Top Picks for the Summer 2012 Anime Season – Part 3 of 3: The Top 8 Series
Part 3 and we’re reached the summer of the summer season; the series that burned the brightest. Up until now there hasn’t been too many awards given or series that are ones that have carried over from a previous season but this part has plenty of both.
Before I get to the top 8 series there’s one award that I traditionally give out that doesn’t fit well in this format – it is Top Animation Studio – because it is normally earned across multiple anime series. Therefore I’m going to award it now; winning the award for Top Animation Studio is Sunrise for animating Binbou-gami ga!, Accel World, Phi Brain Season 2, and Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon 2. Of the animation studios that put out multiple series this season, the quality of Sunrise’s series were consistently the highest and even series that didn’t rank all that highly, like Phi Brain and Horizon, were a fun watch that never felt like a waste of time to watch.
8 – Dog Days 2
Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 9/12 A-
Runner-up Best Screen grabber: Godwin (Norio Wakamoto’s character)
Runner-up Best Ending
Winner Most Entertaining
Winner Most in Need of a Sequel
Winner Best Vocal Performance by the Cast
In my summer season preview (that I didn’t finish before the beginning of the season and thus never posted) one of the last shows on my list was Dog Days 2. The first season was “okay” and I really didn’t see how the series was going to fill up an entire second season so I wasn’t really looking forward to Dog Days 2. It was worth a couple episode test, however, and almost instantly I realized Dog Days 2 was not the same show Dog Days 1 was. The sequel didn’t change it’s genre or go in some weird direction so in a sense it was the same show as the first season but everything in the sequel had a clarity to it that the first season didn’t quite have and the resulting series could be summarized as “warm and fluffy”. I never finished an episode without a smile on my face and my mood shifted to happy contentment. Anime needs to put out more of these types of series.
7 – Hunter x Hunter
Seasonal ratings for episodes 37 to 49 – 10/12 A
Winner Best Villain: Phantom Troupe
Runner-up Best Action
Winner Best Fight: Kurapika and Uvo episode 47
Runner-up Best Plot
Much like how Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood phoned in the first patch of episodes because they had to re-cover ground from the original series, the creators of this version of Hunter x Hunter phoned in the first couple of story arcs. It was only towards the end of spring season that Madhouse signaled it was starting to get serious about this show. This season picked up where spring left off and has continued on a very steep upwards curve in terms of quality. One of the reasons for the increase in quality is greater focus on Kurapika and his quest to avenge his fallen clan and the recovery of the remains of his clan that are in the hands of collectors. This storyline allows for a greater sophistication and emotional depth then the more standard shounen storyline (as exemplified by the just completed story arc surrounding Gon’s quest for a Hunter’s license) and once again proves that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the shounen genre – just with the lazy, shallow writing that seems like the norm in this genre. Now if only we could get a remake of Yu Yu Hakusho then I’d truly be a happy camper.
6 – Eureka Seven AO
Provisional series rating for episodes 1 to 22 – 10/12 A
Runner-up Best Drama
Winner Best Plot
Winner Best Action
Winner Most Interesting Setting
Winner Best Background Music
Runner-up Best Animation
As I’ve said elsewhere, I did not like the ending to original Eureka Seven series in part because it felt like a confusing mess. Because of that, I did not have the mindset of hating this sequel even before it aired like so many people apparently had and that also allowed me to give this series a fair chance to win me over. Which it did. I even think Bones might actually be able to nail the ending this time without reverting to their typical M.O. (and greatest weakness) of needing to fit way much material in at the end and not having the time to do so. And if it wasn’t for the stupid Olympics causing the final two episodes to get aired months after the rest of the series, it would be possible, at this point, to see if Bones accomplished a great ending or not.
5 – Joshiraku
Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 10/12 A
Winner Best Comedy
Runner-up Best ED
If one imagines a party thrown for these top 8 anime series, one might imagine Joshiraku feeling a bit embarrassed for being invited to the party after winning so few awards when compared to the other 7 anime series. It shouldn’t, though, because these awards are an imperfect way to judge the overall quality of series. For example, being a comedy meant that Joshiraku wasn’t going to win any of the character awards when there’s anime series like Space Brothers that focus on the characters almost exclusively. Nor was there a chance for it win awards like Best Plot or Best Story and having J.C. Staff produce it made awards like Best Animation and Best Animation Style equally unattainable. Winning the award for Best Comedy in conjunction with earning the number 5 spot does show my personal belief that making a successful comedy is as tough to do as creating a successful drama. I’ll be shocked if there’s a great number reading this that will agree with my high opinion of Joshiraku because Koji Kumeta (the creator of the original manga) takes a bit of work to understand. It’s not impossible, especially with the consumption of 3+ seasons of his previous work Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei that Shaft animated and a superb effort by the translator to localize the translation without losing the flavor of Kumeta. I actually find that Kumeta actually has a more Western mindset towards comedy then the average anime comedy series.
4 – Binbou-gami ga!
Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 10.5/12 Strong A
Runner-up Best Female Main Character: Momiji, a Poverty God
Runner-up Best Comedy
Winner Best Ending
Runner-up Most Entertaining
Winner Best Vocal Performance by a Seiyuu: Kana Hanazawa as Ichiko
Runner-up Best Vocal Performance by a Seiyuu: Yumi Uchiyama as Momiji
Runner-up Best Vocal Performance by the Cast
All comedies series are entertaining but not all entertaining series are comedies. This distinction led me to creating a Best Comedy award and a Most Entertaining award. The possible overlap between the two awards appear here with Binbou-gami ga! being the runner-up for both awards. By not being a pure comedy series, however, Binbou-gami ga! was able to diversify how it filled up the episodes and helped make sure that it never got stale or stuck repeating material. Also helping this anime series finish so high was an extremely great performance by the seiyuus Kana Hanazawa and Yumi Uchiyama as the two main characters and backed by a slew of great performances from the supporting cast. Before this series I was sure that I had already heard the best that Kana Hanazawa could do (which is to say performances that put her at or near to the top for all vocal actors) but this anime showed that she still had room to get better.
3 – Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi
Series rating for episodes 1 to 13 – 10.5/12 Strong A
Runner-up Best Cast of Characters
Winner Best Drama
Runner-up Best Animation Style
My initial desire to see Uta Koi was enhanced by the excellent recent anime Chihayafuru which centered on the game of karuta which uses the poems of the Hyakunin Isshu collection but I was still skeptical how a series could be constructed around a group of poems. Some days it doesn’t pay to be skeptical because the creator of the manga was way ahead of me. For Uta Koi a mixture of historical fact and poetic license was used to show the circumstances behind why the writers of the poems in the Hyakunin Isshu wrote the poems they did. Because so many of the 100 poems dealt with love, almost without fault, each episode featured a different story of love between the characters of that episode. Of those, many ended up being stories about how the writer of the poem could not marry the love of their life because of the strict societal laws of the time. This is a very difficult way to set the show up, however, since every episode had to introduce a new story and complete it within the roughly 20 minutes in that episode but they nailed it. By the end of each episode I found myself wrapped up in the story and wishing these people could have found more happiness in there lives. And just like how Chihayafuru made me look forward to Uta Koi, Uta Koi has now made me all the more excited for Chihayafuru season 2.
2 – Hyouka
Series rating for episodes 1 to 22 – 11.5/12 Near Perfect
Runner-up Best Male Main Character: Houtarou
Winner Best Female Main Character: Chitanda
Winner Best Couple: Chitanda and Houtarou
Runner-up Best Fight: Wildfire Cooking contest from episode 14
Runner-up Best Character Development
Runner-up Best Slice of Life
Runner-up Best Story
Runner-up Most in Need of a Sequel
Winner Best OP
Runner-up Best Background Music
Winner Best Animation
For the spring season Hyouka ranked at 11 but I said the show seemed to be picking up and would probably rank even higher for the summer season. Turns out that I was right on both counts; it almost caught Space Brothers this time. As a result of the increase in excellence Hyouka went from no character awards to winning or being runner-up four times, content awards went from zero to four, and creation awards stayed the same with three last time and three this time. Part of the reason for this show’s success was the original creator, of course, but the other part was the anime-only episodes that Kyoto Animation created. KyoAni used their expertise with character-driven slice-of-life series to further flesh the characters out and fluff the story side out more. For instance, episode 22 did a spectacular job of not only giving the series a sense of closure but it also went a long ways towards fully developing Chitanda’s character. There were glimpses of what made Chitanda tick before but episode 22 pulled it all together and probably permanently destroyed Houtarou’s energy conservation outlook on life. Ending the series like that, though, makes me really want a sequel.
1 – Uchuu Kyoudai (Space Brothers)
Seasonal rating for episodes 13 to 26 – 12/12 Perfect
Winner Best Male Main Character: Mutta
Winner Best Supporting Character: Monkey Guy
Winner Best Screen grabber: Head of JAXA
Winner Best Cast of Characters
Winner Best Character Development
Winner Best Slice of Life
Winner Best Science Fiction
Winner Best Story
Winner Best ED
Surprise?! Probably not. Space Brothers finished at the top of the spring season and an even stronger story arc this season helps fend off Hyouka to keep it at number one for another season. This anime is a bit of an aberration in that it’s not a one cour or even two cour series which can throw some viewers off because a longer series means the pacing can be more relaxed compared to a series that only runs for 13 or 26 episodes. The animators aren’t forced to shoehorn a big story into a small number of episodes. (Though the ones that can effectively compress a story like in Madoka, Kaiba, FLCL, Haibane Renmei, and Baccano end up as awesome series that have a gravitas to them that a longer series will often lack. Once I finished writing this last sentence I realized I just named 4 series that show up on The Cart Driver’s excellent new combined Top 30 list.) There are so many facets that make Space Brothers the grand anime series that it is. Many of these facets are already mentioned by the awards it won but I also wanted to mention my continued love of the vocal work Hiroaki Hirata is doing for the main character Mutta. If KyoAni created an anime that was just about paint on a wall drying, I would tune in each week as long as Hiroaki Hirata provided the voice-over play-by-play as the paint slowly dried.
Well, that’s it for look back at the summer 2012 anime season. It’s now time to move onto the fall season .