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Scamp’s Top 10 Anime of 2015

Shimoneta - 01 - Large 28This was a very difficult list to compile. In previous years the final list usually picked itself with little issue. In fact even as I’m writing this intro I still don’t know the proper order between 3 and 7. It’s been a year full of anime that really struck a chord with me even while I recognise they have significant issues in other areas. The top 2 took those positions largely because they knew exactly what they were going for and executed it without any real issues. I don’t think it’s been the greatest year, but these top 10 I will look back on fondly.

A word on the also-rans: One Punch Man was certainly one of the more consistently entertaining anime this year, but it was so lightweight that even now barely a week after it ending I can’t really remember a specific great moment. Similar story with the new Little Witch Academia movie. I appreciate Osomatsu-san but it’s comedy doesn’t quite do it for me. Rokka would have made the top 10 if the ending wasn’t the worst anime ending ever. Iron Blooded Orphans and Durarara aren’t over yet so aren’t eligible. This was also the first year where I could watch the new Ghibli movie When Marnie Was There, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet. Shame on me.

10: Gakkou Gurashi

Gakkou Gurashi - 05 - Large 25 (1)Gakkou Gurashi shouldn’t have worked for me since it’s about 90% cute girls faffing about, which is my  kryptonite. But I was so rarely bored watching this thing and I think the reason why is you’re not really watching the surface level. It’s not like Higurashi where you’re just waiting for the mask to slip so it gets interesting, you’re just reading what the mask says at all times. You’re always interpreting events through the layer of delusion and escapism critique. Lines that seem meaningless fun in the context of a 4-koma adaptation take on something more when it’s a front for how a character can’t grow up. Perhaps it’s in part because I don’t like this genre that Gakkou Gurashi’s harsh critique of what it represents for otaku struck that chord with me. It’s not super deep, but there’s plenty to unpack each episode as you recontextualise everything they do, and by extension you start to repurpose what other anime in this genre stand for. The ending is pretty garbage mostly because it breaks that mask and loses all its subtlety, but it doesn’t forget its central themes so it didn’t ruin the series overall for me.

9: Blood Blockade Battlefront

Kekkai Sensen - 05 - Large 09By all rights Blood Blockade Battlefront shouldn’t be on this list. I should probably plonk One Punch Man here instead, or that new Ghibli movie I haven’t watched yet. The ending is absolute rubbish (bit of a trend this year) and about half of the episodes are only about average. But when Blood Blockade was good, when it was firing on all cylinders, it was the best anime of the year. The episode with the crazy blood transfusion lady was like Baccano instead better, which considering Baccano is in my top 5 anime of all time is insanely high praise. It had a vibrant fun and a fantastic sense of cartoony pacing which a great cast of characters in that Baccano/Durarara sense in that they were all instantly recognisably charismatic and larger than life. Throw in a few other great episodes like alien restaurant owners barfing into bowls or mushroom people duel-wielding hamburgers and you have a series full of these hugely memorable moments that I will cling to with my life, even as my mind is constantly poking me and reminding me what a huge let down the other half of this anime was.

8: Owarimonogatari

Owarimonogatari - 02 - Large 26Quick confession: I have not finished Owarimonogatari at time of writing. This is more of a time thing personally, but maybe I’m also running low on my Monogatari hype train? If Second Season aired this year it would be ranked #3. That said, I would also be lying if I didn’t admit I still really fucking like this series, and I still like what they’re doing with it. Oshino Ougi has been a real delight this season in her Actual Literal Devil role, coming up with some wonderful turns of phrase as she verbally rips apart characters. I still love the general aesthetic of the anime. What I’m particularly loving at this stage is how much fun it is to revisit these strange environments and see all the surreal architecture return, such as the banana sofa in Arararagi’s room of the flame bicycle thing outside Senjogahara’s block of flats. Most of all, it’s fun to hear from these characters again. I am relieved the ending to this franchise is in sight, but not because I’m tired of it. More because I do really like this franchise and seeing these arcs through to the end will feel great as a final chapters in this story.

7: Maria the Virgin Witch

Junketsu no Maria - 01 - Large 32What a weird, original idea for an anime. Let’s set a story during the 100 year war between France and England and tell the story of a witch who loses her magical powers if she has sex. A lot of anime fans looked at that plot description and, with no other real point of reference, latched onto the idea that anime does purity-obsessed sex comedies really badly and dismissed it out of hand, which was frustrating as hell, particularly given Maria is actually critical of that attitude. It uses its setting to tell a nuanced critique of female sexuality in a world where the surrounding culture has super-weird attitudes towards female sexual purity, in particular religion. Those two themes, religion and its weird messages, and cultural obsession with puritanism, are things I have some very strong opinions on and having an anime talk about those with some depth was fantastic. Plus it has clever writing, good directing, and is generally a really well put-together piece…apart from the ending, which the more I think back on, the weirder it gets. But hey, I still have fond feelings for Maria as a whole.

6: Yuri Bear Storm

Yuri Kuma Arashi - 12 - Large 30In a year with some awful endings, Yuri Bear Storm stands out because it has the best goddamn ending in an anime I’ve seen since…well, From the New World, which wasn’t that long ago, but still. It made this strange little story of teenage ostracisation towards homosexuality wrap together into a (mostly) coherent whole. This meant as an overall package, Yuri Bear Storm did it for me in a way that Ikuhara’s previous anime never quite did, even while I liked them a lot too. I recognise Yuri Bear has issues, since it borrows heavily from yuri tropes to bring across its messages, and these are tropes that I find boring no matter what the context. But again, how it all comes together and tells this perfect story really worked for me. It’s not “it gets better I swear” so much as all the symbolism you had been laughing along with up until now coalesces into this one neat overall message. Gao gao.

5: Parasyte

Kiseijuu Sei no Kakuritsu - 07 - Large 11This was very tough to rank in part because I had read the manga beforehand. In another universe, a Parasyte adaptation would have been the best anime of the year. Even in this anime form, it still hits strong for me. Its story is about the meaning of humanity and the strengths of human bonds. Why it is people make sacrifices and how that works in the mind of humans even as they live around constant contradictions to this meaning. This is all layered below this visceral thriller that’s incredibly fun to watch on its surface level. It balances the tone of the weird comedic nature of the body deformations in a way that makes sure they don’t lose their horror element either. And yet! And yet…there’s probably a better anime they could have made. Cut out some of the awful female characters that if anything felt more egregious in the anime adaptation. Have better, or at the very least competent BGM. Cut back on some of the dumber melodrama. What can I say, it was a year of fantastic yet deeply flawed anime.

4: Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist

Shimoneta - 01 - Large 21So you know how in the description for Maria, I bemoaned how the terrible sex comedies of anime resulted in nobody taking any criticism of sexuality in anime seriously (something that incidentally even happened with Yuri Bear Storm despite Ikuhara’s track record)? Shimoneta falls into this category too, but what’s remarkable about it is it stood up for those awful light novel sex comedies. It wore the skin of the trashy light novel to make a serious point about the importance of admittedly trash teenage sexual expression and exploration. Yeah it probably leans strongly on a straw man, but it showed us how the reverse of demanding teens don’t get treated to this stuff won’t change their desire to seek the trash out, simply as part of them growing up. By doing this, it means the sex comedy takes on a new light and becomes funny again. It’s not “haha this is funny because sex”. It’s “haha this is funny because society has warped their minds and given them a warped idea of sex”. Also cookies. Yeah.

3: Psycho Pass: The Movie

PSYCHO-PASS MOVIE - Large 021Did I mention I really like this movie? How it not only resurrected my love for Psycho Pass but also dug a whole new layer of appreciation for this movie alone? Catch me at another time and the numbers 3-7 would be completely reversed, but as of now I am so appreciative for how this movie resurrected Akane and Psycho Pass again that I went for this one on top of this interchangeable list. I thought it was a really clever way to expand its form of cyberpunk dystopia to a whole new, different type of dystopia and tell a completely new story with the same framework to work off of. Its story about modern colonialism and the forcing of your culture on struggling societies took me completely by surprise not only by the fact it was even there in the first place, but how nuanced its inclusion was. You could come away from this movie and think that there are some good things about the exportation of culture and society, such as how the stronger, more advanced nation can be seen as saviors in a war torn nation, which is an incredibly difficult subject to tackle without it coming off like you’re some neo-nazi. Also the CG mecha tanks are so fucking cool in this movie.

2: Prison School

Prison School - 01 - Large 22I never really had a guilty pleasure anime before. Something undeniably trashy without any real deeper themes that I feel slightly embarrassed by how much I love it. Well, now I do. I can try explain why Prison School did it for me. Its tale of camaraderie in the face of severe conditions while using this ridiculous setting tickled my funny bone while somehow keeping me emotionally invested in these relationships and their escape. The show is a master of dramatic framing and understands the inherent humour of its setting without needing to plonk in a straight man to point this out for us. I had such a blast watching this series to the point that I actually felt a touch emotional towards the end when they went through their final “where are they now” montage. It sure looks weird on this list where almost everything else has me extolling some deeper, complex themes about sexuality, religion, censorship, colonialism, humanity and so on. Yes it is trash. But it is the most glorious trash.

1: Shirobako

shirobako 22 (7)-620xI think back to that opening bait-and-switch in Shirobako where it starts out like many other PA Works titles. A bunch of fresh faced teenage girls say quirky things while being super pumped about their eternally optimistic future. Then there’s this sudden snap cut to one of them looking drained and exhausted, sitting in a car behind a red light. It’s a show about the realities of working in anime, exploring this tough world from every angle as though it really wanted to make sure you knew everything that happened behind the scenes. It’s a work of intense love and devotion, as well as anger and frustration as the creators pumped their life experiences working in anime. But it’s also a work with a hugely optimistic message about how rewarding this job can be once you find your passion and position within its structure. On top of that it’s such a well put together package with distinct and memorable characters with their own quirks. The director who would get locked in a cage to complete the storyboards. The weird cloud obsessed guy. The “funny story” guy. Tarou. I find it hard to say anything negative about it whatsoever (I wish the female characters were allowed to have the same varying body types the men had, but that’s about it). It’s a little disappointing as a #1 anime of the year, as I think it’s probably the weakest #1 in the 8 years I’ve been writing Anime of the Year posts, but it’s still a fantastic bloody anime that you should really watch.

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20 Comments

  1. Posted December 30, 2015 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Maria wants to stop the war so she makes a succubus to fuck each army senseless in the vain hope they stop fighting. Considering anime’s usual approach to raunchy content is a guy walking in on a lady changing and her yelling “kyaa ecchi”, I love this author’s work because he knows how to write raunchy material that’s genuinely funny. The succubus walking in on Maria trying to chat up a hot young soldier boy and complaining about her hips hurting after a long night working is legitimately funny.

    This is from this blog. The image of the show you’re speaking of is one I perpetrated, after picking it up here :P

    Even if it might’ve done it well, “Sex jokes anime” is a thing many people don’t like, even if done well. Thankfully, the show wasn’t about it, but yeah, a lot of people dismissed it without even watching it.

    Hopefully all the mentions of it on end-of-year lists will do work for rehabilitating it, but the more time passes from it, the less of an impression of Maria I have. It’s no Shinsekai Yori that remains a show I keep recommending people actively, but more, if people ask me if it’s good, I’ll say it is.

    • Scamp
      Posted December 31, 2015 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

      Interesting thing about how it uses sex jokes in retrospect is they disappear fairly early on. I believe they were used to demystify sex and bring across the point that it really shouldn’t be this big deal

    • Posted January 1, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if it had something to do with the anime-original direction the show went on, and that the jokes just didn’t work with the themes and tone of the show. Yeah, it was mostly there to present all the cast, and then it went poof. But it did go poof alongside with Bernard and his storyline gaining more prominence. The holy and the crude could not co-exist? Heh.

      • Scamp
        Posted January 2, 2016 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

        Oh you misunderstand, I’m not saying that was a negative thing. I thought the jokes did work with the theme of the show, and were dropped after they served their purpose

  2. Posted December 30, 2015 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    I feel Maria comes across noble but it has to do a lot better in order to please a western audience. The portrayals are too, uh, cartoony. It’s not quite at the Chick Tract level but this show constantly feels as if it’s not doing the whole Anglo-French wars justice simply because it has these written-in-the-21st-century characters live in a world with people (and villains?) that are closer to Samurai film archetypes. Really flat characters have a hard time exploring nuances in a convincing way. And all of that plays a critical role in developing the setting, which is arguably the most novel part of the story.

    And I also think the story thematically suffered a lot by the way it portrayed religion by having actually God and angels as actual characters. I mean like, doesn’t this change the audience’s feeling on a lot of things that it is critical about?

    I think it’s a nice try, but it doesn’t have the magic of Baccano, I guess.

    • Madonis
      Posted December 30, 2015 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      Maria the Virgin Witch wasn’t really a show about the Anglo-French wars in particular. You couldn’t really say that about the manga either, since this is all directly related to the source material as written by the original author. The medieval setting was important, of course, but it wasn’t a story about how this exact historical war happened in the first place.

      I don’t think the cast of characters was as flat as you’re suggesting either, since they did have nuance upon closer inspection, including but not limited to the new ordinary people created for the anime. They do play a role as archetypes and/or representatives of a certain social class, yet I felt that made the show more interesting, rather than less, and they still had individual traits. Some people tend to dismiss Maria as a character, because she holds onto her strong beliefs throughout the story, but for me those criticisms come across as simplistic.

      Concerning the religious themes involved, I do not see anything wrong with having God exist within the universe of the story. For that matter, I would argue that God technically wasn’t an actual character. Angels yes, God no. We do see signs of God’s presence, and can infer certain things if we wish, but nothing too direct.

      Baccano! is was a different kind of story, a lot more action-centric and with mystery elements. To say nothing about how a more modern setting probably allowed far more people to check it out, since it’s easier to get, so the comparison feels rather strange to me.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 1, 2016 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      I disagree with both of your points. The medieval setting was far from the most interesting part of the show when compared to the religion and sexuality discussions. I also don’t agree that the characters were too cartoony at all, and even if they were, very exaggerated characters have often been used to make nuanced critique as they can be used to represent ideas. It doesn’t stop Ikuhara from using it.

      And for making god be an actual thing, this is the part I strongly disagree with the most. This was here to remove the idea that this argument about sex should have anything to do with whether god exists. He does in this universe. The new argument is about whether this is right or not. In a world where the Virgin Birth definitely happened, we can talk about how fucked up that is.

  3. lmm
    Posted December 30, 2015 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    I think I’d put Owarimonogatari higher, possibly even top. Yuri Kuma Arashi felt like the show that will be most influential (was it really only this year?) Those would definitely be in my top three with Shirobako.

    • Varyn
      Posted December 30, 2015 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      IMO Yurikuma proved Ikuhara is better in moderation. I don’t think it was that well perceived in general on places like MAL. Maybe it had a bigger impact in blogs/japan/the industry than I’m aware of though.

    • Scamp
      Posted January 1, 2016 at 2:22 am | Permalink

      Yeah to me it seemed like Yuri Bears didn’t catch on the way Ikuhara’s other anime did. It’s a shame but hey, I really liked it

  4. Varyn
    Posted December 30, 2015 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Only saw 6 of these, and about half a dozen shows I really rated didn’t make the list. I get the impression this year had an unusually high amount of really good anime. But because the batting average was higher than normal nothing really stood out as great (besides parasyte personally).

    • Scamp
      Posted January 1, 2016 at 2:27 am | Permalink

      I’m not sure myself. On the positive side there were a number of anime I liked a whole bunch, as demonstrated by there being no also-rand, included for inclusions sake anime this year. But it also lacked a little in truly great anime. Even Shirobako is merely Really Good for me

  5. shytende
    Posted December 31, 2015 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    I should really watch Prison School, it seems.
    And finish Shirobako and Maria. This should be a top priority.

  6. Posted December 31, 2015 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    I actually rather liked the ending to Gakkou Gurashi. I’ll give you that it was about as subtle as a brick to the face, but I thought the show kinda needed that. I freely admit that only at the very end did it suddenly dawn on me what the show had actually been about the whole time.

    If you wanna talk about botched endings, Parasyte seemed to me like it had no idea wtf it actually wanted to be in the end. Pollution is bad? Coexistence is good? Puberty metaphors go away when they finally manage to prevent a female character from dying? What was even the point of all this, Parasyte?!

    • Scamp
      Posted January 1, 2016 at 2:29 am | Permalink

      I can see how you might feel that way about Gakkou Gurashi if you needed that brick to the face. In a way that was partly me with Psycho Pass which also laid it on really thick at the end. The difference is Gakkou always built itself on that subtle extra layer of storytelling while Psycho Pass was always in your face about its symbolism

  7. Ze Toshiest
    Posted December 31, 2015 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    I would usually take this opportunity to question the absence of Symphogear and mourn Rolling Girls’ lost potential, but I see that Shirobako took the top spot, so all is well.

    I will say that I’m surprised at how high Parasyte ranked for you. I remember it being pretty solid most of the time, but I think the “humans are the real parasites” ending ruined my overall opinion of the show. That, and the wubwubs.

    • shytende
      Posted December 31, 2015 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Rolling Girls really was this year’s biggest disappointment for me.
      It was close to be good, but all falled down long before the ending (and at this point I lost all interrest for it.)
      I really wanted to like it, because there was so much good things about it, but it all fell flat at the end.

      Still, I can’t hate entirely on something falling because of over ambition.

      I absolutely don’t remember the ending of Parasyte… I remember it lost steam towards the end, but that’s all.
      I don’t think it’s a good thing.

      • Scamp
        Posted January 1, 2016 at 2:30 am | Permalink

        Yeah Rolling Girls…that will get its due in the final Anime of the Year awards

  8. 45am
    Posted January 2, 2016 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    The tags are amazing to read as always

  9. Posted January 3, 2016 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    Funny how most of the shows in this list are the ones I didn’t watched at all… Oh well, my taste is truly a mystery.

    But I do agree on the list itself because they are great shows in their own right.

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