Ringing in the new year with a loving look back at the old.
This was my kinda year, both in terms of the types of shows and the way they were executed. Lots of bleeding cool action, entertaining fantasy, charming shoujo, and some ambitious projects from both up-and-coming and seasoned directors/writers made the year not just a fun one, but at times downright stunning.
While there were still plenty of bad or just forgettable titles floating around this year, the industry as a whole seems a lot more financially comfortable than it used to be (thanks in part to international simulcasts), which has led to studios not only releasing more titles, but taking greater risks with some of them, too. Not to say that niche passion projects like Maria the Virgin Witch or animation-fests like One Punch Man would never have seen the light of day in past seasons, but with greater economic stability, big-name studios like Production I.G. and Madhouse (and my darling BONES, who would have positively dominated this list if I’d allowed split-cours) can produce these titles with a little less reticence than they might have in the past. And that’s always a good thing.
Beyond that, two things really stand out after putting this list together: First, that the year was front-loaded like nobody’s business, as half these titles aired during the winter; and two, that it featured a lot of smart, character-driven series, and some particularly well-written female protagonists, which is a huge bonus for me. All-in-all I had me a very good 2015, and am excited to talk about some of its standouts.
I’ve never been so sad to see the end of winter.
Real talk, dear readers: This was the best anime season I’ve experienced since I started regularly watching simulcasts a few years ago, positively jam-packed with not only quality adaptations but also tremendous original works (a relative rarity these days). As a result, creating this list was torture, because there were simply too many great or good series, full of tightly woven plots, provocative themes, and captivating characters. So take the numbers with a grain of salt and, if you’re looking for a new show to watch, pay closer attention to the grades and premises.
I like to talk season trends in these retrospectives, and Winter saw a couple fascinating ones: Well-written female characters, and an exploration of binaries (male/female, life/death, Madonna/whore, geeky/sporty, etc.) and seemingly irreconcilable cultures and social groups. The top seven shows all feature diverse, layered lady protagonists; in five of those shows said protagonists are the main character; and two of them (Yurikuma Arashi and Maria the Virgin Witch) are overtly feminist works, portraying and challenging society’s expectations/treatment of women in both reality and fiction.
There’s a mess of complicated, morally gray, thought-provoking stuff here, but more impressive still, these ideas are generally paired with complex characters and compelling stories, leading to a gripping cocktail of the intellectual and the emotional, a winning combo of Dem Thinks and Dem Feels. In short, Winter was a damn good season, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Hit the jump for some spoiler-free mini-reviews, final grades, and Totally Arbitrary Rankings.
I know, Yoon. I’m not ready for it to end, either.
Mild spoilers below the jump.
And here I thought winter was supposed to be the quiet anime season.
A solid mix of carryovers, sequels, and newcomers has (so far) made this the best winter anime season in recent memory, filled to the brim with engaging shows of varying styles and genres. The fall trend of arealism continues as almost every series on this list has at least some fantastical element to it, but perhaps most happily, there’s a sense of people taking risks – or, at the very least, having fun – this season, both in the art/animation and in the storytelling.
There are a surprising number of original series on the list (a relative rarity these days), and while it’s often messy and unpolished, it’s not the same ol’ blend of tropes and story lines churned out without imagination or even enjoyment. Energy and enthusiasm can make up for a lot of imperfections, and this season has me thoroughly engaged because of the amount of sheer excitement splashed across these frames. Here’s hoping that continues through the second half of winter, too.
Fall is at an end, but that doesn’t mean its best shows have to be.
We saw two forms of storytelling make a welcome comeback this season: The high fantasy and (perhaps even more importantly) the long-form anime series. As anyone who’s been watching simulcast anime over the past few years will know, one-cour shows have become the norm, and anything longer a happy exception. This season, though, a whopping nine of the 13 shows on my watchlist ran longer than that, and seven of them will be continuing into the coming seasons. So there are a ton of “midseries” reviews in this bunch – and hey, what better time to catch up on some great shows than over the holiday break?
Overall it wasn’t the best of anime seasons, full of shows that fluctuated dramatically in tone and quality (Fate/stay night, Gugure! Kokkuri-san, Your Lie in April), one that shot itself in the foot (Yuki Yuna is a Hero), and a few that suffered to varying degrees from not getting more episodes to tell their extensive stories (Rage of Bahamut, Laughing Under the Clouds). But hey, no season with Mushishi will ever be a total failure, and there were two incredibly consistent, solid, just good old-fashioned well-told stories to round out the Top Three. So let’s focus on those first, starting with one of the great masterpieces of anime, back for its (sniffle) final round of episodes.
Good sequels and good fantasies keep the stream from drying up this season.
My fall watchlist is considerably smaller than my summer one, partly because of time constraints on my part, but mostly because there just isn’t as much that interests me this season. Not counting sequels (and yes, I count Fate/stay night as a sequel even though it technically isn’t), I’ve only kept up with seven new shows this season. Compare that to summer’s whopping 13 at the midway mark, and it sounds pretty dismal by all accounts.
That said, there is a pleasant ray of hope this fall: Fantasies have made a sudden and welcome comeback, as nearly every new series on this list features some element of magic or “arealism.” Better still, a fair number of them are two-cour, continuing this year’s trend of studios producing longer series (a very nice trend indeed). And hey, I’m also trying to watch half a dozen U.S. shows and a trio of sports, so maybe the shortened list isn’t such a bad thing.
Most everything falls (pun always intended) in “solidly watchable” B-range territory, with a couple standouts and a couple series hovering near the chopping block. What’s shining and what’s dimming? Hit the jump for a midseason check-in.
It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad fantasy world.
If anyone ever grumbles to you that all fantasy is the same, just shove these two shows into their faces, because while they may share a genre label, that’s about all they share right now. Bahamut is a western medieval barnburner full of heavenly forces, historical figures, and larger-than-life personalities, while Yona is an eastern political drama that spends as much time in the past developing its characters’ histories as it does on the dramatic events of the current timeline. Yes, these two are complete opposites – except, of course, for the fact that I’m enjoying the hell out of both. Hit the jump to see just how much.