2015 In Hindsight: Most interesting shows of the Year

I’ve wanted to do a post like this for a long time, ever since 2014 actually, and I’ve started writing one many times, but for one reason or another I scrapped them all after a few paragraphs or so. The first few times were on New Year’s Eve 2014, when I decided to write a retrospective about the anime that aired in 2014. That time, the problem was that I set an unnecessarily brutal deadline: I wanted to get all the research and several thousands of words done in one evening so I could get the post out just as 2015 began. I failed, and I felt bad about it. I scrapped my first draft and started again, but this time I failed even sooner. That was a dark moment for me, because it was the first time in a long time that I had felt motivated to do something, but I ended up being unable to do it.

The next time I started was around September or October 2015, when I started writing a similar retrospective post for 2015. This time I didn’t scrap the draft, but I stalled and just kind of forgot about it. When I started this attempt, I thought I had fixed my deadline problem by starting the project 4-5 months before New Year’s. It sounded like a smart idea at the time, but it ended up spawning 3 new problems: First of all, the Fall season hadn’t started yet, so I couldn’t write about it at all. I had to leave gaps that I could fill in with comments about the Fall season. Secondly, because of the difficulties caused by the first problem, I didn’t feel motivated at all. And finally, I had no idea how to explain which shows I thought were “interesting” or why.

The first two of those problems are the reason why I stalled and forgot about the pre-Fall 2015 attempt. They’re no longer relevant problems, but the third and final problem definitely is. What is “interesting”? How do I select a list of shows to write about and then justify why I picked only those shows and no others while simultaneously making sure that the list doesn’t get too long(what’s the point of writing about it then) or too short(not enough reason to write the post in the first place)? Now, however, I realise that this doesn’t have to be a problem at all. I don’t need to conform to any a priori definition of the word “interesting”, I can just write about a bunch of shows and then describe them as “interesting enough to write about”. Clever, huh? You hear me, Nasu? Write me into the next installment of the Fate universe! I want to give long pseudo-philosophical monologues like Kirei!


Yuri Kuma Arashi

Yuri Kuma Arashi was the first Ikuhara show that I saw, and it impressed me a lot. Since then I’ve seen Mawaru Penguindrum, which made Yuri Kuma look a little bit shallow, roundabout and repetitive in comparison, but I still like it and think fondly of it. I’m not one of the people who analysed every detail, symbol and reference(except for the first few episodes when I wrote some very confusing notes), but I liked that the show gave me things to think about, and I can’t deny that I enjoyed reading other people’s analyses of it. I also found it greatly entertaining when people pointed out some more obscure and hidden references in the show. References in themselves aren’t necessarily something that will make me enjoy a show, but when it comes to Yuri Kuma Arashi, and Ikuhara in general, the existence of references was expected, and I think they kind of fit the show anyway.

The main reasons for me preferring Mawaru Penguindrum over Yuri Kuma Arashi are firstly the different lengths of the shows. The 2-cour length of Penguindrum did result in me being very bored during certain episodes(especially near the beginning of the show), but I still think that it worked better than the 1-cour length for Yuri Kuma. I felt like it didn’t have time to build up properly considering the grandness of the significance of its story. My second main reason for preferring Penguindrum is that I’m just more familiar with the Tokyo subway sarin attack than with the Sankebetsu brown bear incident. These two events being the biggest references in their respective shows, there were many moments in Yuri Kuma where I just thought “well, that’s cool and all, but why is it there?”

But, while the Sankebetsu brown bear incident is a major aspect of the referential nature of the show, it’s not the entire show, and the rest of the show had some really great stuff. As I already said, I didn’t understand all of the symbols, but they were nonetheless engaging elements of the show, as were the fairytale-esque side stories and the artistic elements(I thought it was a very good-looking show both in technical quality and aesthetic). Yuri Kuma Arashi may not be my favourite symbolism- and reference-heavy show of all time, but due to the way it presented those symbols and references, it’s definitely among the most entertaining ones I’ve seen.

Koufuku Graffiti

It’s no big secret that I’m a huge fan of the studio Shaft, and Hidamari Sketch is a particular favourite of mine. Koufuku Graffiti, then, was something that I looked forward to right from its announcement. I did remain somewhat suspicious, coincidentally in the same way that I’m suspicious every time a new KyoAni show is announced(it’s a long and mostly unrelated story), but there was something about the way it looked that I liked. Maybe it was the fact that it looked like it’d be very different from both Nisekoi and Monogatari, which were the only Shaft series to have aired since early 2013(yes, yes, Mekakucity Actors too, but that was utterly forgettable). Not that I didn’t like Monogatari back then, but I was craving something new. As for Nisekoi, I didn’t watch it.

In any case, any comparisons between Koufuku Graffiti and other Shaft shows other than Hidamari Sketch ended up being unnecessary, because Koufuku distinguished itself early on. The story about a high-school age girl living on her own and interacting with schoolmates as well as other people living in the building is, as a premise, very similar to Hidamari, but other than that the shows ended up being quite different. Hidamari has a very distinct but meager art style with notable character designs(by Aoki Ume), and it’s also very comedy-heavy. In contrast, Koufuku can at times be surprisingly non-comedic for a 4-koma adaptation(which Hidamari is as well). The art was also much more detailed and polished than the art in Hidamari, it might even challenge Sasami-san@Ganbaranai for the spot of my favourite Shaft show in the category of art style. But most of all, Koufuku Graffiti was… warm and comforting, even though its themes weren’t all sheltering and escapist. In that respect it reminded me of the 4th season of Hidamari Sketch as well as the final Hidamari OVA, Sae Hiro Sotsugyou-hen.

I think it’s unfortunate that Koufuku Graffiti ended up being too unpopular to get a sequel of any kind. The manga hasn’t finished so I’m still hoping, but it’s not looking good right now. Even when it comes to its main theme, food, it was overshadowed by the only other full-length food-themed show of the same year, Shokugeki no Souma. I’m not going to complain about Shokugeki because it was also a show that I greatly enjoyed, but I do want to say two things: I thought the food looked more delicious in Koufuku, and I think the “foodgasm” scenes were less trashy and/or exploitative (tentacles) than the ones in Shokugeki. On another topic entirely, to be completely honest, I don’t find Koufuku Graffiti very interesting to write about, but it is close to my heart and I like reminiscing about it. That’s why it made this list.

Owari no Seraph

My first impression of this show could be(and was) summed up succinctly: “Pessimistic, but not angry”. I mean, a story about humans versus vampires, based on a shounen manga? An apocalyptic first episode leading into a post-apocalyptic magic high school with cute girls and hotheaded boys? This is precisely the thing that I loathe about most Light Novel adaptations. Surely there were going to be revealing outfits and accidentally falling on top of girls and stuff like that, right? Romcom tropes, harem tropes, whatever, I hate it when they’re forcefully shoved into stories that don’t need them. Bah, this was never going to be my kind of show, was it?

Well, actually, it did almost none of the things I feared it would. Owari no Seraph had perfect conditions for all of those tropes, but it chose not to indulge in them. The magic high school? Yeah, that was just a brief stepping stone for Yuu – the main character – and his friends. Sure, Shinoa could very well be described as a cute girl, but she was so much more than that. She was smug as hell and funny in the best possible ways. There were no really revealing outfits(except maybe among some of the vampires), and I don’t remember any accidental falls on top of girls. Yuu was definitely a hothead, though, so I got that one right, but he was the loveable kind of hothead, kind of like Shuu in Now and Then, Here and There. As for the story, approximately the latter half of the first season and all of the second season consisted of the main characters being soldiers, carrying out missions and getting into combat with vampires. And it did all of that oh so well. It wasn’t always the best-looking show when it came to the calmer scenes, but the action almost always looked great, especially in the second season. Wit Studio didn’t drop the ball this time(I’m still sour about Rolling Girls).

In the end, Owari no Seraph is not one of the most fantastic shows I’ve ever seen, that’s not why it stood out enough to be interesting. It stands out because it came out of nowhere and basically became on of my favourite action shows of the entire year. Yes, as an action show, I liked it more than Ushio to Tora or One Punch Man. Hell, I liked it almost as much as I liked the action in Symphogear GX, and that’s a pretty big compliment. But most of all, I still feel happy when I think about how pleasantly surprised I was by this show. What the first episode, and the preview for the second episode in particular, implied gave me a pretty negative first impression, but I ended up loving it. I’ve never been this happy about being wrong in my life.

Hibike! Euphonium

This wasn’t a big surprise, was it? This show has definitely made the rounds as far as “best shows of 2015” lists are concerned and, while I wasn’t wowed by the first episode, I considered it a safe and solid choice from the very beginning. I mean, later on it did wow me(episode 8 in particular), but that’s not the point. Even if Eupho hadn’t wowed me, it would’ve probably still made this list, purely due to how good it looked – and how good it sounded – and how solid I thought the writing was in general.

“The writing was solid” might not be considered a good enough reason for a show to make this semi-exclusive list of mine, but the fact is that there were very few shows in 2015 that came even close to how stable and consistent Eupho was in terms of its story and characters, at least in my opinion. Yuri Kuma and Seraph, both shows on this list, were occasionally pretty messy when it came to their stories, and Koufuku Graffiti didn’t really have a story to speak of. Eupho, on the other hand, took a pretty simple story that has been done before – characters becoming friends and joining a club and competing in tournaments(the first two not necessarily in this order) – and it told that story very well.

Sometimes when I really like an anime, I say “it’s so good it’s like it isn’t even anime”. Lately I’ve tried not to use it because the negative connotation – that anime is supposedly inherently inferior to other media – is understandably very dominant, and that’s not what I’m trying to say at all. What I mean is that I feel like these shows have properties that might have made them enjoyable to me around 4 or 5 years ago, back when I didn’t watch anime at all. And I feel like Euphonium could have been one of those shows. Sure, I would have missed all of the context around the production and stuff like that, but I feel like I would’ve enjoyed it at least on some level.

Classroom☆Crisis

With this show, we return once again to the world of mortal anime. The first episode of Classroom Crisis was neither solid nor reassuring to me. I even considered dropping it right then and there, but at the behest of some of my friends I continued. And the thing that convinced me to stick with the show was… exposition? Huh? I usually loathe infodump-style episodes, but I really liked the second episode of Classroom Crisis. It explained the setting, and the history of the main characters’ class and how it relates to the rest of the world. And I found it interesting. The first episode confused me with what it was trying to do, but the second episode managed to convince me that whatever it was doing was interesting.

Later, while talking to the same friends who encouraged me to continue watching the show, it was explained to me that the setting and premise of Classroom Crisis was pretty recognisable from older sci-fi novels, novellas and short stories. This made me realise that outside of the super-famous sci-fi films of the last few decades or so, I had actually never read or watched this kind of sci-fi before. Classroom Crisis had opened the door for me into a world of sci-fi that I had been ignoring, and that in itself – regardless of where the story went after that – was pretty exciting.

Well, Classroom Crisis didn’t end up being one of the most solid shows in the history of anime, but I can’t deny that I enjoyed almost every episode of it. In addition, it also surprised me by not turning out to be, in the words of another friend of mine, a “Gundam clone”. There were very few firefights, and almost no robots. It did end up being similar to certain Gundam shows in that corporate politics played a big role in the story, but that’s something that I actually like, so no harm done in that respect. To boil it down, though, Classroom Crisis gave me something that I had never consciously experienced before(this particular kind of sci-fi story), and for that it deserves a spot on my list.

Gakkou Gurashi!

Heavy spoiler warning!

When I wrote about this show for my GDTL post, I said that I liked it because I’m a fan of zombie movies and happy endings(which is a rare combination), and Gakkou Gurashi happened to fill both of those criteria. But I also like it because I think it manages to pull off horror in anime, which is either actually difficult or just something that anime production committees don’t want to bother with. Unlike, say, Another, Gakkou Gurashi managed to create the atmosphere that fills the viewer with dread even though nothing “bad” is necessarily currently happening.

When the show first started airing, the plot twist in the first episode was the talk of the town, and for a good reason. The twist was interesting, and it was directed well. It was what convinced me to continue watching the show, because I was not the biggest fan of the slice of life stuff and comedy in the first episode. But what really got my attention was not the twist at the end of the first episode but the final scene of the second episode. The lone zombie in the unexpected room is a very classic zombie trope, but for some reason it just works for me, and this scene in Gakkou Gurashi was no exception. It was a genuinely terrifying scene.

After that, I just kind of accepted that the slice of life comedy was a part of the show, and I started looking forward to the next scary scene. And to my delight, the scary scenes just kept on coming, and most of them were classics. The “how do we get to the car” scene and the mall story arc in particular tickled my fancy. But it’s not like the show consisted entirely of slice of life comedy interspersed with classic zombie movie tropes. The very slow-moving revelation of Megu-nee’s true nature and the depth of Yuki’s delusion were both psychological elements that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. I find it impressive that the show managed to pull off good horror while simultaneously having that interestingly uncommon psychological aspect to it. Gakkou Gurashi made this list because of that in particular.

Owarimonogatari

As you may have already guessed, one of the conditions I ended up having for this list is “no sequels”, but I have to make an exception for Owarimonogatari, because it was just that good. The fact that I took almost 1000 screenshots of a 1-cour show should make it evident enough that I thought it was one of the most visually impressive shows of the entire year. Granted, that’s not a very unusual or surprising feat for Monogatari, but I feel like the stories of the arcs in Owarimonogatari were absurd enough to fully take advantage of the visual quirks that the series is known for.

But that was far from everything the show had to offer. The story arcs, Sodachi Lost in particular, reminded me of the feeling I got from watching Bakemonogatari much more than Nisemonogatari or Second Season did, which was really refreshing. I guess the biggest exception to this was Shinobu Mail, which referenced Kizumonogatari and tried to drive the overarching story forward instead. But, as I’m a huge fan of the overarching story, I was totally fine with that too. Sodachi Lost and Shinobu Mail also stood out in that they both had fantastic – both in acting and in dialogue – character moments.

The one in Sodachi Lost involved, as one might guess, Sodachi. I applaud Marina Inoue for delivering what might be my favourite performance in the entire Monogatari series so far. She really brought forth Sodachi’s pain, anger and sadness in a very convincing manner. The second fantastic character moment, the one in Shinobu Mail, surprisingly belonged to Kanbaru. Outside of Hanamonogatari, Kanbaru hadn’t really had any notable “serious” moments, so it was delightful to hear Miyuki Sawashiro perform with such emotion and power. In addition to these stellar scenes, there were smaller moments as well. Part of why I love Ougi so much is her voice, and Kaori Mizuhashi continuously hit it out of the park with her mocking and playful tone of voice.

As for Gaen, who is another one of my favourite characters, Satsuki Yukino’s voice was decent, but not the most noticeable part of the character. Gaen takes over scenes not with her voice but with her appearance, expression and pose. All of the focus is on her, and she dominates every scene she’s in. Her scenes in Shinobu Mail were no exception, and I loved those scenes. But I think my favourite moments in the show were the ones that showed just how much some of the characters had grown over the course of the series, such as the scene were Senjougahara punches Sodachi in the face, and every scene involving Hanekawa.

So why did Owarimonogatari make this list even though it’s a sequel and I didn’t really explain how it differs from other sequels? I think it’s probably because it competes in a totally different league than most other anime, and the Monogatari series has always been that way for me. I’m not saying that this totally different league is necessarily above any other leagues, but it’s so far apart from the other leagues that I can’t compare them. Owarimonogatari is probably my favourite show of the year, unless I liked Eupho more. But I have such a hard time deciding that I felt like it’d be easier to just put both on this list.

Starmyu

When it comes to technical quality, Starmyu – aka High School Star Musical – is probably the worst show on this list. It didn’t look particularly good, I wasn’t a fan of the art style, the animation was uninteresting and the voice acting was nothing special. The story was also pretty boring in that it didn’t do anything novel. It was like any other idol show in that respect, and it didn’t even try to distinguish itself in terms of story.

What it did try, however, was to do some interesting things with the characters and the presentation. The fully male main cast was interesting, though not very novel in recent years, as was the fact that most of the main cast seemed to hate each other at the start. This conflict led to some expected and unsurprising character arcs that were also not very novel. Fortunately, however, the presentation ended up being so entertaining that it made up for almost all of the show’s other flaws, at least in my opinion.

As the name suggested, but which I did not expect, High School Star Musical was actually a musical. Almost every episode had a scene in which one or more of the characters sang songs with lyrics so absurd that I was occasionally reminded of Symphogear, with matching visuals. The musical numbers felt almost like parody at times, which made me like them even more. Without the musical aspect I would never have finished this show, but because of them, the show turned out to be so enjoyable and funny that it actually surprised me. Out of all the non-sequel original anime that aired in 2015, Starmyu was probably the biggest surprise for me. For that, it deserves to be on this list.


So, that’s it for my list of the most interesting anime of 2015. You should by no means consider it a list of the only shows I found interesting in 2015, because I did consciously leave a bunch of my favourites off the list. Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso and Shirobako, the leftovers from Fall 2014 for instance, would have made a list of all of my favourite shows of 2015. As would Shokugeki no Souma, but I left it off together with all of the shows for which I had previously read the source material(Prison School and One Punch Man). Gatchaman, Noragami Aragoto, Oregairu Zoku, and Yuru Yuri San Hai (and technically Death Parade as well), on the other hand, are favourites that I left off because they were sequels(the rule that Owarimonogatari was the exception to). Gundam Tekketsu, Conrevo and Ushio to Tora were shows that I liked but didn’t mention because they are all slated to continue in 2016. I might mention them in one of next year’s retrospective posts, though. 2015 also had a bunch of enjoyable short shows like Miss Monochrome, Wakaba Girl and Hacka Doll, but these tend not to stick with me as much as full-length shows.

As is always the case with these kinds of posts, everyone will always disagree with someone else’s list, so I just want to say that everything written here is naturally only my opinion. The problem is just that “The Most Interesting Shows Of The Year (In My Opinion)” doesn’t have as good a ring to it as it does with the IMO omitted. Anyway, there is one more show I want to mention: Teekyuu. It didn’t air in Winter 2015, but since then it has been continuously airing for every season of the year(it even had a spin-off in Spring 2015). It’s airing even now, in Winter 2016, and if I recall correctly it has been renewed for another season after this one. When it comes to longevity, Teekyuu dominates late night anime. I also find it really funny, and the episodes are only 2 minutes long, so I recommend it.

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