As the year quickly comes to a close, the Cart Driver is going to great efforts to cram in as many gimmicky posts about the end of the year as physically possible. Today is my turn to throw in my lot by listing my Top 10 Anime of the Year, tomorrow will be Shinmaru’s, and the day after will be Scamp’s. Finally, once all is said and done, we’ll have a Cart Driver Aggregate Top 10 to round off the year, including 10 subcategories for things like Best Engrish. Look forward to this final surge as we present every anime that we felt has been worth watching this year—obviously some lists (mine) more right than others (theirs), even with inevitable shared entries.
So here we go, the anime that I’ve lovingly handpicked to represent all the animation that’s flooded the market this year, not counting those with cours carrying over into the next.
10. Aquarion EVOL
3/3 Cart Driver writers agree that Aquarion EVOL is probably the best mecha anime of the year. Granted, there isn’t a lot of competition, but Aquarion managed to be a glurgy, melodramatic affair that actually succeeded because it never took itself seriously. I mean when you have both a hot springs and beach visit in the same episode (with bananas, of course), and a finale that has mechs crying to re-moisten a desert planet, that at least makes Aquarion EVOL worth mentioning. Also, EVOL is love backwards.
9. Kamisama Hajimemashita
This year didn’t exactly provide a wealth of shoujo to pick from, but Kamisama Hajimemashita manages to take a premise as depressing as a girl being evicted from her home due to crippling familial debt and make it surprisingly funny, when it didn’t focus on Tomoe’s angst. Even then, at least it manages to be lighthearted enough to keep the occasional seriousness from seeping in too much. It’s not exactly great, and probably not memorable enough to be remembered past this year, but goddamn does it work.
8. Tie: Fate/Zero and Jormungand
Fate/Zero was a series wracked by a number of problems that come with basing an anime around a conflict as multifaceted as the Holy Grail War: Too many characters and too little time means that everybody but Saber, Irisviel, Kiritsugu, Kirei, Archer, Rider, and Waver fall by the wayside, giving the experience less depth than it could have had; I’d daresay that it’s the only show on this list that approached perfection, but came up noticeably short for doing so. Still, it had Gilgamesh engage in a dogfight with Sir Lancelot while a shoggoth conjured by Gilles de Rais flailed menacingly at them, so I can’t fault it too much for coming up a bit short when it’s the best conflict between historical/mythological figures from different ages that we’ll get for a very long time.
Jormungand suffered similarly by basing its premise around Koko going loco (oh no!) and not actually making anything of it until the very end of the second season. Even though it was an entertaining enough ride up to that point, it only really struck brilliance once Koko’s master plan was revealed: A mix of James Bond villainy and lunacy based in real concerns that actually makes her bodyguard Jonah question whether she’s worth following. If it didn’t take so long to reach that point, Jormungand would easily rate higher based on the last few episodes of this past season. I wasn’t even going to put it on this list for that very reason, but autotuned Engrish is way more convincing than it has any right to be.
Joshiraku is the only “cute girls only talk about cute things” that manages to do the exact same thing every time and somehow spiral into bigger and better things, while never getting old. To go from talking about being cute to indirectly espousing Japanese nationalism takes nothing short than the work of a genius. I don’t have anything more to say than to fucking watch it. Seriously.
6. Future Diary
As proof that derivative series aren’t necessarily bad, Future Diary makes a strong run for the finish line of excellence before tripping over itself and scraping off its face as it slides gracelessly forward, leaving unnecessary trimmings like coherence and subtlety behind. Yet, this doesn’t hurt the series as a whole, since the spectacle of two teenagers frantically trying to keep from being murdered by crazy people never gets old. Everything about Future Diary is tailored toward being as shamelessly cheap, crass, and exploitative as possible– and it’s utterly fantastic.
5. Hotarubi no Mori e
Since movies and OVAs (first seen this year) are included in this year-end roundup, Hotarubi no Mori e has to make the list in one way or another. I mean it’s heartwarming without becoming saccharine, what else do you need, a bittersweet ending? Well, it has one of those too. There, great movie. Moving on.
4. Senki Zesshou Symphogear: Meteoroid-Falling, Burning, and Disappear, Then…
The most amusingly inept series in recent memory, bar none. Everything about it is incompetent at such a level that it achieves brilliance similar to The Room, a transcendent state of being unmarred by anything remotely related to quality control. With a story that makes no sense, leaves several plot threads hanging, and involves characters that emote with all the subtlety of a meteoroid falling, burning, and disappear, then…, Senki Zesshou Symphogear: Meteoroid-Falling, Burning, and Disappear Then… is one of those rare gems: A show that tries so very hard and fails in every regard that it somehow becomes better than it could have ever been, were it designed with any sort of competence.
3. Humanity Has Declined
Starting with bread killing itself and ending with the students in an all-girls school turning out to be totally mental, everything in between serves as a never-ending heavy-handed allegory for modern existence, from industrialization to how the excesses of civilization never cease to be its undoing. Also, there are dogs created as a result of time travel called time paradogs. It may be pretentious, but it’s also some of the most consistently effective comedy of the year with one of the best sarcastic leads to ever have pink hair.
From toothbrushing to lethargic accordion/fiddle melodies, Nisemonogatari offers the weirdest in anime and makes it work, accompanied by a villain who bases his identity specifically on being evil. And, somehow, ‘Gahara ends up being even better than she was in the first season, if that was at all possible. If Nisemonogatari ended after the first arc, it would have been #1 as a perfect mix of villain personality exploration and enough SHAFT-ness to kill a horse. It’s the best of times, the worst of times, and incestuous toothbrushing all in one unique package, only exceeded by one more wonderful show that blows everything else in the year out of the water, leaving them as charred remains.
1. Girls und Panzer
Many year-end lists will unfortunately disqualify this due to not technically ending this year. Others still will recognize its genius and include it anyway, these people being the vanguard that our world needs in these troubled times. Despite originally conjuring impressions of being an indirect Strike Witches sequel, Girls und Panzer steers clear of that unfortunate destiny by crafting itself more as a sports anime than the Strike Witches “cute girls do cute dogfights” rule. Even going in with low expectations, it would meet my loftiest with little effort.
When first announced, I was one of the many ironically hailing this as the greatest show of the year before it even aired. The super ridiculous trailer did nothing to dissuade my sarcasm, and I had myself ready to tweet about how unbelievably dumb it’d be. Yet here I am now, unironically naming it as my favorite show of the year. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
There are no deep issues broached, no subtext, just exhilarating tank battles one after the other combined with enough nutty one-off characters to appeal to the part of me that wants to be entertained without much thought. It offers that, as well as neat background detail to reward the observant eye: Anglerfish decals, the occasional mention of “Can you imagine GUYS driving tanks? How absurd!”, characters obsessed with very specific parts of history, the fact that schools are on fucking gargantuan carriers… the world is seemingly slapdash, but it works so ridiculously well that I can’t help but admire it. Here’s Katyusha again to end this post on as good a note as possible.
Girls und Panzer, never change.