January has scarcely begun and I’m already running behind my intended blogging schedule. Only Natsume has aired so far, but I really need to accelerate my pace or I will end up behind even on one of my favorite franchises. To that end, I’m scrapping my plans for crazy categories to place my 2011 picks in and just rattling off a standard top 5 list. This year was fairly average in terms of quality shows; nothing completely blew me away, but there were many immensely watchable and enjoyable shows. Once again keep in mind that these are completely subjective, encompass only what I’ve seen, and only shows that are not still on-going. (Warning: uncensored spoilers!)
Best Show I Didn’t See: Madoka Magica
I still have this in my backlog, and from all the positive support surrounding it via DVD sales and end-of-year praise, I definitely regret not checking it out as it aired. I did watch the first episode; it didn’t impress me terribly much and my overall distaste for magical girl shows made me hesitant to follow it. Even hearing it touted as a “complete revolution in the genre” did not really sway me. Alas, I also actually know the big spoiler of the show too, making me even more reluctant to start it.Considering its high praise, I will eventually check it out, but it will unfortunately not find its rightful place on this countdown.
Honorable mention goes to Wandering Son, a relic of quality Noitamina of days gone by.
#5: Level E
At the bottom of the list we have my favorite comedy of the year, a delightful troll fest courtesy of Prince Baka of Dogura. I didn’t initially know what to make of the show after the first two episodes, but once Baka sprung the trap at the end of the first arc I was completely sold. While many complain about the Color Rangers, I actually really enjoyed their story arc as it really showed how Baka could mess with people other than our core cast. The ending was also rock solid, with the master troll finally meeting his match in his future wife. This may not have been a non-stop chuckle fest, but it had some long well-executed gags to greatly supplement its tight character humor. It also has a rocking intro song.
#4: Tiger and Bunny
My hipster sense almost made me exclude this excellent title, based on its widespread American fanbase, but it really is something special. It might not have been the deepest plotted show or even had the greatest wrap-up; it did however have the greatest character of the year: Kotetsu “Wild Tiger” Kaburagi. Making an aging veteran hero the protagonist was certainly an inspired move, and Kotetsu oozes plucky charm throughout the entire show. Naively optimistic, at times to the point of stupidity, Tiger never had a dull moment and made this show a memorable trip. Coupled with a non-conventional superhero premise and some intense cross-demographic appeal, you have a genuinely appealing show that makes up for its lack of originality with some real charm. Expect to see this on Adult Swim in the near future.
If Steins;Gate had ended in December, I would have no doubt placed it #1 as it ended quite memorably. My thoughts have cooled a little bit, and I still consider it a damn good show. A lot has been said about this little gem, but I guess I’ll echo them. It has compelling characters, a lead that genuinely grows and makes us care him, and a dramatic time-travel plot. While the time travel wasn’t always paradox free, its internal logic was solid enough to not detract from the powerful character interactions and genuine pathos. There were a lot of brilliant moments and lines, with episode 23 taking the take as best of the bunch. Considering its visual novel roots and its predecessor Chaos;Head’s dismal mediocrity, this show is even more impressive. I will admit it did drag towards the middle, but the big spoiler about changing fate definitely more than made up for all those pacing problems.
Kurisu and Okabe for best couple of the year!
#2: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shirani
Winner for biggest mouthful and best drama, we have a delightful journey of childhood friends alienated by tragedy. This was above all a beautiful character study, with the supernatural element touching the story very lightly. I do like how they put the doubt into our minds as to whether Menma is truly there or not, making the revelation of her reality that much more impactful. There is a lot of subtlety to the story and characters, albeit the tear storm in the last few episodes did veer a little bit off into the truly melodramatic. I knew the gut wrenching ending was coming, but Ano Hana so masterfully steered itself to that conclusion that I still ended up a little shocked at the power of the closing scenes. This is a flower I certainly won’t forget.
#1: Mawaru Penguindrum
I certainly understand that this may be a controversial pick, but anyone that is even faintly familiar with my tastes will understand that this is an easy slam dunk for me. Although not comprehensively more powerful on an emotional level as Ano Hana, Penguindrum was a show I was more emotionally invested into. Ever since the tone shift in the later half, I could not wait for the next episode of abstract allegorical characterization, and it was definitely the show I enjoyed discussing the most with my friends. As I admitted in my wrap-up post, MP certainly faltered near its conclusion, unable to truly realize its grandiose vision, but the ride was thrilling enough, the Survival Strategies brilliant enough, and the metaphorical visuals splendid enough to give it the top slot. All the main cast, especially the Takakuras, fell fleshed out and developed, despite the ridiculous amount of abstractness used to achieve it. Ikuhara really meshed some good visuals with some creative storytelling; Mawaru Penguindrum is a gem, although perhaps a few loose threads away from a true masterpiece. Listen, you lowlifes that will never amount to anything! Watch the Penguindrum!