Kenholic Top Anime List for 2011

Last year I did a top 10 and 20 for the past decade. This year, I can kick off my blog with a list of my top 10 favorite anime for just 2011. It was pretty damn difficult to pare down my selections to just ten.

Despite some heavy coverage by my own blog, I think many of the harems ultimately under-performed. And along the way, some heavy hitters fell out and some unexpected ones rocketed up my chart. Which ones am I talking about? If nothing else, I happened onto an unexpected rant about one of the anime I had mixed feelings for last year ...

Find my picks after the jump.

(10) Usagi Drop
At least once a year, something comes out of the candy factory and bowls me over. This time, it's Usagi Drop. An illegitimate child of "Grandpa's", six year old Rin has nowhere to go after his passing. Out of all the relatives who seem the worst fit for her, Daikichi, a single business man, takes her in and they begin a new adventure together. It's overly sweet, but the two make an entertaining tandem.

(9) Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?
I was really hot for this series when it first started. Imaginative mish-mashing of some standard character archetypes was fresh in its own way ... who wouldn't remember the vampire ninja Seraphim in her maid outfit. While the first arc was worthy of high honors, it really dropped off afterwards. I think the humor was still there, but sadly, the story didn't fulfill the standards it had set for itself.

(8) Infinite Stratos
The second harem to make the list for 2011. What makes this one stand out from the rest? Definitely not the hokey mecha device they are using to carry this series, because it's pretty poorly done. I think unlike the other harem shows where the girls' affections towards the guy are unspoken among the group, these girls make it pretty clear that they are rivals for Ichika (who is oblivious to most of their advances) and during the course of its short twelve episode + OVA run, they team up and scheme against each other in various ways. It adds a bit of fun into the harem genre that's largely been missing since Sekirei has gone on break.

(7) Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai
Back-to-back-to-back harem selections. That might not be a surprise if you follow my blog, but this particular pick might be since I've given ZERO mention of it at all, compared to the prior harem series on this list. Where did it come from? I really had no clue. I had it on a backlog and literally marathon'ed it. After a quick Google, this anime originated from a light novel series, which really explains why this one seems deeper than the rest. At first glance, it's a typical harem show full of typical harem gags; but as the series progresses, it's clear that there's a connection being made between the male lead and the two main female leads. Then comes a plot twist worthy of Love Hina... and then a season ending air of unresolved feelings. Hopefully they don't leave this property idle too long, as there are three more volumes of material left un-animated. I'm already looking forward to OVAs or a second season.

(6) Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season
After establishing itself as one of my favorites of 2010, Kimi no Todoke follows up with a shorter but equally nerve-wracking entry in 2011. Taking the series to its conclusion, super-shy Sawako is faced with one final set of trials before she and Kazehaya can truly get together. A super supporting cast makes this series much more interesting then it really should have been; Aya Hirano (of Haruhi fame, among other roles) deserves a lot of credit for her strong and stoic portrayal of Kurumi, Sawako's main rival for Kazehaya's love. As we follow her transformation from a contemptible bully to a sympathetic loser in love, her presence steals the show whenever she's around. I would vote for a Kurumi spin-off, even if it never happens.

(5) Bakuman
Nothing this year hooked me more than Bakuman. A coming of age story about two aspiring mangakas, this one provides some, albeit highly dramatized, insight into the process of breaking into the industry and the constant struggle to remain popular and relevant. It's got a very comic edge to though, as most of the characters in this world seem to be highly exaggerated caricatures of what people in the industry ought to be. I guess that's what keeps it interesting though. In the end, fans of anime and manga alike can dig into one and enjoy the lighthearted humor and exciting moments of triumphs that the two main protagonists face.

(4) Mawaru Penguindrum
What can I say that I haven't already said about this anime. Despite my disagreements with its story, it was still one of the impactful series of 2011 to me. It starts off with a very standard hook, the quest for a mystical item called the 'Penguin Drum', accelerates into the profound somewhere around the middle when we start discovering the presence of a multiverse, but then loses control and rockets off into outer space towards the end. Where it starts falling apart is also where it gets mesmerizing, like watching a trainwreck. As I noted previously, the final act (the last 5 episodes or so) has a very strong presentation reminiscent of a (convoluted) opera and makes the series worth watching on its own.

(3) Nichijou
This show takes a spot as one of my favorite straight up comedies after Azumanga Daioh now. While it started off a little slow, this series evolved into a mix of excellent tsukkomi, random situations, and pigtail dreams. There's really not a lot of analysis that can done on this show given its nature, so it's better to watch and find out for yourself.

(2) Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Such a sick turnaround; Madoka was was in my droplist after a mere 3 episodes. I'm glad I stuck with it, because I was so wrong; and that added to the fun of watching this series. It's like the slow burn of a really hot pepper mixed into a spicy curry or chili. You get hints of it to start, but then you begin to slowly realize that something is wrong and before you know it, your mouth is on fire. That's what this anime is like; a delicious treat watching Kyubi do his evil logic monster thing, leading to the corruption of the souls of magical girls. Then the big reveal that makes this series legendary. Amazing stuff.

(1) Steins;Gate
Very rarely have I had as many 'wow' moments in a single series as I did watching Steins;Gate. Gel-bananas are just the tip of the iceberg here, and while I could list them out, I don't want to spoil! I just can't give enough praise to Steins;Gate because I think it excels on every front. First off, it's got terrific dialogue and a once-in-years voice acting ensemble to make it happen. It's been so long since I actually gave praise, let alone any notice, to the way characters are brought to life via their seiyuus. The eccentricity of Okabe, the cute tsundereness of Makise, and the gentle airheadedness of Mayushii are all well conveyed. Secondly, Steins;Gate manages to keep a very well thought out and streamlined time-travel affected story simple and easy to follow throughout its journey. Unlike a certain Penguin themed series, the dots are connected but aren't forced and everything is laid out for you to figure out in a logical progression. There's no guessing, it all makes sense. Thirdly, intertwined in its main story are elements of comedy, romance, and drama. It switches moods with such ease and provides varied settings and atmospheres that complements the duplicitous natures of its main characters quite well. What more can you ask for? On top of all that, the animation is top notch, the music and ED are haunting, and the characters are endearing. I really enjoyed watching this series and it is easily worthy of consideration for my top 25 of all time.

Didn't quite make it, just on the cusp of 10:
  • Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai (AnoHana) - Despite the lighthearted character of Menma, the atmosphere and drama was pretty heavy throughout. Both male leads are idiots too. Was Kore wa Zombie really better than this series? I have doubts myself, but it would be hard for me to re-watch this series.
  • Gosick - The whole mystical fate/illuminati part of it felt forced. I admit it's a beautiful story though, with meticulous detail to a fictional war era (costumes, buildings, props, etc).
  • Working!! - fun to watch, but nothing else.

Didn't quite make it, harem edition:
  • Baka and Test Season 2 - Too love drama-centric this season, not enough ridiculousness. 
  • Mayo Chiki - Ultimately forgettable. 
  • Freezing - Had some highlights (re: fights), but some lowlights too (re: plot). 
  • Ben-To - Like Zombie, it had an excellent start, but somehow it climaxed a little early. The last 6-7 episodes seemed empty.

Most Disappointing:
  • Ao no Exorcist - Despite top notch animation, this thing just fell apart at the halfway mark.
  • To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Had the first series in my top 20 of last decade ... This second season lacked the diversity and fun that the first one seemed to have in spades.

Finally, the most epic moments from last year:
  • The Battle at Marineford (One Piece)
  • The Fall of Gin (Bleach)
  • Takuto vs. Sugata (Star Driver)