My Personal Favorites of 2015

It sure has been a while folks, but we are back in business in Owningmatt land!

I’ll quickly go over some updates and then we’ll jump straight into the content since I’m sure this is the post that everyone was waiting for after all of this time. If not… well, I guess you’ll have to wait for the next time. Anyway.

First, you’ve probably noticed a lack of “Watching Anime for X season posts”. Until I nail down a real format and find a use for those posts, they have been discontinued for the time being. Hopefully that’s not the post you were waiting for. Otherwise, I’m sorry.

Second, going with the above point, this will be the last post of this variety. Expect more singular posts about particular anime than “Best Anime of 20xx” posts.

Third, this list will consist of all anime that I’ve seen and have finished airing in the year 2015 (Winter 2014/2015 to Fall 2015), as last year’s post extended through the same range. It’s kind of confusing when it comes to Winter as it technically falls under both years, but this winter is considered Winter 2016 Season, so the last winter season would be Winter 2015. It is confusing as it varies depending on what site you visit (I’m using the anichart.net, for reference) and may be different than how some choose to do their lists, but hopefully that explains the method to my madness.

Fourth, I will not be talking about Love Live! The School Idol Movie in this post, as I’ve already talked about it here. My opinion hasn’t changed, and I’d just be repeating myself. It’s still very good though, and if you liked the show and haven’t seen it, do so. (Also, if you haven’t seen the show, watch it too.)

Finally, if you’re not exactly a fan of these kinds of posts because of spoilers, I’ll attempt to keep things spoiler-free, as all of these anime are worth watching.

Luckily, I’ve taken some time in 2015 to watch some of the airing shows of Spring and Winter, which while may not seem great at a glance, contained some of the best shows of this year in my opinion. I didn’t really have a hard time narrowing the shows down this time, and I say all of these are must-watches by any anime fan. As always, there’s an anime for everyone listed in these posts even though I never really intend it to be that way. It just happens like that, surprisingly.

All right, let’s get into it that nice content now! Starting from #5…

5. Gakkougurashi! (School-Live!)

Favorites of 2015 - Gakkougurashi Picture 1

Look, even the doggy wants you to watch the show!

This is a show that may actually surprise some, and probably surprise even more if they skipped over the show thinking it’s some form of moe slice-of-life that’s the cancer of all anime and needs to be left to die somewhere far away. If you truly felt that way initially, it’s okay, you’re forgiven, as I was also guilty of the same thing. I was sure that this anime was going to either be filled with club room antics with moe zombies coming to “attack” (read: play) every so often, or that it was going to be this huge gore fest crossed with another Madoka ripoff. If either of those were the outcome though, this anime obviously wouldn’t be on this list, so what was the anime actually like?

In short, it’s exactly what the anime description says it is. It’s about high school girls that live in a world ruled by a zombie apocalypse driven setting. While that sounds pretty generic and boring (I’m not a personal fan of zombie apocalypse settings myself), what really makes this anime stand out from others is the filmography that Studio Lerche uses throughout the show. This is most definitely what has made this anime a success in my book. From beginning to end, this anime had a lot of focus put into the filmography aspects moreso than any other aspect within the show. These framing aspects created a very interesting and different atmosphere from all other slice-of-life anime in a very positive way.

Favorites of 2015 - Gakkougurashi Picture 2

See? The anime is lighthearted enough to make jokes like this, but still tends to have a darker tone looming in the background.

What was created from Gakkougurashi was the concept of what I will call “viewer dissonance”, similar to that of a magic trick. It’s a clever sleight-of-hand trick that Studio Lerche plays with the viewer the entire time, allowing smaller gaps to be seen by the audience to reveal the true nature of the anime, but aren’t outright displayed at first. On top of that, a dissonance is created by switching from one type of setting (a standard slice-of-life scene, for instance) to another, slowly turning a light-hearted scene into something much darker and morbid. This “dissonance” shows the viewer both sides of the characters, creating this gap between the current reality and the “reality which should have been, but wasn’t.”

While the show is not perfect in some areas, the top notch filmography and excellent handling of the merging genres both bring this anime in a positive light among many viewers. Anime is meant to be a visual medium, after all, and Gakkougurashi shows how an adaptation of a manga work can become much more than just an advertisement for the source material.

4. Hibike! Euphonium

Based KyoAni does it again, but this time… we have beautiful instruments instead of beautiful scenery.

Favorites of 2015 - Hibike! Euphonium Picture 1

Oh, I said instruments, not characters… Whoops.

This was apparently the year for slice-of-life based shows, and this one basically had all of the right parts for success from the beginning. While many worried this show would become a huge dramafest like Chuu2Ren (also by KyoAni), Tari Tari (P.A. Works), or some previous slice-of-life shows from 2014 (Hanayamata, Glasslip, Yuuki Yuuna, ect.), this show surprisingly never went that direction, which was most likely one of its many reasons for success.

While this show did have its share of dramatic moments or scenes, it felt realistically portrayed instead of forced, unlike some of the previously mentioned shows. High school is a dramatic period of change, growth, and development for many people, and this anime definitely showed these exact struggles throughout, despite it being focused moreso on the instruments and musical aspects. The characters also followed this trend and felt like they were actual characters instead of being embedded with the moe elements that one would normally expect from a show like this, especially considering KyoAni’s previous track record with anime like K-ON! and Lucky Star.

Hibike! Euphonium is completely different from the typical slice-of-life works, and through some people’s eyes, this was not necessarily a positive as many people sought certain aspects from the show that it never planned to have. Many anime fans were disappointed when certain character traits were revealed and didn’t live up to some of the unrealistic and abnormal traits of slice-of-life characters. While this anime may lack those standards, I personally think that’s what makes it stand out above all of the others. It throws out all of the previously defined tropes of the genre and attempts to redefine them into something much more than just “something to enjoy”, which makes the genre slowly become “something to relate to” instead.

The mix of drama and slice-of-life was one of the main successes of this show, and when presented by the animators and staff of KyoAni, the themes become that much stronger. Every aspect of animation from this show was absolutely gorgeous, and because of the musical setting, the sound design became just as strong as the animation. Everything from the background music of the OST to the imperfections of the instruments being played by amateur band members was on point with the animation quality.

Favorites of 2015 - Hibike! Euphonium Picture 2

That sound from this scene is unforgettable and also made me hate chalkboards that much more.

While this may not have been the strongest show of 2015, the consistency of the high-quality work within this product made it one of KyoAni’s more notable works and proves that if you make a high-quality product, the show is bound to be a success.

3. Death Parade

Favorites of 2015 - Death Parade Picture 1

The show and summary may look like fun and games, but that’s where it gets you.

After only recently watching this show, I regret not picking it up when Winter season was airing as it was ten times better than anything else that I chose to watch during that time frame. Madhouse has really outdone themselves with this show, and everything from the themes portrayed within the story to their animation quality definitely reflects that they truly wanted to make this show the best it could be.

Favorites of 2015 - Death Parade Picture 2

We’re not quite at Amagi levels of prettinenss, but we’re getting there.

While some people may avoid the show because of the depressing themes that this anime will definitely discuss, the show itself isn’t quite as depressing as it may initially seem from the title (just look at the opening sequence, how can you take that seriously at all?). While the show does delve into some depressing and realistic facts about the concept of death, it’s far from a full-on depressing story from beginning to end. As life comes as a byproduct of death, we have many moments where the characters within the story themselves talk about their lives and how we should also celebrate life along with mourning for the departed.

If that’s not enough, Death Parade takes the approach of having multiple mini-stories that tie themselves together under those themes, while simultaneously having a main story to go along with it. This approach is exactly what makes the show successful as there are many aspects of death, and this approach can focus on an individual element by showing the qualities of that element in a single episode. All of these miniature stories eventually tie into the main story by using the elements discussed in those episodes to make the main story even stronger than it would have been on its own.

The entire work manages to take a serious topic and discuss it in a respectful and non-depressing way. Well, as non-depressing as talking about death can be anyway.

For a more in-depth discussion on this show by the full Backloggers crew, check out Episode 8 of our podcast (spoilers included, of course).

Either way, I fully recommend giving this series a shot, even if it’s not typically your cup of tea. You might be surprised as to what you’ll see.

2. Shirobako

Favorites of 2015 - Shirobako Picture 1

My initial reaction when I saw P.A. Works doing another slice-of-life show.

If I went without talking about this anime, I’m pretty sure most people would throw my list out and not even care about it anymore. Actually, most people probably did that when they saw my 2014 list with no mention of this show. After P.A. Works having a certain anime in the Summer 2014 season that was ruled as one of the worst anime ever, many people started considered their next work, Shirobako, to be in the same vein as that show before the first episode had even aired. Others thought it was a simple and easy cash grab to make up for their losses. Either way you look at it, I was definitely one of those people that had no expectations for this show.

Everyone was wrong. So very wrong.

Shirobako ended up being a fan favorite of many people that I know, and it definitely has surpassed many people’s expectations for an anime about the Japanese animation industry. We learn from several different viewpoints of how the animation process works, the stresses and struggles of being a part of the working staff on a show, and how certain influences and factors can affect a show while it’s still in production. Basically, Shirobako allowed the audience to understand certain problems during the creative process, which can then cause errors in the anime itself post-production. This shows the audience how those errors in anime come to be from a realistic angle. The entire show definitely takes many strides to prove to the viewers that it’s not as easy or fluid of a process as one might think to make an anime. Even with set schedules and deadlines, many evens and factors can happen quickly and change a simple, on-time schedule to one that’s rushed and problematic to the staff.

What’s really impressive about this show though, and what makes it shine above others, is that it’s not just about the production and making of the anime itself, but also focuses on the different roles of the characters within the show. Even beyond the main five girls that are aspiring to play a major role in the animation industry, many of the other characters display how they deal with this massive, unpredictable beast that is the production schedule. Some of them procrastinate and try to run away from their problems, some of them attempt to face their problems and failures head on, and some of them just plain act like they don’t care when, in reality, they do. The emotions and how they’re displayed by the characters throughout the show are one of the reasons that Shirobako shines as brightly as it does.

In the midst of all that, the show also manages to be comedy fest, whether that’s due to the character’s hilarious actions between each other or because of the massive amount of references and critiques upon particular anime and the culture surrounding it. The animation continues to drive itself in the direction of comedy merely because of the animation itself.

Favorites of 2015 - Shirobako Picture 2

Haha, “drive itself”. Speaking of driving, did I mention that we get multiple car races between animation studios? That should automatically make this show must-watch material!

Between the meta elements presented to the audience and the massive amount of comedy with a superb delivery, Shirobako stands firm as one of the highest points within anime for the year of 2015.

1. Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Zoku (Oregairu S2)

Favorites of 2015 - Yahari Zoku Picture 1

Some things never change. But for when they do, GEICO will always be on your side.   …Wait, I think that’s the wrong car insurance slogan. Oh well.

Before I watched the second season of Yahari, I would have probably said something along the lines of “Wow, why the heck is this anime in the number one spot? The first season was good, but there are many shows better than that.” And if you haven’t seen the second season, you might be thinking about why this anime ended up beyond Shirobako or Death Parade.

Well, the answer would basically be “Go watch the second season if you saw the first one”.

This anime was a unique exception to many other series that get second seasons. Recently, a trend has developed that the first season is always good and then the second season always ends up screwing up the first season somehow, ending the series in a complete disaster.

This anime is an exception though. While this second season has changed animation studios, which is usually a bad sign, this change was for the better, as the animation quality skyrocketed through the roof. This is noticeable from the beginning of Episode 1, which re-animated the ending of Season 1. If you compare the two side by side, you’d think you’re watching a whole new anime… And technically, you are, as if you try and relate the major themes from Season 1 to Season 2, they’re almost nothing alike.

Favorites of 2015 - Yahari Zoku Picture 2

Actually, I’ll save you some time. Here’s a comparison.

While Season 1 focused more on parodying the romantic comedy genre, Season 2 went with a more direct approach and decided to use some of the elements apparent in the last few episodes of Season 1 to their advantage. These elements are mainly focused around Hachiman’s personality and actions, and as Season 2 continues, they play a huge part among the other characters as well. They create many difficult situations revolving around the feelings of the various characters within the anime, even beyond the main cast of three that are focused upon in Season 1.

From the redirection of focus from Season 1 to Season 2, a fear of many fans of Yahari was that the series would become another generic romantic comedy series and eventually devolve into the more simplistic elements of these kinds of shows, especially considering the addition of a new character. This also brings the fear of a show like this going into harem territory, which also would go against everything the show as done thus far. While these fears were legitimate at the beginning of the show, after watching two episodes, you’ll realize that Yahari really hasn’t fundamentally changed from Season 1 in terms of themes, and only the presentation of those themes have changed.

Even though the series becomes more direct in the portrayal of those elements we love and plays them straight unlike Season 1, that doesn’t make Season 2 a lesser or inferior product. Actually, that makes what it’s trying to do even stronger and more robust than before. It’s easier to write a show that’s “trope-filled” and point out those flaws as you go, than writing a show that’s not “trope-filled” and still managing to point out the same flaws. That’s what Yahari Zoku does; it follows a normal story formula, but manages to avoid all of the clichéd, trope-filled characterization and plot pitfalls and uses the original story it created to not only point out all of those trope-filled flaws, but at the same time create a story that has an excellent themes and still manages to fulfill the exact purpose of the genre that it’s criticizing.

Favorites of 2015 - Yahari Zoku Picture 3

The meta presentation of the anime to its native audience will result in maximum absorption of the visual elements and allow the animation production committee to draw in ground-breaking profits from the audiovisual merchandise to prevent a decline in funding and avoid a potential usage of a crowd-funding source of income for a continuation of the franchise.

Yahari Zoku is exactly what every anime within the romantic comedy should strive to be, and while I’m not saying all romcom anime should become an exact copy of this, as that’s uncreative and boring, directors and animators should take a look at what made this series a success and use that creativity to fuel their own inspirations.

The qualities within this anime are exactly what I’d expect from a masterpiece, and Yahari Zoku has won that privilege in my eyes. This anime is no less deserving of my personal favorite from 2015, and I recommend watching both seasons if you have any interest in a thrilling romantic comedy story where the ride never ends.

And about the doubt from before the series started? Well, I guess you could say…

Our anime predictions were as wrong as we expected them to be.

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Notes from the Author:

Yep, this post was super overdue. Hopefully the next will be faster, as I have a super long list of topics to burn through. No promises though.

I don’t really have too much to say about this one, except that these are my personal choices and I’m sure there’s other great anime out there that I’ve missed.

If you think there is a great anime that I missed from 2015, or if you just want to post your favorites from 2015, leave a comment below! I’d love to hear what you guys have to say.

Thanks for reading, and here’s a good year for us in 2016!

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