This year went by so fast, it might as well have had speedlines flying around it. So, lest we blink and find ourselves in 2016 already, how about we slow down a sec and appraise things?
These picks commemorate the end of a legendary era, but also demonstrate that decades-old material can still feel fresh. Maybe more than anything, though, our favorites of 2015 show how anime continues to be a fertile, creative playground where adventurous minds can find stories unlike anything else, anywhere else in the world. Whether you like quiet ghost stories, or body horror heroics, or Tarot-powered lunacy, there has been something to scratch your oh-so-particular itch in 2015.
WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE
How appropriate: Ghibli’s oeuvre ends not with a definitive period, but with a poetic ellipse. If the studio’s departure from feature films proves lasting, people will most likely treat The Wind Rises as its final word. However, this fits far better as a closing statement.
Many of Ghibli’s coming-of-age stories (Totoro, Ponyo, et al) tease the line between realism and surrealism in such a way that you question if the fantasia is all just a troubled young mind’s coping device. Here, subtext finally becomes text, and that question is met head-on in what’d be best described as “Vertigo for tweens.” It’s another film that was difficult to market for all the right reasons. If you dismissed When Marnie was There because the American trailer made it seem like a trifle with little intrigue, please give the movie a chance. This patiently-paced mystery gets at substantive questions of regret and identity with true sophistication and suspense.
ONE PUNCH MAN
Part of the fun of sampling Japan’s entertainment exports, of course, is the chance to see how American pop culture looks from the outside looking in…
If Tiger & Bunny was a sunny take on superheroes, and Samurai Flamenco was a surrealist view of it, One Punch Man has to be one of the most demented riffs on cape fiction ever. Of course, it’s an equal-opportunity heckler, so it takes plenty of potshots at the power level obsession of fight shonen, too. Because, in this skewed universe, the strongest hero is somehow the worst ranked? Beyond the satire, though, One Punch Man also provides a surprisingly relatable view into “big man’s boredom” and how even the thrill of being Superman would eventually get dull.
PARASYTE – THE MAXIM
While this proved a mixed bag by the end, any show that takes big swipes and misses sometimes is still more deserving of praise than one that dares little. This “symbiote saga” offers up the most skin-crawling angle on that familiar arc where a nebbish nerd transforms into a confident asskicker.
The show is at its best when the lead is talking to his hand. Yes, that’s correct. The dialogs between Shinichi and his parasite, Migi, are compelling clashes of killer instinct and human sympathy, coming to a boil whenever bloodthirsty body-snatchers close in. Even if the show eventually fell prey to an Irresolute Anime Non-Ending, Parasyte retains a most striking concoction of jacked-up power fantasy and nail-biting horror.
LUPIN THE THIRD PART IV
The master thief keeps pulling off this impressive feat–feeling hip and current, while still keeping his swanky 60s strut. Lupin ties the knot at the start of this iteration, but there’s no “settling down.” His mysterious Italian bride, Rebecca, is a worthy addition to the heist crew. She’s added a new dynamic that goes well beyond us not having to see the Monsieur pine over Fujiko yet again.
The appeal of a tuned-up classic, of course, is a break from everything typical in the current scene. Even without the retro setting, Part IV zooms in the opposite direction of contemporary gloss with intentionally scratchy line-work. Following the lead of the last series (the revisionist Woman Called Fujiko Mine), this has a sexy, gestural style that truly makes it feel like Monkey Punch’s manga is coming to life.
JOJO’S BIZARRE ADVENTURE – BATTLE IN EGYPT
“Filler” is a product of unideal scheduling. Producing anime weekly is a tough enough challenge on its own. Trying to keep a weeky anime on pace with a still-unfolding manga? That’s an all-but-guaranteed recipe for padding. As such, Jojo’s has benefited fabulously from being 25 years after-the-fact.
This entire season boasted another couple dozen episodes building up Dio and the Stardust Crusaders’ showdown. Not one moment of it felt padded, though. Far from just spinning wheels to fill time, this season was well-paced and consistently executed, crafting a legitimate sense of anticipation for what proved a spectacular, cathartic release. Star Platinum against the World, and… it’s a satisfying ending in an anime? Who’d have thought?!
Season stand-out: Iggy vs. Pet Shop. On paper, a cat-and-mouse game between a dog and a bird sounds… puzzling, at best. But this two-parter proved one of the most anxious scraps for survival ever animated.
Featured Image Credit: Studio Ghibli