Once again, I am back, alive and kicking to give you the top five from the most recent season.
Doing these lists for the little seasons - Winter and Summer - is always tricky. For one, I always seem to miss one good series each season (This time around, it looks like HINAMARU KINDERGARTEN has to go to the top of my 'to watch' list). This isn't such a problem in Spring, say, when I have maybe ten series to choose from for this final list of five, but the smaller seasons leave me with only perhaps six or seven to sort through. This has lead to me reccomending a series of OVAs, something I wouldn't normally do, as the only two other Winter series I am watching - DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BAND and SEIKON NO QWASER - I really cannot in good confidence reccomend to anyone. ANYONE.
Without further adieu, let us kick off with BAKA TO TEST TO SHOUKANJUU. At first glance, this series looks like a high school comedy, a tournament drama, or a two-girls-one-guy romance. To which I respond with YES, but also NO. The jokes are lined up and shot off primarily through character interaction rather than bizarre circumstance, the tournaments are test score based and thus treated by the characters in the same way that a normal student would treat a pop quiz, and I'm not sure what you call it when the main character not only has his two childhood girl friends chasing after him but a newly acquired - and male - admirer. There isn't much in the way of plot or substance to this, but BTTTS has one thing heavily in it's favour other than the best anacronym ever - some of the most solidly constructed and hilariously varied characters I've ever seen anywhere.
In fourth place, the aformentioned threatened OVAs. I have made an exception for KATANAGATARI for two reasons - one, as we look to be set for one episode per month (Themed, in fact, to the season and the flowers in bloom, which makes a little part of my heart so very happy) making it closer to a series than most, and secondly, because it's gosh-darn adorable. With some of the most impressively oddball animation I've ever seen, this gentle romp through the Japanese countryside with bonus bizarre ninja fights and spots of humour is sure to provide enough distraction for one installment a month.
The final three were automatic inclusions, and after a touch of shuffling third place goes to OOKAMI KAKUSHI. A small town in the Japanese countryside is home to an old tradition of wolf worship, a conspiracy, more urban legends than they can possible need, a host of masked spirits and a scythe weilding girl who roam the town under the blood red moon, and the smallest bespectacled piece of adorable I've seen in a while. The combination of cutely innocent scenes of high school or home life and the eerieness of the night under the red light of the full moon, the excellent management of suspense and drama, and the slow play of clues and revelations all combine to make a masterfully creepy mystery drama that's sure to have you hanging on for the next installment.
After much deliberation, SO-RA-NO-WO-TO goes in second. A prime candidate for first place, even in a much stronger season, this gentle slice-of-life to rival K-ON! in it's captivating appeal holds untapped depths of potential in the form of a fascinating setting with a rich and largely untouched upon history. Fans of slice-of-life will enjoy the interplay between the five girls, those who normally scorn the genre will be attracted by the rare glimpses at a world where the army is still driving old jeeps but a fifteen foot walker mech tank is referred to as an 'antique'. Excellent animation and a beautiful soundtrack leave little to be desired from this little gem.
DURARARA!! takes the much coveted first spot by a hair. Fans of BACCANO! will already have latched onto this like sucker-fish, but this cunning series has wide-reaching appeal. Multiple plotlines mean that whether you want romance, drama, action, the resurrection of a childhood friendship, evil manipulating bastards, damsels in distress, crazy doctors, kick-ass grumpy guys or a headless Irish fairy with a black motorbike, your desires will not only be catered to but cleverly woven into an intricate greater story, compelling, arresting, at times sad, at times funny, at times involved with something so small and at others hovering on the brink between life and death. The plot thickens as different characters take turns in the spotlight, yet never devolves into a confused mess. This is some of the most masterful storytelling anime has to give us.
And there you have it - I will see you again in April for the Spring season, taking us full circle to the end of my first year writing these columns. Adios!
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