5 Mind-blowing, Heart-wrenching Anime Episodes From 2011

This is our hero shot.

This post is something of a spin-off/sequel from the last, this time looking at the events, particularly the episodes, displayed in anime this year that were memorable. While others on the aniblogosphere formatted their annual reflection in the 12 Days mold, I’ve instead distilled my list of awe-inspiring moments to five episodes in one post, not because I’m trying to be different, but more because twelve is… err, a big number. The Nihon Review, as a whole will also offer our reflections with the annual Year in Review article (coming soon, stay tuned), and there’s been a lot of debating and horse-trading behind closed doors as we figure out our definitive list of anime highlights and what we want to say about each title. But for now, let’s just look at some individual episodes. (Warning: major spoilers ahead.)


Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Episode 10

At first I wasn’t sure whether I should list episode 3 or episode 10 of Madoka Magica here, but after giving it some thought I went with ep 10. While the plot twist that defined episode 3 was arguably the most shocking moment in the show (even despite the fact the episode was littered with death flags in the lead up) episode 10 established Akemi Homura as one of the most tragic and heroic characters we saw all year. After suspecting it was the case for much of the show, Homura’s time-bending power was finally revealed. But what truly mattered in this episode was the way each repetition of her time with Madoka, with each iteration culminating in the inevitable against the Walpurgis Night, chiseled away at Homura, transforming her from a frail girl to a cool-headed, resourceful decision maker. The biggest plot twist came after Sayaka became a witch, with the subsequent battle taking such a toll on the girls’ psyches that Mami went postal, killing Kyouko before being stopped by Madoka. Urobuchi Gen seems to love running his characters under a bus, and this moment, along with the “no-winners” scene where the Walpurgis Night was finally slain, showed just how hopeless the circumstances of a magical girl in Shinbo Akiyuki‘s twisted universe really are.

Usagi Drop – Episode 1

The story of how Kawachi Daikichi first met and came to adopt his late grandfather’s illegitimate daughter Rin made for one of the most tender and heartfelt episodes of the year. The astonishing thing about the first episode of Usagi Drop was how amazingly well executed it was. I’ve seen many an exceptional anime flounder with attempts at episode 1 dramatic punches, but Usagi Drop‘s was pitch perfect, aided by the fact that the two most important characters, Daikichi and Rin, were instantly sympathetic. Daikichi is a hard-working salaryman who isn’t extremely close to his family, but still gets along with them while Rin is simply a ball of concentrated sweetness. All of the interactions amongst the family members were believable and realistic, but it was Rin’s earnestness and Daikichi’s sensitivity that won out. That scene where Rin places flowers in her (grand)father’s coffin just gets me every time.

Mawaru Penguindrum – Episode 24

Mawaru Penguindrum was filled with mind-blowing episodes (I struggle to think of one that wasn’t), but I went with the finale, not just because of how emotionally climactic and cathartic it was, but because of the way the revelation of the Penguindrum brought so much of the story together. Much of the speculation in the lead up to the finally appeared to be divergent and I’d strongly argue that it’s pretty much impossible to reach the end of episode 23 and claim to understand the entire show, or even to predict the ending, without lying (although it’s impressive how close Kylaran got). With the key piece of information about what the Penguindrum actually was, people are now able to go back and figure out exactly how it was passed between the Takakura siblings, and have a decent stab at its meaning. I honestly think it’s only a matter of time now before Ikuhara Kunihiko‘s intent with Mawaru Penguindrum, along with the messages he wanted us to find after sufficiently unraveling its symbols, motifs and references, are almost completely understood.

The Idolm@ster – Episode 20

What an amazing surprise! This is the most recent episode of The Idolm@ster I’ve seen, an anime that our old friend, Akira (see Moe Fundamentalism), has been “forcing” me to watch. I was indifferent to the show at first, and slowly warmed to it but was never prepared to completely give myself in to what seemed like an overly idealized portrayal of Japan’s idol industry, populated by a group of well-meaning, but empty-headed pop stars. Sure, it was fun stuff, and well executed for what it is, but not exactly deep. With that said, there was one girl who stood out early on, Chihaya, whose determined attitude mixed with a dab of introverted self-doubt was appealing to me. Then episode 20 happened, and it was a complete game-changer. A dramatic story about Chihaya triumphing over her demons thanks to a mix of heartfelt friendship and honesty, the episode culminates in what has easily been the best (and arguably best animated as well) performance scene I’ve seen from the show so far. I still have five episodes left to go, but my attitude towards it has changed completely.

Moshidora – Episode 9

Prior to Yuki’s death in episode 9, Moshidora had been a largely analytical series examining management in the unusual setting of a high school baseball team. It was interesting stuff, but not exactly heavy on impact. However in the last two episodes, ep 9 in particular, the series displayed a massive amount of raw emotion, as Minami dealt with Yuki’s passing and all the regret, grief and frustration that it brought to a head. The scene in particular that broke my heart was the one where Yuki’s mother revealed to Minami at Yuki’s bedside that there was no hope for her, but she had still lived on nine months longer than the doctors expected her to. The entire baseball team watched on, with not a dry eye in sight, and by that stage, mine weren’t either.

An honorable mention goes to episode 12 of Steins;Gate, which was just as mind-blowing and heart-wrenching as any episode I’ve listed here, but the honest truth is it’s too devastating for me to think or write about for any serious length. What episodes have I missed? What moments spun you through a loop in 2011?

13 Responses to “5 Mind-blowing, Heart-wrenching Anime Episodes From 2011”

  1. “Mawaru Penguindrum was filled with mind-blowing episodes (I struggle to think of one that wasn’t)” – Well, there was episode 3-10 where we had the whole Ringo chasing Tabuki. Besides, the show would have been worse if every episode was mind-blowing, I feel that would have been bad pacing.

    Anyway, Working’!! episode 4 was a favourite of mine as was episode 12 of Steins;Gate. The penultimate episode of Gosick was very good, as was episode 1 of Fractale. Possibly Episode 3 of Level E as well. This is starting to be a mess, so I’ll just finish by aying I concur with Usagi Drop episode 1 and Madoka episode 10.

  2. Heh, and there was me considering whether I should put PenguinDrum 24 in my worst episodes of the year list

  3. I really thought Moshidora was a good show. There were hints from the very beginning that things were at a very precarious emotional balance. I would pick the scene in episode 7, though, where Minami and Yuuki talk past each other. That scene had me feeling sick to my stomach, because I had a feeling that something very bad was about to happen, and I knew Minami wasn’t going to be able to deal with it.

  4. It’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who watched Moshidora. I expected a death scene a mile away, but I had no idea it would be so emotional. I think the end of episode 10 should get some recognition too. I nearly teared up at Minami’s realization about her love of baseball.

  5. Some great choices, I would also add episode 22 of Steins Gate which really developed the relationship of Kurisu and Okabe.

  6. @Fumoffu!!
    Most of those were decent episodes but I wouldn’t rate ep 1 of Fractale as worthy of mention. I mean, sure, hindsight kinda blurs things, but from what I can remember, my reaction at the time was that it was OK, but things could have been better. Most of the hype was based on potential rather than anything the episode actually achieved. Unfortunately it was mostly downhill after that.

    @Scamp
    Yeah, but I know you didn’t get it.

    @Joojoobees
    I fought (and lost) an uphill battle to try to convince my fellow reviewers to include Moshidora in our Year in Review article. Unfortunately, except for me and TIF, the others in the NHRV staff didn’t think so highly of it.

    @Aeroblip
    Yeah it seems Moshidora didn’t really have a wide appeal. I guess management and baseball are esoteric subjects for an anime. It is, in my opinion, an anime which rewards loyalty, which is why I respect is so much, but people tend to be impatient with dry presentation. It’s definitely in my Top 10 list of 2011 anime.

    @Kim
    That was a very good episode of Steins;Gate too. But I wasn’t so keen on what came afterwards personally. I think its ending diluted the story’s main conflict.

  7. At least you are in there fighting the good fight. Even if you lose a few, your conscience is clean.

  8. I personally thought episodes 19 and 20 were some of the best episodes from Steins;Gate. Despite certain parts from the VN being apparently cut out due to time issues, what we actually got to see on the screen still managed to exceed my expectations.

  9. I think the most emotional episode from Usagi Drop is episode 3, in particular the scene where Rin admitted how she’s afraid of death. Kids almost never talks about death, especially when they’re only starting to live their lives. So, to see Rin witness her dad die when she’s so young and be afraid of something kids don’t really understand is especially poignant.

    Here’s the thing about Moshidora: the theme is actually very good. It’s interesting for me, but maybe it’s because I’m somewhat into business and management topics are among my interests. The only problem is – which I can reckon you would disagree – the show’s delivery is very dry. The characters are, truthfully speaking, not striking and the content lacks a certain flair that’s memorable. That’s the reason why I think it flies under the radar of many in the anime community.

    As for Steins;Gate, the best episode for me is the 12th especially when the grim plot twist is introduced right at the end of it. It’s a deadend of the story, and it’s the start of Okabe’s harrowing backtracking/undoing journey.

    Lastly, there’s this great episode from Tiger & Bunny but I can’t remember which one. It’s about how Wild Tiger’s idol Legend is revealed to be the one who caused the birth of nemesis Lunatic. Now that’s what I call a twist of fate.

  10. @AC

    I did think about some of the episodes from Tiger & Bunny, but in the end I don’t think many of them really stood out that much, apart from perhaps the penultimate episode, episode 16 is the one you’re looking for by the way.

    @Sorrow-kun

    I just thought the first episode of Fractale was just so wonderful and full of promise, which I guess concurs with what you said. I still think it was a great episode though, I was hooked immediately… which made it all the more excruciating later on. I want to watch Moshidora now actually reading all this, I’ve always wanted to watch another baseball anime after Cross Game.

  11. Awe-inspiring or heart-wrenching?

    My moment definitely goes to that (third?) episode of Level E. Wrenched my heart right out and threw it on the ground as I lay on the floor dead with surprise.

    :(

  12. World of Warcraft, people watched Moshi Koko Yakyu no Joshi Manager ga Drucker no Management o Yondara? It was indeed an incredibly powerful episode. That show had a lot of great scenes. One of my favorites was when Minami conducted the crowd like an orchestra to sing Asano’s favorite song. It was episode 3 or 4, I was in tears already then.

    I have to disagree on Puella Magi 3, that was more gut-wrenching than heart. Instead I would suggest 6, where Sayaka goes berserk after crying on Madoka’s shoulder. And then there was the final of course, that I hated at first, but adore now. But 10 is probably the best.

    I also have to endorse Gosick, altough I would go with the last episode instead. Kujo and Victorique’s struggle, journey and reunion, even if a bit rushed, was just mind-blowingly powerful.

    Also, I LOLed that no one even mentioned Ano hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. It was supposed to be a super-emotional drama about love, death and friendship. Well, that’s Okada Mari for you.

  13. When Victorique cried for Kujo, I cried for Victorique.

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