Inspired by the trend going around, I decided to post a collection of brief reviews of basically every anime I finished in 2011. I'm pulling from MyAnimeList, so it's possible I'm omitting a couple things that don't have "Date Finished" filled out, and I'm also intentionally leaving rewatches off the list. Ratings are out of 10, but skewed towards the higher end of the scale because I'm less likely to finish something I don't like.
Shinryaku! Ika Musume - The wacky adventures of "squid girl" trying to conquer the surface. I certainly wasn't blown away by this series, but it was pretty original at times. Decent production qualities and a stupid but stupidly-catchy OP theme. 6/10.
Bungaku Shoujo Memoire - Technically, I only watched the third episode in 2011. A young writer and a girl who eats books solve problems using allegories to classical literature. I enjoyed the series, but each of the individual episodes felt somewhat underwhelming and incomplete compared to the excellent movie adaptation of the same series. 7/10.
Angel Beats! Stairway to Heaven and Another Epilogue - Two OVA-only parts to the series about high-schoolers in the afterlife. Both suffer from the same problems as the full Angel Beats! TV series: not properly paced and conceptually scattered. There are way too many fascinating elements and characters and none get the treatment they deserve within the timeframe allocated. It's got some great music and animation, though. 6/10 (Stairway), 7/10 (Another Epilogue).
Shinrei Tantei Yakumo - A high-schooler who can see ghosts uses his power to solve crimes. It's a good premise, and the execution is stylistically typical of Bee Train, which might bother some people, but speaks to me. I felt some real emotional depth here, but it was a little awkwardly presented nonetheless. 7/10.
Kuragehime - A bunch of ugly nerdy girls team up to save their apartment complex after one of them meets a beautiful crossdressing boy. Quite an interesting series, off the beaten path but with shockingly broad appeal. Fascinating characters, nice production values, and a disappointingly abrupt ending. A paltry 11 episodes doesn't do justice to the story that it started. 7/10.
Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season - Shy, unintentionally-scary Sawako battles awkward tensions to get closer to nice guy Shouta. Enjoyable characters, but the already stretched-thin romance arc from the first series develops agonizingly slowly. To make things worse, the last 2 or 3 episodes are pretty unnecessary after the real story climaxes early. On the plus side, it continues to have lots of Noto Mamiko voice. 6/10.
Haiyoru! Nyaruani - OVA shorts about a boy with Cthulu-mythos monsters in girl form living at his house. Occasionally witty and with cute designs, but doesn't really go very far. Not that it has time to, with such short episodes. 5/10.
Togainu no Chi - One of the most disappointing things I watched all year. Pretty boys duke it out in a post-disaster future with crazy future-steriods. It wasn't the (substantial) gayness that turned me off. It was the terrible animation, uneventful plot, and absolutely horrendous, mindblowingly-stupid ending. At least it had some cool music. It only took them most of the year to finally release an album with all the ending themes (one per episode). 3/10.
Kara no Kyoukai Epilogue - A half hour cap to the Kara no Kyoukai movie series, featuring a lot of talking and some snow. Not recommended unless you -- like me -- are a fan of Kinoko Nasu's longwinded, seemingly contradictory but utterly fascinating philosophical ramblings. A nice bonus, but not the full package like the previous movies were. 8/10.
Trigun: Badlands Rumble - Wanted man Vash crosses paths again with a master thief he'd foiled 20 years earlier. A fun adventure with good action, goofball characters, and at least a little moral depth. It reminded me why I liked Trigun more than a decade ago, except with slightly more modern, high-definition animation. 7/10.
Paprika - Satoshi Kon's surreal piece about a dream-sharing machine gone amuk and the scientists trying to control it. More than a little outrageous, but very well made in many senses. I didn't like it as much as Tokyo Godfathers or Millenium Actress, but the latter is one of my favorite movies all-time, so that's no insult. 7/10.
Tamayura - A girl who wants to be a photographer and her 3 friends discover beauty in everyday life. Very mellow and peaceful, nice music, cute character designs, and a camera-shop technician voiced by Nakata George. 7/10.
Haiyoru! Nyaruani: Remember My Love(craft-sensei) - The TV (5-minute shorts) about the boy with the Cthulu-girl roommates. Slightly funnier than the OVA, and still quite short. Also has a decently good OP theme. Failed to up the ante on itself with a frustratingly uneventful ending. 6/10.
Break Blade - Rygart's lack of magic powers makes him the only one who can pilot an excavated mecha against a neighboring country's incursions, but he ends up having to face his former classmate on the battlefield. More realistic in tone than its premise might lead you to believe. The quality -- animation as well as the structuring of the story -- varies from movie to movie, but it generally pretty high. In particular, a few scenes from a couple of the later installments make the protagonist's actions seem strangely irresponsible (when they're much more understandable in the manga). It ends satisfyingly, but leaving a desire for more. Fascinating world, great mech designs and characters, complex emotional challenges, and a couple fantastic songs by KOKIA. 7/10.
Megane na Kanojo - Four individual stories about girls with glasses. A couple of the stories are kind of cute, but overall, it's rather plain and forgettable in every sense. 5/10.
Fractale - A show Japan loves to hate, and for good reason. It puts on the airs of quality, drawing from great things and almost convincing you that it belongs in their company before the mask of its pretentiousness falls off and you see the twisted mess underneath. That's actually a decent approximation of the show's plotline as well. An occasionally pretty and occasionally disturbing trainwreck, most so because it's unclear whether the creators are depicting its horrors with the sincerity they deserve. (Full review here) 4/10.
Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? - A murdered boy is raised as undead, then turned into a magiclothes girl, and almost forced to wed a ninja whilst killing other supernatural monsters. Excellent bizarro comedy mixed with subpar (occasionally downright awful) production values and a slightly uncomfortable amount of fanservice. (See my full review here.) 6/10.
Star Driver: Kagayaki no Takuto - A not-so-serious and totally flamboyant "magical-girl-esque" take on the mecha genre, highly typical of Studio BONES in execution. Deep characters and a fascinating, but ultimately under-explained world are supplemented by fabulous rainbow-colored robot-summoning/transformation sequences. (Full review). 7/10.
Nichijou Episode 0 - Obnoxious, terrible people are terribly obnoxious in slightly absurd situations. Some people like it; I can't even begin to understand how or why. 2/10.
Toaru Majutsu no Index II - More of everything the first Index series was and Toaru Kagaku no Railgun wasn't. That's not a good thing. Arbitrary and inconsistent plot devices, an obnoxiously conceited protagonist, awkward and unfunny fanservice moments interrupting the convoluted plot... It's an interesting setting, which is all the more reason why the series makes me mad. 4/10.
Yumekui Merry - I like to call this "Midriff: The Anime" because that's obviously what the creators are focused on, rather than the story of dream-world inhabitants crossing paths with reality and trying to get home. Another good setup ruined by arbitrary rules, piddly villains, needless character angst, bad animation, and most importantly: boring, boring, boring episodes. It has a couple of nice voices, but they're not worth watching the show for. 3/10.
Onii-chan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!! - You can tell the first season of 2011 was pretty slow, huh? This garbage about a girl who's determined to taunt her absurdly pervy stepbrother is occasionally refreshing in its honesty but usually just dumb and ugly. I appreciate that it had a lot of Kitamura Eri, but on the other hand, I feel sorry for her that you have to sink to such lows to find her in a leading role. 3/10.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica - Middle-schooler Madoka is offered the chance to make a wish in exchange for receiving the power -- and responsibility -- to fight evil reality-altering beings called Witches... but will she take it? Surprisingly, the series lived up to the promises of its all-star staff, making it an excellent series in almost every respect. I did feel like aspects of it were slightly predictable, and I'm not in the camp that considers this the best thing since Evangelion (hell, I don't care that much for Eva either), but it's unquestionably good. It does have the best soundtrack of the year, I'll give it that. 8/10.
Highschool of the Dead - Drifters of the Dead - A completely unnecessary, stupid, and gratuitous bonus (read: fanservice) episode in all the wrong ways. The show itself was over-the-top and vulgar to begin with, but this fails to pay that back with any of the style or substance that the made the TV series halfway redeemable. 2/10.
.hack//Quantum - A nice-looking, cryptic, short, but enjoyable addition to the .hack franchise. A strangely Hatsune-Miku-esque Kite genderswap is the main character's PC in the latest revision of The World, when the franchise's trademark virtual/reality crossover gimmicks start to apply. Still not in the same league as .hack//SIGN, but at least this story requires less crossover into other .hack properties to understand. 6/10.
Fortune Arterial OVA - Bonus episode to the adaptation of the visual novel with vampires et al. in a rich school. Not much to say here: profoundly shallow and underwhelming, with some cute girls and a couple of amazing LIA songs. Aside: the excellent OP is made even moreso when REDALiCE and kors k remix it. 5/10.
Asobi ni Iku yo! OVA - The cast of the TV series competes in various games to teach alien-catgirl Eris more about Earth's cultures. With extra bare boobies because (as an OVA episode) they can do that. What can I say? It's a guilty pleasure. And actually more honestly funny than a lot of similar shows.
Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. - Moving drama piece about childhood friends divided by an unexpected death and forced back together when one of is visited by her ghost. Excellent music, wonderful characters in complex relations, a well-paced story that ends cleanly - among the best things animated this year. 8/10.
C - The Money of Soul and Possibility - Control - A fascinating thriller about a boy who gets drawn into the Financial District, a parallel space that influences and inflates the world's money supply by literally borrowing against the future, and forcing participants to duel one another with "assets" representing people's futures (and with powers derived from economic terms). Stylistically very cool, featuring some good character designs, but regularly hideous animation. One of my most enjoyed series of the year, for the exciting writing and the unique aesthetic (visually and otherwise). 8/10.
Dog Days - A fun, straightforward fantasy adventure about an athletic guy who gets sent to enter an athletics-course "war" between kingdoms of animal-eared people. Bright and colorful, cheery, full of anime JPOP, this series bears more than a passing resemblance to studio 7 Arcs' other series, Nanoha, and is enjoyable for much the same reason, but goes even more lighthearted for a shallow but enjoyable romp. 7/10.
Deadman Wonderland - A boy convicted for murdering his whole class discovers that powers like his are connected to a massive disaster in Tokyo years ago, and the privately run prison-slash-amusement-park is performing unethical experiments on those with similar abilities. A great concept, but its unabashed violence devolves into uncalled-for violence, while meanwhile the core questions its plot sets up are never satisfactorily answered. The animation quality varies with the episode and with censorship; the cast of utterly demented characters is broad and problematic. The ED sequence does a fascinatingly efficient job of using still images to sum up the backstories of many characters whose origins would otherwise be unexplored. 5/10.
Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - A boy movies in with his irresponsible young aunt and a girl who claims to be an alien but is probably his cousin. Typical studio SHAFT weirdness, but in coming-of-age(maybe?) comedy form. Notable mostly because the title heroine is drawn really cute; it's too bad the show itself is rather dull. 6/10.
Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai II - More adventures of the galge-genius Keima begrudgingly winning the hearts of real girls in order to free their hearts from evil spirits. It had some cute girls and some interesting storylines, but the true heart of the story is not in the seduction of girls, but in Keima's love affair with his games. Decent production qualities all around make this continuation feel just like the first part, which isn't bad, but neither is it great. 6/10.
Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail - This OVA is about seemingly-indestructible Venezualan maid Roberta going on a crazed rampage of revenge against US forces. It has most of the hallmarks of the two Black Lagoon TV series, and what made them great, but the story is actually pretty difficult to follow, especially with the OVA episodes being as spread apart as they were. Brutally violent, but pretty cool in the process, and not exactly mindless. 6/10.
Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai specials - A couple alternate endings and sidestories to the OreImo series, produced with the same polish, with the same (intermediate) degree of wit. I honestly don't remember much other than feeling slightly better than ambivalent about them. 6/10.
Shiki specials - I had no idea how they were going to fit additional stories into the brilliant emotional arc of Shiki, but they actually managed to embed as much trauma and pathos into the two bonus episodes as in the "main" storyline episodes. In fact, the first of the two specials may be the most moving episode of the entire series, even though it focuses on none of the (many) main characters. 9/10.
A-Channel - Yet another "four girls do nothing in particular" series, obviously based on a 4-koma manga. Notably, this one features a new insert song every episode. Not much else is notable, but it was a fun (if rather typical) short series. 6/10.
Steins;Gate - Self-proclaimed mad scientist Hououin Kyouma (not his real name) gets involved in a complex web of changing timelines and butterfly effects connected to the various characters (mostly girls) he invites to his research lab. I give this series major props for basing so much of its science fiction in the real world, with direct references to real events and theories. It also has great characters, both in their designs (by the respected illustrator huke) as well as their personalities. The protagonist is fascinating, complex, and likable, and the storyline spans both serious and silly ideas at the same time. Nicely paced and cleanly ended, too. 8/10.
Hanasaku Iroha - Blunt and awkward but good-hearted, Ohana is a girl whose irresponsible mother sends her to live and work at the hot springs resort her grandmother owns. Through interacting with the various characters at the inn, Ohana both grows up a bit herself as well as changing those around her. Beautiful animation, good voice work, solid music, and most importantly good writing make this a show worth watching. From time to time it feels like it's trying too hard, but the drama of good intentions expressed in all the characters is always plenty enjoyable. 8/10.
Kaiji: Hakairoku Hen - This long-awaited continuation of the Kaiji series sees him playing dice, pachinko, and facing absurd odds in an absurdly uncaring world. There are twists upon twists in every gamble, agonizingly drawn out in the most excessively dramatic manner possible, to the point where it's at the same time frustrating and energizing. The music is once again excellent, and the animation is similar in style, but somewhat improved in technique or at least budget, compared to the first season. Best of all, this time the last episode doesn't leave off with a frustrating cliffhanger. (Most of the other episodes do, though.) 7/10.
Yuru Yuri - A slightly goofier take on the "4 girls do nothing" series, with more lesbians and actually a lot more than 4 girls in the commonly-appearing cast. The jokes aren't exactly deep -- each character has only one or two comedic gimmicks -- but the gimmicks are unique enough, and situations get mixed around enough that it constantly finds fresh and clever ways to play the same card. 7/10.
Ah! My Goddess: Itsumo Futari de - Easily the worst A!MG-related material I've seen. Everything feels dumbed down, from the whimsical yet fascinating world of the series to the challenges and the way the characters respond to them. The animation ain't great either, just average, which is kind of damning for a short OVA. Instead of reminding me why the manga continues to be my favorite ever, it makes me question why I even watch the animated version. 4/10.
Break Blade Picture Drama - Just a few extras that add to Break Blade by filling out backgrounds of its characters. Occasionally pretty funny, but certainly not necessary to appreciate the series. And of course, they're just "picture dramas" which is another way of saying "we didn't have enough money to actually animate this for you." But at least it's better more than a drama CD! 6/10.
Macross Frontier: Sayonara no Tsubasa - The second Macross F movie was much like the first: visually stunning, blusteringly fast-paced, and musically excellent. Neither movie achieves the same magic as the series -- the multi-layered plot just doesn't translate to a shorter format so well -- but this movie did have a more conclusive resolution than the TV series in a couple of ways (one relating to Alto's father and kabuki heritage, the other being the resolution of the love triangle), and I'm certainly one to appreciate things getting resolved. 7/10.
Sacred Seven - This Sunrise series about magical rocks and people in super suits started out as a tangle of seemingly detached elements and ended similarly, but without nearly as much debatably-intentional hilarity as it might have possessed. I was also pretty disappointed with the OP song, whose hokey lyrics were too much for the high expectations I have for Yuki Kajiura's music. Trite, confused, and confusing. 4/10.
No. 6 - Another pretty gay series I really wanted to like but couldn't. This boy-meets-boy story involving a biological threat to the totalitarian false-utopia started out good but floundered for a while before cumulating in some sort of semi-mystical nonsense that didn't exactly answer anything, while skirting the issue of the main characters coming out of the closet. Where I gave Steins;Gate points for being relatively hard SF, I subtract points from No. 6 for giving up the notion. 6/10. (Note: The rating being a 6 is purely coincidence.)
Fate/Zero Season 1 - In some sense, this anime is not over since the second half is scheduled for spring 2012, but I may as well cover the first half that recently finished. The prequel to Fate/stay night, this series describes what happens in the Holy Grail War 10 years earlier when seven magi summon heroic spirits of history and legend to compete for a wish-granting power. It's no secret that Studio ufotable has been doing great work lately, but this feels like their coming out party to let everyone know how beautiful their animation is these days. Add in an ensemble cast of characters that makes the original Fate cast seem bland, and you've got the recipe for a real knock-out. Final rating pending the release of season 2, but certainly among the best series of 2011.
Ben-To - Fighting. Bentos. True pride. Moderately attractive girls. This show somehow blends those elements into something that is unexpectedly amazing. It's directed particularly cleverly, and manages to cause laughs at putting your brain into a state of disarray only to right it and make you laugh again. Not only is the music great, but the use of music is fantastic. It doesn't hurt to have better fight scenes than a number of series that are supposed to be mainly about fighting (I'm looking at you, Togainu). It sags in the middle a bit and it's not the most beautiful artwork, but the animation is fluid and dynamic, overall quite satisfying. 7/10.