Funomena Picks: Best of Anime 2015 | Part I

(What’s with people rushing their top lists…even the Oscars are STILL contemplating on last year, and how to stump poor ol’ DiCaprio…)

Some mindless yapping first.

About a few weeks ago, I marked my first year anniversary as a regular anime follower. What has always amazed me by myself (yeah…self-centred asshole…), is how quickly I can adapt and project myself into new fandom communities: it took me one photograph to fall in love with photography, it took me a few days and a few dozen albums to fall in love with film music. It took me only a year to complete basically enough anime shows and films to sustain long conversations with people, who have been following anime for years. I completed no less than 100 titles, OVAs and films in 2015, around 37 days’ worth of content (or 53280 minutes), and have familiarized myself with enough anime-isms to be able to analyse in-depth and engage in fanboy arguments during my university’s anime society get-togethers. Overall, anime has greatly improved my enjoyment of life: I have one more passion to engage with other people of common interests, and good animation satisfies my love for great art. I am thankful for that.

Because of the fact, that 2015 was a year of discovery for me, and because of my preference and respect for English dubs (amongst other reasons), I didn’t complete many shows from that year. But I suppose I watched enough to celebrate my favourite titles, with a publication like this. And to emphasis my love for this medium, the different sections that the shows can battle for supremacy in, allows celebration for a wide range of artistic achievements, as you will see, when more publications are released.

Let’s dive in, shall we? These are my picks for the Best of Anime 2015.

Best of Anime TV: Visuals

*Only shows, that I’ve completed or checked out partially (e.g. put on hold for a dub or Blu-ray release) will be qualified for consideration in this section.

Background Art & Atmosphere, Object & Setting Design (Aesthetics)

5. Is the order a rabbit?? | Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?? (Kinema Citrus / White Fox)

When animating extravagant action scenes and trying to emulate dynamic cinematography weren’t on the agenda, artists have all the time they need to perfect everything else. Is the order a rabbit??‘s general stylings and its background setting design are not only intricate and detailed, but also deliberate in their world-building nature: the town, in which the girls spend the majority of their time in, simply oozes with personality and a sense of homeliness and village-like communal peacefulness. Tiny little touches, such as the vintage teapot and cup sets, the shop signs and the cobblestone roads were paramount in the show’s overall presentation.

4. Snow White With the Red Hair | Akagami no Shirayuki-hime (Bones)

Considering the nature of this title: the adaptation of a Shojo manga, based on a Disney-esque setting, what Studio Bones has achieved is pretty impressive, and greatly compliments the elegant progression of the story and the character-driven drama and romance between Zen and Shirayuki.

Assuming that the show takes place in around mid-18th or 19th century, in an alternate version of Earth, what I found most attractive were the designs of characters’ clothing, in particular. Alongside the well done landscapes and the flourishes of flowers and plants, forests and lakes, the character and costume designs were very aesthetically pleasing, not overstating their welcome with over-extravagance, but still retain a sense of style that befits royalty.

Also, Shirayuki is such a sweetheart.

3. Death Parade (MADHOUSE)

For a rather claustrophobic environment, almost nothing beats Death Parade when it comes to density of atmosphere. The high-class bar setting of the entire show, with wonderful post-processing that emulates high contrast lighting and temperature, allows the show to shine as an incredibly expressive location for character interactions.

Death Parade is also one of the only shows this year, that successfully utilised more technical and artistically deliberate lighting: both hard and ambient: the subtle swells of warm beams radiating from various light sources; such as candles and lightbulbs (I assume they were), when contrasted with the cold blue and purple of the bar, works to showcase a sense of depth in the 3D space.

Overall, this show’s sense of atmosphere and environmental depth is one of the most accomplished of the year.

(Note the words in italics…clues to the next 2 titles.)

2. Blood Blockade Battlefront | Kekkai Sensen (Bones)

I can’t be the only one who found this fascinating…such a familiar setting, yet so surreal…

If anything, one can compare the dense detail of BBB’s world building to the likes of Cowboy Bebop: oversaturate each frame with minute and dirtied detail, enough to provide its settings with a sense of character and lived-in familiarity, but holding back at the right moments to avoid overwhelming the audience.

The setting of a supernatural, alternate New York, has allowed the creators of Blood Blockade Battlefront to utilise a range of inspirations from the real life Big Apple, and the background designs literally soaked in the haze and busy heat of the world hub, but also was infused with borderline absurd and abstract imagery and alien creature designs.

Imagine the familiar smell of coffee and burgers from 24/7 diners, the sight of a busy counter with half a dozen waitresses and a cook, serving goblins, octopus and jellyfish monsters as their patrons. Absurd, yet grounded.

1. Hibike! Euphonium (Kyoto Animation)

To be perfectly honest…I don’t think Hibike! left this throne throughout 2015…things came close (…nah, not really), but this bad boy held fast, presenting us with something that’s as expressive, extravagant, excessively poetic in its visual presentation (not a bad thing. At. All.) and beautifully passionate, as the level of quality that the KyoAni name has long been associated with.

Even with my somewhat decent word bank of technical jargons regarding cinematography and image composition, it would take me hours and weeks of tedious work to properly express how impressed I was with this show’s visual quality. Again, shout out to my…eventual publication of an in-depth analysis on this show.

Let’s see…subdued but effective camera filters over the footage, utilising a wide range of lense flare, flood and hard lighting techniques, selective focus, depth of field and deliberate Bokeh, all combined with photograph-assisted and enhanced background art, detailed replications of a wide range of instruments and…scenery porn, Hibike! looks effortless in its nostalgic beauty: each frame retains a sense of cinematic depth and lively expressiveness.

Others may have done well with purgatory bars, rabbit towns, Disney castles and an alien-infested New York, Hibike! takes this round with an impassioned tale, that’s based in the city of Kyoto (how telling…).

(I wonder what filters they used on Instagram for those golden and sapphire hues…)

Honourable Mentions

Rokka no Yuusha (Passione)

Whoever gave them the idea to style the world of Rokka no Yuusha with influences from Aztec architecture and culture deserves a medal: fitted the show to a tee.

Non Non Biyori Repeat (Silver Link)

Whilst it lacked the personality enriched in Gochuumon, Non Non Biyori’s landscape benefited from repeated revisions throughout different times of the day and different seasons. After spending some 24 episodes with the quiet village, the locations; despite their typicalness (that’s the POINT); has successfully established themselves as a place that feels lived-in and familiar: the bus stations, each girl’s homes, the school, the rice paddies and the surrounding greenery feels organic and very much believable as a laid-back village setting.

Animation: Object, Background & Character Interactivity / Composition & Framing Polish

5. Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma (J.C. Staff)

I can hear a chorus of growling stomachs from all the way here.

Food never looked so EROTIC in animation…and the only close thing I have for a comparison is Pixar’s Ratatouille, although I don’t think orgasms were what they were going for…

Ahem*, as a Shonen-infested cooking competition show, Food Wars’ most important aspect of animation to get right, are the interactions between the cooks and the food, the ingredients’ different stages of preparation, and the desirable pull of visual presentations. Needless to say, they succeeded admiringly.

As many chefs may tell you: looking good in a static photo is only half the battle: the jelly’s jiggle as the spoon makes a landing, the crisp shine of caramel and chocolate that slowly drips from a shortcake’s roof is what truly makes mouths drool. (Wow…I sounded professional for a second there…)

4. Snow White With the Red Hair (Bones)

This is quite perhaps one of the most understated title Bones have adapted thus far: As a studio that’s generally associated with their tact for tastefully gritty action direction, Snow White With the Red Hair demonstrated another facet of animation: characters’ human expressiveness. With the obvious importance of allowing the characters’ faces to be constantly animated and varied in emotions aside, the bodily gestures, the subtle voice acting flourishes and the satisfying climaxes all combine to create one of the most humanly expressive title of the year. Alongside the generally solid and well-maintained production quality of the show overall, it’s the characters’ animated nature that made them click.

3. Your Lie in April | Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (A-1 Pictures)

Let me be clear: I have a thing for classical music…there’s a sense of class and elegance to this genre that just draws me in, every time I listened to a symphony. Like every genre of music, there are purists, and there are artists: classical musicians are in a constant battle; both within themselves and within the critical and performance world: do I perform with as much heartfelt emotion and self-expression I have, or do I respect the composer by follow his every rule? I’m in the former camp in this argument, so watching them animating the concert performances with such fiery swiftness and grace was a joy to behold.

Compounding the wonderful animations of the trains of thought during the performances, and the performances themselves, the active expressiveness of the characters, and the vibrant background object interactivity between the characters and their instruments proudly elevates this title above most of its genre.

(Tie). Hibike! Euphonium (Kyoto Animation)

Take that, one direction-scrolling backgrounds!

Didn’t say anything against ties, did I? It is utterly impossible for me to rate one of these two above another, which is interesting, considering how these 2 titles were practically opposites. If one is a sophisticated lounge party, with the best of friends chilling over cocktails, with a jazz band smoothing everyone over with their melodies, the other is one hell of a messy night, with endless games of pool over at the local bar.

Hibike! Euphonium’s production value, alongside its almost unprecedented cinematic polish, experimental utilisations of unique camera filtering and lighting techniques, was blessed with the animation talent of the well-knit group of creators, who gave the characters a wide range of emotional spectrums and expressive colours. Then, there’s the almost perfect blending of CG sequences and 2D animation, perfected in such a fashion that’s seamless and sophisticated when viewed on the big screen.

(Tie). One-Punch Man (MADHOUSE)

I don’t think I even need to say much about how UNpolished and awesome One-Punch Man is: its crude and gritty action scenes aside, what I found to be especially impressive are the various massive geographical changes made to the landscapes, as our superheroes did battle: mountain-sized craters, collapsed bridges and vaporised cities, all made clear with distinct before-and-after frame transitions between and during action scenes. In other words: the environment felt truly responsive to the interactions with its characters, a rarity in anime, where magic battles to the death are witnessed without protection by millions in stadiums.

Honourable Mentions

Blood Blockade Battlefront | Kekkai Sensen (Bones)

Part of BBB’s overall presentation is the use of bizarre and unconventional compositions and camera viewpoints, which makes the show feel dynamic and fast-paced. However, in turn, the show also risks over-stimulating the viewers with fast cuts and hard-to-follow camera angles. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t look cool, though.

Yona of the Dawn (Pierrot)

I love the visual presentation of this show for a lot of reasons, but the top one is simply how far-fetched the tone shifts can be, and amazingly, it works! Yona takes the brunt of this chibi-to-badass treatment…and people still don’t know why she’s my favourite female character of all time.

Oh don’t worry, the show does a great job with almost everything else, too: Yona’s body language and facial expressions showcases visual characterisation wonderfully, the well-polished animation of object interactions and general character movements are basically on point, as well, just not as…flashy.

Animation: Action | Choreography, Composition & Framing Polish

5. Concrete Revolutio (Bones)

Even after watching 8 episodes of this nonsensical show, I still find myself having a hard time pinning down my feelings towards it: on the one hand, the timeline presentation is a mess, the episode structures were nearly impossible to follow, yet, the numerous moments of clarity it had; it delivered its commentary on morals and the impossibility of universal justice almost too strikingly well.

Even the animation and object design retained its nonsensical nature: But, since it’s Bones, Action scenes were animated solidly, varied in terms of superpowers and choreography, and doesn’t falter in their quality.

Oh, and Earth-chan’s adorable. (Why do I keep adding these…)

4. Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma (J.C. Staff)

Steam ooze from the chopping board and flames erupt from your backside, when you are on a roll in the kitchen.

…What are you looking at? Watching those knives and fingers of cooking geniuses at work, with swift, exaggerated movements and ahem* those foodgasm moments impressed me more than 90% of the swords & shield anime of 2015. What’s the difference between wars, sword duels and the kitchen rush, anyway?

Now, excuse me while I go critique my Pizza Hut order.

3. Noragami Aragoto (Bones)

Alongside One-Punch Man, Noragami was the ‘other’ hyped Fall show that got everyone’s tails in a twist. For the most part, the hype WAS warranted.

Along with an impressively dark, emotionally resonant story, wrapped around a conventional Shonen setup, Bones returned to production, gracing us with vintage Bones action gold. The blade clashes felt dangerous, the flips and kicks were hyperactive but grounded. Everything about the sword fights in the series lovingly reminded me of the gritty fights presented in Sword of the Stranger, another production by the same studio.

2. Blood Blockade Battlefront (Bones)

BBB makes an appearance once again, and honestly, I think this is one of those instances, that I let the gif tell the story. (Also…because I’ve written all I want to on this publication, regarding why I love Bones action.)

With 3 nominations under Bones‘ belt, and without winning the gold, one can only guess who got the first prize instead…

1. One-Punch Man (By a landslide) (MADHOUSE)

Kinetic and brutal. Pretty much the only words I can muster, when describing One-Punch Man. Watching idol animators duelling each other on the storyboard, with each one trying to one up each other in the guitar solo pit, means what we get are bucket loads of crude, insanely creative and explosive action sequences and set pieces.

It’s a good time to be alive.

Honourable Mentions

Yona of the Dawn (Pierrot)

With a few exceptions of lazy static model scrollings with black lines doubling as motion, Yona’s later episodes demonstrated some impressively varied fighting styles, when it comes to watching how the dragons (plus one Hak creature) fought.

Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon | DanMachi (J.C. Staff)

*Sigh*…The centaur fight (and pretty much every action scene, really) was impressive. REALLY impressive. Note the section title: ACTION, not BOOB PHYSICS.

Well, that’s it for the visuals section. Trust me, I tried to not get tangled up in that OPM hype, but it KINDA ended up like this:

Anyway, before we move on to the next section, here are some shows I didn’t get the chance to watch, and thus failed to make the cut for consideration.

Notable Omissions

  • Aldnoah.Zero (A-1 Pictures / TROYCA)
  • Durarara!! (Shuka)
  • Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works TV (Ufotable)
  • Gatchaman Crowds Insight (Tatsunoko Production)
  • God Eater (Ufotable)
  • Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (Sunrise)
  • Haikyuu!! Season 2 (Production I.G)
  • Kuroko’s Basketball 3 (Production I.G)
  • Owarimonogatari (Shaft)
  • Seraph of the End (Wit Studio)

Best of Anime TV: OP’s & ED’s

*Considers the entire package: Song number, visual quality & creativity, etc.

Perhaps the most subjective section of the lot: almost everything comes down to personal taste, technical recognitions and musical knowledge and preference: it’s hard to nail down what kind of songs or sequences grab me, but I think you can get a general idea of the type I dig. (hint: TRY not to give me one of those typical J-Pop numbers. Generally find them boring, unless the animation was mind-blowing.)

Opening Sequences

5. ‘Kyouran Hey Kids!!’ – The Oral Cigarettes | Noragami Aragoto

4. ‘TALKING’ – KANA-BOON | The Perfect Insider

3. ‘The Hero!! Set Fire to the Furious Fist’ – JAM Project | One-Punch Man

2. ‘Akatsuki no Yona’ – Kunihiko Ryo | Yona of the Dawn (OP1)

1. ‘Flyers’ – BRADIO | Death Parade

Honourable Mentions

Ending Sequences

5. ‘Arigato, Daisuki’ – Minori Chihara | Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan

4. ‘Tutti’ – Kitauji Quartet | Hibike! Euphonium

3. ‘Tokimeki Poporon’ – Gochuumon Cast / Chimametai | Is the order a rabbit??

2. ‘Sugar Song to Bitter Step’ – UNISON SQUARE GARDEN | Blood Blockade Battlefront

1. ‘Akatsuki’ – Akiko Shikata | Yona of the Dawn ED2

Honourable Mentions

Contrary to common belief, I thought 2015 was a smashing year, even with the limited exposure to that year’s shows. Just glancing above, this entire post gives you a peek into the artistic gems of the year.

Wonderful celebration, but wait, there’s more! Parts II and III will be linked here as they are published in the coming days/weeks.

See you in the next one.

Part II, Part III

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