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Team AFA's Top Animation Releases of 2015

2015 was a pretty impressive year in animation anyway you look at it. In cinemas we had CG films that pushed the envelope, hand-drawn films that nourished the soul and stop-motion that did both. On TV we saw new and exciting fresh faces, while old friends continue to reach new heights. As 2016 rolls around we wanted to highlight some of the animated releases of the year that really made an impact on the team. After which you'll find some thoughts from individual Team AFA members on their most memorable films and shows of the year, before we reveal the film we voted Animated Film Of The Year! Let us know your faves in the comments below!

Song Of The Sea

Finally arriving in the UK and Ireland in 2015, Tomm Moore's love-letter to Celtic mythology bewitched us all. With its stunning imagery and a heartfelt story that gives it a unique feel, this is an instant classic. It's also a fine counter-point for the next time somebody tries to tell you 2D is dead- on this evidence, it's never been more alive. From Dan Hamman's Review: 
How much harm do we do to ourselves and our loved ones in striving to do good for them? What place do allegories or folklore have in a modern life? These are the sorts of thoughts Song of the Sea leaves you to ponder, to say nothing of the technically breathtaking art and animation. There have been few recent children's films with such ambition. It’s tempting to refer to works such as this as ‘whimsical’, but doing so suggests a degree of care and thoughtfulness that Moore clearly exceeds

Inside Out.

Pixar's long-awaited return was not just a return to form, it was arguably one of their best original films to date. In exploring the emotions inside 11-year-old Riley's head. Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen and their team were able to make a story that connected on a very real emotional level with an adult audience.

From Jill Baker's Review:
Inside Out is a must-see for anyone and is an important film from Pixar. With a succinct understanding of the psychology that goes into major life changes and a creatively unique visualization of the inner workings of our mind, this film is certainly one that deserves every accolade that is sure to come its way. This film is easily an instant AFA Classic and has earned every one of its five star rating from us.

Shaun The Sheep Movie 

Aardman's stop-motion charmer is a wooly wonder. Not only is it as beautifully handcrafted as any of the studio's films, but it creates a film that works for audiences of all ages- without a single line of dialogue.

From Chris Perkins's Review
Every frame is made with love and the familiar style of Britain's favourite animation studio shines through When it comes to stop-motion they continue to reign supreme.. Although America's LAIKA might have gained the technical edge in recent years, arguably they just can't compete with Aardman for warmth or pure handmade charm.
The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya

Making its arrival in the UK this year, Isao Takahata's presumed swan-song is a stunningly animated work. Its portrayal of the princess born from bamboo wormed its way into our hearts- and then broke them mercilessly.

From Dan's Review:
Among Takahata’s many achievements with the film is having taken a fairy tale, known for stock characters with muddy motivations or flat psychologies, and imbuing them with painfully human hearts and minds. All this is felt not despite butbecause of the unfiltered raw power of the pencil lines. Never before has the description of animator as 'actor with a pencil' been so apt. The entire gamut of human behaviour plays out, at one point or another, with unflinching honesty that only comes with intense observation and the years of experience to present them in a meaningful way


Rick and Morty Season 2

Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland's genius sci-fi comedy returned for a second season, and went from strength to strength. Building up on its sensational first season, Adult Swim's best ever original show went to some dark places but was always incredibly funny and one of the best-written shows on TV right now, full stop. Not just a great comedy- it works as a brilliant sci-fi too.

Gravity Falls Season 2

Even before it was clear this second season would be it's last, the sophomore series of Alex Hirscsh's beloved opus had sucked fans in. It's come a long way from it's episodic beginnings to something so much more.. and something so much weirder.

Danger Mouse (2015)

Remaking this classic British 80's series was incredibly risky.. but boy did they ever pull it off.
It's witty scripts and classy voice cast do justice to the original version, while the animation (from Ireland's Boulder Media) brings it bang up to date.

BoJack Horseman  Season 2

Netflix's first step into adult animation was something of a revelation in 2014. It started off weak, but over the course of the first season it took some pretty bold choices for any comedy... let alone an animated one. Season 2 on the other hoof hit it's stride from the off and only improved from there,

Rachael Ward

Noragami Aragoto

As the year comes to a close, so too does the initial airing of Noragami's second season. With the
original season being such a big hit, a follow-up was inevitable. Noragami Aragoto while still retaining all the elements that made the first season so endearing (high-quality animation and amazing
performances from the cast) it also accomplished what every good second season should do. Delving
deeper into the story's mythos and giving the characters a chance to evolve. Plot arcs that were left
hanging in the previous season, namely Bishamon's grudge against Yato, are finally brought to a close all the while showing glimpses of Yato's backstory that will sure to be explored more in following seasons.

If you are already a fan of the show, you probably don't need to be reminded that this season is a must
see. For anyone still on the fence about giving Noragami a chance, the first season may leave you
wanting for more, but the second season is where the real meat of the story finally comes into play. Give it a chance and you won't be disappointed.

My High School Romantic Comedy SNAFU 2

Though we already have a review of this series on the site, I cannot emphasise enough how much this
season took me by surprise. It was a big risk making such a drastic alteration in the animation style but in my mind, it paid off big time. Also, for a show that literally has the fact that it is a comedy in the title, SNAFU's second season had a lot of drama, but in a good way. It forced the characters to develop in a way that naturally fits the high school environment and really tugs on the heart strings. I can't say for sure if you can only get that connection after watching the first season (which can be hit or miss) but I would like to think that even if you started with the second season, there are still enough great moments that will keep viewers hooked. Regardless if you have seen it or not, My High School Romantic Comedy SNAFU 2 is a follow-up season that really hit ball out of the park this year. It may be a bit low key with its slice of life plot and characters, but is thanks to the animation and the growing bond between the main cast that makes it a must-see for fans of Japanese animation.

Honorable mentions

•World Trigger

•Fairy Tail (Tartaros Arc)

•Digimon Tri (Reunion)

•Gatchaman Crowds

•Boruto: Naruto the Movie

Christophe Harvey

Although technically released in 2014 (but nominated for an Academy Award in 2015), Song of the Sea which was shown in (limited) theatres in the UK in 2015 is my best of the year from everything I watched (including live-action films). This animated feature was an absolute joy to watch from start to finish. It looked fantastic, at times feeling like it was stop-motion paper animation and others the digital water-colour style of My Neighbours the Yamadas or, more recently Princess Kaguya. I loved how the faerie tales made their way into the backgrounds and integrated so closely with the “real world”. I also really liked how the real-world characters had a faerie that looked very similar. It all added to the dreamlike quality of the faerie tale being told. The story had me engaged from the very beginning and whilst fantastical, the down to earth themes of family, coping with change, loss or moving on were wonderfully realised. Like the classic Disney films it has a hint of darkness and peril that children enjoy and makes adults a bit uncomfortable. This is a high-quality production with great story-telling and a fantastic visual style. It is a film that everyone of all ages should see.

Nominated alongside Song of the Sea was The Tale of Princess Kaguya, based on the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, where a baby girl is found inside a piece of bamboo and her new family’s attempts to give her the life they thing she should have. I’m a big fan of Isao Takahata who directed this film and it surpassed my expectations. Like his film My Neighbours the Yamadas, Princess Kaguya has a unique look. Rather than watercolours, Kaguya has a charcoal-and-pastel look to it. This makes it feel like every frame is being drawn right before you, almost like a rough sketch. Only it’s not. It is all digitally done and it looks stunning, totally unique and fresh. This style gives a sense of life to the natural backgrounds and adds something to the human motion. It’s quite a slow story and you float along with it rather than be drawn into it (like with Song of the Sea). There are sequences where you can sit back and just marvel at how beautiful it is. Wrapped up in the story are themes of growing up, doing what other want you to do, freedom, change and good intentions. This is not a film for everyone due to its slow pace but it is stunning to look at and has a heartbreaking story.

Before I get to honourable mention I have to say something on Inside Out. I really enjoyed this film and it played in my mind after watching it. This felt like Pixar’s most adult film yet and for me it was a return to form for them (Wall-E was the last one from them I really liked). In fact it seemed like it was a film for adults that children could enjoy rather than the other way around. The way it visualised the brain and the different emotions was inspired and made complete sense with minimal explanation. It gave a great insight into how our emotions work, the necessity of the “good and the bad” and how it makes us well-rounded people. Riley having both male and female characters for her emotions whilst all the rest of the cast (like her mum and dad) had single-sex emotions, suggests the idea of a spectrum for gender and that perhaps at a younger age it is not as fully formed as we like to think – or maybe that’s me reading too much into it. If you are a parent it can be appreciated on a different level to those of us without.

Honourable mentions for this year are re-releases of old titles that haven’t been available here for a long time. I’m never really up-to-date with new series releases. The original Mobile Suit Gundam (from RightStuf and licensed in the UK by Anime Limited) is a must-see for mecha and giant/real-robot fans. It looks good and has quite a dark tone. Fans of adventure stories should check out Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (licensed by Animatsu in the UK). It has an old-fashioned adventure quality to it that is quite charming.

Jillian Baker

Inside Out

This Pixar film not only resonated with audiences of all ages, but also provided a breakthrough in therapy and psychiatry for children. Many experts now use this film to help children identify and work through their emotional issues as Pixar did such an excellent job at boiling emotions down to a visual that children can easily understand and identify with. It's amazing to me that this film was not only a breakthrough for animation, but a breakthrough in the medical field as well and has been such a huge help to children that need it.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil

It's rare for a series to have a large fanbase prior to its premiere, but this show had just that after its theme song was previewed at San Diego Comic Con months before the pilot aired. The series did not disappoint either, provided plenty of high energy and well-written episodes that quickly progressed from light-hearted fun to a deep exploration of how far the main characters were willing to go for one another. The final set the stage for a major shift in story for the next season and with Giancarlo Volpe now on the crew, the main man behind the emotionally riveting Green Lantern: The Animated Series, who knows what's in store for us now. This series continues Disney Channel's TV animation renaissance and I'm excited to see where it goes next.

And Finally.... the first annual AFA Best Film of the Year (2015) award (voted on by the whole team!) goes to....

Song Of The Sea! 

Congratulations to Tomm Moore, Cartoon Saloon, and co! It was a very close thing and there was vote between it and second place Inside Out.