This will be my first time to attempt a “review” of anime (Japanese animated shows), and I think a good review is the fine line between fan-boy-ism and elitism, one that is honest with passion, but always facing the direction of the ideal anime. Because I’m a johnny-come-lately to anime, the actual best shows I watched in 2011 are Revolutionary Girl Utena, Bakemonogatari, and Bokurano.
1. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
Easily the most hyped of 2011, and yet the near-perfect blend of stylish animation and epic storyline excused the mass hysteria. Besides, it also has the most impressive villain I’ve seen since Hannibal Lecter. Basically, Madoka is a fantastic deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre. Once a genre is deconstructed, it is actually revived, because tropes that have degenerated into clichés are now discarded. However, it did wrap up everything in a deus ex machina styled bow. The upside to that is no possible sequel is in the offing!
2. Mawaru PenguinDrum
The creator of Utena, Ikuhara makes a grand return to anime with a possibly even better work in PenguinDrum. Despite riddled with symbolism & several philosophical allusions, this show keeps the plot moving briskly, and reveals its mystery painstakingly slowly. Its impact will be felt for years to come, long after the characters and the furor are forgotten. Which just might be its very own Seizon Senryaku!
With the antics of the best lead character of the year, Okabe, Steins;Gate starts off as a slow-boiling mystery, and halfway through, it successfully lurches into a thriller. Quite possibly the best use of time travel since Primer, Steins;Gate balances between subverting classic anime tropes and spining a well crafted plot, while leaving the door open for future stories.
4. Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
A classic battle royal game where the participants all acquire dairies that tell the future, and the winner gains the throne of the Lord of Master of Time & Space. Easily the most ridiculously high camp and yet revels in the absurdity of anime/manga tropes, which in turn combines into an understandable guilty pleasure. Where critics are divided on whether Mirai Nikki is pure pulp or pure illogical fantasy, I revel in its consistent inconsistency, as well as the greatest Yandere of all anime-dom: Yuno Gasai.
5. Usagi Drop
Despite myself, I enjoy a great slice of life, and this is the best of the lot (Tora Dora, Dennou Coil, Nodame Cantabile, & Genshiken). Its unique watercolor designs will long outlive the most stylish of 2011. Precocious kid Rin moves in with her 30-year-old nephew Daikichi and teaches him how to become a parent. I felt this series ended prematurely, without a satisfying resolution, but perhaps that lack of denouement is precisely what life is like.
6. Level E
Quite the funniest show of the year, where an alien Prince lands on Earth and hides from his royal duties. His betrothed and bodyguards in tow, guarantee hilarity & hijinks. No other character successfully trolled the audience consistently.
An epic series revolving around a magical artifact that harvests legendary heroes to duke it out for its wish-granting powers. This show slowly grew on me, from an excessively chatty opener to a well-animated, well-thought out result. The philosophical dialogue I blogged on earlier clinched Fate/Zero a spot on this list alone. The second half is due in April, so this low ranking may change.
A quirky, multiple-layered detective show that covers many themes: original characters, uncanny valley, rights of artificial life, discourse on truths vs Truth, and the collective culture of Japanese propaganda set against future utopian ideals. Had this show an extra cour to expand some of its interesting points, it would’ve frog-leaped towards the top.
9. Dantalian no Shoka
Another abortive attempt at interesting premises (Mystical Libraries, Phantom Books, Keykeepers) and historical fiction (set in 1920s) hamstrung by poor pacing and a single cour. Gorgeous visuals and amazing fashion, notwithstanding all those faults.
10. Star Driver: Kagayaki no Takuto
The curse of the classic “tremendous upside potential.” The following ingredients: Intriguing characters, quirky design inspired by french fashion, great premises and healthy plot are usually more than enough to determine the show’s success, but the convenient bottled format of villain-of-the-week held it back. The entire time I was waiting for Wako to jump both of her guys and engage in a menage a trois.