You like anime, I like anime. You like lists, I like lists. I suppose I should lay out a few things first. This is my personal list, meaning that not only is it a subjective listing of subjective feelings, it will not include anything I have not seen. I saw quite a few shows this year, but I cannot see everything that is made, and 2015 had a number of popular sequels to shows I have yet to get a chance to watch. I also am including split-cour shows (well, technically a show) that began in 2014 but ended this year, because that makes sense to me and I also did not create a list last year and these shows deserve to be celebrated. Lastly this is my list meaning it is of course at the mercy of my preferences. We probably do not share the same outlook on every show, but feel free to voice your dissent (in a pleasant manner). Contrasting opinions are what make this so fun after all. With that all set here are my favorites from the year.
#5- Yuri Kuma Arashi
This one may be quick, as I unfortunately am not as well-versed in Director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s work as I would like to be, and almost feel unqualified when discussing his work. Yet that makes my viewing of Yuri Kuma Arashi all the more fascinating. Yuri Kuma is a show that has both lesbian bears and serious ideas about society, sexuality, discrimination, and a huge host of other things. Deep symbolism is masked in a wonderfully unique and silly sense of humor. This makes works like Yuri Kuma especially divisive, but also especially great for those who take to it favorably. Yuri Kuma was not perfect— it seemed to sacrifice character depth due to length and breadth of ideas— but it is certainly one of the more unique anime out there, and one of the most interesting I saw this year.
#4- Sound! Euphonium
Kyoto Animation can always be counted on for a fantastic-looking production, but Sound! Euphonium has much more to offer. Sound! Euphonium is an extremely well-constructed drama, and that leads to many outstanding moments. Kumiko is a great protagonist, and the rest of the cast is also pretty great, offering many characters worth following. While the story may not win any awards for its uniqueness, the attention to detail and quality writing bring it to life. While it does indeed fall short of following through with its central relationship (it is a great relationship but they never officially get together, much to the dismay of fans) the relationship is still home to wonderful character interactions and moments, and when yelling about couples not getting together is the biggest problem, you’ve got a pretty good work on your hands. Sound! Euphonium is not an instant classic, but it does what it does wonderfully, and that is valuable indeed.
#3- Gatchaman Crowds insight
Gatchaman Crowds is one of those shows that always has something to say, but in this second season the thoughts it presents are more focused, more defined and perhaps even more open-ended. Insight also takes the conclusions of the previous season itself to task, showing that answers to questions are not easy to come by and almost never without flaws. As Crowds manages to assess the many ideas it has, it also continues to be as fun as ever. One of the things I love about both seasons of the show is its ability to maintain to a delightful sense of fun while dealing with very complicated topics. Insight certainly has its dramatic moments— which are also excellent— but moments like the red alien who was elected Prime Minister being heckled by members of the legislature truly shine. Not to say that the potent commentary is not the main course, because the most memorable moments reflect the ideas Crowds presents. The second season of Gatchaman Crowds was a fantastic, almost necessary follow-up to the original, and it earns its subtitle by containing vast insight into its conflicts.
Anime is probably not the first medium you think of when you think of realism, but it has a tendency to portray emotions and struggles in such a way that sets it apart. “Emotions and Struggles” is a fitting summary of the beauty of Shirobako— it is about persevering through a life that does not always make it easy. The entire cast is an incredible ensemble of people you feel completely invested in, and while there are certainly central characters no character truly feels underdeveloped. Of course, the show is also about the production of anime which allows for some creative references for fans of the medium, and I hate to downplay such an important and cool aspect of the show. But that more literal defining of the show does somewhat of a disservice to the biggest reason Shirobako has won over so many— following Aoi and her friends on their journey into the world as they chase their dreams. They will experience many things, and we will be with them in feeling joy or fear or whatever emotion. The most important part is the connections we make. Shirobako is chiefly about the cast’s emotional journey, where they will laugh, they will cry, but they will find their way somehow. The same can be said of us. Even the most hardened of viewers will find that this journey is not all that foreign, and that they too struggle. They too will find their way.
#1- Death Parade
If Shirobako is about the emotional journey of living, Death Parade is about the emotional regrets of death. Coming off of the “Death Billiards” short, Death Parade takes that premise and gives it a whole lot of heart. It feels for the characters made to act their worst because of games they clearly never had a chance at winning. Many of the guests of Quindecim do not come off as good people, but also not unsympathetic ones. Behavior in the worst circumstances can not be used as valid judgments of one’s character and no system can truly know the exact value of a human being. This is something Death Parade understands well, and even the main character begins to question the very system he is an integral part of. Death Parade pulls off a decidedly human story with moments of humor, moments of heartache, and moments of inspiration with finesse and it is for those reasons and countless more that I believe Death Parade to be the best show of 2015. If you watch one show from the past year, make it this one.
So, what were some of your favorites from the year? Was my list spot-on, or did it miss the mark? Let me know any thoughts or criticisms you may think of, and here’s to a wonderful 2016 for anime or otherwise!