Golden Realist’s Top 10 Anime of 2015

Best Anime 2015 Montage

About several weeks late, but better than never I suppose.

On eligibility: any show running on 2015 (that I’ve watched, obviously) is up for consideration, regardless of the year it’s starting/finishing. So, this blanket rule covers those carrying over from previous year, those carrying over to the next year, and those that have been running forever (i.e. >2 years, not that I’m actually watching any of those at the moment though). That’s really the most simple and inclusive way, and most of the time I don’t need to eat a whole jar of cookies to know if I like it or not anyway. An annual time frame from spring to winter actually feels more appropriate in some ways (two-cour shows generally end in winter instead of fall, and I always have a general idea that spring should be the ‘first’ season), but then the header is going to be something unwieldy like ‘Top 2015/16 Anime’, so I’ll just stick with conventional calendar year for the time being.

As for my parameter of selection, it’s really based on personal gut feel more than anything. I may have assessed the formative technical elements at length, but when it comes to the full package, it becomes a lot more personal rather than analytical. Basically, the bottom half are good shows that I enjoyed significantly, the top half are great shows that I can see myself re-visit in the future, and the top two in particular sit on the fringes of my all time favorites.

Before all that, let’s have the Honorable Mentions:

There was a virtual three-way tie for the 10th place between Sound!Euphonium, Concrete Revolutio, and Akagami no Shirayukihime. In the end, Akagami edged the other two to make the list. Both Sound and ConRevo have more highs, but the former suffers from lackadaisical start while the latter is very awkwardly paced most of the time. Meanwhile, the biggest knock I can say about Akagami is… the principals are too nice and well-mannered, and there’s no Big Dramatic Plot/Conflict to drive the show? Yeah, I value consistency a lot, and Akagami’s by far the most consistent between the three, with a sort of rare understated appeal that I can really appreciate. In any case, all three will have crucial second season arriving; would be fascinating to re-assess and see how they’d line up after that.

Another show worth a mention is Yuri Kuma Arashi. It’s something that impressed me a lot in technical/crafting sense, but as a narrative work, it’s also something that I don’t have much use for. It turns out that using symbolism and visual metaphor as an overwhelming main feature instead of complementary tool doesn’t work out for me, and that’s on top of me struggling to connect with the plot or any of the characters. Finally, there’s One Punch Man, a niche show that flies under everyone’s radar last season. It demonstrated the medium’s potent capability to turn cartoonish violence into glorious spectacle, and I found it entertaining enough to rate it as an overall net plus, but the one-note joke and mostly uninspiring characters prevented this from truly being something great. I wish more people heard of this, though! (*okay, in all seriousness, I’m genuinely impressed by the level of hype before, during, and after this show, and while I can’t say I share even half of the enthusiasm, I’m really happy for the original web artist).

Finally, The List:

Ryuu Shirayuki

10. Akagami no Shirayukihime

Basic Info: A 12-episode first season adaptation of Sorata Akizuki’s shoujo manga
Studio: Bones
Key Staff: Masahiro Andou (Director), Michiru Oshima (Music), Hikaru Fukuda (Director of Photography), Erika Okazaki (Art Director), Saori Hayami (V.A of Shirayuki, Theme Song Performance)
In a nutshell: Red-haired herbalist and silver-haired prince blush a lot and exchange longing glances in a fantasy series that doesn’t have any magic, dragon, war, or world-saving destiny for once
Licensed English Streaming: Funimation, Anime Limited, Anime Lab

Everything in this show is so understated in a good way. We often express our respect for a work that tried to shoot the moon even if ends up in glorious failure, but I also have a special kind of respect for something that thrives on firmly grounded set-up. That’s Akagami, whose easy charm shines through combination of sneaky good audiovisual presentation, an endearing and interesting supporting cast, and a romance based on mutual respect and desire to see each other grow.

Kagewani Sea Monster

9. Kagewani

Basic Info: A 13-episode original shorts series (7-minute long)
Studio: Tomovies
Key Staff: Tomoya Takashima (Director), Hiromu Kumamoto (Writer), Tomokazu Sugita (V.A of Banba)
In a nutshell: Monsters attack people, a concerned dude with mysterious vibrating scar wander nearby
Licensed English Streaming: Crunchyroll

After a fairly lackluster first impression, Kagewani ups its execution for every episode afterward, keeping me on the edge of my seat through great variety of setting, beasts, and the way the characters react and attempt to outsmart them. The ‘motion comic’ style of animation eventually gets easier on the eyes, as does the choreography, thriving on suspenseful build-up to the climactic money shots where the camera reveals a given beast in its full monstrosity and glory. A treat to fans of cryptid and pulpy sci-fi.

Garo Honoo no Kokuin

8. Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

Basic Info: A 24-episode animation series based on a tokusatsu franchise
Studio: MAPPA
Key Staff: Yuichiro Hayashi (Director),Yasuko Kobayashi (Writer & Composer), Makoto Kanemoto (Animation Director), Toshiyuki Kanno (Character Designer)
In a nutshell:
Licensed English Streaming: Crunchyroll

Despite no prior knowledge on Garo as tokusatsu property, I thoroughly enjoy this animated rendition, which is buoyed by a well-fleshed cast and smooth CGI animation. Honoo no Kokuin also offers more adult content than your typical modern action anime through its ruthless violence and refreshingly frank depiction of sex, measured at just the right amount that it doesn’t feel crass or overly edgy. The stand-alone Horror of The Week episodes could be a bit uneven, but it really hits its stride on the halfway turning point, providing strong character moments and some of the most well-choreographed fight scenes I’ve seen all year.

Blood Blockade Battlefront Leo Stand Alone

7. Blood Blockade Battlefront

Basic Info: A 12-episode adaptation of Yasuhiro Nightow’s shounen manga
Studio: Bones
Key Staff: Rie Matsumoto (Director + Sound Director), Takashi Hashimoto (Animation Director), Masataka Ikegami (Director of Photography), Shinji Kimura (Art Director)
In a nutshell: Superpowered weirdos ran amok in a melting pot inhabited by people and creatures from different dimensions
Licensed English Streaming: Funimation, Daisuki

Considering that I’m not typically a fan of ‘eccentric superpowered people doing eccentric shenanigans’ type of joint (see: Baccano), I end up liking BBB way more than I expected. It helps that Hellsalem’s Lot is a tremendous focal point thanks to the impressive visual world-building, and while I do feel certain characters are either overused or underused, the writing itself is a fine mix of fun, quirk, and feels. Its flair alone is almost enough as a selling point, but it’s the personality and heart that lend the show a crucial extra push.

Wakako hokke and younger days

6. Wakakozake

Basic Info: A 12-episode shorts series (2-minute long) adapted from Chie Shinkyu’s seinen manga
Studio: Office DCI
Key Staff: Minoru Yamaoka (Director), Ayumi Itakura (Director of Photography), Yukie Yuki (Art Director), Miyuki Sawashiro (V.A of Wakako)
In a nutshell: A woman eats, drinks, commentates, and lets out the most contented sigh in the history of moving pictures
Licensed English Streaming: Crunchyroll

An unorthodox and unscientific pick, I know. Look, sometimes you want intense action and powerful drama, and some other times you want… a career woman grumbling about a bad day in the office, then turns into a gushing ball of joy as she devours her monkfish liver. I could be a big sucker for ridiculously mundane slice of life at times, and this combination of pitch-perfect timing, Wakako’s distinct monologue, and blissful sight of delicious food just hit the spot.

Osomatsu 9B Screencap Jyushi Girl Farewell Scene

5. Osomatsu-san

Basic Info: Third anime adaptation of Fujio Akatsuka’s shounen comedy series
Studio: Pierrot
Key Staff: Yoichi Fujita (Director), Naoyuki Asano (Chief Animation Director, Character Designer), Yukari Hashimoto (Music), Shuu Matsubara (Composer)
In a nutshell: Matsuno sextuplet navigate the perils and hardships of adulthood through the power of love, brotherhood, and competitive spirit to outdoes each other as thrash human beings
Licensed English Streaming: Crunchyroll

Let’s make a show about cute boys doing cute stuff based on shouwa era property, except replace ‘cute’ with ‘garbage’, and sprinkle in some self-awareness, star-studded voice acting cast, and exuberant visual. Congratulations, you’ve got the surprise hit of 2015. Whether it’s demented sibling rivalry, savage social commentary, playful foray into surreal zaniness and many alternate realities, or surprisingly effective schmaltz featuring my favorite couple of the year, I’ll always line up to see whatever this show is selling next.

Yona Group Shot

4. Yona of The Dawn

Basic Info: A 24-episode adaptation of Mizuho Kusanagi’s shoujo manga
Studio: Pierrot
Key Staff: Kazuhiro Yoneda (Director), Kunihiko Ryo (Music), Shinichi Inotsume (Writer & Character Designer), Yuuko Kusumoto (Chief Animation Director)
In a nutshell: Former spoiled princess Yona rounds up a collection of color-coded boys in a fantasy coming of age story with more intrigue and nuances than it reverse harem set-up may suggests
Licensed English Streaming: Crunchyroll

Pierrot has been in my good graces ever since their Twelve Kingdoms production a decade ago, and they have churned out yet another fantasy hit with strong geopolitical intrigue and a female MC who isn’t content just being a damsel who repeatedly yell the main male’s name in distress. The first (of hopefully many) season of Yona essentially amounts to setting up the pieces on chess board, but it’s still a near excellent adaptation nonetheless. It all come down to its execution with well-defined and well-developed characters, delivering a package that’s humorous, entertaining, and emotionally resonant in balanced measure.

Ore Monogatari Birthday Cake

3. Ore Monogatari!!

Basic Info: A 24-episode adaptation of Kazune Kawahara’s shoujo manga
Studio: Madhouse
Key Staff: Morio Asaka (Director), Natsuko Takahashi (Composer), Kunihiko Hamada (Chief Animation Director), Takuya Eguchi (Voice Actor of Takeo)
In a nutshell: A look into the headspace and feelings of an often misunderstood boy, as well as his relationship with his best friend, girlfriend, and parents
Licensed English Streaming: Crunchyroll, Anime Lab, Hulu

Throughout this show my feeling is basically “I want these kids to be happy and fulfilled, and for the best things to happen to each of them”, and there’s hardly any form of higher praise I can give to a romantic series than that. Despite the English title (My Love Story!!), the show is more than just a cute and bubbly romance between Takeo and Yamato; it’s very funny, uplifting vignettes with genuine insight on teenage mindset and an amazing amount of sympathy for its characters. A gentle encouragement for those lacking in self-esteem, and a refreshingly earnest statement that good things can and will happen for good people who look after each other.

Death Parade Character Montage

2. Death Parade

Basic Info: A 12-episode original series
Studio: Madhouse
Key Staff: Yuzuru Tachikawa (Director, Writer, Composer), Shinichi Kurita (Character Designer, Chief Animation Director), Yuuki Hayashi (Music)
In a nutshell: A series of after life arbitration is held by a bartender and his female assistant, but do they really have the right to judge people they don’t even know?
Licensed English Streaming: Funimation, Anime Lab, Hulu

Directorial debut rarely turns out as good and memorable as this. Death Parade is clearly Yuzuru Tachikawa’s passion project, and it speaks volumes about the show’s conceptual strength that even though it’s a darn compelling and emotionally satisfying watch, it feels like it hasn’t even unleashed its full potential yet. Nevertheless, I’m more than satisfied with what’s already offered: a production with remarkable performances in every technical category, culminating in the most outstanding dramatic denouement and finale of the year. Its sharp and deceptive writing, as well as its willingness to challenge its own premise, never ceased to impress me, and one can always dream that we’d get to re-visit its universe and ideas someday.

Shirobako Yumi Higuchi

1. Shirobako

Basic Info: A 24-episode original series
Studio: P.A. Works
Key Staff: Tsutomu Mizushima (Director, Sound Director), Michiko Yokote (Writer & Composer), Kanami Sekiguchi (Chief Animation Director, Character Designer), Yuusuke Takeda (Art Director)
In a nutshell: The cyclical grind of an animation office, where every day is race against time, future prospect is a perpetual question mark, and one has to resist the overwhelming temptation to choke a co-worker to death
Licensed English Streaming: Crunchyroll, Hulu

The top two of this list has never been in doubt, but I did have some hesitation on deciding who’s ultimately on top. Eventually, heart prevails over mind on this matter. Shirobako is far from a flawless show and it’s not even something I’d universally recommending without listing a number of caveats, but I can’t lie to myself: much like how its most ardent fans feel, there are enough parts—moments—that reach out to me and struck a deeply personal chord. It’s a warm and emphatic cheer for people like me, who sometimes stay awake at midnight wondering if I’d ever be good enough to ensure my long-term survival, and I can’t be more grateful for that.

Notes and Observation

-By nature of show: 5 manga adaptation (3 shoujo, 1 shounen, 1 seinen), 3 original work, and 2 re-imaginings of classic property. It’s a good year for shoujo adaptation, I reckon. We’ll see if any light (or regular) novel adaptation will work out for me next time.

-Pretty varied representation of genre there, with slice of life, low fantasy, and comedy being my most preferred flavor. Kind of disappointed that my pet genre, murder mystery, failed to send any rep despite a productive year in quantity. I was certain that Everything Becomes F: Perfect Insider would make it after its first three episodes, but then it goes on and executes in the most annoying way possible for me.

-The inclusion of two shorts series may be a point of contention, but I just don’t feel the need to ghettoize them onto their own section. If I love it, I love it, regardless if it’s 2-minute or 20-minute long. I would’ve make the same concession for Movie/OVA (that’s not part of a larger series) if I actually watch any of them last year, too. If this were a list for full-length series alone, Sound!Euphonium and Concrete Revolutio would round out the ten.

-Notable shows that I failed to watch (ordered on the likeliness to make the list based on what I know about them): Gintama, Baby Steps (the manga is 8th on my Manga List), Oregairu Zoku, Food Wars, Maria the Virgin Witch, Rokka: Braves of The Flowers.

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