Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Hanners' Anime 'Blog Air Pie With No Pastry Awards 2011

So, it's that time again, that most people call New Year but I prefer to think of as a series of unrepeatable expletives that I mutter while rocking back and forth in a corner until it's all over.  But hey, this article isn't about that, this is all about the good (not so good) stuff the world of anime brought us over the course of 2011, with those magic moments awarded by a much sought-after Hanners' Anime 'Blog Air Pie With No Pastry Award.  Enough of me blathering then - onwards!

Best opening titles - It arguably hasn't been an amazing year for opening credit sequences, with plenty of material that was "quite good" but nothing that had me frothing at the mouth and insisting that I watch it every week for the most part.

In terms of originality, Fractale's opening sequence was not only by far the best part of the series but also downright cool (with only Kamisama Dolls opening running it close in those terms), while Mawaru Penguindrum's mixture of music and imagery was slick and sexy beyond compare.  Of course, as is so often the case SHAFT have plenty to answer for in the gorgeous opening credit department, with Hidamari Sketch xSP delighting me and making me feel hungry in equal measure, while Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko was as weird as its theme tune.

It's Fractale that takes the award overall for me however, for being both sexy and threatening to slow my computer to a crawl with your crazy mass of fractal-based colour, all while delivering arguably the best opening theme of the year in the process.

Best closing titles - Given that some shows love use different ending themes and/or credit animation every week these days, trying to pick a best set of closing titles is like trying to hit a moving target.  Not that there have been many targets worth hitting particularly, with Puella Magi Madoka Magica's Kalafina-inspired ending fitting the series like a glove, but losing out in my mind to the ending of Un-Go - easily the best ending theme of the year, and it was quite pretty to look at for all its simplicity too.

Best soundtrack - Although there's no single overall soundtrack that jumps out at me for 2011, there are a fair number of contenders here - Steins;Gate had some superb stand-out tracks within it, while series such as Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, Kami-sama no Memo-chou and Sacred Seven delivered fitting background music throughout and Un-Go's soundtrack matched the quality of its opening and ending.

You might wish to call this cheating, but it's to a couple of currently airing shows that I turn to and allow to battle out for this award, with Mirai Nikki closely losing out to Persona 4: The Animation - a double-dose of cheating given that the series lifts much of its soundtrack wholesale from the game it adapts but screw you, these are my awards so I can do what I like!

Worst soundtrack - While I could pick out plenty of forgettable soundtracks from the past year (actually, I probably can't because I've forgotten them all), I can't think of any that struck me as outright terrible - thus, for the second year in a row I'm not going to name or shame any particular series on this front.

Best character - With anime arguably becoming ever-more character driven, there was certainly something for everyone this year, from the psychopathic Gasai Yuno in Mirai Nikki (and eventually psychopathic Miki Sayaka in Madoka Magica) to the adorable Yune in Ikoku Meiro no Croisee.  Add in tsundere aplenty, scientific geniuses like Steins;Gate's Makise Kurisu, Working's androphobic Mahiru Inami... so the list goes on.

There is, however, only one character (well two actually) who can claim to have added words to the anime fan's vernacular during the course of 2011, those being Ohana Matsumae and Minko Tsurugi of Hanasaku Iroha.  While the former's determination to "fest it up" gave us perhaps my favourite phrase of the year, you can't really deny the insulting power of the word "Hobiron" or "Balut", particularly when directed via a character that... well, just ticked a lot of boxes for me basically.  Minchi might not be the most important character of 2011, she hasn't saved the world or anything, but she's my personal favourite and it isn't every day you get a new insult to add to your arsenal.

Worst character - If I was feeling mean, I could probably just write "every character in Mawaru Penguindrum" here, but there's a difference between a bad character and bad characterisation so I won't.  How about Fractale's Nessa though, as perhaps the most irritating character ever to grace the face of anime?  No matter how much you love Hana Kanazawa's work, it was grating at best.

However, even Nessa has met her match in my eventual winner here - Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai's Yozora Mikazuki.  Okay, so she isn't all bad, but her incessant and downright rotten bullying throughout much of the series makes her a nasty, spiteful girl in my eyes, and her softer moments don't do enough for me to forgive that.  There's a point when amusing teasing turns into something darker, and Yozora's crossing of that line on occasion was one of the biggest pitfalls of the series for me.

Best filler episode - Given how many of the shows I watched this year were either free of filler or arguably nothing but disparate, filler-esque material, there isn't a massive amount to choose from in this category - Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing disappointed with its recap episode, while Mawaru Penguindrum made it almost impossible to tell the filler from actual material.

Once again then, it's The World God Only Knows which leads the way again, actually offering up its best material in its filler segments at times in comparison to the rest of the series.  Ergo, episode eight of The World God Only Knows Season 2 gets the nod here, thanks largely to its hilarious treatment of the history of the dating sim that had me in stitches.

Best individual episode - This is an easy one, to the point where there's simply no competition at all - episode ten of Puella Magi Madoka Magica revealed elements of its plot that had been building up from the very start, and more importantly it did so in fantastic fashion, compressing so much concentrated awesome into one instalment that it's amazing that there wasn't some kind of explosion as a result of its release.  While this episode would be nothing without the framework carefully and slowly built around it, even as a standalone it works on so many levels that it can only be worth of the highest praise.

Best series ending - Truly good endings are surprisingly rare in anime, and as Steins;Gate moved inexorably onwards you couldn't help but wonder if it would be able to tie up all of its loose ends in a suitably impressive manner.  Well it did, and it did so almost perfectly with drama, pathos and a feeling of satisfaction that seemed so far from reach given the complexities of its plot and concept.  A job very well done indeed; let's just hope the forthcoming movie doesn't undo it all.

Worst series ending - Ahh, Fractale, you held so much promise at the start, only to drop the ball half-way through and then drop your guts right at the very end.  It's almost as if the production staff watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the week before work on the finale started and said "hey, you know what, we could work with this..." - surely a thought which lead the show to its final disappointing denouement.

Best series I haven't actually watched - Although series like Ben-To and iDOLM@STER have been amongst the much-recommended shows that I haven't really touched this year, it can surely only the third season of Natsume Yuujinchou that wins this particular award.  Maybe 2012 will grant me the time to catch up on this great little series, of which I've only watched the first season thus far...

Worst anime series - Perhaps thankfully for my sanity I only dropped three series over the course of 2011, leaving me to trudge through the likes of the largely awful (on account of its predictability) Star Driver, the aforementioned disaster that ultimately befell Fractale and shows that had so much potential but didn't quite use it right such as C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control.

While I'm tempted to give Kyoto Animation's laborious and often unfunny treatment of Nichijou this award simply because of the expectation foist upon it, it's to Star Driver that I ultimately return as my bête noire of 2011 - okay, it ended well enough, but that doesn't forgive the twenty-four episodes preceding it which made Endless Eight look like the most varied anime story arc, you've ever watched.  High school drama/comedy, followed by a mecha battle that had zero meaning or tension over and over again - it's nightmare fuel, pure and simple, a Groundhog Day of mediocrity which stretched out seemingly endlessly at times.

Best anime series - In any other year we'd be singing the praises of Steins;Gate as the best of the best, or perhaps lauding the comedy and dramatic sensibilities of Wandering Son. Then what about Tiger & Bunny's sharp take on the superhero story, or the slice of life wonders of Usagi Drop?

But, this is no normal year, and it goes to show what a revelation my winner of the biggest category of the bunch is that it stands head and shoulders above of such stiff competition.  It probably goes without saying that Puella Magi Madoka Magica is that series, and what is there left to say about it that hasn't been said already?  A smart take on the magical girl genre that takes its usual tropes to their logical conclusion and adds a twist of sci-fi sensibility, the series doesn't do much wrong once it catches your attention with the climax to its third episode.  Could its ending have been better?  Maybe, but it's arguable that they could have improved upon it much, and it still doesn't detract from the fact that watching this series has been the most incredible ride of the year, bar none.

So there you have it - slightly later than I hoped for, and perhaps not quite as striking and energetic as I might have liked (did I ever mention how New Year sucks?), but an awards ceremony of sorts nonetheless.  Of course, this is the part where you get to argue over my choices, and heaven knows I argued over them enough myself so it shouldn't be difficult for the rest of you.  Allow me to take a deep breath then, as you fire away and berate me for my lack of poor taste.  Oh, and Happy New Year, whatever the Hell that means...

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