Is Spring 2012 the Best Season in Years?

The four best shows this season has to offer.

When I look back at past anime seasons, I feel that it’s been a very long time since a single anime season could wow me. For a while, I have believed that anime as a whole is somewhat inconsistent, and I was hoping for the one season that would make me go “Anime is having a revival here!” Perhaps my wish may have been granted, as currently Spring 2012 just might be the best that the industry has to offer.

It’s 4 weeks into Spring 2012 now, and I’m convinced enough to say that several anime titles are serious challengers for the title of Best of 2012. Perhaps more amazing than that is the fact that we’re not even halfway through the year yet! But I would lie to myself if I say that the season has been hardly impressive, because not only are a handful of those shown now entertaining to watch, there’s also a good mix when it comes to variety in genres and themes. In this article, I’m going to tell you why I think this season is perhaps the best we’ve seen in a number of years. I have nominated 4 shows I believe are in the running for the Best of the Season, and perhaps even the Best of 2012.

DISCLAIMER: The following content may contain some spoilers. You have been warned :U

Nominee #1: Space Brothers

Mutta the Genius, in deep thought. With his rubber duckie.

Space Brothers was one of the first titles to come out for Spring 2012, and there was a lot of hype building around it for reasons I didn’t understand. It’s only after watching the first episode that I understand what’s amazing about it. Judging from the synopsis, I was hoping that the A-1 Pictures production would be something like Planetes but, surprisingly, it turned out to be something different altogether. While both share the same theme of venturing into space and the same focus on character development, Planetes explores itself from an intelligent viewpoint whereas Space Brothers does it from a purely emotional one. And, the latter story mostly revolves around one unlikely hero by the name of Nanba Mutta and his first-hand experiences on the rigorous tests and training he has to undergo just to set foot off Mother Earth.

So why is this a nominee?

I believe many people would agree that what makes Space Brothers amazing is the cast. Each character is so down-to-earth and real that the audience can imagine what kind of person he/she would be in real life. More specifically, the one carrying this show is Mutta, who is actually just an average joe. But that’s what makes him amazing: he embodies and shares qualities with almost all of the audience. He gets butterflies in his stomach before an interview and his mind goes blank while sitting for it. He gets distracted by the smallest things during the most critical times. His passion waned as times went by. He feels like the biggest idiot in the world when he reflects on the silly responses he had given during an interview. In short, he goes through just about everything we viewers have at certain points in our lives, and his goofy idiosyncrasies define his character essence.

Add in his endearing flashbacks that make him what he is today, and you have an inspirational title where the protagonist alone is enough reason for many viewers to watch and love the show. There aren’t many shows out there where one character can drive the story forward, but here’s one big exception. Even if there are other upcoming shows that can beat it for Best of 2012, I know for sure that Mutta will be one of the most charismatic and likable characters in a very long time.

Nominee #2: Fate/Zero S2

Kiritsugu Emiya the Mage Killer, smoking his cigarette. LIKE A BOSS.

Fate/Zero S2, like Space Brothers, is a title that was on everyone’s lips too but for a different reason. It’s the continuation to the first season, and in a literal sense, it is a continuation. In fact, calling it a second season doesn’t even sound right because, if so, it would be labeling it as though it has a separate story, when in fact it simply picks up from where the first season left off. Although it was earlier announced that a second season was in the works, many people felt that the ending to Fate/Zero S1 was too abrupt. I felt so too; what kind of show would end off right during the climatic scene of a huge fight? Anyway, many feel that S2 is just like S1 in terms of quality, which is a good thing because it means that it has so far up loved up to people’s expectations.

So why is this a nominee?

As mentioned above, Fate/Zero S2 is one of the most hyped-up second installment series in Spring 2012. But there’s a very good reason why it was so highly anticipated: the first season was pretty amazing. The Fourth Holy Grail War is a cutthroat game of chess in grand fashion, with each character having a story to tell, the fights marvelous, the dialogue profound, and the story engaging and well-paced. Perhaps the main factor that contributes to the success was the switch in production studio from Studio DEEN (Fate/Stay Night) to ufotable (Kara no Kyoukai). Kara no Kyoukai and Fate/Zero share the same director as well (Aoki Ei), thus explaining the same magical touch and flair between the two. And in a time when it seems that a lot of second installment series are criticized as being inferior to their predecessors, Fate/Zero S2 is one that rebukes this trend.

But what makes S2 different from S1 right now is the change of pace, especially when episode 16 shows how the plot cogwheel is cranking up now. Things are really starting to move fast, and the story has come down to 4 Masters fighting for the ultimate prize. It’s only going to get more riveting; we’re in for an action-packed rollercoaster ride.

Nominee #3: Sakamichi no Apollon

Sentarou the Bad Boy, wooing the chick. Or at least that's what Kaoru thinks.

Apollon in particular was one series I was keeping a close eye on before its debut. Not only is it in the noitaminA programming block — which has been drawing a lot of flak for broadcasting terrible shows lately, such as Guilty Crown, Black★Rock Shooter and [C] — it also reunites director Watanabe Shinichiro and music composer Kanno Yoko, both of whom did Cowboy Bebop and Macross Plus, after 18 long years. Based on the manga that won the 57th Shogakukan Manga Award in the General Category, this was the show I had high hopes for… and I’m not disappointed by what I’m seeing so far.

So why is this a nominee?

Like I mentioned above, Apollon boasts the duo of Watanabe and Kanno after so many years. But more importantly, it’s everything that I had hoped for: foot-tapping jazzy tunes, a story with a lot of heart and characters that the audience would come to love. Jazz is the theme of the show though the story is about budding friendship, and watching the main trio Kaoru, Sentarou and Yurika spending good summer time pushed my sentimental buttons. It’s just like BECK with jazz instead of indie rock, and none of the Engrish. The characters are no-nonsense, exploring how the protagonist grows out from his shell and becomes a better person.

Even if the setup is hardly original, Apollon is fabulous in terms of how it presents itself as a down-to-earth story of nostalgia and bonding. If it keeps the ball rolling, it may indeed be in the running for the best anime this year has to offer. A Watanabe-Kanno pairing just can’t seem to go wrong.

Nominee #4: Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

Fujiko Mine the Fox, working her charm. Chick is hawt even without considering her breasts.

Unlike the first 3 titles above, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is one that flew under my radar. It’s the latest installment to the Lupin III series, an anime institution (as fellow NHRV reviewer Shinmaru puts it) that has been around for more than 40 years. But unlike Shinmaru who has watched at least one title from the franchise, I haven’t watched even one, and that made me think twice on whether I should watch this Tokyo Movie production. Thankfully, it’s the prequel in the franchise so technically, I can watch and understand what’s going on even without prior knowledge. And damn, did I make the right decision to watch the first episode purely out of curiosity.

So why is this a nominee?

Fujiko Mine is HAWT. She’s one of (if not THE) hawtest chicks I’ve ever seen in an anime. But seriously, here’s another anime where the protagonist can carry the show all by herself. She’s crafty and foxy enigma who’s a thief by day and a spy by night, and not only does the series revolve around her, it also follows her encounters with her future partners in crime Lupin, Jigen and Goemon, each of whom has a story to tell. The show is a tribute to everything that defines the 1970s, with it’s a blend of noir, spaghetti western feel and huge heists. The avant garde art and disproportionately designed characters are visually unorthodox, and the music ranges from pacy to moody. All of the above are thanks to the trio of director Yamamoto Sayo, who directed Michiko to Hatchin; character designer Koike Takashi, who directed REDLINE, and music director Watanabe Shinichiro (who directed Cowboy Bebop and is currently directing Sakamichi no Apollon).

Oh, and have I mentioned that Fujiko Mine is hawt? Koike really has a knack for drawing sexy female characters. Not the moe-cute ones that are synonymous with anime; rather, I mean nubile characters with amazing “assets.”

So these are the 4 series I can bet my money on to be contenders for the best anime for the year 2012, and that are in pole position for the best anime for the season. All of them are exceptional in their own right, and thanks to them I’ve become very optimistic that anime on average is getting better and better. In fact, this spring season has a lot of other decent current shows such as Accel World, Jorgunmand and Haiyore! Nyarlko-san (this show is great in a ridiculous and asinine kind of way), all of which have yet to show their full potential. To wrap things up, I shall answer the big question: Is Spring 2012 the best season in years? My answer is a resounding “Yes!” and I think a handful of people would agree too.

So what do you think? Are we seeing some kind of a golden age of a season right now? Think one of the above stands a chance to be the best of the year? Voice out and share your opinions with the rest!

17 Responses to “Is Spring 2012 the Best Season in Years?”

  1. Add Nazo no Kanojo X (pure gold), Tsuritama and Sankarea (why not)… and maybe The Legend of Korra?

    Best season in years? Totally Agree.
    But sadly the otakus still cling to all trash and shitty anime.

  2. Eyeroll Please.

    First off, it is way too early to make any claims about how good this season is going to be. Sure, the signs are promising, but Uchuu Kyoudai still has more than 40 episodes to prove us wrong.

    Even more ridiculous is this entire narrative of “revival.” Anime was never dead, does not need saving, and is certainly not due for any kind of revival anytime soon, thank you very much. Saying that Spring 2012 is the best season in years (and then only giving four examples to support your case) is very questionable indeed. How about Summer 2011, which gave us Penguindrum and Usagi Drop? Or Spring, with Steins;Gate and Tiger & Bunny? I remain flatly unconvinced that anime has somehow suffered a blow and is suddenly in need of revival. Every season has its gems, as well as its duds. That’s just how it is.

  3. I really share this sentiment. But even beyond the sheer breadth of great titles, it’s also the fact that so many of them do not really cater specifically to otaku. They have more wide appeal and that takes a special skill.

    I’m a big Watanabe and Type-moon fan so my heart is going to be torn between F/Z and Apollon this year.

    @Akira

    I’m personally of the opinion that a lot of anime from 2008-2010 was complete trash. Things improved in 2011 and there were certainly some good titles, however they still lacked broad appeal IMO. It also just did not have the sheer breadth of titles this season has, any of the seasons you mentioned.

  4. What, no Tsuritama?

    … just kidding

    I think Reckoner’s got it — three of these (I can’t speak for Fate//Zero) do not have otaku appeal. You can’t say the same for Penguindrum or Madoka or Bakemonogatari, good as they were.

  5. @Panino Manino

    Nazo no Kanojo X, urgh. I know how a lot of people have been praising this show, but I haven’t gotten over how the story began with some guy tasting some kook’s saliva. Until I can overcome this “obstacle”, I’m staying away from this show with a ten foot pole. Tsuritama is a wild card for me: it’s certainly neurotic WTF-material but I’m trying to see just how crazy — or perhaps how down-to-earth — it is. It’s not amazing, but I’m curious enough to know more. Sankarea? It isn’t terrible. Not Warm Bodies-terrible. In fact, the presentation is good and the story is kinda sweet. In short, I’m really glad it’s not as shitty as I feared. Just ain’t sure where it’s going now.

    @Akira

    How long is Space Brothers going to be? Some say +40 episodes, others say it’s shorter. I don’t know, but so far, this show is amazing. Same goes for the other three I mentioned in the article. Perhaps calling it a “revival” is a bit too much. But honest to God, even when past seasons have Steins;Gate, Penguindrum (to be honest, this show didn’t impress as much as it did for SK or the other NHRV colleagues; just not my cup of tea) and Madoka Magica, their respective seasons didn’t grab my attention as much. Spring 2012 has, and when I look at all the anime shown, on average it’s quite high on my scale. I only remember past seasons in bits and pieces, not collectively.

    @Reckoner

    That’s an interesting point you raised there. I realized how there’s a good mix we’re seeing this season, but it didn’t see from the average audience’s point of view. Perhaps F/Z is something VN readers would follow more closely, but even a person who doesn’t read anything like myself is absorbed by the title. It’s a battle royale done well.

    @DrIdiot

    I won’t try to compare titles shoulder-to-shoulder, because all these shows are wonderful in their own right. I’m observing from a more quantitative point of view for a change, and to me, this is what I see for this spring. Now, we even have Hyouka that’s late for the party. Not sure what to make out of the show for now, but it’s visually awesome for sure.

  6. A list of best anime? FLAME ON!

    Space Bros is an okay show at best. Mutta is the only interesting character so far. Female character who will pass the Jaxa tests is oh so female and girly and UGH JAPAN Y U NO WOMEN ARE NORMAL PEOPLE AND NOT GIRLY-GIRL. Mr. Shinyhair at least has shiny hair. And where is the space pug I was promised? Very watchable, but only mildly entertaining.

    Fate/Zero, or how to have a few interesting characters among a group of boring noses. Should have been all Rider and Waver vs Caster and Uryuu Ryuunosuke from beginning to end.

    Apollon has a very nice art style, Jazz is good, I don’t mind the yaoi bait, but eh, not much else to see.

    Mine Fujiko is a good choice.

    Missing on the list: Tsuritama, Mysterious Girlfriend X, Sankarea and (if still airing shows also count) Moretsu Pirates and Aquarion Evol.

    That is all. May the fires of passion burn.

  7. For all people who suggest Tsuritama I can only think that you are taking the piss. Likewise for Mysterious girlfriend X. Seriously, what about these shows are so great apart from the fact they are weird?

  8. @Fumoffu!!: Because Tsuritama is a visually stunning, remarkably sympathetic take on adolescent anxiety, and probably the best show that Kenji Nakamura’s done since Mononoke? And Mysterious Girlfriend X is probably the first high school romance in anime since FLCL to get down-to-earth about high-school adolescent sexuality without succumbing to obnoxious fanservice?

    (Assuming that Tsuritama doesn’t go the same way as [C], and Mysterious Girlfriend X doesn’t abruptly descend into Hood Studio-fueled fetish central. I have hope!)

    Then again, everyone has their preferences, and I guess it takes a certain kind of person to appreciate those two shows. Really, I’d say that just about every show listed here is worth watching, whether it be for all around competence (Kids on the Slope) or visual artistry (Lupin) or even political fantasy back-stabbing (Fate/Zero.) Also reminds me I have yet to see Uchuu Kyoudai, or even Chihayafuru from last season! We have it good these days.

    I’d argue the fact that Penguindrum solely had “otaku” appeal, though–if anything, that was a show that literally refused to play by every rule in the anime playbook. But that has nothing to do with this article, so.

  9. Weird is bad?

  10. @Fumoffu

    Tsuritama’s more quirky than weird, if you ask me. Still not sure what’s so great about it apart from its presentation being highly unconventional, but since the show has done enough to keep me interested to know more, it’s doing a good job. Mysterious Girlfriend X simply turned me off from the onset. I only watched one episode, and although there’s only so much I can judge just by watching one episode, the (initial) premises are just icky to me.

  11. Funny, my list looks alot like yours. (great minds, etc)

    The best part of this season is that these aren’t even half the shows that are worth a gander. There’s so much variety this season, it’s quite exciting.

  12. @AC
    Nazo no Kanojo X não se trata de baba ou estranheza, é tudo sobre os sentimentos e sensações.
    Você sabe como uma série de romances mostram as meninas falando “que” feelling que não pode ser descrita? No Nazo não Kanojo X, a baba é apenas uma ferramenta para transmitir esses sentimentos em palavras.
    Is all about some kids discovering what reactions that love causes in their bodies.

  13. @Akira

    Someone is in denial. If you can’t see that anime has been subjectively going into the crapper the way they’ve been marketing their crap not only in Japan but elsewhere, you need to take your defensive fanboy glasses off.

  14. @ Panino Manino

    “But sadly the otakus still cling to all trash and shitty anime.”

    Well you certainly must have the finest taste here. and legend of korra isn’t an anime. Other than that, this season’s a bit better than the usual, but that seems to be it, can’t agree on the “best in years”. From the spring first impressions, it feels more like the reviewers are simply going easier for this season. No thoughts on Eureka 7 AO?

  15. As one hasn’t watched Eureka Seven and isn’t watching Eureka Seven AO, I can’t comment :B

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