The spring anime season was one that simultaneously felt too long and too short, but for what it’s worth, it did bring some pretty good anime with it. But this isn’t an article in which I look back on the season that was, so I’ll save that for the end of year articles. Anyways, spring is well and truly over (though at the time of writing, there’s still a couple episodes that need to come out), which means that it’s time for another one of these preview things.
Here we are, another anime season has come and gone, and we’ve reached the end of what seemed to be the longest 31 days in human history. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but since I wrote the last one of these some three months ago, the world’s gone completely to shit. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any anime to watch this spring season, because not even the apocalypse is going to stop the relentlessly overworked and grossly underpaid anime production machine from doing what it does best.
Here it finally is, the best anime of the year. Or more precisely, the best non-sequel anime of the year list.
As I’ve already said in the previous article, 2019 was a pretty good year for anime, but even more so for the new stuff. While it had its fair share of good sequels as well, of which I’ve listed five in the previous article (plus Chihayafuru 3 which doesn’t qualify for this year’s list), where this year felt strongest was certainly its overabundance of new anime. Some of it I haven’t even watched, like Carole & Tuesday, Kimetsu no Yaiba or Vinland Saga. Yeah, I know, some top 10 list I have here without having watched those, but what can you do. If I tried catching up, this’d probably never come out.
A brief note on which anime can land on this list: everything that finished and aired more than two episodes this year qualifies for best of 2019, meaning carry-overs from last year very much count. If an anime came within an episode of finishing in a certain year, but got delayed for whatever reason, it’d also qualify, but there were no such anime this year. This means that things like Azur Lane and Babylon are excluded from best of 2019, and can potentially qualify for best of 2020 instead. It also technically means I can put Tsurune here, but given that I put it on last year’s list before these rules were set in stone, I’m going to forego that this time (it would theoretically be on here, though).
Obviously, this’ll be ordered from least best to most best (#10 to #1). I’m also going to put two honorable mentions right at the start, which are basically #12 and #11 on the list, but “Top 12 Anime of the Year” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
(Note: While I’ll try and be as spoiler-free as I can, generally being vague about the stories of these anime, I cannot guarantee that there will be no spoilers, so consider yourselves warned.)
Right, let’s go!
You know what, after it finished, I was so sure Dr. Stone would land on the list proper. But it was also the earliest anime to wrap up in fall, so that prediction ended up being, well, incorrect.
It’s a shame, too, because Dr. Stone is an anime that had everything going for it from minute one, at least for me. After the entire world is petrified by a mysterious beam, our protagonist revives millennia later, and has to rebuild civilization from scratch using science! That premise sounded like so much fun, provided it was pulled off well. And… it was. To be fair to Dr. Stone, it didn’t do much wrong, it’s just that the other things I watched did things better.
The main issue comes with Dr. Stone‘s visuals, and the fact that it doesn’t move too much. The storyboarding feels mostly like a one-for-one copy of manga panels, and animation is kept to a minimum. Now, I’ve already said that I didn’t mind the approach TMS took here, and I still don’t, but it does drag the show down a bit when compared to other things on this list. At least the art direction is pretty gorgeous.
But, to give credit where credit is due, Dr. Stone‘s story is pretty damn good, but even more impressively, its usage of science is on point. It’s not at all uncommon to see fiction twist science and scientific concepts in various ways to fit its needs, and generally, as long as the writer remains consistent, it’s not that big of a deal. That said, it’s still rather refreshing to see something be this committed to getting the science it uses for plot purposes right. Obviously, it’s a bit simplified sometimes to make sure the viewer doesn’t get completely lost, but the core of it is rock solid (pardon the pun).
While the pacing was occasionally on the slower side, the pay-offs to each arc were always immensely satisfying, and Dr. Stone remained a compelling watch all throughout, for me and many other people, given how Senku’s Science Shenanigans has been confirmed for a second season.
If you were wondering where the image for this article’s header originated, wonder no more. And if you’re confused about what the hell the bench is all about, let me attempt and explain.
Oresuki is a show that, going into the fall season, I didn’t really have high expectations for. And for the first 10 minutes, it didn’t live up to even those, disguising itself as the world’s most boring romcom premiere. But then Joro’s (the main protagonist’s nickname is watering can, and it doesn’t get any more sane from here on) heel turn came, and Oresuki became ten times more entertaining.
“But exa, you still haven’t explained The Bench?” I hear you say. Well, long story short, our protagonist thought he’d get confessed to by not one but two girls, and they both sit him down on the exact same bench, and instead confess to liking his best friend instead. Then, the one person that actually likes him turns out to be the seemingly-creepy pansy, and she goes through the same spiel as the other two girls, going so far as to order a bench and put it in the school library (yes, really). From this point on, The Bench turns into a thoroughly cursed object, following Joro throughout the whole series and eventually becoming Oresuki‘s main antagonist (I’m barely even joking).
I feel like I spent way too long rambling about an inanimate object, but even so I feel like I’ve inadequately explained why this fucking bench instilled fear into the hearts of thousands of anime watchers in the fall season. It’s simply something you need to experience for yourself.
That tomfoolery aside, what is Oresuki actually about? Simply put, it’s a parody of harem romcoms, and a damn good one at that. There isn’t a single stone it leaves unturned in its quest to poke fun at each and every genre trope it stumbles upon. Nothing is safe from Oresuki‘s dirty hands. Even the last arc, despite being more serious in tone, explores how it feels to be the harem protagonist’s love interest despite not really having interest in the guy, and it does so with surprising poise. And that’s the key to why Oresuki works: behind all the trope-shattering gags and fourth wall breaking is a fairly well thought out story. It’s still hilarious, though.
There’s two other reasons for why Oresuki is as funny as it is. First, there are plenty of visual gags to go along with Rakuda’s great script, and second Daiki Yamashita puts in the second best VA performance of the year as Joro, right after Aki Toyosaki in Shinchou Yuusha. The reason why, for me, one is above the other is because in Shinchou Yuusha, the jokes aren’t always the best, but are carried by Toyosaki’s performance, whereas the comedy in Oresuki is much more consistently funny, and Yamashita simply elevates already good material. Toyosaki’s achievement is more impressive, definitely, but they both did stupidly good work in their respective shows.
The only thing that kept Oresuki from usurping the anime above it and sneaking into the top 10 is its lack of a conclusion. While it’s certainly quite funny from a meta standpoint, the fact that we have to wait for summer of 2020 for that OVA to drop and resolve the events of the last episode does put a bit of a damper on what’s otherwise a fantastically enjoyable ride.
So yeah, I had a blast with Oresuki, and if you’re in any way a fan of romcoms, you will too. So go watch it. Or wait until summer for the OVA. That might be a smart idea. Whenever you do get to it, just know that you’ll be stuck with a fear of benches and baseball games for the rest of your life.
The list (#10 to #6)
Well, what an honest to god wonderful surprise Bookworm ended up being. In my season preview for fall, I said that, even if its plot isn’t much, this one will probably coast along based on charm alone. And charming it certainly was, but it carried with it a surprisingly gripping story. This made it rise from “oh this is cute but unexceptional” to, well, one of the best anime of the year, as you can see.
Its premise is simple: a book-loving girl from our world dies and gets reborn as a frail young girl named Myne (or Main, according to the less correct anime romanization, but I’m going for the light novel one here). On the surface, it doesn’t look like much (and hell, it’s yet another isekai). And frankly, in its first few episodes, it wasn’t much, because when you adapt the introductory parts of novels, those episodes almost always end up being on the slower side pacing-wise. But once it got over that initial bump, Bookworm became a proper blast to watch.
Very quickly, Bookworm goes from being about one girl’s quest for books, to a thoughtful commentary on class disparity in medieval times (though a lot of what it puts forth is still relevant today), the importance of family, and a number of other things. And it does all this while boasting a cast of mostly young children, all of whom are lovable to the extreme. Not that the adults aren’t, mind you. Myne’s parents are caring, and every single scene with them is heartwarming. Otto and Benno are great too. Hell, everyone is. But most of all the kids.
Despite the plot becoming grander and the stakes getting ever higher, the fact that it has such a young cast stops it from ever becoming too gloomy, while at the same time ensuring that everyone (more or less) acts according to their age and upbringing. Even Myne, who is an adult in a child’s body, can become very childish when it comes to anything book-related. I do consider it a notable feat of character writing when characters remain believable and interesting, while at the same time being written fairly realistically as a bunch of kids.
The visuals aren’t quite as good as the story, but they’re more than pleasant to look at. While it’s somewhat conservative animation-wise, its character designs are cute, and the color design is vibrant, almost as if you were viewing everything through a child’s eyes. It’s also an impressive production behind the scenes, with key animator counts rarely exceeding ten animators per episode, at least on the episodes Ajia-do handled themselves, which is in and of itself an achievement in the current anime landscape.
The cast is solid across the board too, with Yuka Iguchi absolutely making the role of Myne her own, while I’m personally partial to Takehito Koyasu as Benno. The occasional boy might sound a bit too old for their age, but that’s fairly easy to overlook once you get used to it.
While it didn’t get off to the best start, Bookworm absolutely made up for that later, with its likeable cast, ever more interesting story, and the sheer charm that it radiates. This is one of many things on this list that’s been confirmed for a second season, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.
TMS Entertainment had a good year, it seems, putting out not one but two anime that proved to be anime of the year contenders, both of which are headed for their second seasons.
It’s rare to find an anime in this day and age with the words “1st Season” in its title, since very few of them find themselves in the situation that Fruits Basket did. However, this being the second adaptation of a popular (and fairly old) shoujo manga, it was confirmed before it even started airing that the anime would be adapting the entire manga, for a total of 63 episodes. And that’s good. Because Fruits Basket is good.
Now, that fact might not be a surprise to anyone who watched the original anime or read the manga, but seeing as I was two years old when the Deen adaptation aired, I remained unaware that Fruits Basket even existed until 2019, when I chose to watch it because it was one of the few things that looked interesting in what turned out to be a really dry spring season. In the end, it’s not even the best anime to start airing in spring, but more on that later.
On paper, the premise of Fruits Basket sounds silly. People who turn into zodiac animals when they’re hugged by people of the opposite sex? Who even thought of that? But to my surprise, it very quickly turned out that this was anything but silly. In fact, it very quickly proved to be a poignant drama about issues people of all ages (but mostly teenagers, given they’re the main characters) face, without abandoning the whole zodiac aspect, which is interweaved into how the characters are treated within the Soma family, and essential to their personalities.
Its cast is expansive, and there are too many characters to name here, but rest assured all of them get their time in the spotlight in one way or another. Most notable is our wonderful protagonist, Tohru, who lost her mother and is effectively homeless at the start of the story, not because she doesn’t have anyone to turn to, but because she doesn’t want to be a burden. Her excessive kindness and worry for others continues through the whole show, making for a character who’s impossible to hate while at the same time creating an interesting dynamic where she needs to occasionally be reminded to put herself first.
Yuki and Kyo are the remaining two characters from the main trio, but their backstories have a darker tinge to them, stemming from the deep-seated issues within the Soma family that carry on even to the present day. All three of our main characters have troubled pasts, but all of them are dealing with their issues differently, so it makes for great viewing when the story makes them all come together. This holds true for the rest of the characters, including Tohru’s two best friends as well as the other members of the zodiac, of which Hatori is my personal favorite. It’s just that, if I went into excessive detail about each character, we’d be here all day.
Even though almost everyone in Fruits Basket has a moody backstory to them, the show never feels excessively miserable, which is an easy pitfall when it comes to these kinds of dramas. There’s no doubt that part of the reason is because Tohru is such a jovial protagonist, taking things in stride no matter what life throws at her, and her attitude drags others along and changes them for the better.
As far as its technical merits go, Fruits Basket is competent. At a glance, it doesn’t look as glossy as TMS’ other effort this year, because its art direction isn’t stellar and its color design is a bit washed out, but there is more to the animation here than in Dr. Stone, and the character designs are a decent modernization of a manga that started coming out more than two decades now. The storyboards, while not amazing, also feel a touch more inspired than Dr. Stone‘s copy-paste efforts, for what it’s worth.
Going into the spring season, I wasn’t expecting much of Fruits Basket, but I came out of it thoroughly surprised after it successfully tugged at my heartstrings week after week, and I can only hope the upcoming second season picks up where this one left off.
Hey, want to hear something amazing? Joshimuda is good. Okay, that’s not really that amazing, especially if you’ve watched it, but I had no good follow-up to that opening line.
Joshimuda, or Wasteful Days of High School Girl (I really feel like “girl” should be plural there) is an anime that aired during the disgustingly stacked summer season, which led to me overlooking it initially, because it didn’t look particularly worthwhile at a glance. How wrong I was. But I mean, how could I have expected that the studio behind such classics as Citrus and High School DxD Hero (which to be fair is pretty decent) would put out… one of the best anime of the year?
What exactly is Joshimuda? That’s a question that’s simultaneously very easy and very difficult to answer. Because, yeah, it’s a high school comedy with a cast of veritable idiots, that much is easy. But as for what makes it so funny? That’s a bit more difficult to crack, mostly because its approach to comedy leans so heavily on the absurd, kind of like Nichijou, but unlike with Nichijou, the nonsensicality (is that even a word) of Joshimuda wraps around itself and becomes sensical again, in a weird act of comedic contortionism. I really don’t know how better to describe it.
However, there’s one major aspect that contributes to why Joshimuda works so well as a comedy, and that’s the fact that it’s not overly gimmick-reliant. I mentioned this with Shinchou Yuusha, and will mention it again later on this very list, but when your comedy leans heavily on a gimmick you’ve created, it makes the jokes easier to write, while also runing the risk of quickly becoming stale. Joshimuda doesn’t come close to having that problem. It constantly throws absurd gag after absurd gag at you, in a barrage of jokes that almost seems improvised. They don’t necessarily land 100% of the time, but it doesn’t matter, because it moves on quickly and eventually gets to a joke that will be funny.
This display becomes even more impressive considering how juvenile its comedy can get. Usually, if you have to resort to poop jokes, rude words or screaming, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, but Joshimuda doesn’t even think twice about turning the most worn-out of gags into relentlessly hilarious displays of writing talent. Everything about its comedy feels like it shouldn’t work, which is why it’s ever more satisfying when everything eventually clicks.
I won’t go in depth regarding its cast, because they’re mainly vessels for the show’s endless jokes, but even if they are mostly one-note, at least the notes they hit are consistently enjoyable. I could hardly pick out a favorite (well I could, it’s Yamai) because every character, much like the rest of Joshimuda, is so damn hilarious. Be it Baka’s constant idiocy (that’s where she got the nickname, at the end of the day), Yamai being relentlessly chuuni and constantly causing headaches for Waseda, or perhaps Robo deadpanning the most ridiculous shit, I can’t think of a character that didn’t make me laugh at least once.
Naturally, the cast here is excellent, because a good comedy is nothing without voice actors that can carry the jokes. And carry the jokes they do. Haruka Tomatsu’s performance as Wota stands out because of how ridiculously broad her range is, and how she manages to demonstrate it all within a single role. Chinatsu Akasaki plays the idiot with glee, and Aki Toyosaki, while subdued when compared to her efforts in the fall season, nails the straight (wo)man role. There’s also Miyu Tomita, having a ridiculous amount of fun as Yamai, Rie Takahashi simply being Rie Takahashi, and plenty more. Even Yoshitsugu Matsuoka pops up at some point, lending his surprisingly great comedic chops to an already amazing cast.
In the end, Joshimuda succeeded where so many other comedies this year didn’t. It’s an anime so pure and refined in its aim, because its sole objective is to make you laugh like a maniac. Its cast, while hilarious, isn’t particularly fleshed out, and the visual presentation is hardly anything special, but that all meant very little to me when I found myself running out of breath with laughter with almost every episode. And nothing else this year managed that.
It’s not the best comedy to come out this year, but it’s certainly the funniest one. And that’s very admirable.
2019 certainly was quite a good year for comedies, all things considered. We had Shinchou Yuusha and Oresuki bending the limitations of their respective genres (with varying degrees of success), and Joshimuda distilling humor into its purest form. And of all those, Kaguya-sama came out on top. Perhaps unsurprisingly.
Now, I literally just closed my segment on Joshimuda saying it’s the funniest comedy of the year, and now I put this above it. What’s up with that? Surely, if the point of a comedy is to make you laugh, the funniest one will also be the best, right? Well, yes. And no. Genre classifications are dumb to begin with.
I have no qualms about saying that Kaguya-sama isn’t as funny as Joshimuda. More than that, I’d say that it isn’t as funny as Oresuki either. But it beats both of those for a very simple reason, and that’s because Kaguya-sama is easily the best actual story of the three.
Yes, its comedy relies on the gimmick of the two main idiots constantly trying to outsmart each other, and as I’ve already said, that can and does get stale at some point. Admittedly, it doesn’t carry the same (almost 4-koma-esque) format through the whole show, but it does drag it out for a touch too long. So, while Kaguya-sama isn’t necessarily the most impressive achievement of comedic writing, it’s certainly an achievement of writing in general, because its cast is immensely compelling.
Unlike with Joshimuda, which barely has characters to begin with, or Oresuki, where everyone is kind of (whether they know it or not) a shit person, you immediately find yourself rooting for Kaguya and Shirogane, the two godforsaken idiots, to get together. And by the end of the show, they don’t, not really, but you still get to witness many breakthroughs in their relationship, and when it happens, you raise your fists triumphantly in the air, thinking that these two kids are finally getting somewhere. And then they kinda mess it up, but that’s to be expected. Even if both of them are geniuses, attending an elite academy, they’re complete idiots when it comes to dealing with each other, which is more than believable. Love makes you stupid, after all.
Another aspect where it beats both Joshimuda and Oresuki, and convincingly so, is its direction and visuals. It has the level of polish you’d expect out of A-1 Pictures, and when you pair that with ex-Shaft director Shinichi Omata’s (pen name Mamoru Hatakeyama) more experimental directorial approach, you end up with a plethora of absurd visual gags that, more often than not, elevate the comedy and make it even funnier than it already is. Not to mention Yuuko Yahiro’s wonderful character designs (and some of the best of the year), which stand out by being fairly distinct instead of trying to copy the manga designs as closely as possible.
It is perhaps unsurprising, because of how popular (not to mention good) Kaguya-sama is, that it’s yet another in a huge string of anime confirmed for a second season, airing in spring. And from what I’ve heard from manga readers, it only gets better from here.
Here is undoubtedly my most biased pick of the year, and definitely the most “me” anime to come out this year. Matter of fact, after finishing it, I was convinced Hizaue would be in the top half of this list, but then summer and fall proved to be better than expected, so it just missed the cut.
Now, this isn’t Zero-G’s first attempt at landing on my anime of the year list, but unlike the crass and over-the-top (but still pretty funny) Grand Blue, their 2018 effort, this one is much more my speed. It’s no secret that I love iyashikei anime. Matter of fact, I’ve said multiple times that it’s my favorite type of anime, because its sole purpose is to soothe your soul after a long day/week/month, when you’re just tired of life. My love for this particular slice of life subgenre should be evident, since Yuru Camp and Hakumei to Mikochi both made last year’s list, and we have one more making an appearance in 2019.
However, Hizaue has one more thing going for it that the two big iyashikeis from last year do not. What’s that one thing? Well, you see, it centers on an introverted writer named Subaru, who ends up living with a cat (who he eventually names Haru). It’s effectively my autobiography in anime form, it’s incredible.
It’s true that there are plenty of great cat-related shenanigans to go around, but that’s not even Hizaue‘s main appeal, because its writing shows excellent understanding of the influence pets and their owners have on each other’s lives, as well as being delicate in its portrayal of introverted people. Let’s go through those one by one.
First, the pet aspect. Subaru is a lonely character, and ends up adopting Haru almost on accident. And he doesn’t like it at first, because even having a cat takes him out of his comfort zone, even more so when he has to leave the house and buy stuff like cat food and collars. He is very reluctant at first, but eventually he warms up to the furball. And here is where a very interesting aspect about the anime’s storytelling comes in, because Hizaue splits most of its episodes in half, dedicating one half to Subaru’s story, and then a retelling of those events from Haru’s perspective. And this works wonders, because their reluctance to accept each other is mutual at first, and watching them learn to accept the other over the course of the series is so heartwarming it makes me melt.
Now, there’s obviously a lot of guesswork regarding Haru’s thoughts, seeing as we don’t have any meaningful way of communicating with animals, but it still feels very cat-like in a way. For example, how she recognizes Haru as her name only because that word is, in her mind, vaguely connected with food. Or the fact that some very typical cat behavior that some people find annoying comes as a byproduct of them worrying for their owner (which feels like a bit of a stretch, but it’s excusable given that writing a cat isn’t the easiest thing, and there’s always bound to be a certain level of humanization to it given that it’s written by people).
The second—and to me the more impressive—aspect of its writing is how delicate it is in its portrayal of introverted people, because its main character is basically the most extreme example. We learn why Subaru is the way he is through his backstory (which I won’t spoil), and find out that he’s carrying some heavy regrets from his past, causing him to become a shut-in in the present. But what Hizaue understands is that coming out of that shell is a long and arduous process, not something that simply happens one day. Subaru is still an introvert by the end of it, but he becomes more and more used to dealing with people through a series of minor breakthroughs, all of which are immensely satisfying to watch. My favorite example of this is during his first signing event. At the start, he has a minor breakdown and tries hiding under the table, and during the whole event he’s constantly worried about messing up his signature or appearing rude because he forgot to thank someone, before slowly coming to the realization that not every single minor action of his is being scrutineered by others. And this is basically what Hizaue is: a series of breakthroughs that appear small to everyone else, but mean a lot to its introverted main character, and the audience by proxy.
Another good but easy to overlook example is Hiroto, Subaru’s friend and polar opposite. But, despite him being an extrovert, he’s understanding of Subaru and never attempts to forcibly drag him out of his comfort zone, which is where some anime fail. Story-wise, it’s very simple to have an extrovert come into an introvert’s life and change things instantly, but that’s just not how things are, and Hizaue gets it.
There are more great aspects to the story, particularly how well it portrays dealing with the loss of a loved one, and how well it gets across the point that bonds with animals can be just as important as your relationships with people. There is a lot here, but I don’t want to bore you more than I already have.
Now, as much as I love its writing, the reason why it’s not any higher is the fact that its visual presentation is fairly cheap most of the time. It’s a shame, but this is another good example of a show where I can overlook something like that because of how good the writing is (and it’s not even going to be the last entry where that’s the case).
This is more than likely going to be the longest entry here, but I felt the need to let it run long because it’s easily the most biased pick on this list, and I wanted you to understand where I’m coming from. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get a second season of this one, but even in its current form, it’s an immensely enjoyable anime, even if it’s a fairly niche one in the grand scheme of things.
The list (#5 to #1)
Ah, Kanata no Astra, an anime that seemingly came out of nowhere and won over almost everyone who watched it, me included (not that you couldn’t tell that, given that it’s #5 on the list).
What started off as a simple space adventure turned into a show with a poignant message about the importance of family (which seemed a common sentiment in anime this year), carried on the back of a plot with so many twists and turns that you could ill afford not to pay attention to it. In fact, it’s going to be difficult to write at length about it, given that I want to keep this spoiler-free for anyone who hasn’t seen it (which you definitely should, by the way).
It starts off when a bunch of high-school kids are sent to camp in space, only for things to go wrong immediately as they are sucked out into space moments after setting foot on the planet they were supposed to be camping on. By sheer chance (but not really), there happens to be a spaceship where they exited, and they eventually find out they are many many light years away from where they’re supposed to be.
What follows after the oddly-paced double-length premiere is an expertly written 11 episodes (bookending it with a second 50-minute episode), full of twists and turns that kept you glued to the screen, cursing the fact that you had to wait until next week. It throws so many unexpected things your way that you’d think that there’s no way for it all to resolve properly, but then the entire conspiracy slowly unravels, resulting in one of the most cathartic last few episodes to air this year. Saying any more about the story would genuinely be doing it a disservice, because you should simply go out and watch it.
Its cast is lovely too, but once again, they all harbor secrets regarding their past, and it so happens that they’ve almost exclusively had shitty parents (except, unlike a certain other anime, this is eventually justified withing the bounds of the plot). Their backstories, and the story as a whole, are borderline cheesy at times (but in a good way). The vocal cast is just as good as the character cast, boasting probably the single most impressive seiyuu line-up of any anime this year.
Visually, it’s a very typical Masaomi Andou production, in that it doesn’t move a whole lot, but it certainly looks good, with appealing character designs and a neat line filter making everything that little bit nicer to look at. Strangely, it’s also constrained by a strange aspect ratio, as if it were a movie, but at least said aspect ratio is kept consistent throughout, so it’s not an issue.
In my segment about Hizaue, I mentioned Hakumei to Mikochi, and Kanata no Astra is the second consecutive entry into my top 10 anime of the year from Masaomi Andou and Lerche. There is something about that combo that produces anime which are immensely gratifying to watch, and with winter 2020’s Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun having a strong premiere, Andou’s run of putting out anime worthy of my top 10 might not be over yet.
Well, that was unexpected. Kono Oto Tomare is the last 2019 premiere I watched (so far), having finished it on New Year’s Day, but sure enough, it made its efforts count. Now, it’s worth saying that this one aired in split cours, meaning that the part of it airing in fall was a second season, but I have decided to be sane about things and count it as one show instead of arbitrarily qualifying it for the sequel list.
Kono Oto Tomare is a simple anime, focusing around a failing club, bringing together many characters of varying personalities in an attempt to save it, and slowly turning into a heartfelt coming of age drama. Nothing it does is all too original, bar its focus instrument being the relatively obscure koto, but it’s very good at not being original.
An anime like this lives and dies on its characters, and Kono Oto Tomare‘s cast is probably the most well-rounded out of any anime this year (except maybe the one in the #2 spot). And again, it’s nor particularly original in the way it goes about things, bringing together a bunch of kids with troubled pasts and having them learn to accept and support each other (hell, we just had another one of those). However, unlike the cheesiness of Astra, all the characters in Kono Oto Tomare feel incredibly human, be it the delinquent-but-actually-sweetheart Chika, Satowa who’s just trying to close the rift between her and her mother, or my personal favorite, Hiro, who attempts to ruin the club at first because of sheer pettiness, but quickly learns how it feels to be surrounded by good people.
I said this when I finished watching it, and I’ll say it again, but the writing in Kono Oto Tomare had hints of Hibike to it, and coming from me, that’s basically the biggest compliment I can give any anime. However, it’s (obviously) not quite as good as KyoAni’s masterpiece because it lacks their delicate focus on character acting. To be frank, it’s lacking on the visual front overall, which is very much a prevailing theme when it comes to some of my picks on this list.
Platinum Vision aren’t a particularly huge or well-known studio, so for the most part, the animation is limited, and very often stiff, not helped by the overly detailed character designs that just seem impossible to animate from the get-go. Its one saving grace are the performance scenes, which are fairly well storyboarded, and the koto-playing is well-animated for the most part, particularly in season 2 where the show gets bolder about the amount of koto-playing it features.
Speaking of performance scenes: they’re great. Again, not as good as in Hibike (which was an impossible feat to begin with), but given the fact that they were obviously working with a limited talent pool, they could’ve been way worse. However, what greatly elevates the concerts is the music, because the koto is simply wonderful to listen to, and the composition of some of the pieces is simply excellent, even to someone like me who knows barely anything about music. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the show’s score is fairly generic-sounding, because utilizing the koto in some of the background music as well would’ve made for some interesting listening, but there aren’t many complaints from me on that front.
One last thing worth noting is that the penultimate episode of Kono Oto Tomare is almost certainly the best episode of any anime to come out this year, representing an absolutely perfect culmination of the show’s themes, as well as resolving a number of character arcs in one fell swoop, all while dedicating almost half an episode to one beautiful performance. I was in complete awe throughout the entirety of episode 25, and I would almost say the entire show is worth watching just for that one episode. Not that the rest of it doesn’t hold up, mind you. It does, even if the first half takes a while to get going.
While imperfect, Kono Oto Tomare falls comfortably into a genre that I always greatly enjoy. This fact, paired with some sublime character writing and gorgeous music, made it a really, really enjoyable watch which only got better over time.
And now, onto the top 3, and opening up with a pick that’s probably not going to please too many people, seeing as Granbelm isn’t that well-liked by the anime community at large, as very few people actually finished it, paired with the fact that its BD sales are horrible. But what can I say? Either all of those people are wrong or Granbelm just so happened to hit so many points that made it work with me personally. My bets are on the second one.
Granbelm is very weird, being a mecha meets battle royale meets mahou shoujo anime, and it’s another magical girl anime that focuses on darker themes, a subgenre of a subgenre that was popularized by Madoka Magica (even though it existed for a while before that). These kinds of magical girl shows always have to lean heavily into the humanity of their characters, lest they give in to the misery of their respective settings, and Granbelm very much does that, but in ways that didn’t gel well with everyone.
To start off with, Shingetsu, one of the two main characters, is so convinced of her own strength that she comes off as conceited, and while she remains favored by Magiaconatus (the weird magical construct that runs everything) throughout, her illusion of perfection nearly becomes her undoing more than once. Moreover, she ends up pushing people away from herself, self-sacrificially ignoring her own needs for the sake of not dragging others into her own fight, and her loneliness ultimately results in one of the story’s biggest twists.
Then we have Mangetsu, who is Shingetsu’s polar opposite in just about every way, even down to the name (and for very good reason). While every other participant in Granbelm is driven by the wish to use Magiaconatus’ immense power to change the world however they want, Mangetsu is simply participating in it to find out who she even is, as a person, because her life feels purposeless. And slowly, as things unravel around her and she discovers the truth behind Granbelm, she finds purpose in helping Shingetsu dismantle a broken system from within. Which is why, when it eventually comes, the show’s biggest twist hits even harder.
There is also Anna, who feels very misunderstood to me as a character, because as much as she is an antagonist, her fall from grace feels believable, and she is probably the most human character in the entirety of Granbelm, with dark thoughts stemming from a very simple desire to be appreciated by her mother. Even at her lowest, I couldn’t help but feel for her, and making me empathize with what seemed like nothing more than a crazy obstacle for the protagonists is admirable. The same holds true for Suishou, who ends up being quite a literal representation of the unfair system Shingetsu is fighting against.
I can also see the ending being divisive, but for me, it feels consistent with the rest of the show, wearing its heart on its sleeve and remaining true to the desires of its characters.
The rest of the show very much holds up to scrutiny. Despite having many mech battles in it, they are all hand-animated, never resorting to using CG despite having a very small core team of dedicated animators working on it. Watanabe’s (best known for directing Re:Zero) tendency to use sharp colors meshes well with the typical Nexus photography work, though I can see it getting overbearing for some people. The storyboarding and direction is great throughout, particularly in the action scenes and the climax of the show. Notably, the penultimate episode is also entirely solo animated by Kazuya Nakanishi, which I feel is deserving of praise.
Finally, Kenichirou Suehiro’s soundtrack is amazing, with both sweeping orchestral scores to add hype to the action scenes, and the more emotional pieces that tug at your heartstrings during the show’s final two episodes. He’s one of the few composers whose name I remember, simply because of how good his work consistently is.
Jukki Hanada, with his affinity for writing relentlessly human stories, poured his heart and soul into writing an original story of his own. Watanabe excels as director, supported by a team of people from Nexus who were dedicated to making everything about this anime as visually slick as possible. In the end, Granbelm strikes me as a passion project, created by a small number of people with a distinct vision, and that vision was never once forsaken for the sake of marketability or adhering to corporate demands, even if the end product was seemingly a commercial flop.
Granbelm is a divisive anime, and its ideas and the way it went about executing them didn’t work for many, many people. But they worked for me, and that’s all that matters in the end.
This is perhaps an expected entry, given how many people’s lists it’s on, but it’s a thoroughly deserved one. With Run with the Wind, Production I.G have proved themselves to be the unparalleled masters of making sports anime. But, unlike their flagship series, Haikyuu, this one is also an excellent drama.
Unfortunately, the fact that this is so late in the list means that I’ve already said most of what I like about Run with the Wind, but for different anime. Much like Kono Oto Tomare or Kanata no Astra, it’s a story about a group of people coming together and working to achieve a goal that’s seemingly beyond their capabilities. And like both of those, and Granbelm, it’s also an incredibly human story. It’s just that all of these things that it shares with these other shows are that much better here. This is because Shion Miura has a real knack for writing believable characters, which became clear to me after wathing the one other anime based on a novel of hers, the similarly good Fune wo Amu.
While I won’t be dwelling on its characters for too long, because I would just be repeating points I already said with Kono Oto Tomare, I will say that I appreciate how the cast of Run with the Wind is college-age, meaning they’re probably older than anime characters are on average, given how many of them are in their teens. This makes them more interesting than your avereage high-school cast, given that they’re not in the peak of youth anymore, and some of them already have to worry about finding jobs. Simply increasing the overall age of your cast by just two or three years does wonders, because as much as I love me a good high school anime, there’s a definite appeal in a college-aged cast. This is probably because they can’t afford to be as carefree as highschoolers, while at the same time not being fully fledged adults, placing them in this awkward, nebulous middle that only lasts for a few years, but makes for some really compelling stories.
The fact that this is a sports anime is almost secondary to the character drama that permeates it, but it is all the better for it. The varying motivations of the characters, between wanting to run a marathon simply for the sake of doing it, or wanting to make memories before leaving college, are all simple but greatly enhanced by how good the writing is. Not to mention the final string of episodes, when they finally reach their goal, is exceptional, giving a coherent and wonderful conclusion to each of these characters and their arcs, showing you how they’ve grown over the course of the show.
Seeing as the anime landscape is populated by manga and light novel adaptations that advertise their source material then vanish without giving us any sequels, I heavily appreciate that Run with the Wind is a complete story, making it all the more satisfying to watch the characters reach the end of their journeys.
The show is visually pretty slick, as you would expect from Production I.G. Chiba’s designs are appealing, and the direction is solid throughout. Some of the CG looks odd, but it’s excused by the fact that animating tens of people running sounds on an episodic basis like an animator’s worst nightmare. On top of that, Yuuki Hayashi’s score is expectedly good, making for a great overall package.
Run with the Wind is a wonderful character drama, packed with compelling stories and more wonderful moments than I can count, deserving of the #2 spot on this list, and I certainly won’t forget it in a hurry.
This comes as a surprise to no one.
Two years in a row now, my favorite anime of the year aired in the winter season, and much like Yorimoi last year, nothing really came close to dethroning Neverland this year, apart from maybe the anime in second place. However, second place in both 2018 and 2019 was also a winter anime, so it wouldn’t have changed anything, although I suspect that run is going to come to a close in 2020.
The way I pick seasonal anime means I mostly go into them blind, so I had no idea what to expect out of Neverland going in, and to my surprise, I was met with 12 of the most thrilling, suspenseful episodes to air this year. The cold open in the first episode piques your attention immediately, and it never lets go. Even before I go into any details about its story or production, the very fact that Neverland was so consistently engaging and immense to watch, not faltering once throughout its whole 12-episode run, is an astounding achievement, making this show a deserved winner almost on the basis of that alone.
Neverland‘s premise is fairly unique as far as these things go, focusing on a number of children living seemingly peaceful lives, while the nefarious truth behind it all is that they are being farmed for food. And when Emma and Norman find this out partway through episode 1, the entire first season becomes a game where a small army of children try to outwit one adult (two at one point) in a bid for their lives.
There are two essential elements for an effective thriller. One being a group of characters you care about, and Neverland is doubly successful here. Not only do you not want anything bad to happen to innocent kids, but all of its characters are simply just good. Emma is a wonderful protagonist whose cheery protagonist clashes with the dreary tone of the story in the worst of way. Norman tries to appear calm, but ends up being as emotionally driven as anyone else, while Ray, being sly and calculating, is the biggest question mark for the majority of this opening arc.
The second thing you need for a thriller like this to work is a good antagonist, and Isabella is the best one of the entire year. Being in charge of Grace Field, she’s obviously privy to what’s going on, but even the worst of her actions is ultimately driven by her love for these kids, adding in a level of complexity to her character which makes her an incredibly effective and particularly terrifying antagonist, although the reasons for this extend beyond just her motivations. She’s also incredibly smart, and for most of the story, always one step ahead of the kids. This is obviously good, because what’s a game of wits if one side isn’t up to the task.
Obviously, all of this good writing would’ve fallen completely flat were the story given to a director that didn’t know how to handle something of this tone. Fortunately, CloverWorks gave creative control of this one to Mamoru Kanbe, who had to be among the best possible choices for it. In So Ra No Wo To in particular, he demonstrated his immaculate ability to maintain an unsettling atmosphere, and that comes to the forefront once again in Neverland, where Kanbe and the rest of the creative team know exactly what needs to be done to maintain the perfect amount of tension, while at the same time letting it breathe during the few moments of respite we get.
I also appreciate that they didn’t go for an approach where they copy manga panels (this drew the ire of some manga fans, which I’ll never understand), because there’s a clear difference between how horror works in manga vs. how it works in an animated medium. And, despite what a few detractors have to say, Neverland is pretty finely tuned when it comes to keeping you on the edge of your seat, heart beating so fast like it’s about to burst. It also doesn’t rely on cheap jumpscares, which is the downfall of a lot of horror media, so that’s nice.
The animation throughout is great, owing to Kazuaki Shimada’s detailed yet still kind of simple designs (not to mention the pretty impressive talent pool CloverWorks have available to them). Of particular note is the amazing soundtrack, done by apparent newcomer (at least to the anime industry) Takahiro Obata, whose music is just as instrumental at maintaining Neverland‘s atmosphere as anything else. Frankly, it’s a borderline perfect amalgamation of everything that makes an anime.
While there is more to be said about it, I’ve already been writing for way too long, and I feel like I don’t particularly need to sell you on Neverland, given how immensely popular it is (and for good reason).
Yakusoku no Neverland had me looking forward to next week like nothing else this year, with a rollercoaster story that mixes everything that’s good about thrillers with some surprisingly resonant emotional beats, combined with a stunning score and impeccable visual presentation. It is a triumph in almost every aspect, and easily deserving of the title of my favorite anime of the year.
Oh my god, no. This is already incredibly long. Just pretend I said something about 2019 being a very good year for anime for the fourth time, and how 2020 is looking just as good with the huge amount of up and coming sequels, and move on with your life.
See you next time, whenever that will be.
In part 1 I said I’d get this one out yesterday, but as you can see, that turned out to be a massive lie. But hey, it’s here now.
Me bemoaning my own laziness aside, there’s not really any need for a fancy introduction here. As the name implies, here I’ll list off the top 5 sequel anime that aired this year, starting from #5 and moving to #1. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t exactly a sequel-packed year, which is evident by the fact that I’ve only watched 6 of them. And given that, in part 1, I already mentioned one sequel that was disappointing, that means there were only 5 left that were eligible this list. Not exactly a difficult decision process for me.
As for why the sequels aren’t just merged into the top 10 list, like what I did last year, it’s because I felt that the originals this year were too good for some of them to be pushed down by the equally impressive sequels. But why didn’t I make something like a top 15 anime of the year list, then? I have my reasons, most of them being that I don’t want to talk about one specific discourse-inducing isekai at length.
With that out of the way, let’s go.
Even though I said that I’d watched only six sequels this year, the real number is technically seven. See, SAO: Alicization was slated to air for four cours, but naturally they couldn’t pull off 48+ episodes all at once, so it got split, meaning that the first part of SAO‘s third season ended in March this year. Season 2 of season 3 of SAO started this fall and was supposed to run for two more cours, which would’ve disqualified it from being here. But as it so happened, War of Underworld also got split, meaning that we’ll have season 2 of season 2 of season 3 of Sword Art Online airing in spring.
Yes, I did make that needlessly confusing for no reason. Point is, this entry counts both SAO: Alicization, which ended in March, and SAO: Alicization – War of Underworld which aired during the fall season. I’ve rambled about this for way too long already, so let’s just get to why SAO is here.
Simply put, the Alicization arc, but more precisely War of Underworld, is easily the best SAO has ever been. Now, that might not mean much to the people who gave up on the series after the (admittedly pretty middling) first season, but those who actually stuck with SAO are now reaping the rewards.
With Alicization (the first half), Kawahara once again demonstrated how far he’d come as a writer, with a largely more focused plot than those of previous seasons, a huge number of great new characters and a greater focus on worldbuilding. In fact, some of that worldbuilding may have been Alicization‘s undoing, because the first part occasionally felt like it was dragging its feet with the amount of exposition being thrown the viewer’s way, which was only exacerbated if you watched it weekly, only for the story to not really go anywhere for two or three weeks.
For what it’s worth, the pay-off that followed all that exposition and slow build-up was absolutely worth it. Even in season 1, the Eugeo vs. Bercouli and Quinella vs. the whole gang fights were exceptional to watch, with good action storyboarding and some exceptional action animation, even after one half of Alicization‘s action animation director duo just gave up on working on the show. Not to mention, the first half of the story wrapped up with a wonderfully bittersweet ending, as well as a rather brutal cliffhanger, considering that we had to wait six months for more SAO.
That continuation did eventually come, fortunately, and blew me away. As nice as the fights in the first half were, the real pay-off came in War of Underworld, with the majority of the season being centered around the titular war, between the Human Empire and the Dark Territory. To my surprise, the story wasn’t focused entirely on the “good” guys, and we got a few surprising moments at the start of the season that helped humanize the protagonists’ enemies, as well as introduce us to Vector (or Vecta, depending on who you ask), the main antagonist of the second half (and an absolute maniac).
The writing remains consistently enjoyable even past the opening episodes, with plenty of moments peppered between the fights to help us sympathize with various characters on both sides. From what I’ve heard, some of the relationships mentioned get explored in more detail in the novels, but even in their current form, most of these moments are still incredibly effective at getting you to care for a fairly sizable cast of characters, which is commendable.
The production values are consistently fairly high, bar the occasional background mook that looks like he’s forgotten how to use his limbs, and some distracting-looking CG crowds. A lot of people did a lot of good work on War of Underworld, but Yoshihiro Kanno—the show’s one remaining action animation director—stood out among the crowd, contributing stunning cut after stunning cut with such startling efficiency that you begin to question if he ever gets any rest.
The one unfortunate problem with War of Underworld that has been present ever since Ordinal Scale is the show’s photography work (by Kentarou Waki), which ranges from really nice to borderline atrocious at times, given how the composite can obscure a good part of the actual animation at times. This is most prominent in the more effects-heavy sequences, which can get really annoying to look at. This isn’t something that exactly ruins the show, but it does drag down the otherwise pretty great visuals.
In the end, Alicization is the best entry in an already pretty solid series, and spring cannot come soon enough (even if SAO is bound to get overshadowed by the million other, even better sequels we’re getting that season).
Oh, and the ending to War of Underworld part 1 reminded me once and for all who the best SAO girl is, and you can fight me if you disagree (don’t actually fight me, I’d lose).
Bungou Stray Dogs is a series I picked up not too long ago, mostly on a whim, and came out of it surprised by how much fun I had with it. And season 3 is convincingly its best yet (which holds true for every sequel on this list, in fact).
The reason why the third entry in the series works better than the first two is that it effectively takes the best elements of each previous season and combines them, even if they end up being watered down somewhat. Season 1 had a bunch of fun detective shenanigans, but mostly lacked a coherent throughline. Season 2, on the other hand, had a more focused plot and was more engaging because of it, but suffered a bit due to the relative lack of “solving cases by throwing supernatural powers at them” that made the first season such a fun romp.
In comes season 3, then, with both an interesting storyline and plenty of detective work to go around (although if you could call what they do detective work is dubious). Neither of these elements are quite as good as they were in their respective seasons, but combining them still did wonders. On top of that, it made good use of its ever-expanding cast, as well as introduced the series’ best villain so far, Dostoyevsky (although he was actually introduced in the Dead Apple movie, but that’s beside the point).
Speaking of villains, one of the season’s best episode is episode 4, in which Dostoyevsky and a minor villain face-off. Part of the reason why it’s so good is because of how well it establishes Dostoyevsky as a threat, but also because Bungou Stray Dogs‘ villain-focused episodes are surprisingly great (proved again by the seventh episode).
The rest of the season holds up pretty well too, culminating in the Cannibalism arc, in which two sides that were once at odds with each other have to work together to save their respective leaders. Narratively and structurally, it’s not the most unique thing out there, but it’s satisfying to watch unfold nevertheless.
Perhaps the only aspect where the third season doesn’t outdo the previous ones are its visuals. They are far from bad, mind you, because Bones cannot make anything but good-looking anime. However, they had Mob Psycho 100 II air a season prior, the two-cour Carole & Tuesday started in spring much like Bungou Stray Dogs, and they were hard at work on My Hero Academia‘s fourth season. While their packed schedule mostly didn’t show in the visuals, it was evident from the ever-growing number of animation directors and key animators that they had a bit too much on their plate.
There’s not much more I can say about Bungou Stray Dogs. It’s a series that I find really enjoyable even at the worst of times, and I can only hope that a fourth season comes soon enough (hopefully during a time when Bones won’t be quite as loaded with work).
At the halfway point of the list, we have the final season to a long-running series that I picked up out of nowhere, and similarly loved out of nowhere. Senki Zesshou Symphogear (or Symphogear for short) premiered in winter of 2012, so a touch over eight years ago at time of writing. And in 2019, the wild punching ride finally reached its conclusion, and what a great one it was.
From start to finish, Symphogear XV was a sincere love letter to the fans that helped it get five seasons in the first place. It was chock-full of fanservice (no, not that kind), with most relevant characters from past seasons coming back in one way or another. Moreover, the plot was a rollercoaster that barely gave you any time to breathe, and at the same time, made the wait for next week’s episode excruciating. It’s worth saying that this approach may not have worked for everyone. After all, if there is a character(s) you dislike, you won’t care much for them coming back. But as someone who loved Symphogear start to finish, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Another thing I couldn’t get enough of was the show’s music. Now, Symphogear is already known for having a rather exceptional soundtrack, as well as an absurd amount of insert songs (necessitated by the fact that every single fight in the show needs to have one), and Symphogear XV is no exception. While I’m not suited for talking about music for length, I can assure you that the music here, be it the soundtrack or the insert songs, are all bangers, as the kids would say. The Amalgam version of Hanasaku Yuuki is great, Metanoia (the OP) is even better, doubly so when it’s used as an insert in the last episode, and Sforzando no Zankyou is stunning. To anyone who hasn’t watched Symphogear, the previous sentence meant nothing, but I thought I’d let any fans who stumble upon this know some of my favorite songs.
Visually it holds up as well. While there were some lower-priority episodes around the middle of the season that occasionally looked a bit odd, by and large it was a fantastic-looking show, with flashy action and astonishingly good transformation sequences. They threw everything they had and more at this finale season, and it turned out amazing.
Not only were the music and visuals on point, but the writing was as well, which I briefly brought up earlier. Ending such a long-running franchise isn’t an easy task, but I would argue that Kaneko more or less nailed it. Every main character gets their time in the spotlight, all of them having to contend with twists and turns of their own, and each of them gets a good ending (most of all Hibiki and Miku, thanks after-credits scene). All the plot threads are wrapped up neatly, the last few episodes drive home Symphogear‘s message, and the commitment to its core themes remains unwavering throughout. You might notice that I was rather vague in this paragraph, but I really want to avoid spoiling this show as best I can.
In the end, Symphogear XV knew exactly what it wanted to be: an explosive, fan-pleasing spectacle of a final season, and it remained committed throughout. I loved every second of it, and the fact that there are two more entries to come should tell you just how good this year was.
In conclusion: watch Symphogear.
It may not be the first on the list of sequels, but what Shingeki no Kyojin Season 3 Part 2 definitely does win is the award for clunkiest name of the year. I know this happened because season 3 was split into two parts, airing in summer of 2018 and spring of 2019 respectively, but would it really have killed you to just call it season 4?
Anyways, there really isn’t much I can say here. Shingeki no Kyojin (or Attack on Titan, if you prefer the English and now-shown-to-be-really-incorrect name) is one of the biggest anime/manga, well, ever. Even if you’re not watching it, you’ve most certainly at least heard of it. And this is season 3… part 2.
I’ve always appreciated how the story in Attack on Titan is structured, with how carefully everything is plotted out, how the revelations constantly feed into one another, meaning that for every reveal you also end up with more questions, and how information is always revealed to you at exactly the right points in the story. And season 3 part 2 represented a culmination of a large number of plot threads from previous seasons, including the long-awaited (and pretty amazing) basement reveal. It was also a pretty big paradigm shift, given where the story will be going from this point on. If you asked me which sequel was the best this year story-wise, this’d win easily, but that’s not how we do things around here.
Not that season 3 part 2 didn’t look the part, but it was very clear that Wit were struggling to get this one done, and struggling hard. Then again, they’re not exactly known for having production schedules any sane person could comprehend. If anything, it was a blessing for them that a good part of this season consisted of people standing around and talking, because they could focus their efforts on the action parts while letting the rest look just fine. And for the most part, that approach paid off, given that episode 5 (in which Levi fights the Beast Titan, among other things) was one of the best episodes of the year, thanks in part due to Arifumi Imai’s herculean and ever-impressive efforts.
That’s… about it. I did warn you that I didn’t have much to say about it. Even if its production towards the end was being held together by sheer willpower as animation director counts spiralled out of control, it’s still a great continuation of a great show that had me glued to the screen with each episode.
And yet, its struggles to keep its animation impressive are exactly what cost it the #1 spot.
Little surprise that this comes out on top, I guess (made even less surprising by the fact that I featured it in the article’s header).
If you asked me to list a single problem I had with Mob Psycho 100 II, I couldn’t give you a satisfactory reply. Admittedly, this is in part because I watched it all the way back in winter, so the problems I may have had with it (of which I remember there being a few, even if they were minor) have mostly faded from memory. The only thing that I can kind of remember is that the second arc of the show felt a bit rushed at points, since it was reduced to less than half of the season.
While I cannot tell you many problems with this one, what I can definitely do is praise it. It’s true that the second part of the season in which they fight Claw went by a bit too quickly, but the show more than makes up for it with its more character-focused first half. Shigeo (or Mob) slowly learns how to be more considerate of his own emotions, and Reigen hits rock bottom before bouncing back in a great way, all while remaining one of the show’s best characters throughout. You can’t not love that sleazy conman.
Those two are the show’s main focus, but the rest of the cast is plenty great as well. Hanazawa has a few great moments, but I’ve always had a soft spot for him (and definitely not because he’s voiced by Yoshitsugu Matsuoka). Ritsu has a more prominent role than in the first season, the Body Improvement Club remains literally the best, and even the minor espers from that research facility and the members of the Scars all have their own important roles to play.
It’s a well-constructed story, but that’s not even the best part about it. Because, and I do not say this lightly at all, the second season of Mob Psycho 100 may well be one of the greatest achievements in animation in a long time (along with last year’s Violet Evergarden, although the two are impressive for very different reasons). There is more stunning animation packed into one episode of Mob than most shows can afford over their entire run. Every episode looks amazing, so the fact that episode 5 and 11 manage to stand out even among such strong competition is nothing short of a miracle.
Be it Hironori Tanaka being as good as ever, Weilin Zhang‘s absurdly impressive effects work in the aforementioned fifth episode, Nakaya Onsen just showing off, or whatever the fuck Takumi Sunakohara was on with this sheer insanity, Mob Psycho 100 is packed with names that any self-respecting sakuga nerd would recognize. Not only that, but they all put in nothing short of their best work, resulting in a visual experience where you can do nothing but gawk in amazement at what you’re witnessing. Which is what I was doing for most of the season.
The show’s visuals are so stunning that they almost overshadow the already excellent story, but when “one great thing is better than other great thing” is your biggest problem, I’d say you’ve done a pretty good job.
The after-credits scene
At the risk of running too long, this is where I’ll wrap things up. It was a year packed with great anime, and the sequels of the year encapsulate that perfectly. Matter of fact, three of them would’ve made the top 10 anime list, which is why I chose to do them separately. It felt unfair for established franchises to hog the spotlight that some pretty excellent originals deserve just as much.
See you around Friday for the best of the year list. It’s gonna be a blast.
Introduction (the exposition episode)
So, my initial plan for covering the wide variety of anime that came out last year was to just do another top 10 list, much like I did for 2018. That plan fell apart around fall of 2019, when I realized that there was simply too much to talk about. And as such, I’ve decided to split this retrospective into three parts: part 1 is the one you’re reading now, part 2 will be my top 5 sequels of the year, and finally, part 3 will be the top 10 anime of 2019. The first one is out, well, now, and the other two should come out in not too long (middle of next week at the latest).
Now, before I delve into part 1, I’ll just briefly explain what qualifies an anime to be on here (apart from being released in 2019, which I hope is obvious).
Well, the fall season’s come and gone, and to my surprise it was… pretty good. Chihayafuru came back after a 6 year absence with a vengeance, SAO was at its absolute best, Ascendance of a Bookworm turned out to be an astonishingly wonderful experience, and even the token harem anime—that being Oresuki—was way better than expected, thanks to its ridiculously meta approach to the genre and snappy comedic writing.
Of course, it wasn’t all great. Azur Lane, while being surprisingly good for a gacha adaptation, had production woes from day one, and they caught up to it before it could finish. Then there was Hoshiai no Sora, which seemingly had everything working against it, from the ridiculous demands of higher-ups that it be cut in half, to the creative team’s unwillingness to compromise, all of which resulted in a hot mess despite a promising start.
Overall, despite the occasional dud, I ended up being pretty satisfied with the fall season. But now, a new year (and decade) is upon us, and with that, a brand new season of anime. And, much like what I did with fall, I’m gonna run through my picks for this season and briefly explain why I made the choices.
So, way back in the AOTY 2018 article, I said I’d be doing a bit more of that anime blogging thing in 2019, huh? Heh. That turned out well.
Well, better late than never, I guess. In fairness, I do actually plan to get more into it now that I’m done with the story that made me create this blog in the first place (I’m still writing fiction as well, though I’m probably not going to be publishing it here). Soon, I’ll start rewatching anime regularly, and with that, there should be more articles on whatever I happen to rewatch. But that’s for the future. For now, we have this, the fall 2019 season preview.
I call it a season preview, but it won’t be covering the whole season. In reality, I’ll just mention the stuff I’ll be watching this season, and explaining why I picked it. Also, I’ll mention a few anime that didn’t make the cut since I don’t want the number of anime I watch per season to get out of hand.
Anyways, without further ado, let’s get to what I’ll be watching in fall, and why.
Dr. Stone (Friday)
As the only summer holdover on this list, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I’m sticking with this one. In its first 13 episodes, Dr. Stone has been an absorbing watch, and it’s only been getting better ever since the start of the Village Arc and the introduction of Kohaku, Chrome, and the rest of that crew.
It’s a tad unfortunate that its visuals leave something to be desired, given how a lot of the shots feel like (and probably are) a copy-and-paste job from manga panels. The animation is also quite bare-bones, leaving the gorgeous background art as the only true standout in this department. However, what it lacks visually is more than made up for by the show’s strong writing, and a plot that feels much like taking the science route in a game of Civilization (while having to contend with a player aiming for a domination victory). Even if there are parts of it that could be improved upon, Dr. Stone remains enjoyable, and something worth looking forward to week after week.
Anyways, this segment turned into an impromptu review of the show, which wasn’t exactly my intention, so we’ll be moving swiftly on.
Ore wo Suki nano wa Omae dake ka yo (Wednesday)
And now we get to the new stuff, which will be a bit more difficult to write something about given how my thought process behind most of these picks begins and ends with “oh this looks neat, let’s go for it.” This isn’t quite in that category, but I still don’t have much of an explanation for why I chose it, apart from the fact that it 100% looks like something I’d watch.
What can I say, I’m a simple man. It’s your standard high-school setting, featuring a bunch of cute girls and a, and I quote, “self-proclaimed dense protagonist.” Also the characters have nicknames like Cosmos and Pansy. What more do I need? Nothing, really.
The above description makes it sound like a typical harem fare, but the premise reveals that that’s far from the truth. In fact, our dense protagonist thinks that he’s going to get confessed to not once, but twice, but both of the girls end up confessing that they like his friend, instead. And it turns out that the only girl that actually likes him is a bespectacled stalker. Sounds dumb. I’m here for it.
I didn’t pick this show solely based on the premise, but while its staff list looks decent, I’m not really acquainted with many of them. It’s being done by one of the directors of Bakuman, which I haven’t watched, but it seems quite well received. Notably, the series composition is being done by none other than the light novel author, and anime where that is the case are good more often than not (SukaSuka and Saekano being good examples).
Overall, I don’t have extremely high expectations for this one, but it should be good for a few laughs.
Honzuki no Gekokujou (Wednesday)
Ah yes, isekai anime, a trend that’s not going anywhere in a hurry. Light novel writers are perfectly content with churning more of them out, and the anime industry is equally happy to keep giving them adaptations. And well, I like a good number of them, so I can’t complain.
Admittedly, this is a bit different than your standard “random guy (who’s probably a nerd) suffers a misfortune of some description and gets transported to an alternate world” premise that’s so common in isekai. It’s different because the protagonist is a girl this time. She’s still a nerd, though.
Of course, I’m being a bit facetious, because the premise does sound genuinely interesting. It’s a story about a book-loving girl who gets transported into a world where literacy rates are low and books are hard to come by. So what does she do? She just decides that she’ll have to write those books herself.
It sounds like a relatively innocuous, low-stakes premise, which it very well might be, but there’s enough in it to make me interested anyways. The fact that it has a vivid and colorful aesthetic, and is directed by a director who worked on a number of Crayon Shin-chan movies reinforces my assumption that it’s not going to be the most action-packed, high-stakes anime of the season.
Still, the source light novel is really popular, and I assume it’s for good reason, so it’s possible that this one might surprise me yet. Even if it doesn’t, it’s probably going to coast along based on charm alone.
Kono Yuusha ga Ore TUEEE Kuse ni Shinchou Sugiru (Wednesday)
Oh, an isekai. Haven’t had one of those in a hot minute. And it’s not even the last one of those to pop up on this list. But we’ll get to that.
Shinchou Yuusha (full name shortened for obvious reasons) does seem novel enough to stand out from the isekai crowd, at least on the surface. It’s got a very simple premise that’s entirely summed up by its title, that being that the titular hero (who was summoned to a different world, of course) is overpowered, but alas, overly cautious. That’s pretty much it, and while this does sound like it could be a hell of a lot of fun if done correctly, the question is whether or not it will be.
Gimmick-focused comedies such as this one tend to fall into one of two categories: either their comedy is overly reliant on that one gimmick to the point where it quickly gets stale, or they only use their gimmick as a crutch when absolutely necessary while letting the humor breathe the rest of the time. I can only hope that this will fall into the latter category.
There’s a bit to like on the creative side, though. Most notably the director, Masayuki Sakoi, who directed the delightful SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online last year, as well as character designer and animation director Mai Toda, who is quite talented by the looks of it, and previously did the wonderfully blobby designs for Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, among others.
Of course, the biggest problem may be the studio itself—that being White Fox—who seem to be at their wit’s end, and have been ever since the second half of Steins;Gate 0. Their only TV anime so far this year has been the I’m-not-even-touching-this-one Arifureta, and that was a collaboration with Asread, which might mean that their animators aren’t too overworked and that Shinchou Yuusha won’t turn into a production disaster. Fingers crossed.
Choujin Koukousei-tachi wa Isekai demo Yoyuu de Ikinuku you desu! (Thursday)
By god, if it isn’t yet another isekai with yet another stupidly long title. Worry not, though, because this is the last one, and it’s probably the one I have the least to say about, because I decided to watch it for one simple reason.
The reason is that this is based on a light novel written by Riku Misora. In case you don’t know who Riku Misora is (and you probably don’t), he’s also the writer of the stupidly fun Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry. If that one is anything to go by, their brand of writing seems to be to take a somewhat stale premise, refine its tropes, and just make it plain enjoyable. Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry is hardly the most innovative in the supernatural battle high school harem genre (although removing the harem aspect from it already sets it apart), but Misora’s talent seems to be in refining existing premises, rather than innovating within them. And I hope that that’s the case with Choyoyu. The base premise—a bunch of high school geniuses getting isekai’d—is cute, but doesn’t tell me much about where the story will go, so I’ll have to wait and see on that one.
Not much to say apart from that. It’s being directed by Shinsuke Yanagi, who I’m completely unfamiliar with, but the series composition is by Deko Akao, who also wrote Hizaue from earlier this year, so the show’s in good hands on that front at the very least. The fact that it’s being animated by Project No.9, who are working on two anime this season, is a bit worrying given that they don’t seem like a big studio, but it’s more than likely going to turn out fine.
Azur Lane (Thursday)
2019 was a landmark year for me. Not because I passed chemistry at the second time of asking, meaning I can finally officially move on to year 2 of university, but because this is the year I finally gave in to my temptations and started playing a gacha game.
That’s the reason this one’s here, in case you haven’t figured it out by now. It’s here because I’ve already invested a lot of my free time into an alt-history gacha game with WW2-era ships reimagined as cute anime girls (as god intended), and now I feel compelled to watch the anime. It’s a logical progression of events that I’m sure most people who have already fallen down the gacha hole will be more than familiar with. Or maybe I’m just weak.
When I saw who was directing this, I decided that I’d check out at least one of his other anime to make sure this was in good hands on that front. So I watched the Grisaia series, and went out of it certain that, while Tensho isn’t an amazing director, he’s more than capable of delivering a good-looking anime. So that’s positive. What’s also positive is that he brought a long-time collaborator with him, one Masayuki Nonaka, to serve as character designer and animation director. Which is nice, since Nonaka is really good.
Speaking of Grisaia, the most recent installment of that series (Phantom Trigger) was animated by industry newcomers Bibury, the studio that Tensho (and pals) founded, and given that this is his studio, they’re doing this one as well. They did quite good work on Phantom Trigger, and I have no reason to expect any different here, even though this being their first TV anime might be a bit of a stumbling block.
The biggest question mark here is the writer, Jin Haganeya, who hasn’t done much anime-related work apart from some screenplays here and there. He’s a Nitroplus employee, lead writer of the Demonbane visual novels, and he collaborated with none other than Gen Urobuchi on a Kamen Rider series, so there’s something there, but we’re yet to see how he handles writing an anime. The writing is the downfall of many a gacha adaptation, and it’s probably what’s going to make or break Azur Lane as well.
However, for me, none of that really matters. The novelty of getting to see some of my favorite characters move is more than enough to make me watch this, even if it’s most likely going to land in the “solid, but not great” category, as most gacha anime do.
Hoshiai no Sora (Thursday)
Here’s probably the fall anime that I’m most hyped for (that’s not a sequel or a mobage adaptation). It’s about boys playing tennis and it looks kinda gay. Sure, sign me up.
The premise isn’t really what sold me on this, and if I’m being honest, I still don’t know much about this anime’s story. What I do know, however, is that it’s being directed by Kazuki Akane, who I’m familiar with because of his work on Tetsuwan Birdy Decode, an anime packed to the brim with great sakuga. Add on top of this the fact that it’s being done by studio 8bit, makers of the delightful Tensura, the criminally underwatched Yama no Susume, and funnily enough, the first three Grisaia anime. 8bit have been growing on me for a while now, because they’re a talent-filled studio, and subsequently, because their anime always look great (thank Ryouma Ebata, among others).
And really, if you need a playground on which your animators can show off, a sports anime will do the trick, since they require a lot of dynamic, varied animation in order to keep the viewer engaged. And I have full faith that Akane and the folks at 8bit can pull it off. And I forgot to mention that the character designs are great as well. Very soft-looking, I dig them.
As a sidenote, the vocal cast is looking really good, with the likes of Natsuki Hanae, Tasuku Hatanaka, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Yuusuke Kobayashi and Yoshitsugu Matsuoka joining in.
Overall, this one’s looking like a hit, and even if the story isn’t anything special, it’s going to be a visual spectacle.
Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld (Saturday)
And for the end, we have two sequels. This isn’t on purpose, by the way, since I sorted these by the date on which they premiere. It just happened to work out the way it did.
Anyways, Sword Art Online is a franchise that everyone who has any kind of contact with anime should be familiar with, lest they’ve been living under a rock for most of this decade. It’s a franchise that people either hate with a passion (and are usually very vocal about it), or one you absolutely love. Then there’s a bunch of people who just think it’s decent, if flawed, which includes me. Still, just because I could list some problems I have with it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy it. Hell, this will be the show’s fourth two-cour season, and I’m still watching, so it’s obviously doing quite a few things right.
Alicization’s first half finished in March this year, and became many people’s favorite installment of the franchise. I’m not one of those people, as it fell a few steps short of Sword Art Online II for me (if we discount the GGO-based spin-off), but a lot of Alicization‘s downfalls came due to its occasionally lacking visuals, especially in the show’s latter stages when A-1 Pictures were just scrambling to find whatever staff they could to finish the project. Another minor issue I had with Alicization was its slow, exposition-heavy middle.
While we can’t know if War of Underworld will be an improvement on the visual front, it is at the very least safe to assume that it will be. It follows a half-year gap between seasons, and moreover, A-1 Pictures—who used to pump out anime like it’s nobody’s business—have only made one other anime this year (with Fairy Tail technically ongoing, but now finished), meaning that they’ll hopefully be able to put more focus into what’s undoubtedly their flagship franchise. The pacing issues that the first half had shouldn’t be present at all in War of Underworld, given how we’ve now gotten through all the necessary exposition, and it should be smooth sailing from here.
Nothing has changed on the technical front. Same studio, same director, same animation director and action director (only the one since the other one bailed a few episodes into Alicization) and the same directors of photography (for better or worse). Sword Art Online has shown steady improvement throughout its previous seasons, and even though Alicization proved to be a bumpy ride on occasion, its continuation is shaping up to be the series’ best installment yet.
Chihayafuru 3 (Tuesday)
But now it’s time for SAO to step aside and for my most anticipated anime of the season to take center stage. Enter the third season of the ever-so-wonderful Chihayafuru, an anime based on a fairly obscure Japanese sport that revolves around slapping cards on the ground as quickly as you can. It’s kind of like a game of concentration, except there’s only one of each card, you can see the cards, and it’s based on how good your reflexes are instead of relying only on your memory. And the cards have classical Japanese poems on them. So it’s nothing like concentration at all.
I first began watching this at the behest of a certain Twitter user who wouldn’t shut up about it, and I dilligently started around mid-winter in the hopes that I’d catch up before season 3 starts. Then season 3 got delayed to fall, and I didn’t have to worry about it. And even though this one person swore by it, I still couldn’t have anticipated it being as good as it was. With karuta being a game in which the participants sit perfectly still most of the time, it turned out to be surprisingly engrossing to watch. Pair that up with some extremely strong character drama—rather typical of a lot of josei anime—and you have yourself a recipe for success.
I could wax lyrical about this one for ages, but I feel I’d be doing it a disservice if I did. Even though its episode count of 50 (74 in about half a year’s time) looks menacing, it really is something that needs to be seen. If you’re a fan of sports anime or character dramas (two categories which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive), or just good anime in general, you really can’t go without this one.
Much like with War of Underworld, not much can be said on the technical side here. The staff from previous seasons are all returning, most notably Morio Asaka, who is a great director. With the show in good hands creatively, as well as the fact that Chihayafuru just keeps getting better (and won’t stop, based on some murmurs I’ve heard from manga readers), it’s understandable that this is far and above the anime I’m most looking forward to in the fall season.
And those are all my picks for fall. Despite some high-profile sequels, it’s not looking like the most packed season, although that may just be because summer was so stacked with good anime that almost anything would look weaker in comparison.
If my picks were all you were interested in, then you can stop reading here, but I’ll briefly mention a few anime that didn’t make the cut.
The potential picks:
Val x Love (Director: Takashi Naoya, Studio: Hoods Entertainment)
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for dumb ecchi harems. Seldom are they great, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t thoroughly enjoy watching them. And, based on the premise alone, this looks like another one of those. And it’s being animated by none other than Hoods Entertainment, the makers of the delightfully atrocious Seikon no Qwaser! What more could I ask for?
Well, not much. It even airs on Saturday, which only has SAO in it, meaning that I could watch it without much difficulty, or even do it a day later if need be (since Sunday is empty). My only issue about picking this one is that I’m not sure just how far down the ecchi rabbit hole it goes, and whether or not it will air censored (since that sometimes happens with these). Still, if it turns out that its TV airing is uncensored, then I may well pick this one up down the line.
Assassins Pride (Director: Kazuya Aiura, Studio: EMT Squared)
I’m actually really interested in this one, and it looks like it could be good. In fact, it was among my picks up to the moment when the air dates got revealed, and it turned out that it was coming out on Thursday, along with three other things I wanted to watch. And from there, it just fell apart, since I wanted to go for Choyoyu a bit more than this, so Assassins Pride got relegated to most likely being part of my 2019 catch-up, and I’ll watch it when it nears its end.
The only reason I call it a potential pick is that there’s a chance, no matter how slim, that I might drop something airing on Thursday, in which case I’m definitely picking this one up mid-season.
The near misses:
Kandagawa Jet Girls (Director: Hiraku Kaneko, Studio: TNK)
See Val x Love. This falls pretty much in the same category. I mean, come on, it’s being done by Hiraku Kaneko, who I have an odd fascination with because he seems to be one of the few primarily ecchi directors who seems to care about the quality of the end product. Add to that TNK, the creators of the first three seasons of High School DxD, and surely you’ve got something that I’d watch.
Except it airs on Tuesday. Granted, only Chihayafuru is there, but given that there’s going to be a barrage of anime on the two days after that, I didn’t feel like putting this one here. Rest assured that I’ll watch it sooner or later, though. I can’t not watch it.
Kabukichou Sherlock (Director: Ai Yoshimura, Studio: Production I.G) and Fate/Grand Order: Zettai Majuu Sensen Babylonia (Director: Toshifumi Akai, Studio: CloverWorks)
I list these two together for basically the same reason: they’re two-cour series.
There’s no real problem with that per se, except for the fact that I don’t like having too many holdovers. The reason behind that being that I want to watch as much new anime in a season as possible, and having too many things from past seasons clogging things up prevents me from doing that. And the two sequels I have will both be two-cour, and some shows still have their episode counts unconfirmed, so these two ended up getting axed.
Psycho-Pass 3 (Director: Naoyoshi Shiotani, Studio: Production I.G)
I was kinda excited for this one when the announcement dropped. Then they kept completely quiet about it despite the fall season getting ever closer, which was worrying and made me think it would get delayed. Then they did announce the details of its production, and matters somehow got worse.
I’m almost tempted to watch this one just to witness the almost inevitable trainwreck that it’s going to become, or even be surprised when it’s good against all odds. But I simply don’t have the time to run these kinds of experiments, so I’ll leave this one to the people who have the mental strength to sit through eight double-length episodes written by the man who brought you the universally-beloved Psycho Pass 2.
And that’s it. This post has run on for way longer than I thought, and I have no idea how to end these things anyways, so I’ll just leave it here.
See you soon. I hope. At the very least I’ll be doing the same thing for the winter season, so you won’t have to wait ten more months for another one.
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“What is happening here?” Mero asked, not attempting to hide the hostility directed at her sister.
“Oh yeah, I guess Flora died before explaining the situation,” Electra replied, without even so much as looking in the dead princess’ direction. “You see, now that three of the four people who sealed Maia away are dead, and the fourth is badly injured, she’s free to come back. Well, her mind is, at least. Her body is all but dead, and it’s impossible for her to return without a vessel, which is why she couldn’t do it all this time.”
“Wait, by vessel, do you mean…”
“I’ll let her explain herself,” Electra said with a smile.
Clara leapt from rooftop to rooftop, keeping a close eye on Flora while making sure that the princess wouldn’t notice her. It took some catching up, but now she was finally on her tail. She considered taking her out there and then, but since there was a more than decent chance of her not being able to take Flora on singlehandedly, she decided against taking that risk. For now, all she had to do was follow her and see where she went, then regroup and come back with everyone else.
Where is she going, though? I thought she’d go back to the castle, given the current situation, but she’s swerving around the streets a bit too much.
Before anyone got the chance to strike first, Lucian jumped in between the two of them. He wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, but he hoped that this would delay the fight.
“What are you doing?!” Mero asked.
“I can’t let you fight her!” Lucian insisted.
“Oh, you’re protecting me? Well, I guess that’s to be expected.”
Everyone else looked at him, shocked, but Sophie seemed successful at connecting the dots in her head.
Her voice drifted off after the red-haired woman pressed the tip of her blade against Lucian’s nape. His eyes went wide, his hands trembled and his determination wavered.
“I appreciate the gesture,” she said, “but could you get out of the way now? Unless you want me to take care of you first, that is.”