Boy this year went by fast. It seems like only yesterday that I was struggling to think of ten anime to put on my year end list, and debating whether to replace Parasyte with Valkyrie Drive. Wait, that was only yesterday. Onward to nine anime that I feel deserve to be given accolades (and Valkyrie Drive).
10. Sore ga Seiyuu
I came to Sore ga Seiyuu late in the summer season. Hell, with the bevy of uncharacteristically good shows that made up this past summer, I’m still not sure why I picked it up. I put it on this list not because it did anything particularly well (it’s Shirobako but less blunt), or because its chronicles of struggling voice actresses resonated with me on a deeper level, but because it was one of the few shows that remained consistently enjoyable, humming along quietly as a solid 7/10. It was the kind of show that took no effort to watch but gave something in return, needed after workdays of being threatened with stabbing. It fulfilled that role admirably.
9. Valkyrie Drive
Full disclosure, I haven’t finished Valkyrie Drive yet, and this was originally going to be Parasyte’s spot. Ordinarily that’d be an automatic disqualification from a year-end best list, but two episodes in Valkyrie Drive’s middle stretch are some of the most entertaining I’ve seen this year, involving a girl who orgasms from rubbing against money, and another who grows to such an absurd size that her ass is used as a waterslide. The rest of the series could be nothing but a rerun of Love Live, and I would still regard this as some of the most fun I’ve had watching something all year. In a weird way, for all of its crassness, Valkyrie Drive is one of the most inspired shows this year. Also, fittingly for a show about tits, the lead’s name is Mammary Virgin.
8. Maria the Virgin Witch
Not everybody wants to change a bad situation, even if people are dying needlessly over a succession war that evolved into a territorial dispute that arose because of questionable marrying practices. As Metal Gear astutely, if questionably points out on a regular basis, people will always profit from war– people with large amounts of power. Maria the VW Bug is about her going against the established order by summoning hellbeasts, sexing up the leaders of both sides, and making a nuisance of herself all for the purpose of peace. For me, the joy in watching it is the spectacle of seeing two unbreakable brick walls hurling at mach speed toward each other–a society resulting from decades of near-constant social and military upheaval, and a witch who couldn’t care less about what it thinks of her. If Hundred Years’ War Punk were an aesthetic, Maria is the trendsetter.
From the same studio that brought you Well-Animated Interchangeable Teenage Angst Shows #1-8,663 comes Shirobako, a charming and poignant show about the complexities of conflict and motivation in the workplace. I’m not as big on it as a certain two other cart drivers were, but I appreciate its dedication to portraying characters with an undeniable passion for their work, even while it threatens to get screwed up at any moment. It’s also refreshing to see the monolithic anime industry humanized, to have its failures and successes given a face and a reason, and to look into the machinery that gave us the soon to be legendary Valkyrie Drive ass waterslide.
There’s more to Shirobako than can be expressed in a single paragraph, so much more that makes it work as a glance into both the anime industry and the workplace, and I urge those of you who haven’t watched it (welcome to watching anime, the two of you!), to check it out.
6. Stardust Crusaders S2
The fun in JoJo’s has always been watching Araki attempt to write himself out of the corners that he deliberately writes himself into. And while I wouldn’t call the first season of Stardust Crusaders unimaginative, the second is where the whole concept of stands really comes together into something that makes them feel like more than a one-off gimmick. They feel like things that actually have an impact on the world at large, not just pop culture-themed Pokemon whose purpose is to attack other Pokemon. Hell, more often than not they’re more accessories to schemes than the main means of delivering on them, particularly when it comes to the D’Arby brothers and their predisposition toward games. By not making the stands the focus, S2 ironically makes them far more interesting, and something that I looked forward to watching week to week.
I have to have Monogatari on a list related to whatever year it’s in, because it’s just such a damn fascinating piece of work. Even when it doesn’t engage, its very existence is something that could only happen in this medium, and needs to be acknowledged as such. Thankfully, Owari’s actually one of the better parts of the series, deftly touching on how past relationships affect behaviors in the present. Sodachi is by far its most human character, her mannerisms and rationale consistent with an abusive childhood, but Ougi and Shinobu add their own flair to the series that either humanizes them, or makes them into a sort of force of nature that inevitably drives things forward. It doesn’t have the overall strength of Second Series or the Kaiki necessary to elevate it to a higher position on a Best Of list, but the franchise is still putting in an incredibly strong performance that deserves recognition.
4. Gakkou Gurashi
I’m going to preface this particular segment (boy there’s a lot of justifying going on in this post) by saying that entries 4-8 are fairly interchangeable in terms of quality to me. They occupy the same generally strong plane of existence that makes them some of the year’s best efforts, but not enough to make them something I’ll look back on fondly years from now. In this vein of reasoning, Gakkou Gurashi is no slouch when it comes to quality. It’s tense when it needs to be, and (mostly) emotionally affecting when it should be. Above all, it doesn’t forget the importance of staying positive, even when the world is trying to eat you alive. The more that I think about it, the more that I find something powerful in its depiction of four girls and their dog trying to stay alive and happy. It falls apart toward the end like a sloppy fast food sandwich, but it’s a show that never forgets that people will remain people, even in the most dire of circumstances. Yes, even when society is falling apart.
Human beings are wired toward sex. Whether we like it or not, we’re predisposed to seek it out within the confines that society lays out. When that society makes those confines borderline impassable, we still utilize ingenuity to find a way to get our rocks off. Taking place in a dystopian future where even thoughts of sex are highly regulated by a decency-obsessed government, Shimoseka goes to absurd lengths to show the equally absurd lengths that people will go to in order to get a glimpse of tits/schlong/vag/feet/armpits/ass/whatever floats their boat, even when they don’t know that their journey for sexual awareness is taken through a horribly distorted path. Undeniably crass but never gratuitous, Shimoseka is one of this year’s genuinely great shows that actually makes a statement through all the “love nectar” cookies and penis references.
I honestly found this season of Symphogear to be sorely lacking in the crazy that I’ve come to expect from this esteemed franchise. Sure there was a nonsensical cliffhanger at the end of each episode, the villain from the second season was brought back from the dead for no good reason, and the enemies had a dedication to their craft on par with Precure villains, but it lacked that consistent spark that made the first two seasons such a spectacle to behold. Except for that one part. That one glorious opening moment of the Symphogears riding a missile into orbit, guiding a shuttle back to Earth, punching a hole through K2 (making it the third tallest mountain in the world), and landing it in a Pakistani village. It’s rare for a single moment to elevate a series to high esteem for me, but Symphogear GX nailed it.
1. Prison School
For a lot of folks, Prison School qualifies as a guilty pleasure due to its unabashed use of T&A, its unapologetically goofy story of prisoners trying to make it through their sentence without giving in to temptation, and its definitive conclusion to the Tits vs. Ass argument. Fortunately, I have no such shame. Prison School is genuinely my favorite show of this year, proving to be immensely entertaining in its self seriousness over so many contrivances crammed into the same place. Above all, despite joking at damn near everybody’s expense, nobody is victimized to the point that it feels gratuitous. Nobody gets away with murder. It’s a simple plot of villains getting their just desserts in an absurd school setting (not just the student council), and it’s executed with a fervor not seen outside of people who really like self flagellation.