With the calendar of 2011 crowning our comically overfilled garbage bin following the holiday celebrations, there’s no better time than the present to take a moment (or however long it takes you to get through this mammoth of a post) and reflect on the anime from this previous Autumn, the final anime season of 2011.
From top to bottom, start to finish, and anywhere in between, this season finished as the best of the year. Although without any definitive blockbusters like Madoka, Steins;Gate, and Usagi Drop, this season produced several top shelf anime in terms of quality and excellence, in addition to some of the strongest comedies of the year. And this is my opinion without me watching probably the most popular or celebrated show of the season, Fate/Zero, which I’m putting off until after I complete the visual novel.
If there were a theme for this season, besides the obvious quality and strength, I’d readily assign it the accolade for being the most humorous season of the year. And knowing my preference for comedy above any other genre, that might explain why this season went as well as it did. With traditional comedies like Working’!! and Ika Musume being sequels from highly rated and celebrated anime, you knew there’d be some high entertainment value this season. What surprised me was how Persona 4 contented with those week after week and unexpectedly produced more laughs than either on occasion. And I’m even skipping a few comedies, too, like Ben-To and Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai which have had positive reviews. Even UN-Go, Chihayafuru, and Future Diary produced laughs helping earn this season the reputation that it was the funniest of the year. I realize I pinned the Summer with that award, too, but I’m taking it from there and giving it to the Autumn since it demonstrated a much higher value and quality of comedy than before. There aren’t any clear secondary themes this season, at least from the shows I selected, but I did notice a few anime struggle with their artwork and animation. Never did it get to the point where it detracted from the show (although I admitted it did on Ben-To, a show I plan to pick up in the future) but it is concerning when you notice a mistake or discover a poorly animated sequence. And that’s about it for this season as a whole. Next up are the individual evaluations, their scores, and their ranking from 1 through 11.
Along with each anime’s numerical score (between 10-5 as well as a D [delayed/dropped]), the anime are placed according to how they rank against each other from top to bottom. Included are my favorite characters of each series, my favorite moment and awards on the best Art, Characters, Entertainment, Sound, and Story.
Favorite Character: Kazamori Sasa
Favorite Moment: Every time Shinjurou began solving a mystery and that guitar track started playing.
Review – Simply the most distinguished and outstanding anime of the season. What’s remarkable about UN-Go is how it accomplished so much with its setting, its characters, and its social commentary with so little effort, using mysteries as medium to convey several messages that are left up to the viewer to interpret, contemplate, and form judgment on. While the comprehensive setting has been widely recognized and praised among fans of the series for developing a world of uncomfortable nationalism and unjust censorship, the depth and profoundness of the characters is often overlooked despite being essential to explaining the world. Without characters like Shinjurou, Rie, and Rinroku who have disagreeing views on the nature of truth and its purpose in the world, we never would’ve seen such a degree of the conflict in that society. And with their cleverness and oddities, the characters never became bland or uninteresting, and even allowed the inclusion of some worthwhile jokes. This was the only anime of the season where I liked every Character making this the best of the season. The use of mysteries as the method of storytelling was brilliant because it would tell two stories at once, allowing the characters to work on one that was important to them in the present while we would further understand the world and find out which of the random characters had done whatever. The artwork throughout set a serious tone that matched the atmosphere required for this type of anime and the soundtrack had a number of pleasant songs, too, especially the opening and ending themes. No doubt a 10 in my eyes and the top anime of the season.
Favorite Character: Sahei Natsume (Grandfather of Masako and Mario)
Favorite Moment: Whenever Sahei was onscreen, which unfortunately was only episode 16.
Review – An anime that understood how to manipulate tension, curiosity, and how to toy with the audiences’ emotions, Penguindrum was a rollercoaster of a drama. The series itself was also an enigma with its oversaturation of symbolism often drowning out logic and reason in favor of creating an abstract from which to tell its tale about life, love, fate, and penguins. And without any concrete finale or explanation on issues (I still believe the children dying in the Child Boiler are the kids being picked up by unloving foster families), the anime concluded without explaining everything but telling its entire story. The characters steadily developed over the course of the series growing more somber and serious as the story dictated and each offered a unique personality that fit into their assumed role when the anime finished. The transition from bright and uplifting colors to an uncomfortable dark palette helped, too, and the animation was superior throughout making each episode a delicacy on the eyes. The soundtrack turned out to be one of my favorites this season with a number of memorable tracks. But perhaps what will be most memorable from this anime was its overabundant symbolism which masked the story and allowed our minds to mull over what was really going on in the anime. A visual masterpiece and one of the most stimulating anime of the year.
Favorite Character: Jun Sato
Favorite Moment: Maya’s reappearance in episode 13.
Review – A sequel that outperformed its predecessor in virtually every category, Working’!! was certainly the most Entertaining anime of the season and perhaps even the entire year. Its wacky yet sensible cast of crazies and its style and content of humor made this the most delightful comedy of the year which is something I’ve come to expect from this franchise. But the improvement in animation and artwork, character development, story progression, and character interactions made this anime completely superior to its original season which, despite its proud comedy, had some irritating imperfections. To see an anime beat out its original is rare but there is no doubt in my mind that Working’!! beats out Working!! going head-to-head. There were no gaping flaws in Working’!! but it was disappointing to never see Maya until the final episode and not see any substancial progress with Takanashi/Inami or Sato/Yachiyo but everything else surpassed expectations and made one of the best anime of the year.
Favorite Character: Ika Musume
Favorite Moment: The Invasion Club visiting Kiyomi in episode 7.
Review – Shinryaku!? Ika Musume matched Working’!! for most of the year and ended up virtually on the same place on my all-time anime list but it falls behind due to the sequel being inferior to its original. This second season had parallels in terms of story, atmosphere, and zaniness but there were often no developments in character or story in Ika Musume to make it feel like we were continuing toward a goal. The charm of Ika Musume remained but it never shone as brilliantly as it did during the first season. And the first season of Ika Musume turned out to be one of my all-time favorite comedies (one of the few to get 10/10), so it’s partially unfair to compare this so such distinction. But aside from that, each skit produced countless laughs and proved to be about an equal entertainment value as Working’!!. The moe art style in this anime has never bothered me since it feels appropriate for a light-hearted and sometimes heartwarming anime about a squid girl and her human friends. Overall, one of my favorites of the year and a great continuation of one of the best comedies ever.
Favorite Character: Chie Satonaka
Favorite Moment: Yuu and Yosuke being kicked off the cliff in episode 8.
Review – Persona 4 has some of the best breadth in terms of anime I have ever witnessed. The anime has done enough to assign itself labels in almost every genre there is from mystery to comedy to friendship to romance to adventure to fighting to about half a dozen others. And what surprises me is how the anime spends time with each to make sure they’re well above satisfactory and at a worthwhile and enjoyable level. What’s most delightful about Persona 4 is the soundtrack, creating moods that satisfy each genre, and the voice acting, which strengthens the atmosphere and helps create emotion, making this easily the best Sounding anime of the season. The comedy is beyond impressive and at times I considered this the funniest anime of the year. The mystery has progressed at an acceptable pace and has kept me intrigued with the murders but it seems there is a bunch of other events going on, especially within the town and between friends. Also, this is one of the few anime where I don’t zealously despise when the anime takes place at school or has school themed stuff going on. Definitely one of the most interesting anime of the year and one of my favorites of the season despite the number ahead of this one. Will happily continue this anime in the Winter.
Favorite Character: Taichi Mashima
Favorite Moment: Chihaya falling asleep immediately after karuta matches.
Review – What makes Chihayafuru one of my favorite shoujo anime ever is how its romance is used. Rather than bashing us over the head with it every episode with romantic fluff and an ounce of progress, Chihayafuru goes straight to the attack and makes every romantic scene meaningful. What’s better is that there is not a constant strain of romance either making it divided and more tolerable. I like that in a romance anime but I have a feeling the second half will evolve into a romantic style I find unnecessary and stereotypical. The comedy has been amazing with each character playing an important role, although it’s commonly Chihaya and Kana producing the greatest laughs. The karuta aspect of Chihayafuru is still highly entertaining and the best method of creating tension in the anime but its novelty has worn off and the matches have lost a bit of their magic even if they are intense and hold value. Combining the whole romance/karuta club and tournaments/comedy/friendship angles together, I find Chihayafuru to have the best Story of any anime this season. Each character has been enjoyable (besides Wataya, still hate him) and brings an important perspective to the game of karuta to explain their love and reason for playing. The mature art style is cheerful and the use of lighting and colors gives the anime an upbeat and sensational feel. Chihayafuru has shown plenty of promise in its story and characters but still has plenty of room to improve through the second half which is airing this Winter.
Favorite Character: Mur Mur
Favorite Moment: Those Mur Mur segments at the end of episodes.
Review – Future Diary, while still highly enjoyable and incredibly tense, has cooled on me recently. Episodes and arcs are slowly beginning to feel formulaic and repetitive and some of the tension lately has been poorly managed (i.e. we know Yuki won’t die this early). And some of the logic has been outright absent in recent episodes. But notwithstanding these flaws, Future Diary has retained what matters most to me and that it is fun and full of excitement. I particularly enjoy seeing Yuki and Yuno come closer together after each battle yet see a stronger desire for Yuki to escape for his own personal safety and Yuno to grow more delusional with each passing day. The non-serious nature of the anime has created some memorable comedy scenes and helps break up the tension with something relaxing on our hearts and minds. The animation is decent and it has never been a problem but it’s clear the budget behind this isn’t what most other anime have. The cast of characters fluctuates regularly and I do wonder if we’ll have more of a recurring cast than Yuki, Yuno, Minene, and Aru. Despite the recent decline in the second half of this season, Future Diary continues to be one of the better anime out there and will likely return to glory in its continuation this Winter.
Favorite Character: Makoto Kikuchi
Favorite Moment: Whenever Makoto was onscreen, especially when she had her episode.
Review – Episodes 20-24 changed Idolmaster from a clearly otaku anime into something respectable with its focus on its characters and creating an emotional story for Chihaya and Haruka. These episodes showed that Idolmaster could have been an emotional and interesting anime if it weren’t for the legions of fans who wanted a light-hearted anime featuring their girls doing typical anime clichés and things. If it weren’t for the fans, I believe Idolmaster could have been something amazing rather than an excuse to milk the franchise, so I am happy they included something emotional and truly beautiful before it ended. All of the characters had their screentime and I warmed up to most of the cast outside of Makoto and even liked a few characters before the series ended like Chihaya, Haruka, and Takane. The artwork was simple but created that essential moe style required for the anime but the animation was some of the best I’ve seen with countless sakuga sequences during performances. One of the reasons I wanted to watch this anime was for the sakuga just to see the detailed and comprehensive animation when the idols were singing or dancing. The anime never failed to disappoint with that and the performance during the final episode was truly spectacular. The music, as you might expect, is typical J-pop, electronic, or upbeat music but it was never terrible and each girl has a decent to lovely singing voice (can’t say the same for talking though). And while the entire anime felt like it was directed for fans to enjoy and spend money on, I did have some fun and felt that picking up the anime was worthwhile. What bested my expectations were these final half dozen episodes which had authentic stories, felt emotional, developed the characters beyond being idols, and actually put their careers in perspective compared to more important issues. And there was a lot of Makoto, too, to make me happy. I’m glad this anime improved so significantly toward the end, helping it jump from the cellars and into a respectable range for anime of this caliber.
Guilty Crown – 7
Favorite Character: Dan Eagleman
Favorite Moment: Dan Eagleman punching Segai across the face in episode 11.
Review – While most would consider Guilty Crown a disappointment, I feel the anime has simply become frustrating. I still enjoy the anime, the Art is exceptional, from both an art style and animation perspective, and the special effects are enchanting to view. I’ve had no qualms with the music or the character voices and am generally happy with the cast. And the action, despite having no meaning or rationale sometimes, has made episodes eventful and entertaining. But what prevents this anime from having a higher score and better ranking are all the major issues that hinder this anime’s progress. Perhaps the biggest fault in this anime is that is takes itself too seriously and lacks the execution to back it up. If the anime took an approach where it didn’t think it was trying to tell a powerful story with influential characters, then the anime would be ranking higher but it doesn’t. The characters have failed to develop, too. Watching Shu constantly battle himself over his own self-worth, ability, and anxiety has made him a multidimensional character but he has failed to progress from this initial stage which is incredibly unsatisfying. And when the story requires Shu to play the role of hero, his personality and actions feel inconsistent with what we’ve seen before giving us a split in his character. The other characters haven’t progressed at all, either, which leaves the characters feeling like they’ve underperformed. And the story is fairly incomprehensive and the setting incredibly incomplete. The anime still has time to improve itself but I doubt it will happen over the Winter. Guilty Crown has come in below expectations. It has been frustrating to see it struggle so violently when it can easily correct itself but the anime has been enjoyable to some degree.
Favorite Character: Millia il Velch Cutrettola Turan
Favorite Moment: Seeing Millia beg Fam to save her sister while on the vespa in episode 2.
Review – I came in expecting something similar to although not to the same level of greatness as the original Last Exile but what I received instead is some themes from the previous season mixed with modern anime tropes and otaku fodder. What’s left is a lesser product that has been disappointing in terms of its story, its characters, and its connection to the original anime. Millia is the only character I’ve continued to like throughout the anime. I find her struggles, emotions, and rationales are all believable and help drive the story in a meaningful way unlike anyone else. There are frequent lapses in logic and reason and the whole sky pirates theme, something that sounded awesome when I first heard about it, has turned out to be incredibly shameful and boring. I don’t even understand why the anime would want us to believe a 15-year old and her friend could steal 15 battleships from the most dominant empire in the world (one that no other country has stood up against) and still be free without a massive manhunt or invasion or anything like that. It’s stupidity is what it is. The story around Millia has caught my attention and I’m interested to see how Exiles and the characters from the former season affect all the new characters and nations we’re seeing. The setting feels a bit incomplete and there has not been as much care or detail on the vanships or airships as we’ve seen in the first season which has been a bit disheartening for a Last Exile anime. The animation and artwork have been great and I’ve enjoyed seeing the motion of the vanships as they soar through the skies. The details on the battleships are truly imposing and the battle sequences have been animated to convey excitement as well as be stunning. The music has been above average but only a few tracks are memorable. I’ve been harsh on Last Exile in this review but the anime has been progressing in an upward trend lately and I’m eager to see what happens during the second season. Will it redeem itself in its second half? One can only hope.
Favorite Character: Kaoru Hanawa
Favorite Moment: Watching the sunrise on New Year’s Day in episode 12.
Review – The main reason I picked up Tamayura was because of its strong connection and resemblance to Aria an anime that belongs in my Top 3. I knew not to expect anything to that degree but I expected the two to share parallels and be enjoyable to the same degree but at a lesser magnitude. But Tamayura failed to create that magic that made Aria so extraordinary and distinguished which left the anime somewhat boring and, at times, annoying. Only the final episode felt like something out of Aria while the rest felt like a cheap imitation with completely inferior characters. The cast of characters is probably the biggest difference between the two and I never really loved any of the characters. In fact, I disliked most of the cast and found them to be obnoxious (Norie), irritating (Komachi), gimmicky (Maon), or hollow (Kou). Fu was too timid and uncertain to be effective as a lead in exploring the setting and the other characters and the only ones I enjoyed was Kaoru who felt like the only human among the cast of stereotypes. The setting felt underdeveloped in that the girls went to various sites and saw them but never translated to how it affected themselves (beyond being “wow, this is great”) or the story around them. The art style was that kind of simple that I don’t care for but the scenery and backgrounds were gorgeous and peaceful. The music was better than expected and had some of the better tracks this season. In the end, I don’t regret watching this anime since it had several enjoyable moments, but I do regret expecting it to be something like Aria or even anything close to that masterpiece.
Notable Autumn moments:
Best OP: UN-Go (P4, Future Diary and Last Exile had nice songs, too, but this had awesome animation)
Best ED: UN-Go (Only ending theme I listened to at the end of every episode this season)
Biggest Surprise: UN-Go
Biggest Disappointment: Tamayura ~hitotose~
Best Finale: Working’!!
Most Hated Character: Norie (Tamayura ~hitotose~)
And with that we’re wrapping up 2011 with one of the strongest seasons in memory. The Winter anime season to start 2012 has some potential but might be considered a drop-off after this stellar of a season. And fortunately, shows like Persona 4, Chihayafuru, Future Diary (Mirai Nikki), and others are continuing into the Winter to help make it another solid anime season. See you in 2012!