Bringing a little color to the end of the year.
Is it just me, or was 2018 kind of a down year for anime? Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the avalanche of quality we’ve gotten over the past 2-3 years, but while I’m usually agonizing over what I’ll have to drop from a list, this year I was agonizing over what I was going to put on it at all. I’d worry that my sense of whimsy was fading, but I’ve spent literal months rolling around in the Twitch Pokemon marathon, so that can’t be it…
Whatever the case, the weird year resulted in me having two Top 10 lists with relatively little overlap: one was of shows that I knew in my head were good but had left me cold, and one of shows that I knew weren’t as technically sharp but I sure did care about them. I wrote up the first list… and then threw it in a fire and published the second one instead. So, please enjoy the Top 10 Shows That Made Your Stressed-Out Blogger Feel Things.
As a reminder, while I tend to play this list pretty free-and-easy, there are two rules I do keep: (1) Shorts aren’t eligible for the Top 10, and (2) while shows with 2018 sequels (like ClassicaLoid) are eligible for the list, carryovers and split-cours that are scheduled to finish in 2019 (like Run with the Wind) are not.
And now that we’ve gotten the boring explanations out of the way…
A few fun bonus awards, where I can highlight some non-eligible gems and also show off my questionable taste.
Best Short: Aggretsuko by a wiiiiide mile (although Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san made a solid case for itself as well). I almost broke my own Top 10 rule so I could throw it on the list, because it’s just that good. Funny, insightful, and biting, this show nails the feeling of being a young professional into the wall and out the other side. I wrote about it for the AniFem Spring 2018 Recs post, so check that out for extra gushing.
Best Show Late to the Party: Little Witch Academia. Netflix’s weird release schedule meant I didn’t get to this one until 2018, but it definitely deserves some love. This energetic, family-friendly series builds into a fist-pumping tale of self-confidence, teamwork, and girls kicking butt, and I’d happily toss it to anyone at any age. I took part in a podcast retrospective about this one, so I’ll direct you there for more praise if you’re so inclined.
Best Anime That Isn’t Technically an Anime: I created this award two years ago specifically for Thunderbolt Fantasy, so you’ll be shocked to learn I’m resurrecting it for Thunderbolt Fantasy: Sword Seekers. Because, as always: PUPPETS! You can read my AniFem recommendation write-up for details.
Best Shows That Aren’t On This List Because My Taste Is Bad and I Should Feel Bad: A shortlist of technically excellent series doing ambitious things that missed the cut-off:
- DEVILMAN crybaby: A visually stunning story about cultural outsiders and mob mentality that I can acknowledge as a work of art even though I viscerally disliked it.
- Planet With: A jam-packed sci-fi series that challenges common ideas about “justice,” which I can also acknowledge as quality even though my personal reaction to the last half of the series was a big ol’ “meh.”
- SSSS.Gridman: A clever mecha series that overcomes some early fanservice to become a psychological exploration of social isolation and anxiety, and it didn’t make my Top 10 because… I flipped a coin between it and HisoMaso and HisoMaso won. Look, I told you this was a weird year.
And now with those reputable series left in the slush pile, let’s move on to the fluff and trash that actually made my list!
10. How to keep a mummy
Series Episode Count: 12
Studio: 8 bit
Season Director: Kaori
In a Sentence: This cute, soothing comedy follows high schooler Sora and his friends as they do their best to raise their adorable supernatural pets.
Content Warning: Brief scene of an adult coming onto a minor (played for comedy, never brought up again); some violence toward children and (supernatural) animals
Spot #10 on this list is always reserved for “a show that may not have been amazing but I had a lot of affection for it,” and I’m genuinely surprised it went to Mummy. It wasn’t a huge standout for me as it was airing, but looking back over the year I found myself regarding it with a ton of fondness, even more so than many of the other Nice Comedies that peppered my watchlist.
Mummy has some undercurrents about balancing newfound responsibilities with a willingness to ask for help, and it sometimes touches on more difficult subjects regarding animal cruelty or the stress that can come from taking care of another living creature. This makes it more than just fluff, but… well, mostly, it’s fluff, focusing on cute supernatural critters and their nice owners getting into heartwarming scrapes.
Everyone is well-meaning and ultimately kind, and even when the series delves into darker subject matter there’s always a sense that things will work out okay in the end. It’s iyashikei (healing) anime, pure and simple. But’cha know what? Sometimes that’s exactly what I need.
How to keep a mummy is streaming on Crunchyroll. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
9. Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan
Series Episode Count: 12
Chief Director: Shinji Higuchi
In a Sentence: Directionless and blunt Hisone Amakasu joins the air force, where the “OTF” (a.k.a. dragon) Masotan chooses the hapless young woman as his pilot.
Content Warning: Depictions of sexism in the workplace; mild fanservice of adult women; death of a queer character
As noted above, I flipped a coin between this and SSSS.Gridman to see which would make the list, and HisoMaso won. It was on the edge because, while I think it’s trying to do a lot of worthwhile things with its story and I want to encourage other people to try it, I’m still not 100% sure I actually liked it (even if it does have hands-down the best ending theme of the year).
It’s a tricky show to talk about without giving away all the plot twists, but suffice to say it’s directly engaging with workplace sexism, particularly ideas held by the ruling power (i.e., men) about how women define themselves and whether they can/should continue to work after marriage. There’s a frustrating stretch in the second act where it’s hard to tell where HisoMaso is going with all these concepts, but it does more-or-less solidify by the end into a progressive message.
That said, you have to wade through some mud to get there, and the threads are still woven somewhat haphazardly. HisoMaso is textbook “ambitious but flawed.” There’s some great stuff in here, especially in the first half, and I do think it’s ultimately worth your time (it wouldn’t have made this list if I didn’t). Just don’t be surprised if you leave it with as many mixed feelings as I have.
Dragon Pilot is streaming on Netflix. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
8. Violet Evergarden
Series Episode Count: 13
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Season Director: Haruka Fujita
In a Sentence: At the end of a years-long war and after losing her commander and both her arms, child soldier Violet begins a new life as a professional letter-writer to help her understand both her own and others’ emotions.
Content Warning: Violence; depictions of war, death, and PTSD; bereavement; some revealing costume designs (though the camera rarely leers); one episode features an age-gap romance
Two common elements on this year’s Top 10 list are “emotionally driven” and “sincere,” and… well, that’s Violet Evergarden in a nutshell. It’s a gorgeously animated, perfectly scored series that wants to explore life after loss for both soldiers and civilians: what the world looks like after the barricades fall, and how people can move forward from traumas and tragedies. It is ultimately hopeful, but oof, does it drag its viewers through the ringer to get there.
The series received understandably mixed reviews—either the constant barrage of grief-and-healing narratives resonated with you or they didn’t, meaning you either found it moving and cathartic or sappy and manipulative. While not every story hit home for me, an awful lot did (particularly the ones about parent-child relationships); so while I can acknowledge Evergarden‘s sentimental groundwork, I also found it earnest in intent and accomplished in execution.
The central story about Violet’s own arc of recovery, empathy, and self-discovery is a similarly mixed bag, with a conclusion that’s largely satisfying but leaves a few troubling points regarding her burgeoning independence. Still, though, with as complicated as her tale of mixed grief and guilt is, perhaps it’s best that the series doesn’t try to wrap everything up in too neat a bow.
There are a lot of flawed, messy, and sincere anime on this list, and Violet Evergarden fits right in with them. I’ve become a total sap, and I’m at peace with that.
Violet Evergarden is streaming on Netflix. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
7. IRODUKU: The World in Colors
Series Episode Count: 13
Studio: P.A. Works
Season Director: Toshiya Shinohara
In a Sentence: Isolated high schooler Hitomi’s monochrome world is given a surprising shock when her grandmother sends her back in time 60 years, leading her to meet the members of the Photography Art Club and find a young artist whose work allows her to see color for the first time since childhood.
Content Warning: Discussions of grief and depression; child neglect; ableism
Probably my happiest surprise of the year, this little time-travel school story develops into a gentle tale about healing through the help of a community (family, friends, and romantic partners); mutual support of each other’s talents; and the importance of knowing one’s art has a positive impact on others.
It’s another of those sincere, guileless series that follows its heart and asks its audience to do the same, which results in some inconsistent fantastical elements that may be off-putting for some viewers. Time-travel paradoxes aside, Hitomi’s inability to see color fluctuates between “metaphor for trauma/depression” and “literal physical disability.” This leads to a few lovely scenes that positively engage with improving accessibility, but also to some accidental ableism, given that the metaphor ultimately takes precedence and recovery is the end-goal.
Similarly, while I found IRODUKU‘s depiction of grief, depression, and healing to be emotionally resonant, it’s also arguably over-simplistic. It’s not so trite as “romantic love will fix all your problems” (thank goodness), but it leans into the idea that an accepting community and personal self-worth are all you need to get better. They are important, of course, but are often pieces of a larger, longer process, so I can also understand why the series might not sit right for some folks because of that.
I feel like I’m criticizing IRODUKU a lot here, but that’s because my Critic Brain is warring with my Viewer Brain. It’s a series that engages with difficult subjects via metaphor in a way that my head knows has a lot of holes in it, but it’s so genuine and well-meaning that my heart doesn’t give a damn.
The show’s blend of melancholy and hope is right up my alley; its undercurrent about finding fulfillment by bringing joy to others via one’s art rang keenly true; and its bittersweet ending left me audibly making “mmm!” noises. I wasn’t even planning on watching it. Now I’m so glad I did.
IRODUKU is streaming on Amazon Prime. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
6. ClassicaLoid – Season 2
Season Episode Count: 25
Series Episode Count: 50
Season Director: Umahiki Kei
In a Sentence: Classical composers are reborn in the modern era, where they goof around, wax poetic about gyoza, and use the supernatural power of “Musik” to help out their high school landlady, Kanae.
Content Warning: Mild bawdy and sophomoric humor (fart jokes, mostly); comedic violence (teens/adults); shipteasing between minors and adults (played for comedy, and nothing comes of it)
Shock and awe, I have found a way to shout about the anime composers again! Despite a slow start, ClassicaLoid’s second season built into another strong run of episodes that once again excellently balanced the silly and the sincere.
Between western homages, a Hippo/iPad road trip, and the world’s greatest usage of a classic portrait, the season also explored its characters’ insecurities, desires, and their relationships with both music and one another. The series climax is a magnificent merger of shounen and shoujo story beats, complete with last-minute power-ups and saving the day with your feelings, and its focus on family puts a surprisingly heartwarming capstone on the series.
This second season isn’t quite as low-key progressive as the first (it dips into the “women dream of getting married” well a smidge too much) and only occasionally hits the absurd highs of its predecessor, which is why it’s lower on the list despite airing during a weaker year. Even so, it still features a fantastic female cast who get to be just as cool, angry, or goofy as the boys, and there’s a fascinating undercurrent about the fine line between artistic influence and appropriation.
To conclude: ClassicaLoid is goofy and genuine and smart and dumb, and I loved the hell out of it. Sunrise, feel free to hit us with a Season 3 any day now. Me and the 12 other people who watched it would be ever-so happy if you did.
ClassicaLoid is streaming on HiDIVE and VRV. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
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