We’ve decided to starting highlighting each anime season with a mini-version of our end of the year awards. We hope this helps cap-off the season with a splash (and helps us remember all of great things by the time the end of the year rolls around). So without further ado, our picks for the best of summer 2015 . . .
Best of the Best
Gatchaman CROWDS Insight from Tatsunoko Productions It is easy to flippantly dismiss anime as nothing more than a collections of shows about boobs, butts, violence, and the power of friendship and/or love with nothing more substantial or profound when it comes to themes or social commentary. The problem is that is horrifically dismissive of the genre. That is not to say that every show is actually a careful critique of the modern iteration of human condition but I am merely saying that these anime do exist. Gatchaman Crowds Insight is one of those shows.
The immediate and universal topics of discussion that is built into the show is a conversation about the power of social media, the nature of celebrity and politics, and participation of the population in democracy (and the lack thereof.) These are the universal topics of discussion for most audiences watching the show. But beyond that there is also a very Japanese dimension when talking about atmosphere, the ability for groups to disperse responsibility, and general group think. These are not topics that would be utterly alien to foreign viewers but they have a great deal more weight to a Japanese audience.
But it is not all politics, social commentary, and philosophy. There is also aliens, transforming heroes, comedy, and most importantly Hajime Ichinose. She is still a delightful character who stood out in the original series and continues to draw the audiences eye to her whenever she appears. All of this prevents the show from being nothing but talking heads musing on the state of social and political interaction via the Internet. The fact that this season has a little more fighting and transforming helps quite a bit.
The colorful art style, solid commentary, and fun powers all add together to make a show that will rattle around in your brain more than you might first expect a show based on a 70’s superhero show about science ninjas fighting evil aliens.
Snow White with the Red Hair from BONES Snow White with the Red Hair flips the script on the famous fairy tale in its first episode then proceeds to be a refreshing fantasy and romance series with a charming cast.
The Kingdom of Clarines creates a space for Shirayuki to grow as she takes the test to become a court herbalist; and for Prince Zen to grow as a just ruler who cares for his people. On more than one occasion, the two work together to find solutions to problems throughout the land. Along the way, they create bonds with many people including the warm Mitsuhide and steady Kiki who are Zen’s closest confidants; tireless head pharmacist Garack and observant apprentice Ryuu who watch over Shirayuki; and mysterious Obi who goes from antagonist to protector of both Zen and Shirayuki.
Shirayuki and Prince Zen’s relationship progresses at a steady, satisfying pace never utilizing drawn out misunderstandings in order to create real drama. They don’t need to as the world itself along with Zen’s enigmatic older brother are more than enough to keep things interesting.
Snow White with the Red Hair is a show that gets better with each episode. I am over the moon that this series is getting a second season!
Nicolas from Gangsta Overall Star Trek has been a fairly progressive series. Geordi La Forge stood out in the show because he was blind. But the main things you will remember about his character was his rise to the position of chief engineer, his awkwardness around women, and his camaraderie with the rest of the crew. His disability was merely another aspect of his character as opposed to his defining feature. Now to a large degree that was thanks to LeVar Burton’s skill as an actor but the fact that the character was very well written was critical as well.
For that exact reason Nicolas from Gangsta. stands out this season. He is a deaf character in a series where you would not expect that to be a characteristic of anyone other than a secondary character or antagonist. At the same time it is hardly his defining feature. You are going to remember his skill with a sword, his complicated friendship with Worick, or history as a child solider just as easily as his disability. The fact that he is deaf come up often but it is only a piece of the portrait of his character. Being deaf sometimes makes things in his life difficult or complicated but he is always shown as capable of getting any jobs that he is assigned done with grace and skill. Even if that grace and skill is that of a down and dirty mercenary.
But I would be remiss to ignore this skill with a sword in this section. It does not matter if he is cutting down men with guns like someone from a “21 Foot Rule” knife guy’s wet dreams, fighting someone twice his size, or gliding from rooftop to rooftop while in melee combat. Nicolas stands out as an amazing warrior in a show were most everyone is a one man army. You come for the crime drama but you stay for Nicolas’ fight scenes.
But Nicolas is not just a flawless combat god. He is also distinctly memorable for his stoic manliness, his awkward demeanor, his gentle hidden charm, and his hidden vulnerability. He has a distinct existence outside of battle even if it is often what defines him.
If you ever curious how to add a character that will increase the diversity of your cast he is a great example to crib from.
Shirayuki from Snow White with the Red Hair Shirayuki is a young woman with a career passion that drives her. She dedicated herself to helping others through her herbalism. Even when she is driven from her homeland, Shirayuki uses that to propel herself into becoming a court herbalist in the neighboring country of Clarines.
Her friendship with Prince Zen in many ways causes her more problems than helping her along her way in this pursuit. Many people believe either she has gotten where she is because of favor from the prince or is attempting to gain favor by getting closer to the Prince.
Besides her continued progress as a herbalist, she battles asshole nobles, saves lives, and is generally awesome. Plus, this lady jumped out a window, guys! She’s fearless! Shirayuki is my hero!
My Love Story!! from MADHOUSE Sticking a landing with a story is always a trick task. The number of terrible and mediocre endings in general is a testament to that. Ending an anime based on an ongoing manga series is an extra dimension of difficulty. You want to end with enough of a finale that the audience gets some sort of closure but at the same time still encourage them to go out and read the manga the series is based on. An anime original ending is a risky nuclear option to say the least. It takes a careful bit of curation to dig through the story and pick a satisfying place to end without cutting vital material or stretching things out to get to end the series in a comfortable spot.
My Love Story!! has a huge advantage is this regard. Until other romantic anime the main couple is already in a relationship so they don’t have to play with the whole will they or won’t they game. It can be insanely frustrating to see a couple make some sort of legitimate progress just to have it all thrown out by an inconclusive ending that can’t pull the trigger. Takeo and Yamato get together at the start of the show so all they need is a neat ending that has a bit of emotional catharsis.
The last story in My Love Story!! feels like a fitting conclusion. It has a bit of emotional growth for both members of the couple as they grow a bit as individuals as well as sweethearts. It is clear they both have lots of growth to experience on their adventures together but it is also clear that they will continue to overcome the obstacles before them together. You could easily experience more but you never feel forced to read the next volume of the manga. You will really just want to.
Saint Seiya: Soul of Gold from Toei Animation Soul of Gold is a sequel story originating from an unexpected place: the Asgard original anime arc of the Saint Seiya TV series. So it is a filler story, based on another filler story. And yet . . . it was really good? Yes, yes it was.
This was a show that ramped up as it went along, as it should have, culminating in a major clash against a false god. The struggles throughout had great emotional resonance as the Gold Saints confront the God Warriors each with their own tales to tell. Things get even more dramatic when we learn the fate of Aiolia’s brother Aiolos. And once the Gold Saints time in Asgard is at an end, well, I have to admit that I teared up a little.
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
Akira Kaibuki and Justice from Aquarion Logos You might assume that the best couple from Aquarion Logos might be Akira and Maia or Akira and Kokone. But that is just shipping and amateur matchmaking. It is very clear that while he cares for both women in the end his heart is really truly in love with JUSTICE. Anything or anyone else would just be a mistress. As the future Savior it is his only path.
Goda Takeo and Rinko Yamato from My Love Story!! This series showed us honest and earnest first love without being too dramatic (it was still a bit dramatic!). Takeo and Yamato both care deeply for other people and they both bring that to their relationship. Perhaps what is most refreshing about these two is the pure joy they take in each other’s company.
Best Continuing Show
Go! Princess PreCure from Toei Animation I know I picked it last season but Go! Princess PreCure is still continuing from last season and it is still amazing. In fact we wrote a whole article about why you should be watching it. Sufficed to say if you are interested in magical girl shows, classic shojo, or just great animation for all ages then you should already be watching Go! Princess PreCure. This season has added some interesting new characters, villains, and twists that really shake up the show. The fact that the newly unveiled villains are pretty much Daft Punk even gets over the “New Lame Villain” hump that previous iterations of the series often suffer at this point. You still have a chance to get into the series at this point so you can experience the ending alongside everyone else.
Ace of the Diamond: Second Season from MADHOUSE and Production I.G With the retirement of the third years, many other characters have taken a new role on the team. Dramatic things have started happening off the field a bit as the fate of the team might be forever changed after this season. And of course, Sawamura’s story has gained a lot of momentum thus far taking him to some unexpected places internally. All of these things have added up to me being captivated each week while it still maintains its ability to lighten things up when necessary.
Best Cameo in Seiyu’s Life
Yui Horie I think there is something rather honest about Yui Horie’s portrayal in Seiyu’s Life. So many of the voice actors featured in the series are clearly portrayed being at their best. They go out of their way to characterize the actors are kindly mentors with some sagely advice or a gentle kick in the ass for Futaba when she needs it. Yui Horie on the other hand has a bit more of an unguarded characterization. When Futaba first meets her she is thrown for a loop by how much of a scattershot and frumpy mess she is when she is not working. It is only when she is going on stage does she throw up the glittering persona that most people associate with her.
It is hardly a savage take down of her character like Akira Kogami in Lucky Star but it feels a bit more real than some of the other portrayals in the show. It is hardly the most conclusive portrayal of the actress but it has a distinct feel of authenticity that some of the others might not.
Masako Nozawa Her appearance probably gets the biggest star-struck reaction for our intrepid newbie Ichinose. Ms. Nozawa, for those unfamiliar, is best known for her roles as Goku, Gohan, and Goten in Dragonball Z. She has had a long career that continues to this day where she still occasionally plays young boy characters.
Kindly and humble, she gives a comforting air to the proceedings. As the series goes on, in many ways it seems like Ms. Nozawa’s path is what Ichinose would like most out of her own career.
Aquarion Logos “Yamaidare darlin‘” by May’n It almost feels like cheating to pick the opening written by Yoko Kanno but it also seems like a crime to overlook it as well. The opening reunites Yoko Kanno (I’m sorry Gabriela Robin) and May’n who worked so well together in Macross Frontier. The song captures the upbeat almost manic energy of the show well and the lyrics incorporate the concepts of love and the power of words well. The visuals on the other hand show both the robot action and the goofy tone of the show which is the other half of essential DNA of Aquarion. Kimi no Shinwa ~ Aquarion Dai 2 Shou is still my favorite Aquarion opening but it is still a worthy addition to the pantheon of openings in that series.
Gatchaman CROWDS Insight “Insight” by WHITE ASH Design-wise this one has it in the bag. It jumps from fully animated to cutouts walking the streets of the real world to an integration of the two styles. The energy of the series is wonderfully reflected in the colors used and the graphic nature of the art.
Durarara!!×2 Ten “EXIT” by REVALCY At this point Durarara has a very set formula for an ending but they continue to use it because it works really well for them. The characters in a downward chain show the interconnected nature of the cast in a very succinct manner. The biggest change is that cast has grown to the point where a lot of the side characters are literally on the side near the main characters on the chain. The song itself starts off fairly slow but by the time the seed has spouted and the opening begins in earnest with the much more standard pop song you expect to see in a Durarara ending. The chain of Durarara endings continues on.