2 Jan 2012

Anime of 2011: The Best

These are the best of the best for the year 2011. I'm gonna shake things up a bit and do this in a slightly different format. More of a summary than a list.

Best Animation

Lots of expectations for GONZO's revival with Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing and, to some degree, it delivered. The large-scale aerial battles were beautifully rendered and very exciting to watch. On the other end of the spectrum, BLOOD-C did one-on-one combat really well with its sharp animation. Every fight was brutal and had a real sense of weight. Despite the strong contenders this year, Fate/Zero is easily my choice for best animation. Animation Studio ufotable stumbled into my radar this year with a certain OVA and the leaked Touhou Project animation. The 3-month-wait for the second season of Fate/Zero is too cruel...

Best Art Style

It was quite a pleasant surprise to see Hourou Musuko trying out a watercolour painting style this year. For a slice of life with many simple moments with classical music playing in the background, this style worked really well. Mawaru Penguindrum was mostly normal, but some of the design choices in certain scenes (the colourful house, Himari's bedroom, the library scene) really made it stand out. It also had a Shaft-like scene done right. Weirdly enough, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica was not totally Shaft-like, and instead explores much much more. Shaft's super-neat design is still present in the "real-world" scenes, but I absolutely loved the range of art styles used in all the witch battles.

Best Art

Chihayafuru made a good first impression with its character designs and great art all around. There's a certain consistency in it that makes it feel really well produced. Production I.G. did a rather good job with how Guilty Crown looks, but credit should go to redjuice for its superb character designs. Not so much creative, but just really nicely drawn. GONZO's epic Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing had great aircraft designs and... concept art. P.A.Works seemed to be heavily inspired by Shinkai Makoto when they did Hanasaku Iroha's background art. But perhaps what impressed me the most was the amount of details the animators squeezed into every frame of Fate/Zero. Just look at all those tiny specks of dust in that library scene! I also like how they drew Saber, making her feel so knightly even in that tuxedo.

Biggest (Good) Surprise

Who would have expected comedy anime Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu Ni! to have some of the sweetest moments this year? The story is still straight forward, but the character development really excelled. Similarly, who would expect a Shaft moe anime to have executed so tightly and so well? Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko exceeded all expectations with its first 3 episodes, and then proceeded to disappoint. But putting the last 9 episodes aside, Denpa Onna did character development and a story climax really well. Even with Sailor Moon's director on board, I couldn't understand all the hype for Mawaru Penguindrum until I saw the first episode and it totally blew me away. They kept introducing layers of complexity and symbolism, while peeling off other layers to reveal unexpected outcomes. But nothing this year comes close to Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica and its multitudes of surprises. The plot twists and the way the surprises were revealed were simply god-tier. Who would have expected a mahou shoujo anime to shake up the anime industry as much as it did?

Biggest Disappointment

Shinryaku!? Ika Musume's season 2 had quite a bit to live up to and it ended up too mediocre. CLAMP was on-board give their own twist to BLOOD-C, but it took too long to arrive at a relatively small pay-off. No one thought Kyoto Animation could do any wrong at this point, after the success of Haruhi, Lucky Star, and K-ON!, but they did so with Nichijou. Despite having the best comedy moments of the year, the majority of the show was just really really dull. And I guess most of the Otaku-sphere share my disappointment because Kadokawa held an emergency meeting to discuss the sub-1000 copy early sales numbers for the Nichijou DVDs, which means it might not even break even.

Best Series

Some really good shows this year, but 3 of them stood way above the rest. They all have their little flaws though. Mawaru Penguindrum was a little too convoluted. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica had an unrelated-able main character. AnoHana had some awkward humour. But all were awesome and had a huge impact on me. If I were held at gunpoint and told to choose only one winner, I would have to say Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica for its sheer enjoyment factor. For Darren, it was AnoHana that left the most lasting impression on him.

Best OVA

For sheer nostalgia value, I have to mention Toradora OVA here. I loved the original series and I felt that the OVA was done right. ufotable's Yuri Seijin Naoko-san surprised me with some of its animation and made me really excited for more stuff from that studio despite how bad the rest of the OVA was. xxxHolic - Rou Adayume managed to capture the very best of the xxxHolic series with its atmosphere and might have been the best OVA this year if not for an animation student. Ishida Hiroyasu's graduation project Rain Town was just so beautiful. Loved the aesthetic, loved the animation. Totally forgot to put him in yesterday's list of directors -__-"

Best Movie

After hearing quite a bit about Colorful, I have to say it didn't meet the lofty expectations all those awards set it up to be. The emotional moments did not resonate with me that much (no crying involved), but it was still good though. Nice art and well-written story. Shinkai Makoto's latest movie Hoshi o Ou Kodomo was fantastic to look at. Probably the best (technical) animation from his studio thus far. However, the story was uncharacteristically weak. There were vibes of Ghibli's Tales from Earthsea, which certainly isn't a good thing. So, when even Shinkai Makoto failed to excite me, REDLINE came along and blew everything out of the water. Crazy animation, crazy style, a good and simple story, and great voice acting. Everything came together to make this probably the best thing I've seen in 2011. Bravo Madhouse! That 7-year development time certainly paid off.

Best Anime That We Have Watched but Did Not Air This Year

When Koyuki started singing "Moon on the Water" in episode 3 of BECK, it sent shivers down my spine. This tale of a boy growing up and learning more about himself through music hooked me in with its characterisation and great music. The "BECK playlist" joins the "pillows playlist" on my mp3 player as classics that I can listen to repeatedly and never tire of. For Darren, he discovered Shaft through Madoka and proceeded to watch and fall in love with Bakemonogatari.

2011 in Summary

Lots of great stories this year, as well as comedies that I wouldn't be shy in recommending. The only problem was the lack of great endings. Last year had stuff like Tatami Galaxy which ended so brilliantly that I immediately wrote a review for it right after watching the last episode. At least we can see quite a few original new series (not adapted from other sources) doing really well with mainstream audiences, which could only mean more original series in 2012. Here's hoping to another great year of anime!

p.s. Thanks Darren for helping out with Anime of 2011. It certainly helped solidify my thoughts and certain decisions were much easier to make after our discussions.

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