Anime in America: The Best (and Worst) of 2013

by Theron Martin, Jan 6th 2014
Theron: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to this year's edition of Anime in America, which will hereafter be referred to as Attack on 2013. I am ANN staff reviewer Theron “Key” Martin, your host once again for these fine festivities, where we will look back at what worked in 2013 in the world of anime and what didn't, what carried the mouth-watering aroma of freshly-cooked popcorn and what stank up the place like a bag of microwave popcorn left in the oven for much too long. And speaking of popcorn, across the aisle here is my co-host. . .

Carl: Is that some kind of cruel joke? You know I swell up like a hot air balloon if I so much as touch popcorn. At any rate, I'm fellow reviewer Carl Kimlinger, back once again to elevate the good and stomp the hell out of the bad. Let's have fun.

Theron: Yeah, sorry about that, Carl. In general 2013 was a very good year for anime series. While I did not see anything that I would consider a “Best of Decade” candidate, the year nonetheless offered up a wealth of series that were either very good or very entertaining or both, to the point that I found myself following more series week-to-week this year than ever before and still had to drop a couple of potentially interesting ones each season due to time constraints. There was a wide variety of good stuff out there, too, with no particular style or genre dominating the market; if you could not find at least a few titles you liked this year then you were not trying very hard. I also felt that we saw the emergence of the next big gateway title in Attack on Titan, a series that is more primed than anything we have seen in years to be a cross-over hit.

So let's get to business on these awards, shall we? Oh, and do keep in mind that while Carl and I sample nearly everything that comes out each year, we only actually follow a fraction of those titles completely through. Think we missed something? That is what the response thread in the Talkback forum is for!

THE STANDARDS
Theron: Unlike similar features on a lot of other sites, we do this feature strictly about titles that first become widely-available in the American market – whether on TV, in a theatrical release, on DVD/Blu-Ray, or via legal streaming or downloads – during the 2013 calendar year. For a series to qualify for Series of the Year it has to have at least eight episodes (or the entire series run, if shorter than that) premiering in 2013; in all other cases, the content just has to appear in some release during the year.

WARNING: Although we have tried to minimize spoilers, the Death Scene of the Year award does contain major spoilers for Valvrave the Liberator and a more minor one for Wolf Children.

Series of the Year
Theron's Pick: Kyousogiga
Runner-Up: WATAMOTE
Best of the Rest: From the New World, Kotoura-san, The Devil is a Part-Timer!

Carl's Pick: Flowers of Evil
Runner-Up: Penguindrum
Best of the Rest: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Lovely Complex, The Devil is a Part-Timer!

Theron: Man, I had a devil of a time this year with the top series picks. At first I was despairing because I had trouble coming up with any titles that were stand-out “best of year” candidates, but once I set my bar a little lower I ended up with a list of nine, all of which were at about the same level of goodness. As the last few weeks of the fall season played out, though, one title emerged from the pack: Kyousogiga, a strange little series which uses a frenetic, sometimes abstract artistic style reminiscent of FLCL as it mixes elements of fairy tales, science fiction, and Buddhist spiritualism in a tale about a family living in a pocket universe version of Kyoto. Somehow from its seeming messiness a quality story emerges, one which finds an improbable balance between zaniness and somber, deeply introspective character development and delivers it with an achingly sentimental touch devoid of treacle. It never had a letdown and finished very strong – if one discounts that its last episode is a recap, of course. But I would rather see that than a story which needlessly stretches itself out. WATAMOTE earns runner-up honors for masterfully taking a frank look at a bitter, socially crippled teenager who desperately wants to break out of her shell but is very much her own worst enemy. Sometimes tremendously funny, often uncomfortable, and occasionally heartbreaking, it is not a series I am keen to rewatch but definitely do not regret watching once.

The remaining spots were much trickier, as I had to pare seven titles down to only three. Kotoura-san makes the cut despite a couple of weak points (the episode concerning the amusement park in particular) because it did such an incredible job of sincerely handling its title character's travails with her telepathy while still often being very funny, a balancing act just as hard to pull off as those of the series I rank above it. From the New World qualifies because it plays better when looked at as a whole story, as it provides a thoughtful, imaginative, and in some respects very scary look at a future world where psychic powers are ubiquitous. The last pick was the toughest, but I finally decided on The Devil is a Part-Timer! because I found it to be the year's most consistently funny series and exceedingly clever in the way it parodies and plays with common fantasy conventions, including reversing the all-too-common world-hopping scenario. Very near-misses include, in no particular order, A Certain Scientific Railgun S (great job expanding the original Sisters arc, filler arc that starts out weak but ends up very solid), Sunday Without God (the year's most intriguing premise, beautifully wraps up its story arcs), MAOYU (a novel approach to fantasy that might have made the cut if not for some awkwardly-inserted harem-like antics), and Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail (great fun but hurt itself by getting too philosophical).

The obvious question here is, of course, why Attack on Titan is not present since it was the year's biggest new anime franchise. The simple answer: the series' entertainment value routinely exceeds its quality. While I quite enjoyed AoT, it also has deep flaws in its pacing and enough other annoying qualities that I could not seriously consider it for top honors. As for Carl's picks that didn't match mine, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 was on the next level down from the near-misses for me and the other three I either haven't seen at all (Lovely Complex) or never saw past the first couple of episodes, although Penguindrum is still on my “must finish eventually” list.

Carl: 2013 was a pretty good year for odd, offbeat, or outright experimental anime. And none defied the mainstream or courted controversy quite as ferociously as Hiroshi Nagahama's Flowers of Evil. I consider Nagahama's rotoscoped account of Takao Kasuga's descent into the black orbit of lady bully Sawa Nakamura a stone-cold masterpiece, and like all masterpieces, it is a unique and often unsettling experience: an upsetting stylistic experiment of flabbergasting audacity; a cruel psychological thriller in teen clothing; a nightmarishly twisted romance of disturbingly seductive power. Written with lethal sharpness and directed like a five-hour art film, it leaves you bruised and exhilarated and in a terminal state of despair at the crudity of other anime. I never even considered another series for top honors.

If I were to consider one, though, it'd undoubtedly be Penguindrum. Though not on par with '90s auteur Kunihiko Ikuhara's masterpiece—the magical girl fever-dream The Adolescence of Utena—it is nonetheless a baffling, surreal confection worthy of his name. Alternately hilarious, heartbreaking, disturbing, and abstruse, the story of the Takakura brothers and their sickly sister Himari offers a little something for everyone (including some of the year's best romance) while also challenging us—creating a metaphysical fairy tale that functions according to its own wonderfully elusive dream logic. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, a rigorously researched look at a makeshift family's trek home through a disaster-devastated Tokyo, is a lot tamer in comparison but still firmly outside of the anime mainstream. It succeeds because of its frightening realism and unsparing but humane portrait of people in extremis. Lovely Complex on the other hand is a perfectly conventional shojo romance. It is also, however, amazingly funny and supernaturally, emotionally adroit. Lanky Risa and her little man Ootani had me sponging tears and grinning like a fool for a full ten hours. Not healthy.

There was fierce competition for the last slot. MAOYU, a smart, thoughtfully offbeat take on RPG tropes, just barely missed the boat (for the same reason Theron mentioned). Gatchaman Crowds missed out because it started too slow and ended too… incomprehensibly. Kyousogiga got cut because I liked it for the same reasons I liked Penguindrum, only less so. The Eccentric Family's chaotic tanuki lost out because their show was too, well, chaotic. The Devil is a Part-Timer! won in the end simply because it was too fun not to recognize (Satan as fry cook!). But on a different day any one of them could have taken its place. Of Theron's picks, I never finished From the New World and WATAMOTE was too excruciatingly uncomfortable for my tastes. If you're wondering why I too neglected Attack on Titan, it's because I hated it.

Movie of the Year
Carl's Pick: Wolf Children
Theron's Pick: Colorful

Carl: I know this is kind of a conventional choice given the critical community's desire to crown Mamoru Hosoda as the official heir to Hayao Miyazaki. But that's just how good the man is. His third (non-franchise) film is a gentle paean to motherhood, the quietly bittersweet tale of a young woman raising her two half-Wolf Children in the shadow of their father's death. Intensely personal and achingly real in its emotional detail, it is shot through with joy and melancholy and subtle visual poetry. The film touches softly, unpretentiously, but deeply. Very deeply. Which is why I don't like the Miyazaki comparisons. Miyazaki is a manufacturer of wonder; not feeling. Hosoda isn't gunning for Miyazaki's crown. He's gunning above it. I watched Theron's pick back when it came out, and I'll acknowledge its quality, but it was a little too overt for my tastes.

Theron: While not quite the banner year that 2011 was for anime movies, 2013 nonetheless saw several make it to the States that were either highly-anticipated or award nominees/winners or both. Those included quality titles like Garden of Words, Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion, The Princess and the Pilot, Wolf Children, and most recently Rebellion, the third of the Madoka Magica movies and first to have original content. Wolf Children did not impress me as much as it did Carl, but even if it had, it would have still joined the others in falling short of matching the deeply affecting quality of Colorful, which I consider the best-written anime movie in recent memory. It unflinchingly and unsensationally tackles the difficult topic of a teen suicide attempt, including the myriad of circumstances that combined to trigger it, the fall-out from it for the victim, and the way it shakes up the teen's deeply dysfunctional family – and the latter in particular is a place anime has not, to my knowledge, gone before in any depth. It is heartbreaking in other ways, too. The symbolic title of the movie comes from a realization that the protagonist, an aspiring painter, eventually comes to: even when life may suck, he can still find ways to appreciate it if he accepts that he is colorful.

Surprise of the Year
Theron's Pick: Outbreak Company
Carl's Pick: Gatchaman Crowds

Theron: This award goes to a series or movie which defies expectations the most, either for the better or for the worse. And my, there were a lot of nice surprises this year! Since I put Kotoura-san (my #1 pick for this award) in my Series of the Year list, I will instead show some love to my #2 pick, a series whose premise gave it all of the makings of mere otaku bait but instead turned out to be a far better, cleverer, and more sensitive series than that; it does not even pull punches at showing that the hikkikimori lifestyle, which one Eldant character tries to aggrandize at one point, is a pathetic one. And it is one of the year's funniest series, too, with some lines in it that will make almost anyone well-versed in anime-related otakudom sputter. That Carl's pick turned out to be good is a surprise to me, too, since the first episode did not impress me enough to get me at all interested in watching more.

Carl: Gatchaman? That show from the 70s about bird-suited ninjas fighting evil? You can imagine that I came to this reboot with a healthy dose of skepticism. And Crowds is indeed a deeply flawed series. But it's also an ambitious and intelligent one. Its main character, the indomitable Hajime, demolishes all kinds of expectations about female leads. And she keeps knocking the show out of its groove into new territory. The bad guy is an alien who uses empathy to destroy. The script incorporates social media into its plot with a cleverness and thoroughness that no other show has. The ending is a forum on human nature and the human response to disaster. In a field crowded with expectation-defying gems—MAOYU, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, Rozen Maiden – Rewind¬, and, yes, Outbreak Company—none was more defiant than Crowds.

Character of the Year
Unanimous Pick: Tomoko Kuroki, WATAMOTE

Theron: Not even a contest. She could almost win this on character design and facial expressions alone, but what truly makes her stand out is the surprisingly charming way she miserably fails to cope with her social ineptitude. She is bitter and frustrated by her lot, her own worst enemy, and sometimes more than a little creepy, but that ultimately makes her a character that people can deeply empathize with, too. A distant second would be Koto (the younger one) from Kyousogiga, whose utterly infectious smile and childlike exuberance could charm the pants off of anyone.

Carl: I would hand this award over to Flowers of Evil's Sawa Nakamura, who has the edge in texture and complexity and terrifying presence, but she's already going to get the Duo award. And in her own way, Tomoko is equally remarkable; for all the reasons Theron states, but also because she could very well be ground zero for a novel moe craze. Texture and complexity are fine, but how often do you witness the birth of a new character type?

Duo of the Year
Carl's Pick: Sawa Nakamura and Takao Kasuga, Flowers of Evil
Theron's Pick: Hero and Demon Queen, MAOYU

Carl: Sick, dangerous, and gloriously, twistedly romantic, the relationship between Kasuga and his tormentor is equal parts hormones, Stockholm Syndrome, and genuine connection. It evolves over the course of the series from a purely abusive relationship into something a lot smudgier and more disturbing as Kasuga becomes ever more complicit in his own degradation. The effect on us is almost as worrying. It's been a long time since I've rooted so hard for something so totally perverse and amoral. Theron's pick was also on my short list. They really are great together.

Theron: This award might have gone to Kyosuke and Ruri (aka Kuroneko) from Oreimo 2 had they stayed together as a couple, but regretfully that series ultimately ended that relationship and went in a far more tasteless direction. (I'll get back to that later.) But Hero and Demon Queen are a more than worthy replacement, as their relationship is an intriguing mix of strengths and weaknesses. Individually they are incredibly potent; together they complement each other so well that they have the capability to change the world, though their budding romance is awkward and tentative on both sides. Sadly that series sold so poorly that no more of it will probably ever get animated.

Biggest Bastard
Theron's Pick: Louis el Bridget, Freezing Vibration
Carl's Pick: Soun Ebisugawa, The Eccentric Family

Theron: Actually this series also has one other good candidate: Marks Spenser, the head of Chevalier, who callously treats his e-Pandora candidates as disposable lab rats and subjects one of the more rebellious Pandoras to prolonged electroshock torture. Louis, the stepbrother of lead female protagonist Satellizer, wins out for his much more hands-on (literally!) approach, though. We knew from the first series that Satellizer became known as “the Untouchable Queen” largely because Louis's molestation of her had left her unable to tolerate anyone's touch, but one two-episode mid-season arc here portrays how he did it, and the control methods he uses to bend Satellizer to his will (scarily, much the same methods that real-life molesters use to get away with their offenses for years), so vividly and reprehensibly that him somewhat reforming, rather than being offed, at the end of the arc is unquestionably the series' biggest disappointment.

Carl: Ebisugawa may be a furry little animal, but he's a real snake too. Uncle to the show's quartet of brothers, it is revealed that he conspired to cage their father and sell him to be boiled in a pot. All because he felt inferior. Later, in order to win a pointless election, he imprisons his own daughter and cages Mama Shimogamo (whom he loves), making her watch as he captures and sells her son to the same cabal that boiled and ate her husband. It's too bad he isn't boiled himself.

Scene of the Year:
Carl's Pick: Classroom destruction, Flowers of Evil episode 7
Theron's Pick: Big Sister Maid (posing as Crimson Scholar) gives her “I Am Human” speech, MAOYU episode 9

Theron: When we first encounter the runaway serf who will become Big Sister Maid, Head Maid calls her an insect because she is incapable of standing up for herself and thus can easily be stepped upon. But Head Maid and the Crimson Scholar (aka the Demon Queen) give her a chance to become human, an opportunity she seizes for all it's worth. Several episodes later that leads to this magnificent scene, a passionate and defiant declaration of self-identity in the face of Church prosecution which ultimately takes on iconoclastic overtones and triggers an unplanned revolt against Church authority. It is easily one of the finest and most moving speeches ever put into an anime title; its full text can be found here. Although this has long been my uncontested top pick, other scenes I deemed at least worthy of consideration include the dance of the Santa Cruz at the end of The Princess and the Pilot and Mikoto finally asking her friends for help in episode 21 of A Certain Scientific Railgun S.

Carl: This is the show's pivot, where Sawa becomes a serious romantic interest and the series tips over the edge from merely excellent to diseased masterpiece. It's also a haunting bit of directorial showboating; an almost indescribable outburst of pent-up rage and misdirected sexual energy that unfolds in slo-mo swirls as the series' skin-crawling closer plays over it. Unforgettable is a frequently abused word, but it definitely applies here. Theron's pick was my second choice.

Death Scene of the Year (warning: spoilers!)
Carl's Pick: Wolf Man is hit by a car, Wolf Children
Theron's Pick: Haruto dies, Valvrave the Liberator episode 24

Carl: I bailed on all of the death-intensive series (including Valvrave), meaning that I've a serious dearth of quality death scenes this year. So you'll have to excuse me for stretching the rules a bit to include Hana's discovery of her nameless husband's demise. His death isn't actually shown—rather Hana spots sanitation workers removing a dead wolf from the shallows of a canal—but it's such a beautifully spare, emotionally charged sequence, why be a stickler? Hana's grief is captured in a silent long shot as she struggles to save the father of her children the indignity of being thrown in a garbage truck. Our hearts break for her, and for her infant children, and for the cozy household that dies in that moment.

Theron: Killing off the lead protagonist of a series is always a big deal, and few have come to a more bittersweet end than Haruto. Though technically a Hero's Death, the fact that he had to literally sacrifice his memory to defeat the final and strongest foe and thus ensure the future for his classmates (it has to do with a funky side effect of piloting the series' eponymous mecha) meant he expired while unable to remember who he was or what he put his life on the line for. His death was not a big surprise, as he was always the least comfortable with becoming a “Kamitsuki,” but that made it no less sad. This award could also just as easily have gone to the slaughter of the students in episode 21, which was shocking in its brutality. Carl's pick, while I must acknowledge it as a solid one, did not resonate with me as much.

Opener of the Year
Theron's Pick: "Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui," WATAMOTE
Carl's Pick: “Crowds”, Gatchaman Crowds

Theron: For a while I thought this award might go to “Guren no Yumiya,” the dramatic first opener for Attack on Titan, since it does such a spectacular job of getting viewers enthusiastic about the title. (At least it worked that way for me, and that's a rare feat.) It is also probably the year's most parodied opener, as some remarkably clever AMDs of it exist. Freezing Vibration's “Avenge World” is competitive for offering the year's best song and AKB0048's “Kibou ni Tsuite” and Kyousogiga's “Koko” also deserve consideration; both were stuck in my head for significant lengths of time at some point in 2013. But the eponymous opening theme of WATAMOTE beats them all because it is a production masterpiece. Its heavy metal theme is the ideal stylistic vehicle for venting Tomoko's frustration, and it perfectly synchs that with beautiful, original animation and wonderful symbolism. It also features Konomi Suzuki, the same then-16-year-old who sang “Avenge World” and last year's honorable mention “Choir Jail.” (Hers might be a career worth watching.)

Carl: There was some fierce competition for this award. “May I Help You” from Servant x Service was my favorite visually (it far exceeded the show in quality). Dog & Scissors' dog-dancing "Wan Wan Wan Wan N_1!!" has all the others beat on pure infectious fun factor. With the possible exception of the goofy "Uchōten Jinsei” from The Eccentric Family. Log Horizon's “database” is just in my musical wheelhouse. Samurai Flamenco's "Just one life" grows on you. But “Crowds” is just the best, both in pure musicality—WHITE ASH rock, perhaps not extra hard, but definitely well—and in combining visuals with music.

Closer of the Year
Carl's Pick: "〜花〜 A Last Flower", Flowers of Evil
Theron's Pick: “Kibo no Hana,” Kotoura-san regular closer

Carl: I've already mentioned the song once, and with reason. It's an atonal, fragmented bit of sonic nastiness that worms its way deep under your skin and just kind of nests there. The way the series employs it—letting it slowly infect each episode, wrapping itself around climactic events and drawing them into the blackness of the closing sequence—is also exceptional.

Theron: This was my hardest pick and the very last award I decided on, as I never had a clear favorite here; in fact, 2013 seemed to be a pretty weak year all-round for memorable closers. Finally, though, I remembered this gem. Its visuals (when used at all) may not do anything special, but it is a wonderful song which fits the more heartfelt side of its series beautifully well.

Best DVD/Blu-Ray Feature or Extra
Theron's Pick: The Princess and the Pilot Flight Log
Carl's Pick: “Survival of the Fittest” shorts, Humanity Has Declined Blu-ray (and DVD)

Theron: Man, some of the extras on those SAO sets look nice, but since I couldn't get my hand on those I will go with this very nicely-produced book from NISA's longbox release of the series. It has the typical array of insightful interviews, production sketches, and sharp concept art.

Carl: These six shorts string together into a typically wacky adventure for Humanity's nameless fairy interlocutor. As with most of the series' stories, it hits hysterical heights (it involves a measuring cup that the main character keeps dipping into her brain) without sacrificing intelligence or compromising the melancholy sting at its heart.

Guilty Pleasure(s)
Theron's Picks: High School DxD New, Valvrave the Liberator
Carl's Pick: Dog & Scissors

Theron: This award goes to series that we didn't necessarily find to be great series but nonetheless found enormously entertaining. The first one shouldn't be a surprise coming from me; after all, it is the year's premium fan service title in every respect. The latter was probably the most fun that I have had watching a mecha series in a long time, as it features a load of dramatic twists and turns that would give Code Geass a run for its money and a few nice bonus touches, too, like the far-future scenes which tease with suggestions about what is to come without revealing the details or the way it integrates social media into the story as an important element. Yeah, it's more than a little trashy and ridiculous, but it executes well nonetheless. Carl's pick is also a worthy choice, although time constraints forced me to drop it somewhere around the fifth episode. Just something about that talking dog thing worked for me when normally I am not a big fan of talking animals.

Carl: No competition. Scissors is a pseudo-harem comedy about an obsessive reader who is reincarnated as a dog and adopted by an author who happens to be able to read his mind and also happens to be into canine S&M. A food-processing WMD and an insane sister figure in, as does a persistent need to flout reality and reason. The show is sloppy and full of things that kind of make you cringe (unless, of course, discussions of human/dachshund sex don't bother you). It's also hugely and inexplicably fun.

Unlicensed Gems
Carl's Pick: Aura: Maryūinkōga Saigo no Tatakai
Theron's Pick: Corpse Party: Tortured Souls

Carl: This film is the second collaboration between terminally uneven director Seiji Kishi and Humanity Has Declined author Romeo Tanaka, and like Declined before it, it has a nifty concept, a good deal of heart, and solid execution. The concept is reminiscent of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! — former delusional middle-schooler goes straight, only to be pulled into the delusions of a female classmate—but it stands up on its own. (And not incidentally, stems from a novel that significantly predates Chunibyo). Short, sweet, and romantic, it punches well above its weight, filling its 80 minutes with finely-tuned jolts of feeling.

Theron: Wow, I never even heard of yours, Carl. For mine, this four episode OVA series is directly based on the doujin soft game Corpse Party: Blood Covered, a 2008 Windows-based remake of the original mid-'90s computer game; later versions did see U.S. releases in PSP and iOS formats. It is a gem soaked in gore, one which tells a tale of a teacher and eight students who unwittingly end up trapped in a haunted elementary school and tells it pretty well as anime horror titles go. Production values are strong and – here's the real attractor for some – it is about as grisly and gruesome as anything you would ever want to see in anime. To put this in perspective, if Bleach has a graphic rating of 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 and Elfen Lied and Ninja Scroll rate as 8s, this one is a 9+. In other words, it is precisely the kind of thing that would probably sell well in the States. I will be surprised if we get past next summer without someone picking it up.

Worst Series Concept
Carl's Pick: Cuticle Detective Inaba
Theron's Pick: The Severing Crime Edge

Carl: Given what a fecund field this is, I'm surprised we didn't think of this award earlier. My top pick is a detective show about a half-wolf hair fetishist who solves crimes by tasting hair. He also gets special powers from eating different kinds of hair. He has a cross-dressing assistant and his arch-nemesis is a cash-gobbling goat. I feel stupider just from writing that. Some runners-up were The Pet Girl of Sakurasou—a romantic comedy about a girl who is essentially a voluptuous and talented infant—and of course Dog & Scissors, as well as Walkure Romanze. The latter is a sanitized adaptation of an adult game about female jousters pursuing a totally amazing stablehand.

Theron: So the lead protagonist has inherited a pair of cursed scissors. And they're cursed because his ancestor was a serial killer who used those scissors. And there are other people out there who have similar items, called “Killing Goods” (naturally!), and a girl whose hair can only be cut by said cursed scissors. Yeah. The first episode actually wasn't bad, but the concept was so stupid that I just could not tolerate watching more. Carl snapped up most of the other good examples but missed Hyperdimension Neptunia, where most of the characters are girls who are anthropomorphized game systems and get licked in suggestive places by cute dog-faced blobs. Uh-huh.

Carl: Oh man, I can't believe I forgot that one! That really was a stinker.

Most Annoying Trend

Theron's Pick: Excessively long series titles
Carl's Pick: The continued slow, strangling death of the definitive ending

Theron: The blame for this falls on light novel writers which are increasingly becoming a primary source for anime adaptations. So who was the one who started this hideously annoying practice of making titles that are compound sentences so I can crucify him/her? And when does Japan's ever-inventive AV industry get in on this (if it hasn't already)? Just imagine: No Matter How I Look At It, It's Your Fault My Penis is Erect or I Couldn't Come on My Own, So I Got This Handy Vibrator?

Carl: This is a continuation of a long-running trend, but it's my current bugbear. More and more series feel like 13-episode ads for the original work. They begin but never really end, leaving all manner of loose ends dangling in the implicit understanding that if you want to see where they lead you'll have to read the original. This strikes me as lazy and more than a bit cynically exploitative. Some shows that do this are great, but that just makes the random cutoff at the end that much worse (I'm looking at you, Devil is a Part-timer!).

Fall From Grace
Carl's Pick: Coppelion
Theron's Pick: Oreimo 2 OVA episodes

Carl: This award goes to titles which started with a good premise and/or first few episodes and then collapsed. Coppelion's basic concept—genetically enhanced rescuers are created to look for survivors in the crumbling wilderness of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo—is quite promising. The show's opening episode emphasized setting, nicely evoking the mystery and eerie emptiness of the city. The next episode pissed all of that away on a ham-fisted one-off about a doomed local family. Future episodes fared no better, badly over-emoting and failing to make the genetically engineered leads remotely interesting. Out of bored curiosity I watched up to episode four (I think), at which point the boredom killed the curiosity.

Theron: For much of its run the second season of Oreimo was actually a very good series; in fact, it was a contender to make my Series of the Year list at one point, as it has some great individual episodes and story arcs. Then OVA episodes 14-16, which were available on Crunchyroll for only a couple of weeks back in August, came up, and I watched them aghast. That the series ultimately went in that direction was hardly a surprise, and there were still some strong individual scenes, but it was all handled in such a painfully awkward and self-destructive manner. And really, that last scene with the wedding dress? If you're going to commit to going in that direction then don't do a half-assed job of it and try to weasel out of the consequences of what you have set up. Leaving audiences supremely uncomfortable at the end would have been better than this “just kidding, folks!” approach – and probably healthier, too, since it might have forced some fans to confront the unabashed discomfort of the subject matter, which all too often gets swept under the rug with convenient outs.

DUB PERFORMANCE AWARDS
Theron: I don't usually feel qualified to do Japanese awards, while Carl doesn't feel qualified to do English awards, so for the most part we're each doing our respective specialty only.

Best Overall Japanese Dub: Lovely Complex
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Male: Takuya Eguchi as Hachiman Hikigaya, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Female: Izumi Kitta as Tomoko Kuroki, WATAMOTE

Carl: Lovely Complex gets the ensemble nod this year based mostly on the free-spirited comic chemistry of its cast of Kansai jokers. They have an immensely winning way of playing off each other that seems natural while exerting wholly calculated influence over us. The ensemble is elevated still further by the potent emotional range of Akemi Okamura's frequently-heartbroken Risa, and by Saori Higashi's wonderful turn as Risa's brutally straight-talking best friend Nobuko. It's a flexible ensemble, fully up to the lightning shifts and layers of feeling required by Kônosuke Uda's freakish ability to combine hilarity and heartbreak. Of the individual performance awards, Izumi Kitta is a gimme as the voice behind Tomoko. She gives a colorful, extreme, and novel performance that still finds room for enough stark honesty to make Tomoko's many humiliations genuinely sting. Takuya Eguchi's Hikigaya is a fast-talking sophist whose words are walls he erects between himself and others. It's remarkable work on a purely technical level—Eguchi keeps up an impressive stream of verbiage—made more so by the wounded core of decency that Eguchi squirrels away beneath the self-serving monologues and self-defensive cynicism.

Theron: And I will just add here that Izumi Kitta would also be my top pick for the best individual Japanese performance of the year. This is, to my mind, an archetype-defining performance.

Best Overall English Dub: Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail (runner-up: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Level E)
Best English Dub Performance – Male: Ian Sinclair as Takeru, Maken-Ki!
Best English Dub Performance – Female: Luci Christian as Mirai, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
Theron: Boy, this was a weak year for male English dub performances; not a single one stood out to me. Ian Sinclair getting the nod here is less a case of a stellar performance than a fun one which helped make an awful series at least a bit more tolerable. I also quite appreciated what Wally Wingert did with Kotetsu/Wild Tiger in the Tiger & Bunny releases. Strong female performances were much more numerous, with honorable mentions including Chloe Daniels as Asia in High School DxD, Rozie Curtis as Agiri in Kill Me Baby, Eden Riegel as Kaede in Tiger & Bunny, Carli Mosier as Makoto's mother in Colorful (possibly my #2 pick), and just about every significant female cast member in Roberta's Blood Trail. Luci Christian wins the top honors, though, for giving one of her career-best performances in a very emotional role as young earthquake survivor Mirai. The top overall dub honors goes to the RBT cast for reuniting one of the best dub efforts of the 2000s without missing a beat. Other overall dubs worthy of mention include Level E, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Sword Art Online, and Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS
Theron: Each of us has chosen three awards to hand out in cases that merit special recognition or damnation.

Best Confession: Madarame confesses to Kasukabe, Genshiken Second Season Episode 11

Carl: When Madarame's friends force his hand, Genshiken's king of awkwardness must confront his eternally unrequited crush. Combine Kasukabe's razorblade tongue and cutting insight with Madarame's bullheaded emotional retardation and you know that the result can't be good. What follows is a howlingly funny horror show; a disaster that both can see coming but can't or won't avert. This season wasn't always as good as the first, but at least for the length of the confession it's clearly the first's superior.

Monsters of the Year: The titans, Attack on Titan

Theron: And I am specifically referring to the ordinary ones here. One of the most impressive aspects of this series was how astonishingly creepy and threatening these bloated, mindless creatures looked, especially considering that most sported the features of someone you could see on any average city street.


Career to Keep an Eye On: WHITE ASH

Carl: The band behind Gatchaman Crowds' opening theme is a straight-up, stripped-down garage rock band: double guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, but no keyboards or electronic bullshit. They rock hard, without forgetting either melody or big pop hooks. I love discovering new bands, and this counts as one of the better discoveries since Orange Range did the first opening for Bleach. On a side note, the band's lead singer is bafflingly androgynous: either a very odd, very flat-chested girl, or a 15-year-old boy who sings like Stevie Nicks. I honestly can't tell. Appropriate, I guess, given Crowds' interest in androgyny.

Action Scene of the Year: Archer-Illya vs. Dark Saber, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya episode 6

Theron: Either of the male-titan-on-female-titan battles in Attack on Titan are legitimate contenders for this honor (especially the first one), and I am sure that others can bring up all kinds of other great options. However, even on a rewatch this battle, which climaxes Illya's team's efforts to capture the Saber card, is breathtaking in the way it dramatically escalates what had already been a pretty intense battle. Even Rebellion cannot match this for raw magical girl bad-assery.

Comeback Kid: Discotek

Carl: The company seemed senescent for quite a while, but has revived in recent years. Its Eastern Star imprint has been busying itself filling in the gaps left by the big boys, releasing a mix of license rescues and older and obscure anime. Its releases are kinda crappy, with minimal packaging, high episode-counts, and the occasional embarrassing authoring mistake. But the shows make up for it. Classics like the Captain Harlock TV series, the original Cutie Honey anime, and the first Blu-ray master of Blue Submarine No. 6. Overlooked gems like Lovely Complex. Rescues like GTO. They're hard to hate.

Blast from the Past: Princess Knight

Theron: While this may be a kids' show and it may conform to the crappy animation standards of the 1960s, this is nonetheless one of the landmark early anime titles, as it was among the first all-color anime TV series and the first to feature a strong, independent action heroine as the star character. As such, its influence on the generation of manga artists who would define shojo manga in the 1970s and 1980s is immeasurable, and in a real sense every lead action heroine who has followed is a direct or indirect spiritual descendant of Princess Sapphire/Prince Knight. Nozomi Entertainment's release of the long-lost English dubbed version allows anime fans with a sense for history to appreciate just how ground-breaking this series must have been for its time.

Theron: Seems like we have to wrap this one up now, Carl, as my Tub o' Popcorn is all gone. (And I thought you were allergic to it, too! What a scam!) Any final thoughts?

Carl: Urp. More butter next time. And happy viewing in the new year.


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