2018, in terms of anime, was a decent year for me. I picked up a few favorites and watched a number of good shows. More than anything, it was a very anime-intensive year, despite watching fewer shows than I'd planned. All Systems Goku alone made me watch five episodes of dudes charging up every week. I finished right about 20 shows, and I tried and dropped 15 more. In the grand scheme of things, the time investment was minimal. Most seasons are only a dozen episodes long, which isn't more than a 4-hour commitment. It's entirely possible to watch more than 35 anime a year.
There were a staggering 180 shows that debuted just this year. But to me this a lot more than I usually watch. My tastes are pretty established at this point: I like a lot of action, and I like a lot of comedy, and I don't mind a bit of romance mixed in with either of those. But there's a lot of stuff I don't really care about, from most serious dramas to most moe slice of life shows, and many typical looks I can't stand(anything particularly moe~, anything with edgy-ass, gross contorted faces or anything with bishie dudes face an uphill battle, for instance). I hardly watch any anime movies or movies in general either, 'cause somehow a 2-hour movie feels like more of a commitment than a 12-episode season of anime. If this list fails to interest you, there's very probably still an anime from 2018 out there that you'd love, and you can find out about most of them just from whatever lists come out of the anime vloggers on youtube.
Biggest Gateway Anime
In this year's category for anime most likely to entice new viewers into entering a world of other worlds and pedophilia, there were a lot of strong contenders. My Hero Academia, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Fairy Tail, Attack on Titan and One Piece are all major international shonen fighting hits that got new seasons this year, with Hero Academia still being the most recent hotness. It really has taken the place of Naruto in all meanings of that comparison. My friends that used to have Naruto posters on their walls have largely replaced them with posters of Bakugou, Midoriya and Kirishima.
I think there's always gonna be room for a school-based shonen with an insecure protagonist in a larger than life setting. My feelings on Naruto are very similar to my feelings on My Hero Academia. It's not really my thing. I don't think it's bad, but it's also not a show I am in any way passionate about. Is it pretty good? Yes. Am I having a better time with it than I have had reading One Piece, Zatch Bell!!, Battle Angel Alita, Dr. Stone, Attack on Titan or Fullmetal Alchemist, or watching Gurren Lagann, Planet With, Hajime no Ippo, Jojo or Hunter X Hunter? No, not even close. That makes it difficult for me to be enthusiastic about it.
But I can respect it. It's a big deal for a lot of people, and for a generation of young new fans it's gonna be the shonen fighting show they grew up with.
The other likely contenders are Aggretsuko and Devilman Crybaby, the Netflix babies. Just being on a mainstream streaming service is a big help for getting recognized, and while I don't have any numbers at all for this, Aggretsuko and Devilman Crybaby are the two shows my friends that don't care about anime bothered to watch this year. They make an interesting contrast, between Devilman Crybaby's edgy-ass content and Aggretsuko's cute-but-too-real office comedy.
Devilman is the kinda thing you pass along in college dorms to show someone a cartoon with violence in it, the spiritual successor to Brad Shoemaker's Ninja Scroll. Aggretsuko is the kinda thing you pass around to share stories about your shitty work environment and existential angst. Having a first season airing this year automatically puts them ahead of the pack, and feels more fair than them losing to shows that have been going since I was seven. And while Aggretsuko will almost certainly have another season, I sincerely doubt Devilman Crybaby will.
But they will have to settle for second and third place. In the year of Dragon Ball FighterZ, Dragon Ball Super's finale and All Systems Goku, I couldn't possibly give this award to anything other than the entire Dragon Ball franchise. It has gotta be singlehandedly responsible for suckering in at least half of all anime watchers all over the world at this point, and was definitely the anime of the site as a whole this year. It stopped publication around the time of the Super Nintendo but has never really gone away, and reprints and games and new adaptations keep getting people into it.
A lot of newbie anime recommendations just default to the most western-like shows, but really, is that a way to get someone into anime in general? Surely you would only wanna keep watching anime if you get something from it that you can't get anywhere else. In this case, you can't turn on the TV and find a ton of American superpowered martial arts shows. Definitely not with this kinda tone, where people die and serious things do happen, but everyone can just be wished back and there's a Ginyu Force for every Cell. The only things remotely similar on more than a superficial tropey level I can even think of are cartoons aping anime, like Steven Universe or Avatar, and they're still a different beast from the original.
Dragon Ball is the prime example of something that there's nothing exactly like in western media, but that still holds a near universal appeal anyway. There really is no greater uniter than flying dudes shooting lasers at one another, except perhaps free games.
Best Moment or Sequence
Goku and Frieza co-operate
I haven't watched much Dragon Ball Super. I hear Toriyama is involved somehow, but it's been over twenty years since the manga ended. What I have seen, read and heard about Super seems like fanfiction, and I have no interest in going back to Dragon Ball for that.
... But that didn't stop me from watching clips from it on youtube. During the tournament arc, I'd weekly get recommended clips from the fights and occasionally watch one. Most are nothing special. Some were a little cool.
During the very final episode, those minutes in the clip happened. And it was fantastic! It doesn't, to me, feel like Dragon Ball exactly. Goku talks about the time he would've let Frieza live if he hadn't tried to stab him in the back, on Namek. Then they co-operate in an intense, low-powered fight, busting out their super moves only for a moment with what little energy they have left. Also Android 17 is there for some reason.
I can't imagine Toriyama writing this. He's the kinda author that forgot his characters existed, and abandoned stuff like the kaioken entirely. Except for, what, Raditz, Toriyama never did this kinda co-op brawl. I just can't believe that this is the kinda scene he would do if he sat down to make Dragon Ball again.
But damn, did this fanservice work for me. It's exhilerating to see these old rivals fight on the same side in this all-out slugfest, running on fumes and barely keeping upright, but pulling all of their energy into one last shot. I wanna punch the air as I watch and yell "KA KA KACHI DAZE" along with the singer. It's a fantastic finale, and for me it justifies Super's entire existence.
One Piece for Big Mom's introductory musical number
Karakuri Circus for Shirogane delivering dunk of the year
Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind's torture dance
Best Old-Time Anime
Out of my top 10 this year, half of those are either continuations or reinterpretations of old properties, several of them taking on a retro look, and that's not including Devilman Crybaby or Karakuri Circus. But this award is for those old anime that didn't come out this year, but that I still found time to watch and enjoy for the first time.
Again, Dragon Ball Z Kai(2009-2011 and 2014-2015, though originally 1989-1996) was a strong contender. But while I did enjoy it, it also wasted a lot of hours of my life on Bulma pissing around on Namek. Let's say it has to be satisfied with going home with only two trophies under its arms today. I've already written too much about it in this and the previous blog post, so let's leave it at that.
I haven't mentioned them up until now in these blogs, 'cause they don't factor in much, but me and a friend tried our best to watch some Flying Witch(2016) and Hyouka(2012) this year. The former being a healing anime I had heard good things about and Hyouka being one of Prozd's recommendations. Both of them lulled us into a trance, so we gave up after an hour on each. I also watched five episodes or so of To Be Hero(2016) while I was sick, and I swear it made me worse. It's a gross-out superhero parody that was so aggressively unfunny I had to up my dosage of painkillers. Unofficially, it's earned its place as Worst Old-Time Anime.
Besides that, I watched Street Fighter Alpha the Animation(2000). As a movie, it's not very good. Ryu and Ken take care of this kid that's really only used as an experiment by an evil scientist villain. Ryu struggles against the satsui no hadou inside of him. There are some fights along the way. It feels very filler. While the movie isn't very good in terms of plot, I gotta say I do love the art style. Sakura and Ken look particularly great, and have some awesome expressions here that have since been lost to time. Akuma's also an extremely cool presence, hiding out on this island full of wooden dolls I wonder if he carved himself, appearing a good few metres taller than usual. He's one scary guy. All in all though, it's just a pretty bad movie that has an occasional good scene, neat animation and a good atmosphere to it.
However, I did watch two old things I liked a whole bunch this year. The first is Angel's Egg(1985), Mamoru Oshii's old Dark Souls movie. Besides Dark Souls, it mostly reminds me of artsy European films I had to watch during art school. One of them featured Peter Falk playing an angel, but essentially just being a dude walking around in Berlin. This movie is almost entirely a girl and a boy walking around in the dark, not saying much besides "who are you?" and "don't break my egg" until a lore dump near the end.
While the symbolism didn't exactly light me on fire, thanks to the slow pacing, the striking visuals and the terrifying music it succeeds in creating an overpowering mood that sucks you right into it. After I was done I had to just lie on my couch for a while and pet the cat to feel like I mattered to the world. It's not something I'd recommend to everyone, and some of the more lingering scenes tried my patience, but I won't forget it anytime soon, that's for sure.
The second old anime I adored, and the definitive winner of this category, is the Devilman OVA series consisting of Devilman: The Birth(1987) and Devilman: The Demon Bird(1990). Devilman Crybaby didn't impress me much this year. The animation work is shoddy and the characters are outrageous. I think it got severely overhyped, and isn't that director's best work by a long shot. But I owe Devilman Crybaby one for making everyone talk about Devilman, or else I'd never have watched a recommendation video for these old movies.
The Devilman OVAs cover the intro and Sirene arc so well that I can't imagine anyone doing them better. It's not exactly deep stuff, considering all the dramatic twists and turns in Devilman are after this point. Devilman gets born, Devilman fights demons, that's about it. But it is a meticulously crafted pair of action movies that hit just the right spot in terms of realism and fantasy. You can feel the weight of the demons as every step is animated without shortcuts, as they consistently stay on model, and make their gross sounds. The dramatic shadows look beautiful decades later. The animation might be old, but it's incredible compared to what most anime will look like today. It takes its source material seriously, but improves upon it in every way without actually changing it all that much.
This year, the Devilman OVAs, Angel's Egg, Dragon Ball and Street Fighter Alpha made me realize I might well have it in me to become one of those snobs that won't give the time of day to anything made after year 2000. There is inherently something better-looking about the art in these old things than modern anime to me, presumably because of both the trends at the time and the way they were made. On that note...
Worst CG, Presented By Berserk
While anime has come a long way on CG, it's still a pathetic showing compared to what good CG looks like. Largely, studios seem to imitate 2d anime only to fall short of that, creating low framerate, plain ugly animation that looks worse than video game cutscenes from at the very least the last generation.
There were a couple of standouts this year. Ninja Batman, Planet Withand SSSS. Gridman managed to overcome the issues with anime CG by largely focusing on armor and mecha, and propped that up with some great effects, textures and direction work. I wouldn't say they looked better than what they could have if they were entirely 2D, but it's alright, you know. I could watch them without gagging.
But there are always those that fall below the mark, and I watched my fair share this year of anime that I plain don't like the look of. Fullmetal Panic IV and Karakuri Circus both have some occasional awful CG, but the one this year that stands out to me the most is the TV show I watched that's almost entirely CG: Hi Score Girl.
Hi Score Girl's look can be defended in a lot of ways. It integrates very easily with all the arcade cabinets and video game footage. The original artwork isn't very good to begin with. There's actually a spectacular effort on the part of the anime studio to spice it up with pretty backgrounds and good lighting and color choices. I think Hi Score Girl is an exceptional anime. It deserves more attention.
But at the end of the day, people are gonna take one look at Hi Score Girl, think it looks ugly, and go watch something else. It's at its best when there's no movement happening. And that's a real shame. I take one look at Mob Psycho 100, another anime based on an amateurish artstyle, and wonder what could have been.
Best Anime Commercial
If I ran a succesful confectionary when it came upon it's 70th anniversary, I hope I'd also have been cool enough to celebrate by hiring Bump of Chicken, Rie Matsumoto and Bones to make me an anime music video. Not in the usual meaning of that term.
Most Forgettable Anime
Garo: Vanishing Line
I forgot to add this anime to the list something like four times just writing this blog post. Garo started airing last year, but I watched a majority of it this spring. Neither painfully bad nor outstanding in any way, Garo is a waste of some completely fine Mari Shimazaki character designs and not much else. It gets in, tells an episodic story about demon hunters hunting demons in the US, and then leaves without making a fuss. If you wanted a Devil May Cry anime that was mediocre rather than outright bad, then Garo is there for you.
-Record of Grancrest War
-Gegege no Kitarou(2018)
Best Anime Rap
I don't know shit about hip hop and don't listen to it particularly often, but I liked these rap segments.
3. Ton disses Retsuko in Aggretsuko
2. Sakura and Saki fight it out in Zombieland Saga
1. Kukun is just like Miko
The Actual Top 10 Anime Of 2018
10. Ninja Batman
It was a difficult decision between this and Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan. In the end I asked myself a question: If I could only rewatch one of them, which would I pick? And the answer couldn't be more obvious to me. Batman battling a giant robot castle with the batmobile beats listening to Mari Okada's quirky dialogue any day, even if the whole story part of Ninja Batman is barely worth registering. Batman might be the lesser anime if you take the critical approach, but watching Batman is overall much more fun to me.
9. Megalo Box
Megalo Box is the competent workhorse of 2018, delivering a good story well-told, with just a couple of its own stylistic twists on an old formula. It's got a shady old coach down on his luck, a determined underdog who's such an underdog he literally calls himself Junk Dog, and there's adorable street urchins for everybody. I'm not a fan of the way they've made it look lo-res even in the best of resolutions, and I don't particularly care about it after the fact. Controversially, I guess, I don't really resonate with hip hop and don't like the soundtrack very much at all. The fights themselves aren't that strong, relying much more on the emotion and drama than the impact of the animation, the tactics, or the coreography.
But it's still a good anime I'd recommend to just about anyone, because it's using tropes with international appeal rather than otaku appeal.
Now when is Madhouse gonna get me another season of Hajime no Ippo?
8. Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory
Can an anime overcome its dodgy CG, wonky 2d animation, horrible production issues and painfully long hiatuses on the strength of its writing and characters alone?
Well yes, evidently. After 13 years of waiting around for the continuation to the story, they could've served me pure shit and I'd still have watched it all. What I got instead is a show riddled with issues in a lot of technical ways, but with a strong core of story progression and characters near and dear to me. The ways in which it has become old-fashioned only make it feel delightfully retro. I won't let it go higher than 8 though, I'm too embarrassed about the quality of the car chase sequence.
7. Zombieland Saga
Zombieland Saga was one of my favorite comedy shows this year. The first two episodes are amazing. The next two are pretty boring. It then plateaus out on a pretty great level for the remaining episodes. It's well worth watching, and I have high hopes for a season 2, but I wish all of it was as engaging as episode 1 and 2. More than anything, that's what's keeping Zombieland Saga from climbing higher.
6. Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind
There was a time when I expected Jojo would top this list, but it simply didn't start airing in time. Other shows have made a bigger impression on me this year, with tighter plotting or more fully ended stories, while Jojo's still on something like its fourth monster of the week bad guy. It's still a phenomenal anime, and depending on how next year goes down, it might get higher on the list in 2019. Every Jojo season has been so consistently good that all of them deserve to be seen, by as many people as possible. But I'm not gonna put this higher on my list when I've seen so little of the full product.
In this year's most positive surprise, the Netflix anime all my friends were talking about wasn't a complete waste of time. Aggretsuko isn't just good, it's great, a super fun office comedy about everyday struggles. Retsuko isn't just exhausted from dealing with dirtbag co-workers and bosses, sexist treatment and all-consuming work, she's also at a complete loss about love, future and even her own dreams. The anime's portrayal of all of its memorable characters speak to me in a very specific way, where they're well based in real people and then stretched and caricatured just a tad and given life through expressive, if simple, animation. Characters might look one-note, the fat sexist boss being a literal pig and all, but there's always just a bit more under the surface to these guys. I feel like if this was an American show, it would end very differently, and I'm happy it ended the way it does instead.
Aggretsuko is one of this year's best shows, especially if you're in your twenties and increasingly depressed. If you've somehow avoided the hype, look this one up no matter how much or little you're into anime. It's only like two hours or something and all of it is wonderful.
Out of all the comedy shows I loved this year, Hinamatsuri is the one that most easily played my emotions like a fiddle. I laughed the hardest, and I cried the most, to different scenes in this anime. It has a way of playing around with cruelty and kindness in a way that gets right under my skin, and more than any other show this year it always took me by surprise. I don't have as much to say about it as I do about Aggretsuko. I don't really relate to these characters. I just adore them.
Perfect voice acting on Hina, too.
3. Lupin III: Part 5
There isn't anything out there quite like Lupin. It nails the cool machismo parts of pulpy spy fiction and heist movies, but tempers it with goofiness and slapstick in a way I find very appealing. It's the kind of universe where everyone should by right be smoking a cigarette all the time, wearing either a slick suit or a sexy dress, preferably in a ballroom. And then a monkey stumbles through the room with a serving cart holding the safe with ten million dollars, flanked by an amazing samurai and an old man that fires a gun real good, and also a detective in a fedora and trenchcoat is chasing them with a pair of handcuffs. Lupin's fantastic competence is well matched by his goofy behavior, like a more succesful Nathan Drake. He is perhaps too perfect to keep it exciting, but with the feats he's accomplished at least his confidence feels earned.
Lupin and his gang might be thieves, but they aren't any more bad guys than what the Strawhats are, to put it like that. It's a joy to see them move from adventure to adventure, generally acting in their own self-interest but always helping out people along the way. It's not really a character-focused, or even story-focused show. You're here for the slapstick and mood and amazing spy music, and continuity doesn't really matter as much as just going on a new adventure(If you're looking for a place to start watching Lupin III, start anywhere. It's like asking where to start reading Donald Duck).
But I do like these characters, and there's some effort put in this season to look closer at their relationships with Lupin that I appreciate. I'm not sure, when looking back on it, if I'll prefer this to Part 4. And having not watched Part 1-3 on account of them being old as balls, I I can't really compare it to those old seasons. But as it stands, I had a hell of a time in 2019 with Lupin Part 5.
I wouldn't want all aspects of popular culture to resemble Lupin III. It's probably for the best everyone moved on from the seventies. But I'm glad Lupin alone is back. It's so much fun.
2. Hi Score Girl
I love romantic stories, but I don't often watch one I stick with. I just have high standards and specific tastes for them. In this case, they managed to make one that hit me right in the heart. It's about as authentic as Genshiken, but set in a different age and scene of Japanese gaming, and the portrayal of both the era and the characters make it feel like the author lived it. You're not gonna be surprised by the tropes at play here - romantic leads that love one another but have trouble communicating, a third wheel who keeps getting her heart broken, a girl from rich family leading a strict life of study and a boy from a working class family with minimal supervision.
But the way it's portrayed, and the unique trappings of the setting, help make it stand out from a crowd. Hi Score Girl doesn't get a ton of play, 'cause it doesn't look very pretty. The commercials they gotta do in the middle to be able to reference all these games by name and use their characters is as shilly as it gets, and Haruo's ranting can sometimes be a bit much. But it _is_ an excellent anime, and it's on Netflix, so you really have no excuse not to give it a shot.
If you're a regular on a video game forum, odds are you can relate to getting to know others through games. I certainly can. Watch Hi Score Girl if you want a romcom with that kinda feeling to it. I found it all very sweet.
1. Planet With
There are many popular shows on this list. Planet With, unfortunately, feels like a show that only I like. It's not that most people dislike it, it's that most people seem to have never even heard of it. It's a depressing feeling. I don't need my opinion validated, but I don't want people to sleep on my favorite show this year just because its name makes it difficult to search for in google or look up on youtube.
I already wrote the best recommendation I could manage back in my first anime blog post. But I dunno if the appeal is apparent until you try it. There isn't any high concept unique to it. It just takes common anime tropes and uses them well - playing with them, deconstructing them, calling attention to them, but generally recognizing why they are the way they are rather than take a cynical approach to it. They aren't just twisted for the sake of twists, or to mock how unrealistic they are.
Coming of age mecha stories are a dime a dozen, and I might not have given this one a shot if I hadn't just read the author's previous work and loved it. Satoshi Mizukami is a uniquely odd author. There's an arc in Spirit Circle where a necromancer slowly but surely wipes out people in a major city with an army of the undead just to study in peace, and he's barely conscious of it happening. He doesn't hate people, he just doesn't care, and he lacks the awareness of exactly how cruel his actions are. I can imagine a lot of shows where he'd be portrayed with a crazy anime face, or you see his uncaring face from the crowd as the victims keep piling up bloodily. Instead, it's portrayed mostly off-screen, as he barely notices the destruction happening outside of his house. When his old friends show up to stop him, he greets them with a regular smiling face. It's just a tad better than most manga would be about that kinda story and those tropes.
Planet With is just written and directed well, in a way that snipes my tastes perfectly. There's a serious conflict at hand with some solid stakes, but just by making sure each character gets to behave like a regular human being at all times, it naturally ends up with a lot of lighthearted moments. It doesn't feel self-serious, you know. There's an unassuming qulity to it. We might fight over the future of humanity, but we still power up our mecha by drinking beer, if you see what I mean.
By basing its large-scale galactic and moral conflicts in individual people and their feelings, no moment of self-reflection or big fight ever ends up feeling like a waste of time for the opposing element. The ideas are big, but the setting is small, if that makes sense.
By having a cast consisting largely of good, genuine people, it manages to portray a conflict with a lot of shades of gray. Not in the usual meaning of the term, where everyone's an asshole and there is no good answer, but in the opposing sense, where everyone's basically a decent person and just have different ideas about what constitutes the best option. At the same time, there's a clear villain hanging over it all who's taken things too far, and the gray conflict is mostly about how to deal with the fallout of the atrocities he committed, and from stopping another one like him from existing in the first place. There's also a clear hero, who has the most to be angry about but also no right to be angry, and his road to both forgiving his enemies and his own redemption from his legacy of violence.
It's a smart and kind show, about revenge, forgiveness, peace, war, hatred, love and growing up, but ultimately just about people. Usually funny, likeable people, and sometimes people that are dogs. It accomplishes what it sets out to do in an exciting twelve episodes that tease out the plot at just the right pace, and it all manages to make sense. It's by far the best mecha anime this year, especially in terms of writing, so far ahead of shows like Gridman and Darling in the FranXX that it's not even funny. It even nails down a great ending. Among the shows on my top 10, only Megalo Box, Ninja Batman and Planet With truly have definitive endings. And Planet With has absolutely the best of them. While there's no way for me to know if others would feel the same way, it's the anime I loved the absolute most this year.
Also it had some cool music.
Next Time On This Blog
I have some different plans for 2019: rather than trying to follow along with the current hotness, I'd rather dive into the backlog. The next blog post from me is gonna be about manga I'm reading that are getting adaptations this year, and I'll also need some help to pick out which backlog shows to prioritize.
Until next time!