The Best Anime of 2015
Zac Bertschy & Rebecca Silverman
Well, 2015 was a hell of a year. I honestly thought 2014 would be the best year for anime for a long time, but I think this year gave it a legit run for its money. I didn't get around to seeing everything I wanted to – I never do, ever – and most of my list has already been spoken about by someone else at least once already. In fact, there's only one unique thing on this list, and Nick Creamer reviewed it for us a short while back. So what's the point, right? You already know this stuff is good!
Well, instead of recapping all of these shows for you again (we're working on the amount of redundant synopsizing we wind up doing here on the site) I'll share instead what made these particular shows so special to me on a personal level. You know, meaningful insight into my emotional process, or some crap.
5. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Alright, I can hear you rolling your eyes – this show is barely half over and while it's entertaining, it honestly isn't really THAT special so why is it on anyone's top 5 list? Well, here's the thing: Gundam is a big, sprawling, intimidating franchise and this show is really accessible and pretty well-written, which means anyone can enjoy it. That's a major thing for people like myself with a casual interest in Gundam – we want something like this. I'm familiar with the UC but I don't have it memorized, so sometimes new series in that continuity can be a bit much. What I want is something where I don't have to know every single thing that happened in MS IGLOO in order to fully comprehend the story. Iron-Blooded Orphans is fun to watch, I care about what's happening to these characters and I'm curious about their future. For a franchise that frequently feels like it has a DO NOT ENTER: FOR DIEHARDS ONLY sign hanging on the front of it, Iron-Blooded Orphans feels like a friendly little doggie door underneath that sign that lets the rest of us in.
4. Anthem of the Heart
I had to travel to this bizarre out-of-the-way independently-owned multiplex in the middle of nowhere in Southern California to watch this movie, and I honestly really enjoyed it. I think this sort of thing – quiet little stories about Anime High School Girls having a Tough Time, uguu - used to be Not For Me, and I had plenty of reservations going in, but this is a sweet, lighthearted and sincere little drama with some nice character animation and a few big emotional moments that really paid off for me. There's nothing about this film that required it to be animated – it's just a high school drama with a few muted flights of fancy, but a film like this shows the incredible range of stories anime is still playing with. It's remarkable that even in our dark cyberpunk future where entertainment has largely been commoditized to the point where stuff like this, something that isn't a surefire bet, generally doesn't get made. It's too risky and there isn't anything about the story that's guaranteed to get butts in theater seats.
Imagine any other country on earth creating an animated film like Anthem of the Heart. Every now and then you've got to stop and recognize the truly unique things about anime that are still true – like the fact that it tells stories with animation that no one else does.
3. Blood Blockade Battlefront
I'll fully admit Blood Blockade Battlefront didn't really grab me in the way it seemed to grab most other people right out of the gate – something about the storytelling was too frantic. I felt like I wasn't really being allowed to get close to these characters, and was instead being asked to admire them from afar and enjoy their ludicrously complicated and bizarre hijinks from a place of distanced fandom rather than engaging with the story on a personal level.
So why did I list it as my #3? Well, the show did improve a lot over time – I liked the episodes in the middle of this series the most, I think, but the real quality of this show is the absolutely brazen okay, here are ALL OF THE IDEAS I HAD FOR THIS feeling it rockets out of the gate with. Say what you will about Yasuhiro Nightow's storytelling skills, his boundless imagination fills every frame and just about every plot point with some totally unique, sometimes gross, sometimes spectacular but almost never predictable new idea or visual concept. Blood Blockade Battlefront is aesthetically inspired, frequently taking the risk of being straight-up absurdly bizarre and disgusting. I loved the sheer amount of imagination on display in this show (and, yanno, Klaus), and if you pair it together with Space Dandy you've got a phenomenal argument that anime is still the most visually daring medium out there.
2. One-Punch Man
You don't really need to hear another person go on and on about One-Punch Man, do you? Of course not. You're a busy person. We all have things we need to get done here.
1. Death Parade
You don't really need to hear anyone else go on about this show either. I'm a little surprised people are so shocked that it's on so many of these lists – I mean, did you see Death Parade? The best show of 2015 for me came out when it had been 2015 for like a week, so that's a little odd, but man, even now, almost an entire year later, I'm still thinking about that ending. This show had its problems – it is absolutely plagued with loose ends and story elements they never bothered wrapping up. It keeps introducing concepts that go nowhere, too. The thing is that none of that ultimately mattered – the beating heart of this show is the relationship between Decim and Onna, and in its final moments, the show balled up a fist and hit me right in the gut. It isn't every day that a show manages to wring big embarrassing tears out of me, but Death Parade did it, and I'm still sitting here thinking about it. That's good television.
Rebecca Silverman5. Haikyuu!! Second Season
I have to admit that the only reason this is number five instead of somewhere further up the list is because it hasn't finished yet, and if there's one thing that years of consuming fiction in serial format has taught me, it's that it is never too late for a story to take a serious nosedive. But be that as it may, right now Haikyuu!! is the series that I look forward to the most from week to week, moreso than any other show I watched as it aired this season. There's a wonderful mix of character development and volleyball action in this show to the point where the two actually rely on each other – this isn't a show about well-developed characters who happen to play volleyball, they are well-developed characters because they play volleyball. The Karasuno guys' interactions with each other inform both their matches and how they act as human beings, and that's a level that many sports (or tournament) shows never manage to achieve. That it also picked right up from season one with no pesky clip shows or recaps is another feather in its cap, which allows me to forgive it for deciding that if we the viewers weren't getting the symbolism inherent in the characters' names, the show is going to make damn sure we get it now via clunky exposition. That aside, along with the elfin character designs, which are a little weird, Haikyuu!! Second Season is beautifully animated, fast moving, emotionally satisfying, and just a good half hour every week that I can look forward to. As long as they don't all turn into vampires or something, I think it will continue to be a favorite right into the new year. 4. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!
It's no secret that I love magical girls and have a sense of humor that tends to favor the absurd, so it probably shouldn't be all that shocking that this show has made my list. Parodies of favorite genres can be hit or miss, but Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! has more of the former than the latter over the course of its run, poking fun at not only 1990s Sailor Moon's goofy monsters of the week but also at naked transformation scenes, cute mascots, and the dumb way no one can recognize anyone once they've transformed. The fact that the bad guys look like they've escaped from Revolutionary Girl Utena and that their mascot is way cuter than the good guys' just adds to the insanity, with everything designed to tickle the funny bones of either magical girl fans in particular or fujoshi in general. (Plus that poor dead teacher possessed by the pink space wombat...) It is very episodic and those episodes do vary in quality of storytelling quite a bit, so I almost didn't go with this show. But at the end of the day, it made me laugh more oft than not and I think that counts for a lot. 3. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
Isn't it amazing how titles can turn you off from a show? I fully admit that if I hadn't read the light novel first I likely would have been dreading this show. Fortunately my work here at ANN includes the Preview Guide, so there was no getting out of watching episode one for me, and even with my enjoyment of the book under my belt, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? continually surprised me by being better than both its silly title and most LN adaptations. For one thing, the chemistry between the leads, plucky young adventurer Bell Cranel and the goddess Hestia (his patron), is fantastic, with the warmth of their relationship coming through not only in the animation, but also in the characters' voices. With or without any romance the two make a great pair, and the fact that Hestia clearly wants something more from their relationship than Bell does does not detract from the way the two get along is pretty amazing. That the story also manages to play with the standards of sword and sorcery fantasy without getting bogged down by them is another point in the show's favor – in fact, we can't quite tell if this is a case of characters living in a game world, à la Log Horizon, or if it's just a particularly weird fantasy setting where random dungeons and levels for people exist. That helps to keep things interesting, especially when Bell attracts the attention of another goddess who seems to have major Plans for him. Are the gods and goddess perhaps players interacting with fictional characters in a game and that's why Freya doesn't seem too concerned about Bell's potential death? Or are they the actual gods of real pantheons, somehow drawn to this particular world? The show (and so far the books) don't answer this question, but along with the awesome fight scenes, great vocal performances, and a story that's interesting in its own right, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? not only overcomes the handicap of its title, it makes a good fantasy adventure in its own right. 2. Snow White with the Red Hair
Another badly kept secret is the fact that I have a thing for fairy tales, by which I mean I regularly teach courses about them. Snow White with Red Hair may not have had a lot in common with its namesake tale, but that's probably just as well – do we really need an anime about a necrophiliac prince who falls for a dead seven-year-old's corpse in a glass coffin? But what the show lacks in fidelity it more than makes up in fairy tale romance of the sort very few actual fairy tales contain: a slowly developing, sweet, and mutual relationship between two people who technically don't need each other to survive but are so much more together. The fact that this shoujo treat doesn't rely upon tired storylines about Bad Boys or dithering girls makes it not only a stronger piece, but also one that may have appeal outside of the normal demographic. Shirayuki (Japanese for Snow White) is one of the stronger heroines in recent memory, perfectly able to prove herself with her herbalism skills but not foolish enough to turn down Zen's help when he offers it, although also unwilling to throw herself headlong into a relationship with him. For Zen's part, he's much keener on moving forward romantically with Shirayuki, but also not willing to pull a stunt that would be bad for his kingdom. There's a balance in their hesitant move towards romance that makes the story as much one about the politics of a kingdom and working in the palace as the Disney-like tale the title implies. It's easy to compare this to Story of Saiunkoku (although with fewer old men who all look alike), and its gorgeous animation and colors make it easy to keep your eyes on the screen. Sure the characters look like every other hero and heroine from a LaLa or Hana to Yume title, but on the whole it is a beautiful show in art, animation, and story. The only reason it's number two instead of one is that it never truly surprised me, which is why my best of the year is... 1. School-Live!
This show just blew me away. The fact that I could barely make it through the first episode without wanting to strangle Yuki before discovering what was really going on made for a gut-punch, and as it continued, I found myself wanting to watch episodes twice to make sure I was getting all I could from each one. What was the deal with Megu-nee? How did the outbreak start? Why was it that the school was so weirdly well-stocked for this kind of situation? Not all of the questions were answered (thank god the manga's being published by Yen Press), but enough hints were given to build numerous conspiracy theories on. Even though I figured out the basics of the Megu-nee storyline, I was still affected by the full truth (to say nothing of being saddened and horrified by the bloody hand prints on the first aid chest and what that implied), and I can safely say I've never been so emotionally involved in a zombie story before. The combination of hope and despair is highly effective, and Yuki's annoying factor is undercut by the realization that she's a survivor, and that this is her coping mechanism. I certainly saw other series that were better animated, had more satisfying conclusions, and nicer art, but this is the one that I keep recommending to people and the one that pops into my head at odd moments. For sheer impact, nothing this season surpasses School-Live! for me...and given that it's not in a genre I tend to read/watch/seek out, I have to think that that merits a first place in my top five series of 2015.
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