With the last remnants of 2012 drawing to a close (save those never-ending shows which I will not mention), the time has come to honour those works which went far and beyond the industry standard; or I suppose in this case, didn’t fall into the pit of uninspired dreck.
2012 was certainly not one of anime’s brighter years. A great deal of the titles which aired each season failed to even reach a passable standard due to either having bland characters, weak writing or a combination of both. As such, this list is only indicative of the best of the bunch and does not necessarily mean the winners were exemplary on an absolute scale; just that they were above the rest of the pack.
Also, just to clear up any confusion, this list is only counting titles which started airing during 2012 and not those before and after. My rationale is that it’s difficult to take into account shows that have been running for years prior since they may have undergone changes in their production staff or direction. Although this list will naturally exclude certain titles such as those long running series, and those which I was not able to get around to watching, it is what I personally feel is the cream of the crop of 2012. Unfortunately, that may mean I could have missed some noteworthy examples, but I am only human and do not have all the time in the world to watch every show that is airing. That being said, I did make an effort to watch between 15-20 shows each season so hopefully this list is fairly representative of the whole year.
Anyway, without further to do, here are the individual categories and their winners!
Best Male Lead
Takashi Natsume (Natsume Yuujinchou Shi)
Runner Ups: Joseph Joestar (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012)), Sentarou Kawabuchi (Sakamichi no Apollon)
In a year filled with boring self-insert protagonists and perverted harem leads, Takashi Natsume from Natsume Yuujinchou truly stands out for his realistic characterization and heartfelt emotional development. Although Natsume does owe a lot to the previous three seasons in establishing his character and catalyzing his development, season 4 successfully culminates his trials and relationships with everyone else. What’s especially nice is the amount of subtle characterization present here: while Natsume is introverted due to his past experiences with people and youkai, this does not make up the entirety of his character. Instead, Natsume still helps out others from time to time, whether they be human or youkai, and does still find brief moments of happiness in his life. Perhaps the strongest point in his favour though is his development in this season, where he is faced with a number of conflicting choices and the eventual confrontation of many elements of his past. What we see at the end of this season of Natsume is a male lead who many of us can not only relate to, but emphasize with due to the strong writing of his character.
Best Female Lead
Watashi (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita)
Runner Ups: Marika Katou (Mouretsu Pirates), Miyako (Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb)
Watashi may seem outwardly cheerful and friendly to the extent where she isn’t a whole lot different from any other moe female lead, but assuming that would be a huge misnomer. During her work as a mediator she occasionally grumbles, complains and criticizes the multiple facets of society and human nature. However, the thing about Watashi is that she never speaks her witty, cynical thoughts out loud, making her somewhat of a sly fox. There are many instances where she dreads her work, but still carries herself with a smile, fooling many others around her. One common criticism about Watashi is that she’s mostly a reactionary element, providing occasional comic relief with her witty lines. Although Jinrui makes an attempt towards the end of its run (or chronologically speaking, the start) to give Watashi some back story, it ultimately succeeds more by exploring her insightful comments about humanity during her numerous experiences.
It is Watashi’s inherent transparency that truly makes her a believable and ultimately realistic character. Far too often, writers become wound up with idea of creating a seemingly perfect character that they completely ignore the entire aspect of personality flaws. Sure, having that ideal role model or perfect waifu is nice for a brief bout of escapism, but it is in fact the most flawed and pathetic individuals that allow us to see this less pleasant side of humanity and ourselves. To that end, Watashi perfectly embodies this transient side of human nature, making her the not only the best female lead of 2012, but one of the most successfully written female characters of all time.
Gilgamesh (Fate/Zero 2nd Season)
Runner Ups: Dio Brando (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012)), Deishu Kaiki (Nisemonogatari)
*cue the porno music*
I kid you not with the above line as Gilgamesh truly was one of the more manipulative characters in recent history, to the extent where I’d call his influence seductive. This ancient king knows how to get into the heads of others and throughout the first and second halves of Fate/Zero, plays Kotomine Kirei to his advantage. That alone places him above the rest of the bunch, as not only were his motives made clear and somewhat accomplished, but there was no attempt made to try and force us to emphasize with him via a tragic backstory (shame this can’t be said for someone like Kiritsugu). In short, Gilgamesh was fully aware of his greed, his selfishness, and his thirst for power, imparting a certain degree of realism (I’ll use the term loosely). Although perhaps this is something missing in the likes of villain characters these days, who either have grandiose and unrealistic goals, or aren’t really rotten but just misguided.
Best Inanimate Object
The Toothbrush (Nisemonogatari)
Runner Ups: The Magic Rock (Natsuiro Kiseki), The Tanks (Girls und Panzer)
Well, after witnessing this scene in Nisemonogatari I had difficulty brushing my teeth for about a week. Why? Perhaps I was so disturbed by the incredibly subtle incestuous undertones, or realizing that this was a weapon which could turn the manliest of men into mush. I suppose I’ll never truly know, but one thing is for certain, this toothbrush will live on in the hearts of many.
Nisio Isin still shouldn’t be commended though for throwing this scene in here, since it all but destroyed Karen’s prior characterization from one episode ago.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
Runner Ups: Joshiraku, Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb
I have to hand it to Romeo Tanaka as a writer, since Jinrui’s script was superbly composed of clever wit, social satire and fluid exchanges between the cast. There was rarely a dull moment in the show, especially with Watashi as the primary narrator – making for a viewing experience which was not only incredibly amusing, but insightful as well. It would be lovely if more shows could follow suit in the future, as some of the humour and critique in Jinrui was unforgettable.
Runner Ups: Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou, Smile Precure
Gotta love Kumeta humour.
Echoing the success of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Joshiraku is another example of Kumeta’s writing prose. His rapid-fire style of comedy ranges from discussions about the absurd to the sub-culture particularities of modern-day Japan to even the political, and Joshiraku is no exception. The show manages to forge a name for itself with a similar but distinctly different execution of humour, still providing laughs along with some surprisingly insightful social satire.
Best OP Song
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012) – “Bloody Stream”
Runner Ups: Nisemonogatari – “Platinum Disco”, Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna – “New Wuthering Heights”
Not much to say here (mainly since I am poorly versed in musical theory and whatnot): great energy, dynamics and instrumental accompaniment that nicely conveys the stylish spirit of Jojo.
Best ED Song
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita – “Yume no naka no Watashi no Yume”
Runner Ups: Joshiraku – “Nippon Egao Hyakkei”, Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou – “Ohisama”
Again, not a whole lot I can really comment on with my limited musical knowledge. What made Jinrui’s ending stand out from the bunch was primarily the song’s vocals, build up and background instruments/synth (there’s a nice hint of classical orchestra there). The overall feel of the piece is also a tad bit unsettling, while still possessing a calming melody, perhaps to echo the tone of the series.
Sakamichi no Apollon
Runner Ups: Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki, Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna
Sakamichi no Apollon may have had some fairly glaring pacing problems, but the show’s soundtrack was definitely its saving grace. Assembled by renowned anime composer, Yoko Kanno, the score was not only well composed, but was also highly effective in conveying the different genres of music which were reflective of the time period. In particular, the different styles of music helped to emphasize changing trends during the time period such as the fading of jazz and the coming of rock and roll.
As Kanno had previously worked on other series featuring a jazzy soundtrack such as Cowboy Bebop, her musical talents were put to great use with Apollon’s score. Though there wasn’t quite the same level of variety compared to some of her earlier works, considering how central the theme of music is to the plot and characters, there was plenty to be impressed about with how Apollon integrated many of the pieces. The performance segments involving Kaoru and Sentarou were one such instance where Kanno’s score really took flight, essentially driving these scenes forward.
Best Art/Animation Direction
Lupin the Third: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna
Runner Ups: Nisemonogatari, Guskou Budori no Denki (2012)
Simply calling this series’ animation direction “artsy” does not do it enough justice. Being a revival of a classic series from the 60′s, the latest installment in the franchise did quite a few things differently. Most of this stems from it changing its formula around a bit to have Mine Fujiko as its lead character and a much darker tone. While there were a few abrupt elements such as inconsistencies in character backstory and issues with the script, the art direction was simply fabulous. Not only was it filled with dynamic camera angles, lighting and varied colour palettes reminiscent of film noir, but the general aesthetic touch to the environments and character designs greatly enhanced the tone of the series. As a result, the final product simply oozed with style; and one that was a successful fusion of past and present – which is such a treat to see in this day and age.
Natsume Yuujinchou Shi
Runner Ups: Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb, Nekomonogatari (Kuro)
One of the elements that ultimately sets this season of Natsume Yuujinchou apart from its predecessors is both Natsume’s continual development and the effect his presence has had on the other characters. Take the youkai exorcist Natori for example. When Natsume first met him, he was a person who wouldn’t think twice about using youkai as bait to accomplish his goals. Now that he’s spent some time around Natsume, his views on the youkai have shifted ever so slightly to the point where he treats them almost as equals. This type of development is also observed in some of the other reoccurring characters, effectively conveying the main themes of the work in an understated manner. With the characters in Natsume, each of them has developed in such a natural fashion that they have ultimately become more human as a result (ironically, this applies to the youkai as well).
Best Anime Short
Runner Ups: Thermae Romae, Kyousougiga (2012)
You do not always need words or a lot of time to tell a story effectively, as this experimental short, Furiko, proves. The premise of the short is fairly straightforward, detailing a couples’ relationship across their lifetime. However, what makes this a good short is the simple presentation and integration of the pendulum motif, to convey the passage of time and explore how the character’s lives are affected by it. The musical accompaniment is also excellent overall, with the tempo building as the story progresses and slowing down towards the end to mirror closure in the couple’s lives. Overall, Furiko is a great example of how an artist can use a short amount of time to tell a lovely story.
Black★Rock Shooter (TV)
Runner Ups: Sword Art Online, K
Picture completely intentional.
“Oh look, little girls suffering is now trending, let’s completely abandon all writing conventions and believable characterization to just put these prepubescent ladies through as much hell as possible! It’s not like we’re trying to copy Madoka or Evangelion or anything like that by forcing our audience to emphasize with them!”
I honestly wish that was all Black Rock Shooter was trying to be, since maybe, just maybe it wouldn’t have ended up as the most abysmal piece of trash on the planet. No, they just had to go the extra step and try to make the series seem deeper than it really was. Using the most contrived and blatant motifs possible and bombarding the audience with superfluous symbolism does not make for an intriguing work. Instead, the end product was a piece written by some angsty teenager trying to pass him or herself off as an intellectual; pretentious in an nutshell.
Oh, and let’s not forget that every little thing has to turn these otherwise normal girls into mentally broken patients in the blink of the eye. Since regular upper-middle class girls living in modern-day Japan have few worries in their life, why not make it so the entire world is out to get them? Now everyone has an ulterior motive, from your family friend to your teacher. And just because your best friend doesn’t want to walk home with you anymore, you are completely justified in creating an entire parallel universe from scratch. Why? I dunno, why not leave it up for interpretation since that superficially makes it seem as if the work has more depth?
In closing, First World Problems: The Anime is an awe-inspiring piece of garbage.
And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for
The Best Anime of 2012
Natsume Yuujinchou Shi
Runner Ups: Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, Nekomonogatari (Kuro)
Although Natsume Yuujinchou Shi may not be the most interesting choice for best anime of the year considering it is a sequel, it still was able to do so many things correctly. Having a diverse and wonderfully characterized cast, heartfelt stories of loneliness and belonging and subtle, yet highly effective themes were just the tip of the iceberg for this series.
Unfortunately, I really don’t have a whole lot more to say about Natsume, since I’ve already covered quite a bit about it through the other categories. Alternatively, you can always check out my review for the series if you’re curious what my full thoughts about it are and why it stands firmly as the best 2012 had to offer.
In closing, it was a combination of technical proficiency and creative merit which defined the best works of this year. Although they may not have hit the highs that titles from previous years may have, they are still good to great series in their own rights.
May the blessings of 2013 be with the industry, and let’s hope it gives us a year worth looking forward to (oh, who am I kidding?)!