The annual celebratory extravaganza known as Christmas has just reached its conclusion and New Year’s is only a few days away, as I’m in the midst of an ironically stressful school break. In order to prevent my blog from complete inactivity during this hectic holiday season, I’ve decided to lazily put together some of my highlights in various mediums from the past year. But since I’m not one to actively follow seasonal stuff to any greater extent, this is not going to necessarily focus on things that have come out this year, but instead things that I personally have consumed.
In terms of anime, this year has contained quite a bit of highlights for me. Out of the (few) seasonal shows that I’ve watched, there were three titles that really stuck out; Hibike! Euphonium told a heartfelt story about the trials of ensemble musicianship and the struggles of competition, with KyoAni once again raising the bar for how pretty an animated series can look; Shimoneta to Iu Gainen ga Sonzai Shinai Taikutsu na Sekai delivered an extremely sharp yet wonderfully childish sociopolitical satire on censorship and the concept of indecency; and now most recently, One Punch Man conveyed a hilarious parody on superheroes that fit right to my taste, as it mocked all the aspects of the superhero concept that’s always prevented me from getting into it.
Outside of the seasonals, Shirobako payed a heartwarming homage to the art and craft of the anime medium, while Welcome to Irabu’s Office presented me with the most Masaaki Yuasa-esque show I’ve seen without having any connection to Masaaki Yuasa of whatsoever. But the two shows that grabbed me more than anything this year were the ever lovely Aria, as well as the equally charming as touching Hyouka. Aria introduced me to a large cast of wonderful characters going through their day-to-day lives in one of the most immersive and fleshed out anime worlds I have ever seen, all wrapped up into a show that is all about carpe diem and appreciating the little things in life. Hyouka on the other hand was kind of a surprising one; knowing what Kyoto Animation are capable of as a studio I did go into it with a few expectations, but I far from expected it to be as good as it was. Everything from the dynamics between the four main characters, to its central theme around talent (and the characters’ different relations to that theme), to the masterfully subtle visual storytelling that KyoAni are so good at, all resulted in a progression of outstandingly fluid character development, leading up to a conclusion so heartbreaking that it actually made me shed tears (which you should know is a pretty rare occurrence).
I honestly didn’t read a lot of manga this year, and out of the stuff I did read there wasn’t much that really stood out to me. That is except one particular book called Dream Fossil; a collection of earlier short stories by non other than Satoshi Kon, that were originally released between 1984 and 1989. Being filled with all the charm and creativity that we all know and love from Kon’s animated works, these stories are incredibly enjoyable in their own right – but they’re also very interesting to look at in the context of his more famous works, as you see the early stages of the distinct style of storytelling that he later would come to sharpen. The collection is noteworthily diverse too, containing everything from dystopian sci-fi stories and samurai tales, to simple drama stories and innocently romantic comedies. A great read and one that I highly recommend to both fans of Kon and people wanting to get into him.
While I’m far from the biggest consumer of this medium, with there being only a handful of shows that I actively follow, there was still two things I watched this year that I think deserves attention. First of all, Adventure Time concluded their sixth and possibly best season yet, with several characters and plot lines being given more depth than ever before. We also got a deep dive into Marceline’s personal past with the Stakes miniseries at the start of season seven, which I found especially exciting since she’s my favorite female character in the show.
But while that was all very great, it didn’t quite top the discovery I made of a certain show called Rick and Morty. Not only is this relatively young series a hilarious comedy with its sharp and clever writing, as well as the often very messy and stylistically unique dialogue interactions between the two title characters (which, as I’ve understood, is voice actor and co-creator Justin Roiland just playing around in front of a microphone). But what grabbed me more than anything about this show was its vast exploration of existentialism, as it constantly played around with the confrontation of life’s meaning (or lack thereof) in a wonderfully humorous manner. It’s a series that I, because of this, quickly have grow an even personal attachment to. For a pretty thorough analysis on all the philosophical themes that the show tackles, I highly recommend checking out this awesome video from Wisecrack:
It’s been a really exciting year for me in terms of movies, as I’ve explored a lot of fun stuff. Firstly, I’ve taken a deep dive into contemporary Korean cinema – looking at a number of titles from filmmakers such as Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon, Lee Chang-dong and Kim Ki-duk – and absolutely fallen in love with the distinct visual language that these films seem to share. I’ve also started my long awaited exploration of Ingmar Bergman, and can safely say that every bit of praise that is thrown to him is beyond well deserved. His way of storytelling has a sharpness unlike anything I’ve seen, tackling all various heavy themes around life, death and everything in between with a seemingly ridiculous ease. For each new movie I watch, he’s steadily growing into one of my all time favorite filmmakers.
However, the greatest cinematic experience I’ve had this year was with Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2010 movie Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. With its themes around reincarnation, naturalistic performances and dialogue, and immensely Tarkovskian style of storytelling, this film is a cinematic experience like no other. Having watched it three times already, I still haven’t quite grasped what it’s all about – yet this is not a movie that requires full understanding to be enjoyed; even if the plot seems utterly confusing and nonsensical, the atmospheric experience that this film delivers is something that deserves just as much attention.
There have been a lot of great album releases this year that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed; British band Everything Everything dropped yet another funky and adventurous pop album titled Get to Heaven; Death Grips concluded their double album The Powers that B with the long awaited release of its second half Jenny Death; Kendrick Lamar outdid himself once again with another hip-hop masterpiece titled To Pimp a Butterfly; Oneohtrix Point Never delved into even stranger electronic music territories with his equally abrasive as intriguing Garden of Delete; Kamasi Washington came out with a three hour long jazz epic titled The Epic; and Swedish saxophonist Per Texas Johansson returned to the jazz scene after 16 years of absence with one absolutely killer record, bearing a title that pays homage to my own daily way to school: De Långa Rulltrapporna i Flemingsberg (The Long Escalators in Flemingsberg).
But my favorite album release this year came from non other than noise musician Prurient, who came out with a 90-minute double record titled Frozen Niagara Falls. With its combination of violently distorted noises, pummeling industrial drum beats, haunting vocals and sci fi-esque synth sounds – elements that are all composed together perfectly – this album is a dark, bleak and atmospheric masterpiece.
I didn’t go to as many concerts as I would have wished for this year, but I nevertheless saw a few really fantastic shows. Firstly I went to the Stockholm Music & Arts festival in early August, where I especially enjoyed Nils Frahm’s fantastic musical combination of 70s-influenced symphonic synthesizers and Philip Glass-like minimalism. I then saw electronic music duo Knower killing it with their first Swedish visit ever, and Lightning Bolt delivered possibly the loudest and most physically intense concert I’ve been to yet. But none of them really stood up to legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea, who with his newly formed band The Vigil gave a grand finale performance at the Stockholm Jazz Festival. From the very first song to the very last, the blistering performances, creative playfulness and musical expertise had me completely blown away, and made the two hour long concert feel like merely fifteen minutes.
When it comes to art exhibitions, the year has contained a great deal of interesting stuff. Particularly during my summer trip to Berlin, I went to a number of notable places; the fantastically exciting Hamburger Bahnhof museum, which was brimming with artistic creativity just around every corner of both old and new; a Salvador Dalí exhibition showcasing a lot of the surrealist painter’s more minor works, which was pretty interesting to see in context to the stuff that you normally associate with the man; and also an installation series by Saskia Boddeke and Peter Greenaway titled Obedience at the Jewish Museum, that was an equally impressive as thought provoking modern take on the biblical story about Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac.
The most exciting exhibition I went to in Sweden though was Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s installation series Reality machines at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. With its central theme around the relation between the human eye and the nature that surrounds it, this collection of art works gave an intense visual experience while also strongly challenging the line between both illusion and reality as well as object and observer.
So that pretty much concludes the highlights of my year in terms of all the things I’ve watched, listened to and visited. It’s been an overall very fun year with a lot of different outputs and experiences that will be remembered for a long time in the future, and I hope to have a just as exciting 2016.
So what were your highlights of 2015? Drop a comment and let me know!