The Best Anime of 2015
Hope Chapman & Lauren Orsini
5. One-Punch Man
At first I wasn't sure how I felt about including a series that hasn't concluded yet on my best of the year list. Strong endings are arguably more important than strong beginnings, but One-Punch Man's beginning was so wildly enjoyable that it seemed downright criminal for me to overlook it in favor of less memorable options. Besides, One-Punch Man made its entertainment goals clear right from the start and like its spiritual predecessor Space Dandy, its appeal is refreshingly divorced from the restrictive expectations of conventional story structure. OPM is unforgettable as an artistry-first endeavor above all else, with enthusiasm and impact crammed into every frame. The opening theme alone is packed with wild imagery that could serve as a baseline for entire dozen-episode arcs in normal shonen fare, and the series itself doesn't even use any of those locations or monsters because the staff opted to animate dozens of other new ideas instead! Frankly, the premise is so ridiculous that it demands five-star execution to work at all. Saitama navigates a world full of apocalyptic final boss fights in every single episode and ends them all with a flick of his fist. One-Punch Man could just be a terrific visual free association playground of tongue-in-cheek superhero parody ideas, but its bracingly wry observations on corporate culture and middle-class ennui give it a subtextual edge as well. This is "anime for everyone" at the peak of its spectacular powers, and each new episode has been full of surprises.
4. My Love Story!!
I don't think I realized how much I really loved this series until it was over. By My Love Story!!'s heartwarming finale, I realized I had watched 24 episodes of low-conflict fluff and thoroughly enjoyed every single one. I thought I wasn't a low-conflict fluff sort of person, but My Love Story!! completely defeated me with its fearless optimism toward the unexplainable power of true love. Where so many other romantic comedies rely on melodramatic turns and twisted personalities to make their stories stand out, My Love Story!! simply plunks us down into a group of inspiringly sweet-hearted oddballs and invites us to share in the little joys of falling in love, no angst required. The biggest potential problem with sugar-and-sunshine shojo like this is that it risks feeling synthetic, but My Love Story!! succeeds because it feels so grounded in the honest feelings of believably kindhearted people. I could watch Takeo, Yamato, Sunakawa, and their families and friends be good to one another all day and never feel like I'm being lied to about how love brings out the best in everyone (and how much everyone deserves the chance to fall in love). It doesn't surprise me that the show's source manga was showered with so many awards. It's a romance unlike any other that rides entirely on the highs and lows of young love between lovely people, and I'm glad I pushed past my biases against "fluffy stuff" all the way through to its beautiful conclusion.
3. Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Egypt Arc
I can tell that 2015 was a stronger anime year for me than 2014, because the Egypt Arc of Jojo's is probably five times better than the already stellar pre-Iggy adventures that came before, and yet I had to place it lower on my overall top 5. (I put the first half of Stardust Crusaders at #2 on last year's list.) Once again, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure "Stands" alone in its completely unique brand of "World"-class entertainment. (If I could stop time just to make that evil pun linger longer, I totally would.) The stakes ramp up higher and higher in every episode, but the story never loses its sense of fun and camaraderie. Every new fight from the Cursed Sword of Anubis to Pet Shop the killer falcon to the inimitable Oingo Boingo Brothers (and Hol Horse!) takes on its own bizarre flavor while still feeling like it belongs in the same world as all of Araki's other strange creations. (And of course, Dio Brando himself is one of the greatest supervillains ever invented in any medium.) I'm not usually in the habit of rewatching things so quickly after they've come out, but I felt powerless to stop myself from revisiting several episodes of the Egypt Arc over and over again just days after they had aired. The material may be simple, but I honestly can't think of a more infectiously passionate anime adaptation than Jojo's is getting from David Production. I can't wait for more of their singular brand of madness in Part 4 next year!
2. Blood Blockade Battlefront
In the process of writing streaming episode reviews for this series every week, I ended up banging out 18,345 words on Blood Blockade Battlefront this year. I loved it that much. It's so inspiring to see two wildly different artists like Yasuhiro Nightow and Rie Matsumoto come together for such an outstanding collaborative adaptation. You can feel the mutual respect they have for each other's unique talents radiating off the screen in this action dramedy spectacular, to say nothing of the fantastic contributions from the animation and music team that made BBB just a little unlike anything else I'd ever seen before. The good guys of Hellsalem's Lot are an insanely exciting hybrid of influences from Mission Impossible agents to Dark Horse comic antiheroes, and the villains they fight combine the cosmic terror of Lovecraftian monsters with the nightmarish temptations of Gothic demonology. And yet, despite its dabblings in so many flavors of high-concept thrills and terror, Blood Blockade Battlefront ultimately seeks to praise the value of ordinary lives. Not many superhero stories can boast an entire episode exploring the daily life of a little mushroom-alien as one of the series' best. In a story that features an appearance by vampires from before the dawn of time, supersmart aliens constructed from the brains of their own victims, and even Satan Himself, it's never the extraordinary talents that triumph over evil, but the ordinary convictions behind them. It's one of those rare anime productions with a bleeding heart that rivals its sky-high artistic ambitions, and I hope we get another season sometime soon!
1. Yurikuma Arashi
My enthusiasm for Yurikuma Arashi may not have been as pronounced as my love for Blood Blockade Battlefront online, but that's only because I wasn't writing about the show week-to-week. All the same, it definitely sits alongside BBB as one of my favorite anime of all time. I was floored by Ikuhara's brazen and uncompromised new project: a tale of lilies, bears, and the invisible storm that can force even the kindest of people to back down on love. I guess it's weird to say that a show that so passionately explores lesbian romance (in Japanese society, in the media worldwide, and across multiple generations of women) has the biggest and brassiest balls of any anime I've seen in years, but Yurikuma Arashi is an almost indescribably powerful work of art. Once you get past the slight hurdle of Ikuhara's surrealist storytelling style, Yurikuma's message rings out raw for everyone who wants to believe in the power of true love against all odds. Every episode seeks to confront the cruel standards placed on women of all kinds, especially queer women, through fantastical imagery that juxtaposes comedy with tragedy to send the viewers' brain into overdrive and get right to the heart of so many emotionally loaded issues. The series is insanely meticulous in its perspective, pacing, and unforgettable imagery, making it ripe for rewatches if your heart can handle the strain. It's a bold marriage of art and entertainment guided by the hand of a true genius, easily the best anime I saw this year.
5. Assassination Classroom
This is the kind of thing that would never fly in the US: a bunch of fresh-faced kids constantly attempting to assassinate their equally cheerful teacher. A premise this bizarre could be horrible or it could be surprisingly, ridiculously good, and thankfully it's the latter. For one thing, Koro-sensei isn't just a target, but an excellent, effective, and entertaining teacher. A focus on character drama and the bond between the kids and their teacher keeps the story from falling into a typical Monster of the Week plotline. Multi-dimensional characters with real motives and sympathetic stories kept me watching each week all the way to the fantastic ending theme song.
I'm all for shows that flip their own genre on its head. My Love Story!! is a shining example of that being done to the shoujo romance story arc. Takeo is a shoujo love interest unlike any other, enormous and intimidating, but with a heart of gold. On the other hand, Rinko is exactly the shoujo heroine you would expect, but the twist is that this story is told from Takeo's perspective, not hers. When Takeo saves Rinko from a subway creep, the two end up getting together—and then the real story begins. Big-hearted Takeo, sweet, tiny Rinko, and their thoughtful, introverted cheerleader, Suna, are a trio of characters sure to win viewers hearts, and my chief reason for watching this show was to be assured that good things would happen to them.
3. Ushio & Tora
What if a shounen epic like Bleach had been mapped out from the beginning, its every plot point perfectly telegraphed and its every detail rife with meaning? The result would be Ushio & Tora, a masterfully executed take on the shounen supernatural action genre. This show stars an unlikely pair of friends—one human and one yokai—whose appeal has withstood the test of time, charming viewers today as much as they did in 1990 when this manga first came out. The anime is a great modern take, retaining the nostalgic ‘90s character designs while combining a dynamic story with the smooth animation and special effects of today. For oldtaku who miss vintage anime and new shounen fans alike, this is a winning combination.
2. Baby Steps, Season 2
There are a few established rules for popular sports anime, and this show breaks all of them. Protagonist Ei-chan is no Prince of Tennis and it shows—he loses all the time! It's these losses, his rare wins, and the constant training (not training montages!) in between that really make us root for this underdog. Season 2 is even stronger because it shows Ei-chan after some moderate success, but just as down-to-earth as ever, knowing full well that he could lose at any time. The fact that Ei-chan doesn't have plot armor that keeps him from losing key matches makes the show all the more genuinely tense. Paired with the show's constant message: “Believe in yourself,” this is an uplifting gem that no sports anime fan should miss.
1. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
The Gundam universe contains some of my favorite stories in all of anime—and some of my biggest disappointments, too. So when Iron-Blooded Orphans began airing, I tried my best to be cautiously optimistic… though that gave way to sheer optimism by episode four. A show that conveys emotional depth as gorgeously as it does high-definition Gundam battles, this is the serious yet heartwarming series that Gundam fans have been waiting for. It's been incredible to watch the ways that Orphans sometimes adheres to, sometimes subverts familiar Gundam tropes in order to tell a story that is unmistakably Gundam but also something all its own. A powerhouse soundtrack—including my favorite opening theme of the year—is icing on the cake.
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