A look back: The Best Anime of 2011

The above is a decpiction of a scene from Hidan no Aria, one of the standout anime of last year.
Loljk, it was god-awful. Needed a picture at the post header though.

This past year's been a bit weird for me. Even ignoring random personal/life stuff, I mean just in terms of timekeeping and memory. The whole of 2011 seemed to pass by incredibly quickly in my mind, and I was reflecting recently that it had actually been a pretty poor year for an animeholic such as myself - presumably because of the abismal showing in this season just past. So I was surprised to learn, when I came to start making this post, that series which in my mind's eye were done with long before the start of 2011 actually fell into the confines of this list, i.e. they were from last year after all. More fool me. This was very welcome news though, as it widened the field sufficiently so that shows like Hidan no Aria warrant no further mention. Let's get on with it then, eh? What follows is a top 10 in no particular order:

You may have heard of Chaos;Head, a visual-novel-turned-anime with similar titular punctuation problems as Steins;Gate. I certainly had when it came to looking at season previews as Steins;Gate was about to start showing. Chaos;Head was one of the first anime series that I actually watched to completion and at least attempted to take-in, and still holds a special little area in my heart (the area of psychotic derangement, right between the area of despair and the area for To Love-Ru). So when I heard that Steins;Gate, a series created by the same people as gave us Chaos;Head - Nitroplus - was going to be shown, I just had to see it, knowing next-to-nothing about the plot or anything.
Let's just say I wasn't disappointed. And it's possibly best to go in with as little knowledge as possible. Apart from a bit of a lull around episodes 12-15ish, as I detailed on here briefly, this series was outstanding. Top class science-fiction, and an absolutely fantastic array of characters; of whom Okabe aka Mad Scientist Houoin Kyouma was the standout success. Our mighty protagonist is put through a series of events so bizarre and heart-rending that he nears a mental breakdown by the end point, and yet he manages to maintain a fundamental likeability due to his constant quips and quirks. These need to be seen to be believed in a number of cases. He's one of those characters that has you thinking "Oh Okabe, whatever will you think of next?" but has you loving every second of it. Best Engrish ever, incidentally.

Tiger & Bunny
Imagine 'The Incredibles' crossed with some kind of comedy sitcom about two guys with opposite personalities forced to work together, and Tiger & Bunny is the likely result of what you're imagining. Yep, this show is about superheroes. Doesn't sound original, I know, but I must say that I fell in love with the universe almost immediately. Tiger & Bunny come from a world in which heroism is heavily commercialised, so we see our heroes in the intro sequence donning sponsorship logos ranging from Pepsi to anime studios - a brilliant touch, in my mind - and the acts of saving people and apprehending criminals in themselves are moves which earn our heroes points in the league to be crowned number one.
This was another of the shows last year in which the protagonist himself is actually likeable, a trait that oft goes amiss these days, but also offers a strong cast of unique supporting characters. There's no environment like a team of superheroes when it comes to creating character sideboards. A lot of the plot and action itself is fairly bog-standard, but the characters and setting make up for it tenfold. This show was so popular, both in Japan and around the world, that they already have three feature-length films in production. And they're selling Kotetsu's hat. I need myself one of those.

Usagi Drop
Now here's a show which I'm pretty damned sure isn't aimed at me. But I couldn't get enough of it all the same, I've even gone and picked up the manga! (the cover of which is bright pink...) Essentially Usagi Drop, or Bunny Drop if you'd prefer, follows the story of a 30-year-old bachelor, Daikichi, who through some rather strange circumstances ends up raising a 6-year-old girl, Rin. The story itself unfolds in the form of a series of events/milestones, both monumental and seemingly insignificant, which affect the lives of both guardian and child.
This is very much a character-driven story. We're led to believe it's focussed on the development of Rin as a young lady whilst she progresses through life's trials, however it's as much - if not more - about the way in which Daikichi's character changes when he has this 'burden' of responsibility dropped in his lap; changes both unconcscious and forced. I'd imagine this is supposed to strike a chord with parents, particularly single parents, however I still find it both interesting from a cultural standpoint, and entertaining. Some of the facial expressions in this show are second to none.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica / Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
I'm ashamed of myself on this one. Not for watching a mahou shoujo anime, oh no, but for only having watched it over the last few days. Oh I'd heard the reviews - popular opinion definitely came down on the side of "outstanding" for this series - but I just never found the time. Man am I glad I did. Without wanting to give too much away, as one might have guessed it's not your typical mahou shoujo. Things go a bit crazy.
What can I say really? I simply loved every moment of it. I guess one of the most prominent points for me is that, as a show, it communicates themes so well. From the spine-chilling choral music, to the out-of-this-world artstyle mash-up, to the moods of utter hopelessness or vindictiveness, to possibly the creepiest thing I've ever witnessed (those close-up shots of the cat/fox/thing's face haunt my nights). Just watch it.

Mawaru Penguindrum
I think I've probably given this one enough attention in previous blog posts. I couldn't give you a plot synopsis even if I tried - I'm still not sure what on earth was happening in half of this show. What I can tell you is that it's freaking insane, but thoroughly entertaining to boot. Like Steins;Gate there was a bit of a lull in the midsection, but it got back into it's swing quite quickly and fluidly. Theoretically I may have enjoyed it more if it had made a shred of sense, but that's unlikely.
Penguins + bug spray = a winner.

Level E
There are no words to describe how hilarious this show is. The bottom line is that there are thousands of aliens hidden on the earth, of a variety of different species, disguised as humans unbeknownst to mankind. I don't want to give too much away, as there's a bit of a twist quite early on, but the show begins with the central character crash-landing on our planet. He proceeds to bunk up with a random highschool baseball player, and tells him that he lost all his memories in the crash.
This is possibly my favourite straight comedy anime out there; had me laughing out loud pretty much constantly. The show follows our alien through a series of misadventures, each one more hilarious than the last. His character is just excellently done. Look out for the Colour Rangers (pictured above).

Hanasaku Iroha
If this were a western show I'm sure it would be heralded by adverts claiming it the "feel-good anime of the year!", as it follows a quirky young girl trying to make her way in the world. Most episodes stand pretty much on their own as they portray our protagonist Ohana, and the other staff at the inn she works at, dealing with situations as they arise - though not always competently.
I probably wouldn't say this series was sensational, but at the same time I found myself missing my weekly dose of it after it had finished. I guess that is what you'd call a 'feel-good factor'. Funny in places, emotional in others, and all-round a generally entertaining watch. Don't expect to understand any of the characters' motivations though.

This is one of those detective shows which takes its cues heavily from the Holmes & Watson partnership, only in this case Holmes is a miniscule blonde girl from a generic European microstate and Watson is the third son of a Japanese imperial soldier sent overseas to study. Naturally the show is devoted to the development of this unlikely partnership as well the solving of unbelievable cases - supernatural elements to these are a common theme.
At first I wasn't particularly taken by this one I admit, but as it progressed I really got drawn into both the setting and the characters. I'm sure that a lot of people, with a passing glance, would probably just label Victorique (or however you spell her name, pictured above) as your typical tsundere, but I think much more about her character is communicated. Kujo is pretty damn dull though, having caught 'generic male highschool protagonist syndrome'. Anyway, this is a great show - especially if you're in the mood for something that's not a harem or battle anime. The inspector also has the best hair you'll ever see.

Fireball Charming
Now this one is pretty much unique; a series of episodes only 2-3 minutes long produced by Disney Japan. The show pretty much solely consists of quick-flowing dialogue and retorts between the two characters shown above - the highborn girl who wants to frolic in the halls, and her ever-helpful and restricting companion.
The speed of the dialogue is pretty much staggering, as I guess it has to be to fit much into a couple of minutes, and the jokes just keep coming one after another. I'll admit some of the stuff I didn't really follow because as is often the way some of the humour relies on cultural/language references specific to Japan, but at the same time the majority of it can be understood and is hilarious. The animtion is absolutely sublime as well. I had good fun with this one, and it really doesn't take up too much time to go watch it.

SKET Dance
A bit of a cheat seeing as it's an ongoing anime, but it started up this last year and was definitely one of my highlights. The series follows the exploits and japery of the SKET-Dan, a trio devoted to solving the problems of pupils and teachers alike at the school they attend. The tasks they're asked to perform range from the mundane to the absolutely ridiculous, and yet all of them are done in style with an acceptable number of mishaps along the way.
Apart from the odd moment where the comedy can be a bit in-your-face, I find this show to be one of the funniest that I've seen. Aside from the constant jibing at how Bossun is a pitiful main character for a shounen, the situations that they've come up with are simply brilliant, and Switch is just a genius character no matter how you look at it - and they even gave him some serious, gritty backstory to boot which surprised me. I can only hope that SKET Dance doesn't get stale as it carries on running.

So those are probably my top 10 for the year. You'll doubtless disagree. Here are some honourable mentions:
Blade - for being a Marvel adaptation that didn't just straight-off suck
[C] - for toying with some pretty interesting concepts
Dog Days - for being genuinely entertaining
Infinite Stratos - for the outstanding racial stereotypes
The World God Only Knows II - for being great, though not quite as good as season one
Kamisama no Memochou - for having Daisuke Ono cast as an utter badass


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