My feelings toward the anime I viewed this year were overall quite positive, even though not all of the classics that I set out to watch made this list. But the surprises that were in store were quite welcome, with Serial Experiments Lain and Casshern Sins proving among the freshest entries into the science fiction genre. Ghost in the Shell proved disappointing, but series like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Cowboy Bebop, and Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor more than made up for it (that last series came just a hair shy of making this list). As I begin working my way through new anime for 2013, here are the five anime I was most impressed with in 2012 - keep in mind that, as with my top five video games of the year, the rankings do not necessarily reflect the ratings I ascribed to them, but rather are a reflection of my own personal enjoyment in watching them.
#5 - Casshern Sins: As mentioned in my review of this series, Casshern Sins presents a breathtakingly beautiful vision of a world on its way to extinction. This is one of the most fresh and original post-apocalyptic tales I've experienced in recent years, and it is thanks in large part to the fact that the cast is almost entirely devoid of humans. Instead, the world's remaining populous is comprised primarily of robots - robots who have discovered they are mortal, thanks to Casshern's unleashing the Ruin. The way that these robots take on human characteristics or even behave in ways they believe to be human is as entertaining as it is unsettling, as there is little to compare them to in this increasingly devoid realm. Meanwhile, Casshern's need to conquer his destructive side and learn just who he is and what he has done, as well as the manner in which he learns from each individual he meets, fuels the main story arc.
#4 - Serial Experiments Lain: The more experimental a sci-fi anime is, the greater tendency it has to be highly-polarizing. In the case of Serial Experiments Lain, my viewing experience was one so bizarre yet fulfilling - a feeling that can only be accurately compared to my first viewing of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Lain is incredibly trippy, and the series raises just as many questions as it answers. But it's a wonderfully inventive product of 1990s grunge culture and new wave industrial science fiction.
#3 - Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: I'm a huge fan of Gundam and tend to be partial to the Universal Century series over the Alternate Universe visions of this long-standing mecha powerhouse. I have a real appreciation for everything that was accomplished with Zeta Gundam in solidifying a number of characteristics that would appear in nearly every Gundam series thereafter. Sure, the dialogue is cheesy at times, and the battles often take on a back-and-forth approach for large portions of episodes. But on the larger scale, the writing is solid, the mobile suit designs very creative, and the characters quite the likeable bunch. The dynamic that Lt. Quattro and Kamille share is easily one of my favorites in the metaseries, and the fact that there's a balance of cast members new and old makes the show all the more accessible.
#2 - Akira: I'm quite fond of early science fiction/speculative fiction works like those by Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury, and Akira certainly carried a similar tone throughout. I'm also a diehard fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and to see one of its predecessors handled so perfectly was a real treat. Though I've seen a fair number of standalone anime films in my day, there are not many that I consider to be at the caliber of full-fledged series. But Akira is an incredible achievement for its day, and ranks as one of my very favorite anime films.
#1 - Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: I fell in love with the 2003 quickly after starting it, and though I realize it deviated heavily from the manga source material, I still found the development of plot and characters a major step up from most other anime. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood cranks it up another notch, having better focus in mind from the outset. Though the first dozen episodes are rather fast-paced, the remainder of the series is handled brilliantly as Ed and Al search for a way to restore their bodies. The story feels more complex due to its following a now-completed source material, and the story of the brothers Elric is easily one of the most wonderfully human tales expressed in any modern fantasy epic.