Let's see 2011 out in the traditional way, with a Ten Best list for the year's anime series. I make no apologies for my favoritism towards slice-of-life, mysteries, and screwball comedies, or my distaste for mahou shoujo, harem, and shounen. The selections are in alphabetical order.
- Fireball Charming. This dialog-driven series of shorts, a sequel to last year's Fireball, won me over with its deadpan humor and sensational voice acting. gg did a great job translating this show.
- Ikoku Meiro no Croisee. A very gentle, character-centric slice-of-life show. The visuals were stunning, the characters appealing, the situations not melodramatic. Guardian Enzo rated Ikoku as his #1 show of 2011, and it's certainly among my favorites.
- Hourou Musuko. A delicate exploration of sexual identity issues. From its unique watercolor art style, to the great sensitivity shown to the characters, this show excelled in almost every way.
- Kamisama Dolls. A shounen show that broke the mold by combining quirky humor and unprecitable plot twists with great action sequences and the usual character types.
- Mitsudomoe Zouryouchuu. No show this year was a greater danger to one's personal hygiene if you happened to be eating or drinking while you were watching. It's quota of laugh-out-loud, snort-through-the-nose moments was very high.
- Natsume Yuujinchou San. Even in its third season, this show retains its distinct appeal. The explorations of human-to-youkai interactions and, this time around, human-to-human relationships, were deep and moving. Some commentators have criticized the increasing focus on the human world, but I think that reflects the protagonist's personal growth.
- Nichijou. This quirky slice-of-life comedy was consistently interesting; the second half was even better than the first. Maybe I'm just a sucker for the Professor, Nano, and the talking cat.
- UN-GO. This mystery series started slowly but built to a climax that explored not just the characters, but some basic philosophical issues about politics and society. The best mystery of the year.
- Usagi Drop. Another very gentle, character-centric slice-of-life show. As a father, Usagi rang true for me. I particularly liked its exploration of the dilemmas of parenthood in terms of everyday events and minor crises.
- Yondemasu Yo, Azazel-san. A foul-mouthed, foul-thinking screwball comedy that led all others in sheer outrageousness. With hardly a redeeming character in sight, even including the angels, Azazel-san ran gleefully amok week after week, striving for ever-higher levels of offensiveness, and usually succeeding.
Honorable mentions: Ano Hi Mita Hana (emotionally compelling, but saddled with an Idiot Plot device); Hanasaku Iroho (great visuals, good characters, but uneven); Tiger and Bunny (because you have to appreciate commercial shounen tropes when they're done so well); Shinryaku S2 and Working S2 (good sequels, but broke no new ground).
And the best show of the year (drum roll please)? For me, it was Usagi Drop. The exploration of an important area of life that's usually ignored in anime - parenthood; the careful development of the characters; the simplicity (and flawlessness) of the execution; and the lack of teenagers :); made this the best show of the year. The BluRay specials have been coming out for the last few weeks, and it's been a pleasure to drop in on Daikichi’s and Rin's world again, even if it's just for five minutes at a time.