So long as I'm expanding my lists, I think I'll include Sakura Trick (who by the way Fuchigami Mai is performing in) and Mikakunin de Shinkoukei in my top anime rankings list.
When I first saw these series I thought they had a lot of potential but they'd inevitably fail to follow through on that potential. Like most comedy series, the jokes would grow stale and repetitive, and the plot would refuse to advance. I was so ready for these shows to fail that I was astounded as they instead improved every single week.
I said Sakura Trick would have a hard time keeping the comedy funny, the cuteness cute, and the romance developing simultaneously, but now that the two main leads have promised to marry each other I'm content. This was the most lovely romantic development I could have ever envisioned. And even as the romantic arc achieves perfection, the comedy and cuteness is still just as fresh and enticing as ever. Sakura Trick isn't the first serious lesbian romance series in anime -- if nothing else there was the hyper-realistic Sasamaki Koto before now. But it was the first idealistic lesbian romance series in anime. Rather than a story about how hard lesbians have it in life, it's actually a story bursting with joy, animal spirits, and optimism. This isn't the story of heartbreak and betrayal we've come to expect from 'forbidden romances,' but the first time a story simply assumes lesbianism will be accepted and celebrated by the whole community as no big deal. If they want to get married, why not? Go ahead. Nobody cares one way or the other. What a different world just a few years makes. Sakura Trick is no longer broaching dangerous new ground, nor does it have to be careful in its messaging. It has nothing to prove. It's just taken for granted that yuri is awesome, that people can love whomever they choose, and that the only way to express your love fully to someone is to marry them, which means it is just as necessary for unorthodox relationships to have the right to marry as it is for normal ones, and can't be monopolized by any group because love isn't monopolized by any group.
When I see how happy Yuu and Haruka are together, I can't imagine what society can possibly hold against them, that they would want to discriminate against them in any way. What did these two girls ever do to anyone? Nothing. So what on Earth reason do we have to persecute them? Revenge for what? Justice for what crime? Just leave the poor girls alone and let them be happy. Love is rare enough these days, we hardly need additional forces breaking up couples when natural forces do the job just fine on their own in 99% of cases. Can't we at least leave that 1% remainder alone, to prove that life has some worth and some hope and some innate goodness to it as yet unreached? If just one couple, anywhere, is in love, no matter who they are, that's salvation for all of mankind. It means we aren't hopelessly evil and worthless. But if we trample over that pure love, that perfect love, the moment we see it, and make it impossible for absurdly petty reasons that can't in the least compare to the divinity and sacredness of Love existing in the world, then mankind really is hopelessly evil and worthless. In Sakura Trick we're given a chance to enjoy a perfect couple enjoy their perfect couplehood together. Unlike 99% of other shows, Sakura Trick has the lovers coming together in the very first episode, rather than the very last. Everything after that has been the story of lovers in love and staying in love, falling even deeper in love, showing the world just how great love can be.
Sakura Trick is unique. It's unique in that it's two girls. It's unique in that it sees nothing wrong with lust embedded within a committed relationship and has no problem showing these feelings on screen. Far from being impure or voyeuristic, it's sharing with us just how in love these two are with each other in the most basic and pure methods possible -- through genuine physical intimacy. Even shows full of romance inscrutably skip this part. Even shows full of nudity inscrutably avoid this subject. So it's good that Sakura Trick has 'come out of the closet' and displays full on, not only girl on girl feelings, but passionate feelings that neither they nor anyone else has any reason to hide because they're love and nothing is ever wrong with love. It's unique in that it still feels there's more to be told about someone's life even after they've chosen their romantic partner in life. Aside from Clannad, stories like that are very rarely told, at most with just a few minutes of epilogue. But Sakura Trick has been doing it from the beginning, which is just stunning proof of how brilliant the author must be to keep this show interesting unlike every show that avoids this subject like the plague.
Which isn't to say that straight romances don't also have their appeal. Mikakunin de Shinkoukei is a story of an arranged marriage gone right -- the two were childhood friends to begin with, and still respect each other today as good people. The fact that Kobeni wasn't really looking for love at this time in her life or particularly attracted to Hakuya no longer matters. The question is can these two make it work? And throughout the series so far, they've shown that they can, and magnificently. If you just give love a chance, it can work miracles. In fact, studies have shown that on average couples from arranged marriages are just as happy as couples who sought out their own soulmates for marriage. A story proving that point is always welcome, and all the better in a way that's believable. Will the two ever get together? Who knows, the anime will probably end before that question is resolved. But it doesn't really matter because we've seen, through the body of the work, that at least the potential was there, which means down some quantum timeline they really did live happily ever after, which is good enough for me.
Aside from the romantic aspects, Mikakunin has a lot else going for it. It has great music, art, and spectacular animation for some unknown reason. It's like the studio thought it was animating Fate/Zero or something instead of the silly love comedy it actually is. I'm all for this, because wow does it look great, but I hope it pays off for them as they must have spent a bundle to make this show look as good as it does. It also works as a comedy, coming up with many fresh jokes as well as sticking to its old repeat jokes throughout the series. The latest episode where two girls were trying to have an argument on the roof but gave up because they couldn't hear each other due to it being too windy was just deliciously ironic. Everything seems hilarious, even the intention to fight, when you realize how much of an inconvenience you're putting yourself through by harboring such overly strong emotions. Wouldn't it be better to relax, forget all about the person annoying you, and go drink a cup of warm tea somewhere? And that's just one thought provoking joke in one episode.
Mikakunin also has been really great about moving the plot quickly and keeping situations fresh. If there's a secret, it's immediately outed, so that the plot can continue moving forward like a juggernaut. If two people need to say their true feelings for the story to continue, they immediately and unhesitatingly do so, and off the train rushes again! It's so refreshing watching this show, because it never teases the audience or wastes our time or trolls us with red herring developments. It just lays out the thanksgiving turkey and tells us to dig in, no holds barred, the whole story was cooked up just for us.
I've said a lot of harsh things about this winter anime season, and it's still mostly true. A bizarrely large number of shows this season are awful. But no season can be bad overall when it boasts two completely new series, that both have broken a lot of new ground, that are easily within the ranks of the best anime ever made. Last fall had Non Non Biyori, Noucome and Outbreak Company, but winter isn't far behind with Sakura Trick and Mikakunin de Shinkoukei to boast of for itself. I still have plenty of open slots in my anime rankings as I'm supposed to have 160 right now but could only assure the quality of 152 shows to the outside world. This moves my list back up to 154. Once the spring season starts, I'll be able to get it back to 160, and everything will be right with the world again. That's still a month away, though, so 154 will have to do.