2015 marked yet another dot on the canvas for the history of anime. While I struggled to wade through the sea of mediocre shit excuses for forgettable storylines and characters, there were a handful of gems to be found that made me believe that it was all worth it. 2015 in anime had its fair share of zany hijinks, memorable surprises, and Madhouse swinging its massive dick across the faces of virtually every other studio. All of that outweighed the shame and self-loathing I normally feel when I burn hours of my life away with this hobby. Now with the stage set, allow me to inject my amazing commentary on what 2015 graciously delivered to us.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso
Made by A-1 Pictures; MAL Page
I’m a firm believer that a series that revolves around music has to make a case for having the best music of the year, or else it’s a flaming failure that rivals the Hindenburg.
Instead of metaphorically crashing and burning in an inferno that took countless lives, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso delivers music that can soothe the soul of any living creature that has lived through the angst-ridden heartache of adolescent love. The music played a brilliant part in accentuating virtually every part of the anime and significantly increased the emotional impact each scene aimed to carry. Not only did the soundtrack consist of songs that perfectly complimented the gripping melodrama of the series, but it also successfully captured the lighthearted moments that equalized the experience of watching this brilliant series.
Made by Madhouse; MAL Page
Probably featuring one of the slightly more overlooked soundtracks of 2015, Death Parade’s high production quality spared no expense in composing this beautiful soundtrack. For many of the same reasons that Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso‘s soundtrack found its way on this list, Death Parade‘s music perfectly compliments the overall dark and profound themes that it attempts to convey and heavily contributes to its successful execution. Seriously, just listen to the first few songs on the soundtrack and tell me that it doesn’t give you the biggest ear boner ever.
Made by Bones; MAL Page
This soundtrack made me metaphorically jizz so much the first time it graced my ear holes that there were flash flood warnings issued in my area.
Kekkai Sensen features a fantastic soundtrack ranging from emotional ballads to fast-paced jazz influenced beauty. The heavily jazz inspired soundtrack borrows a lot from across many genres which contributes to the incredibly unique and stylish character that the series as a whole employs. The only thing more impressive than the soundtrack itself is that this is the first major work of its composer, Taisei Iwasaki. Breaking into the industry with a voracious fervor of a platoon of Kool-Aid men, Iwasaki’s fantastic soundtrack and talent has earned my utmost respect.
Honorable Mentions: Hibike Euphonium, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, Parasyte -the maxim-
Made by Studio Pierrot; MAL Page
Here’s my wacky surprise pick for this category. Osomatsu-san is purely a comedy that doesn’t have the flash or pizzazz of more action-packed series. What it does have is an art style featuring a vibrant color palette that feels like the equivalent of a thousand angels simultaneously giving you a handjob for your eyes.
This unique quality earned this series many points in the aesthetics department and deserves a special nod that goes beyond a mere honorable mention. The color design director responsible for Osomatsu-san is also credited with working on other similarly visually appealing anime such as Little Witch Academia and a significantly lesser known series by the name of Kill la Kill. Osomatsu-san‘s
One Punch Man
Made by Madhouse; MAL Page
Now here’s my not-so-surprising pick for this category. Even self-proclaimed hermits who’ve had the bare minimum of human contact in the year of 2015 have likely heard about this series once or twice before. Before I go on, I want to say that I was one of the countless of others who were ridiculously hyped for this adaptation when it was announced. Little did I know how Madhouse would surpass those expectations like a fireworks show with the intensity of a nuclear warhead.
This scene in the first episode alone made my jaw drop so hard that it’s still hard to chew certain foods to this day. While the animation in most scenes was nothing too extravagant, Madhouse made it a key priority to go hard in the motherfucking paint and splurge on the fight scenes. You’d think that the budget for this kind of production would rival the GDP of Brazil, but the amazing thing is that the chief animation director, Chikashi Kubota, has come out and said that the budget itself is relatively average, and the high-quality animation is merely a product of passionate animators. I can spend days researching and writing an entire cynical dissertation on how anime is dying from cancerous tropes and heavy commercializing, but instances like One Punch Man serve to show that there are enough people in the industry who refuse to compromise the quality and integrity of this beautifully limitless medium.
Fate Stay/Night: Unlimited Blade Works
Made by ufotable; MAL Page
And finally, here’s my ultimate no-brainer pick. If I chose any other series in place of this one, I’m sure that the powers that be would immediately revoke our domain privileges and smite me for spewing heresy. You don’t earn the moniker of “Unlimited Budget Works” from paying a couple of art students $10 to fuck around in Adobe Flash for a few hours. No, you earn it by creating some of the most fluid and visually awe-inspiring animation this industry has ever seen. For those who aren’t aware, the studio ufotable is notorious for recently releasing a string of visually stunning series in the past few years that transcends the standards us plebeian anime fans have been accustomed to. Naturally, after being wowed beyond recovery by the animation alone, one would become really curious as to exactly what kind of budget this adaptation demanded.
The verdict? I couldn’t find shit after 10 whole minutes of being Google’s bitch. Between this and Fate/Zero (2011), there’s a lot of speculation on whether it’s talent, money, or even both that are responsible for creating this gorgeous product. The fact remains that many people have pointed out ufotable’s fantastic use of CGI in many memorable scenes that may have significantly lowered the expected cost per episode. It’s some of the most masterful use of CGI I’ve ever seen in any anime that doesn’t at all look out of place or take away from the beautifully crafted scenes.
If you’re reading this and don’t believe me, then shame on you. Check out a sample for yourself, and prepare to do a load of laundry in the process.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
The coolness factor of this opening would produce enough energy that rivals a Guinness worthy orgy of Pikachu. Between the characteristically masterful use of CGI seen in past JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure openings, the dynamic scene transitions, and excellent use of cameos from voice actors of the Joestar lineage, it’s impossible to not admire this opening as a fan of this series. The synchronization between the animation sequence and song creates an inebriating explosion of testosterone that has the potency of throwing every steroid known to man in a blender and drinking it with this shit playing in the background.
One Punch Man
Again? You’re damn fucking right again. The high-octane energy in both the song and sequence create one of the most exciting openings I’ve ever seen. Being able to recognize JAM Project’s name used to be a great litmus test on determining whether someone was a filthy nerd, but One Punch Man‘s surging popularity and signature opening theme song have surely earned them more exposure within the more casual circles of anime fandom.
Anybody who has seen Death Parade (which should actually be everyone because shame on you for not watching this fantastic series already) probably had the same exact thought upon first watching it–what the fuck is up with this opening? For a series that’s beautifully unapologetic in delving into darker and edgier subject matters than most anime, the amazingly upbeat opening and vibrant animation sequence provides a contrast that is nothing short of brilliant.
BEST OVERALL OF 2015
One Punch Man
Made by Madhouse; MAL Page
There aren’t going to be many surprises in this category from me, and this isn’t one of them. Far from it. One of the greatest joys I have as an anime fan is when I see the popularity of a given series transcend outside of the usual demographic. One of the most recent examples I can point to is Attack on Titans. Even though it’s far from perfect with its number of plot holes exceeding that of the dripping wet panties caused by Genos, its simple yet highly accessible premise coupled with its engaging fast-paced string of early episodes created a phenomenon that consumed many people.
Being able to discuss this series with people who normally avoided anime like the plague as a whole felt very surreal, but fucking awesome at the same time. That kind of unparalleled level of popularity and appreciation for an anime gave me a sense of validation for what’s otherwise a normally stigmatized hobby outside of the usual fan circles.
Now we have the second coming of that same phenomenon in One Punch Man. Its absurd concept and premise combined with its brilliant execution in comedy, action, and high-production value fueled fight scenes served to be more than compelling enough for virtually anybody to watch and enjoy it. While the story of One Punch Man eventually becomes more plot-oriented and unironically steeps itself deeper in the very genre that it parodies to avoid becoming overly dull and formulaic, that didn’t detract from how much enjoyment I derived from watching it. Overall, a very faithful adaptation that does justice to its source material. In Madhouse We Trust.
Made by Madhouse; MAL Page
Death Parade was a fantastic surprise that dropped onto the laps of anime fans in 2011. At first, I dismissed it after watching the first episode for trying too hard to be edgy. Much like a 13-year old posting about his favorite Finnish death metal band on his MySpace page for his pro-establishment sheeple friends to see. However, it barely took watching another episode to immediately reconsider that shallow first impression.
A more fleshed-out sequel to the animated short Death Billiards, also produced by Madhouse, Death Parade builds upon the creative and captivating world that its predecessor established. Taking place in the gateway to the afterlife, it revolves around the an arbiter named Decim. Considered neither dead or alive, arbiters are expected to judge souls who’ve passed away by pitting them in situations that allows them to draw out the darkest qualities in them to ultimately determine who is reincarnated and who is damned to the void.
This series is very episodic and focuses on a myriad of different characters that have all faced unique obstacles and circumstances leading to their deaths. Each episode serves to challenge the principle behind this black-and-white method of judging the character of any one person’s actions by providing a variety of different contexts for them. It puts the viewer in the hot seat to judge the characters and decide for themselves whether each outcome is just. The last episode brilliantly ties this series together with an incredibly emotional and satisfying conclusion for any one who chooses to engage this fantastic anime. Death Parade is a great investment of time for anyone who is looking for thought-provoking series with more dark themes and depth than the average run-of-the-mill anime.
Made by Bones; MAL Page
Oh shit, bet you didn’t see this one coming, right? It’s boring making a list of series most people would expect. Even I’m looking at this pick and wondering what the hell I was smoking, but there are reasons behind slotting this anime into this category beyond it coming out of left field. I already presented the case for Kekkai Sensen having the best soundtrack of 2015, so what else does it have for it to deserve to be here with the heavy-hitters?
Kekkai Sensen takes place in Hellsalem’s Lot, a city formerly known as New York City. Since New York City is notoriously dull and mundane, a portal opened up in a cataclysmic event that allowed all sorts of ghouls, monsters, and paranormal fellows to come flooding in and warping our collective idea of everyday life. The story revolves around a vigilante organization named Libra, who go out of their way to contain any supernatural wrongdoings in this ratchet-ass city and maintain the balance between our world and theirs.
If this summary doesn’t imply it enough, this series is pretty chaotic and crazy, and that is only exacerbated by many issues. Oh yes, despite the fact that I’m trying to make a case for Kekkai Sensen to be among the best that 2015 had to offer, it’s still plagued by a lot of issues with pacing. The seemingly breakneck pacing of the episodes and incredibly awkward transitions causes the series as a whole to have the coherency of a blind person communicating through hieroglyphics. I often times ended episodes with only the vaguest of ideas about what I had just watched. While the production values and soundtrack were excellent, the string of events in each episode had left me with confusion and sometimes even frustration with trying to figure out what happened.
But you know what? That’s exactly what made this series great. Most of Kekkai Sensen’s biggest weaknesses eventually turn out to be its greatest strengths, and helped it become one of the most fun series I’ve watched in a long time.
The insane pace and unconventional transitions turned out to be a perfect tool to explore this imaginative world full of zany hijinks and just as crazy characters melding with the mundane nature of everyday life. The constant jumps gave just enough to whet the viewer’s appetite for more insight into this world without giving too much at the risk of making the setting feel stale. For a series that didn’t have a lot of continuity, I was eagerly waiting each passing week for the next episode to come out. Why? Because I wanted to explore more of this batshit-insane world that this series painted. Each episode served to give a small piece of the puzzle for the bigger picture.
The overall storyline for Kekkai Sensen may leave more to be desired, but all factors considered contributed to one of the most fun experiences I’ve had watching an anime. If you’re in the mood for an episodic series that you can enjoy for the ride in an absurd and imaginative setting with many parallels to modern day society, then you can’t go wrong with watching this gem.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso
Made by A-1 Pictures; MAL Page
Maybe the most surprising thing about Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is that it’s not another goddamn series done by Madhouse making an appearance on this list, but I digress. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso follows the story of a 14-year old genius pianist named Kousei who’s one Sarah McLachlan song away from creating a sympathy parade and phone call campaign devoted to getting him laid. However, due to his abusive upbringing and a tragic string of events that unfolded when he was a child, he loses the will and drive to continue to play the piano, which is literally his one redeeming skill in life. The peak of his youth becomes a stagnant and mundane string of everyday repetitions with no real direction. His two childhood friends make constant attempts to lift his spirits and push him to play the piano again, but even they begin growing tired of his shit. That is, until he met her…
Enter Kaori. While Kousei is initially presented to be a spineless bitch incapable of facing his problems, Kaori is an energetic violinist whose audaciousness and desire to play music serves to act as the catalyst for Kousei to come into his own once more. Determined to get Kousei to play the piano once more, the story is a romantic take on the eternal question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets and unmovable object. Only with teenagers and piano.
The story at first may seem far from being the most original, but the beauty lies within the execution. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso does a brilliant job at establishing its trademark pensive and melodramatic tone within numerous key scenes. While the music is hugely responsible for this, that shouldn’t take credit away from the entire package. The animation and art style of Shigatsu is what initially caught my eye at first and pulled me into watching it. It’s very hard to shy away from the vibrant colors that this anime throws at you with every scene. It’s like being approached by someone who’s dressed in a three piece suit. Sure, they can be a total asshole, but why not give them a chance, anyway?
Thankfully, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso didn’t turn out to be another misleading douche in a suit. The pacing of the series was phenomenal. Without even realizing it, I was immediately hooked into looking forward to every episode. Each episode gave just enough insight into the characters and the obstacles they faced without giving too much or too little at a time. The viewer and Kosei both reach the real answer behind why he lost the will to play at an identical pace, which only fosters the connection and attachment between the audience and the main character. I’m a sucker for coming of age stories in any form of media, and the one portrayed in Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso was fantastically done and executed.
My biggest complaint about this series is that it can steep itself too deeply in melodrama to the point where some parts come off to be silly. It’s a little weird and intense when 14-year old kids consistently have drawn out poetic internal monologues about incredibly profound and complex emotions such as love. However, as someone who could identify with Kousei’s seemingly terminal condition of being a little bitch when it comes to topics such as perpetual self-doubt and adolescent romance while growing up, I could relate to it to an extent, but it didn’t take away from how ridiculous some of these monologues came off as.
Overall, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso was a great and emotional coming of age series that wonderfully used music as a medium to tell its story. While it came off as too much at times in the melodrama department, it still emerged as one of the strongest series 2015 had to offer, and a series I’d recommend to anybody.
Parasyte -the maxim-
Made by Madhouse; MAL Page
Here it is. The best of the best. I was immediately blown away by th– wait, what the fuck? Another series done by goddamn Madhouse?
Pictured above is every other anime studio. This officially makes three out of five of the best series I’ve seen within this past year coming from the same studio. Has this ever happened before? Madhouse is becoming the Steph Curry of the anime industry in that people are only now realizing how dominant they can be.
Parasyte -the maxim- was originally a manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki that debuted in the late 80s. It takes place in the modern day world, but only with a slight twist. Unbeknownst to virtually everyone, there exist these creatures known as parasites who assume control of humans by entering their body through certain orifices and working their voodoo parasite magic upon their brains. Lovely. Once the process is complete, the human in question is effectively dead as the parasite uses their body as a host. They use their newfound host bodies to blend into human society while…feasting on other humans as prey. Oh, and they also have crazy shapeshifting powers along with enhanced strength, speed, and reflexes. Enough to make even the most hardened people to poop their pants a little. It’s okay to admit it, it happens.
The main character, Shinichi Izumi, is yet another timid and unconfident Japanese high school teenage anime protagonist who’s initially portrayed as the poster child for Japan’s declining birthrate. Yep, another one. One night, a parasite attempts to infiltrates Shinichi’s brain, but fails and ends up being confined to his right hand. The parasite develops its own intellect and personality separate from Shinichi’s, and is henceforth known as Migi. Other parasites who’ve properly invaded their hosts are hostile towards the duo when they realize that Shinichi still has his human psyche intact, so the two form a bond in order to basically fight to survive.
The most interesting aspect of this series is the nature of the parasite’s motifs. They’re not evil. They’re merely acting on a biological directive to kill and eat humans in order to survive. Accepting and embracing that truth helps one to truly appreciate this series and the questions that it forces its audience to answer within themselves. Despite the parasites being shown committing absolutely disgusting and brutal acts violence upon people, the fundamental truth is that very little separates that from what literally every other creature on this planet is trying their damn hardest to do, and that is to do whatever it takes to survive. Nothing more, nothing less.
This in turn creates one of the most compelling character dynamics I’ve seen in any anime between Shinichi and Migi. Migi represents that exact remorseless and pragmatic approach to survival and is willing to do anything in the cause of that. However, Shinichi is still bounded by the conventional human moral standards that we all (or at least most of us) can relate to. Shinichi serves as the baseline frame of reference that the viewer uses to gauge his or her principles against the show’s moral alignment. For example, there are a handful of situations where Shinichi restrains Migi from killing off other humans who fears them being potential witnesses of their unique situation. The two are forced to come to terms with the inability to truly understand each other’s point of view for most of the show, but develop a compelling bond that only makes this show even more interesting and engaging in its execution.
That isn’t the only conflict that is highlighted within the story. Far from it. I can’t continue gushing over the refreshing amount of depth this series offers without risking spoiling anything from this beautifully done adaptation. That kind of depth isn’t even limited to only Shinichi and Migi, but also can be found within the parasites themselves. I can go on and on about why this show stood out from the crop, but perhaps I can save that for another post altogether.
In conclusion, Parasyte -the maxim- is absolutely the best anime of 2015, and quickly became one of my all-time favorites that I encourage anyone to watch. You won’t regret it.