2011 was a fairly good year for anime, especially compared to 2010. There was actually strength in depth, rather than a few stand outs hiding a mountain of crap. Instead of doing some stupid award ceremony, giving awards to anime like Guilty Crown just because they had really good animation, I’m simply going to list my top 10 favourite anime of the year.
This list also includes OVAs and Movies that had general DVD/BD release in Japan in 2011, bar Redline because I already gave that its dues in 2010
10: Kamisama Dolls
I was going to give this award to Tiger and Bunny, but changed my mind at the last minute because conforming to popular opinion is for pussies (although my top 5 will instantly mark me out as a conformist pussy but shut up). I liked Kamisama Dolls a lot. Yes the animation was awful, and yes it had an incredibly immature approach to sex appeal, but I still liked it because of how each character was just a touch insane. They were all trying to escape from their hometown and live normal lives where there wouldn’t be any rape and murder, but kept getting drawn back in due to dated traditions, stuck up old farts and their own inability to control their feelings. Realistically Kamisama Dolls only made the top 10 because most of my favourite anime from the Autumn season had the audacity to air for more than 3 months, but it Aki and co. still hold a little space in my heart.
9: Fireball Charming
While not quite as good as the first season, Fireball Charming was still an absolute gem in the world of animated shorts. The CG is so fantastic that it doesn’t even dawn on you to call it CG animation. Drossel and Gedechtanis still make for a hilarious double act, each of them apparently skipping several lines in their script sheets, leaving you to work out what on earth that apparently non-sequitur response was supposed to mean. The world building is rather shockingly good for something that’s just a weird comedy, flowing perfectly with the dialogue. It’s a fantastic little series and if you somehow have not listened to me and haven’t watched it yet, take a good hard look at what you are doing with your life.
8: Children Who Chase Lost Voices
from Deep Below
I’m still shocked at how much I ended up enjoying this. I spent my time gnawing at my own arm during Makoto Shinkai’s other movies to try get something interesting to happen. Thankfully he tossed that stupid story aside when he made Children..(although kept his strange fascination with clouds). He clearly went for a Ghibli feel with this movie, and actually succeeded, sometimes even surpassing many of Ghibli’s attempts. It manages to create a properly flawed female lead and a villain who is actually sympathetic. The magical world they travel to is an amazing sight. The themes of loneliness and accepting death are woven incredibly well into the story. It’s a very uneven movie, but the strengths far outweigh the flaws.
7: You Are Umasou Movie
Far and away the biggest shock of the year. I thought it would just be some dopey kids movie, but what I got instead was a fantastic tale of a dinosaur and his little friend Umasou. The animation was lacking, being mainly big solid colours, and it’s certainly not the most sophisticated, but it made up for it with its heart. The story is both heartwarming and heart wrenching, in a way that actually deals with proper emotions rather than cheap nakige inspired bullshit (hi thar Ano Hana fans). It’s the anime that I got the most emotionally invested in this year, and it managed this by using big goofy looking dinosaurs. That alone deserves some kind of award.
When it didn’t get things right, Un-Go was confusing and irritating, solving its mystery plotlines before I even got a chance to get to grips with what was even at stake. But when it got things right, it was mature, witty, clever, DEEP without being pretentious, and utterly brilliant. Don’t come here if you want a mystery anime, for that’s not what Un-Go’s main focus is. It’s about a post war society in which censorship for the sake of public security has gone into overdrive. It’s a fascinating study of how nationalism can contort a nations’ ideals all while focusing on a small cast of memorable characters. Really looking forward to that prequel movie now.
5: Mawaru PenguinDrum
It may have taken him 14 years before he made another anime, but it’s safe to say that there’s no chance of Ikuhara become more sane. PenguinDrum is a bizarrely brilliant piece, happily embracing the absurd in its story and running with it. Where pregnant frog potions can become important plot devices, child crushing machines are both metaphors for child abandonment and actual real machines, and a trio of penguins follow the main characters around with apparently no effect on the main story. Sure it has problems, not least the nonsense bullshit ending, but it’s such a memorable and unique experience that there’s no way I couldn’t include it amongst the top anime of the year.
4: Bunny Drop
It’s rather fitting how in a year when Noitamina starting producing otaku pandering bullshit with loser teenage male leads having magical girls fall into their lives, the best anime produced for that timeslot this season was a back to basic josei manga adaptation with Bunny Drop. This is the real pains but also the real rewards of parenting. Not some sort of magical power bestowed upon you by hours of nappy changing. A change in ideals and what you consider important in your life. The pursuit of happiness is no longer attached to how many drinks you can chug before you die, but now attached to the happiness of your child. It depicts this all in a limited timeframe through various characters, giving us a complete view of the picture. It does peter out a bit, but what we got was still fantastic.
One half sci-fi mystery, the second half a ball-busting thriller, Steins;Gate was the VN adaptation this year that convinced me that there was some stories of worth in that fetid mire of a medium. The characters were entertaining and well-rounded. The directing was magnificent, giving the setting this grey-filtered feel of oppression as though they really were living in a dystopian society even though they were just living in the moe-infested Akihabara (which sounds like a pretty horrific dystopia to me har har obvious joke). Most of all though, it had Okarin. El Psy Congroo. He carried this show with his charisma and his ego. One of the greatest anime characters of all time, he should be held up as an example to other anime in how much a great main character can do to improve your story over Yuji Everylead the Bland.
Technically came out first in 2010, but the DVD/BD release was in 2011 which is when everyone got a chance to see it, and that’s when I got a chance to see it in the cinema. Arrietty is fantastic. By keeping the story much simpler, it allowed for it to shine in the other areas it was much better at. The directing was a masterclass, especially the opening borrowing sequence with Arrietty and her dad. A simple story meant that it didn’t turn nonsensical at the end and the obligatory Ghibli environmental message was worked surprisingly well into the story with grace and clever subtlety. Porco Rosse is still my favourite Ghibli, but this Arrietty comes a close second. Fantastic movie, really do try to check it out.
And finally, my #1 choice, which shouldn’t be of any surprise to anyone.
1: Rio ~Rainbow Gate~
OK I’m joking.
The real #1
1: Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Shaft/Shinbo used to be a combination that produced crazy visuals for the sake of crazy visuals, rarely having much to do with the story. But around the turn of the decade with Natsu no Arashi and Arakawa Under the Bridge, they finally toned down their crazy animation techniques and made what was left enhance what was actually going on. Madoka Magica was them back to craziest levels of animation combined with their newfound ability to make this animation style relevant. It’s the anime I had been wanting them to make for years, one that only gets better the more I think about it. Madoka Magica is Shaft’s masterpiece and it’s far and away my favourite anime of 2011.