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Top 12 anime of 2012

The last time I wrote a list like this was back in 2007. Can you believe it’s been 5 years since then? 5 years since Gurren Lagann? I don’t know how I’ve lasted this long. The pace of my blogging has slowed since then, too. In 2007, I made 82 posts; in 2012, this will make it 24. I’ve often thought about stopping, but, in the end, something always drags me back, and when it does, I’m glad I’ve made my home here. Here, more than 6 years in the making. This is an anime blog filled with contradiction, error and inconsistency. Maybe you’ve been reading us for that long, maybe this is your first time? But whatever the case, welcome! This review of 2012 begins now.

12. Natsuyuki Rendezvous
Natsuyuki Rendezvous features a love triangle between a ghost husband, a lonely widow and a jerk. The ghost constantly undermines the widow’s attempts to move on, the jerk uses the ghost’s memories to worm his way into the widow’s heart, and she’s only too willing to use him to run off with the ghost. There’s nothing wrong with a story about such an unlikable bunch, but when it comes to calling them out on their foolishness, Natsuyuki Rendezvous favours wishy-washy sentiment over logic and then palms us off with a faux-happy ending that’s really anything but.

11. Sword Art Online
In a moment of weakness, I started reading the Sword Art Online light-novels. They are crap. Like most, I was hooked by the idea of being trapped in a murderous video game. The TV series is well animated and action-packed, but none of that can deflect from a story that’s about as contrived as they come. This is such a predictable and cynical cash-grab of a franchise that even its author apologises for it.

10. Thermae Romae
The best compliment I can give to Thermae Romae is that I wish there was more of it. A random comedy about a bath architect from ancient Rome being somehow teleported to contemporary Japan, this is, like Detroit Metal City before it, a short, sweet and strange sojourn into the poe-faced, surreal comedy that anime has always done well. It’s hardly animated, but don’t let that deter you, for this is that rare thing: actually funny.

9. Tsuritama
If director Kenji Nakamura is working on a series, it’s a default watch. But then, I would’ve watched Tsuritama anyway, because the idea of an anime series about fishing is just too strange to ignore. There’s not an ounce of cynicism to it either, it’s just deliriously happy. There’s songs and dancing, and characters with smiles as wide as their faces. It tackles alienation, loneliness, misanthropy and can be difficult to watch, but with Tsuritama, you can always rely on there being a sparkling, shimmering sunset at the end of every tunnel.

8. Sankarea
From the outside looking in, Sankarea is hardly appealing: just another magical girlfriend series, you may assume, but one little thing. This time, said girlfriend is a zombie. And there’s no getting around a couple of other important facts: that zombies are vicious, and dead, and, therefore, any relationship derived from this point on is fated not to end well. What a strange, beautiful, fetishistic, almost Utena-esque romance this is, then, and one that I shan’t forget in a hurry.

7. Eureka Seven AO
One of the year’s most anticipated series, Eureka Seven AO, like most any Bones anime, was full of ambition, action and conflict. For a start, its plot, which has a political, nationalistic flavour, is difficult to swallow. It requires patience, for it’s hardly forthcoming with answers, but its biggest flaw is that it lacks a clear, coherent connection to 2006’s original Eureka Seven. And while those connections do eventually appear, on first viewing, they aren’t satisfying enough. It’s a series that will improve with time, but as for today, one thing I can say with absolute certainty is this: the soundtrack, by Supercar’s Koji Nakamura, is brilliant.

6. Btooom!
A real guilty pleasure is Btooom!. It’s politically-incorrect and about as sophisticated as a hammer to the head. Or grenade in the face. This is a red-blooded anime that, at its best, is an engaging game of wits between people trying to trap each other in the jungle with bombs, but at its worst, exploits that same premise to gross, fetishistic ends. In other words, Btooom! brings with it the constant spectre of rape and sexual violence. I enjoy this series, but it isn’t one for the sensitive souls amongst us.

5. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Low budget though it is, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is by far and away the best manga adaptation of the year. Brimming with a fan’s passion, it recalls a top-form Osamu Dezaki (Rose of Versailles,) all ultra-dramatic, iconic freeze-frames and swirling patterns. Even the manga’s sound effects were animated. Visually, then, it’s lavish and exciting, but there’s only so much one can do with an overlong first story arc that’s a little too derivative (of Fist of the North Star) for its own good. It’s still a hell of a lot of fun: testosterone-addled, muscle-brained and crazy. Even better, the anime has since moved on to adapting the second story arc, which should iron out the series’ narrative kinks and hopefully deliver a complete package: never was a story more aptly named!

4. Psycho Pass
To understand Psycho Pass, it’s best to contrast it with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Both series are police procedural dramas set in a near future dominated by technology, but where Stand Alone Complex is an often meditative, under-boiling noir, Psycho Pass is all blood and thunder. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t want people going into this series thinking that it wants to be a serious work of art that’s somehow better than everything else. Stand Alone Complex always had a sense of independence about it, as if it were anime simply because that was the only medium open to it, but Psycho Pass, straight from its pretty-boy character designs on, is so much more tied to what it means to be “anime.” It’s pulpy, violent and swept-up in its own sense of theatre. I love it.

3. From the New World (Shin Sekai Yori)
From the New World is an elegiac, disturbing portrayal of adolescence run amok. As in Akira, when you match egotistical teenagers with overwhelming psychic powers, the result is an inevitable bloodbath. The story begins 1000 years after that, with humanity still struggling to come to terms with its newfound abilities and having been forced to, amongst other extreme measures, tinker with DNA as a means of control. This is a series that works on multiple levels, boasting a fascinating, violent mythology, a brilliant, ever-changing aesthetic, and a powerful sense of symbolism, all about teenagers’ coming of age, budding sexuality and own bodies in revolt. What’s initially so surprising about From the New World is just how bleak it is. The world is thrown into another dark age with the discovery of these new powers and there’s little room for sentiment. Having set such a heavy tone, it’s then able to meditate on a number of fascinating set-pieces. By and large, this is an artfully animated, lyrical anime, the like of which (serious, thought-provoking, and tragic) is very rare indeed.

2. Hyouka
The year’s most befuddling anime is surely Hyouka. On the face of it, an episodic moé mystery set in and around Japanese high school, bright and breezily animated by Kyoto Animation. The more anime you’ve seen, the more befuddling the series becomes. The sarcastic leading boy, the perky leading girl. We’ve seen it all before. This is a brilliant series though, and fact is, no matter how hard I try to describe it, I can’t feel satisfied. That’s what I mean by befuddling. I can’t point to any one aspect and explain why it gets me like this. It just reads like everything else. A series about friendship, finding mystery in the familiar, about natural talent and discovering your limits, beautifully animated. I’m lost in fog, walking towards a street light that’s moving ever further away. A warm flickering light is Hyouka, the only anime this year that bound itself so tightly around me.

1. Kids on the Slope
It’s fair to say I was excited for Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon.) Putting aside its soundtrack composer (Yoko Kanno (which, in itself, should be reason enough for anyone to check out a new anime series,))  it also marks the return to TV anime of Shinichirō Watanabe, the director of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo and Macross Plus. It’s been 8 long years since he made Samurai Champloo, but none of that rustiness is showing in Kids on the Slope, a turbulent school drama that, from start to end, is so affective, and yet, a much more subdued effort from the director, being set in Sixties Japan: a country still healing its wounds from the war. There’s racial tension and a generation of kids growing up influenced by American pop-culture, especially music, like rock n’ roll and Watanabe’s own beloved jazz. Much as this is a period drama, then, it’s also intended as love letter to music. From the catharsis of a live performance to the sheer skill required to play an instrument properly, Kids on the Slope is at its best during these moments, when its able to convey a raw enthusiasm for jazz, and a spine-tingling sense of freedom with it.

Comments

> Psycho Pass
> Shinsekai Yori

> Two shows full of logical flaws in Top 4

I start to question why I read this blog… eheh ^^;;;

Peter S says:

No “Humanity has declined”?

I was going to do a show-by-show opinion post but I’m lazy.

The more I think about Kids on the slope the less I like it. Some other blogger pointed out that it was too short to cover the story properly. And it devolved into bad soap opera part of the way through.

Glad that Sankarea is on someone’s list.

I’m not sure if Hyouka was botched or brilliant. Since it’s a KyoAni show I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. And, damn, it looked fantastic!

I’d add the Lupin/Fujiko series, and Another, being one of the few who wasn’t alienated by the frantic final two episodes. Oh, and Nisemonogatari. Frankly, I’d have a terrible time coming up with a top list this year.

kuromitsu says:

That awkward moment when everyone’s doing year-end anime lists and I realize thaz I’ve only watched one or two shows from each list… ^^;; This list is better than most, though, because it has 3(!) shows I’ve finished or am currently following: Tsuritama, Kids on the Slope and Shinsekai yori. For the record, my Anime of the Year was, without a question, Tsuritama. 13 episodes of pure joy.

As for Sakamichi no Apollon/Kids on the Slope… for me, 13 episodes were simply not enough for that story. It was too fast, and despite the director’s efforts, sometimes awkward (such as Kaoru meeting his mother after 10+ years of separation and bitter feelings, and then “forgetting” to ask why she left him…). Too bad because otherwise it was very good.

By the way, I always feel I have to say this when I see people praising Watanabe for Kids on the Slope – those compliments should go to the mangaka. 99% of what people praise Watanabe for was lifted straight out of the manga, with little to no changes. Including the jazz: everything jazz in the anime (that doesn’t involve actual animation and recorded music) comes from the manga, the mangaka being a jazz enthusiast.

What Watanabe deserves praise for is helming yet another “let’s stuff 9 volumes of manga into 12 episodes!” type production with talent and sure hands. I think that in hands of a lesser director this anime probably would’ve been a failure. But Watanabe managed to deal with the task as elegantly as possible (albeit with a couple of mis-steps).

kadian1364 says:

It didn’t seem like you even liked #12 or 11. Why include them?

wendeego says:

Every time I see one of these lists it reminds me that I should probably take a look at Hyouka. Grr…so much anime, so little time.

Some thoughts on each in order:

9. I honestly loved Tsuritama. Kids on the Slope was good and all but while I enjoyed each episode in the moment, Tsuritama was probably the show I anticipated the most each week
8. I didn’t watch this but the OP was great! The visuals give me hope DEEN might still be capable of churning out some interesting stuff
7. I’m in the camp that thought AO was a mess (and a far more irredeemable one than the original E7) but I agree that the soundtrack was AMAZING. Maybe even the year’s best
5. This was honestly my show of the year. David Production’s coming of age
4. I still find Psycho Pass weirdly distasteful but maybe I’m supposed to? I’m coming to realize that the show is less dystopian sci-fi and more a systemic evaluation of violence and how it is linked to individual identity and self-expression, which isn’t quite what I wanted but maybe that’s not a bad thing. How good it turns out will depend heavily on how the show handles Akane, though
3. Still think that the tenth episode of Shin Sekai Yori was the best episode of the year
1. I think Watanabe deserves a major pat on the back for condensing all that manga into twelve episodes without coming apart at the seams. That said, this series could have been so much better had it been twice as long that I can’t help but reflect on the series with a bit of sadness. That said–the school jazz concert. MAN.

I would have definitely added Humanity has Declined to this list–it had its ups and downs but at its best was probably one of the cleverest shows of the year. Also Mysterious Girlfriend X, which was one of the most honest romantic comedies of the year despite the saliva! I’m surprised you didn’t include Fujiko Mine since I thought that would be right up your alley, but since that show was all over the place (despite a couple of phenomenal episodes) maybe that’s to be expected.

Also, what happened to Space Bros? Is it still worth watching or has it declined in quality to the point where it’s not even worth considering here? I’d put it above Sword Art Online at the very least

Ivy says:

Loved Hyouka and Kids on the Slope, especially the latter. No matter how much disservice the 12 episode count had on the overall show, no one can deny that Watanabe-san delivered on what the source material embodied. Realistic male camaraderie at the forefront with their love of Jazz music at the center of it all.

bateszi says:

Hey, guys. Sorry for taking a while a respond. I’d been away for the Christmas holidays and only now getting over both the jet-lag and the trauma caused by my car breaking down at the airport, leaving me stranded in the airport’s car park for 8 hours! Urgh… Every time I close my eyes, I see that place. Rows and rows of cars, not a soul in sight and planes constantly landing overhead.

>Nya-chan
What can I say? Stop reading, I guess.

>Peter
I never finished Jinrui and couldn’t seem to get into it anyway. I liked what it was trying to do, but I need to see it again with proper subtitles to form an opinion one way or the other.

>kuromitsu
Tsuritama’s one of the series that I found hard to place. There’s no doubt it was a really fun and well-directed series, I just wish it had left more of a lasting impression. For example, Shinsekai Yori is less consistent than Tsuritama, but the former has ideas and moments I’ll replay over and over again.

>kadian1364
Quite simply, because I feel like I had a firm enough grasp of them to express an opinion one way or the other.

>wendeego
You’ve reminded me that I really need to see Mysterious Girlfriend X. Its whole twisted, earnest love thing is right up my alley.

Space Bros. is one that I’m still yet to form a solid opinion of, which is no reflection on its quality, just that I wouldn’t feel comfortable including it on this list. I’ve not watched it for a while now, but fully intend to get back on it. Basically, I still like it!

Fujiko Mine is another, like Jinrui, that I lost interest in and could never seem to conjure up the interest to finish. As such, I’d really like to try it again before firming up an opinion. It’s certainly a notable series, though, so I’m glad you asked me about it.

>Ivy
Glad we can agree!

[…] A series about friendship, finding mystery in the familiar, about natural talent and discovering your limits, beautifully animated. (#2 Bateszi) […]

Ms. D says:

Hola bateszi,

It’s been a while since I ventured to the anime community. Recently, netflix has been my friend. Even their relatively small collection online, it was enough to spark an urge to watch new(ish) shows. So of course, I head towards one of fave animu writers from way back for recommendations. Sure enough, you have a list to try out. Thanks!

Kids on the Slope and Tsuritama look very interesting.

– Ms. D (aka Ten)

bateszi says:

Seems apt that I’d somehow end up with comments from both you and BluWacky within 24 hours of each other: you were both my blogging idols. Anyway, it’s always nice to hear from you, Ten. I miss your anime blog, but I hope life’s been treating you well!

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