Stark’s Picks: 2012 Anime of the Year

You Can (Not) Handle All This Moe

It has been about a year since I did my first AOTY article for Varms.net, and since then I’ve begun writing the Weekly Anime Round-Up, where I talk about currently airing anime fresh from Japan.  This year I’ve decided that all of my picks for AOTY will have to consist of shows that finished airing within the year, since some shows can turn ugly during the second half.  This year I have also included a few special categories, along with my top 10 picks for the year.  This year, Comedies and Slice of Life shows dominated the scene by delivering some very unique concepts that proved to be incredibly entertaining.

This ranking is based solely on my personal selections for the year, so don’t get bent out of shape if your favorite show isn’t here.  There were plenty of other shows I personally enjoyed that did not make this list, but I would like to encourage any fans out there to post their favorites from 2012 in the comments.  I tend to watch most of the stuff readers have suggested in my other articles, so it’s always good to share your favorites.

10.  Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate
(Love, Elections, and Chocolate)

The only election in 2012 that was worth paying attention to.

KoiChoco is about a school in the near-future that is operated by a powerful student government.  When an upcoming election threatens to shut down the school’s easygoing clubs in an effort to make budget cuts, Yuuki Oojima of the “Food Research” club enters the election to save his club.  Unfortunately, he soon finds that this seemingly innocent school election is full of conspiracies, class-warfare, and even attempted assassinations!

This show mixes political drama and typical school romance into a unique formula that was very enjoyable.  I really liked that they didn’t leave the story or its romantic elements “open” at the end like many shows, and instead things wrap up very nicely over the course of 12 episodes.  Also, the beer-chugging teacher was the most awesome teacher in all of history.

9.  Upotte!
Japan may love guns even MORE than Americans do.

In Japan, pretty much anything can be represented by cute girls.  Upotte is about a school for assault rifles, where different models of guns are schoolgirls.  These girls train and compete amongst one another in school sponsored events to prove which “gun” in the superior weapon.  This show combines slice of life elements with action sequences, along with some interesting lessons about military firearms.  And there is lots of ”gun cleaning” (Guess what kind of scenes those are), because clean guns are happy guns.  This show ends with a literal “bang” as the girls eventually battle against the “evil” cold-war era Soviet firearms.

While this show did not have a large popularity in either Japan or over here, it has gathered a cult following among aficionados of weapons and all that is cute.  The strange concept behind this show is what originally drew me in, and it was executed well enough to be one of my favorites for the year.  The NRA should be taking notes; because an anime is somehow one of the greatest pieces of pro-gun propaganda of all time, and the ending delivers a simple yet undeniably true statement about the nature of firearms.

 

8. Ano Natsu de Matteru
(Waiting in the Summer)

Ku Ku Ku… Who wants some dynamite drink?

Ano Natsu is a high school/summer romance story with the twist of having one of the students being an Alien that has crash landed on earth.  While this has certainly been done before, this show does it right.  The story involves a boy named Kaito that becomes mixed up with a girl that is new to town, and unbeknownst to Kaito and his friends, new to planet Earth.  Most of the story takes place during summer break, when Kaito and friends film an amateur sci-fi film and attempt to sort out their feelings for one another.

This show has a cast of interesting characters, crisp and colorful scenery and animation, and a great storyline with lots of unique twists and turns.  The end of this show is quite the surprise, and finishes the story in a spectacular fashion.   This show is a great watch for anyone that digs the romance/slice of life genre.

7. AKB0048

Idols fighting space marines with motherfucking lightsabers.  What more could you want?

This show was created as a shameless plug for the famous Japanese Idol group, AKB48.  This show has the ridiculous concept of being a story about an Idol group in the future that flies around the galaxy performing shows on various planets.  The catch is that the Interstellar government has a ban on entertainment, and they enforce this ban with heavily armed troops and battle mechs.  This means that the rebellious Idol group, AKB0048, must be proficient in both singing and combat.

The absurdity of this concept is what makes this show surprisingly good.  Watching idols fight off armored troopers and battle mechs with microphones that turn into lightsabers and clothing accessories repurposed as weapons is a kind of crazy awesomeness that only anime can pull off.  Who would have thought that a show about fun being illegal would be one of the most fun shows of the year?

6. Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon II
(Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere II)
Big boobs and frenzied combat are back!

This is Horizon’s second time to land on my AOTY list, and its back for all of the same reasons.  This time Tori and the crew of the Musashi travel to the floating island of England, while still fighting off the Testament Union.  This season delivers even more of what made the first season so great:  crazy and creative fast-paced fights, a unique setting with a detailed universe, and lots of sexy girls in skin-tight outfits.

Horizon is what happens when anime gets cranked up to 11. It is an intense show that moves at a brisk pace even when it seems like not much is going on.  For a second year in a row, Horizon has continued to be a devilishly entertaining blend of action, comedy, and fanservice concentrated into pure fun.  Rumor has it a third season in the works, so we may get yet even more of this!

5. Yuru Yuri II
I for one, welcome our new moe overlord.

I missed the first season of this show when it aired last year, but I got caught up just before this season aired.  Yuru Yuri is a slice of life/comedy about a group of girls in the “Amusement Club”, which is pretty much just a club for the girls to mess around without any real purpose.  With the phrase “yuri” in the title, some may get the idea that the focus of this show is on lesbians, but that would not be an accurate assumption.  While some of the girls have crushes on one another, that isn’t the focus of the show, and there is no form of fanservice to be found in this show whatsoever.  This show is simply a light-hearted comedy with a lot of character-based humor.

This show has a similar vibe to “Lucky Star”, but its unique humor and oodles of cuteness keep it in a class all of its own.   While this show is by no means revolutionary, it was one of my favorites this year because of the simple fact that no matter how bad a mood I was in, this show could make me laugh.  Anyone looking to get into this show should watch the first season, since the most of the jokes are tied closely to the characters and their personalities.

4. Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?  OF THE DEAD
(Is This a Zombie? Season 2)
Even alcoholics are cute in anime.

Zombie is yet another show to return to my list of AOTY picks.  Even though this season is more focused on this shows ridiculous brand of humor instead of advancing the main storyline, the non-stop laughs from this show make it all worth the time.  A few new characters are introduced this season, my favorite one in particular is a cute girl in a frilly dress that spends her time drinking booze in the school’s chemistry lab and puking rainbows.  Other wacky additions to the cast include a mysterious man that coughs up blood for no reason, and a busty magical girl that spends her time drawing manga.

My only major complaint with this season of Zombie is the fact that it abruptly ends just as the story has built up, but the endless barrage of hilarious situations more than made up for any misgivings I had.  This show begs to have a third season, but considering its so-so BD sales, the chance seems slim.  A sliver of hope for more remains due to the fact that the final episode and OVA hint at more to come.

3. Haiyore! Nyaruko-san
(Nyaruko-san, the Crawling Chaos)
Don’t be scared, she’s just an unfathomable abomination.

Even Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos is not beyond the reach of Japan’s culture of cute.  Nyaruko is a comedy about a student named Mahiro that becomes dependent on the protection of Nyarlathotep, who has taken the form of a cute girl.  Anyone hoping this show will be a serious take on the Cthulu Mythos should stop right here, this show is a reference-packed comedy show through and through, and that’s why it’s awesome.  Each episode is crammed with references to Japanese TV shows, anime, video games, and even a few American films, along with the its own brand of random, at times perverse, humor.

While it is unlikely for any viewer to pick up on all of the references, there is still plenty of stuff for a seasoned anime fan to pick up on.  Even without the references, the nonstop humor of the show in itself will have anyone that isn’t dead inside laughing their ass off.  I had tons of fun watching this, and the best news yet is that a second season is already on its way!

2. Accel World
Fun Fact: Silver Crow gets all the bitches.

This anime has received a mixed reception among many fans, mostly because of the fact that the main character is a short, fat student harassed by bullies.  Anyone that passed on this show for that reason has only cheated themselves, because Accel World was one of the most amazing shows to air this year.  Accel World takes place a few decades in the future, where a device called the neuro-linker has made major advancements in information technology.  Neuro-linkers are powerful computers that are worn around the neck, and connect directly to the mind.  This device makes Augmented Reality a part of everyday life, and Virtual Reality video games a popular pastime.

This story is about a student named Haru, who uses Virtual Reality games to escape his miserable life of bullying and disrespect.  One day his life is changed when the most popular girl in his class offers him the chance to download a mysterious program called “Brain Burst.”  At first glance, Brain Burst seems like nothing but a MMO fighting game, but the game rewards its players with something called “Burst Points.”  These burst points can be used for leveling up avatars and other in game exchanges, but their real power is they can also be used in the real world to “overclock” a players brain.  This accelerated thinking speed gives its user a sensation similar to stopping time, allowing players to gain an advantage in real life.

Accel World takes place in an interesting universe, as both the real world and the world of Brain Burst make for an awesome sci-fi setting that is one of a kind.  Watching Haru’s character grow as he faces the struggles of the real world and Brain Burst was a really great aspect of this show, since Haru eventually breaks the mold of the typical, weakling “Shinji Ikari” type of character.  This show has an awesome mix of action, drama, world building, and of course, plenty of cute girls.

1. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
(Despite my Adolescent Delusions, I Want to Date!)
The Dark Flame Master is the world’s only hero.

During his middle school years, Yuuta suffered from what some people call “chuunibyou” or “8th grade syndrome.”  Basically chuunibyou is something like an overactive imagination.  Yuuta loved to stay in the character of “Dark Flame Master”, a fictional character he created through his love of anime and manga.  Now that he’s made it to high school, Yuuta enrolls in a school where no one knows him, in hopes of living a normal life without the embarrassment of his childish behavior from middle school.  Just as Yuuta thinks he’s on track to enjoy a healthy social life, a girl named Rikka climbs onto his balcony, seeking the “famous” Dark Flame Master.  Rikka wears an eye patch to conceal what she calls the “Tyrant’s Eye”, and claims she is on a mission to find the unseen Horizon.

This show is an amazing romantic comedy, animated by Japan’s famous Kyoto Animation studio, an anime studio renowned for its high quality animation and captivating characters.  The antics of Rikka and her “servant” Sanae kept me laughing through almost all of this show.  This show also features some amazing animated “battles”, scenes where Rikka and Sanae’s delusional fights are brought to life in spectacular fashion.  Eventually things do take a serious turn, as both the drama and romance heat up between the characters.  Everything comes together nicely at the end, making this a great “feel good” anime.

This show tops my list for AOTY for its unique take on a romantic comedy, fun characters, beautiful animation, and a heartwarming story that deals with being true to oneself and coping with loss.  This anime didn’t set out to blow anyone’s minds or bring drastic change to the medium, it simply set out to tell a good story, and that’s what makes it so wonderful.  While I personally find a lot of Kyoani’s shows to be hit and miss, I think this is one of the best shows the studio has put out in years.

2012 AOTY Special Categories:

2012 AOTY Honorable Mention:
Psycho Pass
One of the most awesome weapons in all of anime.

Psycho Pass was not considered for AOTY simply because it is only halfway finished at this time.  However, this is probably one of the best sci-fi anime to come around in years.  Psycho Pass takes place in a future where a computer known as the Sybil system watches over and evaluates the minds of every citizen.  This system knows if some has, or will commit a criminal act, and “Latent Criminals” are given the choice of seeking therapy or suffering the consequences.  The story surrounds a police force known as the “Enforcers”, latent criminals that are given a second chance by hunting down other criminals, under the supervision of detectives.  The enforcers also employ a unique firearm known as the Dominator, a gun that will only fire upon an individual with a high “crime coefficient”.

This show has a really awesome setting, great characters, incredible animation, and interesting villains.  Psycho Pass has only gotten better with each episode, so things are looking good for the second half.  Depending on how well this show finishes up, it could very well be a serious contender for 2013’s AOTY.

Best Ecchi Show:
Highschool DxD
Trying to find a screencap of this without full-frontal nudity is REALLY hard.

Sure an ecchi show may not necessarily be AOTY material, but they sure as hell can be fun.  Highschool DxD is ecchi done right:  it blends tons of hot girls, a bit of action, and hilarious comedy, and it doesn’t skimp on the ecchi.  The show’s opening has nudity right off the bat, and the credit sequence has an amazingly well animated display of the girls dancing like strippers.  DxD is about a student named Issei , that winds up being murdered and resurrected into a demon by the hottest demon you will ever see.  This show is all about Issei trying to prove himself to his new demon masters, so he may one day become an overlord with the harem of his dreams.  A must see for any fan of ecchi shows.

So Bad it’s Good:
Senki Zesshou Symphogear
Girls in skimpy battle gear are always worth a watch.

Symphogear is a show that takes place in the distant future, when mankind is plagued by an alien menace known as the “noise.”  The only weapon that can defeat the noise is a song-powered battle armor known as the Symphogear.  That means this show is about cute girls in skimpy battle armor that sing idol songs and the fight aliens.  The story is nothing but silly nonsense, but the show is honest with itself for what it is and the cool designs and over the top action scenes make this show incredibly entertaining.

Best Mecha Show (That isn’t part of the Gundam franchise):
Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse
TSF’s are pretty fucking awesome.

Muv Luv was a highly-anticipated show for this year, based off a popular visual novel with a devoted fan base.  Unfortunately, this show’s low production values and slow pacing made it a bit of a letdown for many fans.  While this show is by no means amazing, it still proved to be quite entertaining, and has some really awesome, and at times very gory, action scenes.  Mecha anime have been dwindling in recent years, so there wasn’t much competition, but it was still worth watching nonetheless.

Biggest Disappointment:
Sword Art Online
At least the girls were cute.

This entry is likely to ruffle some feathers, since this is probably the most popular show of the year. SAO is about gamers that become trapped in a Virtual Reality MMORPG, and if they die in the game, they are killed in real life.  I personally enjoyed the first half of the show, and defended its criticisms time and time again.  Unfortunately, the end of the first story arc is where several problems began to pop up.  The story became increasingly reliant on unexplained “miracles” to get the characters out of jams, and the writing became sloppier as the second half of the show continued.  Much of the suspense and thrills from the first half are lost when the main character, Kirito enters a game to save his girlfriend that is still trapped in the virtual world, only to sideline his mission to show off for other girls.  Every time the story goes and explains something can’t be done, Kirito does it anyway, with no reasonable explanation.

The show had a lot of great things going for it: an interesting setting, great character designs, good animation, and an epic soundtrack written by the same composer from Madoka Magica.  Unfortunately, the adaptation of the show from the original light novels was executed poorly, and at times it felt like the writers were literally making things up as they went along.  This show was entertaining, but it is not worthy of the general acclaim and popularity it has received.

5 Ecchi Anime Series That Push the Limits

Ecchi is a genre of anime that is packed with fan service and perverse humor, yet is not pornographic, like hentai anime.  Gillman actually has an awesome analogy to explain this:  Ecchi is to “Porky’s” as hentai is “Debbie Does Dallas.”  No matter how “pure” an anime fan one claims to be, chances are they have explored the sexier side of anime at one time or another.  For this article I will be looking at five anime shows that push the ecchi genre (and Japanese TV censors) to the extreme.  And for all you naughty employees that have decided to read an article about ecchi shows at work, don’t sweat it- I’ve gone out of my way to write this to be safe for work.  Enjoy!

5.  Strike Witches (2 Seasons)

Fans of the “Spoony Bard” podcast may be surprised that this show is on this list.  In Spoony Bard, Episode 35, I mention my encounter with an anime fan that insists this show was as good as the anime classic, “Neon Genesis Evangelion:” From there I mention how such a notion is pure madness, and I negatively criticize Strike Witches for being silly and having a cast containing a few girls that are too young for my taste.  Placing a show like this on the same pedestal as a renowned classic such as Evangelion is pretty crazy.  (This segment of the podcast also made it our most “controversial” podcast of all time, resulting in a zealous fan suggesting Japan should be nuked in order to purge the fans of catgirls and lolicon.)

However, this show was never meant to be an action-packed, psychological, thrill ride to be showered with awards.  This is a show about an all-girl fighter squad that battles aliens in an alternate reality version of World War II, with each girl resembling and ace fighter pilot and an aircraft from the war.  Oh, and none of them wear pants—EVER.  This show mashes together several anime fetishes, then tosses them at its viewers:  animal ears and tails, panties, mecha-girls, bathing scenes, yuri overtones… it’s all there.  This ain’t no Evangelion, but it will deliver enough cuteness and fan service to kill an elephant.  It should also be mentioned that Strike Witches fans are a force to be reckoned with.

4.  Heaven’s Lost Property (2 Seasons)

Heaven’s Lost Property is a good example of how ecchi comedy is done right.  This show has one of the best male leads in an ecchi comedy, the ultra-perverted Tomoki.  Tomoki is a dirty minded high school student that has his life turned upside down when he encounters Ikaros, a “pet class angeloid” that falls from the sky, claiming that Tomoki is her new master, and she will obey any of his commands.

The situation gets even crazier over time, as Tomoki uses the advanced technology of the hidden world Ikaros came from for his perverted antics, making for some hilarious moments.  Over the course of the two seasons, Tomoki and Ikaros are joined with two other angeloids, the cute, yet cold Nymph, and the curvy, powerful, yet bumbling, Astraea.  As an added bonus, behind the fan service and comedy there is actually a somewhat interesting storyline, as well as some very cool fight scenes.

3.  Highschool of The Dead

Most ecchi anime is based around comedy, but HOTD takes the genre in a different direction through horror and violence.  HOTD is very much like a Japanese take on the American slasher flicks, but instead of horny teens getting killed for sinful behavior, it features a group of teens fighting off hordes of zombies in an endless assault of violence, panty shots, and bouncing boobs.  Not only does this show deliver in the perversion department, but I will even go far enough that it’s tale of survival in zombie apocalypse is more entertaining than TV’s “The Walking Dead.”

That’s right folks; I have gone so far as to say that an animated show about girls with big boobs fighting zombies is better than one of the most popular shows on western television.  Why?  The girls of HOTD may be there to supply perverse eye candy, but they still manage to do a better job of kicking zombie ass than any of the “delicate flowers” in the female cast of The Walking Dead.  HOTD is a visual feast of breathtaking action mixed with non-stop fan service that will keep any anime fan glued to the screen, no matter how “sophisticated” they claim to be.

2.  To Love Ru (2 Seasons)

To Love Ru seems to start off like a typical harem anime, similar to shows like “Tenchi Muyo,” and “Girls Bravo.”  However, TLR shakes things up a bit by taking things to the next level.  TLR is one of the most extreme shows in the ecchi genre, leaving no fetish or cliché behind.

TLR is a show that does not deny what it truly is: nothing more than an excuse for sexy girls to wind up in sexy situations.  TLR is a goofball harem comedy about hot alien girls in high school, with a nonstop barrage of fan service and nudity.  One of the awesome things about TLR is the fact that this show is not shy about anything, and over the run of both seasons they will cover almost every fetish that exists in anime, to the maximum limit of what can be shown on Japanese television.  Of all the anime I have seen, only one show goes further than this…

1.  Highschool DxD (1 Season- For Now)

Highschool DxD is the grand champion of all ecchi shows.  The opening sequence instantly shows most of the female cast topless, and the ending of each episode shows most of the female cast dancing on stripper poles.  This show does not mess around.  It is so jam-packed full of nudity, I have no idea how even the most liberal Japanese censors let this go onto late night television.  This is a show that pushes Japanese decency standards to the limit.

Highschool DxD is the tale of a perverse boy named Issei that is brutally murdered during his first date by a fallen angel.  He is then revived as a demon by a clan of powerful devils that also happen to be the most beautiful girls in his school.  This anime is about the battles between demons, angels, fallen angels, and members of the church, but also just as much about clothes that shred apart in combat, big boobs, and nudity.  If anyone watches one episode of this show for at least 10 minutes and does not see at least one of the girls topless, then they have watched this show blindfolded.  Highschool DxD is one of the best ecchi shows that anime has to offer, filled with laughs, hot girls, and perverse antics, not to mention some awesome fight scenes as well.

Read 5 more Ecchi Series that push the limits even more!