While the rhetoric that “you’ll grow out of anime if you know what’s good for you” may have faded into the background for me with time, at the start of 2011 I was a little conscious I just might be about to change everything. Having enjoyed crossing the Atlantic by ship two years before (too busy along the way to watch very much anime), I’d booked a cruise that would start in Japan and make a few stops in the north of that country on the way back across the Pacific. It would be far from an “anime fan pilgrimage” of the sort English-speaking fans talked about, but there did seem the possibility that in experiencing Japan as a normal country, it would be impressed on me at last “animation” of the sort being exported across the Pacific was hidden in a few disparaged nooks and crannies; maybe manga was a bit more respectable, if you were reading the righttitles.

Big things got in the way, though, big enough that their effects on me were trivialities by comparison. After an earthquake, tsunami, and reactor meltdown hitting the north of Japan, people started cancelling their cruise reservations until the line changed the itinerary from that country to South Korea and eastern Russia. I almost cancelled my own reservation in petty annoyance, but once I’d got over that I did remember the cruise was still starting from Kobe. After I’d been driven from the Osaka airport to the cruise terminal with a few hours left before sailing, the thought did enter my jet-lagged mind I could chance walking inland for a few blocks just to say I had, and it just so happened I happened on a big multi-floor appliance and electronics store with signs I could tell also mentioned model kits. Ascending the escalators, I wound up among not just model kits but also “anime goods” aplenty; that there didn’t seem any video discs mixed in was a trifle. I bought a Macross Frontier boxed mini-figure, and haven’t got around to opening it to see just who it was. In some way too, happening on some translated manga and model kits in South Korea in just a few more hours there added to a general sense it was a bit harder to call Japan a safely exotic, unique, and unthreatening “other” any more.

With all of that said I can hit on some simply memorable anime series from 2011, although this year I’m tempted to start with the quite honourable mentions and work towards the real personal standouts. Puella Magi Madoka Magica has inspired a good few “well, actually...” comments about just where and when “dark magical girl series” really started, although for me a part of what makes it memorable is the sense it was the last big show that broke through with people chasing “fansubs.” Having first seen it that way might have contributed to me buying Aniplex of America’s deluxe releases of it, although in just a few years I’m afraid I had burned out on the privilege of taking expensive and therefore presumably well-encoded releases and wound up leaving them instead. Some might insist they haven’t gone away, but they haven’t taken over the industry here either. I am conscious too the original follow-up movie first seemed interesting as a continuation but wound up feeling sort of depressing as a “that’s all we’ve got” conclusion. Steins;Gate featured for its year in a “recent most-popular anime” piece I happened on after beginning to look for my own personal standouts; its time travel storyline builds slowly (and feels stuffed with “familiar character types” doing it), but does become compelling without being overwhelming.

While it had taken me a while longer to see what at least a few people were quite enthusiastic about and watch Chihayfuru, I was impressed when I managed that. A good dose of “whatever you do, do to the utmost of your ability” combined with the sense of “experiencing something unusual” I’d supposed I’d left behind with anime a while ago, although after watching the series I could start recognizing its karuta card game here and there in other series. Thinking back to it had me supposing I’d hit on my standout among standouts for the year, but then I did a bit more looking and realized I’d missed at first that Nichijou had also premiered in 2011. That made the choice harder again; Nichijou is a “cartoony” comedy at first glance but with depth and heart to be found. It also seems my best option for listing a Kyoto Animation production at the top of its year, even if it takes on the style of its original manga (which I followed up on where I haven’t quite dug into the digital releases of the Chihayafuru manga yet) where it’s tempting to claim most of their later series from the decade show off a house style.