Toon Talk- Best of Anime in 2018

Woof. Looking back at 2018, it feels like this year went on for a decade and each of those years got progressively worse as the world is edging closer and closer to oblivion. Luckily while things in the real world continue to spiral downhill, anime has inversely been on an uptick, and this has been one of strongest years for anime in recent memory, with plenty of variety for just about every type of anime fan. As always though, I’m here to talk about what I found to be the best of the best, so without any further ado, here’s my best of anime in 2018.

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This category is basically everything that isn’t show-specific, but that I still wanted to give something of a shout out to. That includes theme songs, characters and stuff related to voice acting and dubs.

Best Opening- “Fighting Gold” by CODA (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind OP 1)

So I’ve been kinda half and half on openings this year. When it comes to sheer visual presentation, it’s been an incredibly strong year, and even smaller shows have started upping their game in that department. As far as the actual songs go though, there’s been a little less that’s stood out to me, and the ones that did were ironically the ones with minimal visual presentation. There’s been a few good gems however, and out of those the one that’s stuck with me the most is Fighting Gold.

While I was actually a little mixed on this song at first, since it felt like a bit too heavy of a song to kick off a new season of Jojo’s, the farther along I’ve gotten in Golden Wind, the more it’s become apparent that this particular arc is dealing with heavier emotions than any of the previous parts before it, and the level of intensity in the song really fits the mood Golden Wind is going for. Combine that with the visual flair that we’ve generally come to expect from Jojo’s OPs at this point and this one was a clear winner. This isn’t the first time a song’s managed to grow on me more than I was expecting, and it certainly won’t be the last but it’s really turned out to be a total knockout, and one that I’m pretty happy to have been wrong about

Honorable Mentions: MAN-HUMAN by Denki Groove (Devilman Crybaby OP 1), Shiny Days by Asaka (Laid-Back Camp OP), Binary Star by Hiroyuki Sawano w/ Tielle (Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These OP)

 

Best Male Character- Sensei (Planet With)

Alright so I know you’re probably wondering why the heck a giant anthropomorphized cat is up here, but just hear me out. For the earliest parts of Planet With’s run, Sensei comes off as mostly being a weird and quirky mascot character, with some potentially lewd tendencies. As with many things in that show though, he turns out to be far more than he appears, and turns out not only to actually a member of an intergalactic organization that judges the potential for violence in other species, but is also the one who saved the protagonist Souya’s life when he turned out to be from a race of genocidal conquerors. His goal in saving Souya’s life was to prove that it’s wrong to judge an entire race based on whatever sins people of said race may have committed, since even a person from a supposedly evil race could be capable of growing into someone kind and empathetic, and the end of Souya’s journey in the story ultimately proves him to be correct. It’s a powerful message about the value of pacifism in an increasingly judgmental world, and one that I sure as heck wasn’t expecting to get from a weird looking cat. Sensei certainly isn’t the kind of hero you’d normally expect, but he’s certainly the kind people need and that’s helped in making him one of my favorite characters from this year

Honorable Mentions: Yang Wen-li (Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These), Akira Fudo (Devilman Crybaby), Haida (Aggretsuko)

 

Best Female Character- Retsuko (Aggretsuko)

Calling Retsuko my spirit animal sounds like a terrible pun when I say it out loud, but when it comes to capturing the struggle of millenials surviving at work, and navigating the crushing realities of adulthood, few characters are as relateable as Retsuko. From dealing to her cruddy boss, to finding small means of escapism, Retsuko’s issues feel all too real, and while this could have very easily turned into a case of making a character a blatant audience insert, she still feels distinctly like her own person, and has her own arc over the course of the show’s run. Said arc isn’t a particularly happy one, and it doesn’t really make her life particularly better in any way, but she gets better at working through it, and honestly that’s all anyone can ever really hope to do when it comes to navigating adulthood. Retsuko’s life may not be a sweet as her appearance, but it’s one I can understand, and makes her a character I can sympathize with immensely.

Honorable Mentions: Akane Shinjo (SSSS. Gridman, Hisone Amakasu (Hisone and Masotan), Ginko Kuroi (Planet With)

 

Best English Dub- Bungo Stray Dogs

As impressive a year as this has been for anime, it’s been even more impressive for anime dubs, and there’s been quite a lot of stuff that knocked it out of the park for me. Even with that in mind though, it wasn’t too hard to decide on my favorite, and came from a series I wasn’t really expecting. When I watched Bungo Stray Dogs simulcasted back in the day, I found it to be a pretty okay as far as bishonen action shows goes, but had trouble getting completely behind it. That was in part, due to how phoned in Mamoru Miyano’s performance as Dazai felt to me, since it felt very similar to almost every other bishonen character he’s played, and the way he handled him mostly served to make the character feel extremely obnoxious. To my surprise though, when I decided to give the show another shot with the dub, I had a much better time with it thanks to Kaiji Tang’s different, but far more distinguishable take on Dazai, and it was supported by an ensemble of equally strong performances from the likes of Brian Beacock as Akutagawa, and Max Mittleman’s Atsushi, as well as a pretty solid dub script. There’s been other cases where a good dub improved my opinion of a show, but it’s never really happened to this degree before, and I went from falling off the show midway through the simulcast, to eagerly anticipating the next season. It’s a heck of a contrast, and that makes this dub a simple choice for my standout of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Aggretsuko, Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan, SSSS. Gridman

 

Best Voice Actor- Erika Harlacher

While I’ve never been particularly down on Erika Harlacher as an actress, she wasn’t one who particularly stood out to me until she landed the role of Kurapika in Hunter x Hunter, and managed to really nail the character. Since then, her work as only improved and this year in particular brought out the strongest performances I’ve ever seen from her. From her take on the emotionally stunted Violet from Violet Evergarden to the outright insane level of emotional range on display with her take on the gamble-crazy Yumeko from Kakeguri, just about every major role she’s had this year has managed to be a standout, and has helped in demonstrating just how versatile of an actor she is. She’s quickly turned into one of my favorite actors, and I’m really looking forward to what else she’ll be able to deliver next year.

Honorable Mentions: Kyle McCarley, Jalen K. Cassell, Tia Ballard

 

This category is centered around genre stuff. Unlike the best series which we’ll get to afterwards, this for things that stood out really well as a genre piece moreso than as an overall series. That said there’s still plenty of good stuff to be found here, so let’s take a look:

Best Comedy- Aggretsuko

There’s been some pretty solid hitters this year when it came to comedies, ranging from black comedies like Hinamatsuri to the more lighthearted like Mitsuboshi Colors. Out of all the contenders though, Aggretsuko was definitely the one that left me with the most memorable experience. When this reboot was initially announced for Netflix, I wasn’t really expecting anything besides a few good laughs, and maybe a few bits that felt relatable. What I got instead was an effective mix of black comedy and social commentary about millenials in the workplace, and the casual sexism that women in particular have to navigate through, all through a deceptively colorful package of funny talking animals. The jokes hit hard and the commentary hits even harder, making for both one of the boldest anime comedies I’ve ever seen, as well as one that I can could easily recommend to non-anime fans. This show turned out to be a real gem, and with more material on the horizon, I’m looking forward to enjoying it for good long while.

Honorable Mentions: Hinamatsuri, Mitsuboshi Colors, Asobi Asobase

 

Best Drama- After the Rain

Alright so I might as well preface this by pointing out the obvious: the initial premise of this show involves the heroine, Akira, dealing with her crush on her middle aged manager, Kondo. What saves this from becoming incredibly problematic is that the story is largely framed from Akira’s perspective and the impulsive teenage emotions that come with it, as well as the fact that Akira isn’t so much in love with Kondo as she is the idea of him, and how he can be used to escape her own personal problems. Meanwhile, Kondo himself has plenty of his own baggage to deal with, and the relationship that forms between the two isn’t so much a romance as it is a friendship that allows the both of them to better handle their issues and ultimately become healthier people for it. It’s not a conventional story to be sure, and I certainly couldn’t blame anyone from being turned off by the very idea of the show’s premise, but for me it turned out to be a pretty powerful story, and the strongest drama I’ve seen all year

Honorable Mentions: A Place Further Than the Universe, Legend of the Galactic Heroes- Die Neue These, Banana Fish

 

Best Action Series- Thunderbolt Fantasy s2

There’s been a lot of fun action shows this year, and I had a pretty tough time deciding what to put here. In the end though, I had to give this one up to Gen Urobuchi’s Puppet Theatre, because it came back with a vengeance. It might technically be considered a stretch to consider a puppet production an anime, but what else could it be BUT anime when T.M. Revolution voices his own character in order to sing an insert song in the middle of a fight against  a giant dragon? Much like the first season this show features some amazing fight choreography and special effects, and many of the ensuing fights are so crazy and over the top that it’s easy to forget you’re only watching puppets moving around. All of that action is supported by an even tighter script, and the show manages to pack in a lot more intrigue and strong characterization than should even be allowed for a show that’s literally just Gen Urobuchi playing around with his old D&D campaigns. This season was a blast from beginning to end, and if for whatever reason, you still aren’t watching this show, I’d recommend amending that mistake as soon as possible.

Honorable Mentions: The Seven Deadly Sins- Return of the Ten Commandments, Sword Art Online Alternative- Gun Gale Online, Megalobox

 

Best Mecha- SSSS. Gridman

This has been a really notable year for mecha anime, and by that I mean there’s actually stuff to talk about besides Gundam. We saw new mecha IPs debut, and old ones return, each with their own varying levels of quality and success. In the end though, the one that took the crown for me was Trigger’s loving fan-letter to Neon Genesis Evangelion, and of course by that I mean SSSS. Gridman. I suppose this is technically cheating considering it’s based on a tokusatsu property and those two genres aren’t exactly the same thing, but it delivered on what I want out of a good mecha series more than just about anything else from this year, so the heck with it. The robot fights in this show look spectacular mixing 2D and 3DCG animation in a way that comes off as stylistic and flashy, while also paying homage to Gridman’s tokusatsu roots by having all of the giant monsters animated in a way that makes them look like giant rubber suits, and somehow manages to consistently maintain that aesthetic for a full 12 episodes without ever breaking the illusion. The story itself is nothing to snuff at either, as the show proves to be a lot more thoughtful than its campy origins would suggest, and manages to weave a striking narrative about the importance of connecting with others, and coping with depression, that feels like a better companion piece to Evangelion than some of the shows that have tried directly aping it. Trigger really knocked it out with this one and while I’m gonna need more time to decide if this is my favorite thing Trigger has done in general, it’s certainly the strongest thing they’ve put out this year.

Honorable Mentions: Planet With, Last Hope, Full Metal Panic- Invisible Victory

 

And now we’ve finally arrived at the best series for the year. You may notice that I have two series listed here instead of one, but that’s because I’ve picked the best based on two sub-categories: best adaption and best original work. While both adaptions and original projects both carry the intent to pick up an audience, they’re generally trying to accomplish different things as an adaption has to be a good piece of entertainment while maintaining the strengths of it’s source material where as an original work needs to stand completely on it’s own two feet and draw in a crowd on it’s own merits. As such I feel it’s only appropriate to bring up which two series did the best at tackling those things so without any further ado, here they are:

Anime of the Year (Adaption)- Devilman Crybaby

I wrote a full review of the series earlier this year so I don’t want to retread too much of what I said there but this show was quite an experience. When I first heard Masaaki Yuasa of Ping-Pong the Animation and The Tatami Galaxy fame was doing an adaption of Go Nagai’s manga classic Devilman, I was intrigued, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. To my amazement, the show turned out to be a powerful allegory regarding the dangers of humanity’s tendencies to label those who deviate outside of societal norms as a threat, and the outright catastrophic consequences that the ensuing violence of those tendencies can ultimately result in. It was a pretty heavy message for sure, and one that’s still firmly planted in my mind a full eleven months later.

Of course as powerful as Go Nagai’s commentary is, Masaaki Yuasa’s contributions in making this such a great show can’t be understated either. Adapting a manga from the 1960s and presenting it to modern audiences in a way they’ll resonate with is no simple feat, but Yuasa manages to modernize the setting with everything from additional commentary on how social media can increase our level of apathy, to some killer rap music, while still managing to deliver on Go Nagai’s core message in a way that feels almost timeless. Combine that with the show’s messy but striking visual style, and it’s honestly not hard to see why this show made such a splash when it debuted on Netflix, and why people are still talking about it. Shows as powerful as this one only ever come out maybe once in a decade, and while I sure wasn’t expecting Devilman to hit this hard going in, I have no doubt this series will be regarded as a modern-day classic for many years to come.

Honorable Mentions: After the Rain,  Lupin the 3rd- Part V, Legend of the Galactic Heroes- Die Neue These

 

Anime of the Year (Original Work)- Planet With

So there’s probably a couple of things I should point out here. Firstly, there technically is a manga version of this series that debuted a couple of months before the anime did, but both were announced simultaneously and the anime pulled ahead very quickly, so as far as anyone really needs be concerned it’s an anime original series. Secondly, if you’re wondering why this is my anime of the year, but didn’t take my top mecha spot over SSSS. Gridman, it’s because if I were being completely honest, the mecha battles are probably one of the weakest aspects in this show. This isn’t to say the mecha fights are bad, and they’re actually a lot better choreographed than the clunky looking CG would suggest, but if you just want to revel in the spectacle of giant robots punching things, Gridman does much better job of delivering on that joy.

Fortunately what Planet With lacks in visual polish it more than makes up for in storytelling, and I mean this in more ways than one. What starts off as a goofy super-sentai show involving heroes of justice duking it out against mysterious alien invaders, and our protagonist Souya supposedly on the side of the villains, evolves into a philosophical take on how violence and justice are ultimately two sides of the same coin, and how empathy and pacifism can be a more powerful force than vengeance and hatred. Series writer and prominent mangaka, Satoshi Mizukami somehow manages to cram the mecha franchise equivalent of two 26 episode seasons and their movie sequel OVAs into a mere 13-episode run, and while this could have easily turned into a bloated mess in the hands of another writer, Mizukami’s penchant for character writing and general swiftness in getting to whatever point he’s trying to make, allows this marvel to be pulled off spectacularly and delivers on the most satisfying ending I’ve seen all year. It’s rare for a mangaka like Mizukami to get so heavily involved in an anime, let alone storyboard pretty much the entire thing, but it results in an experience that can go from fun to profound at a moment’s notice, and stands as my favorite series of 2018.

Honorable Mentions: Aggretsuko, A Place Further than the Universe, SSSS. Gridman


And that’s it from me. If you somehow managed to read through all my rambling, thanks for indulging me, and congratulations on making it through this year. It’s been a rough one, but at least we’ve had some good cartoons to watch, and with any luck 2019 will be even better. Until then, have a happy new year, and stay animated.

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