Considering that I watch over 50 anime each year, ranging roughly between 12 to 26 episodes each, you’d figure it might be difficult for me to choose my favorite episode of the year when there’s nearly a thousand to choose from. However, from the moment I finished episode 18 of the Sengoku Collection, I knew which one it would be this year. No episode of any other anime comes even remotely close to the profoundness, merit and brilliance of this episode of Sengoku Collection. It stands alone at the summit of anime excellence, an episode comprised of a spectacular art style, influential and engrossing characters, the haunting absence of music, and a simple, modest story shown to us through ingenious directing to tie it all together and create an inspiring, illustrious episode that has become one of my favorite episodes of all time.
Although I’d love to relive my thoughts, emotions and mindset immediately following the episode, I was able to capture the moment in my Week 5 Anime Review from this past Summer. It stated:
Sengoku Collection (Episode 18) – It isn’t often that you can finish an episode, digest the material a bit, let your emotions return to normal, and still declare what you just watched was the best episode of any anime for the entire year. Yet, here we are, in the aftermath of Sengoku Collection 18, and I’m not afraid to call this the best episode of any anime for the entire 2012 year. In perhaps the ~400 episodes of anime watched thus far, nothing really comes close to what this episode was able to do. If you don’t watch or are considering watching the anime, I cannot recommend this anime enough. It does have some lesser episodes and even a few misses, but to ignore it otherwise would be a crime given how outstanding it is at times with this episode being the pinnacle of success for the series. If you have watched it, you know just how magnificent this episode was. It might not be your favorite or even anywhere close, but for me, this is hands-down the best episode of anime I have watched in well over a year of anime. Thank you, Sengoku Collection.
What stands out to me about this passage is that, even though I unreasonably and hysterically gush all over the episode, it might be an understatement considering the perspective was taken a few days after having watched it. Perhaps at that time, words failed to convey how I truly felt, how I was truly influenced by this episode, which is why I have nothing immediately following the episode. What little records remain of my conversation with friends and fans that reside in my memory (and on Twitter) is that the episode drew immediate raves from the fans of the franchise and inspired many others to pick up the series to watch it themselves. You hardly ever see anything like it for one episode of an anime. That’s just how powerful this episode was.
Surprisingly, what made the episode so exceptional, so outstanding, and so beloved for me is that it was a simple story told successfully and dazzlingly through its directing. It was an episode where cinematography mattered, where the initial shots of the scenes established the mood and situation through gorgeously crafted urban environments that were filled with the unharmonious music of the hustle and bustle of the city. Shots continued to reinforce scenes of isolation and sadness through positioning and focus and, as the episode progressed, evolved to show happiness and hope. The camera played an valuable in this episode, helping sway emotions through the underused techniques of cinematography in anime. And of course, the absence of music throughout the episode leaves a memorable impression, often opting for silence to set the mood rather than artificial songs piped in through elsewhere. The pacing and storytelling were also brilliant. Not a single scene was wasted with each holding some meaning in narrating the tale of Yoshitsugu. Every shot played a part in illustrating her story to us. And the way the episode progressed felt entirely appropriate, never rushing too quickly or hanging around for too long in each stage of the story. As a result, the story of the episode was communicated to us flawlessly. And all these aspects share one thing in common; they all can be attributed to the directing in this episode. So while there may be anime out there with better art and animation, more interesting or intricate characters, or a more heartwarming or tragic story, there are few that are able to take a simple story of friendship and hope, and communicate it to us with such effectiveness in its storytelling ability that it instantly becomes a fan favorite and perhaps one of the best episodes of any anime that I have watched in recent years.
And though the episode aired months ago and the anime ended last season, I continue to recommend this episode and this anime to anyone and everyone. The fact that so many people rave about it with glowing enthusiasm speaks volumes of what a magnificent episode it is. And since the anime is largely episodic in nature, one doesn’t need to pass through 17 episodes prior just to arrive at this one. However, I wouldn’t recommend starting at 18 and going from there. I’d definitely recommend watching a few of the earlier episodes first, some of the best of the series even before jumping straight into this masterpiece. In fact, there are a couple of episode guides out there that breakdown each episode in terms of priority and quality, too, in case time is a factor. If not, then I don’t know what else can be done to convince people to watch this episode, enjoy it, and share in the experience that I did. Yes, to share in the experience that was my favorite anime out of the entire year and quite possibly my favorite of the past few years, too. Yes, looking at it like this, this might not be one of the most memorable moments of 2012 but in my entire anime life. Yeah, this episode is that special.