Hello, friends, Romans, countrymen! I am here to bring you the second of The Cart Driver’s triad of top 10 anime lists for the year 2012! For the purposes of our collective 2012 list, Scamp required that we limit our choices to TV anime, but we have no such limitations here! However, I must admit that this did not change my list at all. I considered putting the Madoka Magica movies on my top 10 since I was one of the lucky folks able to see them; however, aside from a fresh coat of paint (albeit an incredible one) and some stuff at the end, there isn’t much new in these movies, and in some respects, they are worse than the TV series, so nope. I also thought about the first of the Code Geass: Akito the Exiled movies. Ultimately, though, I decided against it because I’d rather judge that series as a whole than individually.
Finally, I thought long and hard about putting Gyo on my top 10, since I was apparently one of the precious few who enjoyed that superbly weird, disgusting OVA. I almost did it, because it would have bumped Future Diary out of my top 10 (spoilers!) and made Scamp irrationally angry. In the end, I decided against it, because I actually do enjoy Future Diary, even if it has its problems. Sorry, Landon. But enough talk! Have at you!
#10: Future Diary
Future Diary is a ridiculous mess. The plot makes sense only when viewed through its own lens of illogic, the characters are almost all assholes (not a huge deal, in my mind, but it could be for some), and the actual episode quality varied wildly throughout, particularly in the first half of the series. The insane highs were what kept me going with Future Diary. It was not unlike Yuki’s relationship with Yuno, actually, except that the utter lunacy is what attracted me, and forays into the stupid and mundane were what turned me off. But man, oh man, when Future Diary dives headlong into its crazy plots and constant betrayal of Yuki, the results are glorious. By the end, I eagerly watched every week just to see how Future Diary could possibly top itself.
#9: Thermae Romae
Thermae Romae is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Although it looks clean and has a unique appearance, it’s not a technical powerhouse by any means since it’s just a flash anime. But being “just” a flash anime doesn’t preclude a series from being entertaining, and Thermae Romae entertains very much with its silly premise (a Roman architect time travels to Japan and adapts modern conveniences to his homeland), droll comedy, and neurotic lead character. Lucius is one of the great delights of 2012. He’s so wonderfully fussy, and his pride makes him a great butt for comedy. It also helps that Thermae Romae doesn’t overstay its welcome at a scant three episodes.
Joshiraku grew on me greatly as it progressed. As an ignorant foreigner, I never quite caught on to the rapid-fire cultural jokes and language puns, but Joshiraku‘s brand of twisted logic and bizarre scenarios that are warped through conversation are universally funny. The series would often mock itself for being a cartoon about five cute women sitting (or walking in various Japanese cities) and talking to each other; however, this obscures how excellently directed the series is. Seeing the conversations come alive as the topics evolve and sprout in various directions adds an extra punch to the humor. When the series began, I had no idea what people saw in it. By the time it ended, not only was I laughing like a madman, but I also genuinely hope there is more in the future.
#7: Humanity Has Declined
Humanity Has Declined is a tough series for me to rank. I enjoy much of it, but there’s the nagging sense that I didn’t really get all there is to get, you know? But what I did get is quite enjoyable: A brutally cynical series behind a cheery, sugar-coated veneer about a world in recovery after humanity fucked it all up in some way, as we are wont to do. Whether the show is targeting (or celebrating? or both?) our consumption of mass produced culture, weaving a curious tale of time travel, or examining what may truly lead to the end of war on our planet, there’s a sharpness to Humanity Has Declined‘s examination of society. What vexes me about the series, though, is that for me it has the opposite problem of many series: The destination is often quite interesting, but the journey is inconsistently so. Still, the mix of ideas and dry, cynical humor gave me much to appreciate in this anime.
Chihayafuru is one of the best directed anime of the year for the simple fact that it takes a game that is literally all about swiping cards off the ground and makes it exciting and engrossing. After nearly every episode, I couldn’t help but think, “I am watching people smack cards around; WHY am I enjoying this so much?” Then the next episode would come out, and I would fall all over myself to watch it. The shockingly visceral nature of karuta isn’t the only enjoyable part of Chihayafuru, however. Its cast is truly charming and sympathetic, even when they make the mistakes that are common to us all at that age. I also love that Chihayafuru avoids the trap of having its naturally-gifted protagonist, Chihaya, an utterly dominating monster on the field. She is good, but she quickly learns that talent alone isn’t enough to be a great player. The work she puts in to improve her game really endeared her to me. I am all in on Chihayafuru‘s second season — maybe it’ll appear on next year’s list!
#5: Mobile Suit Gundam AGE
Gundam AGE is another tough series for me to rank. I actually had it as high as No. 3 at one point. This seems like an OK point for it. Aside from good moments in the opening episode, the series has a slow start and a supremely shitty final arc. That definitely hurts it. However, the middle and end of Flit’s arc and the entirety of Asemu’s arc has some of my favorite anime of the year, particularly the latter. I got really into Asemu and Zeheart’s
love affair rivalry, especially as Asemu grew into an awesome pilot under the tutelage of the always great Woolf Enneacle (who is possibly cooler as an old man than he is in his younger days). The way Flit’s enmity toward the Vagans is characterized in the second arc is interesting, too, and is part of what really fascinated me about AGE‘s use of the generational conceit. It leads to some great moments of dramatic irony. I’m disappointed in how terribly the series concluded, but damn it, this is still one of the best shows of the year!
#4: Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
Sure, the series goes wacky at the end (though I’d argue that it’s not the content itself that is bad so much as the way it’s conveyed), and the shifts from silliness to seriousness are extreme at times, but The Woman Called Fujiko Mine delivers some of the wildest, most stylish and energetic anime this year. As someone who has only surface familiarity with Lupin III, I’m sure there is a lot to appreciate that went over my head, but the base anime still thrilled me. The variety of locales and genres is cool: Hard-boiled noir, a pyramid heist, the opera, faux-Cuba in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and on and on. And the look! Oh man, the pure style of this show. It may not have always animated great, but the lean, defined character designs, gorgeous settings, and hard-edged sketchiness always provide something beautiful for the eyes. And, of course, I can’t forget the star, Fujiko. Her adventures are grand, and while people may seek to control and define her, she is who she is, for good or ill. I’d gladly watch another set of episodes with Fujiko at the forefront.
#3: Sengoku Collection
I can hear the skepticism red alarms blaring for many of you right now. I can’t blame you, based on a cursory reading, since I, too, felt the same once upon the time. This is yet another Show About Sengoku Generals (genderbent Sengoku generals, even!) with a silly premise built for Monster-of-the-Week stories. (Not that I think that is inherently a Bad Thing, mind.) However, much like Rio: Rainbow Gate!, the creative team at Brains Base chooses not to be constrained by the premise, but instead see it as an opportunity to be as free and creative as possible. This is a largely episodic series with some of the best hidden gems of the year. Some of my favorites: The homage to prison break cinema (thrilling, stylish and just damn cool), the haiku cafe episode (silly and charming in all the right ways), the episode with the spicy snacks (lots of funny mind games), Episode 18 (probably the most heartbreaking episode of anime I watched this year), and the homage to Legend of the Galactic Heroes that takes place entirely on a pre-school playground (one of the funniest episodes of anime I watched this year). I am not joking when I say Sengoku Collection has many legitimately good examples of how to do episodic storytelling in anime correctly, both in terms of writing and visually. I came into the show very skeptical and emerged totally won over.
Also, the crazy eyes girl in the screenshot above is one of my favorite characters and character designs of the year.
#2: Daily Lives of Highschool Boys
The main appeal of Daily Lives of Highschool Boys, to me, is that it thinks the same thing many of us probably think when we’re watching high school anime: “Nobody — but nobody! — was that cool when they were in high school.” We were all a bunch of losers; this anime knows it and revels in it. The boys are universally dopes who can see things only from the small windows of their own worlds. Even the dudes who seem cool are dreadfully goofy (they’re just better at hiding it than others). The ladies are also quite silly, ranging from reformed terrors to leaders in over their heads to those who try to make the world just a bit more dramatic and dreamy. My favorites are the High School Girls Are Funky trio, three gals who just act fucking bananas during every segment. Not everything is a winner in this series, but generally the everyday silliness, pitch-perfect comic timing and crushing embarrassment of interaction had me laughing uproariously.
#1: Aquarion EVOL
Aquarion EVOL is over the top, gonzo and ridiculous, but that is not actually the main reason I enjoy it so much. (Though that does help quite a bit!) No, what won me over so much is the charm and sincerity it exudes even as it goes off in a million absurd directions. EVOL genuinely cares about its cast of weirdos and misfits; its message of love, hope and optimism never feels false to me. And I love these characters as much as the show does. There’s Andy’s earnest love of Mix no matter what the situation, and how she gradually falls for him in return. There’s the pain Shrade holds in regarding his inability to express himself without restraint. Zessica’s absolute freedom in everything but her affections for Amata. The unique way EVOL communicates Kagura’s difficulty in making his feelings known to the one he loves. And on and on and on. The way EVOL shows the core feelings of its characters is often silly and off-kilter, but that human feeling shines through, nonetheless. I love the goofiness, I love the show’s style, and I love how grand it all is, but that charm and earnestness is what I love most about Aquarion EVOL. While the show may spell love backward, its love always faces forward.
(Sorry, in the spirit of the show, I had to conclude with something dumb and cheesy.)