In looking back at my Top 10 list, my original take that 2015 was a slightly below average anime year seems to hold true. Apart from Death Parade – which while not my all-time best #1 series certainly isn’t a reach there – the rest of the top five uniformly feel like they’re a couple of spots too high. Akatsuki no Yona and Baby Steps 2 are fantastic, as is Kiseijuu, but my gut-level reaction is that they feel more than #4-6 type series than #2-4. I think the same is more or less true with the rest of the Top 10, though less so.
So what struck me when compiling the rest of the Top 20? Mostly that the shows that feel most like they “belong” where they finished are the 11-15 shows on this list. They’re a strong group and not far behind the shows that just made the Top 10, so what that tells me is that 2015 is strongest when it goes 15-deep. Above that it’s a bit subpar, and while I have a ton of affection for the #16-20 series here, they don’t necessarily seem like elite series as a group. To be honest the bottom three are a bit of a reach, maybe the weakest to make a year-end Top 20 for me. And there were really no painful omissions from the top 20 as there have been in better years – the last cut was the second season of Sidonia no Kishi, and that doesn’t seem like a Top 20 series to me.
Update: A couple of readers reminded me that Diamond no Ace did in fact run for all of 2015, thus becoming eligible for this list – for some reason I remembered it ending last December with a one-cour break between seasons. I didn’t have the heart to cut out Joukamachi no Dandelion after writing about it, though, so I left it tacked on to the bottom of the list.
11. Arslan Senki – Arakawa Hiromu adaptations are pretty much a sure bet, especially when you add in a beloved original source material by Tanaka Yoshiki. This one wasn’t perfect by any means – the visuals from SANZIGEN/LIDENFILMS were inconsistent, and the character of Narsus proved a bit too much of a Marty Stu for my tastes. Still, this was a full-fledged military epic that touched on some pretty powerful themes, and featured generally strong cast with a very likeable protagonist in Arslan. A second season has already been announced for 2016, no surprise given the popularity of the franchise.
12. Noragami Aragoto – The strength of the competition may be part of the reason Noragami jumped from 18th place in last year’s list to 12th this year, but mostly it’s because “Aragoto” was simply better than the original. Both the Bishamon and Ebisu arcs were excellent, each with much to recommend them, and all of the major characters saw significant growth and development. I thought we might get a sequel when the first season ended – I feel less optimistic this time around.
13. Subete ga F ni Naru – Oono Toshiya rebounded nicely after the twin Gatchaman disasters, proving once again he can write a coherent and intellectually dense anime (though this one was an adaptation, of course). This mystery was an interesting look at the future from a 1980s perspective, and offered character dynamics even more engaging than the mystery (which was a good one). It also felt the most like a NoitaminA show of any NoitaminA shows in the last couple of years.
14. Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road – It’s only now that I realize that Yowapeda is only the second sports anime in the Top 20 (though Haikyuu and Daiya no A might have made the second 10 if they weren’t ongoing). The first series did place higher, and I think that does reflect the fact that “Grande Road” wasn’t quite as consistent as the original. It did finish on an excellent note, however, and at its best – stuff like that race finale and Onoda and Tadokoro singing “Hime!” as they raced through the peloton to catch up to their teammates – this sequel was truly great. A third season is coming this year.
15. Shoukugeki no Souma – Noticing a trend here? Here’s yet another 11-20 series that already has a sequel announced. I kind of figured it would happen because the manga is massively popular (one notch below the likes of AssClass), but it still surprises me that this series didn’t sell better on disc. It’s really good, for starters, and features fanservice for both genders. Souma may be the best food-related anime in years, and JC Staff has done one of their most stylish and dashing adaptations ever in bringing it to the small screen.
16. Kyoukai no Rinne – Wait for it… Yes, Kyoukai no Rinne has a 2016 sequel coming too. This show hardly made a ripple in the pool of Western anime fans, but I loved it – it may be Rumiko’s funniest series ever. And it must be said, the anime is definitely funnier than the manga – the excellent seiyuu cast makes the manga’s deadpan humor come alive in a delightful way. Kyoukai no Rinne is one of those anime comedies that’s old-school in a good way.
17. Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – Of all the series I regret not blogging, Ronja is near the top of the list (along with Nekogami Yaoyorozu and Gundam Build Fighters, among others). Part of it is simply that it ended up being a damn good series, but it’s also the fact that it may well be the final significant work from Ghibli (while Polygon co-produced, the backgrounds, storyboarding and music is pure Ghibli). Yes, the character CGI is pretty bad and the first half drags a lot – this show really shouldn’t have been two cours. But in the second half with it’s focus on Ronja and Birk’s escape into the wild, Miyazaki Goro really captured the magic that makes Astrid Lindgren’s novel one of the greatest children’s books of the 20th Century.
18. Diamond no Ace – It would be hard to imagine a show annoying me more often than Daiya no A did and still placing in the Top 20, but I really do love this show when it’s on-point – I just wish that would happen more often. Warts and all this is still a very good sports anime with some excellent training and tournament arcs, and Eijun is a wholly likeable and charismatic protagonist. The baseball is generally quite realistic too, including the depiction of some of the more unsavory elements of schoolboy ball in Japan (though it’s not always clear where the show stands), which I really appreciate as a hard-core fan.
19. Jitsu wa Watashi wa – A pretty simple formula here, really – a very funny screwball comedy about very loveable characters. Jitsu wa is just plain silly in a good way, and at its best elicited serious laughs at a rare clip. The ending wasn’t the series at its best, but on the whole this was a very easy show to like.
20. Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! – What’s that you say – Binan Koukou has a sequel coming in 2016? You betcha, and I was gratified to see this anime-original sell as well as it did and earn that sequel, because the last time Takamatsu Shinji directed a hilarious series that used high school boys to satirize what anime about cute girls has become it kind of tanked. You had to figure getting Takamatsu-sensei and Yokote Michiko together to spoof mahou shoujo with guys was going to yield a lot of big laughs, and you’d be right – Binan Koukou was one of the funniest shows of 2015.
21. Joukamachi no Dandelion – This is one of those anime comic fantasies like Magimoji Rurumo and Gugure! Kokkuri-san (and Jitsu wa) that win you over with heart and sincerity. I had sleeper vibes about this show and indeed, it was a lot more than it looked to be on paper. There were a couple of real stinker episodes when the series gave into its tendency to lapse into modern anime cliche, but on the whole it was a lot of fun – and it showed a family that genuinely loved and cared about each other and treated each other with decency. Surely that’s a good thing.