Because a tally of awards only gives a rough idea of the overall strength of an anime, I wanted to close this examination of the spring season with another way to look at the various anime series – a countdown – pitting the strengths of one anime against another to find the best anime of the spring 2012 season.
Why twelve? That happens to be the maximum number of series I can have under my two criteria. The first condition is that the anime has to good enough to be worth listing because anything less and series that don’t deserve to be included are included. The second is that the maximum number of series to make it in the top list can be no more than half the total number of series because I have to stop somewhere.
12 – Upotte
What’s better then an anime about girls and guns? Answer, an anime about girls who are also guns. Well, maybe not. There was many anime better then Upotte this season but it was better than many other series. The only area Upotte really succeeded at was being funny, everything else was cobbled together and somehow the whole became enjoyable. Rock bottom expectations and having the right set of quirks and interests probably helped me to like Upotte. For example, I’ve actually fired a gun prior to watching Upotte and know enough geography and history to appreciate and “get” many of the characterization and jokes used in Upotte.
11 – Hyouka
TV series by Kyoto Animation, arguably the world’s highest quality non-CG animation studio, carry a heavy burden of expectation from the moment they are announced and that can make it very difficult to give these series a fair shake before forming an opinion. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, a KyoAni series can’t raise above this burden and is seen as “failing” – like Nichijou was – even though Nichijou was a very excellent anime. In fact, I feel that the Nichijou anime would have been a huge commercial success if some other studio’s name had been slapped on it. I initially thought Hyouka was bound to follow Nichijou and this time I’d agree with it’s critics; though, I was more worried about the characters and not the mysteries side – I like the mysteries but the characters were too one-dimensional and not interesting. The last story arc about the unfinished movie, however, pushed the character of the main characters forward and I found that I started to like our gang of sleuths. This last mystery also showcases the writing chops of the creator behind the original light novels. I was proud of myself when I beat super sleuth Houtarou to the solution and equally dismayed when the full truth became apparent in the end. I’m excited to see what’s next for Hyouka.
10 – Sakamichi no Apollon
Instead of complaining or bellyaching about how Sakamichi no Apollon failed to live up to it’s potential, I want to focus on what the show did right. After all, the way to fix Apollon is simple – give it more episodes – Guilty Crown got 22. Could you imagine what the creators could have done with another 10 episodes? Though, Apollon and Tsuritama, the two noitaminA shows this season, provided an examination of the question: is it better to be ambitious and miss the mark a bit or less ambitious and execute near flawlessly? I found the answer is that they’re about the same. With Apollon, I loved the setting and how a couple of the characters happened to be Catholic (with enough research done to get it right) and the presence of a larger family and the focus on non J-Pop/Rock/Rap music and the time period; all these elements worked together to make this anime feel unique. I also liked how the story didn’t always pick the path of most dorama or the easiest, most neat path because life is messy and troublesome but it rarely plays out like a novel or TV show. For example, the final time skip allowed the anime end on a positive note, while feeling realistic. In the end, I guess the take away from this anime is that fans of anime should seek out the manga.
I’ve already mentioned the great animation quality to Apollon and this quality might help explain what has happened to Madhouse of late. Much of the animation production for Apollon was handled by a new studio called MAPPA. It was founded by one of original co-founders of Madhouse and he had a history of pushing Madhouse to animate the off-beat series. I can’t find out if he’s permanently split with Madhouse or what; but, as a minimum, the energy in starting a new company is going to cut into time that could otherwise be spent creating anime.
9 – Tsuritama
This time execution wins out over ambition with Tsuritama finishing higher then Apollon, although, neither side can compete with an anime that has both the ambition and the execution, like a Madoka or Steins;Gate . One of my favorite parts to Tsuritama was it’s animation style because it made the show feel summery, somehow. For a long stretch of my being an anime fan it has felt like most animators, outside of Shaft, have been timid about creating stylized TV anime series and instead stuck to a basic, stock style. Sure, there was the random anime that was stylized but they were definitely the exception but now, with the recent success of Shaft, it looks like the other animation studios are more eager to diversify their look (if this season is a guide for the future). Which is a good thing because used correctly – like in Lupin and Tsuritama – the style of animation can serious enhance all aspects of an anime and make it so much better. If, say, Tsuritama had been done by J.C. Staff chances are it would have lost it’s summery feel and just felt way more generic. Tsuritama will be remembered by me for two specific reasons. The first is that it’s yet another example of how cool older characters are in anime; we really need more characters like the grandma. And the second is it left me wanting to try my hand at fishing.
8 – Eureka Seven AO
Due to my slow writing speed I find myself in the awkward position of knowing that E7AO is a better show then this number 8 spot but not willing to bend the rules to allow episode 12 or 13 to be considered part of the spring season. I was actually shocked at how episode 12 moved me because I have a rather negative opinion of the original Eureka 7 series after being disappointed when the story got “weird” and incomprehensible towards the end. This impression came from the prehistoric times when I was just getting into anime seriously and still used Cartoon Network for the majority of my anime fix. It probably is no longer a valid opinion; but, it did allow me to look at E7AO as a way to redeem the franchise and not as the way for Bones to ruin the original (which many fans thought). Even without episode 12 or 13 it was apparent that E7AO was building up to something big and ambitious by how carefully the earlier episodes were plotted out, which allowed it to win the awards it did and place as high as it did. For the summer season I already know that I’ll be vacillating between excitement and fear that Bones will pooch yet another ending.
7 – Jormungand
Sometimes not seeing a popular anime prior to a specific newer anime series is a detriment to the enjoyment of that newer anime series and I can tell when I start reading the thoughts of others. Conversely, sometimes I can tell it’s beneficial. In the case of Jormungand, I kept seeing talk about and comparisons to Black Lagoon – which I’ve yet to see – and invariably, this anime seemed to have warped expectations of what Jormungand should be doing to it’s detriment (as seen by those viewers). I still wasn’t entirely free of heaping expectations of what I expected Jormungand to do and my enjoyment of the series was limited as a result. Eventually, I realized Jormungand was set up more like a slice-of-life series (of an arms dealer) then a more traditionally plotted action series like an E7AO or Fate/Zero and the series clicked into place. I read the second half is set to air in the fall and I’m giddy over the chance to see more Loco Koko and Jonah.
Stay tuned for the top 6 anime tomorrow.
Top Picks – Spring 2012 Anime, Part 1: Character Awards
Top Picks – Spring 2012 Anime, Part 2: Content Awards
Top Picks – Spring 2012 Anime, Part 3: Creation Awards
The Top 12 Anime of the Spring 2012 Season – #12 to #7 – currently here
The Top 12 Anime of the Spring 2012 Season – #6 to #1