Yata’s 2018 Anime Year in Review / Top 10

Alright, 2018’s done, my big ol’ annual music writeup’s been published, and now all that’s left on my plate is rebooting this place. First of all, thank you so much for your patience throughout For Great Justice’s hiatus the last several months. It should operate at normal capacity again starting this month, with the three usual seasonal coverage articles as well as Weekly Rundowns over on my Twitter.

Our little hiatus from covering anime didn’t extend to me taking a break from actually watching it, however! In addition to a handful of movies, I completed 31 seasonal series and dropped 38, making good on my resolution to be a bit more selective about what I do with my time this year.

The dedicated otaku among you are bound to be familiar with most or all of these titles already, but the goal of this list isn’t just to recap what I loved this year. I’m also aiming to give people who don’t follow seasonal anime often or at all an idea of what they might enjoy from 2018 regardless of whether or not I did. Still, I’m gonna be pretty blunt about what I personally thought of these shows, so if you loved something I couldn’t stand or vice versa, do not view any of what follows as a personal attack. These are just my quick, oversimplified takeaways.

As usual, this will be done in tiers until the Top 10, which all get their own dedicated entries. We’ll start with the worst of the dropped titles then gradually move up to the completed, more positive ones. Sound good to y’all? I’m ready. I’m more than ready. Welcome to my 2018 in anime!

DROPPED SHOWS

LIKE SOMEONE SLIPPING YOU A LAXATIVE BROWNIE YOU GET WISE TO A FEW BITES IN BUT AT THAT POINT IT’S ALL ABOUT DAMAGE CONTROL


That’s right, we’re starting off with the crap of the crop via toilet humor, perfect for a show like Pop Team Epic. One episode was enough for me to tell its brand of reference comedy, “gross is good” philosophy, and near-inability to string together coherent segments was firmly not for me. Sure, it boasted some creative art and animation (the Hellshake Yano bit deserved every ounce of short-lived viral fame it got), but the spirit behind the show I otherwise found unbearably lowbrow, like a really lackluster Adult Swim title trying too hard to outdo its established competition.

Back Street Girls: Gokudolls—about three failed yakuza who involuntarily get sex reassignment surgery for their boss’ amusement—suffered the same fate and was rightfully criticized by the trans community for being vulgar, misleading, and exploitative in pursuit of cheap laughs. It’s not all moral repugnance here at the bottom though; Angels of Death scores this low simply for being the edgiest show I’ve attempted in a while. A childish notion of “horror” domineers this thing, and it falls laughably short of its goal of being a scary “escape the place” narrative about some stoic girl getting chased around by murderers. Its mystery aspects were a bit more enticing, but with characters and half-hearted shock value this grating, there was no chance I’d stick around.

And honestly, all I wish about Darling in the FranXX is that I had came to that same conclusion earlier than episode fucking 12. Remember Butt Handles: The Animation? I remember. I wish I could forget. Not only was it a middling mech show with a sloppily-constructed dystopian edge at its core, but its grand ol’ message seemed to boil down to “Gay Is Not The Way,” which uh…yeah, I don’t think I have to say any more than that. FranXX did though, with generally irritating characters and inconsistent, indulgent “worldbuilding” watering down every moment. Shinzo Abe’s Nation Re-Fertilization Station may have been a commercial success, but it was a critical flop.

NOT QUITE AS DESERVING OF TOTAL SUSPICION AS A WHITE MAN HAPPILY WALKING OUT OF A GUN SHOP WITH A PURCHASE, BUT CLOSE


Learning my lesson from FranXX, these tiles I dropped not because they burst out of the gates flinging shit in my face, but because I had the sneaking suspicion they would if I gave them any benefit of the doubt. Grand Blue Dreaming is the “stuck in a fraternity” nightmare I didn’t know I had, supposedly a show about a diving club, but in actuality a show about a bunch of college-age macho men who use the diving club as an excuse to strip, drink, and party. Its visual style was painfully generic and its premise is the complete antithesis of what’s up my alley, so that was an easy drop.

By that same logic, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is a good show, or so I’ve been told. One episode probably wasn’t enough exposure for me to make an accurate assessment of it, but that’s all I gave myself before concluding it was another isekai show I had no interest in, even if it somehow scrounged up a more unique sense of identity. The genre’s so rarely my cup of tea, and nothing I saw in Slime’s pilot indicated I would grow fond of it with time.

Not to be outdone, Island’s mid-2000s visual novel adaptation aesthetic and trio of loli “love” interests almost shattered the Suspicion-ometer completely. I don’t care that there’s apparently some sort of grander mystery afoot, miss me with the unrepentant loli bait. Happy Sugar Life could also use that advice, and I’d only suggest it to you if instead of teasing lolis, you prefer your main characters to psychotically murder in order to “protect” them. The “twist” that the show’s main character was a yandere was obvious from a mile away even though its whole pilot relied on it being a surprise, and that didn’t bode well for the level of faith it had in its audience. Easy pass.

Ḯ͚͇͙̼̼̖̗͐́ ̖͔͓ͦ͗̂̎̈̉ͦC̼̮̪̟̱͖̰͐̏̋ͭ̓̐̕A̡̻̤̦̙͇Ṋͮͥ̈́’̴ͧ̈ͫT̛̫̖͕̠̰͍̬ ͔̍͗ͤ̚͡ͅT̤ͦ͌̑H͓ͥ̓̈́Ǐ͙̝̳͚̰͈̠̇̽N̻͎̭̒̅͟K̭̟͍͞ ̯̞͂ͫ̇ͫ͌͒͊A̖̼̳̦͈̝̻̒B͍O̺ͩ͟U͕͈̖ͥ̾̐̿̑ͮ͂T͍̠̱̳͓̙̍̐̈́́́̾͢ ̦̘̣͔̔͗̃́͑T͚̪͇͈̬̩͎̾̏̏͒̒H̻̘Ë̫͍́ ̦̬ͦͭͬB͕͍͖̩̲O̔́O̖̖̗̒̇K̟̼͎̥̈̾ͦ


And now we’ve reached that zone of titles I can barely remember anything about, but I’ll try my darnedest. Tsukumogami Kashimasu was a stilted youkai series set in Edo. Gurazeni was a limp and lifelessly-animated Moneyball. Holmes of Kyoto and Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi were completely forgettable shoujo filler, the former with a “detective” twist, the latter with a fantasy one. Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles was a show dedicated solely to the premise of its title and failed to mold it into a compelling hook. Apparently some people really enjoyed Slow Start, but with a squeaky cast as devoid of personality as I saw in its pilot, I knew I wouldn’t be one of them. Iroduku: The World in Colors admittedly had some neat setting details and magical lore, but its main character displayed the charisma of a pebble and that nullified all its positive traits, while gag comedy Chio’s School Road occasionally had a funny idea, but its clever and tedious ones alike all wound up far too dragged out to land.

THREE CHILDREN STACKED ATOP ONE ANOTHER IN A TRENCHCOAT PRETENDING TO BE ONE ADULT: THE ANIME


Whew, finally, shows with purpose…even if that purpose was ripping off its inspirations or trying to convince audiences it had the chops to be the title it really wanted to be. Let’s start off with the former category: 3D Kanojo: Real Girl shot for the Oregairu approach to bitter teenage romanticism and couldn’t escape the shadow of its muse. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl-Senpai did the same with an additional Monogatari-like supernatural harem twist. Seven Senses of the Re’Union was essentially Grimgar + AnoHana, and while I like those two shows the same way I like toast and butter, neither it nor Seven Senses were all that appetizing so stale. It could’ve used some spice the same way Release the Spyce could’ve stood to be anything more than Princess Principal Lite, stripped of its creativity in favor of kawaii antics.

The rest of these? I suppose Hanebado’s inspiration can’t be traced back to any one specific sports show, but aside from its seldom represented sport of choice in badminton, virtually nothing set it apart or sold it as a must-watch. B: The Beginning and Kokkoku, meanwhile, had interesting sci-fi concepts, but stumbled over themselves in execution and didn’t look particularly appealing to the eye either. The demi-human premise of The Frankenstein Family also intrigued me even if it seemed to be riding the monster-person trend, but as one of those Chinese co-productions whose international distribution lagged hard, it was difficult to come by and only let me down with shoddy, cold writing once I did manage to see it.

JOY AS AN ACT OF INDIFFERENCE


But now we’re finally getting to stuff that seemed genuinely tolerable, albeit not exciting enough for me to want to stick with. Boarding School Juliet and Harukana Receive looked like decent genre filler for fans of shounen action rom-coms and cutesier sports shows respectively, though neither left me particularly impressed. I also saw potential in Aggretsuko and Skullface Bookseller Honda-san’s surreal portrayals of a draining working life, though both felt a little too reliant on repetitive gags to keep my attention.

As Miss Beelzebub Likes It’s dumb fanservice aside, Haru almost succeeded in encouraging me to give its adorable take on “hell” a full shot, but I ran out of steam before the show really got rolling. On a slightly higher note, How to Keep a Mummy appeared to be a charming little series about a few friends who wound up caring for adorable pocket-sized creatures. Comic Girls seemed promising too, offering a compelling look into various frustrations of the creative process, and rounding this group out, Cells at Work was anime’s sufficient, if rather formulaic, take on Osmosis Jones.

SACRIFICES TO APPEASE THE OVERLORDS OF SPACE-TIME


Whereas I had reservations with all the above shows to some degree, this final batch was simply out of the question due to its comparative competition and how much time I wanted to spend on anime while they were airing. Ashita no Joe 50th anniversary title Megalo Box and this year’s reboot of Gegege no Kitarou were plenty respectable, especially if you find yourself privy to the former’s “me against the world” rags-to-riches boxing concept or the latter’s supernatural monsters kid’s show deal.

If you want the other sort of monster, Uma Musume: Pretty Derby evolved from a head-scratching “wow, this sure is an anime” meme about horse-girls to an underground critical darling, but I was in no hurry to catch that train before it left the station. Hakumei and Mikochi was just as imaginative but drew the short end of the stick airing in one of the most packed seasons in recent memory, along with the easygoing young adult slice-of-life Takunomi. And last but not least, I got about halfway through the extremely average love triangle Tada Never Falls in Love and could’ve probably stood to finish it too, for no other reason than getting more blessed Nyanko Big material. But alas, I didn’t, and we must all live with the consequences of our decisions.

COMPLETED SHOWS

MAYBE THE REAL TREASURE WAS THE ANIME WE GREW TIRED OF ALONG THE WAY


As I mentioned earlier, I mostly made good on my resolution to drop more shows that I wasn’t actively enjoying this year, but that didn’t stop me from finishing this batch anyway. It helped that some of them were shorter than usual; absurd conspiracy plot To Be Heroine was only simulcast in abridged form, candy-oriented skit show Dagashi Kashi 2s episode length was slashed in half, and the lesser of FLCL’s two 2018 “sequels,” Alternative, was a mere 6 episodes. Getting through these three wasn’t at all a slog—I just felt they missed the mark.

The longer titles didn’t fare as well. I actually dropped dork-centric workplace rom-com Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku and the grand ol’ government cover-up frenzy Banana Fish at their respective halfway points only to marathon each one’s conclusion when I was really bored…not that finishing them did much to reverse my prior ambivalence. The worst offender by far had to be The Ancient Magus’ Bride, though, a 2-cour fantasy adventure whose manga I actually enjoyed quite a bit. This anime adaptation, however, was bogged down by dull direction, lopsided pacing, and often stilted visuals. It just wasn’t a satisfying show.

DAMN./10


But rest easy, the remainder of the list is all stuff I enjoyed! Of this lot, Mitsuboshi Colors was by far the weakest production, but its bratty gremlin-child protagonists were such a joy to vicariously live through that it didn’t really matter. Down-to-earth gag comedy Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san got by on the same appeal, albeit in more of an “elementary school crush wish fulfillment: femdom edition” sort of way.

As for the more ambitious titles, who can forget the most Bananice show of the summer, Revue Starlight? Its hit or miss cast sucked me out of the experience at times, but its sense of theatrical flair and commentary on competition and growth understandably won a lot of people over. That same season, I also caught up on Lupin III: Part V, which was only my second exposure to the franchise after Fujiko Mine. Suffice it to say the more joking tone of this installment took some getting used to and I don’t think it always lent itself well to the series’ broader themes on the omnipresence of technology, though it, like the rest of these shows, was still a sufficiently satisfying ride.

USING INTENSE CALMNESS , AS THE DRAGON, WHILE DEALING WITH PEOPLES SHITMOUTH


Presuming you’ve been mildly agitated at me for not connecting with [your favorite aforementioned show here], now it’s time to turn the tables, because these titles were…good, actually? I mean, Food Wars: The Third Plate – Totsuki Train Arc didn’t get a lot of flak now that the franchise is 5 cours in and everyone less hot on it jumped ship long ago.

But man, did I have to deal with some bewildered looks after expressing my love for stuff like the indulgent yuri smut of Citrus, the over-the-top Sword Art Online spinoff Alternative: Gun Gale Online, and the more fulfilling of this year’s FLCL continuations, Progressive.

The creative military adventure of Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan is—somehow—probably the most divisive pick of the bunch, let down by a curveball of a final arc that didn’t fully coalesce with the rest of the show. That aside, its overall production and its voice performances in particular were fantastic from start to finish. Criticizing sexism in the workplace is always welcome, and it’s especially welcome when it’s accompanied by giant blobby dragons.

None of these were truly “great” shows, but I definitely looked forward to them and enjoyed my time with them in spite of—no, because of—how inherently ridiculous they were. Something something “one’s man’s trash…”

AT THIS TIME WE KINDLY REQUEST THAT YOU PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONES


The only thing I truly regret with this list is not being able to see more ani-films in 2018, whether that be because I was busy the few nights they were screening around here or because they weren’t screened around here at all (thanks a ton, Eleven Arts). Stuff like Penguin Highway, Mirai, Maquia, Fireworks, and I Want to Eat Your Pancreas will all have to wait until next January at the soonest for an on-site assessment.

But I didn’t miss out on every 2018 (or late-arriving 2017) movie, my favorite of which was undoubtedly Chuunibyou: Take on Me, the goofy, touching, and surprisingly grand climax to the Chuunibyou franchise. In a close second, the highly-lauded Liz and the Blue Bird was much colder in its grounded drama and more ambitious in its cinematography, an easy recommendation for fans of the Sound! Euphonium franchise (of which it is a side story) and sharp character dramas in general.

Rounding this section out, Flavors of Youth was a neat yet sort of unfocused collection of three Chinese-set short films in one, Lu Over The Wall was yet another vibrant, imaginative fantasy by my favorite active anime director, Masaaki Yuasa, and the hour-long OVA of Kase-san and Morning Glories was one of the most wholesome, adorable romances I watched this year. It was frustrating to not get to witness any more of the movies everyone else in the community was raving about, but I’m at least content that I enjoyed all five that I did manage to see.

THESE HONORABLE MENTIONS’ PARENTS SHOULD BE VERY PROUD


And we’re almost at the top ten, so it’s time for the final batch of titles that didn’t make the cut!

First, the still-ending Tsurune has been hitting some fantastic high points lately, fleshing out its cast in small but vital ways. The show’s archery background gives it a niche to stand out in, but at its core it’s a sports story not just about determination and persistence, but also the ability to let go of personal grudges and traumas. A little run-of-the-mill? Sure, but it’s got that [chef’s kiss] Kyoto Animation touch that can improve just about anything.

Speaking of which, the studio had an even bigger hit this year: Violet Evergarden, the story of a child soldier trying to understand her emotions and loss in a world of tentative peacetime. Its animation was widely praised for good reason, and when the series was operating at its best, some of its episodes were flawless tearjerkers. The show as a whole was just held back by episodic inconsistency and a lead character some found too distant to resonate with.

Episodic inconsistency also plagued the frustratingly un-Googleable Planet With, but its themes of never writing off people’s capacity to do good was a Great Justice™ message with a strong final arc to match. Let’s just…not talk about its sound design though, my ears can only relive so much.

In other news, just like water is wet, My Hero Academia Season 3 was a solid season of My Hero Academia. College-set slice-of-exercise series Run With The Wind also hasn’t slouched yet either, though it’s only half-done, so it’s not eligible for inclusion in this year’s top 10.

And finally, a bit of jarring CG and a finale that didn’t wrap up enough loose ends aside, the inspirational undead idol comedy Zombieland Saga did virtually nothing else wrong, but those minor setbacks were enough to place it just outside the cut-off point. Still, I highly recommend you give it a shot if it slipped by you—it has wide appeal and boasts some of the funniest and most heartfelt moments in anime this year, as does everything else ahead. Drumroll, please!

THE TOP 10

#10 – GOLDEN KAMUY

Studio: Geno
Director: Hitoshi Nanba
Writer: Noboru Takagi
Episodes: 24 (12 per season)
Based on: manga by Satoru Noda
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll/VRV, Funimation
Licensing status: Licensed by Crunchyroll
Dub status: Dubbed

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
After the end of his service in the Russo-Japanese War, former soldier Saichi “The Immortal” Sugimoto hears a rumor about a hidden cache of Ainu gold, said to only be accessible if one collects the skins of escaped convicts and pieces together the “maps” tattooed on them. Sugimoto initially decides to seek out the gold to provide for the widow of one of his late comrades, but his determination starts to change after he meets and travels with Asirpa, a young Ainu girl who seeks to avenge her father’s supposed death at the hands of other gold-hunters. Along their journey, they partner with and challenge other eccentric individuals and groups all after the gold for their own ends.

WHY I LIKED IT
First and foremost, the thing that drew me to Golden Kamuy was its reputation for its positively-displayed and thoroughly-researched depiction of Ainu culture. The Ainu are a people who inhabited what is now Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, and similar areas around the modern-day oceanic boundaries of Japan and Russia. They were gradually invaded, discriminated against, and forcibly assimilated by an increasingly nationalistic Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Golden Kamuy is set.

In spite of this, the show never knocks down; its Ainu cast’s endeavor to continue their way of life is regarded as completely sensible and legitimate, and Asirpa, along with the Japanese she befriends, learn about each other’s cultures in mutually beneficial ways to survive in the wilderness or negotiate against their enemies. History shows that this relationship was rarely as cordial, but Kamuy doesn’t brush over that so much as present a tale of individuals whose experiences and goals urge them to celebrate their differences instead of use them to advocate for one’s superiority.

Indeed, “cross-cultural friendship in the midst of imperialism” is the thematic backbone of Golden Kamuy, but that means nothing without great character writing or a gripping narrative, and thankfully it delivers on both those fronts as well. I called its characters “eccentric” above, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the dark humor that underlies almost every scenario Sugimoto, Asirpa, and their revolving door of company find themselves in. The specifics are best left unspoiled for peak comedy, but rest assured that Kamuy rarely goes an episode without invoking multiple fits of laughter. It knows when and how to take itself seriously too, never stalling too long in one area before moving on to another, and while the story doesn’t officially “conclude” with the end of the second season, the point it leaves us at is a satisfying one regardless.

ANY CAVEATS?
Honestly, the biggest hurdle of Golden Kamuy (aside from its very demented, morbid sense of humor) is its first few episodes. The pilot is an unceremonious infodump to get the viewer acclimated, and while it’s sadly essential to watch, it doesn’t clue you in to what the rest of the show really feels like or just how fun it can get. As for the direction and production, Kamuy is easily the least outstanding show in the top 10 as well, with widely-mocked CG bears and animation gaffes aplenty.

FINAL REMARKS
In spite of its flaws though, Golden Kamuy is able to carry one thing that most of my honorable mentions didn’t: enthusiasm through momentum. Once the narrative gets rolling, there are no brakes on the train, and its silly cast of heroes, villains, and bystanders alike unconditionally kept me eager for more. It may not be the most accomplished anime I saw in 2018, but it was without a doubt one I consistently looked forward to and enjoyed. Its heart needs to count for something.

#9 – DEVILMAN CRYBABY

Studio: Science Saru
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi
Episodes: 10
Based on: manga by Go Nagai
Legal streaming sites: Netflix
Licensing status: Licensed by Netflix
Dub status: Dubbed

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Sociopathic wunderkind Ryo Asuka arrives back in Japan after a disastrous experiment abroad confirmed the existence of violent, human-eating demons. Instead of preventing their influence, he attempts to accelerate the rate at which they multiply, using his childhood friend Akira Fudo as a test subject. Akira, however, is able to temper the strength of the demon within him, and tries adapting to his new body and role as something between human and demona Devilmanwhile the rest of the world swiftly gets absorbed in the resultant divine chaos.

WHY I LIKED IT
Masaaki Yuasa.

I’m half-joking. For all intents and purposes, the nihilism and dark energy Devilman Crybaby breeds is not something I gravitate towards in any work of fiction. Go Nagai’s original story is pretty fucked up, and Crybaby only amplifies its violent viscera through a transposed modern setting and Yuasa’s mind-bending direction. Ryo’s motivations I could never tolerate for reasons I’ll leave undisclosed here, but he is a tantalizing antagonist, and I immediately felt for the rest of the cast suffering as a result of his psychopathy. When Crybaby peaks, it’s impossible to not feel the weight of mankind’s collapse on both a macro and microcosmic scale. This reference may be lost on non-music junkies, but I’ve compared the series to the classic era of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s material, and I stand by that; the two conjure an unnerving, all-enveloping snapshot of the apocalypse and are all the more heart-crushing for how hope persists for a while only to fizzle out in the end.

ANY CAVEATS?
What, you mean besides the downer ending and the graphic sex and violence and the freeform animation and the pessimistic commentary on man’s will and all the characters you’ll grow to love living in torment?

Yeah, it’s easier to just not suggest Devilman Crybaby, but that’s not exactly what a Top 10 is for, now is it?

FINAL REMARKS
Though I haven’t always lived by this principle, it’s a good change of pace to get a taste of art outside your wheelhouse, and Crybaby certainly resides outside mine. However, its reputation didn’t materialize out of thin airthis series is extremely powerful stuff, the sort of story that will make you want to curl up in bed with a warm blanket and have a good ol’ existential cry when all’s said and done. I did just that not once but twice this year, even knowing the second time what twists were to come. If dark fantasies are up your alley, you’d be a fool to skip Devilman Crybaby. If they aren’t, I can’t blame you for passing on it. But if you’re somewhere in the middle, just know that once you harden your soul, the experience it delivers is an emotionally devastating and near-aesthetically flawless one well deserving of the praise it’s been given.

#8 – BLOOM INTO YOU

Studio: Troyca
Director: Makoto Katou
Writer: Jukki Hanada
Episodes: 13
Based on: manga by Nio Nakatani
Legal streaming sites: HIDIVE/VRV
Licensing status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Dubbed
Alternate name: Yagate Kimi ni Naru

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
First-year high-schooler Yuu Koito bonds with her senior and Student Council President Touko Nanami over not quite understanding the firsthand emotion of “love” in the conventional sense. The closer they get, however, the more Touko starts to develop passionate feelings for Yuu, and the more vulnerable she in turn allows herself to be around her. In the process, Yuu learns of the personal pressures Touko is putting on herself, and with the help of the rest of the Student Council, tries to help give her guidance out of that pain.

WHY I LIKED IT
There’s a lot to like about Bloom Into You, from its tasteful depiction of lesbian, bi-sexual, and aro relationships to its undramatized presentation of stress. Its title works on multiple levels, all of which are equally valuable to the weight of the narrative: as Touko develops feelings for Yuu, she begs her to not reciprocate them, fearing she’ll grow too attached and lose touch with herself. As it turns out, that’s something she’s already trying to do intentionally, molding her own personality to be closer to that of a deceased relative she feels intensely determined to emulate.

Though Bloom Into You keeps its romantic action pertinent, the story gradually evolves into one of that transcends the simple genre classification of “romance.” By its end, it’s really a coming-of-age tale, one where Touko, in spite of being lightly tugged back by Yuu, her other friends in the Council, and her family, wanders headfirst into a persona that she herself doesn’t fully feel comfortable in or understand, even if she adamantly insists it’s natural or positive for her. Anyone whose teenage years were spent wading through this limbo or who observed their friends stuck in a similar tangle will likely connect with how easy it is to diagnose what’s weighing a person down but not know how to approach them about it. At its core, that’s where Bloom Into You’s uniqueness lies. Everything else, from the superb voice acting to the phenomenal character animation is just icing on the cake.

ANY CAVEATS?
I suppose that depends on what you come to the series hoping to find. Though Bloom Into You is considered a fantastic contribution to the narratives of queer characters in anime, their sexual orientation is rarely made the overt focus of anything in the story. For what’s been adapted in this season at least, these characters are complex people, and they’re treated as such. I’d argue that’s even better for normalization than a series dedicated to exploring sexuality as its focus, but really, that’s all a matter of preference. What isn’t is the objective fact that this adaptation ends a little prematurely. It leaves the cast in a place suggestive of happier times ahead, but does not concretely see them off at that point.

FINAL REMARKS
All of this is to say that, for me, that abrupt ending was the only notable stumble Bloom Into You made. It rarely swept my heart away in throes of adolescent confusion, but then again, that’s not the sort of show it was trying to be. Bloom Into You is a more cerebral but no less approachable look into one’s expectationshow they can fuel us or fail us, and how we seek to truly know “ourselves” and the “ourselves” our loved ones project to the world. It’s soft-spoken and ultimately leaves some of its themes hanging in mid-air, but traversing them with this cast was an absolute delight. A must-watch for fans of romance and/or character dramas.

#7 – ASOBI ASOBASE

Studio: Lerche
Director: Seiji Kishi
Writer: Yuuko Kakihara
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Rin Suzukawa
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll/VRV
Licensing status: Not licensed
Dub status: Not dubbed
Alternate name: Asobi Asobase: Workshop of Fun

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
At a totally normal all-girls school, a booksmart student named Kasumi approaches a white classmate, Olivia, with the hope that she’ll help improve her English skills. Turns out Olivia doesn’t actually know English, but she plays along with Kasumi’s request just long enough for them and a third girl, the vain and dense rich kid Hanako, to form a very unstable, often adversarial “friendship.” In the gags that follow, the three idiots and their club contend with both the terrifyingly mundane and the profoundly bizarre in their effort to kill time at school and not end up as completely hopeless social outcasts.

WHY I LIKED IT
Asobi Asobase is one of the best anime comedies in recent memory. To clarify, I’m not saying that it’s the best show that contains comedy or even that it’s the “funniest,” but it’s clearly mastered the art of setting up drama, redirecting your expectations and then selling punchlines to a virtually unmatched degree.

Granted this show takes place in a universe where family butlers shoot lasers out of their anuses, so it’s not like anything’s really in its ballpark to begin with. That’s still selling it short, though, because its humor takes so many forms. There are some gross-out gags, some psychological horror, some easy but brilliantly-delivered slapstick, and even a bit of anti-humor. Asobi’s comedic palate is so wide and its characters so bafflingly dumb it’s impossible to say for sure what the show or its cast will do next, how they will in turn react to that, or what standard it will set going forward.

As a result, like the best serialized comedies, most of Asobi’s finest moments come after long, suspicious buildups stretched across several episodes, resulting in payoffs well worth the wait to gags you either didn’t realize were being set up in the first place or were purportedly already resolved. And then there’s the voice performancesmy God, someone check in on Hina Kino and make sure she’s giving her vocal cords some rest. Everyone in this cast nails their roles, but her delivery as Hanako is the craziest voice acting of the year, bar none.

ANY CAVEATS?
It’s said that comedy is the most subjective form of entertainment, and I can imagine some people not vibing with how narcissistic and petty some of these characters arebut mostly on like, a hypothetical level, if that makes sense. Unlike the other “comedies” on this list, there isn’t much additional character development or long-term stakes. What gets exposed about these folks through these gags is more or less all that gets exposed about themand while I found Asobi to get a ton of mileage out of that, at first by planting the protagonists in unimaginable situations and later by expanding the cast’s sizeif you’re looking for something “deep” out of Asobi, you’ll probably be disappointed.

FINAL REMARKS
Just as comedy is subjective, though, “depth” is relative. Asobi Asobase doesn’t need to offer particularly poignant social commentary or make you feel for these characters. In fact, the opposite is kind of the point: everyone in Asobi has a few screws loose, and which character you’ll cheer on tends to vary from skit to skit once you deduce who’s trying to out-Always Sunny who. More often than not, it doesn’t matter which one of them “wins”the real winner is you, laying witness to all their absurdity and not having to stick around to clean up the aftermath. It’s 2018’s most versatile gag comedy, and if the sound of that in any way interests you, please give it a shot.

#6 – SSSS.GRIDMAN

Studio: Trigger
Director: Akira Amemiya
Writer: Keiichi Hasegawa
Episodes: 12
Based on: anime-original story inspired by prior anime Gridman the Hyper Agent
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll/VRV, Funimation
Licensing status:
Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: Dubbed

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
As kaiju start attacking their city, three high-school studentsamnesiac Yuuta Hibiki, Ultra geek Shou Utsumi, and listless family shop clerk Rikka Takaradaband together to form the “Gridman Alliance” after Yuuta merges with a computer from Rikka’s shop to fend off the threats. With other help not far behind, the Alliance takes on more monsters by the week and starts to learn the world they inhabit and the mechanics it operates by are not as simple as they seem.

WHY I LIKED IT
Every year there’s one of these shows, the sort of series you have to be really cautious while selling, because its final themes and outlooks are inextricably tied to massive spoilers and vagueness only increases one’s odds at seeing those twists coming. At the same time, I kind of have to go into detail, ‘cause SSSS.Gridman doesn’t make a great case for its early self on paper. I can say that it’s about teenage suburban boredom, and it is. I could also say that it’s about a group of kids who battle monsters with the help of a magical, junked computer, and it is.

But those still aren’t quite Gridman’s final forms. As the world around these protagonists evolves, so too does theirand the audience’sunderstanding of it, and this curiosity, this desire to figure out what the hell is going on before disaster strikes…thats Gridman’s appeal at first. The payoffs do arrive, I assure you of that, but the journey is just as thought-provoking as the destination, and I’d be doing a disservice to say anymore than that.

Well, aside from praising its overall direction, voice acting, and aesthetic creativity. Gridman boasts one of the strongest personalities of any show this year, and while your perception of its setting will surely change with time, my appreciation of its striking worldbuilding and production did not. From the fight scenes and personal standoffs to atmospheric held shots conveying the apathy of a hot summer’s afternoon, Gridman does a damn fine job of immersing you into its sense of place.

ANY CAVEATS?
As with any “wait a while and then it gets good” sort of show, you’re gonna have to, well, you know, wait a while before it gets good. Or “great,” rather, because even when Gridman bides its time, there’s plenty for an observant viewer to pick up on that will make its later twists feel more inevitable than illogical. Beyond that, most of the critiques you could throw at its early material are sure to be rectified by the end. If the premise overall has you intrigued, just have patienceyour gripes may work themselves out before too long.

FINAL REMARKS
Sometimes the closing act of a show just ties everything together so well and gives its (seemingly) stagnant start some meaning. SSSS.Gridman is a textbook example of that, revealing its hand at the last minute so gracefully that I couldn’t help but warm on the experience as a wholeand I had already enjoyed the ride a lot. Eventually I’ll be able to discuss this spoilerific title without walking on eggshells, but until that happens, just give the show a glance and let it do the talking.

#5 – HINAMATSURI

Studio: Feel.
Director: Kei Oikawa
Writer: Keiichiro Ouchi
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Masao Ohtake
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll/VRV, Funimation
Licensing status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: Dubbed

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Extremely average yakuza member Yoshifumi Nitta had a stable life, but everything changed when a bizarre metallic pod teleported into his living room and with it, a naked young girl named Hina. As if her entrance wasn’t confusing enough, she can also use telepathy and she quickly realizes Nitta is too scared of it to kick her out. As the two form an unlikely father-daughter relationship, more telepathic individuals from Hina’s world follow her into this one, and absurd misunderstandings abound.

WHY I LIKED IT
I mentioned earlier that I loved Asobi Asobase and thought its comedic execution was exemplary, but Hinamatsuri’s not too far behind and it has more going for it in other departments. This show is essentially a gag comedy too, with calculated, clever punchlines, brilliant reaction faces, and hilarious voice acting deliveries.

But unlike Asobi, Hinamatsuri evolves into so much more than that; I’m already a sucker for shows that emphasize the importance of friendship and found families, and that this one is able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of them while also constantly poking fun at its characters is just marvelous. With a cast so wide, occupations ranging from middle-school students to mob bosses to homeless people to a frickin’ castaway, there’s an endless reserve of topical material to riff off of, and that’s not even including how the other-dimensional transplants’ psychic powers regularly throw a wrench of their own into everybody’s plans. In spite of all its deadpan digs and slapstick stupidity, Hinamatsuri not only forces those disparate elements together, but manages to encourage compassion and empathy from its cast and audience. Few if any of its characters are “good” people through and through, but they never failed to give me the warm fuzzies.

ANY CAVEATS?
Look, I have a pretty open mind about what someone might hypothetically find troubling or unattractive about a work of media, but with Hinamatsuri, I can’t think of a single skit, character, or theme that might be an inherent turn-off, and indeed, I don’t think I saw any Hinamatsuri hate over the last year aside from a little disappointment over its inconclusive finale. That alone is enough to knock it back a few spots, but it doesn’t make the rest of the show any less gratifying.

FINAL REMARKS
This may not be the definitive “best” anime of 2018, but it might be the one with the widest appeal, and that can be just as valuable. Hinamatsuri is a massive grab bag, but it treats every subject is touches upon with care and a knowing smirk. You want to laugh, cry, and be held in suspense, sometimes all at once? There’s almost nothing else from this year more suited to cover the whole range of human emotion in 24 minutes at a time.

#4 – AFTER THE RAIN

Studio: Wit
Director: Ayumu Watanabe
Writer: Deko Akao
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Jun Mayuzuki
Legal streaming sites: Amazon Video
Licensing status: Licensed by Amazon
Dub status: Not dubbed
Alternate name: Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
After injuring her ankle, high-school track ace Akira Tachibana kills time working at a restaurant, and in her aimless doldrums, begins to develop a crush on her middle-aged, divorced manager, Masami Kondou. The bolder Akira gets with her advances, the more Kondou realizes what’s really driving her desperation, and he tries to help her redirect her feelings while he reflects on his own life to this point and the hobbies he put on the back burner.

WHY I LIKED IT
There are two sorts of pleasant surprises in this world: positive developments that you never saw coming, and disasters you saw coming from leagues away only to be good upon arrival. So the latter goes with After The Rain, a series I only checked out of morbid curiosity at first, and who could blame me? It was marketed in a manner that placed Akira’s crush as the primary hook and seemed to validate the age gap at its core, which made a lot of people skeptical, myself included.

Way to mislead. Not only does After The Rain as a whole discourage Akira from pursuing that sort of relationship, it does so super early, effectively resetting the series before its halfway point and rerouting it into a much richer, down-to-earth character drama instead of an awkward, one-sided romantic indulgence. It’s in this second half where After The Rain evolved from “great” to “fantastic.” Akira coasting into missed opportunities and holding herself back is plenty compelling on its own, but juxtaposed with Kondou’s regrets, the show is all the better for embracing both its leads as protagonists. The two serve as wonderful foils and push each other to find fulfillment not in each other, but in the personal projects they have difficulty committing to.

With an adult co-protagonist like Kondou comes an aged wisdom as well, diluting the fluffy shoujo-isms of Akira’s headspace and grounding the narrative. That’s not to say After The Rain still doesn’t check all the boxes for love-struck teenage girls, but it’s very rewarding beyond that demographic, keeping gratuitous dramatic developments to a minimum and capitalizing on a “less is more” approach of small emotional climaxes and consistently expressive character animation.

ANY CAVEATS?
That praise isn’t to say that After The Rain never stumblesthere’s a somewhat mean-spirited and ultimately inconsequential episode early in its run, but the side character it features is almost never heard from again. In general, the first few episodes of the show play along with its initial premise as well, so if you’re into that foreplay, go wild, but if you’re not, they could be a bit of a chore to get through.

FINAL REMARKS
I can’t promise the style of this show will vibe with everyone and I certainly don’t blame you if you don’t feel like sitting through an uncomfortable, lovey-dovey opening arc to get to the good stuff ™, but even at its most divisive, After The Rain expressed the ennui of young adulthood and the bittersweet drudgery of middle age with grace, clarity, and even a little tasteful humor. Perhaps I’m ranking it so highly because I expected so much worse. Perhaps it’s just that worthy. Fans of poignant dramas, enjoy yourselves with this one. I sure did.

#3 – MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION (SEASON 2)

Studio: SHAFT
Director: Kenjirou Okada and Akiyuki Shinbo
Writer: Yukito Kizawa
Episodes: 22
Based on: manga by Chica Umino
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll/VRV
Licensing status: Licensed by Aniplex of America
Dub status: Dubbed
Alternate names: 3-gatsu no Lion, Sangatsu no Lion

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The worst of professional shogi prodigy Rei Kiriyama’s depression behind him, March’s second season follows his continued attempts to pay back the kindness that his friends, rivals, and “family” lent him as they go through their own trials.

WHY I LIKED IT
First of all, unlike the rest of this Top 10, you can’t just hop in with March Comes In Like a Lion here, so if any of the following gets you curious, go track down its first season and start from the beginning.

That disclaimer out of the way, I don’t know what else I need to say. March is simply my favorite anime franchise from the latter half of the decade, and this second season continues everything that made the first such a personal treasure. Its art is still breathtaking, its writing hasn’t fallen off, its cast is filled with a staggering number of complex and pointedly human characters, and its depictions of extreme emotions, from the first season’s depression to this season’s consequent anger and warmth, are portrayed so true to my own experiences.

All of that is to say that it’s pointless to try pinning down discrete reasons “why” I love March so much: it’s just all the things I look for in storytelling done to the near-best of their ability. As for why I especially loved this second season as a separate entity, seeing Rei go through all the shit he does in season one and come out in a mentally healthier place and actively helping those who helped himprompted or notis tremendously inspirational to me. All the more so for how March doesn’t grant him the luxury of being able to be there for everyone all the time, or even being the key to their problems. Wanting to help is one thingknowing how to help instead of coddle is another, and that doesn’t necessarily come easy for him. In that particularly, I see more of myself in Rei than I had ever before (which, to be clear, was already a lot). The universe of March Comes in Like a Lion is filled with treasures big and small, and this sequel did nothing but enrich it further.

ANY CAVEATS?
None that probably matter to you right now, considering you’ve likely either not seen March at all or have seen it to completion already.

FINAL REMARKS
Lest anyone ask why I’m already overflowing with praise and we’re only at entry #3, taken on their own, both seasons of March Comes in Like a Lion occasionally stumble. And really, what I’ve reviewed here isn’t exclusively my thoughts on this sequel, but March as a whole, and this is one of those franchises far greater than the sum of its parts. Combined, as I mentioned, all its material makes for my favorite anime of the last few years. As a standalone entry, a few things were able to supersede it.

#2 – LAID-BACK CAMP

Studio: C-Station
Director: Yoshiaki Kyougoku
Writer: Jin Tanaka
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Afro
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll/VRV
Licensing status: Licensed by Crunchyroll
Dub status: Not dubbed
Alternate name: Yuru Camp

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Nadeshiko Kagamihara, a cheerful and somewhat ditsy high-schooler, just moved from the ocean to the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture. In love with the natural scenery around her, she befriends a camping loner, Rin Shima, and a few members of their school’s Outdoor Activities Club, as they pass their free time “roughing it” out in the late fall elements.

WHY I LIKED IT
I’m gonna hazard a guess that you, like me, either haven’t been camping before, or have only to find out that those Calvin & Hobbes strips are more reality than fantasy. Congratulations, you’re firmly in the “this’ll never work, they can’t sell me a camping anime with cute girls” category. I was there once too. I’d bet most people who now love Laid-Back Camp were.

And see, it’s because nobody I’ve come across really hates the theoretical impetus behind camping. Nature, we agree, is good. Cool scenery? Sign me up. Friends to share fond memories with and even better friends who recognize you enjoy being there but still need some space? Yeah, Laid-Back Camp has all of that. You know what it doesn’t have? You, actually in nature, sleeplessly stuck in a lopsided tent whose inhabitants include bugs, unwelcome drafts, and at least one early-bird type biding his time before he gets everyone “up” and makes sure they’re having a “good vacation.” Yep, Laid-Back Camp is camping for people who hypothetically enjoy the sensuality and sentimentality behind camping but could do without the critter paranoia, unpredictable weather, and Uncle Pulltab’s bullshit for a week straight.

People like me.

I’m clearly not the only one either, and while the average anime fan’s propensity for loving anything cute girls do should not go underestimated, neither should C-Station’s masterful delivery of this material. People who genuinely enjoy camping often describe it as an activity that makes them feel truly alive and reminded of their place in nature, and the atmospheric, overall comforting tone of Laid-Back Camp replicates those emotional rewards extremely well. At no point does “camping” feel like a gimmick to these characters either; each approaches the activity with varying levels of intensity and looks forward to different aspects of the experience, reflecting a broader range of interests than the average cute-girls-doing-cute-things club show.

ANY CAVEATS?
The only real fault of the show is a poorly-animated middle episode. Beyond that, just know your genre preferences. If you like iyashikei (“healing”) anime or slice-of-life fluff, you’re almost surely gonna love this. If you don’t…well, frankly, you might still enjoy this. Why?

FINAL REMARKS
Because while Laid-Back Camp’s approach is familiar, its mastery of craft is exceptional and its specific subject is unique. I could keep going on and on, spending whole paragraphs apiece praising its rustic soundtrack, homely dialogue, neutrality on technology, or any other number of topics that immerse you into its small, majestic world, but that’s pointless. Laid-Back Camp is just so well-rounded a heartwarming experience you’ll have to see it for yourself to believe I’m not resorting to hyperbole.

#1 – A PLACE FURTHER THAN THE UNIVERSE

Studio: Madhouse
Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Writer: Jukki Hanada
Episodes: 13
Based on: N/A, anime-original
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll/VRV
Licensing status: Licensed by Crunchyroll
Dub status: Not dubbed
Alternate names: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho, Yorimoi

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Carefree high-schooler Mari Tamaki can’t help but feel like she could be doing more with her youth…or rather, she did until she befriended an ostracized classmate, Shirase Kobuchizawa, who vows to journey to Antarctica following the footsteps of her late mother. Her commitment is unshakable, but actually finding a method to get there is harder. Through a little persistence and a lot of luck, A Place Further Than The Universe follows Shirase, Mari, and two other young women as they get their chance to tag along to the world’s most distant continent and learn a lot about themselves and friendship in the process.

WHY I LIKED IT
Y’all know I’m a sucker for adolescent melodrama with an incisive, heartfelt bite to it, and A Place Further Than The Universe is simply the best that anime’s had to offer that genre in a while. From start to finish, the writing was gripping, the characters navigated their drama cathartically, and the production never once let the show’s ambition down.

Yorimoi (the convenient shorthand of its Japanese title) isn’t just an incredibly powerful linear progression that practically begs for a marathon once it hooks you, it’s filled with several individual mini-climaxes all as stunning and life-affirming as the last. In a way, this is a show about striving to surpass expectations, and all its characters do that togetherbut it’s also a show about individual growth, learning to properly engage with the people around you and not letting what they say define your trajectory. All four protagonists try to help each other through this process, but as each one’s obstacles are different, they all eventually have to face their fears head-on, and when they do…

Oh, when they do, it’s just sooooooo powerful, like, I can’t even describe it. Yorimoi was one of those rare shows that left me speechless on multiple occasions. It’s…how should I put this…extremely my thing, but even for those who weren’t as keen on the themes and events it juggled, I saw very little backlash about the show’s heart and the creative team pumping it out without a hitch.

And good, ‘cause the glory’s been a long time comin’ for Atsuko Ishizuka, a director who elevated the (in my opinion) bland and sketchy source material of No Game No Life and The Pet Girl of Sakurasou among others into shows worthy of discussion. Here, her talents are on full display with a more adaptable story composed by the extremely versatile and prolific Jukki Hanada. If the pair hit on the right central concept, a masterpiece was all but guaranteed, and I’d staunchly contend that Yorimoi is that masterpiece, a coming-of-age drama with stakes that feel as large and palpable as the planet itself.

ANY CAVEATS?
Some people said they thought the show took too long to get to its final arc. Clearly these people have not seen Space Brothers.

All joking aside, virtually any criticism I witnessed of Yorimoi conveyed qualms about the genre this story is and not about anything the story itself did poorly. And that’s fair, maybe Yorimoi’s growth from a dream to a larger-than-life reality isn’t something you fancybut this ain’t your list, pal.

FINAL REMARKS
Of all the titles that left me critically satisfied and emotionally stricken this past year, none matched the height of the peaks nor the frequency of those peaks quite like A Place Further Than The Universe. I’m always looking for summations of the human experience as I can understand it in art, and while I’ll almost surely never end up in Antarctica, I know well the desperation of trying to make something memorable of the prime years of your life, proving skeptics wrong, and becoming a better person in the process. With A Place Further Than The Universe, I wasn’t just shown a meager example of that fiery determination once, I swam in it for the series’ entirety. If there was an anime better than this one in 2018, it too must reside somewhere beyond what my senses can observe.


And that was my 2018 in anime reduced to one massive post! Before diving headfirst into the upcoming season, reflect with me one last time. What were your favorite anime of 2018? How “wrong” are mine? Leave a comment below or over on Twitter, where you can always reach us. Playtime’s over nowwe’ll have our winter 2019 season first impressions just around the bend. See you then and as always, thanks for reading!

3 comments

  1. Man… could make some comments about your boneheadedness on some shows, and some about how I agree with you on others… But the comment would end up as long as your post! And I should be working on a first impressions post of my own, but I’m currently trying not to think about Promised Neverland. If I don’t think about it… the darkness will stay away. (It’s a good show… but damn.)

    I will say that you’re spot on for Yuru Camp and Yorimoi though!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. About halfway through reading the top 10 I went “oh god Yorimoi’s gonna be #1 isn’t it”. The amount of irrational anger I have about seeing it in top lists is probably dumb since I gave it a 9, but man is that a show that I only think about the parks I disliked about it when I see it mentioned. Pretty decent list, though I’ve only completed 6 of them (I still have like half of Bloom left but it’s one of my favorite manga so…). Also Dagashi Kashi 2 was robbed. Here’s to a 2019 of good anime.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I came to agree with the opinions given here on quite a number of anime, and so I trusted the promise of a good ending on SSSS Gridman. Although the first episodes felt worthless I kept going. Unfortunately this time this website failed me really bad. The ending is unacceptable. No matter how messy a plot turns to be, no story should be allowed to end like that and be released in public. It is not a matter of good or bad, but it is about dealing with storytelling and respect for whoever is watching. Hard hit on the trust here, shame

    Like

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