Yeah, I stole this from the gif calendar. Stanlick-senpai, please don’t be too mad!
Okay, let’s get the “I know this is late, blah blah blah” excuse out of the way... okay, good. Anyway: 2015 is a year I’d best describe as... up and down. Not my best year in school, but at least now I have as best an idea of what I want to do with my life as I’ve had in years. Major health issues aside, I’d like to rather think back on all the good stuff we got this year, because we actually got a ton of great stuff in 2015. It was fun to regularly go see good movies, there was actually something to watch on TV, Xbox is no longer a dirty word that more forgiving people would instead treat with a sense of pity; hell, even pop music sounded better this year. Also, this is for the first time ever where I’ve considered expanding my “Best __of the Year” lists up to ten entries. There was so much good this year (that I actually put time into watching, playing, listening to, etc.), that I’ve found myself bumping some good stuff off the list to keep the article at a decent size... and I’m still doing honorable mentions on all of my lists. Anyhow, before we start on said honorables, let’s get a few rules out of the way:
First, (obviously) I’m only including stuff that I completely watched, from start to finish. While series like Classroom Crisis and Ushio and Tora are both worth your time, for various reasons I just didn’t finish them. Also, if you’re wondering why Gotchaman Crowds: Insight isn’t on this list, well... I haven’t gotten around to it. Sorry!
Second, I can (and sometimes do) include stuff on this list that isn’t 100% Japanese in origin; if it looks like an anime, can hit in the feels like an anime, and is a treat for otaku to watch... well, I’m gonna include it. I mostly do this so that series like Korra and one of my honorable mentions this time around can make it onto lists like these, but if the only thing that bars a great series from recognition is its country of origin... well, that’s just kind of wrong, isn’t it? With all that said:
Honorable Mentions: Sound! Euphonium
This actually was in my Top 5 during this thing’s time as a draft, but as I looked back on which series finished in 2015, this show just missed the cut (thanks in part to my #3 choice, if you’re wondering). Not a shame at all, mind you; any other year, Kyoto Animation’s beauty of a show would’ve without question made the cut. But since 2015 was great for anime, and since this has a movie and another season to go before it’s truly done... yeah.... Anyway, this show really hit it off for me partly because it succeeded where Your Lie in April sort of failed: it knew what it wanted to do, stuck with it until the end, and stuck the landing with flying colors. It focuses on the drive to be better at an art form, at a passion, rather than get bogged down with romantic teenage drama. That said, it does everything else pretty damn good as well: it is great to look at with crisp animation, it has a sense of humor that’s quirky but doesn’t go too far for what it is, the pacing and overall story (while feeling short) keeps you watching until the end, and the characters all feel and act like high school students: sometimes they goof off, sometimes they don’t take the right thing seriously enough (or too seriously), but when the chips are down, they bring their A-game. Overall, it’s a very well done show, and I’m looking forward to the second season. As you might guess from the tone I’m taking, I wouldn’t call this a Great show... but it has more than enough potential to get there when the time comes.
Now, a moment of silence to yet another animation studio that went belly-up this year. What makes it even worse about Manglobe’s demise is that their last effort was actually not half bad. While Gansta is short on story and does have a slooow pace that can drive people away, it can’t be denied that it looks great. Also, I actually kind of liked a series that made the most of what it had: yes, it could and should have waited for a year or two for more of the manga it’s based on to come out with more material, but given what was there I have to say it was actually pretty watchable. It was easy to follow, the characters and world were all rather well developed, it had a sense of humor and action that’s kind of lacking in modern anime (was I the only one who got a bit of a Black Lagoon vibe off of this series?), and for some reason the slow pace didn’t kill my interest in the series. For a swansong, Manglobe sure didn’t skimp on the animation. Hopefully though, MG will find a way to survive, and maybe someone will actually pick up the rights to this series. Not sure who would, but I can dream...
I’m not sure what to say about this one; I know the pacing is on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Gansta, in that it’s too fast to be as good as it could be. I know that like its predecessor Angel Beats, it’s 24 episodes condensed into 13. I know it takes story twists and turns that almost break the show. But (and this probably partly comes from how big an Angel Beats fan I am)... this show just kind of stuck with me. Along with Gansta, this is my second guilty pleasure of 2015, although oddly enough I can’t defend this one so much (and I know that’s saying something considering the flaws Gansta had). Aside from gorgeous animation, this show does have its share of problems: the voice acting is a bit too lax given the story material, the characters are kind of forgettable, and while I will admit that it fully uses its superpower subject matter to great effect, by the time time-travel is incorporated into the plot (yeah, of course it goes there)... at that point, I just went “yeah, whatever.” And the ending isn’t that great either. So yeah, I can’t give this my full recommendation, but I finished all 13 episodes for some god-knows-what reason. I guess it just has enough character and soul to make up for its flaws, and that for me is more than enough for an honorable mention.
We have now reached the point in this series where it’s still fun to watch, but now takes actual effort in order to understand exactly what’s going on. And I mean “make a flowchart and take thorough notes” effort. This wasn’t unexpected though, given how big the series the show’s based on is, and the author’s previous work (which includes the All Time Great Baccano, which you should watch right now if you haven’t) has usually gotten amazingly complicated when you aren’t looking. But thankfully Durarara!! does have an ending, so if you’re still with me, just hang in there: it will be over!... Not soon mind you, but it will still be as entertaining as it’s been for the past few years. Can’t promise the same for the animation quality though...
Dragon Ball Z Abridged
Normally, I’d be with you guys and say that this probably shouldn’t be here since it is a fan dub. But episode 51 finally dropped... and it might just be the best episode of the now seven year old series. What started out as a parody series has evolved into something with superb storytelling, probably the best jokes I heard from any series this year, and it has honest to god character development (I’m not joking). It’s probably safe to say that Team Four Star’s work has now eclipsed the original series in terms of outright quality, in both production and storytelling. I never thought a youtube series could keep me on the edge of my seat, but here we are, and in 2016 we get to arrive at the exact point I did when I first got into the original Dragon Ball Z: the Cell Games. Now, if you would kindly with me now:
P is for priceless, the look upon your faces
E is for extinction, all your puny races
R is for revolution, which will be televised!
F is for how fucked you are, now allow me to reprise;
E is for eccentric, just listen to my song!
C is for completion, that I’ve waited for so long!
T is for the terror, upon you I’ll bestow...
[chuckles] My name is Perfect Cell, and I’d like to say... Hello...
And with the rest out of the way (and to annoy Armuun even further), is it time for
Take That Proper Work(ing Title) in Progresses’s Best Anime of 2015!
5. Noragami Aragoto
This is a shining example of a series going from just very good to truly great, simply by taking the stuff that was already good before and perfecting it. The original Noragami was a show that I regret not getting into sooner; despite its Shonen appearance, I found it to be not only have a reasonable amount of good action, but it also had a wide cast of great characters that were both fleshed out and truly likable, along with storylines that focused on said characters in ways that you don’t often get in most anime. The first season really centered on how the main cast dealt with each other and themselves (in the form of their own personal baggage). The only flaw the first season really had was the last couple of filler episodes (which were actually decent, all things considered), but aside from that it’s a show that I hope Toonami picks up at some point. And with this year’s following season, things just got better.
Jumping right out of the gate with the Bishamon arc and then straight into the Ebisu arc, Aragoto showed that it most definitely had the chops to continue the momentum it had built up for itself. Also, it showed that just because an anime has action in it, it doesn’t have to be the main reason you stick with it. With this show, I was more invested in seeing each character develop, from Bishamon finally settling her score with Yato (and making amends with her past so that she can have a future), to Ebisu finding his reason to live, and even Yato finally severing his ties with Nora and fully trusting and embracing his friends and family. While the world building introduced this season wasn’t perfect (it does become hard to follow at points), I was more than fine with it considering the stakes that were here this season. And with the final post credits scene in the last episode, it’s gonna be a hard wait for season three...
4. Blood Blockade Battlefront
If this was any other year, this would probably be number one on this list. However, this isn’t any other year, and I still have conflicting thoughts on putting Studio Bones’s masterpiece rather low on my own list. I will admit part of it does come from the finale, both in how long it took to air, and that while it was undeniably a good ending to the series, it didn’t quite reach the greatness the main series achieved. It was a superb flight, that didn’t quite stick the landing. But with that said, it was one hell of a flight. Blood Blockade Battlefront is a series that I described as “from the 9os, for the 90s,” and by that I’m reference the talent that was involved in making it (given its ties to series such as Trigun and even Cowboy Bebop), and also its distinct feel. BBB feels like a series that used to come out all the time, but isn’t so apparent anymore: moderate craziness, with actual thought and humanity.
A lot of anime today often feels like it’s both trying its damned best, but also doesn’t know how to pull off real emotion. Often, you get superb animation (which leads to spectacular gifs and such), but you also get storytelling and characters you couldn’t care less about. It’s (unfortunately) a trend that I’ve seen in AAA gaming, when it comes to the relationship between gameplay & graphics/aesthetics, and... well, everything else in said game(s). This series though manages to pull everything off, from not only the visuals (which are some of the best we got this year), to the humor, to the characters that have actual motivation, and storytelling that both references good literature (the ties between the characters Black and White to Macbeth are almost inspired), and is also good in its own right without ever feeling pretentious. The destination may have been a low(er) point for me personally, but my god when the journey was as good as it was, it’s no hardship at all.
I’m slightly ashamed to admit that this one nearly slipped my mind when I was making this list, but that’s only because this series started airing back in 2014... and it’s making this list because I neglected to put it on last year’s list as well (also, if any of you are wondering where Parasyte is, it did make it onto last year’s list... even though it finished airing earlier this year. Yeah, I change my rules, so sue me). All that said, this is not only a truly great series, but also one that any person who calls him or herself an anime fans needs to watch. Too often when we watch media or consume art of any sort, it’s too easy to forget the kind of effort that goes into it, even if it isn’t all that good. From the sheer number of people involved, to the effort they put in, to the time they take out of their own lives to make something that they hope is somehow worth it, (to the fact that it may all actually be for naught); shit, if you wonder why artists deserve at least an iota of your respect, just watch this series. Also, think about the sheer effort it takes to make a series as good as this one...
Shirobako felt like a series that almost needed to come out sooner or later: not only because it gives viewers a look into how the thing they love is actually produced, but also in how it’s a truly feminist anime that you don’t see all that often. In a medium that’s rightly criticized in how it regularly treats female characters, this one proves that the medium shouldn’t be written off just for one of its more... publicized shortcomings. With next to no fanservice, a cast of women that are both fleshed out and show that they can get shit done on their own, and are also as vulnerable (but also as strong) as any real person. If anyone asks why I want more diverse characters and better writing in anime, games, film, etc, I can just show them this. When you at least try to make things different from the norm, and put thought and effort into it, it usually ends up being better, both in its novelty and actual quality. And thankfully, with the critical success of Mad Max: Fury Road, and the financial success of Star Wars: TFO (two films that centered on and starred women), we might be seeing a shift in the industry(s) that might be good for once.
2. One Punch Man
If any show on this list is going to be a future classic, it’s probably going to be One Punch Man, if only because it takes the best of both worlds to their logical conclusion: the superhero culture that’s become so prevalent in American fiction, and the sheer insanity that only anime can truly fulfill. Also, this series also takes a cue from another method that’s heavily seen in American comics, but is less prevalent in manga (and the anime that are based off it/them): it has one guy do the writing, while a separate guy does all the art work. And oddly enough, it produces a series that’s great to watch, but never gets boring or... too batshit crazy to follow (*ahem* DBZ, Bleach, Naruto... One Piece, if we’re being honest). And while the story in OPM does kind of fall a bit flat in some places, the fantastic characters and sense of humor it has about itself and its subject matter more than make up for it.
There’s not much else I can say about this show that I haven’t already said in my previous article that looked at this series, other than the reason it’s so high on my list is that it’s so damn enjoyable and just plain fun. Too often when it comes to shows and movies that get critical acclaim, people can often assume that it’s because they’re somehow revelatory works of art, but are let down by how its story is “janky” or “slow”, or that it’s just action and nothing else. I say this as someone who’s tried a few times now to show people Fury Road (and if you haven’t, go watch it now. After you’re done reading this, of course...), but have too damn often been met with “there isn’t enough story”, or “it’s the same thing again and again.” Just because something is action oriented, doesn’t mean there isn’t nothing there. OPM has great characters that show what makes superheroes actually heroic, from Saitama’s “give no fucks” attitude when it comes to who likes him or not, to Mumen Rider’s “give it all no matter what” mentality, even when it’s impossible for him to win a fight. In a time where DC has somehow forgotten what made their characters great in the first place, and when Marvel is showing signs that it’s resting on its laurels (at least when it comes to the MCU), I’m almost grateful that there’s a show out there that not only has fun with the idea of the superhero, but gets the actual point of being a hero.
1. My Youth Romantic Comedy Snafu Too!
There are times when you recognize that a show is great because it does something groundbreaking, or that it does something that’s been done before but in a new way that makes its predecessor almost feel redundant... and then further still, there are shows that just hit you on a deeply personal level, almost to the point where you wish you got into it sooner because maybe it could’ve changed you for the better in an earlier time in your life. For me, My Youth Romantic Comedy SNAFU Too! is all three of those. I also suspect that for a lot of otaku, or anyone who’s had trouble with socializing and making friends in general, this show hits me, them, and perhaps even you rather close. As I sit here now, I find myself wanting to say so much about this show, but still struggle with saying too much, too little, leaving out things that maybe should be said... like the point SNAFU makes, even when you try to say something as best you can, you may never say the right thing correctly. But you should still try, dammit.
Of all the series that aired and finished this year, this one got damn near everything so very right. The story from start to finish had developments and ups & downs for nearly every character involved, and provided “answers” and new struggles for everyone to grapple with. We saw the development of Hachiman in him asking for help from the club and showing that he does indeed feel something, and want “something real.” We saw Yui take initiative and play a part in other people’s lives, even if it wasn’t the “best” thing to do. Hell, even Yukino had character development this time: if you watched closely, it’s apparent that despite all her talent, all her conviction, she isn’t sure of what she wants, to do to the point where she’ll let others make important decisions for her. We can see parts of ourselves in each of these characters (pain, timidness, uncertainty), but they’re all still their own person(s), with depth and unique personality(s).
I can go on further still about the animation that can be borderline art in this season (holy crap, is it a step up from the previous season); I can go further in depth about the main story and the arcs that make it up, and how the ending is almost perfect, even if the show doesn’t get a third season (but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE GET A THIRD SEASON, I BEG OF YOU); I could even go into the drama that makes this show unique from nearly any other show that’s taken a “serious” look into the lives of high-schoolers. Hell, if I had one complaint, it’d be that it’s slightly annoying that this season is now staying almost completely true to the light novel series it’s based on, while the first season is now feeling a bit of... “age” in taking a few liberties when and where it did. But that’s actually more of a pro rather than a con in my eyes. In 2015, there was no series I was looking forward to than this one, and my god did it deliver, and I even enjoyed it immensely despite being in a mental state when enjoyment was almost physically impossible (depression mixed with severe dehydration is as bad as you think it is, if not worse). My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu Too! is one of my all time favorite anime, and it more than earns its place as my choice for Best Anime of 2015.
TGRIP is a film student studying in Portland, OR. TAY’s resident Xbox and racing game fan, he also (part time) reviews and does opinion pieces on games, movies, television, comics, and anime. He also runs his kinja sub blog Work(ing Title) In Progress. You can follow this third person narrating weirdo on Twitter @Dennis_wglasses, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SV”.