(This is Part 3 of my 2015 Anime Review series. See Part 1 and Part 2 on awards more awards on genres & production as well as for certain background information and disclaimers with regards to this series of posts.)
Now that the proper titles are out of the way, let us first start to dig a little deeper. First off, starting with …
Most Immersive World
This is, in essence, a combination of Best Sci-fi and Best Fantasy, and perhaps even Best Adventure award titles. This is because essentially, in a fictional story, how engaging a story is and how real the conflicts and tension depend on how fascinating, believable and magical the world that the story takes place in is – hence the most immersive. It can be a dystopian post apocalyptic future, or can be medieval-era fantasy. It may not be the most intricately designed, or have the most beautiful and stunning graphics. It may or may not be tied to the strength of its story and how well written the characters … In essence, it includes a whole lot of considerations, some higher in importance than others.
If I were to include every possible contender on this list, I would most likely need to go through 80% of what I watched. Hence, only the ones that really stood out will be mentioned. Nevertheless, note that world-creating is one of anime’s strongest points, for a good series is always premised on good world-building, setting of the ‘rules’ in the world, and then making the story and characters come alive within the confines of the boundaries that are set.
Parasyte was one of those tales where the perspective of how the story was told was strictly and deliberately restrictive. Even so, through the eyes of Shinichi, the state of the world, a parallel future of modern-day Japan, was brought to life very simply and in an easy-to-digest manner. Cross Ange created a complex and interesting world of social class differences in a holier-than-thou monarchical universe that had a mix of historical (royalty) and sci-fi (mechas) elements. DanMachi replicated a dungeon-crawling game experience in a real medieval fantasy world, where its sleek references made it easy to relate to for those familiar with it. Overlord created an adventure of no bounds with a twist on the stuck-in-a-virtual-game-world premise that we often see, with the personal motivations of the MC to conquer the game-world a pleasing backdrop to his and his subordinates’ escapades.
Kekkai Sensen recreated a New York in a fictional distant future, fascinating with its ability to successfully portray a world where creatures of the Other World live with humans in the same society, and hence the societal problems it would bring. Not to mention, its incredible detail to background happenings like the throngs of all sorts of living things on a busy street while our characters interweave with the crowds. Also, its ability to play the wackiest background music to go with street atmosphere (and not only for such scenes) really pulled viewers into its world.
On the other hand, on the sci-fi side of things, Sidonia no Kishi: Daikyuu Wakusei Seneki represented the most realistic details of a futuristic world where its people lived in a space colony as one of the last colonies of human beings left on earth, right down to the scratches and scrapes on its equipment. Gangsta spun a story of mafia dealings, with business and personal associations in a dangerous corner of a technologically developed future with bits of biological terrorism in its background.
However, it was probably Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri which probably exemplified a dream for us world fans that we didn’t even know existed. A combination of medieval fantasy with dragons, magic spells and prehistoric war weapons that comes up against the Japan SDF with modern war technology, against political tensions of a new world of resources, is a combination of exciting elements that opens up a vast new area of exploration for those who are sick of just seeing each type of world confined to itself. So why not combine the best of both worlds, then? The diplomatic relations and perhaps arguably nationalistic intentions are a novel addition, giving the narrative much needed fuel to take off into a world of firsts. This new twist of a setting is the deciding factor that makes Gate stand out from its tough competitors, and it spells hope for a medium whose well of existing ideas have been oft-criticised to have run dry.
Winner: Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
Honourable Mentions: Gangsta, Kekkai Sensen, Sidonia no Kishi: Daikyuu Wakusei Seneki
Otherwise known as ‘most thought-provoking’, this title goes to anime which enable us to question our values and beliefs, think about grey areas of morality and the legitimacy and consequences of our actions and behaviours. It can even be a synonym for ‘most educational’, as it includes the ability to evaluate ourselves as people.
Parasyte made us question about the theory of evolution, the fundamental differences between humans and other living beings, and hits home a message of environmental conservatism by effectively humanising the non-humans and dehumanising humans. Fate Stay Night (Unlimited Blade Works) (TV Series) delivered an action-packed story of clashing ideals of heroism, with multiple dialogues dedicated to fleshing out all kinds of arguments back and forth. One Punch Man may or may not have had intentional allegories to the unwritten social hierarchies of modern-day Japan. Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri seeks to present the ugly political chess games over a bountiful resource, and throws out questions of war versus peace-keeping as a tactic for keeping that resource for one’s own use.
On the other side of the coin, we have Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru which focuses on exploring questions of life, death, and the feelings that transcend them, especially those of regret. Noragami Aragoto, while foremost a action-fantasy type story, is full of underlying themes of familial values that can be found if you looked.
But I think what constantly made us delve into the deeper parts of our hearts, unknowningly, and unwittingly, was Death Parade. With each episode beautifully summing up the regrets and consequences of life-changing decisions, the judgment of actions based on an arguably nebulous concept of morality, the act of judgment based on memories, and how the experiences of the arbiter shapes the outcomes of these judgments, Death Parade is no doubt a winner in this compartment. While arguably similar to the Parasyte vein, it is the diversity of themes that Death Parade manages to touch on and its subtlety in delivery that is both compelling and game-changing. It once again instills confidence that at least certain anime studios still retain excellent story-telling capabilities.
Winner: Death Parade
Honourable Mentions: Parasyte, Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
There were a couple of notable sequels in 2015 which exceeded the expectations carried on by their respective first seasons.
Fate Stay Night (Unlimited Blade Works) (TV Series) was an action-packed, suspenseful sequel to its first cour which aired in Fall 2014. While many found it uneventful, it was the monologues and the ‘battle of the ideals’ that really secured my attention this time round, even as an addition to the visual animation feast. For someone who really hated Shirou in the earlier Fate Stay Night adaptation, it was in a large part due to this sequel that ameliorated a lot of my distaste towards him as a character as his character motivations were explored more holistically and gave his personality some well needed shine in a series with hosting other interesting characters.
Sidonia no Kishi: Daikyuu Wakusei Seneki carried on the quality of its first season with more backstabbing and political drama, while retaining its sci-fi edge with interesting plot developments. More interaction between characters also solidified their relationships with each other, in turn rounding out the male protagonist’s reasons for fighting and making him more likeable than how he was presented in the first season.
Kuroko no Basket (Season 3) was an much anticipated final installment to its series, aptly exploring the basketball boys’ past and dedicating a well deserved three episodes to it. Well-paced and tension packed, fleshing out its final ‘antagonist’ outlined the last dash to the finish line, undoubtedly satisfying all of its viewers. Similarly, Yowamushi Pedal (Grande Road) managed to neutralise the jarring effect of stopping in the middle of a competition for the first season, but delivering more surprises as the characters tough it out for the final lap.
However, Noragami Aragoto was the one that really exceeded all expectations from its first season, which is perhaps best described as a ‘good and closely followed adaptation’. It managed to pack suspense and heartwarming little moments throughout, and served to bond the three-person family of Hiyori, Yato and Yukine even further. Squeezing two arcs into one cour is no easy feat, but Bones managed to prove its abilities with this series.
Winner: Noragami Aragoto
Honourable Mentions: Fate Stay Night (Unlimited Blade Works) (TV Series), Sidonia no Kishi: Daikyuu Wakusei Seneki, Kuroko no Basket (Season 3), Yowamushi Pedal (Grande Road)
That’s all for today. Next up would be awards dedicated to the more ’emotional’ side of things. Thank you for reading, and feel free to like or comment on anything! 🙂