After reviewing the best of anime of 2011, I realized that ranking great masterpieces was a disservice to each other, and to everyone, so I decided to pick only the best two of each season, and leave out the subjective, inconstant ranking. As always, they are based on my mixture of subjective preferences of philosophical depth and aesthetics appeal, but I try to leave room for the unexpected, which allows me to learn how to enjoy despite my worst habits.
Chihayafuru is proof that josei slice of life and sports shounen genre can be merged seamlessly into a masterpiece, without requiring generic characters or by-the-numbers plot, or jazzy animation. Although this series isn’t over, its powerful presentation and divine combination of high-risk elements deserve a spot.
Favorite character: the blustery Chihaya
Unique characters and sharp dialogue + gorgeous animation is always a win in my book. Bakemonogatari was an impossible act to follow, but art director Shinbou pulled it off with that distinctive Shaft aesthetic and Nisioisin’s wordsmithery, and kept the flame alive with a larger budget and some sophisticated fan-service thrown in for extra measure.
Favorite character: the villainous Kaiki + the suddenly verbose Shinobu. Too many, actually.
Fate/Zero is one of the most cruel and diabolically intellectual stories ever. A nigh-grim-dark exercise where everybody loses because the prize of the entire tournament turned out to be the ultimate villain. For an in-depth analysis, check this out. World class anime studio (Ufotable) + Nihilistic genius writer (Urobuchi) = Anime of 2012
Favorite character: Kuritsugu
Nazo no Kanojo X (Mysterious Girlfriend X)
One of the most surprising anime adaptations that improved on the original material, Nazo no Kanojo X is a divine paradox that began with an icky premise and ended with a deeply nuanced metaphor for first love and emerging sexuality. Drool = exchanging bodily fluids = sex What seemed a retromodernist exercise in 80s anime/manga nostalgia turned out to be one of the most brilliant shows about relationships I’ve ever seen.
Favorite character: Urabe
Despite its pedigree, and despite the mile-long shadow of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Hyouka pulled off the impossible trick of appearing simple yet nailing some profound themes with some of the best animation in years. After a slow start, Hyouka proved itself with a brilliant story arc with the Kanya Festa. The mysteries, while themselves intriguing, were rather besides the point, because they were only a means for the show to portray a certain sophisticated and somewhat wistful ambiance.
Fav character: Mayaka
Eureka Seven AO
The most difficult obstacle of a sequel is always the standards of its predecessor and the expectations it instills in the audience. Eureka Seven was an immensely popular 50-episode journey into shounen brilliance. However, Bones studio decided to go in another direction, into a geo-political thriller slash classic scifi themes of otherness, and they succeeded with a relentlessly muscular plot chock-full of twists after twists. Whether Eureka Seven AO succeeded depends on whether you are capable of appreciating execution over the message itself.
Favorite character: Elena
As a sophisticated analysis of cyber-dystopian future, PSYCHO-PASS pulls off the tricky balance between action-thriller and social satire. Thanks to the creator Gen Urobuchi, anime will always have intellectual shows soaked through with dense philosophical subtext and literary references. You can’t lose when a show is comfortable with either quotes by Kierkegaard or allusions to The Most Dangerous Game.
Favorite character: Masoka the wise guru
Shinsekai Yori (From the New World)
Easily the scariest show of the season, if not the year, by far, with disturbing themes that exceed the more conventional trappings of shows in the horror genre. With gorgeous design and amazingly original post-civilization world building, Shinsekai Yori lulls you into a false security with an idyllic presentation before slapping you silly for such naiveté, and by then it’s too late to stop watching. Episode 10 stands out in particular. While its execution is somewhat less consistent than the other top shows of this list, Shinsekai Yori might be even more ambitious than the rest of them.
Favorite character: None as of this date
*Since both shows are still incomplete, the reviews are hardly more than general impressions.
Best of the Rest
Mirai Nikki (Future Diary)
By far, my favorite show of the year. Review here.
Sakamichi no Apollon (Kids on the Slope)
Probably the best executed show of the year, with high production values and wonderful scripting and deft touch. Somewhat rushed ending diminishes it slightly.
Lupin the Third: A Woman named Mine Fujiko
A classic retro-modernist take of a classic 70’s exploitation, but with the endlessly multi-dimensional character of Mine Fujiko.
by far the funniest show of the year, with the most relateable main character in Mutta. I couldn’t help but laugh at every gag, even though some were clearly visible a mile away. When a show convinces you that you’re in cahoots with the main lead’s nefarious antics, it has succeeded on all counts.
Mouretsu Pirates had a fantastic combination of pulpy adventure and whimsy, topped off with an excellent character in 18 year old high schooler cum pirate, Marika.