due to various complications some of them only finally came out in mid-to-late 2012 (two years later!) and a few still have yet to have their release dates announced. Yeah, I know that a major company merger on the Japanese end greatly complicated matters and was beyond Funi's control, but that doesn't leave me any less irritated that I've had to wait that long to get my own official copies of several of those titles.
Had a Good Year: Tatsuyuki Nagai
Carl: I've been following Nagai ever since he demolished me with his sequel to Kenichi Kasai's already beautiful Honey and Clover. He's a director with near-perfect emotional instincts and an uncanny eye for motion. In the years since Honey and Clover he's produced an almost uninterrupted run of superb anime, but has been represented stateside only by the wonderful teen romance Toradora! Via some fluke of licensing, however, that changed this last year, as 2012 saw the release of Nagai's entire back catalog. NIS America released the great anohana. January saw the simulcast of Waiting in the Summer¸ Nagai's highly enjoyable kind-of sequel to the Please! franchise. Funimation streamed A Certain Scientific Railgun, his foray into polished action, and Sentai Filmworks even released Idolm@ster: Xenoglossia, a silly riff on girls-in-robots tropes that counts as his only stinker. It's been a good year for the man and a great year for his fans.
Theron: Well, that about wraps it up for this year. Any last thoughts, Carl?
Carl: It's been a gas everyone. May this year bring happy viewing for you all. Now I have to go; the Hunter Thompson-snake is attacking the moe William Burroughs with the eye-patch and I have to break it up before it gets ugly.