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Dated 1 January 2013: Announcing the 2012 Girl of the Year

Ami and Mami
Don't try and tell Ami and Mami there can be only one.

Choosing a 2012 Girl of the Year was more difficult than in previous years for two reasons. First, I watched fewer shows this year, so the pool of candidates is relatively small. For example, I encountered regular high praise for characters in Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, but being otherwise wholly ignorant of the show, none of them even got an initial glance. Second, there are numerous eligibility considerations that I had to reconcile.

Medaka
This is not a very deep pool.

Revisiting nominations from earlier this year, I identified Yuuko from Tasogare Otome x Amnesia, Fujiko from Lupin III, Saki from Natsuiro Kiseki, and the unnamed female protagonist from Humanity Has Declined. With the benefit of having the autumn 2012 season in the bag, I am adding Cure Beauty from Smile Precure!, Medaka from Medaka Box and Medaka Box Abnormal, and the entire 765Pro roster from The iDOLM@STER TV.

Chihaya
It was the style at the time.

Here is one of the eligibility concerns I mentioned. Should iM@S characters qualify for the 2012 Girl of the Year contest? The television series concluded in 2011. However, the episode 26 OVA came out in 2012, and there were three additional episodes included with the Shiny Festa PSP games also released in 2012. I never explicitly disqualified OVAs and movies from consideration. (And if I did and simply forgot, I'm retconning that now.) If the Girl of the Year title can be awarded to a group, then shouldn't the BEST GIRL in that ensemble subsequently get a solo award? Not necessarily. Chihaya is the iDOLM@STER BEST GIRL, but I wouldn't call her 2012's Girl of the Year even though I am prepared to nominate Chihaya, Miki, Takane, Ritsuko, Haruka, Mami, Makoto, Iori, Hibiki, Ami, Azusa, Yayoi, Kotori, and Yukiho in a group nomination as I did in 2011.

Yuuko
It's not easy being dead.

Perhaps this is anti-climatic, but the 2012 winner wasn't really in doubt. Yuuko is amazing, but a lot of her appeal comes from the Tasogare Otome x Amnesia manga. She's hurt by the single-cour run of the anime and its disappointing cop-out non-ending to an otherwise good show.

Fujiko and Lupin
Better hope she doesn't punch you in the monkey.

Fujiko seemed like a shoo-in early in the year, but in retrospect I'm disappointed with the unevenness of her show itself. For Fujiko to win in 2012 I'd have to consider her (admittedly outstanding) previously established credentials. This worked for Mouri Ran, last year's winner, but 2011 Ran was exceptional while I can't claim the same of 2012 Fujiko.

Yuka, Saki, Natsumi, and Rin
Saki can't help being better.

Saki from Natsuiro Kiseki? Sigh. Tough call. She doesn't win, but definitely deserves special mention. Natsuiro Kiseki is chock full of wonderful Saki moments, probably appropriately since it really is her show despite being a putative Sphere vehicle for the quartet. We all know who's best. [Spoilers: It's Takagaki Ayahi, even though I love Haruka DeTomaso Pantera.]

Female Protagonist
Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
P.S. Fairies are assholes.

She who shall not be named in Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita? Possibly seiyuu of the year, but not Girl of the Year. She's pretty good, and a worthy nomination, but just doesn't quite have enough to get by her competitors this year. Nakahara Mai really was superb in this role, though.

Cure Beauty
Guess what happens to people who don't get
out of Cure Beauty's way. Go on. Guess.

Cure Beauty? An almost automatic nomination and the only Smile Cure worth a damn, but she kinda makes herself look good by surrounding herself with less capable people. I'm pleased Toei was consistent with her characterization throughout the course of the year-long season. If they ever adopt the Pretty Cure Team-Up idea as a way to manage the huge numbers of mahou shoujo now in play (without marginalizing the older ones as New Stage 1 did), I could easily see her busting heads side-by-side with the early-generation Cures. Cure Peace? Not so much.

Medaka, Naze, and Koga
Medaka is not subtle.

Medaka? Just good enough for a nomination, but that's all. I sure hope Neo Gainax continues churning out her anime so Anshin'in can boat race the competition next year or the year after.

765Pro
Idolm@ster is so good I think I need to buy more Ace Combat planes.

So how about all the iM@S girls? I really wanted to give them the group win, but I can't quite do it for 2012. All right, so who does win? Think about it. Do you really have to ask?

Asuka
P.S. Soryu is still > Shikinami.

Asuka Shikinami Langley. Wait, why? Because Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo came out in 2012, because OVAs and movies do qualify, because a previous body of work may be taken into consideration as a factor, and because this entire contest is rigged. OMEDETOU, sweetheart.

Dated 5 August 2012: Added Tari Tari to summer 2012 watchlist

Konatsu
Those are some headphones.

The Ayako Doctrine strikes again. Pre-season information about Tari Tari suggested it was inoffensive light fare that sounded all right, but didn't interest me especially. But due to the relatively low number of shows I was following this season, I started looking for other shows that received positive first impressions from other viewers. I'm not entirely sure it qualifies as a positive impression, but apparently a lot of people were taken by Wakana's "I DON'T MONEY" Engrish in an early episode. Further investigation inspired by that discovery led to learning Kawasumi Ayako is in the cast. Well, consider the Ayako Doctrine fully invoked. (Discovering Noto Mamiko on the cast was a pleasant surprise as well.)

Sawa
As far as I know, Sawa is not a zombie.

Through five episodes, Tari Tari is whimsical when it needs to be, serious at appropriate times, and charming with its medley of characters. Taken as a whole, I'm not sure I can call Tari Tari a legitimately good show, although it has passed Humanity Has Declined as my current favorite show. I'm not entire sure why that is, but there are a lot of individual parts of Tari Tari that I enjoy quite a good deal, and together they create the impression that the show is good, even if the jury is still out on that verdict.

Wakana
Those are some glasses.

That is, if I like enough different parts of a show, does that mean I like the show itself? I like that Sawa seems to be better than everyone else at everything she sets her mind to. I like that Wakana still struggles with the regrets she carries about her mother's death, but makes real efforts at moving on. I like that Wakana's ridiculous flibbertigibbet mom died early in Wakana's life instead of turning into another one of those "cool" but hopeless, worthless mothers who force their anime children to become precociously dependable and mature. (Mamiko-type "cool" mom gets a pass because her extracurricular activities do not appear to interfere with her traditional gender-typed role and responsibilities as a mother.) I like that Wien is an expatriate who has become a stranger in his native land forced to rely on his Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook, and I like that Daichi is an almost pathologically driven athlete dedicated to a sport nobody else at his school cares about. And I like that Konatsu choked so hard she became a Nico Video celebrity. And I like that the choir director is a real cunt. I'm still waiting for Wakana to break out her secret Sphere powers, though.

Dated 5 July 2012: The End of Natsuiro Kiseki ~Air/My Purest Love for Sphere~

Saki
How do you know she's a witch?

Easily the biggest surprise of the season, Natsuiro Kiseki (A Summer-Colored Miracle) exceeded all my expectations by becoming my favorite show of spring 2012. From the promotional materials and early information, I assumed it would be a simple school comedy slapped together as an excuse to promote Sphere. Sphere, if you don't know, is one of those phony-baloney girl groups comprised solely of young voice actresses caramelized with syrupy J-Pop. Somewhat distressingly, Sphere is actually pretty good. And by pretty good, I mean I can't stop listening to them. Anyway, I don't actually know if Natsuiro Kiseki was designed to be a Sphere vehicle from the start, or if it was merely a coincidence the four members played the four leads, or if there was last-minute stunt casting involved, but the show wasn't something I had any interest in. I wasn't even entirely sure what it was about. Something about wishes?

Natsumi and Yuka
Are you crazy? Don't give Yuka Mountain Dew...err, Boo.

It turns out Natsuiro Kiseki is a situation comedy with a casual acceptance of magic powers. It's regularly funny and occasionally brilliant. Simple concepts executed well by charming characters—that's how Natsuiro Kiseki succeeds. I had no plans to watch it at all until I saw a blog post about the first episode featuring a screenshot of the girls flying in awkward terror. (A Splash Star airborne mahou shoujo insertion, this was not.) Even then, it was a close thing because the first episode had a disproportionate amount of bitching and not enough big-ass-rock mojo. Thankfully, episode two featured Saki and Natsumi stuck together and Rin taking one for the team. I was sold after that. Good physical comedy might not make for sophisticated viewing, but it is fun to watch.

Natsumi
Natsuiro Kiseki also features one-handed backhands.

All the characters in Natsuiro Kiseki work well together and there's genuine chemistry in the group, but I'm pleased Sunrise threw parity to the wind by making Saki far and away the best of the four. Look, Saki can't help being smarter, prettier, more athletic, and basically better in every way than everyone else. At least she doesn't lord it over people. I'm a fan of competent, confident characters who make everything they do look so easy, even if all she's doing is teaching a doubles partner how to keep her head in the game.

Saki
It turns out Saki was a bit of a hellion when she was younger.

Saki easily earns a Girl of the Year nomination, and while I don't know if she'll win, Saki can at least say she earned her nomination while abstaining from vigorous intercourse, coldblooded murder, and casual nudity. Wait, not that last thing. Natsuiro Kiseki has an ensemble cast, and arguably Natsumi is the main girl, but it is Saki's summer, and it's very much Saki's show. It's also Saki's ending, and thankfully Natsuiro Kiseki—unlike Tasogare Otome x Amnesia—has a real ending, and Saki's summer miracles will never get the sequels they deserve, alas.