2015 has wrapped up and I find myself looking back on the year and its highlights. This has been a great year for animation. We’ve seen a lot of innovative new series and a few continuing series also really kicked into action and showed their stuff. So, let’s take a look at some of the better sci-fi and fantasy animated series that 2015 had to offer (that I saw). If you have your own favorite shows, feel free to crow about them in the comments!
After a huge delay, the magical girl show created with the combined power of French and Korean studios is finally out to the public. This show follows the adventures of Marinette, a ladybug themed superhero and her fellow hero Chat Noir as they fight to protect Paris from a mysterious villain who keeps turning people evil.
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Chat Noir is an extremely cute series that combines superhero action with lowkey romantic comedy. This show glories in some old clichés on the genre- including the secret identity love triangle (Marinette is in love with Adrien who is Chat Noir who is in love with Ladybug who has no feelings for Char Noir). The characters are so charming that the tropey aspects of the show are merely a lot of fun, rather than irritating.
The fights are often very creative and the CGI animation is good. Marinette is an adorable lead who is genuinely awkward as a civilian, but confident as a superhero, which makes for an interesting contrast. The first season of the show hasn’t ended yet, but it’s already an entertaining watch, so I hope there will be a next one.
Miraculous Ladybug is showing on Nickelodean.Advertisement
Steven Universe ups the ante
This is the year the tale of a magical boy and his battle-hardened alien moms truly came into its own. The fun started with the episode “Alone Together”, an expertly woven little tale that touched on themes of growing up, relationships and social anxiety. Then came the steady and carefully done build up to one of nifitiest space battles in all of cartoondom, where the Gems clashed with despotic denizens of their home planet. Viewers got to see what Garnet was really made of and she showed her stuff in an amazing musical fight. The song “Stronger Than You” was a big hit, if the ten million remixes of it on Youtube are any indication. This season finale also introduced a very cool relationship that shows children’s media is finally moving forward a little in acknowledging queer couples.
Steven’s second season also bought us some stunning examination of grief and abandonment, the deepening of all the show’s relationships, some great mother-daughter narratives and killer character development. The little starboy is really growing up and I can’t wait to see where the show goes next.
Steven Universe is showing on Cartoon Network.
Yona of the Dawn
This tale of a banished princess fighting to survive and save her kingdom after losing everything really struck a chord with me. This show takes you on the amazing journey of watching a sheltered, fragile and somewhat selfish noble girl claw herself out of adversity and become a determined, scrappy hero who fights to protect everyone.
Yona of the Dawn blends mythology, comedy, tragedy, romance and action to create a memorable story. It touches on themes of betrayal, abuse, social inequality, war and reincarnation. It has a great ensemble cast who interact in both comical and adorable ways, quickly turning into a tight knit family. Also, dragons. You gotta love dragons. And pirates!
(Some warnings for the series: sexual harassment, sexist comments pop up in the second half (and are sometimes refuted) and there’s a (tastefully done and not graphic) storyline about sexual slavery.)
Gravity Falls ramps up to its finale
The supernatural mystery series about the Pines Twins dealing with the strange phenomena while they stay with their uncle over the summer really kicked it up a notch this year. Viewers finally found out who the mysterious author of the journals is and the answer really fleshed out the characters while bringing a whole boatload of brand new conflict to the series. Then we got the beginning of the series finale, a “Weirdocolypse” that showed the word of the show being transformed in surprising and disturbing ways. It’s a true end of the world scenario- but it also touches on themes like growing up, the bond between siblings and the difficulty of letting go.
Gravity Falls has been a show full of twists and turns with loveable characters, neat riddles to solve, spooky scares and real heart. I’ll be sad to see it go this year, but all good things must come to an end.
Gravity Falls is showing on the Disney channel.Advertisement
Snow White with the Red Hair
This sweet story is part slice-of-life and part romance. It’s a tale VERY loosely based on Snow White, about a girl named Shirayuki who works as a herbalist. When she’s told she has to become the prince’s concubine, Shirayuki leaves town instead. She runs into another prince during her travels and they become fast friends. Both of them work to make the country they live in a better place.
This is the kind of show that show fantasy-like romances aimed at girls can be done right. Shirayuki is a great lead, tough and competent with incredible resolve. Even though she’s not a fighter, she can take care of herself. Her love interest, the prince, is extremely respectful and sweet to her and also clearly admires her greatly.
The show is a bit slow-paced, mostly dealing with the day to day politics of the fictional kingdom and the way the characters navigate all the problems and challenges that pop up. There is a bit of action too and lots of perilous situations, but the show is really about the relationships. So if you ever want to get a calming dosage of cute with a little swordplay on the side, I recommend this series. I’m looking forward to the next season coming in the spring!
Snow White with the Red Hair can be found at Funimation.
Star vs The Forces of Evil
We got another good magical girl show this year! Star vs the Forces of Evil tells the comedic tale of a magical princess who was sent to earth as punishment for all the trouble she caused with her magic. A bunch of monsters pursue her because they want to steal her magic wand, but that’s okay, because Star REALLY likes fighting and so does her new friend Marco. And they’re good at it!
This show focuses really heavily on the comedy and wacky hijinks galore. The first few episode were a little rough for me, like the show was trying too hard to be funny and weird. But it gets better. Later episodes give us some character development and relationship building, as well as exciting and mysterious villains. The show managed to deliver a really dramatic, high tension finale to the first season that hinted at a lot more drama and intrigue to come.
Star vs the Forces of Evil is showing on the Disney Channel.
Yuri Bear Storm
If you watched Revolutionary Girl Utena, you know that Kunihiko Ikuhara likes weird stories. And it’s hard to get much weirder than his latest project, Yuri Bear Storm- a tale of a world where humans and (very cute) bears are at war and their worlds are separated by a wall. Two bears sneak over the wall and masquerade as human in order to devour some tasty human girls. But what will happen when they run into Kureha, a girl who’s sworn to destroy the bears that killed her mother? And what of Kureha’s secret girlfriend?
If it sounds bizarre, it is, and the show revels in comical absurdity. However, it’s also a really interesting examination of the yuri genre. The work is very open to interpretation, but to me the show comes off as a study of the two types of lesbians one tends to see in fiction. Humans are the closeted, chaste lesbians who never get to kiss or really have a explicit relationship in the text. The bears are the predatory lesbians you see pop up as the villians in stories- heartless women with an insatiable sexual desire, who destroy, defile and devour poor innocent girls. The show asks the question if a middle ground can be found between these two extremes, or if lesbians are destined to forever be represented as one of the other in our world.
There’s no doubt that this story examines both homophobia and misogyny, just with…cute plushy bears attacking random girls. Even if the themes don’t resonate with you, you’ll likely find it good for a laugh- thrill to the giant CGI bear claws and utterly bizarre transformation sequences.
Which brings up to a big warning: The underage girls in this show are ridiculously sexualized, sometimes in disturbing ways. There are those who would argue this is meant to be “satire”, and maybe it is supposed to be, but to me personally it just seems like every other lesbian-fetishizing anime. There’s also sexual assault and intense bullying shown. Watch at your own risk.
Yuri Bear Storm can be found at Funimation.
We Bare Bears
This brand new cartoon series about the shenanigans of three bear brothers doesn't have a much a plot going, but it's a fun, relaxing watch. It's funny in a gentle way, the art is pleasing to the eye and both the character designs and the friendships of the show are pretty adorable, especially the bond between the bears and the awkward young prodigy, Chloe. The highlight is Ice Bear's deadpan delivery of ridiculous statements, which someone never gets old. "Ice Bear thinks you should immerse yourself in these silly talking animals".
We Bare Bears shows on Cartoon Network.
Gatchaman Crowds: Insight
Another installment of Gatchaman Crowds came out this year and it was a worthy follow up to the first season of the show about transforming teens who save the world.
The last season of the show focused heavily on the power of social media and combatting the apathy of humanity. This season chose to tackle groupthink, mass hysteria and conformity and the commentary was very biting, but ultimately hopeful. The series showed the public being swept up in the desire to “become one” and follow a new alien who had arrived to “save them” all and the consequences of this. This really was political commentary with no-holds-barred- there was a part where a survivor of World War II even commented that is was going along with the crowd and engaging in blind nationalism that led him and many others to fight in a horrible war they didn’t really even believe in, against people they didn’t really hate.
Though some of the supporting characters of the series are sadly sidelined this season, we do get to see the two new characters introduced go through some great development and the lead of the series, Hajime, makes a stunning heroic sacrifice. All in all, it’s another good installment of a good show.
Gatchaman Crowds: Insight can be found at Crunchyroll.