Jacquie’s 2016 Year in Review – Music

BEST FULL-LENGTH ALBUM:

lynch. AVANTGARDEA-PHOTO-RED-FIX
AVANTGARDE, by lynch. – When it comes to lynch. albums of the past few years, it seems like it’s every other release that meets with my approval. Sure enough, after my disappointment at 2015’s D.A.R.K. -In the name of evil-, AVANTGARDE continued the pattern and earned a wholehearted thumbs up from me.

Let me first go back to D.A.R.K. -In the name of evil- and try to explain what I thought was lacking about that album. Some of the songs were just not to my taste, which happens. But even the ones I tended to like didn’t go in the direction that I wanted them to. For example, several of them started off well and sounded good, but at some point I felt the music needed to evolve, and instead, the melodies just repeated.

Happily, I can report that I had no such issues with the tracks on AVANTGARDE. While it still might not be up to the standard set by GALLOWS (2014), I enjoy listening to AVANTGARDE all the way through without wanting to skip anything. PLEDGE and UNELMA are standout tracks.

My favourite, though, is PHANTOM, which is gorgeously melodic and comes complete with some beautiful guitar solos. Heavy metal ballad-style songs such as this are one of the reasons I’m so glad I have Japanese hard rock bands like lynch. to listen to.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST MINI-ALBUM:

UROBOROS - ZODIAC
ZODIAC, by UROBOROS – This sophomore release from Kamiki Aya and Kurose Keisuke’s band further showcased their gothic-flavoured hard rock sound.

Favourite tracks: Infection and Lunar Eclipse
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST SINGLES (A-sides & B-sides) in order of release date:

GALAXY STANDARD - BE MY STEADY
Be My Steady, by GALAXY STANDARD (Be My Steady, RUSH, You’re My Courage)
GALAXY STANDARD is the idol-group incarnation of the Saisei Stride Club from the PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE anime. The singing is performed by the members’ voice actors, namely: Miyano Mamoru, Toyonaga Toshiyuki, Hirakawa Daisuke, Eguchi Takuya, Suzuki Tatsuhisa, and Ono Yuuki.

All 3 of these tracks, composed by R・O・N, made my Top 20 Anime Songs list for 2016.

GazettE - UNDYING
UNDYING, by the GazettE (UNDYING, MALUM, VACANT)
The third and final audio release of the GazettE’s PROJECT: DARK AGE, which also included a world tour that brought them to 4 continents across the globe. As an avid concertgoer and a fan of Japanese music, I end up doing a lot of travelling in order to see my favourite artists perform live. Excitingly, the GazettE came right to my neck of the woods and I got to experience them live in Toronto on the day of this single’s release, definitely one of the highlights of my 2016.

The title track seems to make some lyrical references back to the first single, OMINOUS, from DOGMA, which makes sense. I really love the part where RUKI sings “God, entomb my hate.”

Favourite track: VACANT.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

coldrain VENA II
VENA CHAPTER : II, by coldrain (Born to Bleed, Undertow, Gone (Acoustic), The Story (Acoustic))
The new recording of Gone is now, to me, the definitive version of the song. The vocals, instrumentation, and slower tempo are absolutely perfect. Now when I hear the original version, it actually seems too fast.

Favourite tracks: Undertow and Gone (Acoustic).
(Available on iTunes internationally as part of VENA II, a re-release of VENA (2015) which includes these 4 new tracks.)

VAMPS - INSIDE-OF-ME
INSIDE OF ME, by VAMPS (INSIDE OF ME (feat. Chris Motionless), RISE OR DIE (feat. Richard Z. Kruspe))
I was really excited for this single after seeing the advance PV for INSIDE OF ME. The month-long delay between the Japanese release and the international release date felt like forever.

The tracks, which are both excellent, are the result of VAMPS’s collaboration with western talent, including American producer Howard Benson.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

scribble and beyond cover
Scribble, and Beyond, by OLDCODEX (Scribble, and Beyond, Calling, The Experience)
This single collects the main themes from the two Kuroko’s Basketball compilation movies, along with a coupling song, Calling.

Favourite track: Calling. This is another one of those OLDCODEX songs that I think might sound complete and amazing as just an instrumental. Ta_2’s sexy low range vocals are the icing on the cake. Yum.

Other Notable Tracks:


TAKING OFF, by ONE OK ROCK – One of my favourite recordings by ONE OK ROCK in recent memory. Some fans complained that it was too much of a departure from their usual sound. I would argue that ONE OK ROCK actually have a pretty wide range stylistically, to the point that I only consider myself a casual fan of their work. They have certainly made darker-sounding rock songs before.

Even though I don’t necessarily relate to the message of the song (addiction), I do appreciate that the lyrics are really well-written. But can you imagine us boarding our overseas flight last fall with this song playing in our heads? “We’re taking off together / even though we always crash and burn / tonight you and I will fall from the sky” is kind of inappropriate and unsettling, to say the least! I wonder how many other ONE OK ROCK fans have had this very same experience? Great song, though.
(Available on iTunes internationally)


Deal with, by OLDCODEX – It’s the second year in a row that I have chosen a super-heavy theme song created by OLDCODEX, one that was used in a relatively obscure anime that got no other mention in my review post, as my number one anime song of the year. (For 2015, it was physical from Q-Transformers.) Deal with, which served as the rather jaw-droppingly heavy OP of SERVAMP, features an excellent balance of screamy death vocals and a catchy melodic chorus; the accompanying music is dark and intense but it is also offset by a couple of quieter guitar interludes. I love complicated songs like this!

For the complete list of my Top 20 Anime Songs of 2016, please see the “Year in Review – Anime” post.

Jacquie’s 2016 Year in Review – Anime

As I sat down to contemplate the series that I felt were the best of 2016, at first I thought I might be looking at a 3-way tie, maybe even 5-way. Only after checking my scoring on MyAnimeList did it become apparent that one series received a higher grade than everything else. The other shows settled in behind it then. The top shows were really close, though; and it doesn’t help that they were all so different in terms of setting, genre, tone, and subject matter.

In the end, the top 4 were basically my highest ranking picks from each season. I’m not actually going to rave about these series again right now; please follow the links if you wish to see the previous write-ups.

☆ Top 10 Anime:

#1. 91 Days (12 episodes)
91-days-wallpaper
Aired Summer 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#2. Yuri!!! on ICE (12 episodes)
yuri-on-ice-06
Aired Autumn 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#3. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (13 episodes)
shouwa-genroku-rakugo-shinjuu
Aired Winter 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#4. ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) SECOND/FINAL SEASON (25 episodes)
Assassination Classroom
Aired Winter 2016 and Spring 2016
(First season of 22 episodes aired Winter 2015 and Spring 2015)
(streaming: FUNimation)

#5. AJIN (26 episodes)
ajin-season-2
Aired Winter 2016 and Autumn 2016
(streaming: NETFLIX)

#6. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan) (24 full-length episodes)
saiki-k
Aired Summer 2016 and Autumn 2016
(streaming: FUNimation and DAISUKI)

#7. KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS (Koutetsujou no Kabaneri) (12 episodes)
Kabaneri - Mumei
Aired Spring 2016

#8. Thunderbolt Fantasy (13 episodes)
Thunderbolt Fantasy - Lin Xue Ya
Aired Summer 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#9. ERASED (Boku dake ga Inai Machi) (12 episodes)
ERASED
Aired Winter 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll and DAISUKI)

#10. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! (Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! LOVE!) (12 episodes)
cute-high-earth-defense-club-love-love
Aired Summer 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

☆ Favourite Guilty Pleasure Anime:

Scar-red Rider XechS (12 episodes)
scared-rider-xechs
Aired Summer 2016

I watch most of my anime with my sister. Scar-red Rider XechS was bad or boring enough after 3 episodes that she dropped it. I persevered however; and before long, I found myself looking forward to each new episode with an enthusiasm that was out of proportion with my generally low opinion of the production’s quality.

One of the reasons was that I started to love the characters. Yosuke and Takt (more on him later) in particular were well-written and well-acted, but the rest of the cast were also entertaining and endearing in weird ways.

The other reason was my gradual belief that the absurd plot developments and dialogue were intended to be comedy, and weren’t just bad writing. Just as how The Lost Village didn’t make it clear to its audience if the plot was supposed to be funny or not, SRX sometimes presented a similar predicament. Well, I like my personal interpretation of these shows; after all, I seem to have found a lot more enjoyment from both of them than most viewers did!

Anyway, I will always remember the “western-style restaurant” conversation of ep. 5. It literally had me giggling for days, maybe weeks, afterward whenever it came to mind.
(streaming: FUNimation and DAISUKI)

☆ Sequels that significantly outperformed their predecessors:

Active Raid 2nd – With all the goofing around they did in the first cour, and much of the second too, who would have imagined that Active Raid was in actuality laying down the groundwork for a serious, even thought-provoking, storyline all along? But that was what we got! The payoff was a whole lot better than I expected, infinitely better, since I don’t think I ever considered that a show like this would arrive at such a coherent, meaningful outcome.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

BUNGO STRAY DOGS 2 – Even those of us who were not won over by the meandering first cour of BUNGO STRAY DOGS had to sit up and take notice when this second season started. Suddenly we had a brand new protagonist and a mature, plot-heavy flashback tale. I, for one, was in no hurry to return to the present timeline. When we did, it was predictably a bit of a disappointment, but by then the show had secured my interest and my goodwill.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

☆ Biggest Regrets:

Dimension W and KIZNAIVER. These shows had some potential, but managed to squander it completely and go in the opposite direction. I ended up hating them.

BATTERY the Animation similarly went completely off the rails and turned into a huge disappointment. However, it didn’t incite the contempt that those two shows did.

Other shows that were simply a waste of time: GARO: CRIMSON MOON, Bloodivores, Utawarerumono: The False Faces, OZMAFIA!!, and Sekkou Boys. It was my own damn fault for continuing to watch most of them, though.

☆ Favourite Characters:

srx-05-takt
#1. Kirisawa Takt (cv. Miyano Mamoru), Scar-red Rider XechS

Obviously, the leader of LAG’s 6th combat unit and frontman of Odd I’s is pretty and has a nice voice. And it’s easy to sympathize with him as the straight man in a show full of eccentrics.

Beyond that, I like him partially because I can relate to him on a personal level. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often for me, but as a fellow skinny, height-challenged, long-haired idealist with a discerning taste for rock music and a preference for black platform boots as everyday footwear, I guess this anime character and I have a few things in common! Naturally, I also share Takt’s opinion on the topic of shiitake mushrooms as an ingredient for food preparation.

bungo-stray-dogs-odasaku
#2. Oda Sakunosuke (cv. Suwabe Junichi), BUNGO STRAY DOGS 2

He was only in 4 episodes, but those 4 episodes, which told a dark, tragic prequel story, were so good! I loved Odasaku in the lead role; he was badass, principled, and extremely sympathetic.

As mentioned, that early segment of season 2 totally blew me away and changed my opinion of the whole series up till that point.

days-kimishita
#3. Kimishita Atsushi (cv. Ono Daisuke), DAYS

Abrasively bossy characters with a habit of pointing out other people’s faults because they themselves are so smart and/or skilled are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I seem to have a soft spot for these types, though. MACROSS DELTA’s Messer had this kind of personality as well, albeit with less anger than Kimishita, and I liked him a lot too.

There are the rare occasions where Kimishita reveals that he is actually a nice guy. However, those moments of kindness could also be interpreted as a backhanded way of expressing his impatience at others’ incompetence, whereas normally he is just way more upfront about it.

It is entirely thanks to Kimishita and the other senpai, especially Ooshiba and Mizuki (ie., not the main characters), that I made it through all of DAYS and ultimately gave the show a somewhat decent score. I even intend to return for the sequel.

☆ Best (Funniest) Single Episode:

Osomatsu-san 16 Osomatsu-san 16a
Osomatsu-san episode 16: “Matsuno Matsunan / The Ichimatsu Incident.” As if the “Mad Max” parody featuring F6 wasn’t gratuitously over-the-top enough, it was then followed up by an incest sketch!
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

☆ Best Finale:

TSUKIUTA. THE ANIMATION – I can’t actually recommend most of this idol anime. But if you’re inclined to watch, make sure you continue to the end, because the last part of that concert-themed final episode was the most stunning and feel-good finish of any series that I watched in 2016.
(streaming: FUNimation and DAISUKI)

As far as shows I do recommend go, I applaud ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM for its emotional yet heartwarming and hopeful ending.

I was also very satisfied with 91 Days’ ending, including the way it left some things open to interpretation.

☆ Best OP/ED Sequence (music & visuals):

BUNGO STRAY DOGS season 2 OP: “Reason Living” by SCREEN mode, version 2, which appeared in the middle of the third episode (or overall ep. 15). It occurred once only, but we may have watched it more times than we do most regularly occurring OPs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a link to share here; if you’re interested, you can find it at 11:52 to 13:22 of ep. 15.

Honourable mentions: Yuri!!! on ICE ED “You Only Live Once” by Hatano Wataru, and 91 Days OP “Signal” by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure.

☆ Anime Songs Top 20 Countdown:

As with last year, this is a list of the best anime songs of 2016 according to me. The songs are evaluated primarily on the music, not the accompanying visuals of the shows they’re associated with. And it’s the full songs, not the TV-size versions, that are being considered.

20. old revelation, by Mutsuki Hijiri (cv.KENN) (Scar-red Rider XechS ED)

19. RUSH, by GALAXY STANDARD (cv: Miyano Mamoru, Toyonaga Toshiyuki, Hirakawa Daisuke, Eguchi Takuya, Suzuki Tatsuhisa, Ono Yuuki) (PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE insert song)

18. Shounen no Hate, by GRANRODEO (Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS 2 ED)

17. The Experience, by OLDCODEX (Kuroko’s Basketball Winter Cup Soushuu-hen: Namida no Saki e Main Theme)

16. Kaze wa Yokoku Naku Fuku, by WALKURE (MACROSS Δ ED8)

15. Reason Living, by SCREEN mode (BUNGO STRAY DOGS 2 OP)

14. Be My Steady, by GALAXY STANDARD (PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE ED)

13. Kokoro no Arika, by Heshikiri Hasebe(cv:Shingaki Tarusuke), Souza Samonji(cv:Tai Yuuki) & Yagen Toushirou(cv:Yamashita Seiichirou) (Touken Ranbu -Hanamaru- ED2)

12. ninelie, by Aimer with chelly(EGOIST) (KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS ED)

11. You’re My Courage, by GALAXY STANDARD (PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE insert song)

10. Through My Blood <AM>, by Aimer (KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS insert song)

09. Scribble, and Beyond, by OLDCODEX (Kuroko’s Basketball Winter Cup Highlights -Shadow and Light- Main Theme)

08. Yoru Ha Nemurerukai?, by flumpool (AJIN OP1)

07. Ao to Aka no Forzato, by Komae Christoph Yosuke (cv.Suzuki Tatsuhisa), Kirisawa Takt (cv.Miyano Mamoru) (Scar-red Rider XechS OP)

06. HOW CLOSE YOU ARE, by Miyano Mamoru (AJIN ED1)

05. The Birth, by Miyano Mamoru (AJIN: Shougeki Main Theme)

04. Signal, by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure (91 Days OP)

03. Hikari aru Basho e, by May’n (Izetta, The Last Witch ED)

02. Warcry, by Sawano Hiroyuki feat. mpi (KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS insert song)

01. Deal with, by OLDCODEX (SERVAMP OP)

☆ In closing, some Notable Quotes:

“If you look even half-decent, you’re considered hot.” – Choromatsu, considering the voice acting profession, in Osomatsu-san ep. 20.

“Your stupidity can’t be cured even by your death. So you might as well live.” – Julieta to suicidal Iok, in Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS ep. 37.

“Well don’t lose heart. Girls are as plentiful as stars in the night sky… and just as unreachable for you.”
– Saiki to freshly rejected Toritsuka, in The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. spec. ep. 50, or full ep. 10.

“There’s only one carbonara!” – Yosuke to dumbfounded Takt, in Scar-red Rider XechS ep. 5.

Jacquie’s 2015 Year in Review – Music

BEST SINGLES (A-sides & B-sides):

X.U. scaPEGoat
01. X.U. | scaPEGoat, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk] (X.U., scaPEGoat, INSANITY LOVE) – I have already gushed about this single before. The double A-sides, sung by Gemie and Yosh respectively, represent the OP1 and ED1 of the Seraph of the End anime series. As I said back in the spring, these Sawano songs are head and shoulders above the majority of music that’s commonly heard as anime themes and in pop charts. The B-side INSANITY LOVE is a quieter, melancholy tune sung by vocalist mica, and it’s no slouch either. As if that wasn’t enough, the TV size versions of X.U. and scaPEGoat are included, as well as the full instrumentals of both songs, making it evident that both of them shine even without their vocal tracks.
(Available on iTunes internationally – title tracks only)

Aching Horns
02. Aching Horns, by OLDCODEX (Aching Horns, Reminder, Get Up To Go) – It seems to me that there were very few new releases in the early part of 2015; I remember having only about 3 new songs to listen to during the first quarter-year. OLDCODEX saved my ears from boredom when they came out with the excellent “pledge” EP in April. They continued releasing anime tie-in singles through the summer and finally snuck in at the end of the year with this gem, the main theme single for the “High Speed! -Free! Starting Days-“ film. The title track seems like it might be a ballad at first, but soon makes clear that it is definitely not. It’s angsty and melodic and really good. And the B-sides, they’re killer.

As with their first “Free!” tie-in single, “Rage on,” these coupling songs are harder and heavier than their A-side. Reminder doesn’t feature much actual singing, but it doesn’t need it. Its melody is all in the instrumentation and there’s an attractive urgency to the song. Anyway, it sounds amazing.

Get Up To Go is the best. It is heavy, rhythmic, melodic, and complicated and everything I love about OLDCODEX and music in general.

GazettE UGLY
03. UGLY, by the GazettE (UGLY, DEPRAVITY, GODDESS) – It took me a while to warm up to UGLY. True to its name, it is kind of ugly, as advertised. But warm up to it I did. (“Death to traitors!”)

DEPRAVITY took less convincing, as it has a familiar GazettE sound; I’m probably thinking along the lines of BEFORE I DECAY (2009). The third track, GODDESS, is simply divine (once again, truth in advertising). It is heavy, dark, and just a little twisted and it actually reminds me a bit of QUIET (2013), one of my favourite the GazettE songs. If I had bothered to make a Best Song ranking for 2015, GODDESS would likely have taken the top spot.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

EVOKE cover
04. EVOKE, by lynch. (EVOKE, DOZE, GUILTY) – A huge wave of new releases from my go-to artists started at the end of the summer and continued into fall: multiple releases by the GazettE and a full-length album from coldrain, among others. lynch. unleashed 2 maxi singles and a full-length album at just one month intervals between each. “EVOKE,” the first single, turned out to be my favourite of the three, based mainly on the strength of the two B-sides. Incidentally, their album, “D.A.R.K. –In the name of evil-“, had its highlights, but I felt it to be a letdown after last year’s far superior “GALLOWS” album.
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST MINI-ALBUMS:

OLDCODEX pledge_350_350
01. pledge, by OLDCODEX – It may seem like I’m just an OLDCODEX fan girl, but that’s not entirely true. I’d say that lately, I tend to like their works more often than not. However, their music covers a range of genres and I’m not into everything they put out. The single that came after this, “Lantana,” for instance, with its more pop-punk B-sides, was not really my thing.

The selection of songs on “pledge,” though, represents the style of OLDCODEX that I love the most – their darker, more metal side. It’s almost like they made it just for me!

Favourite tracks: Lost before and physical (the “Q Transformers” OP)

ANOTHER ARK
02. ANOTHER ARK, by UROBOROS – I had first heard of vocalist Kamiki Aya several years ago. My sister used to listen to a lot of pop-rock guitar girls and Kamiki Aya was one of them. I remember she had more of a rocker chick image than some of the others and I thought it a shame that her songs were so tame. What a nice surprise it was to find her fronting this new prog-rock outfit! And UROBOROS kindly scored a tie-in for their first single, Black Swallowtail, as the OP for an anime I was watching (“Rokka –Braves of the Six Flowers-“), so I didn’t have any trouble finding them either.

Favourite tracks: Jyuuni ya and Red Moon
(Available on iTunes internationally)

BEST FULL-LENGTH ALBUMS:

coldrain VENA
01. VENA, by coldrain – How do they just keep churning them out? “VENA” is another remarkably strong record by coldrain, chock-full of hooky, appealing, modern rock songs. Vocalist Masato is really quite the lyricist. Listening to Japanese music all the time, I sometimes forget how much meaningful words can add to an already good song. It is obvious that English is Masato’s first language, but still it’s kind of ironic to find some of the most thoughtful, exceptionally well-written English lyrics I’ve heard coming from a Japanese band.

Favourite tracks: WHOLE and HEART OF THE YOUNG
(Available on iTunes internationally)

DOGMA
02. DOGMA, by the GazettE – In my opinion, this material is not as easily accessible or immediately engaging as the GazettE’s previous two full-length albums. “DOGMA” does sound very cohesive; and there are actually plenty of good songs in the track list. Unfortunately (and this might be an unreasonably high standard), I don’t consider any of them to be up there with the best work the GazettE have ever done.

RUKI’s English pronunciation has come a long way in the past few years. And his English lyrics make perfect sense too; just check out BLEMISH!

Favourite tracks: WASTELAND, BLEMISH, OMINOUS, DERACINE
(Available on iTunes internationally)

Dark before dawn cover
03. DARK BEFORE DAWN, by Breaking Benjamin – I never said I only listen to Japanese artists! Pennsylvania-based Breaking Benjamin received praise as well as criticism for sounding like themselves on their first release of new material in 6 years and after significant personnel changes. Personally, I thought it was the right decision to not stray too far from the tried and true for their comeback album. “DARK BEFORE DAWN” is a worthy collection of solid rock songs.

Favourite tracks: Hollow and Angels Fall
(Available on iTunes internationally)

For a list of my Top 15 Anime Songs of 2015, please see the “Year in Review – Anime” post.

Jacquie’s 2015 Year in Review – Anime

There were about 50 or so series that I watched in entirety which finished airing in 2015. Those are the titles being considered in this Best of 2015 section.

Looking back on the anime series that I really enjoyed during the past year, I realized that while they all had various strengths, most of them were considerably flawed in one way or another.

If I were to think about the shows I most looked forward to watching each week, there would be GARO THE ANIMATION or GANGSTA.. However, both of those had issues in the later parts and I wasn’t that happy with the way either of them ended. And good endings are important to me.

On the other hand, if we’re talking about great endings, Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! might have actually had the best one all year. But that’s a show that didn’t even crack my top 10 as it aired during the winter season.

Meanwhile, there were anime series that were thoroughly unique and well-written, such as SHIROBAKO and SCHOOL LIVE!. Unfortunately, the characters in those shows didn’t click with me personally, for whatever reason.

There was ultimately only one truly enjoyable series that did not have any problematic issues for me.

I think it was our last pick-up of the summer season and it might not be what you expect. Certainly I, myself, did not have very high expectations when I decided to start watching this fanservice-laden jailbreak comedy.

Anime of the Year:

Prison School
PRISON SCHOOL (12 episodes) – Five male students in an otherwise all-female high school are imprisoned on school grounds by the Underground Student Council for the crime of attempted peeping. They are forced to perform hard labour, endure indignities, and complete their studies in jail. They could just get themselves expelled and walk away, but somehow these guys view expulsion (and having to explain to their parents the reason) as a far worse outcome than their current situation.

PRISON SCHOOL is riotously funny, thrilling, and well-paced throughout. And it presents a satisfying conclusion even as it sets up a possible storyline for a sequel.

The main drawback is that I can’t exactly recommend it to polite company. PRISON SCHOOL is a gross-out comedy, after all, so there is implied nudity, sexual deviancy, uncontrolled bodily functions, forcible confinement; the list goes on. But in the show’s defence, almost all of it is plot-relevant! I’d also say the more gratuitous fanservice stuff is just totally over-the-top rather than titillating in nature.

In spite of all the absurd and uncomfortable situations that they find themselves in, the characters are generally viewed sympathetically. As I’ve said before, PRISON SCHOOL is not particularly mean-spirited, and that goes a long way in making the crude content tolerable and in helping the humour to really succeed.
(streaming: FUNimation)

And that’s it! No seriously, it’s too hard to do a proper anime ranking this year, so I give up. Instead, I’ll just highlight some of the shows that stood out for me and say a little bit about them. Maybe next year I’ll go back to the Top 10 format.

My Favourites, with Flaws:

Garo the animation
GARO THE ANIMATION (GARO: Honoo no Kokuin) (24 episodes) – This anime started its first episode with the burning-at-the-stake execution of the main character’s pregnant mother. Yup, that immediately set the stage for what kind of dark, mature-content production this was going to be.

Throughout most of its run, GARO excelled in its depiction of its complex, flawed characters. It was evident from the animation, story, and dialogue that the people who worked on this action-drama anime really loved and respected these characters. And because they gave a damn, that made me give a damn too. I particularly enjoyed the father-son dynamic between German and Leon and the refreshingly cooperative relationship between the two young Makai Knights.

Unfortunately, the final story arc proved to be rather nonsensical and disappointing. That ultimately had a negative effect on my overall enthusiasm for the show.
(streaming: FUNimation)

gangsta-anime
GANGSTA. (12 episodes) – Amazing series, except there’s one major problem.
When I think of previous anime that made no attempt to wrap up any plot threads, the first to come to mind is “Deadman Wonderland.” With that show though, I didn’t particularly like or care about the characters at all.

At least with GANGSTA., I was primarily invested in the characters. I was interested in how their relationships were informed by their past and present situations. Even relatively minor roles were fleshed out and sympathetic. Because of this, I think I really got something out of each episode, even the final one, in spite of the obvious fact that it failed spectacularly in delivering any kind of conclusion whatsoever.

I suppose if there really was no good way to end it, this kind of “advertisement for the manga” ending was still preferable to an anime-original one that didn’t make sense or that would be problematic in the off-chance that a sequel should ever happen.  However, as it stands, I could never recommend this show without also warning the potential viewer about the unsatisfying non-ending.
(streaming: FUNimation, DAISUKI)

Seraph of the end
Seraph of the End: VAMPIRE REIGN (Owari no Seraph) (24 episodes) – Another show with an interesting storyline and characters who were full of personality. The facial movements and expressions were frequently exceptionally well-animated. The quality of the action sequences was inconsistent, but the show was enjoyable overall.

No concrete ending here, and likely won’t be for a long time, as the anime is apparently caught up with the source manga already.
(streaming: FUNimation)

PARASYTE the maxim
Parasyte –the maxim- (Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu) (24 episodes) – The smaller-scale story of Shinichi and Migi learning to live with each other and developing an understanding for the other’s perspective was thought-provoking and often humorous. For me, the show lost some of its momentum as the view expanded to the rest of the outside world.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

Arslan Senki
THE HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN (Arslan Senki) (25 episodes) – The epic tale of Prince Arslan after the fall of his nation offered balanced viewpoints from all sides of the conflict. I really appreciated that aspect of the show. The second half was more about Arslan’s group working to assemble their allies in order to retake Pars and that was not quite as riveting for me. No real conclusion here either, as they don’t make it all the way back to Pars by series end.
(streaming: FUNimation)

Great Fun:

one-punch man
ONE PUNCH MAN (12 episodes) – The action scenes were often creative and really well done, however, what I loved best about the show were the characters and their interactions, especially the dynamic between Saitama and Genos. Sonic was great too; and I think Mumen Rider had me at hello!
(streaming: DAISUKI)

Assassination Classroom
ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) (22 episodes) – This story of a class of misfits who must kill their tentacled teacher, Koro-sensei, before he destroys the planet turned out to be not only humorous, but also surprisingly heartwarming.
(streaming: FUNimation)

Starmyu
STARMYU High School Star Musical (12 episodes) – Let me just state that we were not impressed by the first episode of STARMYU. The many characters each got only brief appearances and we didn’t get a sense of who they were at all. But the real kicker was the abominable introductory song by the elite Kao Council, in which they basically told the student body, “We’re better than you.”

My sister, who is now a devoted fan, was so turned off, we almost didn’t continue with the show! For some reason, I insisted that we had to keep watching; maybe it was morbid curiosity.

We ended up loving STARMYU! It’s not about much, but the characters turned out to be really likeable and had good chemistry with each other. And I was actually moved by the flashback storyline which explained the difficult relationship between two of the Kao Council members.

It was weird when the guys broke out in song, and the pop tunes were generally not to my taste, but the music was competently produced and the songs sounded polished. One of them even found its way onto my best of 2015 list (see below).
(streaming: FUNimation, DAISUKI)

Cute high earth defense club love
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! (Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE!) (12 episodes) – There was a significant mid-cour slump, such that I lost a lot of enthusiasm for the show for a while. But then the final episodes came along, and they were so inspired and insanely funny! That incredibly strong finale made me really glad that I watched this crazy stupid magical-boy anime!
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

Ace-of-Diamond-anime
Ace of Diamond (Diamond no Ace) (75 episodes) – This baseball anime was consistently enjoyable and deserves a mention here as a technicality.  The stopping point was kind of arbitrary and SECOND SEASON started immediately after the first one ended, so it really doesn’t feel like it’s over at all.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

Sequels Made with Love:

yowamushi pedal grande road
Yowamushi Pedal GRANDE ROAD (24 episodes) – The previous season ended right in the middle of the Inter- high. GRANDE ROAD brought the race to a proper conclusion with all of the show’s usual charm intact.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

noragami aragoto
NORAGAMI ARAGOTO (13 episodes) – This sequel took the concepts from the first series and really ran with them. ARAGOTO played out in two main arcs, the first featuring Bishamon and the second focused on Ebisu, and in turn, Yato. Both arcs ended up being thought-provoking and touching, with self-sacrifice vs self-preservation being a major theme.
(streaming: FUNimation)

K RETURN OF KINGS
K: RETURN OF KINGS (13 episodes) – After the first season, I wasn’t that sold on K’s setting or colour-coded Kings mythology. So much so, that I was actually reluctant to watch the subsequent movie and this sequel.

It seemed like too much style over substance. The K franchise is nothing if not stylish. The visuals were colourful and vibrant, and the constantly moving camera made for some stunningly dynamic action sequences (and also some uncomfortable fanservice).

Impressively, this had an ending that actually made some sense. It seemed obvious to me that the creators really cared about the story they were telling and the roles of the players involved. The characters were consistently true to their motivations and personalities, and the outcome made sense based on the setting and events prior. Maybe it also helped that I was not particularly fond of the Silver Clan, who were the primary focus originally, and therefore totally didn’t mind that they had much less screen time this season.

The Worst Ones:

I suppose it’s a good thing that I had to actually think about this. These are the shows that had some potential, but managed to disappoint despite already meagre expectations.

Tokyo Ghoul √A (12 episodes) – This continuation of the conflict between humans and ghouls inexplicably introduced a ton of new characters and featured even more clumsy storytelling than its predecessor. In the end, lots of people died, yet nothing of consequence happened.

Uta no Prince-sama Magi LOVE Revolutions (13 episodes) – My introduction to UtaPri was in 2011, when the first season was streaming on Niconico. I had heard that it was hilarious to watch with the scrolling user comments on. Indeed, that was good advice. The second season came along 2 years later, and it was actually respectable. I counted myself a fan.

Magi LOVE Revolutions… would have been better with scrolling user comments. Most of the dialogue and story arcs were pretty lame. Not only that, this third season did something even the previous ones didn’t: it actually ended on a cliffhanger.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider (11 episodes) – A murder mystery which cannot be comprehended by a normal human being.

Your lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso) (22 episodes) – Cloyingly manipulative tearjerker about middle school-aged musicians in love probably did right by its target audience. However, I was not that target audience, not by a long shot. We weren’t supposed to hate the girl at the end, were we?

________________________________________________________________

Here’s some more random retrospective stuff. This section includes anything that came out in 2015, not just the completed shows.

Memorable Quotes:

– We recently saw the GARO: CRIMSON MOON special episode. In one of the segments, the voice cast showcased their favourite lines from the show so far. That reminded me that there were not many notable lines in CRIMSON MOON of one quote that I did enjoy.

In many love stories, one partner has to make a great sacrifice for love and it’s beautiful and inspiring. It played out a little differently in ep.5. When Yasusuke told his ex-thief love interest Kosode that he intended to relinquish his name and status in order to be with her, she had this to say: “You want to step down from the good life you were born to? Who wants to be with a fool that doesn’t know the meaning of his actions!”

Well, the rest of the episode went to crap, but that one line was memorable for me.

– The quote that I think made me laugh the most last year came from ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM ep. 8. In response to his colleague apologizing for asking a prying question about his past, Koro-sensei said, “You’re a wise man, Karasuma-sensei. Even while traveling, it’s crude to ask after the number of one’s appendages.”

Favourite Seiyuu of 2015:
Akatsuki Jaeha 17 2015 Kuroko no Basuke 3 Suwabe 2015 Kamisamahjimemashita 2015 Fsn UBW Suwabe 2015 JoJo 2015 uta no prince sama revolutions Suwabe 2015 Food Wars 2015 Gangsta 2015 Gate 2015 Starmyu
That’s right: Suwabe Junichi. The above is a sampling of the roles performed by Suwabe-san last year. So many memorable characters. In at least two instances, his characters appeared mid-season and proceeded to steal the show; I’m thinking of Jae-ha, the Green Dragon in YONA OF THE DAWN, and Terence T. D’Arby in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: STARDUST CRUSADERS Egypt Arc.  He was also perfectly cast as Worick Arcangelo in GANGSTA. and as Ootori Itsuki, the charismatic mentor and muse in STARMYU.

Anime Songs Countdown:

And finally, in advance of the music retrospective post, which will go up next, I now present a list of the best anime songs of 2015 according to me. The songs are evaluated primarily on the music, not the accompanying visuals of the shows they’re associated with. And it’s the full songs that are being considered – that’s especially relevant to my top 2 picks, both of which have so much more to offer than what can be heard in their TV-size versions. Here we go.

15. Lantana, by OLDCODEX (Kuroko’s Basketball S3 ED3)

14. One Light, by Kalafina (THE HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN ED2)

13. Black Swallowtail, by UROBOROS (Rokka –Braves of the Six Flowers- OP2)

12. Feed A, by OLDCODEX (GOD EATER OP)

11. Aching Horns, OLDCODEX (High Speed! -Free! Starting Days- Main Theme)

10. Renegade, by STEREO DIVE FOUNDATION (GANGSTA. OP)

09. FOCUS, by Showtaro Morikubo (GARO THE ANIMATION ED2)

08. Yoru no Kuni, by Annabel (GANGSTA. ED)

07. Brave Shine, by Aimer (Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works] S2 OP)

06. Akatsuki no Hana, by Cyntia (YONA OF THE DAWN OP2)

05. Limited sky, by Tsukigami Kaito (CV: Lounsbery, Arthur) (STARMYU insert song)

04. X.U., by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Gemie (Seraph of the End OP1)

03. scaPEGoat, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Yosh (Seraph of the End ED1)

02. Last Theater, by NoisyCell (Death Parade ED)

01. physical, by OLDCODEX (Q Transformers: Kaettekita Convoy no Nazo OP1)

That was really long! Thank you for reading.

Jacquie’s 2014 Year in Review – Music

2014 was unusual for me in that I didn’t listen to many singles during the year, to the extent that I will not be choosing a best single this time around, due to the lack of genuine contenders. There were, however, 3 albums that I really paid attention to. Here they are in order of release date:

A Silent, within The Roar, OLDCODEX

OLDCODEX released the strongest album of their career with “A Silent, within The Roar”, a very pleasant surprise as I found their previous albums to be disappointing, especially the last one, “CONTRAST SILVER” from 2012.

“A Silent, within The Roar” includes all their recently preceding anime themes, “Rage on” from Free!, “The Misfit Go” from Arata Kangatari, “WALK” from Kuroko’s Basketball S2, plus great new tracks which incorporate varied styles of music, such as metal, techno, and punk. Of course “CONTRAST SILVER” was creative and experimental too, but the songs from that record were much less accessible than these ones are.

My favourite song from all of 2014 is one of those album tracks: “wire choir”. I love the guitars and bass. And I love how the second set of verse and pre-chorus is different from the first set, and it’s so organic that you notice the change in feeling before you register the change in melody. It’s complex and heavy and melodic in the best way.

GALLOWS, lynch.

Compared to the OLDCODEX CD, “GALLOWS” by Nagoya-based lynch. is more heavy, more metal, but equally melodic. The individual songs don’t stand out as much from one another, but that also means there’s more consistency throughout the album. Like with OLDCODEX, I wasn’t expecting a lot going in, since I wasn’t that impressed with lynch.’s previous release either. Their “EXODUS” EP from 2013 had its moments, but I can’t say there was any track I really enjoyed all the way through. “GALLOWS” surprised me with how consistently good it is.

The best track, and my 2nd favourite song of 2014: “OBLIVION”. During the year, a few people might have gotten exposed to “GALLOWS” as a result of proximity to me or my car. To my surprise, just about everyone in that situation voluntarily expressed a favourable impression of “OBLIVION”. It’s that compelling.

The Revelation, coldrain

Early in 2014, coldrain, also hailing from Nagoya, signed on with an American music label, Hopeless Records. “The Revelation” is the resulting international debut release for the band.

This international edition, available on iTunes, has all the best songs from the 2013 Japanese album of the same name plus 5 additional tracks which were issued separately in their home country as part of the “UNTIL THE END” mini-album.

As with “GALLOWS”, there’s plenty of heaviness, screaming, and melody on display; and both records have a nice range of songs with varying tempo. But whereas lynch. tend more toward a visual j-rock sound, coldrain have a more western-style alt-metal sensibility.

“The Revelation” is a very well-rounded album, full of powerful, hooky melodies. Masato’s lyrics, which are all in English, are well-written, often featuring dark and angry themes, but at times reflecting hopefulness too.

It is actually difficult to select favourite tracks, since they are all so strong. It’s simply a great listen from start to finish!

Jacquie’s 2013 Year in Review – Music

BEST SONGS:

01. QUIET, by the GazettE (B-side of FADELESS) – Early in the track, AOI’s pretty guitar riff and RUKI’s calm vocal melody are tempered by a few discordant, almost off-key notes from URURA’s guitar, signifying that all is not well. One can understand and come to accept that life and love cannot last forever. But no matter how prepared you are, that doesn’t make it hurt any less when the time comes to actually say goodbye. QUIET is a sad, sensitive song that could have easily been a ballad. But instead, the tempo is dynamic; and in the chorus, the percussion is just a little faster than you might expect, or want, as if to emphasize the merciless, inevitable passage of time. The result is visceral: so painful, but so incredibly beautiful too.

02. Out of Control, by Nothing’s Carved In Stone – Very catchy second OP of the PSYCHO-PASS anime. Nothing’s Carved In Stone’s music tends to be more raw-sounding than is my usual preference, and I think the connection with the anime probably helped me to open up to this song. I definitely warmed up to it. The awesome bass performance throughout is a stand-out feature.

03. REPLAY, by VAMPS – This progressive rocker was released as a tie-in for the “Dark Labyrinth” game, and I loved it from the first time I watched the fantastical game-themed PV.

04. TO DAZZLING DARKNESS, by the GazettE (from BEAUTIFUL DEFORMITY) – Though stunningly good, it’s hard to compare this track with the other songs I’ve listened to throughout the year, since to me it’s so strongly connected to the album. In fact, the song doesn’t really seem complete anymore if it isn’t immediately followed by the outro CODA.

05. Nocturne, by Tomohisa Yamashita (B-side of SUMMER NUDE ’13) – My first, and I expect only ever, time to really like a Yamapi song!

06. Scarlet, by Alice Nine (B-side of SHADOWPLAY)

07. THE SWAN, by 12012 (from THE SWAN – EP)

08. BALLAD, by lynch. – Perhaps it was not very original-sounding in that lynch. have used this kind of melody and chords before. However, the result here was better than their usual.

09. THEATER, by ViViD

BEST SINGLES (A-sides & B-sides):


01. Rage on, by OLDCODEX (Rage on, Now I am, Swamp) – Rage on is angrier and harder than what might normally be expected from an OP of a cute Kyoto Animation series like Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club. This single would have sold well simply from the association with the highly anticipated swimming anime. They could have half-assed the coupling songs, but they didn’t. Instead, Now I am and Swamp are great songs in their own right, and even heavier than Rage on! As a result, I feel OLDCODEX disseminated rock music to a potentially new, unsuspecting audience; and that’s consistent with my personal agenda.

02. Soukoku no Tsuya, by Sadie (Madara, Setsugekka, face to face) – Arguably, Sadie might have sounded a bit derivative on these tracks, channeling DIR EN GREY and the GazettE more than usual. Nevertheless, or maybe because of it, they succeeded in assembling a powerful single record with these 3 songs.

03. FADELESS, by the GazettE (FADELESS, QUIET, FORBIDDEN BEAVER) – While they’ve been considerably prolific with their full-length album releases, this was GazettE’s only release of a single in the past 2 years. FADELESS made for a sexy, compelling A-side, and QUIET was, of course, outstanding. Ah, but it wouldn’t be GazettE without some contrariness, so leave it to them to follow up with the unremarkable-sounding and rather vulgar FORBIDDEN BEAVER. Well, it’s a strong single nonetheless.

04. AHEAD / REPLAY, by VAMPS – There are only two songs on this double A-side offering, but they are the best VAMPS songs I’ve heard, probably ever.

05. Deeper Deeper / Nothing Helps, by ONE OK ROCK (Deeper Deeper, Nothing Helps, Kasabuta) – ONE OK ROCK’s music tends to be hit or miss for me. This double A-side single, from early in the year, was hit on all 3 counts.

06. BALLAD, by lynch. (BALLAD, CRYSTALIZE) – While BALLAD had a typical lynch. sound, CRYSTALIZE represented more of a departure, with the inclusion of dance-y, electronic sounds. All the while, it still managed to retain a heavy rock sensibility.

07. GREED, by CATFIST (GREED, Smile, REGRET) – This was my introduction to CATFIST. It inspired me to check out their previous work and to buy their subsequent releases. Good stuff.

BEST ALBUM:

BEAUTIFUL DEFORMITY, by the GazettE

No doubt about it, the GazettE have done it again with this release which celebrates the twisted, miraculous beauty that is spawned when these five musicians combine their talents. Year after year, they’ve been very reliable with their releases, always expanding their sound, but never losing their identity; this was no exception.

Some of my favourite tracks: IN BLOSSOM, DEVOURING ONE ANOTHER, LAST HEAVEN, and TO DAZZLING DARKNESS, which blends seamlessly into CODA to close the record.

the GazettE have done an amazing job with both the intros and outros this time; and the way album opener MALFORMED BOX segues into INSIDE BEAST is also perfect.

(Honourable mention in this category goes to the Attack on Titan OST by Hiroyuki Sawano, which I’ve written about previously. Much impressed with this soundtrack. I spent many hours listening to it in the car during the summer and fall, even though it’s not exactly my usual J-rock music.)

Cherry Blossoms (from Ever Blue Sounds ie. soundtrack from Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club)

Free! Ever Blue Sounds Cover

Okay, this is how obsessed I am with this anime.

The soundtrack from Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club has some achingly gorgeous piano pieces and unfortunately, sheet music is not available for it.  So, I picked out the notes for Cherry Blossoms (a painstaking process with my tin ears) and here it is, in case there are other fans itching to play it:

Cherry Blossoms – Free! anime piano sheet music

DEF LEPPARD: VIVA! Hysteria

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2013

VIVA! Hysteria is the concert video of Def Leppard’s eleven-show residency at the Joint in Las Vegas this past spring. The special feature was the performance of their multi-million-selling album “Hysteria” in its entirety for the first time.

I actually saw this in the theatre during the very limited run at the beginning of the month. It’s about to be released on DVD and Blu-ray, so I guess if I’m going to write about it, now is a good time!

As far as concert videos go, it was really quite good. Good sound, sharp visuals. I liked that the camera lingered on the band members long enough that we could see their faces and their playing clearly, which is a rare thing, surprisingly. What I didn’t particularly like was the occasional filming through the personal cameras of random audience members; that’s not a technique I enjoy and it was overused, I thought.

There was also footage from a special acoustic session that included “Two Steps Behind”, “Now”, “When Love and Hate Collide”, and more.

Naturally, the band sounded polished and tight. What can I say? “Hysteria” is chock-full of amazing songs, and they sounded great live: “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, “Love Bites”, the list goes on and on. Personally, I always love their live rendition of album track “Gods of War”. And another highlight was “Love and Affection”, which was a rare treat to see performed live.

HAREM SCAREM at THE ROCKPILE

HAREM SCAREM & HEAVENS FIRE, with WARMACHINE & West Memphis Suicide, July 12th at THE ROCKPILE

Ma~ I might come back and add a few more words later, but for now, here’s HAREM SCAREM’s set list:

01. Saviors Never Cry
02. Dagger
03. Hard to Love
04. If There Was A Time
05. Sentimental Blvd.
06. Honestly
07. Slowly Slipping Away
08. Karma Cleansing
09. Stranger Than Love
10. Mandy
11. Had Enough

12. No Justice
13. Change Comes Around

“Attack on Titan” Original Soundtrack

Music by HIROYUKI SAWANO

I can’t remember the last time I liked a soundtrack the way I enjoy this one, from beginning to end, all 77 minutes of it!

Musically, it’s very diverse. There are swelling orchestral parts, including strings and horns. There’s sparing use of acoustic guitar and piano and electronica/dubstep on some tunes, as well as a generous but judicious presence of electric guitar work. Some tracks feature Middle Eastern or Asian ethnic sounds; one even has an American bluesy feel. Underlying it all is a rock foundation, and that’s probably at least part of the reason why this record appeals to me so much personally.

One male singer and 3 female singers provide vocals to several of the songs. Of those tracks, three (“The Reluctant Heroes”, “DOA”, “Call your name”) are mainly rock numbers, while the others (“Vogel im Kafig”, “Bauklotze”) sound more atmospheric and melancholy.

Additionally, tracks 2, 4, and 5 are related. Well, they sound like completely different songs, but they all eventually reprise the main melody which begins in “The Reluctant Heroes.”  Likewise, “eye-water” and “Call your name” are somewhat alternate takes on a same song.

Although many of the tracks clock in at over 5 minutes in length, they don’t seem long at all because the music often takes a radical turn mid-song, with vastly different instrumentation, melody, and mood.

All in all, a great listen!

I originally checked out this soundtrack because I was interested in the “Attack on Titan” anime, but now it’s come to the point where I’m enjoying the anime more, in fact it can practically do no wrong by me, because it has this music in it!