Well then. Since I’m another cog in the aniblogger machine (you’re all a bunch of conformist scumbags), I decided to put together my very own list of favorites from 2012. And by “put together a list of favorites,” I mean quickly rush a top 10 list with semi-valid reasons after nursing off a New Year’s Eve hangover. Which, now that I think about it, isn’t really a valid excuse since this is like 4 days after New Year’s day. Whelp!
Anyways, 2012 was an interesting year. Right off a transition from 2011, possibly the greatest year in anime history since 2007, it’s easy to dismiss 2012’s showing as completely inferior in quality, and for this I can offer no defense. Many opinions towards the shows which aired this year are split at best and while there were definitely standouts which instantly separated themselves from the rest of the competition, I can hardly claim that they had the backing and drive of last year’s instant classics. However, what I can say is that 2012 was a great year in its own right, and it never failed to give us something interesting to discuss. While I claim to be no seer, I can certainly hope that these shows will be remembered for seasons to come.
10. Sakamichi no Apollon
Sakamichi no Apollon gets plenty of flack for its brisk pacing and its unsatisfactory ending, and I can hardly see myself running to the series’ defense for this, especially in regards to the latter. The narrative structure collapses upon itself in the fourth quarter, and the ending nearly invalidates all of the conflict between Sentarou and his father. However, what Sakamichi does excel at is delivering and expounding on a genuine, simple male friendship. The relationship between Kaoru and Sentarou is not only developed in full, but also feels real and brought to life. While it’s true that jazz is but the vehicle which moves their relationship, the way that the music is lovingly crafted and utilized to express their growing friendship is nothing short of extraordinary. With every beat of Sentarou’s drums you can feel the energy and vibrance being emitted from the shop’s small basement studio and it’s hard for me not to crack a smile when the whole gang gets together to put on a show.
9. Guilty Crown
Guilty Crown was the perfect storm of terrible writing, horrible direction, hype, marketing, and desperation. It’s simply amazing how a story as bad as Guilty Crown’s was even written: absurd plot points arise out of nowhere, equally absurd solutions are presented with the flick of a wrist, and the story has a knack for introducing pathetic, unlikable characters without any plausible motivations to drive them. Everything which can possibly go wrong eventually does, and in the most hilarious fashion possible. From Shugenics to Dan Eaglemen, from space cancer to Inori turning into Wolverine, everything in Guilty Crown completely collapses upon itself as it vomits all over the nice kitchen floor. Guilty Crown wasn’t so much as trainwreck as much as it was a burning clown car pileup on the freeway; just when you think it can’t get any worse, BAM!! more flaming clowns keep running outside. And the best thing about clowns? It’s funny when they’re in pain.
But make no mistake, I’m not placing this on my list sheerly out of the external ability to mock (although, who can really deny that that’s a huge part of it?). I genuinely love Guilty Crown and saying that I hate this show would just be flat-out wrong. While there are absolutely zero objective merits outside of its phenomenal visuals and soundtrack, Guilty Crown reached a level where its failures transcended mockability and became worth celebrating. There’s a point where the series just blasts through unwatchable and circles back into amazing. An absolute disgrace to humanity and I’ll be damned if I didn’t call it one of the most memorable (and worst) shows in recent years.
I’m still not giving it above a 3/10 though.
8. Lupin the III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
Stylish, slanderous, and most of all, sexy, the latest installment in the Lupin the III franchise succeeded all of my expectations with its tremendous visual grit and audacious presentation. While there is quite a bit of backlash from the frequent changes in atmosphere, the series manages to easily maintain itself with its unmatched charisma and surreal grace. From Lupin to the woman herself, Fujiko Mine, the characters emit a sort of radiance that few shows could imitate. And the style! While there are times that the budget wears thin, the bold, gritty art is plenty worth acknowledging. Fun, explosive, and beyond enthralling, I’m proud to say that The Woman Called Fujiko Mine was my first dip into the Lupin franchise.
7. Thermae Romae
A brief, three episode reprieve from what was possibly noitaminA’s worst season ever, Thermae Romae was an interesting treat. As a Latin student who had to study Roman baths for nearly four years (an absolutely brutal language choice by the way), I was heavily anticipating show before it aired, far more than I should have. And surprisingly enough, it didn’t disappointment. While the Flash animation is fairly crude and the references to actual Roman bathing practices are kept at a minimum, there’s a surprising amount of depth given to the series regarding the production and imitation of culture. Not only that, but it’s nice to see a short three episode series so keenly aware of its length. Thermae Romae may be a one-trick pony, but it never overuses its set of jokes. Funny, quaint, and nothing short of charming, Thermae Romae is an easy entry into my favorite ten shows of this year.
6. Sengoku Collection
Sengoku Collection managed to completely blindside me. When Sengoku Collection first aired, I, like many others, made the mistake of turning it a blind eye. While the idea of having Sengoku era generals (gender-bent generals, no less!) trying to live life in the present may sound off-putting and restrictive at first, the concept does exactly the opposite: by freeing up ties to the past, the creators are able to creatively tell their stories, completely unbound. The thread which ties these stories together isn’t the era from which the characters come from, but rather a basic, human longing for companionship found within each of the characters. While some of the stories do fall flat, more than several, namely episode 18, can easily be regaled as the best of the year. Gut-busting and hillarious at times, sullen and somber at others, Sengoku Collection was by far the most surprising show to air this year.
Far more tense than any card game should be, Chihayafuru excels on nearly every level. From an absolutely incredible soundtrack to vibrant, drawn to life characters, Chihayafuru constantly raised the bar for each of the shows airing this year. While Chihayafuru can’t rely on traditional sports gimicks given the stoic nature of karuta, the constant stream of body language and facial expressions tell the viewer far more than any slam dunk or tennis serve ever could. But what stands out most is the fantastic direction; the show kept managing to find ways to make each match more riveting than last, as if your heart would stop if you even dared to look away from the screen.
4. Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
Dark, cynical, and pessimistic, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita manages to hide quite a bit under its warm, bubbly exterior. Each set of stories chides and pokes fun at the human race, and breezily points out the some of the darker aspects of human nature with a chide, sleazy smile. Jintai riffs on mindless consumerism, high art, and deference to authority nonstop, firing on all cylinders all throughout the narrative. But Jintai never at any time feels like a soapbox lecture; it gets its messages across without drowning in itself by delivering some of the most hilarious moments of 2012. There’s just something about watching a dubious loaf of carrot bread commit suicide which gets me every time.
I can’t say that Fate/Zero improved much from its 1-cour run in 2011, but I have no doubt that it’s earned its place on my top 3. The animation itself is worth mentioning; the fact that series with as good animation as this was even aired on television is simply astonishing, and we’re all lucky to live in an era where this was made possible. Urobochi Gen’s attention isn’t directed primarily at the Holy Grail War, instead using it as a means of placing his characters into impossible ethical dilemmas. Although the fights and various action scenes keep the viewer on edge, in the end it’s the execution of brutal strategies and the utter ruthlessness of the two opposing leads which sell the show: when Kiritsugu wins an encounter, it’s hard not to feel the sting of underhandedness and betrayal lurking in the shadows. Regardless, what keeps Fate/Zero from reaching its full potential is the way that the show cheaply introduces inner conflicts in the last quarter, namely the Kiritsugu boat incident at the very end. Still, when a show still manages to hold your attention with unparalleled levels of tension, it’s hard to hold it against it.
There’s a difference between using myths for quick character backgrounds and actually using and expounding on them in order to tell a story. Fate/Zero may have taken mythological figures and implemented them into the story, but Tsuritama easily supplants the it when it comes to using those myths to tell a story, without question. From the bright, colorful world to the implementation of Eastern mythology, there’s a meticulous level of craft rarely found in shows today. The world building is quite simply, phenomenal: every small, minute detail introduced is utilized by the story, and the dichotomy between myth and reality makes for some interesting occurrences in the climax.
But what makes Tsuritama so absolutely fascinating is how it not only takes the Eastern myths and incorporates it them into story, but also how it takes its basis and blends it in with realistic, modern-day conveniences. There’s a surreal dualistic nature to the show which is hard to ignore, as fantasy collides with reality and urban civilization crashes into nature. The creator’s vision of Enoshima is simply sublime and unforgettable, and although the density of the lead characters can be incredibly irritating at times, they way that the show lovingly develops its lead four is something to behold. It takes an insurmountable level of creativity to craft something as gloriously realized as this, and luckily, Tsuritama has this by the hook.
No murders, no celebrity scandals, and no supernatural shams. Hyouka is simply about solving the smaller mysteries which we go through on everyday lives. They’re about searching out of one’s everyday routine and daring to venture into the smallest of puzzles we often brush off. This isn’t a story where the characters live their lives by doing absolutely nothing, but rather one which dares them to pursue out from themselves. Hyouka’s mysteries are a challenge; a challenge inviting the viewers to truly experience life and all of its smaller mysteries, to solve even the tiniest contrivances which we avoid throughout our day. But at the same time, none of these crimeless mysteries are dulled down or overly simplified; each mystery presented is given its very own soul.
It’s not only the mysteries which stand out but also how Hyouka dons several masks throughout the narrative, using its genre as the engine which drives it. At times Hyouka will be an interesting character study, and others, it’ll glide effortlessly to an inward study of detective fiction itself. However, these switches in structure never feel clumsy or forced; the different aspects of the core narrative are expressed through the shifting personalities of both the characters and the mysteries, the latter taking on several different styles and influences, from Christie to Doyle, as the story goes on. There’s an effortless, fluid change between Hyouka’s masks which makes each story more interesting than the last.
Simple yet provocative, gentle but involving, I have no qualms naming Hyouka my series of the year.