Narutaki & Hisui VS. The Best of 2015

Welcome to (the first half of) our annual awards post. This post will be in our picks and tomorrow we will post all the guest selections to see where they agree and disagree with us. As always, this posts is mostly to remind us and the readers what was great about this year in anime. If you just focus on the shows like Bikini Warriors, Overlord, and Vampire Holmes you will tend to remember the year as a very depressing affair. But the goal of Reverse Thieves has always been to separate the wheat from the chaff and show you the best parts of the medium. Consider this a culmination of 2015.

Anime of the Year
(Should Have Picked Wakako-zake Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Shirobako by P.A. Works Every decade since Otaku no Video has an anime series about making anime. The 90s kicked off the idea with the Gainax classic. The 2000s version was Animation Runner Kuromi. This decade created Shirobako. Each show has a similar shared DNA of the common animator experience while also being a distinct time capsule of its era. In that respect watching all of them allow you to chart what has remained the same about anime as well as what has changed. The animation technology, tropes, focuses, and shows may alway be in flux but animation studios will always have to deal with deadlines, quirky animators, and artistic vs commercial concerns. 

But more than its predecessors Shirobako has the time to delve into lives of individual staff members and explore the inter workings of the jobs and relationships in detail.  It is often able to teach the audience about the intricacies of anime production without feeling like a lecture. It is not the definitive guide to how to make anime but it works very well as a 101 class that introduces you to all the parts of the industry thereby giving you a road map if you wish to delve deeper.

But most of all it is a show about adults. All the characters have adult problems which can be a refreshing change from the more high school obsessed parts of the medium. Choices about a proper work life balance, middle-aged malaise, and working relationships are all topics that can only be examined with an older cast.

Shirobako is surely a show that will be examined, recommended, and built upon in the years to come.

Also any series that regularly features donuts get a big boost on the rankings.

Runner-up: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works S2 by ufotable We all knew this was going to be there. Ufotable really hit it out of the park with their version of Fate/Stay Night. It is not a flawless adaptation of the visual novel. You can argue that they dragged out the second third of the season or that a bit too much or that some subtly was lost in parts but I feel those are more points you bring up of why you might like the original story over the anime as opposed to fatal flaws. In any other regard the anime was a pitch perfect transfer of the game to a new medium that took advantage of the stage that it was on whenever it could. The new scenes were amazing and filled in little holes as well as added color to the already vibrant world of the visual novel. 

At this point I would guess that any later version of this story could only hope to equal ufotable’s masterful version. A change in pacing would more likely lead to chunks of vital story disappearing or being badly truncated. Other than that the animation, direction, soundtrack, and overall feel were unbelievable. The addition of the greatly appreciated Sunny Day OVA sealed the deal. This is both an excellent companion piece to the visual novel as well as good follow-up to the Fate/Zero anime. This is a much watch for any fan of Type-Moon, urban fantasy, and/or action in general.

narutaki_icon_4040 Death Parade by MADHOUSE Those welcomed into the mysterious Quindecim bar are confronted with their pasts, and their deaths, through various games of skill and chance. In Anubis like fashion, the bartenders weigh the dead’s actions and judge whether they will be reincarnated or sent into the void.

Death Parade ably pulls off an outlandish premise, forcing people into gambling with their lives in games like darts and twister, while simultaneously looking very deeply into the human psyche. The results are beguiling at times and disquieting at others, sometimes both within the span of a 22-minute episode.

Coming from the short Death Billiards, I feared that the mystique of the original would be lost in a longer format, but such was not the case. Instead, we are treated to the right amount of world-building touches that made me more connected with our judges.

Death Parade started the year off in a strong and unique way which stuck with me.

Runner-up: Kuroko’s Basketball S3 by Production I.G Kuroko’s Basketball has a simple goal: create ultimate teamwork  to beat teams reliant on star players. Kuroko is fighting against what he witnessed in middle school. In his role as support on the court, he observed the crumbling of his former team before each of them moved on to rival high schools.

In Kuroko’s Basketball’s third, and final, season Kuroko finally confronts his former captain, Akashi, as the Seirin team battles their way to national finals. These final games veer far into the realm of shonen fighting battles, but whether it is magical basketball powers or good old-fashioned human skill, the series never strays from its intended focus of team over the individual.

After the struggles, the hard work, the kaleidoscope of emotions, Kuroko’s Basketball delivers one hell of a satisfying conclusion. 

Anime Woman of the Year
(Good Job Fantasy Anime of 2105 Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Emma Guzman from GARO: The Animation At many points GARO: The Animation is a show about manly beautiful men fighting in manly beautiful ways. Therefore any women in the main cast have to be smart and strong to not just fall into the role of care-giving damsel. Emma elevates herself to fight on the same level as the boys while distinctly having her own style. Also her being a maturely sexy adult character is immensely praiseworthy.

EmmaEmma Sheen, and Emma Guzman all prove that if you have to bet on a woman who is cool in anime picking the one named Emma is not a bad choice. 

narutaki_icon_4040 Shirayuki from Snow White with the Red Hair Everyone should make their own way in the world, but not everyone is so fortunate. Shirayuki is a self-possessed young woman who has made a life for herself as a herbalist. Even when a total jerkface drives her from her very homeland, uprooting Shirayuki’s entire life, she uses that misfortune to step-up her herbalism practice and do more good than she ever had before.

Shirayuki finds herself in the neighboring country winning the hearts and minds of those she encounters, from the young Prince Zen to her court herbalist mentor Garack. She works tirelessly for those in need, even if she is kidnapped (!) for her exotic red hair or locked up by some idiot noble, but she also doesn’t let anyone take advantage of her. Over the course of the series she puts more than her fair share of people in line.

Shirayuki is who I want to be when I grow up (nevermind that I am over 30 now). 

Anime Man of the Year
(No Kuroko’s Basketball Characters this Year.
I Am Just as Surprised as You Are. Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Nicolas from Gangsta In the deadly city of Ergastulum almost any weakness (mental or physical) is a liability that will be the key to your downfall. Therefore anyone with a disability has to be smarter, stronger, and probably a little bit crazier than your average inhabitant to even have half a chance of surviving. The fact that Nicolas is deaf and has been able to get by says volumes about the monstrous ability he has to have. The city would have devoured anything less long ago.

Nicolas is a gathering point of paradoxical features. When viewed from one angle he is a stoic invincible warrior who is untouchable both physically and mentally. At the same time with a simple shift in perspective you see he is riddled with weaknesses that show how fragile he is. Neither perspective is wrong. It is the blend of adamantium and glass that define his character.

It would be very easy to make Nicolas a generic overpowered sword wielding bad ass. Instead Gangsta presents the audience with a for complex and compelling character just as much for his flaws and his strengths.

narutaki_icon_4040 Takeo Goda from My LOVE Story!! Takeo is inspiring. An athletic, but also gentle, giant of a guy who believes fully in being sincere, helping your friends, and simply being a stand-up dude. He never sees himself as greater than others, in fact he is generous with his admiration for those around him. Takeo is a person who puts his whole heart into something whether that something is his relationship with his best friend, perusing his first romance, or holding up a fallen construction beam (!).

I find it rather amazing that Takeo is presented as being supremely manly but only in the best possible ways; masculine without the macho posturing stereotypes. He isn’t manly in opposition to the women or other men in the series, he is simply himself. (I mean, no one is going to argue that Sunakawa isn’t a freaking badass bestie, too, right?)

Best Mascot Character
(Not Destined to be Hated Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Magical Sapphire from Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei Herz! Poor Magical Sapphire. Much like her Tsukihime counterpart Hisui it seems that Sapphire has to deal with a very hard to handle sister. But she is able to keep her less ethical mascot sibling from utterly ruining Illya’s life. Magical Sapphire also just has a good dry wit that lets play off the otherwise over the top and wacky characters in the cast.

I also picked Magical Sapphire to honor her voice actress  Miyu Matsuki who tragically passed away this year. She will be missed.

narutaki_icon_4040 Pafu from Go! Princess PreCure When there is a magical dog maid with an unlimited supply of new hair (fur? ear?) styles, who else can really compete? Also her irises are shaped like hearts.

Best Ensemble Cast
(Buy All the Character Merchandise Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Snow White with the Red Hair by Bones Fantasy series tend to all into two categories. Actions shows with some relationship plot in the background and dramas with the fight scenes in the background. Since Snow White with the Red Hair is much more of the second than the first it has to have strong characters and relationships if it wants a leg to stand on. Thankfully Snow White with the Red Hair has a strong base upon to build the rest of its story. 

Shirayuki and Zen‘s relationship moves along at a nice pace. They don’t fall in love so quickly that it seems forced but they also don’t drag things out so their romance just gets aggravating. At the same time their genuine friendship makes their courtship feel authentic. The rest of the main cast does well to not only support Shirayuki and Zen romance they also grow them as individuals. Mitsuhide and Kiki are Zen’s retainers but they not only build up the story around Shirayuki but also themselves and their master. Obi eventually joins the group to mix things up a bit with his roguish nature. He easily could have been a simple romantic rival character but his understated feelings for Shirayuki give him a much more nuanced place in the group. 

This is a show that has some very good art, action, politics, and comedy but it will be the characters and their interactions that bring people back to the show week after week.

narutaki_icon_4040 GARO: The Animation by MAPPA When I really thought back on the year, I realized that GARO was a series which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. These characters’ weaving stories form such a compelling tale for their world that I wouldn’t imagine any one of them without the others.

Anime I Unexpectedly Liked
(The Sriracha & Peanut Butter Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Maria the Virgin Witch by Production I.G If you look at Maria’s outfit it is very easy to think, “Oh, it is THAT sort of fantasy series.” The title only reinforces that idea. But a little look into the pedigree of the series will show that it is based on a manga by Masayuki Ishikawa, the author of Moyashimon. That shows that despite her skimpy leather outfit there is more to this young witch. 

In the end Maria the Virgin Witch is an interesting look at Europe during the Hundred Years War. It examines the role of religion, the price of pacifism, the constructed limitations around gender, the power of greed, and the price of ambition in the context of a fantastical historical Europe. It has a far greater scope and penetration of themes than you expect in general let alone for a show that initially looks like it is going to be nothing but cheesecake and boob jokes before you watch any of it. 

It is worth nothing that the anime even adds its own original characters and plot lines. Often this could be a killing blow for an anime adaptation but amazingly enough they only add the strengths of the show. That fact alone is a minor miracle and only add the unexpected nature of the show.

narutaki_icon_4040 Seiyu’s Life by Gonzo Despite my enjoyment of SHIROBAKO, I wasn’t sure Seiyu’s Life could pull off something in a similar vein so hot on its heels. Luckily, Seiyu’s Life was originally written by Kenjiro Hata. It has an insider’s look at the voice acting industry with a veritable smorgasbord of guest stars.

(Also, whoa, Gonzo? Hello, haven’t seen you in a while.)

Favorite Opening
(Openings So Good They Even Get
Taken Off Dailymotion Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Yamada-kun and the Seven WitchesKuchiduke Diamond” by WEAVER As disappointed as I was in the overall production of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches the opening bares no such criticism. If anything the opening shows the show that should have been. The openings catchy tune and water colored fairy tale style remind the audience why they should read the wonderful manga series. 

narutaki_icon_4040 Ace of the Diamond S2 OP 4: “Sora ga Aozora de aru Tame ni” by GLAY When this song comes on, I feel my heart swell. There is an especially great moment, when the song dips then comes back extra strong as Miyuki faces the stadium triumphantly.

Favorite Ending
(I Don’t Even Care When There is Not an
Important Plot Stinger After the Credits Award)

hisui_icon_4040 SHIROBAKO “Platinum Jet” by Donut◎Quintet It only makes sense the show about animation would have an ending that showed the step by step creation of the ending itself. That marriage of theme and execution made the ending really stand out among the rest this year.  

narutaki_icon_4040 Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-blooded OrphansOrphans no Namida” by MISIA Everytime I watch an episode, I sing this song for at least three days thereafter. I really enjoy how they weave the song into the ending moments of the episodes before hitting the actual ending animation. That really shows how well it complements the series. 

Favorite PreCure from Go! Princess PreCure
(True Grand Princess Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Cure Twinkle Student, model, and magical girl are just some of the hats that Amanogawa Kirara wears. She is a bright girl who takes the bull by the horns in every aspect of her life. At first it seems like she might be a bit snotty or self involved when she turns down her role as a PreCure. But as Haruka and Minami get to know her they see that she is just dedicated to achieving her dreams and she does not let anything casually get in her way. They soon learn what an energetic, loyal, powerful, and caring friends she is. 

She is another strong role model in a series well-known for producing great characters for its main audience of little girls to admire.

Plus she is a major donut aficionado. That alone gives her a 333% boost on all metrics.

narutaki_icon_4040 Cure Mermaid Kaido Minami is a calm, mature, and statuesque woman who others look up to. At the beginning of the series, she is the “princess” ideal made real as she leads younger students with a gentle hand and kind word while also being a leader and even planning to join her family in the world of international business. However, as the series goes on we see how she may have dreams that lie within the ocean (also, girl has an awesome dolphin friend) as her cure identity implies.

Favorite Sequel or Ongoing Anime
(100 More Episodes Please Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Go! Princess PreCure by Toei Animation With series like PreCure that has been running nonstop for over a decade you will get various high and lows. So far the lows of the series have been more forgettable then horrible but the highs have been very strong. But the Queen of the franchise so far has been Heartcatch PreCure! It was a near flawless iteration of the formula that not only did everything right but even went beyond the normal boundaries of the franchise. While there have been several great seasons since then nothing has come close to matching its charm, wit, careful construction, or emotional depth. It seemed like we had achieved peak PreCure.

Heartcatch has finally met a contender for the little of Queen of the PreCure. With subtle references to the complete body of the shojo genre, admirable female characters, a fun and compelling story, amazing animation, strong pacing, and excellent theming it really takes it place near the top of the PreCure pantheon. I don’t think it outright trumps Heartcatch. But it is the first series where you can easily list it as the best PreCure title and not have to heavily lean on personal preference as to why you enjoyed it more than Heartcatch.

That is no small amount of faint praise.

narutaki_icon_4040 Ace of the Diamond S2 by Production I.G and MADHOUSE I laugh, I cry, I scream, I cheer; sports series can pull my every emotion to its limit, and Ace of the Diamond has been able to keep me glued to the screen for quite a long time. With over a 100 episodes now and still going, it would be an understatement to say I am invested in the outcome.

Favorite Sequel or Ongoing Manga
(Worth Reading After Volume 5 Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Hayate the Combat Butler by Kenjiro Hata If I had my way I would probably put Hayate here until the series finally ends. Instead I throw in other series to spice things up. I mostly make an exception this year because Hata has really mixed things up this year. Just when everyone was saying that there is not enough plot progression in Hayate a huge step forward was taken this year. That alone has me so excited to see what happens next year. 

narutaki_icon_4040 One Punch Man by ONE and Yusuke Murata It is hard not to like One Punch Man both as a series and as a character. The story can be so ridiculous that I can’t stop laughing. And then it can turn around and actually ask poignant questions about being a hero.

Best U.S. Anime Release
(The Title I Bought Without Waiting
for a RightStuf Sale Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set 2 from Aniplex USA Aniplex titles may be overpriced but you have to admit they are usually gorgeous. The release of Unlimited Blade Works is no exception. The box is lovely, the extras are robust, and the transfer is great. But the piece-de-resistance is the Sunny Day OVA. It is a wonderful nod to the fans of the Good Ending of the game who could have very easily been ignored. I’m very glad they subtitled it unlike the Please! Einzbern Consultation Room specials. 

narutaki_icon_4040 Space Brothers from Sentai Filmworks Space Brothers is an incredible series and it is also incredibly long so I am simply grateful I have the opportunity to own it at all.

Best U.S. Manga Release
(Worth Buying After Volume 5 Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Princess Jellyfish from Crunchyroll Manga and Kodansha Comics USA  The anime of Princess Jellyfish was very well done but it clearly ended on a “Go Read the Manga” ending. So when there was no official way to read the manga fans felt a little ticked off. Kate even wrote a little article about that. The main problem was it was a josei and after some mediocre to poor sales the genre has mostly become one that publishers shy away from. It seemed like Princess Jellyfish was going to be like Saint Young Men. One of those titles that is forever loved by critics but never gets an official translated release.

Then came the 2015 Anime Expo License Rush of Miracles. Now everyone can see the ending of the series. If the series does well it might take a little of the stigma off of josei. Even if it does not it will give the fans of the anime a decent sense of closure. That alone invaluable.

narutaki_icon_4040 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency from VIZ It is phenomenal that VIZ is releasing JoJo’s in its entirety, but they went a step further when they decided to bring us the beautiful hardcover editions that Japan put out. My love for Part 2 and the sheer excitement I felt when holding the first volume lands it here.

Favorite Past Anime I Finally Watched
(You Can Watch Shows that are
Not Being Simulcast? Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Genesis of Aquarion by Satelight I had meant to watch the original Genesis of Aquarion for a while. My sister really liked it and Andrew from the Veef Show sold it in an honest manner that played up the virtues and flaws of the show. But it stayed in my backlog for quite awhile. Then I watched Aquarion Evol as a part of Anime Secret Santa. It made me even more curious to go back to watch the original. But it was watching Aquarion Logos that finally got me to go back to the start of it all. I wanted to finish Genesis of Aquarion before the end of the third series.

Overall it has made me realize that each iteration of the show is a very different animal. Genesis of Aquarion takes itself seriously in a way that later iterations utterly dispense with. If Aquarion Evol is Macross 7 then Genesis of Aquarion is just Macross. Tantric powered robots is a very silly idea at its core but Genesis of Aquarion refuses to laugh at itself about that. Your mileage may vary on if that is a good idea or not. I think it was an interesting way to start and is worth watching just for the ways it plays with the genre.

narutaki_icon_4040 King of Braves GaoGaiGar by Sunrise Seldom have I heard so much consistent praise for a series and then simultaneously managed to avoid watching it for so long. At the same time, I’m glad I was able to experience some of the other Brave series (not necessarily in their entirety) before watching the big kahuna.

Gao Gai Gar brings a level of escalation to its plot that other series merely play at (or imitate thanks to GGG). As far as robot shows go, it is one for the ages.

Favorite Past Manga I Finally Read
(Thank Goodness for the Library Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne by Arina Tanemura It was interesting watching fans react to Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Many people who only had a cursory knowledge of magical girl shows assumed that many of the things it did were totally original and unique. While the show borrowed from previous shows in interesting and provocative ways many of the ideas in the show have been done before just in titles American fans were not super familiar with. In fact the idea what the seemingly cute and simple mascot character actually had a sinister agenda did not start with Madoka. Its origin is actually Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne. 

I have actually mentioned that fact several times before but I wanted actually read the story as opposed to just mentioning it as a historical curiosity.  It is distinctly a property of its time and a bit more rapey than I expected but it was a good read for anyone who wants to explore the broader scope of the magical girl pantheon.

narutaki_icon_4040 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki Everyone’s a JoJo’s fan now, right? I know, I now count myself among its many admirers.

Hottest Anime Woman
(Surely a Popular Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Farangis from The Heroic Legend of Arslan I usually try to pick someone for this category who is both ultra sexy and ultra competent. Someone who could go into Anime Woman of the Year without hesitation. So I feel a little guilty in that respect because my picking Farangis robbed Kate of a female archer from two spots. 

Farangis is a beautiful priestess whose stunning appearance is only surpassed by her skill with mounted archery, keen wit, and cool demeanor. She is an eye-catching character for many reasons when she first appears and continues to captive the camera whenever she appears. She is has quiet and dignified charm that adds to her abundance of sexy appeal.

narutaki_icon_4040 The Black-haired Woman from Death Parade A classic beauty with an elegant air and an intelligent gaze. She has a quiet charm that makes you delight when she cracks a smile or laughs. Unraveling just who she is and why she appears at Quindecima only adds to her mystique.

Hottest Anime Man
(An Equally Popular Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Daryun from The Heroic Legend of Arslan I would feel a little guilty for robbing Kate of another pick but she NEVER has a problem picking Hottest Anime Man any season so I could get five picks and she would not even break a sweat.

Daryun is the very definition of a man’s man. Men want to be him and women wish to ship him with the other men in the cast they fancy. A gorgeous face, an impressive physique, and a strong but kind demeanor all make him insanely desirable. His loyalty to Arslan and friendship with Narsus are just as important in building his overall charm. If he were only good looks he would not be able to hold this top spot. The fact that he is a wrathful god of the battlefield is only a delightful bonus.

narutaki_icon_4040 Miyuki Kazuya from Ace of the Diamond The true ace of the team! Miyuki is enigmatic from the start with a mischievous streak, a killer grin, and a keen eye. His role as catcher allows him to often be the playmaker on the field, second only to the coach, and that is exactly as he’d have it. Despite this, he has trouble inspiring the other players and this can lead to misunderstandings, however, his growth in this area has been incredibly rewarding over the course of the recent season. Miyuki can be intense and serious, but more often than not there is a buoyancy to his approach. His clear love for the game comes through.

Okay, this has now turned into Man of the Year Part II, so, uh, that irresistible smile! His adorable sideways hat (which hasn’t been seen in a while.)! His cheeky comments! That lingering stance when he hits a homerun! Or when he suddenly throws an out to second base! Seriously, his hotness is directly tied into his baseball ability in many ways.

Favorite Canon Pairing
(The Couple I Talk About Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Takeo Goda and Rinko Yamato from My Love Story!! While the fact that Takeo and Rinko look like such a mismatched couple is what captivated so many people about My Love Story! if their relationship was poorly developed then this show would have simply passed as an interesting footnote. The fact that their courtship is a wonderful mix of energetic cuteness, delicate poignancy, and simple warmness made the series the show most people were talking about when it came out.

At first glance Takeo and Rinko look like a faultless couple that borders on saccharine. They seem a perfect match in their own awkward way. A couple that is a perfect combination of opposites that complement each other. As the series goes on it becomes very clear that each of them has major hang ups that could easily sink their relationship. Jealousy, insecurity, and self-absorption are all obstacles from within that threaten to hurt their burgeoning romance. But they overcome them all in an upbeat and comedic fashion and most importantly they overcome them together.

narutaki_icon_4040 Shirayuki and Zen from Snow White with the Red Hair Shirayuki and Prince Zen start off the series in a flipped version of a fairytale with each playing an active role. This sets the tone for their continued interactions when both bring strength, determination, and respect to the relationship. Forget drawn out misunderstandings to create drama, there is a kingdom full of people, projects, places, and possibilities to keep things interesting. They are gorwing into who they want to be and they are taking that journey together.

Favorite Non-Canon Pairing
(The Couple I Don’t Talk About Award)

hisui_icon_4040 Rin Tohsaka and Saber from Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works  Look. I can be very complex and nuanced but at times I am nothing more than a creature of base desires. I could give you a high-minded speech about how I feel Saber and Rin work well together and complement each other. There are some legitimate points surrounding the fact that a genuine friendship and respect are the keys to any lasting healthy relationship. I could even mention that there is the Sunny Day OVA that pushes all of this more towards canon.

But I just think they are both very pretty and therefore if you put them together they are even better.

narutaki_icon_4040 Farangis and Daryun from The Heroic Legend of Arslan Daryun is way too serious for a relationship in these war-torn times, but I don’t care. These two badasses teamed up to take down a slew of enemies. They are hot individually and therefore totally hot together.

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