This being the first year I decided to casually play at being an aniblogger (in an age the format is largely dead, but whatever), I was looking forward to reaping some of the rewards and trying my hand at its most popular tradition, namely the 12 days of Christmas greatest moments countdown. Unfortunately due to work, a dead pc and a hospital stay the last few months have mostly been a write-off for me, falling behind or dropping most shows due to higher life priorities. As such my list completely missed the festive period so here I am scrambling to write something before the New Year hits. Grammar and spell checking be damned!
This isn’t a list of my all-time favourite shows of the year, nor is it necessary specific to particular scenes. Mostly this is just a collection of moments or themes that really stuck out to me. As much as I have nice things to say about the likes of Non Non Biyori, Maria the Virgin Witch, One Punch Man, Food Wars, Yona or Rokka, their highlights were either too vague to the show in general or just not quite as impactful as the other examples.
Anyway, part 1 of my countdown.
12. Death Parade – The Ice-Skating Rink
Death Parade didn’t impress me like it did with many people, being far too voyeuristically driven towards rooting out the nasty side of human nature for its emotional hook to resonate. It never quite became fetishized misery porn, with the tone usually remaining tasteful and the core message being one of hope, but the ever present morbid atmosphere quickly became draining and oppressive as I began to dread what potential horrors lay in each new participant’s past. Despite the style not being my thing I kept watching mostly because of the stellar direction that allowed enough investment and levity to keep my interest, occasionally rewarding me with arcs like the sublime episode six, which introduces the vulgar, yet charming and earnest Mayu.
However, my personal highlight remains the moment our nameless protagonist finally regains the memories of her life and subsequent death. I’d been dreading it, expecting some almost carnal celebration of despair to top the even most morbid contestant’s backstory, yet instead was treated to a silent series of flashbacks set to a beautifully animated sequence of the now-named Chiyuki skating on an ice rink, the focal point of both her greatest joy and eventual deepest despair. The silent montage is hardly a new trick by anime standards: people were raving about Spike’s fall from the cathedral in episode five of Cowboy Bebop back in 1998, yet it was so perfectly executed, conveying both emotional weight and symbolic importance that it goes to show that even the most tried and true of formulas retain their impact in a master’s hand.
11. Rolling Girls – The Best OVA of the Year
You may have forgotten seeing as it was just under a year ago but way back in January there was this fantastic two-episode anime by Wit Studio that aired on tv called The Rolling Girls. The rumour was it supposed to be a full-cour series but oddly that didn’t pan out for some reason. It was this great short about rival gangs lead by people with magical powers going head to head with other groups from separate prefectures in order to gain territory. Not only was the action fluid and literally bursting with colour, but there was a surprisingly touching tale weaved in concerning two siblings doing their best to protect one another, despite the giant difference in skill-sets. It was well paced and structured, balancing emotional weight with visual spectacle. I’d highly recommend sniffing it out if you have time to spare.
Wit managed to fill the rest of the timeslot it was put in with another show that seemed to employ the same animators but a different writing staff. I tried tuning in, and while it looked pretty the rambling direction and lack of context for any of its ideas quickly put me to sleep most weeks. A shame really but maybe one day The Rolling Girls might actual merit a full length tv show of its own. I can only hope.
10. Overlord – Memories from the End
After being consumed by my first mmorpg these last few years, to the sacrifice of all other games, I decided to check out the time log to see how long I’d been active in the game. The result was over eighty-four days. Granted, that doesn’t take into account all the times I’ve been afk or forgotten to log off but it was a chilling reminder of the impact it’s had on my life, in the pursuit of weapons, outfits and mounts. Countless hours spent grinding for prestige items that will quickly become out-dated by the next hot new thing. All that effort for what are essentially bytes of data that will one day vanish forever when the servers go down. It sounds utterly ridiculous when spoken out loud and yet I can’t deny the real sense of pride received from such digital trinkets. I worked hard to win them and shared pretty memories memories with fellow players along the way.
Overlord’s first episode understood this mentality perfectly; both in the joy of accomplishment and in the sadness of seeing it all fade away as the game and players slowly wind down and move on to the next stages of their lives. What are you left with then? Rooms full of trinkets that no longer serve a purpose and memories of happier times long gone. Instead of trying to give me a fix of an amazing world to project onto via the self-insert lead like most mmo-based anime, it presented a much more sombre outlook from after all the battles have been fought and really made me question whether spending my real time on fictitious busywork was the right choice. I’m still playing the game so I obviously haven’t answered that question, but at the very least Overlord’s opener provided a real eye-opener and realisation of an inevitability I hadn’t previously considered. The show eventuality becomes the power-fantasy it was always doomed to be, but that brief moment of curtain-pulling stuck with me long after the show was over.
9. Cinderella Girls – A Certain Scientific Executive Producer
Like SNAFU, Owarimonogatari & Sound Euphonium, the second season of Cinderella Girls ended up being so jam-packed with meaningful character development that it almost feels redundant to try and pick a specific moment to cement its worth. However, the introduction of new Executive Producer Mishiro becomes the central catalyst behind so many powerful scenes that it becomes impossible not to applaud her as the symbol of what makes the second arc so impressive. Initially presented like a villain, we get to see the effect her downsizing and relocations have on the idols’ emotional well-being. This leads to some heavy-hitting moments of rebellion, such as Kaede’s proud refusal of a lucrative contract or Nana’s despair in being unable to sacrifice her personal happiness for marketability when told to drop her childish bunny-girl persona.
However, other girls eventually take up her offer, leading to both personal growth and career success, and while this inevitability causes friction within their units, it ultimately stirs up the pot and forces beneficial soul-searching for everyone involved. Mashiro poorly handles things in the cold and calculated manner she makes decisions but there are clear financial and opportunistic rewards to them. Rather than a black and white us-vs-them scenario, Cinderella Girls muddies up the waters by asking difficult questions surrounding the clash between personal desires and corporate will, with the overall conclusions varying wildly from individual perspectives and situations. Mashiro may be seen as more a symbol than an actual opponent, but her very presence elevates the show head and shoulders above any other idol series currently on the market.