So, due to how much more anime I watched last year than the previous years, I decided to replace my yearly highlights piece with a list of the best anime of the year, at least out of what I watched, bearing in mind that I usually kept it to 5 or so anime per season. I’ll also be excluding shows that aren’t actually over yet, because of how crucial a good ending is to a show’s quality. I would also add a rule of “no sequels to shows that began in previous years”, but I didn’t really watch any of those this year, so it’s a moot point this time around. Same with “no shows that began in previous years but ended in this one”, which will be extraneous this time but still apply every year from now on.
Beginning at number 5. Anime has a reputation among most people for being, well, weird. Honestly, while I think this reputation is generally undeserved, I can at least see why this is the case. And the anime that best exemplified this characteristic weirdness this year was Poputepipikku. The original manga may be little more than a meme to most people, but I find genuine comedic value in how nonsensical and goofy it can be, and the show captures that characteristic weirdness perfectly. I remember that I couldn’t decide whether I liked or disliked it at first, because I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. To this day, I still can’t, but I can definitively say that I do like it a lot, it kept all the silly aspects of the manga that I liked and adds new dimensions of its own to that weirdness, making it the ideal way to experience something like this. It may be dumb and nonsensical, but it was the most I laughed at any show this year, and that counts for a lot. I give it a strong B+, and recommend giving it a look. Best not to do it sober, though, it’s even more fun when your perception of it is distorted.
On to number 4. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I love looking for possible “dark horse” hits, by picking stuff out from the bottom of the seasonal chart and hoping I stumble across something good in the process. I’ve found some good stuff in this category, especially in the Fall, but the crown jewel of this category is Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai, the romance show from Doga Kobo this spring. I know its popularity is much higher now, but it was at the bottom of the chart when the season started and I picked it up, so this dark horse happened to pull ahead. Despite driving me halfway neurotic with all the weird reminders of Clannad I got from it, it still was a fun and charming romance show with a remarkably well-done arc for the main protagonist, it goes at a great pace, tells some great stories, and concludes perfectly, tying up all the arcs extremely well. The animation is used to enhance the story pretty well, in that way you almost never see outside of original animation, this show hits all the possible high points that come from shows that aren’t adaptations. Ultimately it lacked the “wow” factor of a few of the other shows on this list, which is why it’s only at number 4, but it’s one of those “fantastic for what it is” shows, arguably among the best examples of that concept. Solid A-, and a hearty recommendation from me.
Next up, at number 3, we have the adaptation of one of my favorite manga, Golden Kamuy. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a show that is extremely solid as an adaptation, in most ways. While I am EXTREMELY miffed that they cut two of my favorite arcs and some of my favorite small scenes from the manga, the rest of the show is fantastically handled, covering the manga extraordinarily well. One wouldn’t think 120 manga chapters would fit into 24 episodes particularly well, but due to the rapid pace of the manga, the show had an easy time doing so. Not only that, but that fast pace means the show always keeps you on your toes, and new stuff is always happening, never once does the show get boring, even for a moment. Most of my praise for the show applies equally if not more so to the manga, but the added medium of audio brings its own advantages as well; the voice acting is absolutely fantastic, it’s every bit as intense or funny as it needs to be at any given time, and all the voices fit the characters perfectly. Not to mention, the music is fantastic, especially the openings and first ending theme. The animation is generally pretty good, except for the CG animals, which look jarringly out of place. As much as I recommend the anime, I definitely need to recommend the manga a lot more. The anime is a strong A-, while the manga is an S. I recommend watching the first season first, then reading the manga, then watching the second season, as I did. It turns out to have been immensely beneficial to the experience of the latter two, first through giving characters mental voices in the manga, then giving added context to the second season.
At number 2, we have the best show from the Winter season, Koi wa Ameagari no You Ni, aka After the Rain. You’ll probably notice the abundance of romance shows on my list, for a very good reason. I’ve had a soft spot for the romance genre for years now, and 2018 was an exceptionally strong year for them, with After the Rain being one of the best I’ve seen in a very long time. Despite only telling a small part of the story, and concluding in a very “this isn’t over” way, the arc of the show was still extremely engaging, and I loved every minute of it. I spent every week of the winter season eagerly awaiting the newest episode, and I was never disappointed. Ultimately some aspects of it were done better by the next one on this list, but I still can’t ignore how well they were handled in this particular case. Sadly I can’t say much more about it, it does what it does extremely well, touches on some excellent themes, sets up extremely engaging character arcs, and makes for a great show overall. A+.
Finally, at number one, we have the greatest romance show I’ve seen since Clannad, Yagate Kimi ni Naru, aka Bloom Into You. Where do I even start with this show? In my Seasonal Impressions article, I praised it for its excellent use of visual storytelling, but little did I know just how much more it would improve in that regard. The show makes EXCELLENT use of color, lighting, framing, and pace in order to convey so much more information that what you see at face value, from the internal emotions and thought process of a character presented with shocking info to the subtle dynamics of what’s going on between two characters in a conversation, with a surprisingly subtle and brilliant use of visual levels and clever framing to communicate info like the shifting control of a conversation and the feelings created by certain dialogue moments. Not only that, but the writing itself picked up IMMENSELY almost immediately after my impressions left off, with previously uncompelling side characters like Sayaka becoming extremely interesting characters through some much needed fleshing out, the inclusion of new plot threads for fun side characters like Hakozaki and her girlfriend (plus the inclusion of Mai Nakahara’s vocal talent, always a win), and the introduction of a legitimately fantastic conflict for Touko, among the best internal conflicts I have ever seen for a character, especially in how Yuu is affected by it and how that impacts the choices she makes as the series goes on. If I had to pick a criticism, I would say that the music (aside from the opening/ending, which are great) isn’t particularly memorable, certainly not to the level of something like Clannad, which used memorable themes repeatedly throughout to add new depth to scenes, something this show could’ve immensely benefited from. Even so, that’s a relatively minor complaint, that everything else in the show easily makes up for, and as a result I absolutely loved every second of this show. Every episode managed to drive my expectations up further, and yet the next episode always exceeded my expectations, aside from the last episode, which merely met them. Actually, this leads to a major complaint I have with the show, which admittedly is an almost inevitable consequence of being a manga adaptation, which is that the manga isn’t over yet, meaning no matter how much of it the show adapted, be it through 13 episodes or 30, it would be almost impossible to make a really satisfying ending to this show because it would inherently lack finality or closure. Even if you ended it with the conclusion of a major arc (which this season most definitely does not), unless the manga you’re adapting is completely episodic the way something like Higurashi is (which the manga certainly is not), you’re still going to have dangling plot threads left unfinished. I don’t blame the show for that, but I am slightly disappointed that it ended the way it did and not at a more natural cutoff point, though I suspect this is just down to industry constraints of needing to have 13 episodes rather than an more unusual number that fit the story pace better. Regardless, I hope that the complete lack of finality to the ending is a sign that a second season is in production, because this show more than deserves it. I picked up the manga immediately after I finished, and I eagerly await the announcement of a second season. And, for the first time since Kill la Kill, I’m awarding an S ranking to this show, with the highest level of recommendation. Here’s to hoping we get more gems like this in the coming year.