It’s been a while since I posted my thoughts on the anime of the Fall 2012 season, so it’s high time I took a step back and reflected on the last year as a whole. It was a strong year overall, and while there weren’t too many standout hits, there were certainly a lot of shows that I really enjoyed. Since I just started my blog at the end of the year, and didn’t get to cover a lot of earlier shows, I decided to make my list a top 20 instead of a top 10 to let me recognize some of my favorites that I would otherwise not have gotten a chance to write about.
As with my Fall 2012 post, I want to recognize shows that did not necessarily start or end in 2012, but that aired partially during the last year. So similarly, this list will take into account specifically the episodes of such shows that aired during 2012.
Additionally, I hesitate to call the list complete, as there are still a few notable series that I have yet to finish – such as the likes of Aquarion EVOL, Milky Holmes, Hyouka, Joshiraku, and of course, Guilty Crown. But putting that aside, I now present… my top 20 anime of 2012:
20. Kamisama Kiss
Of all the shoujo series that aired last year, only Kamisama Kiss was able to break through my wall of “I can see why people would like Shoujo Series A, but it’s just not really my thing.” This is largely due to the fact that – except for one hiccup towards the middle – it keeps the contrived drama and tacky romance to a minimum, and instead relies more on its supernatural side for its entertainment. With that, KamiKiss was really able to win me over with its likable characters and charming sense of humor.
The Monogatari series is a series that prides itself on its sharp dialogue and even sharper directing. While the lack of much of anything happening most of the time can make the show drag a bit, it’s got absolutely stellar presentation. It’s also a rarity in that, where there are a lot of ecchi anime, the Monogataris are among the few anime series that succeed in actually being sexy, rather than just raunchy.
18. From the New World
It’s right there in the title: From the New World is all about its setting. The world in this show is rich with history, mystery, and culture, and holds a lot of potential for further story developments as it continues into next year. Along with its amazing soundtrack, one of the series’ biggest strengths is its ability to effectively infodump. While this may sound like a dubious honor, it really is amazing how Shinsekai can take what is basically one character explaining the plot to another and make it genuinely interesting and exciting.
Sankarea was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. It seemed to be just some romcom about a guy and his zombie girlfriend – you know, typical anime fare – but, especially in its first three episodes, it continually wowed me with its strong character drama and impressive visuals. Unfortunately, Sankarea did fall back on its fanservice/romcom roots at just the wrong times and ruined a few key scenes, without which it could easily have been a top-ten 2012 series for me. If this is what first-time director Shinichi Omata can do with what I understand is less-than-stellar source material, I eagerly await seeing where he goes next. Also, the OVAs that came out at the end of the year strongly hint at a sequel, which I would very much like to see.
Tsuritama is a shockingly normal series for Kenji Nakamura, which is to say, it’s a very strange series. If I had to sum it up in a word, it would be “obnoxious,” which I mean in a more positive way than I thought was possible. Everything, from the socially-confused characters to the cacophonous music to the harshly-bright visuals, is incredibly obnoxious, but they all come together with the power of fishing to form a whole that is not only palatable, but a lot of fun.
Where Tsuritama is obnoxious, if I had to sum up Chuunibyou in a word, it would be “embarrassing.” It’s a bizarre mix of nostalgia for and humiliation by the past, as it is a show simultaneously about growing up and refusing to do so, and it strikes just the right balance between them. And of course, being produced by Kyoto Animation, it looks absolutely fantastic as well.
14. Future Diary
Future Diary is a show where logic does not apply. Leave your brain in the bin to your left, and strap in for the ride. This series is absolutely freaking insane, and whenever you think it can’t get any crazier, you can prepare to be proven utterly wrong. Yuno is the obvious star of the show here with her dangerously fanatic love for Yukki, but plenty of the other diary holders have just as much to offer.
13. Kuroko’s Basketball
Along with Sankarea, Kuroko’s Basketball was a huge surprise for me this year. I expected to go in and see a few games and that would be all the show had to offer, but the more I watched, the better it got, and the more it pulled me in, and now here I am getting all hyped for the recently-announced second season. Once it hit its stride somewhere in the second half, it surpassed even Hunter x Hunter as my most-anticipated show from week to week, thanks to the exciting sport of BS-ball and the excellent cast of characters as varied in personality as they are in hair color.
12. Lupin III: The Woman Named Fujiko Mine
The Woman Named Fujiko Mine is a powerhouse of atmosphere and style. The bold shadows, the slick character designs, the jazzy music – bring in the Lupin gang and a touch of noir and it all pulls together to form a whole that is gritty, sexy, and just plain cool. This show had a lot of big names attached to it, and they all leave their mark – while they sometimes clash a little bit in the process, that’s all just part of the dirt and grit that make it what it is.
11. Humanity Has Declined
Humanity Has Declined probably would have been higher on the list if it had aired in chronological order. It is only in retrospect that I am able to look back and see the show for the genuinely funny, albeit a bit brutal, dark comedy that it is. But once I managed to string all the necessary context together, the misadventures of our nameless narrator and her fairy friends was able to make me grin that :D grin that is eternally plastered across their faces. From suicidal carrot bread to time paradogs to short-lived impromptu island civilizations, Jinrui has a lot to love.
10. Space Brothers
Space Bros hit a real peak with its astronaut exam arc, but the entire series has been a refreshing break from some of the faster-paced, more action-packed series this year. It’s a series that can take its time to kick back and focus on the details and the characters rather than rushing through its story, and while this can occasionally backfire and be a little boring, it’s hard to dislike. Space Bros is all about introducing you to as many lovably quirky yet realistic characters as it can, and letting them bounce off each other in the must entertaining way possible, and it’s good enough at it that there are times you’d prefer the plot to stay still a bit longer to see the characters interact some more.
9. Girls und Panzer
Girls und Panzer joins Sankarea and Kuroko’s Basketball on my list of big surprises of the year whose likely sequels I impatiently await. Girls und Panzer bucks the cute-girls-doing-boring-things tradition of typical high-school-club comedies and, once it gets its treads moving around episode 3, becomes all about inter-school tank warfare. Couple that with a sense of authenticity to the tanks and one of the best soundtracks of the year, and you’ve got a show that is able to deliver week after week and I will never get sick of it.
8. Psycho Pass
Psycho Pass is the thoughtful, futuristic police procedural that people have been clamoring for since the last Ghost in the Shell. While any direct comparison to GitS would probably be unfavorable, Psycho Pass still stands well on its own, and being “not as good as GitS” is hardly a negative point. It’s got some great animation and a cool setting filled with interesting ideas and gadgets, and the Sybil System at the center of it all is an intriguing point of moral ambiguity that I look forward to seeing the second half of the show address. And it’s absolutely NOT moe.
The second season of Fate/Zero started with a bang, and managed to keep up both the high standards of animation and intense inter-character moral conflicts of the first season. Rider and Waver stole the show as always, but the show was also able to entertain by putting the slimy and underhanded tactics of the Holy Grail War out there in full force. The clashes between Master and Master, Servant and Servant, and especially Servant and Master, reached their peak this season, and with unforgettable scenes like the entire first episode, the Rider/Saber motorcycle chase, and the conclusion to the tale of Rider and Waver, Fate/Zero continued to stand out despite its occasional descent into lengthy monologue.
6. Mysterious Girlfriend X
Mysterious Girlfriend X is a weird series. I mean, it’s about two kids who get into a relationship because they share a bond through their spit. But this show caught hold of me with a strong dose of Urabe Fascination. The spit was a clever, if gross, way to represent many important parts of their relationship, which itself was refreshingly different from the kind we usually get in anime. The two main couples both have really good chemistry, and Urabe is possibly my favorite female character of the year. Due in no small part to her voice – I would love to see Ayako Yoshitani get some more roles.
5. The Daily Lives of High School Boys
The winter 2012 season was a great season for comedy (intentional or not), and Daily Lives of High School Boys led it strongly and confidently all the way along. Nichibros was able to consistently get a belly laugh out of me in a way no anime had done since Astro Fighter Sunred, with its genius perhaps most evident in parts like the Literature Girl segment. It is an incredibly effective lampoon of the entire breadth of high school-based anime, and it doesn’t stop there – where Chuunibyou reminds us fondly of the more embarrassing moments of our childhood, Nichibros points at them and laughs and laughs and laughs.
4. Thermae Romae
There’s something so magical, so sincere, so profound about Thermae Romae, that it’s hard not to love. Part of the reason the show’s one joke was so effective is that there was clearly a lot more beneath the silly outer coating. The show has a genuine love for the bathing culture it portrays, and Lucius is a fascinating character – through him and his simultaneous awe, despair, and guilt upon literally stumbling into the future of his craft, Thermae Romae has a lot to say about not just bathing culture, but culture as a whole. The best comedy is that which can make you think while you laugh, and Thermae Romae excels at this where many other anime fail.
3. Kids on the Slope
From the moment the drums started playing in the trailer, I knew I was going to love Kids on the Slope. Having been in the jazz band in high school, the show holds a special significance to me, and every scene with the playing of instruments was absolute magic. The music was great, the animation was gorgeous – especially during the jazz-playing scenes, and the drama moved along fast enough that it never really wore on me too much. There was one point near the end where it got laid on a little thick, but there was so much about the show that was so spectacular and wonderful that I could never stay mad at it for long. Not to mention that the concert in episode 7 was hands-down my favorite moment in any anime of the year.
2. Hunter x Hunter
Hunter x Hunter is the shounen adventure series that every shounen adventure series should aspire to be. That’s really all there is to it. The world, its rules, and the superpowers therein are all well-thought out and well-balanced. There’s a genuine cleverness to the series all the way through, and it’s helped along by a charismatic crew of both heroes and villains. It can put together an amazingly tight plot, too, and every little thing is important and happens for a reason. It has all the elements that a good adventure needs, and it puts them all together in just the right way.
1. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Was there really any doubt that JoJo would top my list this year? JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is as perfect an adaptation as the source material could ask for, and given how awesome the source material is, that’s saying a lot in JoJo’s favor. The pulpy melodrama that goes over the top and keeps on going while miraculously never seeming forced. The delicious, delicious style the show lovingly applies to every episode. The unforgettably zany cast of characters with their fabulous poses and explosive personalities. The insanely hotblooded opening themes: the first a fist-pumping brass-blaster and the second possessing a suave smoothness reminiscent of a James Bond theme. And of course, Roundabout.