Theron & Rebecca's Anime in America 2015by Theron Martin and Rebecca Silverman,
Rebecca: It's great to be here again to rant and rave (in a highly professional way, of course) about the past year in anime, and believe me, my sister is thrilled that someone besides her is going to get to bear the brunt of it.
As an enthusiastic reader, this has been a very interesting year for anime, with Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace reworking the ero guro mysteries of Edogawa Ranpo, the release of 2008's Library War, and a few other series that owe a lot to classic literature rearing their heads among the other trends, and it certainly doesn't look like the shows based on light novels are going anywhere anytime soon – what's more exciting is that we're actually getting to read the source material in legal English releases, sometimes even before the show debuts! A trend I've been less thrilled with is the increasing prevalence of high-priced releases for three to four episodes of a series. All of the posters and booklets can't quite make up for a $90 price tag for so few episodes, often without a dub, and while I understand that for collectors it's a plus, it just isn't something that works for me personally, and certainly not for most people I know in real life...especially if a standard edition isn't forthcoming.
And now let's get onto the awards, shall we?
SPOILER WARNING: While we have remained vague about major spoilers wherever possible, lesser spoilers from a plethora of series are discussed. These include Aldnoah.Zero, Cross Ange, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (hereafter DanMachi), Overlord, Plastic Memories, Snow White with the Red Hair, Sound! Euphonium, and The Seven Deadly Sins.
Theron's Pick: School-Live!
Runner-Up: Maria the Virgin Witch
Best of the Rest: Amagi Brilliant Park, Noragami Aragoto, One-Punch Man.
On that note, my top three picks remain the same, but there are changes in the 4th and 5th positions. I dropped Sound! Euphonium into “also-considered” status to fit in Amagi, a Fall 2014 series that for whatever reason didn't get picked up for streaming until late in the spring of 2015. I loved the concept about a narcissistic young man called on to save a rundown amusement park whose denizens aren't just pretending to be from a magical world; they actually are from a magical world. It was the funniest title I saw all year but also delivered on some nice underlying drama. I also felt compelled to change the spots of DanMachi and Noragami Aragoto (which I had originally classified as my unofficial #6) because the latter's superb final episode warranted elevating it and the former is still getting honored on Rebecca's list. Two strong story arcs mixed ample world-building with beautifully-articulated character development, thus fulfilling the potential shown by the first season's first arc.
As for Rebecca's other picks that don't match mine, Snow White probably would have come in around 9th or 10th on my list if I had counted down that low. I enjoyed it plenty enough that I'll definitely watch the sequel (I am a big fan of spunky, independent heroines) but didn't find it quite as involving as Rebecca did. I never got past the first episode of the first season of Haikyu!!, as I didn't like the character designs and with one major exception (Cross Game) don't find sports series to be involving or compelling. Marnie I have simply not yet had an opportunity to see.
Rebecca: Yeah, those Haikyu!! designs do take some getting used to – they all look so elfin. I'm surprised by how much I like it, given my general lack of enthusiasm for sports shows (and sports)!
I also made a substitution, the Ghibli film When Marnie Was There, which didn't see a theatre release in my neck of the woods in 2015 – just the home video. The adaptation of Joan G. Robinson's 1967 children's novel just hit all the right notes for me in its beautiful, melancholy, yet uplifting retelling. I don't usually like stories that make me cry, but I loved every second that I sobbed through this one, probably because it wasn't so much sad as quietly touching.
In terms of Theron's picks, I never did finish watching Maria the Virgin Witch, finding I preferred the manga, but I'll clearly have to remedy that. I enjoy One-Punch Man, but it just didn't quite tickle my funny bone; I have a feeling I might like it more watching it all in one fell swoop instead of week-by-week. As for Noragami Aragoto, I am filled with regret that a busy semester has kept me from finishing it, because hands down it's one of my current favorite stories. Happily that's what vacations are for, and I'm also adding Amagi to my watch list.
Theron's Pick: School-Live!
Rebecca's Pick: Chivalry of a Failed Knight
Rebecca: School-Live! was a great surprise for me, too, but I didn't make it my top because after the first episode, I was expecting it to be good. This other one I was not. I wasn't thrilled to get Chivalry for the winter season, but I did see potential in it so I was a big girl and didn't complain - and boy do I feel rewarded. Pretty early on it begins to veer from the magic high school harem norm, with Ikki and Stella falling for each other and becoming a couple almost right off the bat. It then turns into less of a case of Ikki proving to other people that he's more awesome than they expect and more of him proving it to himself as he comes to terms with his family's (totally unwarranted) dislike of him. This could have been another cookie-cutter show with bland characters, but instead it treated its heroes with respect, from transgendered Alice to Stella being a girl unafraid of her own sexual feelings. I never expected to come out liking this show, much less respecting it. I love that kind of surprise.
Rebecca's Pick: Chibi-Usa, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal
Theron's Pick: Koro-sensei, Assassination Classroom
Rebecca: I seriously considered Megumi Tadokoro from Food Wars for this award for her slow, steady growth over the season, but ultimately I had to go with Chibi-usa. Back when Sailor Moon R was first dubbed in English, I remember a lot of hate for Chibi-usa. But she's always been one of my favorite characters in the Sailor Moon franchise, and her return in Sailor Moon Crystal finally gave her the chance to show her strength. This is a child who not only lost both of her parents in an attack on her home, but also had to travel back through time to try to come up with a way to save them, along with herself. She can't help but feel guilty for what happened to her parents, and she has to learn to call upon the strength inside of her to make things right, not just for the future, but for herself as well. She does all of this without ever giving us the impression that she's anything but a child, struggling with things she can't emotionally understand. That she comes through it not just fine, but stronger than she started, makes her a remarkable character and a true magical girl.
Rebecca: Maria from The Testament of Sister New Devil was one of my runners-up as well, simply for being far more than she could have been as a character.
Rebecca's Pick: Hestia and Bell, DanMachi
Theron's Pick: Doronbow Gang, Yatterman Night
Rebecca: This was a tougher call than I expected – Shirayuki and Zen were on my shortlist, as was the School Living Club from School-Live!. But in the end I went with my first instinct, which is Hestia and Bell. The two of them have what I can unreservedly call a nice relationship: they genuinely care about each other in what feels like a truly bonded way. Sure Hestia also has a crush on Bell, but her romantic aspirations don't really get in the way of his leveling up or their basic dynamic. They act like two people who are completely comfortable with each other, invested in each other's well-being but not afraid to say when they think the other is wrong or being stupid. Their relationship really formed the cornerstone of the series and helped make it worth coming back each week. That it did so without any major “will they/won't they” romance makes it even more appealing to me and solidifies them as my pick.
Theron's Pick: Embryo, Cross Ange
Rebecca's Pick: Erina Nakiri, Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma
Rebecca: Ugh, yes, Gakuho Asano. I thought about him too, but...I know, I know. Erina's not that bad, she's the way she is for a reason, etc. etc. Intellectually, I am totally aware of all of that, and a rational part of me even agrees with it. But her overweening egotism, ludicrous vendetta against Soma, and just general nastiness overwhelm all of it for me. Erina is mean, spiteful, and cruel, and she's all of those things deliberately. That she has a legitimate reason to be so doesn't make her less of a bully, and if I'm to be completely honest, she's the character I hated the most in 2015. If it makes anyone feel better, Akaza from Chivalry of a Failed Knight was my runner-up – he's actually a lot like Asano in his determination to take out one perceived “failure” to further his own agenda...which I feel is part of Erina's issue as well. I guess we know what I dislike in a character.
Rebecca's Pick: Shirayuki jumps from the tower while Zen races against time, Snow White with the Red Hair episode 10
Theron's Pick: Asseylum takes charge, Aldnoah.Zero episode 23
Rebecca: I know I can get hyper about female characters saving themselves, but this scene would have been remarkable even without that added bonus. Shirayuki and Zen have been consistently aware of how people view their relationship and Shirayuki in particular doesn't want anyone thinking that she's only at the palace because of Zen's favor. Zen himself also knows that someone could use her to get to him, and when Lord Brecker tries it, he goes into full-out panic mode. The emotions just flow from the screen as he tries to rescue Shirayuki, who is planning her escape on her own – by leaping from the top of the tower into the lake. Both characters' actions speak volumes about how much they care about each other and the scene is tense in a variety of ways. From the animation to the voices to the sound effects, this is the scene that I kept reliving after the episode was over. My Honorable Mention has to go to the nearly-final scene in School-Live!, a brief but haunting moment which sums up the reality of the girls' world and provides a counterpoint to Shirayuki and Zen's assurance of a happy ending.
Rebecca's Pick: Elaine succumbs to her injuries, The Seven Deadly Sins episode 8,
Theron's Picks: Tie – Isla is retired, Plastic Memories episode 13; Clementine gets squeezed by Momonga, Overlord episode 9.
Rebecca: When we first meet Ban in The Seven Deadly Sins, he's pretty much a total jackass, but in episodes seven and eight, we learn that it's really all an act: Ban's devil-may-care attitude is covering up a hole in his heart. Those episodes flash back to before he was immortal, when he met Elaine, the fairy guardian of the Fountain of Youth and protector of the forest. Elaine and Ban fell in love, and ultimately she sacrifices herself so that he can live on: both are mortally wounded and Ban tries to get her to drink from the Fountain to live, but Elaine instead forces the healing waters down his throat with their first (and last) kiss. It's one of those moments that has tears creeping down your cheeks before you even know you're crying and all the more remarkable because previous to this flashback, the show was pretty typical shonen fare. With Elaine's passing the story also loses its innocence, yet is beautiful in its long-reaching tragedy.
Rebecca's Pick: JSDF takes on a fire dragon and almost loses, GATE episode 3.
Theron's Pick: Everyone vs. the Goliath, DanMachi episode 13.
Rebecca: This wasn't exactly a spectacular looking battle, but as a long-time consumer of fantasy, I really appreciated the way it set the scene. Previous to this fight, the army had been blasting its way through the denizens of the Special Region, turning them into basically bones and ashes, and I wouldn't blame them for thinking that they'd have it pretty easy in this new world. The fire dragon proves them wrong. This sucker is not going to go down easy, and in fact they almost don't succeed in getting rid of it. It's a wake-up call to both the characters and the viewers that “fantasy” doesn't just mean busty blond elves and magic – and if they don't want to become dragon chow, they're going to have to pay close attention. Theron's pick was definitely one of my top choices as well – and far more dramatic.
Theron's Pick: "The Hero!! Set Fire to the Furious Fist" by JAM Project, One-Punch Man
Rebecca's Picks: Tie - “The Five Ways I Know to be Happy” by Maya Sakamoto, Gourmet Girl Graffiti and “Talking” by KANA-BOON, The Perfect Insider
Rebecca: I have to agree that there weren't a lot of great openers this year, and strangely enough, I never finished watching either of these series whose openings I liked – for whatever reason, neither captured my interest. The opening themes, on the other hand, I could happily keep rewatching. “The Five Ways I Know to be Happy” is adorable and strangely faithful to its Alice's Adventures in Wonderland imagery, plus I always enjoy listening to Maya Sakamoto. “Talking,” on the other hand, I sometimes watch with the sound off just to enjoy the dancing. Not only is it spectacularly animated, the choreography is fun and the visual effects, while not hugely creative, work with the dancing to enhance it.
Rebecca's Pick: “Mikazuki” by Sayuri, Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace
Theron's Pick: "L.L.L." by MYTH&ROID, Overlord
Rebecca: I may have mixed feelings about the show, but “Mikazuki” was my favorite ending theme the moment I saw it. Using images from the show more symbolically (and successfully) than the episodes themselves, the haunting vocals and the red color scheme fit right into Edogawa Ranpo's twisted world. The final image, of Akechi catching Kobayashi before he falls, enhances the themes of the show in a way that not all ending themes can. If only the whole show had been this good!
Theron's Pick: Actually, I Am… . .
Rebecca's Pick: Uta no Prince-sama - Maji Love Revolutions
Rebecca: Ah, UtaPri. I'm not sure if at this point I just have whatever the anime viewer's form of Stockholm Syndrome is where this franchise is involved or if I actually enjoy it. But no matter – I know the story of Mountain Dew Laser Eyes Haruka and her ever-increasing harem of gorgeous young(ish) performers isn't objectively good. In fact, it seems to get a little dumber with each season. But it's so silly and so earnest while it's being silly that I tamp down my second-hand embarrassment with glee each time a new season is announced. Hell, I have figurines from the show. I think I may have a problem, actually. Help me.
Rebecca's Pick: Bikini Warriors
Theron's Pick: Shomin Sample
Rebecca: To be clear on this award, we are judging only the concept, not (necessarily) the quality of the series as a whole. In my case, the title says it all: this is a show about warriors who wear bikinis. Battle bikinis, because that's been a thing since Barbarian Fantasy became a genre. (Thanks, Robert E. Howard!) It only has four minute episodes, because when your show is about the fact that battle bikinis are being worn, that's about how long you can make a plot last. Red Sonja, your imitators deserve better.
Rebecca's Pick: BONJOUR Sweet Love Patisserie
Theron's Pick: Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei Herz!
Rebecca: This award goes to titles which started with a good premise and/or first few episodes and then collapsed or to sequels which mightily disappointed. For me, the former would apply to the second half of BONJOUR Sweet Love Patisserie. I actually really enjoyed the first sixteen episodes – they were cute and actually took time to try to develop the heroine and her heroes. Then the second half just sort of wandered off around episode seventeen. It went from Sayuri almost actually picking a guy (pretty unusual in straight adaptations of otome games) to everyone goofing around and painting silly faces on each other. It's like the show got scared of its own plot and decided that it had better back off in a hurry. It's a shame, because while I did finish it, I was never actually satisfied and felt cheated.
Theron's Pick: To LOVE-Ru Darkness 2nd
Rebecca's Pick: Haikyu!! Season 2, Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma, and Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!
Rebecca: Things were pretty nice for the ladies this year too as the fujoshi titles continued to pour in. I know Haikyu!! Second Season is kind of a weird pick for fan service, but then you might remember the target audience for this show, so maybe it's not so odd. Scenes of playing volleyball are beautifully animated and special attention is paid to the muscles moving beneath the skin when the boys crouch, run, or jump, making it pretty obvious one of the reasons this show is so popular with the ladies. (Plus, you know, it's a legitimately good story.) As for Food Wars, don't let the boobs fool you – one of the male characters spends most of his time walking around in just an apron, there's a ton of quality male fanservice in this show. Add in the scenes in the men's bath during training camp and Food Wars has a little something for everyone in its judicious use of fan service. And really, I can't write this entry without mentioning the magical boy show that had it all: Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!. It was funny AND fanservicey. What more could you want?
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Male: Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as Bell in DanMachi and Soma in Shokugeki no Sōma: Food Wars. (Runner-Up: Jun Fukuyama as Koro-sensei in Assassination Classroom)
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Female: Saori Goto as Nao in Shokugeki no Sōma
Rebecca: I'd heard Yoshitsugu Matsuoka previous to this year, but 2015 is when he really impressed me. Some of the noises he made as Bell in DanMachi were truly bizarre (in the best way), and his work in that show and Food Wars were totally different, to the point where looking up who the actor was for both roles was a surprise. In fact, all of DanMachi was a voice acting surprise, as the cast pulled together to make the silliest features of the story's world feel totally plausible and to make each character sound unique and like a thinking, feeling person, which can be especially difficult in a fantasy or science fiction setting where so much jargon is involved. Maaya Uchida also deserves a mention for her Liliruca, who was just petulant enough to still be endearing but get the character across. I almost picked her for my best female performance, but then I remembered the one minor character who stole her episodes: Nao as played by Saori Goto in Food Wars. Stalkery Nao, whose dark arts and attitude play only a minor role in the series, was a show-stopper with her creepy voice and squirmy delivery. She was especially good when she first came in, but her presentation at the cook-off was also a scene-stealer. Goto made Nao sound just like the Thing Under the Bed, and I hear her voice when I read the manga, which is one of the highest compliments I can give. That holds true for Jun Fukuyama's Koro-sensei in Assassination Classroom as well – he's nearly always impressive (I'm particularly fond of his Leopard in the sub-par The Girl Who Leapt Through Space), but he really nailed Koro-sensei's combination of insanity and excellent teaching.
Best English Dub Performance – Male: Clifford Chapin as Harutora in Tokyo Ravens and Raishin in Unbreakable Machine-Doll
Best English Dub Performance – Female: Erica Mendez as Yuuki, Sword Art Online II
The female individual award was a tougher pick, as the high-end performances were less clear-cut. Elizabeth Maxwell earned serious consideration for how excellently she takes over and owns the role of Motoko Kusanagi in the Ghost in the Shell Arise content, but ultimately I had to go with Erica Mendez's rendition of Yuuki in SAO II's Mother's Rosario arc. I wasn't sure at first how good a fit she was in that pivotal role, but her take on the character grew on me and she handled the trickier late emotional content wonderfully well. She is now the voice of Yuuki in my head, and considering how much I love that arc, that's saying something.
Best Facial Expressions: Overlord
Most Random Use of a Golden Retriever: Dance with Devils
Rebecca: I grew up with a golden retriever, and while I loved Kara to pieces, she was absolutely the last dog I'd associate with rainbows, unicorns, and romantic moments: she constantly smelled like a damp sheep, licked anything she could get her tongue on, and the minute she got near water, she was in it, refusing to get out. So I was totally baffled when episode eight randomly stuck a golden in the cheesy pastel love duet between Rem and Ritsuka. She gets a unicorn, symbol of purity and little girl fantasies and he gets...a dog bred to bring back dead birds? Who thought that was appropriate symbolism? And more importantly, had they ever met a golden retriever before sticking it in a scene in front of a body of water? I guess for some people, nothing says “romantic love” like a sopping wet dog. I'm sure Kara would have approved.
“Where is She Keeping Them?” Award: Akira Hiiragi, Valkyrie Drive: Mermaid-
Best Product Placement: Wish Upon the Pleiades
Rebecca: In case you missed it, Wish Upon the Pleiades was a magical girl show sponsored by the car manufacturer Subaru. So naturally the company had to get its money's worth out of the production. It wasn't particularly subtle: the girls flew around of drive shafts with the Subaru logo on the front (complete with engine sounds), the Subaru logo flashed in the sky a couple of times, and, in case you didn't get it, the heroine's name is Subaru. Incidentally, “subaru” is also the Japanese name for the constellation we call “the Pleiades” in English, so the star candies the girls were collecting (which showed up as shooting stars) were also a reference to the sponsor. Wow, guys. The only thing you left out was one of the girls going to a dealership with her parents.
Worst Character Name: Pina Co Lada, GATE
Best Kept Literary Secret: The Seven Deadly Sins
Rebecca: So guess what? It turns out that every single major good guy character from The Seven Deadly Sins is actually a character in Arthurian legend. Yeah, I was surprised too. But Meliodas, Diane, Hellebore/Harlequin (King), Elaine, Ban, Elizabeth...all of them have roles in the King Arthur story, mostly before the Once and Future King becomes the man of myth. In fact, many of them are the parents of Arthur's later companions: Ban is Lancelot's father, for example. It's true that the story has a Merlin and an Arthur and is set in Britannia, but nothing else about the show screams “Arthurian story” and frankly most of the players are relatively obscure in terms of the legends the majority knows. It's actually admirably sneaky, if you think about it...
Rebecca: Given my year, it makes sense that I seem to have liked an awful lot of scenes that embraced the concept of mono no aware, which can be roughly translated to “something so sad that it becomes beautiful.” In another year I might not have noticed them, so it really is interesting how our lives affect our viewing sometimes.
Thanks for reading!
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