Yata’s 2019 Anime Year in Review / Top 10

This has been a weird week. I’ve been cooped up at home with a nasty, fatiguing cold I can’t seem to shake, one of my “bands” just put out our massive new album, and as I type this, “World War III” has been trending for about 24 hours and I’m sure we won’t hear the last of that soon. But I’m here today to say farewell to something else: 2019. More specifically, the anime it had to offer us. Last year brought the decade to a fair enough close; there wasn’t a ton of close competition for the top spots on this list (especially because my beloved My Hero Academia and Chihayafuru won’t wrap up their current seasons until this spring and are thus ineligible this time around), but I still feel satisfied with the best of the best that we got.

If this ain’t your first rodeo here, you know how this goes. If you are new, here’s how I do this: I’m gonna briefly and remorselessly oversimplify my thoughts on each of the 30-something shows I dropped early from 2019 followed by expanding a bit more on the 30 or so shows (and movies) that I saw to completion. All those entries are clustered in tiers (this year named after quotes from one of my band’s most iconic tracks) until the top 10, which get their own special individual treatment where I do my best to sell you, casual watcher, diehard, or anywhere in between, on my favorites. Sound good enough? Rad. Let’s get crackin’. Here’s my all-in-one reflection on anime in 2019.

DROPPED SHOWS

REAL PISS. WE CARVE IT, EAT IT UP, OH MY GOD, IT’S SO DELICIOUS!


Starting off with the most irredeemable smut and ill-fated productions I bothered to give the benefit of the doubt, we’ve got Africa Salaryman, the answer to “What if The Office was occupied by a bunch of downright insufferable animal-people?” Why The Hell Are You Here, Teacher!? was basically softcore porn about male students stumbling into female teachers in compromising situations. Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? lacked an exclamation point, and fair enough, its pilot wasn’t as overtly gross as the prior show’s, but its even narrower mom-dom incest quickly got messier after that, or so I’ve heard. I jumped ship too early to confirm, but to make up for that, I sadly saw far too much of How Clumsy You Are, Miss Ueno, whose “little crazy girl pissing herself” gag turned out to not be one missed shot gag but basically the whole show. W’z was…well, a Hand Shakers sequel, not that I needed help inferring as much from the visuals alone. And uh, I got half an episode into Afterlost before realizing I wasn’t absorbing a damn thing about it. Weird for Madhouse to have a production that cursed. There you have it, the absolute worst of my 2019. If your favorite least favorite show isn’t here, cheer for me.

SIDE EFFECTS MAY INCLUDE LOSS OF EYESIGHT, BREATHING HEAVILY, AND IMPLOSIVE DIARRHEA.


It’s rare we get truly distressing cartoons; the rest of the worst mostly settle for various degrees of dryness and unoriginality. Among the especially forgettable of those, we’ve got Magical Sempai, a short about a mediocre magician, My Roommate Is A Cat, a whole series about some grump who owns a cat who’s too good for him, Outburst Dreamer Boys, a ton of hyperactive yelling for the sake of it, and Kono Oto Tomare, which supposedly turns into a good story about koto players, but its bullying pilot was so on the nose I groaned through the whole thing instead. Wise Man’s Grandchild and all its fantasy isekai tropes somehow gave my cowriter Haru a thrill, not that I’ve yet fathomed why. Girly Air Force had itself a mess of a military premiere. The Ones Within had itself a mess of…something beyond my vocabulary. And RobiHachi scraped the bottom of the barrel even if you find yourself partial to mediocre, baity shounen ai.

WOULD YOU STICK YOUR ARM UP AN ELEPHANT’S…THE BUTT?


But why stop there? These weren’t quite as forgettable, but you’d still have to provide me compensation to see them through, and that wasn’t happening, so neither were they. Midnight Occult Civil Servants and After School Dice Club were precisely what they say on the tin, except boring, while Fairy Gone and The Price of Smiles were more accomplished productions let down by flimsy, derivative writing. Senryu Girl had almost no presence whatsoever beyond its nice character designs and school slice-of-life canvas and If It’s For My Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord took a pleasant enough isekai premise and sucked all the energy out of it. I’ll give some props to LeSean Thomas for getting his pet project Cannon Busters adapted, but whew were its first few episodes sort of messy, and Fire Force, well, was Fire Force; it depicted a stunning setting through standard shounen beats but had such an unrepentant, abrasive inclination towards misogyny that I just couldn’t actively enjoy it anymore by the halfway point.

WE LOVE OUR HYPOTHETICALS IN THE DESERT!


And then there’s this batch of shows which I might’ve stuck with if not for personal preferences in stronger seasonal competition. I’m not ruling out retrying any of these, but I didn’t get to them before the calendar year ended and that’s my cutoff for what’s eligible in what part of this list.

Demon Slayer, Vinland Saga, and Dr. Stone probably don’t need any further introduction, at least; these three widely-hyped shounen adaptations found their audience and I just wasn’t really among it. Ditto for the classic shoujo reboot of Fruits Basket and the “anxious girl show that isn’t Komi-san,” (when the hell are we getting a Komi-san adaptation) Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu. Ahiru no Sora was a competent basketball production but from what I’ve heard it hasn’t done anything too unique with its story and fell into some misogynistic pitfalls of its own, so bullet dodged there, and Endro! and Ao-chan Can’t Study respectively attempted the “cute mahou shoujo” thing and the “slightly wacky romcom” thing, though both fell flat on my interest gauge. That’s it for my drops, though! Onward to stuff I can qualitatively comment on in full…

COMPLETED SHOWS

I KEEP STICKING MY HAND IN THE GARBAGE DISPOSAL. I LIKE HOW IT FEELS.


As the antithesis to that last category, here are some shows I finished, but to mixed or neutral feelings. The biggest outright flop of them all has to be Stars Align, a brutal coming-of-age sports drama which had the potential to be one of my favorites of the year but banked so hard on an unconfirmed second season that it didn’t even attempt to resolve most of the sensitive character plots it introduced. There’s also, of course, Kakegurui XX, a sequel that franchise probably didn’t need and I sure as hell didn’t need to watch. That one takes the cake for “psychotic fetishism of the year,” but you could also turn the horny dial to Relatively Wholesome with Miru Tights (yes, I watched Miru Tights, sue me) or Straight-Up Soap Opera with Domestic Girlfriend if you felt so inclined. Alternatively, you could watch How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift?, which actually waters down its muscle and gym attire fetishes with workout edutainment and the occasional well-set up chuckle. Or you could steer away from the horny completely and check out Kemurikusa, the spiritual successor to director Tatsuki’s cult classic Kemono Friends. This one’s story and cast were less immersive to me personally, but if you dig his general approach, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it more than I did.

YOU FOOL! MORNING IS RELATIVE.


And here’s a bunch of shows I did still enjoy on the whole, just not emphatically. We Never Learn, more frequently referred to as BokuBen, sure was a status quo harem, facepalm-worthy plot devices, generally unproductive romance subplots, competitive Best Girl arguments and all, and I never really loved it, but I never disliked it enough to stop watching. Food Wars: The Fourth Plate fell into that same boat, weighed down by the inherent monotonous nature of the standoff arc that comprised it, though it climaxed well. Carole & Tuesday had the opposite problem but the same strong finale, scampering in every direction so that it did a lot of things half-decently but few things stunningly. Cop Craft was an alien-meets-human crime procedural with creativity to go around but a dried-up well of quality animation, whereas Sarazanmai kinda felt like director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s most paint-by-numbers work yet, even if it did spawn a handful of fantastic sakuga sequences and surreal memes. Oh, and Are You Lost? existed. It was totally watchable, to my surprise. Who knew a fanservice show with four cheery high-school girls stranded on a desert island could be so…tame?

HI, MY NAME IS GUEST.


We’re almost at the honorable mentions, but first, movies! As always, I’m including some titles here from the previous year that due to licensing issues, missed showings, or other logistical reasons, I wasn’t able to get to until this calendar year. In ascending score order, we’ve got Love Live Sunshine!! The School Idol Movie: Over The Rainbow, which uh, frankly wasn’t very coherent even if you love its parent franchise, and I Want To Eat Your Pancreas, which somehow worked even if its writing was some of the most John Green shit I’ve seen from the medium in a while. Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms and Zoku Owarimonogatari were pleasant enough titles from their respective creators but hardly surprising if you know their shticks. You could throw Mirai of the Future in that discussion too, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Mamoru Hosoda’s family-focused films and his newest was no exception, helping it notch my bronze spot for this category.

As for the silver, Promare was easily the biggest cultural phenomenon of an ani-film in 2019 and deservedly so; it’s a genuinely exhilarating action flick (as expected by Studio Trigger) about dismantling a fascist regime eager to commit genocide and ecological warfare, so yeah, pretty timely stuff. But my personal favorite recent film is handily Penguin Highway, which probably isn’t a surprise if you know me. I’ve been a fan of Tomihiko Morimi’s original creations for years, and even if I don’t share his uhhhh, thing for sexy dentists, you don’t get all-ages anime films this whimsical, emotional, and captivating this side of Ghibli’s prime that often. It may not be “perfect” in the conventional sense, but it had so much charm and confidence in its own skin that I don’t care. It’s already an all-time fave in my book.

I LOVE THIS LADDER MORE THAN MY FIRSTBORN CHILD.


But cranking the excitement down a notch, here are my honorable mentions for TV anime: my second crack at That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime paid off and it joined the ranks among my favorite isekai shows yet for its diplomatic, ever-increasing cast. It took a while to gear up and lost steam towards the end, but I’m eagerly looking forward to its second season when it comes. I’m likewise excited for the sequels of Ascendance of a Bookworm, which I enjoyed for similar, wholesome reasons, and The Quintessential Quintuplets, which pulled off the rare feat of being a harem where all the girls were great and the lead male character was tolerable. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 was more of the same as far as 2019 sequels go, and Dororo was a competent reboot of its original franchise, albeit with a few rough patches where my interest swayed.

Given was another show I had to take two stabs at, but it turned out I dropped it the first time right before its slow burn came to a halt and the series evolved into a genuinely emotional and thoughtful drama about some gay guys in a rock band. And just missing the top 10 in part thanks to a cliffhanger-ass “lol watch the OVA in 6 months for the real ending” finale is Oresuki, a harem so giddy and smarmy it overtly parodies the very nature of harems and embedded a deep phobia of benches in thousands of viewers’ minds. I’d have loved to put it in the top 10 proper, but it needed a firm resolution for me to solidify my judgment on it, and we’re not getting one until next summer, so oh well.

And here we finally are. My top ten of 2019. All streaming/licensing/dubbing info should be accurate per American availability as of the date this article was published, but I admittedly don’t go back later to keep these updated. If you’re viewing this page at a significantly later date or from a different region, this info may be inaccurate. To check for its updated or personalized status, head on over to Because.MOE.

THE TOP 10

#10 – CAUTIOUS HERO: THE HERO IS OVERPOWERED BUT OVERLY CAUTIOUS

Studio: White Fox
Director: Masayuki Sakoi
Writer: Kenta Ihara
Episodes: 12
Based on: light novels by Light Tuchihi
Legal streaming sites: Funimation & Hulu
Licensing status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: Dubbed
Alternate name: Shinchou Yuusha: Kono Yuusha ga Ore Tueee Kuse ni Shinchou Sugiru

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In the Divine Realm, various gods and goddesses spend their carefree days relaxing, practicing their crafts, and summoning “heroes” to do their dirty work for them, eliminating evil regimes and mythical demons in a litany of fantasy universes under their supervision. Novice goddess Ristarte has just been tasked with overcoming an S-class (so uh, hard) scenario and enlists a young man named Seiya Ryuuguuin for his specs. When Seiya arrives, though, Ristarte is shocked to find he has a callous attitude and borderline-paranoid predisposition to err on the side of caution when presented with any decision. The duo slowly gains skills, comrades, and infamy across this isekai parody—and an emotional last-minute arc didn’t hurt its reputation either.

WHY I LIKED IT
Aki Toyosaki. I jest, sort of—her performance as Ristarte is one of the hammiest you’ll ever hear, and combined with the animators’ knack for making this ditsy, lovable goofball’s face contort with horror, arousal, or any other number of emotions as she flails around trying to get Seiya to cooperate like she’s the mom of That Kid With The Knife, Cautious Hero is a mighty entertaining experience. The isekai tropes are more or less left at face value, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t; some episodes in the show’s middle stretch are more action-oriented and occasionally Seiya’s mean streak comes off as more overbearing than comical. But for the most part, Cautious Hero understands that it’s all supposed to be in good fun, and any episode where its main party is killing time in the Divine Realm (which is quite often), its bizarre assortment of deities make hell for Ristarte, which in turn makes her run around even crazier trying to fix things, tutor two sidekicks, and matter to Seiya in the first place.

This is far from the most well-rounded show I watched this year, let alone the most consistent, but it snuck in my top 10 due to just how contagiously silly it gets when it’s firing on all cylinders. The aforementioned final two episodes also make its snark even funnier in retrospect, revealing a deeper thoughtfulness that you wouldn’t expect precisely because it hardly takes itself seriously up until that point. Cautious Hero heavily relies on Ristarte to be as fun as it is—it’s a run-of-the-mill premise with generally run-of-the-mill production outside of some select scenes without her—but remarkably, her presence is enough to keep the show a hoot from start to finish.

#9 – THE MAGNIFICENT KOTOBUKI

Studio: GEMBA
Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Writer: Michiko Yokote
Episodes: 12
Based on: N/A, anime original
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll, VRV, & HIDIVE
Licensing status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Not dubbed
Alternate name: Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In a desert world where water has become a scarce resource and land travel is hindered by harsh landscapes, the skies are the path to freedom…unless you get targeted by air pirates. They’re a real threat to commerce, and as an egomaniac stages his rise to political prominence via aligning with their hard power, a sextet of bodyguard pilots for hire go from simple in-house security for a zeppelin to key figures in overthrowing a populist warmonger’s ascent to office.

Also pancakes, it’s about pancakes.

WHY I LIKED IT
Okay, it’s not really about pancakes, but its protagonist loves them almost as much as she loves ensuring the skies remain a place of freedom for all who dare to fly. Coincidentally, I also love shooting down fascism, indulging in doughy breakfast foods, and strong, independent women who could school me when it comes to engineering. The Magnificent Kotobuki is a grand slam, and I’m not even anywhere near the historical plane buff that director extraordinaire Tsutomu Mizushima is. His touch just makes this show; putting aside the fact that he bestows the midair dogfights and mundane upkeep of aviation alike with a fervent passion, his works frequently feature snappy, motormouth dialogue and “show, don’t tell” worldbuilding, two traits that I greatly enjoy and ones Kotobuki specifically capitalizes on well.

Not unlike the series’ spaghetti western-meets-regal orchestra soundtrack, Kotobuki never passes up a chance to forcefully smash dense politicking and dumb fun together, and I love that about it. The origin of its world’s current conditions and many of these characters’ pasts are never fully unveiled, not that us not knowing harms Kotobuki in any way—with a script this breakneck already, Mizushima’s cast brings up such matters only when they’re truly important in the moment, and we’re allowed to glide through the rest of the Kotobuki Squadron’s daily life on their own terms. Special praise really ought to be directed to GEMBA, who’ve rebounded from the absolute travesty that is Berserk (2016) and conjured up some of the most immersive CG work of the year; neither Kotobuki’s battles nor its character animation considerably suffers from the 3D, and if anything, that stylistic choice just adds loads of flair to what’s already one of the most unique anime of 2019. If any of the above intrigues you, don’t worry about the rest: The Magnificent Kotobuki has enough charm to make the flight a blast despite the occasional turbulence.

#8 – ASTRA LOST IN SPACE

Studio: Lerche
Director: Masaomi Andou
Writer: Norimitsu Kaihou
Episodes: 12 (with a double-length premiere and finale)
Based on: manga by Kenta Shinohara
Legal streaming sites: Funimation & Hulu
Licensing status: Licensed by Funimation
Dub status: Dubbed
Alternate name: Kanata no Astra

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In 2061, a group of nine students sets off for the esteemed tradition of Planet Camp, a field trip of sorts thanks to advancements in space travel, but their itinerary quickly goes awry when a mysterious wormhole sucks them all into deep space. They miraculously get spit out near an unattended vessel, Astra, and occupy its quarters for the time being, but with no means of communication to their home planet and an atmosphere of suspicion and discord prevailing, how will this ragtag crew survive lost in the cosmos?

WHY I LIKED IT
Gonna play this close to my chest since the blinder you go into Astra, the better, but for a premise that ominous, Astra is a surprisingly optimistic space odyssey about a bunch of teenagers who bond over their various talents, shared experiences, and rough home lives while trying to not get yeeted to oblivion by the fabric of space-time or devoured by alien creatures. It’s a markedly serious show until it’s not, and it tastefully balances its cast’s growing camaraderie with criminal conspiracies. I laughed, gasped, and had my heartstrings tugged virtually every single episode. There are more cliffhangers in this show than fingers on my hands and they never start to feel excessive. Astra just has a ton of soul and a ton of ambition, boldly intertwining facets of these kids’ personal lives with their mutual journey of self-actualization through the outer reaches of the universe. Vague, I know, but give it a few episodes and you’ll probably be hooked for the ride as well. Saying anything more than that would just rob you of the shock and splendor when the twists come knocking.

#7 – BEASTARS

Studio: Orange
Director: Shinichi Matsumi
Writer: Nanami Higuchi
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Paru Itagaki
Legal streaming sites: Netflix, eventually
Licensing status: Licensed by Netflix
Dub status: Not dubbed

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In a world of anthropomorphized animals, tension is a constant between carnivores and herbivores, and that’s before Tem, an affable alpaca and member of the Cherryton prep school’s drama club, gets mysteriously murdered! Even more distrust emerges among his classmates in the following weeks, but a timid wolf in the club, Legosi, vows to be especially strict with himself so as to not appear threatening. Instead, he catches the eyes of the club’s dear (and deer) star actor, Louis, as well as an outcast rabbit named Haru, and all sorts of drama ensues from there.

WHY I LIKED IT
At the risk of everyone assuming I’m a furry (I’m not, please just take me at my word), Beastars is a magnificent foray into how a society would operate if half its population thirsted for their neighbors’ flesh. It examines the intersection of primal instinct, conditioned morals, and institutionalized power in fascinating ways and does so almost entirely through individual exchanges between members of its cast. It’s a slippery series to form thematic allegories with—aside from some relevant ruminations on corruption and gender politics, its non-human world is something of its own beast and deserves to be taken on its own terms—but that very environment makes the show a one of a kind experience as a result.

While the characters may not be human biologically, they’re endearingly human in heart—Legosi is chronically anxious that he’ll lose control one day and does everything in his power to stay calm while Haru is no stranger to bullying and finds her own self-confidence in promiscuity…until the two collide. From then on, strung together with other mini-arcs of the drama club’s members, Legosi develops a crush on Haru and the series interrogates the two of them at length, questioning if a relationship like that could possibly be healthy in its most ideal form, let alone the stunted one it begins as. It sounds weird since Beastars’ characters are explicitly Not Us, but the series depicts late puberty in a mature, empathetic, and decidedly vulnerable manner; Legosi and Haru have had time to come to terms with their lot in life and the actions they’re capable of, but they’ve been closed off in many respects for so long that trying to behave more intimately (and with a member of the opposite order, no less!) makes them wince. It’s juicy, but respectfully juicy, and I’m always a sucker for well-written character dramas in this vein.

And whoops, I haven’t even mentioned the visuals yet—Studio Orange is quickly emerging as one of the most versatile and polished groups specializing in CG anime, and they go for broke here. The shot composition is a master class in visual storytelling and the experimental vignettes scattered across Beastars render it one of the most daring works of the year in presentation. Several plot threads remain unresolved at present, but a second season has been greenlit and if it’s anywhere near as creative and crafty as this one, I expect it to be just as entertaining. Netflix is currently hoarding their rights to this title, but it should be out for legal streaming within a few months. When it is, don’t write it off.

#6 – KAGUYA-SAMA: LOVE IS WAR

Studio: A-1 Pictures
Director: Shinichi Omata
Writer: Yasuhiro Nakanishi
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Aka Akasaka
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll, VRV, Funimation, & Hulu
Licensing status: Licensed by Aniplex of America
Dub status: Not dubbed
Alternate name: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The Student Council President and Vice President at the prestigious Shuchi’in Academy are in a bit of a bind: they each have feelings for the other, but they also, as rich kids are wont to do, refuse to be the confessor, trying to manipulate the mood so that they can get even closer without seeming especially interested. That’s right, it’s a whole damn show about two tsunderes so engaged in their romantic war of attrition that they refuse to actually begin dating. But there’s plenty of hilariously counterproductive flirting to go around as is, especially when their Grade-A Agent of Chaos friends start to meddle in the margins.

WHY I LIKED IT
On the surface, Kaguya-sama doesn’t seem like the sort of concept that can sustain itself for an entire cour, but that’s only if you expect it to remain static. Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship more or less does, but the show itself only gets bolder as it goes: Kaguya-sama leads you on much like how its two leads do to each other in-universe, establishing a composed, repetitious format—around 3 skits per episode in which they trade barbs while a narrator tallies up who’s “winning” —and riding that for as long as it can until it’d simply be funnier to subvert the hit streak. Young couples who don’t understand their feelings sometimes mistake aggression for love, but Kaguya-sama is rarely if ever mean; more often than not, its protagonists are just so dedicated to their “victory” that their competitive, one-track minds make them keep talking smack even when they’d get what they really want by shutting up or coming clean.

As a psychological thriller-turned-comedy, Kaguya-sama is also a goddamn treasure trove of reaction images; its prim and proper setting belies how materialistically juvenile these high-schoolers can get, and they carefully tread that line of “so headass you’d love to see some karma come back around” and “so desperate you want to see them succeed, just so every party can breathe a sigh of relief for once.” Their fate is usually the former, but it makes the few times the latter comes to fruition all the sweeter. Make no mistake, this show understands full well that the act its leads put on is childish as all get out, and it revels just as much in their earnest, private headspace as it does in their Rube Goldberg machine conversations. By the end, Kaguya and Miyuki get a little blunter with each other—a little—as well as more understanding of their true selves beneath the facades, but they’re still helplessly intimidating by nature, and that spells a ton of fun for us as they seek to keep one-upping each other without regard for how vain they look in front of their peers. We’ve got a second season coming our way later in 2020, and assuming it’s just as boisterous, witty, and deceptively heartwarming as this one was, I can’t wait for it.

#5 O MAIDENS IN YOUR SAVAGE SEASON

Studio: Lay-duce
Directors: Masahiro Andou and Takurou Tsukada
Writer: Mari Okada
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Mari Okada and Nao Emoto
Legal streaming sites: HIDIVE & VRV
Licensing status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Dubbed
Alternate name: Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Five girls at a rather innocuous high school were fine attending their Literature Club in peace…until puberty kicked the fuck in. Now they can’t stop gossiping about sexual urges, the school’s faculty are attempting to shut the club down, and the girls’ relationships and previous conceptions about fornication are about to be torn asunder by the unstoppable advances of human arousal.

WHY I LIKED IT
Precisely the same reason so many didn’t, not that I’ll ever understand why: Mari Okada. The alienated child with mommy issues-turned-queen of anime melodrama returned in a big way this year, not only scripting the O Maidens anime, but previously writing its source material as well. This series is her brainchild, and like you’d expect from any Okada title, it featured a lot of Feelings™, unadmirable adults, and children charging headfirst into the throes of young adulthood, too rushed, naïve, or stubborn to observe and learn how to handle such matters with patient responsibility. Friendships fray. Values change. Authority figures lose their luster. Even if your adolescent experience wasn’t dramatic to the degree that you’ve held a catfished counselor hostage and hung him out a second-story window, you probably went through your own clunky coming of age journey or know folks who had a more publicly bumpy ride than you.

O Maidens champions the weirdness of that age with giddy abandon. Some of the decisions these girls make are righteous and some are clearly not, but by this point Okada has fine-tuned how to write her teenage characters’ actions as absolvable even if they’re far from ideal. That stage of our lives is rife with heartbreak, disillusionment, and recklessness, and the Lit Club and their peers navigate siren-infested seas without a compass about as clumsily as any average high-schooler would. O Maidens is riveting because it’s ostensibly a shipwreck in slow motion, and while it’ll have you screaming “nooooo what are you doing, that’s only gonna make things worse” more than it’ll have you actively rooting for most of its protagonists, chances are it’ll also dredge up suppressed memories of embarrassing miscues from your own past where that very wisdom would’ve been welcome. With age (and privilege, I can admit that), those memories often become something to treasure in their own right, and if it weren’t exhilarating to forge them back in the day, we wouldn’t be so inclined in all our misguided innocence to see them through as often as we did. Okada clearly recognizes the innate entertainment of Decent People Making Dumb Decisions, and she channels that here from start to corny-ass finish with one of the year’s most vigorous, brash, and well-produced rom-drams.

#4 – RUN WITH THE WIND

Studio: Production I.G.
Director: Kazuya Nomura
Writer: Kohei Kiyasu
Episodes: 23
Based on: novel by Shion Miura
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll, VRV, & HIDIVE
Licensing status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Not dubbed
Alternate name: Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In a chance encounter one night, Kansei University senior Haiji Kiyose runs into (er…with) former high school track ace Kakeru Kurahara and invites the freshman back to his dorm, where he unveils a surprise to the building’s other eight inhabitants: from that day on, all people who wish to remain are to start getting fit in order to qualify for the Hakone Ekiden, a collegiate relay race held from the middle of Tokyo to the mountains and back. There’s just one problem: aside from Haiji, few others have the stamina to compete in such an event, and fewer still in the dorm have any authentic desire to jog, period.

WHY I LIKED IT
That should be the end of it, right? Haiji fails to convince his housemates to humor his fantasy and the idea dissipates to smoke. It’d be plenty understandable—some of the residents are pitifully out of shape, others are about to graduate and move onto make-or-break job hunts, and more still are generally not keen on losing their free time. But one by one, Haiji convinces his nine roomers to engage in the activity faithfully, and while it takes a while to get there—almost half the show—he manages to turn an unlikely crew of studs, loners, jokesters, and Those Background Guys into a team capable of having a genuine shot. It’s a really long shot, but it’s not impossible, and I’ll spare you the spoilers, but suffice to say the series’ climax is far from a disappointment given how devoutly it depicts their step-by-step progress.

As you’d expect, it’s not easy whipping a bunch of randos into shape and it’s even harder to do so while maintaining a comfortable rapport with them, but Haiji’s interested in sports psychology and he doubles as the team’s counselor while they battle with their own individual goals, expectations, and interests throughout Run With The Wind too. There’s no official “main character” to this—Haiji leads the premise and we enter the series alongside Kakeru, who has one of the most checkered pasts of any of the cast members, but all ten participants on the team, as well as their rivals and pals, each get a generous amount of screen-time to prove that competing in a relay is both a true team effort and a goal shared by several people with their own rich and diverse trajectories in life. Production I.G. keep the drama firmly grounded; this is ultimately a cheerful tale, and even at its darkest moments, Run never basks in its characters’ self-loathing or indecision. It’s a series about the joy of refusing to stagnate, finding passions that challenge you even after you reach the nebulous threshold of “adulthood,” and treasuring friendships that push you to grow and let you find peace in equal measure.

The series’ realistic setpieces, relaxed character dialogue, and smooth, kinetic animation allow its spaces to feel vibrant and lived in, brimming with a compassion and everyday comfort that for artistic reasons or otherwise, is rarely this palpable even in shows of this nature. Run is handily my favorite sports anime since 2014’s Ping Pong, and much like that title, it’s a favorite not because it’s uncompromisingly “about sports,” whatever that means, but because it truthfully identifies sports as a means of triumph for the individuals who play them. Run With The Wind is first and foremost a heartwarming journey of ten dudes enriching their lives by opening themselves to the passions of their peers. I recognize it’s counterproductive to recommend people watch TV as a motivator to get off their ass, but in this case I’ll have to make an exception.

#3 MOB PSYCHO 100 II

Studio: Bones
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Writer: Hiroshi Seko
Episodes: 13
Based on: manga by One
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll, VRV, & Funimation
Licensing status: Licensed by Crunchyroll
Dub status: Dubbed

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama is a kindly, quiet middle schooler with extraordinary psychic powers, but he prefers to not use them if possible. After falling under the wing of petty con-man Reigen Arataka, Mob starts to realize he can use his powers to help those in need, and as Spirits and Such Consulting, he and Reigen take freelance cases for those seeking exorcisms, seances, and all manner of supernatural interventions. After discovering an underground cult of world domination-aspiring psychics in season one and knocking some of them down a peg, Mob, Reigen, and their pals are back to finish the job this season in between the occasional mini-arc that forces them to grow up a bit.

WHY I LIKED IT
For all its stoicism and dark humor, Mob Psycho 100’s first season displayed that the franchise was fundamentally opposed to the ways of vengeance, greed, and deceit. It’s easy to read Mob as an unwittingly messianic figure (and the series as kind of preachy as a result), but rarely does the most overpowered actor of a fictional work care so little about their strength that it’s genuinely refreshing to see a boy of his stature take solace in his mental fortitude. Mob in season 1 was a prime target for bullying; he was small, socially awkward, lost in the frivolous pursuit of “trying to be more normal,” and deeply committed to turning the other cheek. And Mob in season 2 is still all those things, but he’s inspired so many strangers by now that he’s begun to live his own life beyond his psychic-for-hire job title. Reigen isn’t as receptive to personal growth, but even he has to reckon with his behavior a bit this time around.

And then shit hits the fan. It’s pointless for me to try describing Mob S2’s visual extravagance with mere words once Mob starts meeting his matches again. Mob Psycho’s undying faith that all of humanity harbors some good and that genuine connection can save you from despair would be Top 10-worthy stuff on its own, but even better, this season is flat-out one of the wildest showcases of animation I’ve ever witnessed. Each pivotal standoff somehow gets zanier than the last. The sheer spectacle of it all will blow your mind then tenderly mend it. Huge explosions one minute, saving radicalized loners from nefarious pyramid schemes the next. Season two’s tonal whiplash is brutal, but it’s consistent in its two-facedness; Mob Psycho 100 has always elevated artistic greatness through a charming tale about a shy kid, his opportunistic boss, and some friends. It’s so much, yet so simple. And two seasons in, way past the point I thought it had room to impress me even more, the franchise did just that, cementing its legacy as an all-time great.

#2 – THE PROMISED NEVERLAND

Studio: CloverWorks
Director: Mamoru Kanbe
Writer: Toshiya Ono
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu
Legal streaming sites: Crunchyroll, VRV, HIDIVE, Funimation, & Hulu
Licensing status: Licensed by Aniplex of America
Dub status: Dubbed
Alternate name: Yakusoku no Neverland

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In the near future at the Grace Field House, 38 orphans at a time get lovingly pampered until they reach the age of 12. They’re supposed to be adopted then, and that’s what they all think will happen until the day that two of the older children at the facility, Emma and Norman, discover what’s really waiting for them beyond its premises. From that point on they decide to slowly reveal the truth to their peers and aim to show no discomfort around their supervisors, hopeful that there exists a way for every one of them to escape and live their lives with true freedom before the adults catch on or their time to act runs out.

WHY I LIKED IT
Holy foster mother of suspense Batman, The Promised Neverland is the most gut-wrenching anime thriller I’ve watched in years. The concept of this show is terrifying enough (even more so once you see the specifics, which I’ve tried to leave abstract), and the production does everything in its power to translate the newfound lurking dread of these kids’ daily lives into a heart-racing experience with almost no reprieve. The kids are lovely and rather clever, despite everything—where the average six-to-twelve-year-olds would probably spill the beans due to bickering or lapses in concentration, the head honchos of this rebellion plan as much as they can to secure the ultimate altruistic goal of not leaving anybody behind, even though it dramatically narrows their own chances of a successful getaway. Easier said than done when your peering authority figures deduce something is up from the get-go and you lack information about the exact scope of their deception, but in a race against the calendar, you can’t just wait for more data.

On that note, the less you know going into The Promised Neverland, the better. Rest assured that for all its grim stakes and macabre threats, the series promotes the resilience of community, teamwork, and hope in the face of unilateral terror with passion and precision. In times like these, those are virtues to be cherished especially hard, and—again, no exact spoilers since they keep you guessing till the end—the payoff is oh so worth it. For now, that is—a second season is scheduled to be released this upcoming fall, and nine months should be plenty of time for you to catch up on one of the most flawless psychological thrillers in anime this decade. Hell, you may find yourself so hooked you’ll finish season one the same day you start it.

#1 – WASTEFUL DAYS OF HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS

Studio: Passione
Director: Takeo Takahashi & Hijiri Sanpei
Writer: Masahiro Yokotani
Episodes: 12
Based on: manga by Bino
Legal streaming sites: VRV & HIDIVE
Licensing status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub status: Not dubbed
Alternate names: Joshikousei no Mudazukai, JoshiMuda

WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Eccentric high school girls’ trivial, humorous, and unassumingly chaotic interactions with one another. It really is that simple.

WHY I LIKED IT
My friends, the world is an increasingly dismal place, and while art has the ability to provide us with messages of perseverance, kindness, and hope, it doesn’t always have to do that. It’s always fine to just enjoy an anime about a bunch of fuckin’ weird-ass teenagers bumbling through the drudgery of their everyday lives with no grander plot, overarching story, or particularly compelling character growth. Those have a place—their unchanging charm gives us a foundation of comfort in an otherwise uncertain age. By some names, that’s escapism; by others it’s a guilty pleasure. But this was from 2019, so I’m gonna have to refer to JoshiMuda for what it was in that year’s own terms: little a salami.

We can all have some. Why wouldn’t we want to? JoshiMuda dropped at a time where satire and reality have become one. Truth has always been stranger than fiction, but it’s rarely been this in-your-face about it. It’d be comical if only the dire consequences didn’t make it so exhausting. So what happens when you remove the urgency and responsibility from the equation and double down on the surrealism? That’s right, you get a fictional program about stupid, strange, and unapologetically dorky classmates shuffling through their aptly-described wasteful days without a care in the world. Each prominent cast member is supposed to have a defining quirk that forms the basis of their token nickname, but those roles aren’t “roles” so much as they are distinguishing characteristics; JoshiMuda’s characters have their own desires and thoughts separate from how they’re perceived by the world, but there’s truth in the stereotypes too. One person’s normalcy is another person’s idiosyncrasy, and above all, this series parties hard with that understanding in mind.

The voice acting, which is paramount in just about any animated comedy, is also downright phenomenal all across the board here. I have to specifically applaud Haruka Tomatsu and Chinatsu Akasaki’s respective roles as “Wota” and Tanaka; the former is often the straight (wo)man to her friends’ boundless imaginations and the latter is the most vile person you could still enjoy in a cartoon like this, a Calvin-esque vessel of pure energy with the attention span of a gnat and the curiosity of a grating kindergartener. They’re just two of the ingredients in this mix; there’s also a girl obsessed with dark magic, a chuuni loner who frequently gets stuck in trees by her own accord, a hopelessly desperate romantic, an expressionless genius, a pipsqueak who looks about as old as Tanaka acts, a transfer student so disgusted by men that she breaks out in hives when any approach her, and a homeroom teacher who just cannot stop making distasteful comments.

These personalities thrown against each other are too much to handle, and JoshiMuda rarely tries to contain them; it plants them in the same room and lets their impulses determine what comes next. Jokes build over single skits, fuller episodes, and even the entire length of the series. It’s not the most ambitious anime of 2019 by a long shot, but it does this formula with a gusto only paralleled by its equally well-crafted genre hallmarks like Nichijou and Daily Lives of High School Boys. More importantly, I anticipated a lot of shows this year while they aired, but I’ve felt even more fond of JoshiMuda after the fact; for most people it was a one-and-done seasonal, but this exercise in “can’t live with or without you” friendship is just too Yatacore in spirit to be anything less than my personal favorite anime of 2019. If you overlooked it—and I know a lot of you did—give it a shot sometime you want to cackle in glee.

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And that’s a wrap! What were your favorite anime of 2019? Leave a comment below or reach out over on Twitter! With the way the world’s looking in 2020, I’d be delighted to relive the recent past a while longer. We can’t rest too long, though—winter first impressions are just around the corner, and though I tease this all the time, For Great Justice will publish an extra surprise or two by the middle of the season. Until then, as always, thanks from the bottom of my heart for continuing to read our work. We’ll see you again soon.

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