Hello, friends! It’s the end of the year, and you know what that means: writers everywhere publish their 10 favorite things in their specific fields of interest so that strangers on the Internet can get angry that their specific 10 favorite things were not included on said list, thus proving once and for all that the writer hates that person because they didn’t totally validate some stranger’s opinion! Fun!
There were way too many solid or better anime to highlight in a simple top 10 list. So why not expand? Because I’m lazy! That laziness will surely lead to much anger when I or my cohorts don’t praise some bullshit cartoon, but hey, sucks to be you!
OK, enough blatant reader antagonizing. Time to say that 10 cartoons are good and worth watching!
10. Turning Girls
Many awesome shorts came out in 2013. More Teekyuu. INFERNO COP. Sparrow’s Hotel. (OK, maybe it was me and like 10 other people who enjoyed that.) None, however, tickled me quite as much as Turning Girls, the short series about four women on the precipice of their 30th year and how they rage against that turning point in their lives with all their might. From Kaerun, who operates under the delusion that she is an Internet idol half her age, to Kai, who fashions herself as Bloodstained Bloody Roses, the ultimate band girl, the ways the Turning Girls deal with the indignity that society is all too willing to heap upon them are always funny, and often excruciatingly awkward. But it never gets to the point of cruelty or empty mockery; there’s a distinct sympathy with which the series views its characters. “Laugh at your own risk,” it says. “This will be you eventually.” Assuming, of course, that you haven’t already passed that turning point yourself.
9. Silver Spoon
Silver Spoon is wonderful at nailing those tiny moments in life where you’re realizing who you are and what you want out of life. (Well, if you’re lucky, anyway.) Hachiken comes to agricultural school an aimless boy, but bit-by-bit being thrust into this new life gives him valuable experience that solidifies his values. He wakes up way too early in the morning and works hard. He gets a crash course on planning and resource management (and delegating cheese theft). He comes face-to-face with the fragility of life. Silver Spoon is often quite affecting, but it’s also only as serious as it needs to be. One of my favorite aspects of the series is its dark sense of humor. The screenshot above shows a great example, but the episode where Hachiken is in a car that hits a deer had me guffawing as well. That combination of heart and humor makes for a damn fine show. I’m really looking forward to the second season in winter.
8. Flowers of Evil
This would be much higher if the ending weren’t crap. I stood behind basically every controversial decision in the show’s production, because I thought they were interesting choices, but the ending didn’t work for me at all. Oh well. It’s an unfortunate blemish on what I thought was a rather daring show, created as if Mulholland Drive-era David Lynch had directed Welcome to the Dollhouse. Middle school is pretty shit and kind of terrifying, and Flowers of Evil captures that feeling and twists it to the breaking point. But it’s not all adolescent rage, emotional turbulence and utter fear. There are moments of beauty, moments of humor, and moments of sweet release. Among all the muck and shit, sometimes there’s something worth grabbing onto and nurturing. Then it’s promptly stomped to death. But at least it was there in the first place.
7. AKB0048 Next Stage
Another series that might be a bit higher if the ending weren’t crap. There’s definitely good stuff in the conclusion, but it’s trying to wrap things up while also leaving things open for another season, and it doesn’t quite do a satisfactory job. But whatever! Most of the season is still damn good, whether it’s making me care about idol elections, or it’s Shoji Kawamori being a ridiculous hippie and crafting an episode around space idols singing to gigantic, magical woodland critters. Is the idea of a pop group battling a military force that bans all entertainment totally unbelievable? Of course! (To be fair, Kawamori has never really traded in things like “believability” …) But it pulls me in nonetheless because it’s crafted with a flair for the ridiculous and genuine heart. Even when the series is making the idol industry look more than a bit sinister, it never looks down at the characters or their dreams and desires. Somehow, a warmth and sympathy seeps through all the anti-idol missiles and paramilitary groupies. If this and Aquarion EVOL — my favorite anime from last year — are any indication, then Kawamori and writer Mari Okada make a damn fine team.
6. Majestic Prince
I dropped this the first time I watched it. Then week after week, I saw the acclaim grow. The robot fights were genuinely exciting. The characters are funny and sympathetic. The drama is solid. I knew that when the end of the year approached and I had to start thinking about my favorite series of the year that I would have to give Majestic Prince another shot. I’m glad I did, because everything I heard was accurate. Anime is not totally there yet when it comes to CG (at least not on shoestring TV budgets, anyway), but Majestic Prince is a damn fine argument for it: the robots zip around with such speed and elegance that it’s difficult to not get hyped up when a big battle goes down. The Team Rabbits crew is an endearing group of goofballs who learn to fight as a true unit even when they’re getting annoyed with one another. There aren’t many surprising twists and turns in the story, but it makes up for that with damn solid execution. I can’t think of a single episode in this series I didn’t enjoy.
A polarizing series that I found absolutely hilarious from the start. Its humor toes the line between “funny” and “mean-spirited” quite well. It would be easy for its formula to be empty, black-hearted humor; after all, it’s mostly follows the progression of Tomoko gets ridiculous idea to achieve everlasting popularity –> Tomoko utterly fails –> final twist to shit on Tomoko at the end. But Watamote never crosses that line for me because there’s always some baseline level of sympathy and hope for Tomoko, even when the light is impossibly dim. Even when she’s being a total shithead (which is often), there’s something going on that says, “Hey, kid, you fucked up this time, no doubt, but maybe you’ll get ’em next time.” That’s really what keeps Watamote funny rather than depressing. That and how well its base formula is executed in each episode. The final embarrassing twist in most episodes never failed to make me howl.
God damn, what an enchanting series. Kyousougiga is a warm-hearted family drama in a world of boundless imagination and energy. I’ve talked way too little about the visual side of many shows so far, and there’s no way in hell I can ignore it with Kyousougiga. Everything about it is stunning: the animation, the colors, the art, the general sense of composition and framing, etc. Of all the series I watched this year, I’d say Kyousougiga is the most visually impressive. It will be a crime of the highest order if director Rie Matsumoto doesn’t have a long, fruitful career. The story and characters, however, are almost as good. I really love how the sense of loneliness in many of the characters really sneaked up on me. They’re living in this crazy world and have their own plans and such, but then you’d get these intensely personal moments with Yase or Myoue or whoever that hit so hard. But Kyousougiga is just really god damn entertaining, too. Koto is such a wonderful bundle of joy. (Both Kotos, really, but I’m specifically referring to the one with the hammer.) I could watch her smash shit up all day long.
3. From the New World
Haha, what a year for some intensely polarizing shows. From the New World‘s ever-shifting visual style, weird world, and slow buildup put off some people, but I ate the whole thing up. Call me a sucker for stories where characters who have never known anything different slowly realize just how fucked up their society actually is. The twisted origin story of this society of psychics, the war on all fronts, the great horror movie pacing where it pushes the needle in just a bit more with each episode, and that fucking incredible ending combined to make From the New World crazy gripping from start to finish. Its penchant for experimentation and poking at its audience certainly didn’t hurt, either. I still look back fondly at all the heated discussions From the New World provoked on Twitter.
2. Space Battleship Yamato 2199
In a weird way, this made me feel like a little kid again. I don’t mean in the sense that it reminded me of something I watched as a child; I’ve never seen the original Space Battleship Yamato, nor was I even born when it aired in America as Star Blazers. (It is good to know that I am still young enough to make some people feel old.) I mean more like a show presenting some goal and getting the viewer to root for it to a ridiculous degree. In the case of Yamato 2199, every episode for me boiled down to, “Jesus, I hope they get through space and blow people up more!!” The craft behind Yamato 2199 is excellent: the episodes look incredible (even if the CG is occasionally off), the characters are all wonderfully written, the plot is tightly woven, and the directing is damn solid, particularly in the battles. But, really, every time some battle happened I would get oh so giddy. My favorite one is where the Yamato battles a space submarine. A space submarine!! I’m getting excited just thinking about it, and now I want to watch that episode again. This series is great.
That said, No. 1 can’t be anything but …
1. Sparrow’s Hotel
1. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
As much as I loved everything else listed (and various other series), my heart belongs to none other than JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It’s the kind of pulpy insanity that I could watch until my eyes either fall out or turn into a fine powder through lack of blinking. Battle Tendency in particular is such a delight. Joseph Joestar, with his brash confidence and sleight-of-hand games, is the perfect JoJo to lead the viewer on this mad trip through America, Mexico and Europe. (Forget Kyon. Tomokazu Sugita was born to play Joseph fuckin’ Joestar.) This whole series is a ridiculous concoction of fun that feels totally right, because it appeals to the part of me that just wants to see shit get as weird and nutty as possible. (And that is most definitely a large part of me.) The show’s one glaring weakness — its frequently awful animation — is covered up well by the pure, ridiculous style of the story and production. Jonathan’s bullheaded battle style is fun (and definitely ideal for the show’s signature “this punch is so hard that it’s breaking the sound barrier” sound effect), but Joseph’s feints and misdirections keep battles fun and fast-moving, even when there is little actual movement. The colors and shading feel like manga author Hirohiko Araki’s crazy covers come to life. And “Roundabout.” Good god. The perfect capper to every episode, always used at just the right moment. I don’t think anything made me pump my fist and shout, “YES!” this year than “Roundabout.” And nothing got me more hyped than the newest episode of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure appearing each week.
I’ve written it often before, and I’ll write again year after year (hopefully): I fell head over heels for JoJo. There’s no stopping this train. I’m looking forward to Stardust Crusaders.