In this very article last year, I wrote about how 2014 had rebounded from the relative disappointment of 2013 with a new emphasis on original, creator driven shows and a willingness to branch out into new territory. It appears though that anime is very much like Star Trek, since we were definitely on the downswing in 2015. The industry felt in flux, torn between its commercial and artistic passions, and the result was a messy slate of shows which lacked cohesion or a level of overall quality to match last year’s riches. I must admit that these last 12 months have been a difficult time for me to be a fan, and I’ve fallen slightly out of love with the medium as a result. Why is that?
I think one of the greatest problems that plagued anime as a whole this year was an absence of strong source material. I briefly wrote last year about the ‘curse of the light novel’ but as the televised product catches up to the written word it’s been all consuming this year. These shoddy productions showcase so much of what’s wrong with the marketing process in the East – shallow, viewer-avatar protagonists, bland settings that are excuses for thinly veiled power fantasies, and more naked female flesh on display than an art gallery. It’ll be interesting to see if the success of these shows continues – there’ll always be a place for pure unadulterated garbage, but the proportion of the market given over to them at this point is concerning to say the least.
Elsewhere, we saw other worrying signs of studios and writers scraping the bottom of the creative barrel. The normally bulletproof Dogakobo produced not one but a pair of disasters this year in the form of the saccharine Plastic Memories and the unbearably obnoxious Himouto! Umaru-chan!, while Toei continued to strip-mine the legacy of their most precious asset with the deeply underwhelming Dragon Ball Super. Trigger were unable to bring the same level of insanity to Ninja Slayer as they were to eternal classic Inferno Cop and MAPPA couldn’t keep up the pace with the second series of Garo, which definitely represents one of the precipitous drops in quality in one of the shortest periods of time.
OK, that’s enough of being down though. While I’ll stand by the fact 2015 was a weak year, there are always some bright spots to be had, and what could be brighter than the return of renowned auteur and one of the best anime directors ever, Kunihiko Ikuhara? I’d hesitate to say Yuri Kuma Arashi was on the level of his monumental previous works, but it was still a heady cocktail of Ikuhara’s trademark visual magnificence, symbolism heavy storytelling and keen eye for a resonant plot. Held back a little by a lack of episodes and a slightly messy focus, it nevertheless stands as one of the high points of 2015 in every way. There were other encouraging signs too: MAPPA may be on our walk of shame above, but they did a wonderful job with their original effort at Garo, spinning out a medieval yarn that was both classic and original, and managing the rare feat of imagining shonen characters who were interesting and likable to back up their very impressive battle pyrotechnics. Elsewhere, Kyoto Animation continued their steady transition from ‘that moe girl studio’ into a maker of genuinely quality product, with Sound! Euphonium acclaimed far and wide not only for its technical prowess but for its sensitive and thoughtful character portrayals.
2015 then has been a cocktail of the good and the bad, the inspired and the insipid. It definitely suffers by comparison with 2014, which was among the strongest periods of anime goodness in recent memory, but there have definitely been some gems to pick out. The lack of consistent quality product though has been frustrating as a fan. I’ll happily admit I’m among the internet’s more casual fans – to me anime is simply one of the many things I can do in my free time. To that end, I felt this year lacked a really compelling show that grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and forced me to tune in on the dot every week. Maybe anime is changing, maybe I’m getting older, or maybe it’s a combination of the two. But I hope it’s that all those gripping masterpieces are just waiting in the wings ready to surprise me in 2016. Bring it on.