Toon Talk- 25 Days of Anime: The 25 Best Anime of the 2010’s (#3-1)

Hunter x Hunter (2011)

Synopsis: Drawn to the mystique of the unknown, Hunters travel the world in search of terrifying creatures, incredible riches, and unexplored lands. Gon Freecss is a naive-yet-determined young boy who aspires to join the ranks of these individuals, in order to find his missing father Ging – a master of the profession himself. To reach his goal, he partakes in the formidable Hunter Exam, a series of tests that push the participants to their physical and mental limits, with a Hunter License as the prize. During the exam Gon befriends vengeful Kurapika, doctor-to-be Leorio, and skilled assassin Killua, who have entered for their own reasons. But with the sinister Hisoka standing in their way, will Gon and his friends be able to succeed in obtaining their reward, or even escaping with their lives?

Why You Should Watch: Like I said with My Hero Academia, I’m pretty much a shonen junkie at heart, and when it comes to top-shelf shonen, I can’t think of anything that really out performed this reboot of Hunter x Hunter. I was already fairly familar with the series going into it, having both read some of the manga back when I used to ride the high seas of piracy, and also having been a huge fan of author Yoshihiro Togashi’s previous work, Yu Yu Hakusho, whose anime adaption I had previous considered to basically be the best shonen anime ever made, both because of it’s pacing and the strength of it’s characters and the strength of its material. That still largely remains true, but Hunter x Hunter edges it out in a few areas. For one thing, it’s one of the best looking battle shonen adaptions out there in terms of animation and storyboarding (not that Yu Yu Hakusho slouches on that either), and while the early episodes are a little more conservative on those ends, the show only looks better and better the further it gets into its run. It also does a lot more to play around with the usual tropes of the battle shonen formula, and by extension has more room to play around with its characters and themes. The basic plot of Hunter x Hunter can really be described in one quick sentence: A boy named Gon goes on a journey to track down his missing deadbeat dad, Ging. In the process of getting there though he befriends a child assassin, gets hunted by a murder clown, has duels with death row inmmates, and that’s all just within the first arc of the show.

Like many shonen, Hunter x Hunter is no stranger to the outlandish, but it also goes to great lengths to explain what affects things like a group of superpowered bandits, or an army humanoid monsters would have on an otherwise grounded world, and it both adds to the surrealism, and allows for more serious consequences to the actions taken by the characters than what a lot of similar shonen stories tend to do. That applies even as the show plays around with various genres over the course of it’s run, and whether it’s a story about dealing with the mafia, or being trapped in a giant video game. Togashi puts enough detail into the mechanics of whatever he’s doing that it’s kind of impossible not to roll with it. In effect it kind of makes the series more of a giant toybox for Togashi to throw ideas around in, rather than a big overarching plot, and while having a shonen be so arc heavy sounds like something that would get annoying quickly, it works because it gives Togashi room to explore some really big ideas that a more linear structure wouldn’t allown. The Chimera Ant arc in particular is a great example of that as it takes the sudden emergence of a group of unknown insects and turns it into a powerrful tale about the dual sided nature of humanity, and how we can be capable of both empathy and unspeakable cruelty, making what is technically the show’s biggest detour, into one of it’s biggest highlights. That I feel, really sums up the appeal of Hunter x Hunter, as in the words of Gtying in the final episode “it’s important not to forget about the sidetrips because they’re the ones that hold what you’re really looking for”. It’s a story that’s much more about the journey than the destination (which is fitting since while the show does techinically get to its intended destination, it still leaves some loose ends) and the journey taken is one I’ll never be able to forget.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Synopsis: One night, Madoka has a terrible nightmare – against the backdrop of a desolate landscape, she watches a magical girl battle a terrifying creature, and lose. The next day, the teen’s dream becomes reality when the girl – Homura – arrives at Mitakihara Middle School as a transfer student, mysteriously warning Madoka to stay just the way she is. But when she and her best friend Miki are pulled into a twisted illusion world and meet a magical creature named Kyubey, the pair discovers that magical girls are real, and what’s more, they can choose to become one. All they must do is sign a contract with Kyubey and agree to fight witches that spread despair to the human world, and in return they will be granted a single wish. However, as Homura’s omen suggests, there’s far more to becoming a magical girl than Madoka and Miki realize…

Why You Should Watch: There really isn’t anything I could say about Madoka that hasn’t been said already by people much smarter than me, but that mostly speaks to just how powerful this show became. When I first checked it out way back in 2011, I wasn’t particularly into shojo, or any anime that didn’t feel traditional masculine, let alone magical girl shows, so I found myself being caught between it’s haunting atmosphere and my general aversion to magical girl stuff. I eventually decided to stick with it, and it turned out to be a pretty smart decision. The show’s earliest episodes lure you into something of a false sense of security as Madoka and her friend Sayaka find themselves thrust into the world of magical girls with the help of a fluffy mascot named Kyubei, and while the incredibly nightmare-like designs of the witch labyrinths they explore are terrifying, the show doesn’t really show it’s hand until the infamous twist of episode 3, and everything goes downward into a spiral of darkness from there. As the show progresses Madoka and Sayaka slowly realize that the finer details of being a magical girl might be a little more than they signed up for, and Kyubei isn’t nearly as benovolent as he first appeared as he’s more than happy to twist the emotions of these girls to meet his own ends (quite literally in fact as it turns out to be part of his job description. It all leads to the girls finding their lives torn apart by the cruelty of how the magical girl system actually works, and writer, Gen Urobuchi, takes a genre that is known for it’s unbridled optimism, and adds a shockingly harsh dose of reality to it. The show never pulls any punches on that end, and its commitment to that has spawned many imitators over the course of this decade, making the show perhaps the single most influencial anime since Neon Genesis Evangellion.

Yet, what many of it’s clones have failed to grasp is that while the girls do go through a heavy amount of suffering and cruelty, Urobuchi still understands that hope lies at the core of any magical girl story, and while the show’s ending certainly isn’t a giant pile of sunshine and rainbows, it still champions that hope in the midsts of despair can be powerful, and that it’s always worthwhile to fight for something better, even if the most ideal outcome isn’t always feasible. That message has stuck with me over the years, and it was the show’s great delivery of that message that helped to turn me from someone who avoided magical girl shows like the plague, to a guy who’s more than happy to burn through 200 episodes of Sailor Moon, and check out some Precure . Puella Magi Madoka Magica was and still is, a revolutionary piece of work, and it’s undoubtedly worth checking out if you somehow haven’t already because it’s not just the most influencial and important anime to have come from this decade, it’s a heck of a magical girl show.

Penguindrum

Synopsis: Kamba and Shouma Takakura have taken care of their sickly younger sister Himari since their parents disappeared years ago – that is, until the day she died. But as the boys grieve by her hospital bed, Himari sits up, adorned with a strange penguin hat. Suddenly, the three of them are transported to a vibrant world where the hat, using Himari’s body as a puppet, charges these brothers with a task: find the Penguin Drum and their sister’s life will be saved! Now aided by some odd penguins they received in the mail, the duo must find this mysterious item or risk losing the sister they care for so much. However, they aren’t the only ones with their sights on the Penguin Drum, for new enemies await them around every turn, all connected in ways they would have never imagined…

Why You Should Watch: There’s a lot I could say about Penguindrum, whether it’s about its themes or its characters, but I don’t feel like anything I could mention would even begin to give this show justice, and how powerful it is. The story follows a trio of orphaned siblings named Shoma, Kanbe, and their sickly sister Himari who live together happily until one day Himari’s illness kills her, and she’s revived the spirit living inside of a penguin hat who demand her brothers locate something called the Penguindrum if they want to save her life. This leads to them getting mixed up with a young girl named Ringo who’s been secretly stalking her teacher, and things somehow get even weirder from there. The siblings as it turns out, have more than a few secrets of their own, and one that very specifically ties into a real-world terrorist attack, and the burden its left behind on the famlies of the vicitms.

If you couldn’t already tell from how bizarre this all sounds, this is another Kunihiko Ikuhara show, and while I’ve talked about some of his other works from this decade, this one was actually my introduction to him as a director, and his style of work. Similar to Yurikuma Arashi and Sarazanmai, Penguindrum is bursting from the seams with crazy visual metaphors and surreal storyboarding, and while it’s not as well animated as Sarazanmai, the more classical shojo look of both its character designs and backgrounds still make it a visual feast, and it holds up well almost a whole decade later (well as much as it can considered the quality of Sentai’s stateside release for it). I also feel like, compared to the two aforementioned shows, or even Revolutionary Girl Utena, it’s a really great introduction to Ikuhara if you’re coming to his works from a more casual point of view, as the story itself is a little more tightly scripted than some of his other works tend to be, making it entetaining even if you don’t understand everything it’s trying to say, and characters are a lot more fleshed out as well. Shoma, Kanbe, Ringo (who in addition to the best character in the show, is probably the actual protagonist)and all the other members of the cast are given plenty of time to have their motivations explored, and all of them feel like real people, no matter how outlandish their goals might seem at first.

However, even with everything else the show has to offer, the real strength of it lies in what it has to say, and boy howdy does this show has a lot to say. Penguindrum is about a lot of things: the previously mentioned affects of terrorism, unwanted children, parental abuse, and how people can pass the crimes of parents onto their kids. Ultimately though, all of those ideas tie into one core idea, haunting each of the characters: that the past is inescapable, and you’ll be punished for it forever (a theme made more direct by the villain being a literal ghost of the past). But even through all the budens they carry, the show argues that people don’t have to be defined by their pasts or who their parents are, and whether its through finding people who accept you, or choosing who you consider to be family for yourself, you can rise above your circumstances. It’s a message that feel can resonate with a lot of people, and it’s certainly one that hit pretty close to home for me, which is why I’m still looking so fondly back on the show all these years later. There’s been a lot of great anime this decade, but few have captured both the beauty of anime as an artform, and as a tool for storytelling quite like Penguindrum, and it’s not only my favorite anime of the decade, it’s my favorite anime period, and one that I really hope will continue to stand the test of time.

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Toon Talk- 25 Days of Anime: The 25 Best Anime of the 2010’s (#10-4)

Run with the Wind

Synopsis: One chilly March day, Kansei University fourth-year Kiyose Haiji (Haiji) encounters Kurahara Kakeru (Kakeru) running uncommonly fast through the streets at night and forces him into living at the Chikusei-so (AKA Aotake). Haiji has a dream and ambition. He became discouraged after suffering an injury in high school, but he wants to run again. He wants to participate in the Hakone Ekiden and show off the running ability he’s been pursuing. He has only one year left to turn that dream and ambition into reality.

Why You Should Watch: I’m a pretty big sucker for the shonen sports formula, and while stories about a group of plucky high school boys coming together to win a tournment before their seniors graduate can get a little repetitive after a while, they tend to embody a lot of the best qualities shonen has to offer so it’s hard to get too upset about it. Now having said all that, Run With the Wind is an interesting sports anime in how far it veers away from that typical formula. For one thing it’s about a group of college boys instead of high schoolers meaning that in addition to being a little more grounded to reality than the typical lineup of pretty boys in this genre, these are all characters who are much closer to actual adulthood, and the uncertanties of things like finding a good job and actual life aspirations. These are also characters who, baring a couple of exceptions, have no serious attachement to the sport their participating, and are mostly amateurs with little experience. That allows this show to be both an effective underdog story, as the members of the Kansei running club really have the odds stacked against them, making every little victory they achieve feel satisfying, while also allowing it to break free from the constraints of a typical sports anime in order to tell a more nuanced story about personal growth. For many of the members of the club, running isn’t so much about winning as it is about bettering themselves and hopefully coming to better terms with the struggles they face, and it allows for the show’s surprisingly minimal drama to be really strong when it needs to.

The boys themselves are also all really fun characters, and while some of them get a little more to do than others, they all feel pretty fleshed out for the most part, and it’s hard not finding at least one that you can kind of relate to (King’s bit towards the end hit really close to home for me). Even if you are in for this purely as sports drama, Run With the Wind certainly doesn’t slouch with it’s productions and while it does cut some corners with the usage of CGI for the running sequences every now and then, on the whole it’s a very polished looking production, and certainly up there with Haikyu when it comes to high-quality sports animation (fitting, since the two shows share some staff). While many sports anime are about how the players have built their lives around the sport, Run with the Wind is more about how the sport has affected the lives of the players themselves, and the way it chooses to wrap up, really drives that home beautifully. Like I said with Chihayafuru, there was a lot of quality sports anime to choose from this decade, but this one really touched me the most on a personal level, and it’s honestly the most I’ve ever enjoyed a sports anime about an ensemble cast as opposed to just mainly following one character (see Hajime no Ippo). It’s a wonderful story, and one that like several others on this list, deserves way more attention than what it’s gotten so far.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Synopsis: When a small-time crook is released from prison, he is determined to turn his life around by apprenticing himself to the great rakugo master Yakumo VIII, inspired by his performance of “Shinigami” during his incarceration. Surprisingly, the old man agrees to train him and brings his new apprentice to his own house to live, giving him the name “Yotaro”, a classical word used in rakugo meaning “fool”. Yakumo has much to teach about the art of rakugo, but both he and his ward Konatsu- a hot-headed young woman whose father was also a famous storyteller- are difficult people with a shared dark past. Yakumo refuses to train her, claiming that the world of rakugo is no place for women, and Konatsu has vowed to kill him, claiming that Yakumo murdered her father!

Why You Should Watch: Like Chihayafuru, this is another one of those things where any basic explination of it’s premise is going to make it sound like the most boring thing on the planet, and that’d be a great disservice to how ridiculously well crafted it is. Rakugo is another thing specific to Japan’s culture that I was unfamilar with, and this show served as a very compelling introduction to it as we learn about it through the eyes of Yakumo, a rakugo master who has lived through some of the most tumltous eras of Japan’s history, and the relationship he formed with another performer named Sukeroku which has more than a little queer subtext on Yakumo’s end. That relationship gets complicated when Sukerou gets mixed up with a geisha named Miyokichi, and it results in a tragedy that continues to haunt Yakumo well into his old age, and leaves him wanting to take the very artform of Rakugo itself with him to the grave. However standing in his way are a reformed Yakuza thug named Yotaro who wants to be Yakumo’s apprentice, and Konatsu, the daughter of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, who was raised by Yakumo and also wants to enter into the world of Rakugo. It’s a tale both about how haunting the past can be, and how certain things are inevitably passed down regardless of our intentions, with the show fittingly framing it’s two seasons between Yakumo’s long and painful recollection of his past taking up the first one, and the second being about how his relationships with Yotaro and Konatsu allow him to better come to terms with that past, and eventually pass on the future of the future of rakugo into their hands.

The show also goes to pretty great lenghts to demonstrate the beauty of Rakugo as an artform thanks to Studio DEEN and director Yuki Taneda’s incredible eye for presentation. You’d think a bunch of sequences featuring people talking to themselves for sometimes half an episode would be incredibly boring, but use of cool visual metaphors, combined with some absolutely stellar voice acting from each of the performers, really sells it’s appeal, and the show does a great job at handling it that as time goes on you can gradually tell the differences between good and bad rakugo performances, and how that effects certain aspects of the story, Speaking of acting, the show also features Akira Ishida giving what is quite possibly the best performances of his career as Yakumo as he plays the character both in his youth and old age, and really gets across how weary and bitter the years have made him. Calling this show “prestige television” sounds a little pretentious, but there really isn’t any other way to describe it, as it’s the kind of slow burn art, that only adults would really appreciate, and while the show almost stumbles with a last-minute tease that threatens to upend it’s most important character dynamics, it remains just vague enoug about it, that you don’t have to think about that if you don’t want to, and it’s easily one of the most powerful dramas of the decade.

Planet With

Synopsis: Souya Kuroi is a high schooler living a peaceful life despite having no memories of his past. One day, however, his town is attacked by one of the mysterious Nebula Weapons. Together with the cat-like “Sensei” and the gothic lolita Ginko, Soya gets dragged into a battle against… seven superheroes who protect the town! What is Soya’s reason to fight? The answer lies in his memories.

Why You Should Watch: I’ve been a pretty big fan of manga author, Satoshi Mizukami, ever since I read Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer a few years back, and while none of his manga have ever had the opportunity to get anime adaptions (that Spirit Circle in particular doesn’t have one is a crime, because it’s really high up there as one of the best manga I’ve read, period) when it was announced he was going to be putting out an original work with J.C. Staff, I was eager to check it out, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Like some of Mizukami’s other works, the show starts out kinda slow and very weird, with the initial premise involving a boy with amnesia getting mixed up with a group of heroes who are trying to save humanity from a hostile alien threat. The twist here is that the boy in question is a alien himself, but from a different faction than the ones currently invading Earth, and his primary goal is to take out the heroes because of the role their technology played in his world’s destruction. If that sounds like a lot it both is and isn’t as while the show dumps out a lot of information at you, it’s all pretty easy to digest, and the general tone of the show is very tongue-in-cheek about the tropes it’s playing with, and is often quick to get straight to the point of whatever it’s doing, before throwing out new twists that change the nature of the story pretty significantly. In fact, saying it’s quick to the point is kind of an understatement, because Mizukami takes a narrative that any other mecha series would have told over the span of two 26 episode seasons and maybe a couple of films, and grinds it all down into 12 episodes without ever feeling rushed, and it’s an impressive feat in and of itself.

Of course, that wouldn’t mean much of anything if the material itself wasn’t strong, and boy howdy is it. Souya and the heroes are all pretty delightful characters, and even with how many story beats the show has to work through in a 12 episode timespan, it still finds plenty of time to develop them beyonf the archetypes they’re intially presented as, and they feel very relatable and human in their own way (even the giant cat, who is unironically the most heroic character of the whole story). More than anything though, what really makes this show shine is are it’s messages about the dangers of extremism, and demonizing entire races in the name of “righteousness” and how powerful forgiveness and empathy for others can be, as opposed to raw violence. It accomplishes all of this while also just being a lot of fun to watch, both in terms of Mizukami’s weird but effective sense of humor and how he uses that to play with your expectations, and just as a straight up mecha show, as while the production doesn’t look the greatest (and J.C. Staff certainly didn’t spare this show the resources to match how ambitious some of Mizukami’s storyboards got) it’s still pretty solid, and both the 3DCG mecha animation, and the music capture all the energy of a classic super robot anime. It’s a shame this show kinda went under the radar last year (if partially because it wasn’t promoted that well) because it’s really something special, and while I might still be sitting here hoping for a Spirit Circle anime someday, if this is the only work of Mizukami’s we ever get to see animated, he certainly made a heck of a great one.

Psycho-Pass

Synopsis: In the future, a system called Sibyl presides over the country and provides order to every facet of life. It dictates which job fields citizens should go into based on aptitude tests, and can even read each resident’s mental state and predict which ones are likely to commit crimes in the future. Fresh from exams, Akane Tsunemori is beginning her career as an Inspector, a specialized police officer who works to apprehend these latent criminals and stop crimes before they happen. But not all that get caught are eliminated or jailed, some join the police force as Enforcers to provide insight into criminals’ minds, and Akane is warned not to get too close to them, as they’re considered little more than hunting dogs. Though skeptical of this advice, and Sibyl’s judgement, Akane is determined to work together with her Enforcers to protect the peace of her city and its inhabitants.

Why You Should Watch: I should preface this by saying that when I refer to Psycho-Pass, I’m talking strictly the first season, both because I never got around to the movie, and because well…we don’t talk about that second season. With that out of the way, I have to say that I came into this show with some pretty high expectations back in the day, both because it was coming of the heels of Gen Urobuchi’s success with Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and also because the character designs were being done with Akira Amano of Reborn! fame, meaning they were gonna look pretty stellar. Typically setting my expectations through the roof has tended to result in disappointment, but in the case of this show, it met my expectations and then some. While it isn’t exactly my favorite anime genre, I’m pretty into sci-fi and cyberpunk especially is an aesthetic I can really get behind. This show really runs with that from a visual standpoint, as a lot of the style really harkens back to some of the best elements of Ghost in the Shell, and it’s a strong looking production both in terms of animation, and it’s great musical score. The story actually being told here is what really makes it shine though, as Psycho-Pass depicts a futuristic dystopia where Japan has isolated itself from the rest of the world, and has created an “perfect” society through use of the Sybil Systerm which can scan brain waves to detect a person’s potential for criminal behavior and punish them accordingly. It’s a concept that is equal parts interesting and extremely dangerous, and the show allows us to view it through the lenses of Akane, a rookie detective whose capacity for crime is deemed incredibly low, and Kogami, a veteran enforcer whose duty it is to punish criminals Sybil has judged, and kept on a leash by the system as he and the other enforcers are deemed to have a high capacity for becoming criminals.

Much of the show’s early episodes function as a procedural crime thriller with Akane and the enforcers dealing with a variety of criminals who are either trying to hide within the system or have little fear of it. Many of these criminals are manipulated by the show’s primary antagonist, Makishima, a man who is clearly a dangerous and charasmatic killer, but has been deemed by Sybil to have no capacity for crimes, and thus isn’t a target for enforcement. Makishima’s schemes serve as the driving force behind the show’s second half as he sets out to expose Sybil as a dangerous system that can be easily exploited, and sets out to sow as much chaos as possible by demonstrating how apathetic it can make society as a whole. While this all sounds a little theatrical, it ultimately serves as a pretty strong allegory for our own strict adherance to laws, and how bystander syndrome can cause us to easily ignore atrocities commited right in front of us. The show argues as to how much these laws can actually protect people, and if not, whether or not they should be ripped apart entirely. As is often the case with Urobuchi’s writing, the answer he comes to on this isn’t an entirely happy one, but it’s certainly powerful, and while the actual plot gets a little over the top towards the home stretch, it still manages to deliver on that answer in a way that sticks with you. Psycho-Pass is a really cool and really compelling piece of allegorical sci-fi, and while neither of it’s sequel seasons seem to quite get what that allegory was supposed to be, the first season is self-contained enough that you don’t really need to bother with them anyway, and it’s definently the genre standout for the decade.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (2012)

Synopsis: When Jonathan Joestar was just a baby, his mother tragically died in a carriage accident, and his father George was saved by the kindness of a stranger, Dario Brando. At least, that’s what George believed, unbeknownst to him that Dario was just attempting to steal from the victims. Thus, when Dario later dies and his son, Dio, comes to his doorstep, the wealthy George eagerly adopts the boy. But what should have become a budding friendship between two siblings quickly becomes a nightmare for poor Jonathan, as Dio is cruel, calculating and will go to great lengths to become George’s primary heir. Little does Jonathan know that this unfortunate childhood is only the harbinger of things to come…

Why You Should Watch: So I know it’s kind of cheating to list Jojo’s without picking a specific part, but picking which of the parts is your favorite is kind of like picking your favorite child (the correct answer so far is Diamond is Unbreakable you simpletons) and pretty much everyone’s answer is going to be different. It hardly matters though because in all honestly, pretty much all of Jojo’s is great and each season has it’s own charms. On the surface, Jojo’s is a pretty straightforward battle of good and evil, pitting the (mostly) heroic Joestar family against the vampire Dio Brando, and basically anyone his influence has effected by extension. What’s helped to make it such an enduring franchise though, ultimately comes down to three things. Firstly that it’s extremely adapable as each arc, or part as they’re called, follows a different protagonist from the Joestar bloodline making each part it’s own story, and allowing the series to constantly try new things with it’s characters, settings and themes, making it pretty likely you’ll find at least one arc will have something that appeals to you. That adaptability even applies to how the show structures it’s fights as it rather famously abandons hand-to-hand combat after Part 2, in favor of more strategic battles involving psychic ghosts called Stands that all have their own specific abilities, and it makes almost every battle in Jojo’s it’s own unique puzzle to solve, which means it’s rarely boring. Second, it’s absolutely bursting with style, and whether it’s the increasingly outlandish fashion choices for the characters, or their signature poses, Jojo’s has a unique look all its own, and David Production’s work on the anime takes that ball and runs with, as each new season has an increasingly unique sense of color of and storyboarding, and while it’s rarely well-animated, it’s directed so well those shortcomings are almost never apparent. Lastly, and very true to the show’s name, it’s very bizarre, and throws in everything from talking cyborg nazis to vampires that can stop time and shoot lasers from their eyes, while somehow making all of it never feel out of place or like the series is trying too hard to one-up itself in insanity. It’s a strange, but incredibly fun formula, and while it goes through many different changes in style, it’s heart consistently beats with the same level of sincerity as any other shonen franchise, and series creator Hirohiro Araki’s passion for it can always be felt throughout. Jojo’s is very odd for a shonen series and there really is nothing else out there quite like it, but it’s that oddness and it’s consistent willingness to evolve that have allowed it to endure so well over the years, and however much more of the franchise we get animated, I’ll always be eager to check it out.

Fate/Zero

Synopsis: Ten years before Shirou Emiya’s and Saber’s fateful meeting, Japan is the stage for the fourth Holy Grail War. Seven Masters, each with his own dreams, step forward to win the boon of the mystic relic. Into this fray comes Kiritsugu Emiya, the enigmatic “Mage Killer” who wants to use the Grail to make a better world. Can he, paired with the indomitable Saber win the War? Or will he fall to the ambitions of the other mages?

Why You Should Watch: In my early years of anime fandom, Fate only really existed as the 2006 adaption of Fate/Stay Night from Studio DEEN, which wasn’t very good, and which diehard Type Moon fans insisted was a poor representation of the material. Today, it’s nearly impossible to be a dedicated anime fan without having heard about Fate, and there’s at least two or three new anime projects coming out fot the franchise every year. That massive explosion in popularity can be largely attributed to Fate/Zero, and how the team at ufotable adapted the original novel from Gen Urobuchi. Much like Fate/Stay Night, which this series is a prequel to, the basic set up of this show involves a battle between seven mages who have each summoned a heroic warrior of legend dubbed “Servants” to do their bidding in order to win the Holy Grail and have their wish granted by it. It’s a pretty good setup for an action show, and the production really takes advantage of that, as the fight scenes all look fantastic, and the show takes full advantage of digital effects to make every Servant’s ability stand-out and look as cool as possible.

The character writing is no slouch here either, as the show also takes advantage of the Servants all being based off of historical figures of legend from our own world, to give each of them unique personalities and perspectives that bounce off of their respective masters, and influence the actions they take over the course of the series. Whether it’s Rider teaching Waver how to loosen up and fight his own battles, or Gilgamesh slowly convincing Kirei to give into his dark side and go from priest to absolute monster, these dynamics are a ton of fun to watch, and they help to turn what could have otherwise been a straightforward battle royal, into a more complex look at varying ideologies and morality. That can best be seen through the arc of the protagonist Kiritsugu and his servant Saber as he wishes to use the Grail to save the world, and be a hero, only to find himself wondering if there truly is a way in which all people can be saved, and if he can even save himself from the things he’s done on the path to his goal. It’s all really compelling material and the best part about it is that despite being a prequel (and also despite what diehard fans of the franchise will tell you) it’s a perfectly self-contained story that doesn’t require any prior knowledge of Fate, and doesn’t require you to commit to the rest of the franchise if you don’t want to. Frankly nothing else from the franchise has kind of measured up to it, which is kind of a shame, but for what’s effectively served as a new-ish starting point into such a massive franchise, it’s hard to think of anything as well-executed as this was.

Devilman: Crybaby

Synopsis: The protagonist Akira Fudo learns from his best friend, Ryo Asuka, that an ancient race of demons has returned to take back the world from humans. Ryo tells Akira that the only way to defeat the demons is to incorporate their supernatural powers, and suggests that he unite with a demon himself. Akira succeeds in transforming into Devilman, who possesses both the powers of a demon and the soul of a human. The battle of Devilman and Akira Fudo begins.

Why You Should Watch: Devilman was always one of those things in the anime sphere that I was vaguely aware of, but never gave much thought beyond acknolweding how influencial it was. Now that we’ve gotten a retelling of Go Nagai’s original tale from the mind of the crimininal underrated director Masaaki Yuasa, I can see why. As is kind of evident by it’s title, Devilman Crybaby starts off as a superhero tale of sorts with the protagonist Akira being a mild mannered teen until he goes to a rave with his friend Ryo one night, and gets possessed by a devil, turning him into the titular Devilman, who goes toe-to-toe with various demonic threats surrounding him. However as the story progresses and the devils Akira faces prove to be more complex beings than he first thought, it evolves into a cautionary tale about how easy it is for society to label those who don’t fit into it’s norms as threats that must be exterminated, and the horrors that can be committed in the name of fighting that percieved threat. It is this aspect of humanity that the show argues is the real danger, and the conclusion it comes to on that end, while extremely depressing, hits in a way that will absolutely leave an impact on you. At the same time though, the show isn’t totally devoid of hope, and while pretty much every character gets put through the meat grinder, it shows that love and compassion can be powerful in dire circumstances, even if our self-destructive nature tends to prevail over that. Those messages are aided by the show’s unique visual design which mixes flash and traditional 2D animation to give it a look that can grasp both the simple and gentler side of human natue and the violent destruction that lurks beneath it. While time will tell exactly what kind of impact this adaption leaves on anime going forward, it certainly left an impact on me, and as my main introduction into Go Nagai’s work, it was one heck of a first impression.

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Toon Talk- 25 Days of Anime: The 25 Best Anime of the 2010’s (#25-11)

The year 2019 is slowly winding down, and with it, the end of this long, long decade. There’s been a lot of wild changes in the world over the past 10 years, some for the best and others…not so much. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is that there’s still a ton of anime coming out every single year and way too much of it for any one person to see no matter how much free time you have. Since we’re getting ready to head into a new decade, I felt like it was only proper to talk about some of the best anime the 2010’s had to offer, and while there was a lot of great stuff that came out during this time, I’ve managed to wittle it down to what I thought were 25 of the strongest shows to come out of the decade.

In the spirit of the season, I’ll be listing off one show per day between now and December 25th, so there’ll be something new here every day until then unless my schedule gets weird. With all that out of the way, let’s hop to it

*All series synopsis are from Anime Planet


Attack on Titan

Synopsis: Over a century ago, mankind was devoured by giant beings of unknown intelligence and origin known as Titans – creatures that eat humans alive indiscriminately and for no apparent reason. The remaining population has managed to survive the last hundred years only by building a multi-walled city capable of keeping the Titans at bay, training military recruits to patrol the perimeter and gather intelligence about their mysterious foe. Eren and Mikasa have lived a relatively peaceful life behind the city’s walls, but when a massive Titan appears, smashing the outer barrier and unleashing a wave of terror, their lives are brutally changed forever…

Why You Should Watch: While my feelings towards the series have kind of diminished over the years, it’s hard to deny how *pardon the pun* colossal of a hit this show turned out to be. The series starts off with a strong hook regarding humanity’s fear of the Titans and Eren’s desire to fight back against a seemingly unstoppable threat and only gets more intense from there as the scale of the story escalates the deeper it goes in, until it eventually evolves into an exploration of military fascism and the demonization of other races. It’s also cool as heck to look at and chief director Tetsuro Araki of Death Note fame, and Studio WIT did a fantastic job of transforming the manga’s unique, but kinda ugly art, into a glorious action spectacle with some city scaling parkour that would make Spiderman blush, and the battles between the Titans themselves constantly hovering somewhere between giant mecha battles and wrestling matches. Sadly the show’s very…messy mixed messaging regarding it’s darker themes kept it from making the cut for this list, but when it comes to the biggest hits of the decade, almost nothing’s managed to scale up to this one.

GeGeGe no Kitaro (2018)

Synopsis: Nearly twenty years into the 21st century, people have forgotten the existence of Yokai. When a number of unexplainable phenomena plague adults of the human world with confusion and chaos, thirteen-year-old Mana writes a letter to the Yokai Post in search of answers, only to be greeted by Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro… 

Why You Should Watch: With how much Dragonball fans have been screaming at Toei to put out a sequel to Dragonball Super, you’d be forgiven for thinking Kitaro was a lame replacement with not a whole lot to offer. However you’d also be dead wrong as while the show carries itself with the outward charm of a fun kids’ show, it’s also one with a pretty good horror aesthetic, and uses it’s episodic premise to explore themes such as human trafficking, worker exploitation, and how hatred can spiral violence. It can pretty dark for a kids show, and never pulls any punches despite its target demographic, as not all of it’s stories have a happy ending. Even with all that in mind though, it still knows how to cut loose and be fun, and Kitaro and his band of yokai pals make for a pretty charming cast of characters to hang out with every week. This might not be the most exciting show out there for most audiences, but if you aren’t afraid of checking out kids’ shows, and you’re in the mood for something spooky, Kitaro’s been one heck of a ride, and it could certainly use more love

Stars Align

Synopsis: The teen adolescence story revolves around the coming-of-age of boys in a junior high school’s soft tennis team, which is on the verge of shutting down. Touma Shinjou asks Maki Katsuragi to join the team for his vaunted abilities, and mentions a summer competition. Katsuragi asks for money in return for joining the team.

Why You Should Watch: Honestly it really feels like this show should have made the cut for this list, and I was very tempted to put it there, but as of the time this has been written the show hasn’t ended yet and since there’s still the (slim) possibility it could faceplant in the final act, I’d feel weird including it on something like this. All that said, this is still more than worth checking out. Series director Kazuki Akane had a pretty good track record going for him with his work on The Vision of Escaflowne and Noein to your other self, with both shows mixing cool fantasy elements with heartfelt coming of age stories and solid character drama. While Stars Align is a lot more grounded than either of those shows it certainly isn’t any less lacking in the drama department and has used its premise of a dysfunctional middle school soft tennis club to discuss abusive parenting, and LGBT topics, with episode 8 in particular offering one of the most gentle looks on transgender and non-binary people that I’ve ever seen in an anime, and it was more than a little eye-opening for me. Again, I feel pretty bad not having it on the proper list here, but if you haven’t already checked the show out, it’s far and away the strongest thing the Fall 2019 anime season has had to offer, and it’s more than worth your time.

Vinland Saga

Synopsis: Around the end of the millennium, Viking, the mightiest but atrocious tribe, had been outbreaking everywhere. Thorfinn, the son of the greatest warrior, lived his childhood in the battlefield. He was seeking the land of reverie called Vinland. This is the story of a true warrior in an age of turmoil.

Why You Should Watch: This is another one I’d include if the show wasn’t still airing, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting. Historical fiction isn’t exactly an uncommon topic for anime, but the time of the Vikings is one that media barely covers in general, despite the myths about them, and this series dives headlong into their culture and the various conflicts of that time period through the eyes of Thorfinn, a young boy who wants revenge for his father’s murderer, and Askeladd, the guy who killed Thorfinn’s dear old dad and runs his own band of Vikings who pillage the countryside, and hire themselves out as mercenaries to whoever pays the highest. While all of that sounds like a formula for some testosterone-fueled action, and there’s certainly no shortage of that given that this is a Studio WIT production, it places even more emphasis on the futility of violence, and how it’s a cycle that can only be escaped by making the conscious choice to live for something better. It’s a lesson that hasn’t quite hit Thorfinn just yet, but the path to him getting there has been a fantastic watch, and with how effortlessly the show’s managed to go into it’s heavier topics, it’s not hard to see why it’s source material has been held in such high regard, and so far, the anime adaption’s proven to be one of 2019’s strongest offerings.


Synopsis: 30 years ago, a massive firestorm tore through half of the world’s cities, bringing the planet to its knees and giving birth to fire-wielding mutants known as Burnish. Now, a powerful mutant terrorist group who calls themselves Mad Burnish, lead by the soft-spoken Lio, threatens to destroy the earth again in a blaze of hellfire. The only thing that stands in their way is the Burning Rescue Fire Department and their hot-headed leader Galo. As these two burning forces collide, with the world as their battlefield, who will come out victorious?

Why You Should Watch: While I wouldn’t exactly call myself the biggest fan of Hiroyuki Imaishi or the general aesthetic he’s helped make Studio Trigger known for, I’d be lying if I said his stuff wasn’t a whole lot of fun to watch, and Gurren Laggan and Kill la Kill are two of my favorite action shows to watch if I want to get my blood pumping. Still even with that in mind, it’s hard to think of anything that quite encapsulates Trigger’s style quite like Promare. Like it’s aforementioned predecessors, Promare is a loud bombastic action spectacle filled with even louder characters and some incredibly stylish battle animation cuts, while also having a unique visual style that blends 2D animation and 3DCG in a way that gives the film an almost comic-book feel not unlike Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. What really makes this particular project special though is that while Imaishi certainly hasn’t been shy about addressing topics like the power of non-conformity in his previous works, this one is definently the most blunt about what it wants to say, and dives surprisingly deep into the treatment of minorities by government enforcers (they’re called the Freeze Force for a reason guys) and the looming threat of global warming, all while maintaining the usual level of fun and high energy that Trigger productions are known for. Sadly it’s commitment to the typical Trigger aesthetic kind of cuts some of it’s thematic ambitions short, but it manages to cram everything great about Trigger shows into a tidy 2-hour package so it’s hard to be too critical about it. Plus it’s given us the most popular gay pairing to an action thing aimed at dudes in recent memory, and anything bold enough to be as unsubtle about that as possible is pretty cool in my book.


Synopsis: In Japan’s Warring States period, Lord Daigo Kagemitsu makes a pact with 12 demons, exchanging his unborn son for the prosperity of his lands. The child is born malformed and is set adrift in a river, while Kagemitsu’s lands thrive as promised. Years later, young thief Dororo encounters the mysterious “Hyakkimaru”, a boy whose arms are blades and whose visionless eyes seem able to see monsters.

Why You Should Watch: I’ll admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of the show’s director, Kazuhiro Furuhashi, since a lot of his work on the Rurouni Kenshin franchise made the series needlessly edgier than it’s source material and subsequently misunderstood it’s ending (the less said about Rurouni Kenshin: Reflections the better). Still, it’s pretty hard to deny he’s talented so when I heard he was doing a new retelling of the grandfather of manga, Osamu Tezuka’s, Dororo, I was pretty curious to check it out. What I got ended up being one of the strongest shows of 2019, as Furuhashi and the staff at Studio MAPPA took the interesting but kind of tonally inconsistent manga, about a boy with puppet limbs hunting down the demons who took it alongside his scrappy orphaned companion, and turned it into a thoughtful look at how one’s humanity can be maintained in a world where everyone has to dirty their hands for their own survival, and if sacrificing the few to save the many can ever truly be justified. Hyakkimaru’s battle to regain his humanity by reclaiming his body, leads him down a path that ultimately threatens to take that humanity away from him, and seeing where that journey takes him can be equal parts horrific and triumphant as nearly every character in the show’s cast carries their own struggles in how they’ve made their way through such turbulent times. The series also has a pretty good visual aesthetic going for it, in how it chooses to display it’s violent world, and it helps to give the series a bit of a retro feel, while still feeling more than suitable for modern audiences. While I doubt this series would have been high on anyone’s list of manga properties to revive, this reinterpretation turned out to be one heck of a ride, and reminded me that not every adaption needs to be direct to it’s source to be great.

Synopsis: When the girls in the literature club ask themselves, “What do you want to do before you die?” one of them gives a most surprising response. Now they’re all preoccupied (for better or for worse) by their friend’s unexpected answer! Soon each of these very different young women find themselves propelled along the uncertain road to adulthood, their emotional journeys taking them down paths as surprising as their friend’s unconventional wish. 

Why You Should Watch: Ah, puberty. It’s one of the most awkward and confusing times in any person’s life, and media has exploited that awkwardness for nearly all it’s worth, as stories about horny teens aren’t exactly uncommon, especially in anime. However while fiction about puberty is often tackled from a male perspective, very rarely is it done from a female perspective (at least not without the added condition that it’s at least partially played for titillation) and O’ Maidens in Your Savage Season holds nothing back. Penned by the original manga’s author and prolific anime writer, Mari Okada, O’ Maidens follows a group of young girls in a high school literature who seem to want nothing to do with boys until one of them declares her desire to have sex. The ensuing whirlwind of chaos from that declaration, pulls the girls into various love triangles, strange relationships, and just a general mess of awkwardness.

Mari Okada’s work is both famous and infamous for how melodramatic her stories can get, and while there’s a whole lot of drama going on in this show, what really helps to set it apart from similarly sex-charged stories about puberty is that it has a surprising amount of levity, and often has you laughing at some of the girls’ crazy antics as much as it does wanting to make you give them a hug and tell them everything will get better with time. It’s also one of the rare stories that tackles how a queer teen handles puberty, and while her arc isn’t exactly the happiest, it’s empathetic in a way that dramas like these aren’t always the best at. The relationships in this show can also delve into some very uncomfortable dynamics as the girls deal with the men in their lives (as a word of warning one of them involves one of the girls dealing with her abuser who is a literal pedophile) but it handles them very delicately, and never crosses any lines it can’t walk back from. It’s a pretty messy series, and the slightly anti-climatic conclusion might not sit well with everyone, but puberty is messy, and this show understands that in a way that very few other works of fiction have shown successfully, and that makes it both an impressive piece of art, and one Mari Okada’s strongest works to date.

Synopsis: Frustrated with her thankless office job, Retsuko the Red Panda copes with her daily struggles by belting out death metal karaoke after work.

Why You Should Watch: If you told me a couple of years ago that one of the best shows to tackle millennial work life and the anxieties of adulthood would come from the same company that makes Hello Kitty, I would have thought you were off your rocker. Sure enough though, Aggretsuko is one of the most relatable shows out there, and one of the few anime comedies to penetrate mainstream consciousness in the west, and for good reason. Regardless of gender, I’m pretty sure just about every young adult trying to make their way through an early career can see themselves in Retsuko, a red panda who has to put up with all sorts of garbage from her co-workers and chooses to vent via death-metal screaming sessions at her local karaoke bar about how much she hates her life. It can certainly be cathartic if you’ve ever found yourself in similar situations but what really makes Aggretsuko shine as a series is how Retsuko learns how to navigate her way though the problems with her life with the first season tackling the workplace sexism she constantly finds herself under and how marriage might be her only means of escape, while the slightly more uneven but still solid second season, has Retsuko looking more at what she wants out of life in the long term. These aren’t easy things to deal with, and Retsuko never manages to overcome these problems so much as she does learn to take the good with the bad in her life, and head towards her future at her own pace. As someone who shares in at least a few of those struggles, these feel like surprisingly honest conclusions, and that honesty has probably contributed at lot to it’s current success. Workplace comedies may be nothing new, but few speak to the millennial experience quite as hard as Aggretsuko, and while we can’t always scream out our frustrations, at least this show is willing to do plenty of the screaming for us.

Synopsis: Izuku has dreamt of being a hero all his life—a lofty goal for anyone, but especially challenging for a kid with no superpowers. That’s right, in a world where eighty percent of the population has some kind of super-powered “quirk,” Izuku was unlucky enough to be born completely normal. But that’s not going to stop him from enrolling in one of the world’s most prestigious hero academies. Now, the only thing standing between him and his first class is the academy’s formidable entrance exam—nothing a little private tutoring from the world’s mightiest hero can’t solve.

Why You Should Watch: So I might have tried pretending to be smart with some of these other entries, but anyone who talks to me online knows I’m a shonen junkie at heart, and few series this decade have given my inner 12-year old their fix quite like My Hero Academia. While the first season kind of stumbled out of the gate with some wonky pacing, and a more conservative looking production than the general pedigree Studio BONES has made themselves known for, every season afterwards has only gotten stronger and the anime staff has brought Kohei Horokoshi’s original manga to life with the kind of high energy many shonen adaptions of the past could only dream of, with consistently strong animation, and some killer direction. The material itself of course, is no slouch either, and while a lot of its base appeal lies in how well it’s refined the typical Shonen Jump formula down to it’s lovable cast of characters (and Mineta I guess) and well paced story structure, what really makes this series shine is that’s well…actually a pretty good superhero story. Even though on the surface, a lot of it’s superhero elements feel like they’re there to add some flavor to it’s shonen formula, in many respects, it’s usually the opposite, and the series has quite a lot to say about how true heroism comes from a desire to help people, and how that desire can conflict with a society held up laws and regulations, as well as acknowledging both the good and bad in having superheroes as symbols for the people. Even if you don’t care about any of the deeper stuff though, My Hero is just a really fun time, and while it’s not the most sophisticated thing on the planet, it’s kind of like having your favorite bowl of cereal. It might not be a full-course breakfast, but it always puts a smile on your face, and as this decade’s big tentpole battle shonen, hopefully it can keep bringing those smiles for a few more years to come.

Synopsis: When Mutta and Hibito were children, they made a promise to become astronauts together after spotting a UFO one night. Now adults, the duo’s path couldn’t have diverged more – Hibito is about to travel to the moon with NASA to help simulate the future exploration of Mars, and Mutta is unemployed, having recently headbutted his boss at an auto company. Still, the man can’t shake his desire to surpass his younger brother, and soon, he becomes an applicant for Japan’s JAXA space program. His ultimate goal, to get one step ahead of Hibito and go to Mars. But the path to becoming an astronaut is long and fraught with tests and challenges. Will Mutta and newfound friends Kenji and Serika manage to persevere and achieve their dream?

Why You Should Watch: As kids we’re often told that there’s a certain point in adulthood by which we should have our lives together, and that anyone who fails to do so by that point is doomed to amount to nothing. However as many struggling folks (myself included) in their late 20’s and early 30’s would tell you, real life is a lot more complicated than that, and getting one’s life together can be a constant work in progress. This rings especially true in the story of this show’s protagonist, 35-year old Mutta Nanba, who after getting fired from his job as an auto engineer, is forced to rethink his life trajectory, and decides to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, alongside his younger brother Hibito, who’s already living that dream. His journey towards that goal has a lot of ups and downs, and along the way we’re introduced to a variety of other characters, some who have been constantly beaten down by life, and others who have loving families and stable careers, who all still similarly yearn to achieve their dreams of going to space, and there’s a level of humanity to just about everyone Mutta meets that really helps to demonstrate that being an adult doesn’t always mean you’ll be fulfilled.

While that description makes this series sound pretty dry and serious, a lot of the time it’s really funny, and while it never sugarcoats the struggles the adults of this show face, it also has an abundance of child-like optimism that keeps things from ever getting too dark, and it rarely fails to be entertaining. It also presents the inherierant romance of space and adventure with the kind of wonder that can easily capture the hearts of kids, as well as the adults it’s more grounded elements are tailored to, making it one of the rare anime that you could actually put on for the whole family (well minus one racially insensitive joke that’s mostly skippable, and a potential age-gap romance that might not sit well with everyone). Unfortunately it didn’t really gain much traction in the west, much less a dub, so the series has sadly remained kind of niche here over the last few years, but it’s well worth your time regardless, and while it’s a little long, the show never feels like it’s dragging it’s heels. Whether you’re young or old, Space Brothers is here to tell you that it’s never too late to start over and pursue your dreams, and as someone who’s sadly gotten more jaded about life with age, it’s the kind of optimism I could certainly use more of.

Synopsis: The Earth Sphere had lost its previous governing structure, and a new world was created under new systems of government. While a temporary peace had arrived, the seeds of a new conflict were being sown in the Mars Sphere, far away from Earth.

Why You Should Watch: When you think about giant robots in anime, it’s hard not to think about Gundam, and it’s as true now as it was when I was a kid seeing promos for Gundam Wing on Toonami. Yet for all the years I’ve watched anime, with the exception of the fun toyetic spinoff Gundam Build Fighters, I had never really watched a Gundam series from beginning to end, until I watched Iron Blooded Orphans, and for my first “real” Gundam show, it was a pretty wild experience. Iron-Blooded Orphans depicts the tale of a group of well…orphans known as Tekkadan, who have been raised as child mercenaries and have little freedom of their own, until a job from a rich philanthropist gives them a way out, and their journey towards making a better life for themselves, brings them into conflict with various political interests, and through the lens of the show’s titular orphans and some of the other characters they meet along the way, we’re given a front row seat to the various ways the young and vulnerable are exploited by those with power, and how those with that power, can bend narratives to their will to maintain their influence.

As political as that sounds though, this is also another series scripted by Mari Okada, which means that in addition to all of that, it’s also got some pretty heavy dramatic chops, and it spends just as much, if not more time, exploring the weird and sometimes unhealthy dynamics between the members of Tekkadan and those who oppose them, as it does talking about corrupt politicians and nobles, making it pretty easy to get invested in even if you don’t care much about it’s larger messages. And of course since it’s a Gundam title, it’s got some top-notch 2D mecha animation from the folks at Sunrise, and while not all of the show’s giant robot battles look super polished, they rarely disappoint, and the general lack of firearms on these machines, means that the fights can get pretty gritty they need to. It’s certainly not a perfect show, and some of the relationships it depicts can get a little wonky, but it’s unflinching in it’s goals and what it wants to say, right down to it’s surprisingly brutal ending, and I respect the heck out of it for that. My experience with Gundam since then has still been kind of lacking, and I really should get around to seeing the original 0079 series someday, but if I was gonna invest in any Gundam series first, for better or worse, I’m glad it was this one.

Synopsis: Chihaya Ayase is a famous beauty at her school, but she’s far from a conventional girl. Three years ago in her final year of elementary school, Chihaya and her friend Taichi became infatuated with the card game, Karuta, after connecting with a lonely boy named Arata Wataya. But when the trio graduated from elementary school, they each went their separate ways but shared one common goal: to excel in the game and meet each other at the national championships. Now, Chihaya is attempting to share her passion for the game by creating a competitive Karuta club at school, but when she reunites with Taichi it seems that maybe she’s the only one with the intention of fulfilling their childhood promise…

Why You Should Watch: Chihayafuru is one of those things where any basic description of its premise would make it sound way more boring than it actually is, and definently needs to be experienced to be properly appreciated, but not enough folks are watching this dang thing, so I’m gonna try my best regardless. On the surface a show about karuta, a sport that effectively involves listening to poems and swiping cards related to them doesn’t sound like it’d be all that good a time, even with a romance angle involved (go Team Taichi or go home), but veteran shojo director Morio Asaka and the staff at Madhouse put their best foot forward in making the game look as exciting as possible, and many of the matches are filled with cool storyboarding, and kinetic camera work that can go toe-to-toe with some of the best shots from Haikyu in terms of ramping up the intensity and turning what would be an otherwise mundane sport into something that can keep you at the edge of your seat. It’s a good thing too, because while the series is classified as a shojo manga and stars a plucky heroine caught in a love triangle between two pretty boys (well as much as it can be one considering she’s about as married to her love of karuta, as Goku is to his love of fighting) it follows the general formula of a shonen sports anime as Chihaya’s goal is to rise to the top of the karuta world and achieve the rank of Queen, and she both befriends and competes with a variety of quirky characters along the way.

At the same time though, it’s shojo elements also allows the series to have a certain sense of nuance in how it’s characters are written that a lot of similar sports shows lack. Plus, karuta itself being a gender-neutral sport also gives the show a lot more room to flex in that regard, as even some of the most intitially superfical members of the ensemble rarely feel sidelined, and Chihaya’s opponents often come from all walks of life. In a decade where we’ve had killer shonen sports anime adaptions like Kuroko’s Basketball and Haikyu, it feels weird saying that one of the best sports anime to come from it involves an niche, Japanese-specific sport, that isn’t even done professionally, but Chihayafuru really is something special, and with it’s third season currently running, hopefully it’ll continue to impress.

Mob Psycho 100

Synopsis: Kageyama Shigeo, a.k.a. “Mob,” is a boy who has trouble expressing himself, but who happens to be a powerful esper. Mob is determined to live a normal life and keeps his ESP suppressed, but when his emotions surge to a level of 100%, something terrible happens to him! As he’s surrounded by false espers, evil spirits, and mysterious organizations, what will Mob think? What choices will he make?

Why You Should Watch: So unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, it’s almost impossible to be an anime fan without having heard at least a little about ONE’s hit manga, One-Punch Man, and the absolutely killer adaption it’s first season recieved (we uh…don’t talk about the second). However until recently, you were a little less likely to have heard about ONE’s other series Mob Psycho 100, and it’s a shame because while I’m certainly found of Saitama and friends, Mob is really in a league of it’s own. For one thing there’s very few anime productions quite like it, and while One-Punch Man’s first season had no shortage of sakuga, Mob Psycho takes advantage one ONE’s simplistic character designs to go absolutely nuts with the animation and storyboarding, and nearly every frame is bursting with personality whether it’s in it’s in fast-paced and high energy fight scenes, or it’s more low-key comedy. Of course, a strong production can only carry a series so far (again you need only look at One-Punch Man season 2 for that) but thankfully it’s got a pretty strong story going for it.

Much like One-Punch Man, Mob stars an incredibly overpowered protagonist in Shigeo Kageyama aka Mob, but where One-Punch Man uses Saitama’s strength to explore how jaded life can become once you’re an adult, Mob’s arc is a little more complicated than that as his great power ultimately does little to improve his relationships and his social standing, and he seeks to improve himself in more mundane ways. It’s through those efforts to improve that the show finds it’s thesis statement: that natural talent only goes but so far in life, and it’s generally just more valuable in the long run to be a good person. This is a lesson that Mob gradually has to learn for himself, and that many of his enemies need drilled into them, whether it’s physically, or through more comedic means, as the show preaches the power of empathy throughout all it’s crazy shenanigangs, making it as powerful as it is entertaining. With all that going for it, it’s kinda nice that the show’s much more impressive second season, gave it the shot in the arm it needed in terms of buzz, and now that it’s getting out there, hopefully it’ll be allowed to stand the test of time because it really deserves it. While One-Punch Man, asks what it really means to be strong, and if that strength can be fuflling, Mob Psycho is here to tell you that it’s not just important to be strong, but kind too.

Kyousougiga (2013)

Synopsis: In a “mirror city” that is Kyoto and yet not Kyoto, where humans, monsters, and robots all live, 14-year-old Koto searches for her mother. She encounters a monk named Myoe who’s waiting for his father to return. Family and the mirror city itself are at stake as this action fantasy unfolds. 

Why You Should Watch: So this series from Toei Animation has a bit of a weird history to say the least. It first debuted as a kind of pilot ONA way back in 2011, and was subsequently released on Youtube. This was how I first came across it, and while I had absolutely no clue about anything that was happening in it, I knew it looked rad as heck and I eagerly awaited more of it. After that, the series came out with 5 additional OVAs in 2012, before finally becoming a full TV anime in fall of 2013. Thankfully for as wild as all of that sounds, you only really need to watch the TV series to understand the story (well that and the weird episode 0 special, which basically covers everything the first ONA, but re-adjusted for the purposes of the TV anime) but that sure doesn’t make the actual show itself any harder to comprehend, at least initially. In a premise that can only be described as Alice in Wonderland on even more drugs, meets family court, this show tells the story of how a priest with the ability to make his drawing comes to life, uses his strange abilities to create a mirror like version of Kyoto, and with it a wife and kids, as well as one adopted war orphan who he curses with immortality. All is well and good in this bizarre family until one day mom and dad just straight up abandon their kids, and leave them behind to run the mirror world in their absence. The kids obviously don’t take this well, and each one of them has their own ways of coping, or not really coping with their abandonment issues. This all changes when a mysterious girl named Koto (who happens to share the same name as the kids’ missing mom) shows up claiming to be another member of the family, and wants to reunite with them.

It’s very weird to say the least, and series director Rie Matsumoto, uses her incredible storyboarding skills to make it even weirder as nearly every shot of this show is crammed with enough visual information, that you could almost mistake it for an Ikuhara joint, and they can get pretty jaw-dropping. It’s also got a pretty polished production considering it came from Toei (and especially Toei in the early 2010’s) and the overall visual aesthetic of the show is show striking it’d almost be worth watching it for that alone. Beneath all the weird and pretty visuals though, at its core this show is the story of a broken family coming back together, and Rie Matsumoto and her crew poor enough heart into that tale that you can really tell how much of a passion project this series was for them. Plus it’s also got the bonus of my favorite seiyuu Akira Ishida giving a really fun performance towards the end as the priest in question, who’s actually pretty high up there on the list of crappy anime dads even if he’s a lot less mean about it. This a very odd show, and one that definently requires a lot of patience since it’s overal structure is a lot more abstract than it’s general themes would suggest, but it’s also one of those things that really demonstrates how unique anime can be as an artform, and it’s by far the strongest thing Toei’s put out for the decade.

Synopsis: The setting is Asakusa. One day, second-years in middle school Kazuki Yasaka, Toi Kuji, and Enta Jinnai meet Keppi, a mysterious kappa-like creature, who steals their shirikodama and transforms them into kappas. “To return to your original forms,” Keppi tells them, “you must fight the zombies and take the shirikodama from them.” Can the boys connect with each other and steal the zombies’ shirikodama?! At the same time, something is happening at the police box where Reo Niiboshi and Mabu Akutsu work. This is the story of three boys who can’t connect with someone important to them, learning about what it truly means to do so.

Why You Should Watch: As a huge stan of Kunihiko Ikuhara, I’d be remisced if at least one of the shows he directed this decade didn’t make the cut for this list, and while this one is probably his weakest work to date, it’s still a pretty impressive piece of art. As is generally the case with Ikuhara’s works, this show has a very pretty visual aesthetic going for it, and it’s storyboarding is jam packed with visual symbolism, with many shots carrying some form of hidden meaning. As is also the case with Ikuhara’s works, this crazy visual style is combined with obtuse storytelling, repeated dialogue, and killer musical numbers that generally requires your brain to be at full attention in order to dissect this show’s various messages, and even then, there might be a lot more going on than you’d expect. In the case of this show specifically, those messages come in the form of various ideas about relationships, capitalism. and how certain demographics are exploited. Ultimately though, it ends up zeroing in on that first one, as the core of the story centers around a trio of boys and how sensitive their connections to their loved ones and each other can be in the wake of certain societal norms. It can get into some pretty rough subjects in that regard, and while Ikuhara has never shyed away from getting dark with his material, Toi’s arc in particular goes places that you wouldn’t really expect anime to typically dive into, and it’s pretty wild. The show itself is also very, very queer, and while that isn’t exactly new territory for Ikuhara, this is the first time he’s centered one of his stories around gay men instead of lesbians and he uses that for all it’s worth, even directly challenging the notion of how gay men are generally treated in anime outside of BL, and it’s pretty fascinating. Sadly this material doesn’t all come together in the end that the same way alot of Ikuhara’s other works have, and it’s clear that he couldn’t fit all his ideas into the show’s runttime, but the ending still hits pretty hard regardless, and the show itself is easily one of the most ambitious works to come out this year, and something that’s more than work a look.

Yuri!!! on Ice

Synopsis: Yuuri Katsuki carried the hope of all Japan on his shoulders in the Figure Skating Grand Prix, but suffered a crushing defeat in the finals. He returned to his hometown in Kyushu and hid away in his family’s home, half wanting to continue skating and half wanting to retire. That was when the five-time consecutive world champion, Viktor Nikiforov, suddenly showed up with his teammate, Yuuri Plisetsky, a young skater starting to surpass his seniors. And so the two Yuuris and the Russian champion Viktor set out to compete in a Grand Prix like none the world has ever seen!

Why You Should Watch: Ever since I checked out Michiko and Hatchin a few years back, I’ve been really impressed with Sayo Yamamoto as director and I’m basically up for checking out anything new she makes. This was also the case back in 2016 when Yuri on Ice first debuted, and as anyone still salty about the Crunchyroll Awards that year will tell you, it blew up pretty quickly. It’s not hard to see why though because right off the bat it has a lot of things going on, and it does all of those things really well. On one end, it’s an anime about figure skating, a sport that anime rarely touches (if partially due to how complicated it is to animate) and shows off it’s appeal by bringing an incredible sense of flair and style to all of the show’s figure skating choreography, and while the actual animation doesn’t always deliver on that end the direction, and incredibly strong musical score for the series, make every figure skating sequence a delight to watch. As is typical with sports anime, it’s also filled to the brim with an fun cast of characters with eccentric personalities, and they’re all so entertaining that it’s hard not to find at least one to latch onto. It’s also a story about a struggling athelete who finds himself in a slump, and is forced to reinvent himself in order to maintain his career, which is certainly pretty easy to relate to for better or worse, and Yuri’s development alone is almost enough to make the show.

Of course, the biggest thing in it’s favor, and one of the main reasons it made such a splash to begin with, is Yuri’s relationship with Victor, and how it not only helps him on his path towards reinventing himself, but also in general is one of the surprisingly sweet gay male romances placed in an anime outside of BL. Given how much the industry was, and still is, kind of adamant about keeping non-BL gay romances as vague on the actual romance as possible for marketing purposes, it’s nice that this show was able to convey as much as it did, and Yuri and Victor’s dynamic is so fun, it’s kind of hard not to get behind them. Yuri on Ice sets out to achieve a lot for what could have otherwise been a pretty simple sports show, and Sayo Yamamoto deserves a lot of credit for allowing all that ambition to pay off in more ways than one, since it’s kind of hard to understate big a financial success it ended up being. We may still be waiting on that movie to finally come out, but for what we have right now, it’s clear this show was born to make history.

Yurikuma Arashi

Synopsis: After an asteroid explosion and meteor shower lit up the sky over planet earth, strange adorable bears began to attack and devour humans. The earthlings responded with violence of their own, and in the end, a massive barrier – the Wall of Extinction – was erected to separate man from bear. This fragile peace lasted until two high school girls encounter a yuri flower blooming – only to be shaken by the piercing warning of the Bear Alarm! Once again, bear and man- or bear and girl -will be pitted against each other in a deadly and mysterious showdown.

Why You Should Watch: It’s time for around of Ikuhara shenangians, with this one centering around the topic that helped to make him such an icon in the anime industry to begin with: lesbians. And when I say the topic of the show centers around that, I mean that really is the main talking point, meaning that compared to a lot of Ikuhara’s other works, this one is probably the easiest to digest in terms of themes. Revolutionary Girl Utena wasn’t shy about having it’s heroines kiss either, but it partially used that as a springboard to talk about the much broader topic of the male patriarchy and how women are controlled, while this talks more directly about the societal pressures gay women face. Specifically, it’s pretty direct about how Japanese culture specifically tends to treat romance between women as something of a childhood phase, even having Kureha, and her initial love interest Sumika refer to each other as “friends”, much in the same way a lot of other anime with yuri subtext tries to keep things vague, even when it’s pretty clear the girls are at least more along the lines of friends with benefits. Meanwhile the villains of this show are literally comprised of a high school clique that’s dedicated to maintaining the status quo, and despite Kureha intially making a few concessions to that status quo, the relationships she forms with the show’s other heroines Ginko and Lulu push her to break free from them, and challenge those norms in order to be with the one she loves. Direct as that all sounds thouhj, this is still an Ikuhara show, so while the overall message isn’t exactly hard to get, it’s still peppered with tons of visual symbolism and abstraction so the actual plot can get a little messy at times, and the exact symbolism behind some of the actions these girls end up taking can be a little more vague that they probably needed to be. Still, Ikuhara’s penchant for bold and coloful art design is all over the place in this show so it’s hard to get too mad about those nitpicks, and the ending is strong enough that you couldn’t really miss the point of this show if you tried. Between the strong visuals and the hard hitting themes, it’s clear that this show was the kind of social allegory that anime was made to tell, and it’s an impressive feat of art that demonstrates how unique anime can be in conveying those themes.

SSSS.Gridman

Synopsis: Yuuta Hibiki can’t remember who he is, and now he’s seeing and hearing things that others don’t! A voice from an old computer tells him to remember his calling, and he sees a massive, unmoving creature in the distance. Nothing’s making sense—until the behemoth springs to life! Suddenly, Yuuta is pulled into the digital world, reappearing in the real one as the colossal hero—Gridman!

Why You Should Watch: I might not have any serious childhood memories of the live-action Ultraman series back when it aired on U.S. airwaves, but like most kids who grew up with Power Rangers, I at least have a basic idea of the appeal of tokusatsu shows, and this series exempifies those qualities in spades. While the show’s director Akira Akemiya has been known for his work on intentionally stilted looking action-comedies like Inferno Cop and Ninja Slayer (so much so that some folks didn’t even believe this thing was gonna be properly animated till the full trailers hit) he’s been involved in more than his fair share of bolder looking productions, and this show is quite a sight to behold. While the inheriently plastic look of tokusatsu shows and the various monsters that comprise them is at least part of the charm, this show manages to bring that to animation through a clever blend of 2D animation and 3DCG that makes many of the monsters, and Gridman himself look intentionally plastic looking and something along the line of rubber suits, while still being a pretty impressive visual spectacle even without picking up on that intent as it’s chock full of cool mecha animation, and the character designs are all pretty expressive.

All of this sounds like it would be a formula for some off the walls action and insanity as is generally the case with most Trigger productions, but despite it’s tokusatsu based origins, the general tone of it is surprisingly grounded in a lot of places and Yuta and his pals all come off as one of the most believable group of teenagers I’ve seen in an anime in a good while. It’s also a show with something to say beneath all it’s flashy theatrics as it ends up borrowing more than a few cues from Neon Genesis Evangelion later down the line. However, where as Trigger’s…other mecha show from 2018 tried to blatantly paint itself as the next Eva, and failed pretty badly, this show is more of a homage to it’s themes, as what starts off as a weird but slightly typical show about a boy with amnesia fusing with a superhero in a computer to fight giant monsters, becomes a thoughtful look at depression, and one character’s desperate desire to flee reality and stay in the world of escapism they’ve made for themselves and it gets a lot darker than I was expecting at the beginning. Trigger’s made a lot of cool stuff over this decade, and what your favorite work of theirs is going to be largely kind of comes down to personal taste, but as for me, as much as I’ve enjoyed shows like Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia and most recently, Promare, this is easily the most impressive thing they’ve put out for the 2010’s and quite possible the best thing they’ve made, period.

Tiger & Bunny

Synopsis: In Sternbuild City, corporate logos not only cover billboards, but also the costumes of the super-powered heroes that act as its protectors. Veteran and newcomer warriors of justice alike compete in a reality TV show that offers points for apprehending criminals while giving champions’ sponsors a chance to promote their brand. When the low-ranking Wild Tiger loses his backing after a string of outrageous, botched rescues, he finds himself paired with an up-and-coming spotlight-seeker called Barnaby. But with their wildly different personalities, will the pair be able to save their beloved Sternbuild City and win the game show, or will their constant tension be the undoing of the world’s first hero team?

Why You Should Watch: Before My Hero Academia took the internet by storm, the hottest superhero anime on the market was Tiger and Bunny, and if it’s placement the top of NHK’s poll of the best anime ever made is any indication, it’s got a lot going for it. Similar to My Hero, Tiger and Bunny takes place in a world where being a superhero is an actual job, but whereas My Hero treats it as a profession the same way you would being a police officer, Tiger and Bunny talks about it from a much more commericalized standpoint where superheroes are treated like brands, and saving the day is just another way to boost the popularity of that brand. It’s a unique angle to say the least, and Tiger and Bunny both has fun with as it relates to the protagonist Kotetsu and his dwindling popularity as a hero, while also not being afraid to tap into the darker aspects of what can happen when heroes are just another product in the gears of capitalism. Mainly though, the show is just out to have a really good time, and it’s comprised of a really fun cast of characters (as well as one who’s a little outdated nowadays), and an aesthetic that often feels more like a buddy-cop comedy than a superhero show.

Speaking of that buddy-cop angle, one of the biggest appeals of this show really comes down to the dynamic between the main characters Kotetsu and Barnaby, and they play off of each other really well. A lot of their banter makes for some of the show’s best jokes, and it’s nice seeing how the two of them grow closer over the course of the show. Between the two though, Kotetsu is kind of the bigger draw as a character, because like Mutta from Space Brothers, he’s a rare example of a middle aged protagonist in an anime (right down to having the same seiyuu) and the show really taps into his feelings about seeing his age catch up to him with his career, and if he can even stay in the business at all, despite his genuine desire to help people. It’s a great arc to watch, and while the way it wraps up feels a little like sequel bait, it still feels incredibly rewarding in the end. Tiger and Bunny is a fun show, with one of the best English dubs this side of Cowboy Bebop to go alongside it, and while it weirdly never caught on the west to the capacity it probably should have given it’s general aesthetic, it’s still a great time regardless and it’s worth checking out. Now if only Sunrise would actually make good on another season…

Next #10-4 ->

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.

Toon Talk- The Best in Anime of 2017

Another year has come and gone, and even though the world is currently in toil, the anime train continues to chug along. Personally though, it’s been a pretty slow year on that front as thanks to the existence of a certain streaming service *cough*Anime Strike*cough*, I’m sad to say that there’s a pretty decent amount of offerings that I ended up missing out on, and probably won’t get to until they’re available elsewhere. As such, I almost don’t really feel confident in doing another one of these articles, but even with what I missed out on, there was certainly no shortage of anime this year with just enough good stuff to keep the bad from feeling a little too overwhelming. So without any further ado, let’s look at some of this year’s highlights in anime


This category goes to things that aren’t exactly 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- “Baton Road” by KANA-BOON (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations OP 1)

I’ll be honest in saying that this wasn’t a particularly good year for me when it came to what I’ve seen of anime openings. There’s definitely been plenty of strong songs, but the visuals have been pretty lacking and it’s given quite a few shows (looking at you Magus Bride) a lot less of an identity than they otherwise deserved. For what’s actually impressed me though, I actually have to give it up to The Son of Boruto’s Dad. It’s first opening is incredibly stylish, with a sense of flair that feels reminsicent of Bleach OP’s (though given Bleach’s director is helming the show, that’s basically a given) while also conveying how much of an ensemble show it is compared to it’s predecessor. The song itself mostly just works as a catchy shonen theme and there’s at least a couple of other openings that would beat it out in terms of music, but of all the anime openings I’ve listened to this year, this is the only that malways makes me think of the show it’s attached to, and there’s no stronger sign of a good opening than that.

Honorable Mentions: “Fighter” by KANA-BOON (Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans s2 OP 2), “Imawa no Shinigami” by Megumi Hayashibara (Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju OP), “Soredemo Boku wa Ikiteiru” by NormCore (Evil or Live OP)

 

Best Male Character- Shoto Todoroki (My Hero Academia s2)

In some ways this feels like cheating given that he was technically in season 1, but he only really comes a character in season 2 so I suppose that balances itself out. Todoroki is introduced to MHA’s story as a secondary rival to Deku, and one with a giant chip on his shoulder as he has more than his share of issues with his father. However as the show dives deeper and deeper into said issues, it’s hard not to sympathize with him, and his big fight with Deku is easily the biggest emotional highlight of the show as he realizes he’s more than just a product of his parents. Seeing him reach a stage where he can separate the valueof his dad’s work from the cruelty of the man himself is a level of emotional complexity that I generally don’t see much in shonen, and I’m all for getting more of it. There’s been a lot of fun characters this year, but the heart of Todoroki’s story is really in a league of it’s own.

Honorable Mentions: Sword (GARO: Vanishing Line), Elias (The Ancient Magus’ Bride), Mitsuki (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations)

 

Best Female Character- Moriko Moritsuka (Recovery of an MMO Junkie)

Adult protagonists are a rariety in anime and anime following adult women are even rarer, but MMO Junkie provides one of the few examples in the form of Moriko Morioka: a salarywoman turned NEET who just wants to spend time doing what she enjoys. There’s a lot of ways in which her character could have easily been used to either romanticize the NEET lifestyle or demonize it, but her story is thankfully a much more personal one, and focuses on her using her online social interactions to come back out of her shell.  Moriko herself is a geek through and through, and the show does an excellent job of making her feel relatable without going overboard, and as someone who’s formed a few meaningful friendships online, a lot of her feelings on the subject really resonated with me. I still kind of wish we could get shows about adult geeks more often, but even if we don’t, I’m glad we got Moriko, and boy howdy does she look great in a hoodie.

Honorable Mentions: Atsuko “Akko” Kagari (Little Witch Academia), Chise Hattori (The Ancient Magus’ Bride), Sarada Uchiha (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations)

Best English Dub- Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day

Your Lie in April managed to stand out as the strongest dub from last year, so it’s not much of a surprise that the same director managed to pump another winner. Even with that in mind though, it’s really hard to understate how well this turned out. The effects the loss of a loved one has on our lives can be tricky to convey, but the cast manage to convey that whirlwind of emotions beautifully with great performances  from actors like Ray Chase and Erica Lindbeck, and a surprisingly energetic performance from Kaiji Tang as Poppo , who I’m far more used to hearing in less emotive roles. Even though the dub was my first time experiencing the show, there was never a moment where I couldn’t feel the heart of it’s story wasn’t shining through, and by the time I reached the finale, it was easy to understand why this had become such a beloved series. I’m sure praising Patrick Seitz’s directing abilities will get repetitive at some point, but when he continues to put out stuff that sounds this strong, it’s really hard not to.

Honorable Mentions: Fate/Apocrypha, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

 

Best English Voice Actor- David Matranga

While there’s been a lot of individual performances I’ve enjoyed from anime dubs this year, there weren’t too many actors who I felt like they were on a consistent high. Of the few that were though, I really have to say that David Matranga really impressed me this year. He’s had two really big roles this year in the form of Todoroki from My Hero Academia and Ushio from Ushio & Tora, and both turned out to be some of his finest work. As you can obviously tell by the fact he made my top male character spot for this year, Todoroki’s character arc stood out a lot to me, and David Matranga managed to get across all of the character’s inner turmoil without skipping a beat and it helped to make the climax of said arc one of the most satisfying moments of the year. Even more shocking to me though, was how well he managed to pull off Ushio, as while David Matranga wasn’t exactly who I had in mind for a brash shonen lead who wears his heart on his sleeve, he totally nailed it, and it turned out to be one of the most emotional performances I’ve seen from him a long time. That he was able to put out such great work twice within the same year is honestly incredible, and I really can’t recommend enough that you check both of them out.

Honorable Mentions: Erica Lindbeck, Ray Chase, Caitlin Glass

 

Best Japanese Voice Actor: Akira Ishida

I very nearly gave this to him last year for his work as Yakumo in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju but it was one really good role versus a few from Tasuku Hatanaka so I had to go for the latter. However over the course of Rakugo’s second season earlier this year, the depth of his performance became so apparent that not giving it the praise it’s due would be downright criminal. Voicing a character from their youth into their twilight years is something that frankly very few actors can really pull off believably, but he manages it without skipping a beat, and as Yakumo starts to crumble from the weight of the struggles that defined his earlier years in life, you can really feel the weary nature of his soul in Akira Ishida’s performance.

On top of handling all of that though, Akira Ishida has to also attempt to make all of Yakumo’s rakugo performances feel as authentic as possible, and the level of acting he has to do gets to the point where he has to make to make the characters in each rakugo story sound distinct while still making them feel like they could come from Yakumo, and the fact that he managed to pull all of that off while consistently keeping Yakumo in character is one of the most impressive feats of acting I’ve seen not just in anime, but acting in general. Akira Ishida has always been a great voice actor, but his work here is pretty much the absolute highlight of his career, and even if the subject matter might be a little slow for most audiences, it’s absolutely worth giving a listen to.

Honorable Mentions: Atsumi Tanezaki, Mamiko Noto

 

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- Osomatsu-san s2

This has been the year of sequels as far as anime comedies go, and for better or worse I currently don’t have any stakes in the likes of Umaru-chan or Konosuba (though I probably should get around to the latter). Of the non-sequels/continuations this year, Magical Circle Guru-Guru really deserves some props for its lovely parodies of old RPG’s but it’s really hard to deny the magic of Osomatsu-san. Given that the first episode of season 1 was so riff with parodies that it actually ended up being banned, it was hard to imagine how another season could possibly top that, but s2’s opener somehow goes nuts with even stronger parodies and one of the most absurd 4th wall breaks I’ve ever seen in an anime. Sadly the rest of the season hasn’t quite lived up to that level of magic, but even at the middle of the road by it’s own standards, Osomatsu-san is one of the most consistently funny anime sitcoms out there, and there’s never been an episode that didn’t have at least a few jokes that made me burst out in laughter. I feel kind of bad giving this up to a sequel, and especially one that isn’t quite as strong as it’s first entry, but when you’re as funny as these six losers, it’s hard to sweat the details.

Honorable Mentions: Gintama, Magical Circle Guru-Guru

 

Best Action Series- Fate/Apocrypha

It’s been a good year to be a fan of action anime, whether you’re a hardcore anime fan or more on the casual side, odds are there’s been at least one or two shows this year with action sequences that left you floored. From the continuations of Attack on Titan and MHA, to some surprisingly strong cuts from The Son of Boruto’s Dad, there’s been a lot of stellar stuff, but when it comes to pure action shows, nothing stands out this year quite like Fate/Apocrypha. While previous Fate entries have been more on the philosophical side, and overly concerned with detailing their mechanics, Fate/Apocrypha slashes out 90% of the pretense, and instead puts all of it’s focus into how impossibly cool it can make its fights between legendary heroes look. The result is a rip-roaring good time of crazy fight scenes and spectacles that rarely fail to impress, and while the show may not have as much to ponder as it’s predecessors, it has just enough thematic weight and depth to it’s characters to avoid feeling completely shallow, and it’s easily the most digestible a Fate anime has ever been, even if it’s not exactly the best story. I can’t exactly say that this was one of my top shows from this year, but when it came to raw action, pretty much nothing else could compete

Honorable Mentions: GARO Vanishing Line, Attack on Titan s2, My Hero Academia s2

 

Best Romance- Recovery of an MMO Junkie

Romance anime has really flourished this year, and while I unfortunately haven’t been able to see all of these years entries, I feel pretty confident in believing nothing else can really compete with the charm of MMO Junkie. Like I said in Moriko’s best character entry, anime with adult protagonists, and adult geeks no less, are rare and the show does a great job of making both her and her romantic counterpart Sakurai, extremely likable in that regard. The way in which they have to struggle in deciding how close is too close when it comes to online relationships, is something a lot of people can relate to these days and seeing these two dorks sort out their feelings was just the right amount of sweet and hair-pulling for a rom-com.  As people continue to become more and more engrossed in technology, the significance of our online relationships have gradually started to become as valuable as our real life ones, and it’s really refreshing to have a romance centered around the subject, and one that treats said subject as another aspect of life, rather than with caution like a lot stories about online social interactions do. I was really cautious about this show coming in, but I walked away with one of the cutest romantic comedies I’ve ever seen in anime, and one that I’d highly recommend.

Honorable Mentions: Tsuredure Children, World End: Are You Busy? Will You Save Us?

 

Best Drama- Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

Again I’m kind of cheating here since I’m having the same show take this two years in a row, but gosh darn it, Rakugo is just that good. The majority of season 1 was a compelling extended backstory on our protagonist Yakumo and the tragedy that led to him deciding to take his art with him to the grave, but the second season shifts things to the present, and shifts to a story about Yakumo finding peace with himself as his craft is passed down to the next generation, however unwillingly that may be. It’s an incredibly beautiful tale, and one that’s told lovingly both through the show’s strong writing, and it’s equally outstanding vocal performances, as I like said before, Akira Ishida’s delivery is really something to behold. While the show does stumble slightly, in briefly teasing a possible scenario that would undercut most of what the show had established up to that point, it does so many things right that it’s hard to consider it anything less than a masterpiece, and one I’m glad I stuck with.

Honorable Mentions: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans s2, ACCA 13: Territory Inspection Department, Sakura Quest

 

Best Bad Anime- Evil or Live

So bad it’s good is a tricky area to traverse for anime. If it goes too far in being awful, then it’s just well…AWFUL, but if it tries to hard to be sincere or serious, it can quickly become boring. Somehow though we’ve manages to have several shows that managed to successfully walk that fine line this year. Of all these titles though, I really have to give props to the one that went the most unnoticed (likely due to the lack of a simuldub): Evil or Live. Whereas Neo Yokio was magnificently bad up until it’s last two episodes where it tried too hard to be sincere and lost some steam, and Hand Shakers was just a mismash of bad anime tropes underneath it’s garbage visuals, Evil or Live is a magical experience and one that hasn’t lost any of it’s luster (well aside from a random recap episode).

The show uses its premise of a world in which young people are too addicted to the net, and need to be sent to a special institution to be “rehabilitated” to execute a edgy thriller that’s wholly convinced its “social commentary” is the smartest thing on the planet, while being almost unbelievably dumb at every opportunity. From a host of unlikeable and silly characters, to its outright pretentious shot composition and use of letterboxing for every scene, every second of this show is practically begging it’s audience to ask how it got made, and even its slowest episodes never fail to entertain. Competing with the likes of Hand Shakers and Neo Yokio is no easy feat, but this scrappy underdog was easily the most magically bad experience of the year, and more people really need to bask in it’s absurdity.

Honorable Mentions: Neo Yokio, Hand Shakers

 

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:

Best Anime Series (Adaption)- The Ancient Magus’s Bride

As I said when I was giving my first impressions on it, back at the start of the season, there was really very little chance I wasn’t going to like the show, and the real question what exactly how much it was going to impress me. The answer as it turns out, is quite a lot. While I initially expressed disappointment at its conservative visual direction, it managed to steadily improve with each passing episode, and has delivered on more than it’s fair share of impressive shots, grand use of color, and some rock solid art direction overall. Even more impressive is its music, which despite coming from a first time composer, has one of the most distinct anime soundtracks I’ve heard in recent memory, and it really helps to enhance the show’s sense of wonder and mystique.

Of course all the bells and whistles in the world can’t compensate for a weak story, but fortunately Magus Bride exceeds in that area too. The story of Chise’s struggle with her depression and learning to open herself back up to the world around her is incredibly compelling, and while it’s beauty and the beast style romance isn’t exactly the most original concept on the planet, the dynamic between her and Elias works just as effectively, and the bond that gradually forms between them is certainly touching, if not explicitly romantic. It helps that the world of Magus Bride feels magical in a way that frankly very few anime actually do, and it approaches its supernatural elements with a sense of awe and fear that can make some of the show’s moments feel as breathtaking as they are frightening. I certainly didn’t doubt this show would impress me, but even with how high my expectations were going in, I’ve been finding myself getting more and more engrossed in its atmosphere with each passing episode, and while it’s second half will continue into next season, what I’ve seen is more than enough to convince me that it’s one of the most worthwhile anime adaptions of the year

Honorable Mentions: Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations

 

Best Anime Series (Original)- Little Witch Academia

I guess 2017 was a good year for magic shows, because somehow both of my favorites ended up being centered around it. Much like with Magus Bride, this was one of those things I was pretty certain I’d like going in (and it helped that the OVAs were a good time, even if their dubs were kind of lacking) and ended up getting pretty much exactly what I wanted and then some. Little Witch Academia’s world is full of charm, as it manages to successfully combine all the wonders of magic, with the energy of a classic Saturday morning cartoon, and rarely an episode goes by where the show isn’t fun. The visual style certainly helps with that aesthetic as the character designs themselves also manage to capture the feeling of a zany cartoon, and the animation is chockful of impressive cuts that can range anywhere from hilarious, to some of the coolest stuff I’ve seen in TV animation.

Much like with Magus Bride though, the real core of Little Witch Academia lies not in its visuals but in its heart. Akko’s story of learning the value of perseverance in achieving her dreams might be pretty simple, but it’s simple in all the best ways and has just enough weight behind it to be more than capable of charming both kids and adults alike. Some parts of the second half stumble in a few areas, but the show really hits home in its final act, and the overall experience makes for some of Studio Trigger’s finest work yet. It’s really rare to come across an example of a family friendly anime that isn’t asome pre-established franchise with little pull in the west (look no further than Glitter Fo-I mean Precure) ,but I’m glad this show managed to be one of the few exceptions because its one of the most downright fun experiences I’ve seen in anime in a good while, and something perfect for just about everyone.

Honorable Mentions: Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans s2, Sakura Quest, Anime-Gataris


And that’s it for me and 2017. While the divide between legal streaming services has been a thing with anime for a while now, this was probably the first year where said divide really impacted my perception overall, and just based on what I was actually able to get around to, it came off as pretty slow. As with every year though, there’s always at least a few good shows to keep me from writing off the year entirely, and just going off of the current announcements for the Winter season, and the stuff I already know is going to services like Netflix, the split is already looking to be a lot less painful than it was this year. Hard to say if I’ll still be so optimistic this time next year, but until then, stay animated.

Toon Talk- Attack on Netflix: Is Netflix “Killing” Anime?

Woo boy. This is a topic I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while now but also one that I’ve kind of dreaded talking about at full length because of how visceral the discussions around it have been. However over the recent months, and more specifically some of the events of the past week, its grown far too big not to say something about so I guess it’s finally time for me to address the 100 million pound elephant in the room: Netflix. Netflix rolled onto the anime scene a couple of years back with their acquisition of Knights of Sidonia and while their approach of withholding the show until after it’s broadcast and launching it all at once was mostly just something of a nuisance at the time, the outcries against them have grown increasingly louder as they’ve gone after “bigger” titles like Little Witch Academia and The Seven Deadly Sins. Now if you’ve followed me on Twitter for any decent amount of time, then you’ll know my stance has generally been that of the “lesser of two evils” variety when compared to Amazon’s Anime Strike service, but even the lesser of two evils (depending on which you view as the “lesser evil” I guess) is still evil so it’s time to dive into an important question: Is Netflix truly “killing” anime?

On a surface level this seems like a pretty one and done argument. Netflix refuses to simulcast their anime licenses outside of Japan, despite simulcasts being the general standard for the hardcore anime market nowadays. The lack of a simulcast harms discussion for their shows, and even worse makes a lot of people more likely to pirate stuff. The reality of the situation however, is a little more complicated and requires touching upon a subject that a lot of hardcore anime fans are hesitant to admit to: the hardcore anime base that keeps up with seasonal anime and simulcasts and anime is not the majority of the audience that watches anime.

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Now this isn’t to say that the hardcore market isn’t a significant one. After all if it wasn’t, Crunchyroll wouldn’t currently be sitting at over a million subscribers and we wouldn’t have the far greater misfortune of Amazon strong-arming their way into the industry with a cruddy service that keeps stuff behind an insane paywall. But even with all that in mind the truth of the matter is that most people who watch anime do so on a much more irregular schedule and generally tend to come across shows by chance or word of mouth rather than actively combing for the newest stuff the same way folks like myself have gotten used to. Even for Crunchyroll, who pretty much pioneered the simulcast market as it exists today, many of its most well known and popular titles are things that finished ages ago, and they put just as much pride in simulcasts as they do having an extensive catalog of titles that stretches back for decades.

While seasonal fans like us might lament having to wait X amount of months to watch a new show, and may move on in the meantime, there are many more who’ll come across stuff later down the line and won’t even know something was delayed to begin with. Netflix knows this for better or worse, which is partially why they aren’t likely to adjust their current model anytime soon as the amount of hardcore eyeballs they’re losing is probably outweighed by the amount who are just happening to come across something for the first time. Heck the very fact that they’ve continued to push further and further into the market is a pretty clear sign that their anime pickups are hitting whatever numbers they’re currently looking for. So when fans talk about Netflix “killing” anime, they’re primarily talking in terms of their darling show of the season not getting the same amount of attention as other stuff, which granted sucks, and I can totally sympathize with that, but isn’t quite what I’d call death. Especially since the effects that these titles being held out on has on the amount of buzz they get is somewhat debatable. As much outcry as I’ve seen over Netflix supposedly destroying any chance of Little Witch Academia finding an audience, that show was still pretty much everywhere in terms of anime circles while it was airing (which sucked for me since I waited for the Netflix stream but I digress) and I’d have a hard time imagining most people who keep up with this stuff regularly wouldn’t know it exists. The seasonal anime fandom is as such that the argument of anything falling completely under the radar for reasons other than not being all that remarkable is kind of a false one, and even if its not necessarily through legal means, if there’s a hot new show out there worth getting excited about, you can bet the word will spread somehow or another.

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So now that I’ve talked a little bit about the somewhat exaggerated death of anime by Netflix, it’s probably about time to talk about some of the service’s actual benefits as there are a actually a few. Diving into one of them requires once again looking at something most hardcore fans don’t really like discuss at length which is the need to cater to the more casual anime market. Casual audiences are a source of both mockery and dread for pretty much any fandom, and anime fans in particular can get pretty prickly about them but they are a vital part of the industry. After all no one’s really born a fan of anything, and just about everyone starts off casually before going deeper into stuff. However reaching this market typically requires making stuff accessible to them in places they’re likely to find them, and that’s been an ongoing battle within the industry. In the old days, TV deals were pretty much the most surefire way to reach a broader, younger audience, but even with the Toonami block still managing to stay on the air, and being relatively successful, television isn’t really the preferred viewing method for young people anymore. It’s streaming, and at the moment there isn’t really any dedicated streaming service on the planet bigger than Netflix.

The service currently sits at around 100 million subscribers and if even 3-5% of that audience has at least a casual interest in anime (which granted might be an overestimation, but it’s probably impossible to gauge exactly how many people on the planet actually care about anime), that’s still several times the supposed maximum audience Crunchyroll is currently reaching. Couple that with the the fact that the service has a wider reach and offers multi-language dubs for several countries and it’s not really hard to put together which service has the greater potential to create new anime fans. Speaking from personal experienced I’ve talked to quite a few kids who aren’t super into anime, but have gotten interested in shows like The Seven Deadly Sins or Hunter x Hunter because they were easily available on Netflix, and with Little Witch Academia currently available on both the main site and it’s kids show section, it could possibly end up finding an audience with young girls in addition to the 20-30 somethings like me who were probably going to watch it no matter what. In that respect I think Netflix could do a lot to give anime a bit more presence when it comes to reaching out beyond the hardcore sphere, and if some of these titles can end up finding brand new audiences and drawing more people into the fandom then I’m pretty much all for it.

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Going a bit more into the actual industry side of things it’s equally worth mentioning that the reception to the service has been pretty positive on their end. While the amount of money Netflix likely offers for their acquisitions is undoubtedly a contributing factor in that, studios like Trigger have mentioned that they’re a lot easier to deal with than the usual Japanese television networks, and Netflix’s recently announced slew of titles that are being produced exclusively for the service could be a real game changer. Without the initial hassle of a television broadcast these shows don’t have to deal as much with the usual constrictions of things like strict episode runttimes, censorship and most significantly: scheduling. The weekly anime production schedule has long been a merciless problem for the industry and one that’s affected not only the quality of the shows, but the health of the people who work on them. Being able to work on this stuff on a more flexible schedule would be an absolute boon for the industry and one that would frankly be better for just about everyone involved, including fans since unlike their acquired titles, we’re all getting this stuff streamed at the same time, Japan included. It’s hard to say how much Netflix will push this particular initiative and for how long but I really hope that it ends up becoming their basic standard for dealing with anime, because (for the time being at least) it offers nothing but positives.

Having said all that though, it’s worth pointing out that pretty much nothing I’ve said here really negates the fact that the problems currently surrounding Netflix’s form of anime streaming are well…problems. By holding onto their acquired titles until they’ve finished their broadcast run in Japan, they’re undoubtedly encouraging piracy on the behalf of the hardcore fandom and that fact is inescapable. Even more than helping to shape the simulcast market into what it is today, one of Crunchyroll’s (and to a lesser extent Funimation’s) biggest contributions to the industry has been in helping to make piracy less convenient by offering things faster than pirates can keep up with, and giving us just about everything any given season of anime has to offer. Seeing that undermined in any capacity is incredibly frustrating to folks who’ve tried to remain loyal to the industry, and with how long self-justified piracy has been an issue for anime, anything that lends more fuel to that is harmful.

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Additionally while I do think the effects of buzz from hardcore fans are a bit overstated in terms of how much it helps some of these titles, it’s still pretty effective in giving stuff attention in a market that’s flooded with a nigh endless amount of things to watch. Unless you’re dealing with a really massive, somewhat pre-established title, withholding it until the season’s passed WILL hurt interest, and with how quickly new shows come out, it’s extremely difficult for most things to get a second wind when it comes to the hardcore audience. These issues are particularly frustrating because they can easily fixed by Netflix simply choosing to simulcast anime internationally the same way they do select TV shows in the US, and anime in Japan. Sure they might lose some casual viewers by not being able to offer dubs right off the bat (this is almost undoubtedly the main reason they choose to withhold stuff) but if hit shows like Attack on Titan and One-Punch Man (granted they don’t actually own these titles but I doubt their licencors would say no to offering their dubs if they were offered enough money) can thrive on the service with just a sub-only option, there’s no real reason they can’t take a risk with stuff that’s obviously more niche like Kakeguri and throw the hardcore side of the market a bone. These are things that need to be more properly addressed and so long as they aren’t there’s harm in Netflix being a part of this industry and that’s something I’d ideally prefer not to say about any of the companies that are legally providing anime for us.

So is Netflix “killing” anime? Well I suppose that really depends on your exact point of view. There’s a lot of potential long term benefits to their entry into the market like the chance of expanding the audience for their titles, and ligtening some of the burdens when it comes to actual anime production, but the short-term issues they bring to the table by refusing to simulcast their titles are real ones, and the fact that they’re so easily fixable makes them all the more annoying. I don’t expect for anything I’ve said here to convince anyone to stop complaining about Netflix, nor would I want anyone to. After all if they weren’t so stubborn about their binge strategy I could be watching Kakeguri right now (and I REALLY want to watch Kakeguri for uh…reasons) and the only chance anyone has of convincing them to adjust their current strategy is by continuing to speak to them about it. What I do hope though, is that more people take the time to look the benefits Netflix does and can offer (moreso if they actually do choose to listen) for the industry, because they do exist and looking at this purely in terms of the immediate problems feels a little shortsighted. So in the end I’m pretty much starting this the same way I began: that Netflix is at best, the lesser of two evils when compared to Anime Strike whose mere existence is nothing but a nuisance in it’s current form. Unlike Strike however, I do genuinely believe that with time, Netflix could end up becoming a force for good.

 

Toon Talk- The Best of Anime in 2016

Well it’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally reached the end of 2016. It’s been a very…negative year to say the least in regards to world events and celebrity deaths (and I’m more than a little concerned about if we’ll be able to survive that first one), but it’s been a pretty alright year for Japanese cartoons, and a fair amount of solid stuff managed to make it’s way down the pipeline. So for now let’s forget about all the bad stuff, and take a look at some of the best that 2016 had to offer in the world of anime.


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This category goes to things that aren’t exactly show specific, but nevertheless wanted to point out. That includes theme songs, characters and stuff related to English dubs. Anyway let’s get started:

Best Anime Opening– 99 by Mob Choir (Mob Psycho 100)

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It’s been a fairly solid year for anime openings, and while there hasn’t been an abundance of standouts, there’s always been at least a few each season that managed to leave a mark. For me though, none have left as big an impression on me as Mob Psycho’s. To be honest when I first heard this song, I really didn’t like it, and thought it was a bit too Engrish-y for me, but the more I heard it every week, the more it stuck with me, and by the time I actually discovered how much some of the lyrics tied into Mob’s coming of age story, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s accompanied by some bombastic visuals as well as some of the most seamless scene transitions I’ve ever seen, making for a spectacle that’s equal parts catchy and breathtaking. 99 may not have gotten off to the best start with me, but it’s stuck with me more than any other opener I’ve heard this year, and even if you don’t care for the song itself, it’s hard to deny just how well executed of a 90-second music video it is.

Honorable Mentions: History Maker by Dean Fujioka (Yuri on Ice), The Day by Porno Graffiti (My Hero Academia), Great Days by Karen Aoki and Daisuke Hasegawa (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable)

 

Best Male Character– Yoshikage Kira (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable)

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I could probably think of more compelling male characters if I wanted, but none have proven to be as consistently entertaining as Kira. For parts 1-3 of Jojo’s, Dio was pretty much THE villain, and while the Pillar Men were fun in their own right, there was no getting past the pure ham that comprised most of Dio’s evil antics. Amazingly though, what makes Kira such an interesting villain, is that in a lot of ways he’s almost Dio’s total opposite. He doesn’t particularly engage in ham (or what constitutes as ham by Jojo’s standards) and instead opts for a more pragmatic approach to his villainy, and his humble goals of just wanting to live a quiet life, strike an interesting contrast to the usual villain goals of world domination or power. Most of all, he’s a villain that actually progresses in becoming stronger, much in the same way you’d generally expect the heroes to, and by the time he’s managed to work his way towards becoming a truly horrifying threat, it’s as shocking to the audience as it is to the heroes. This shift in expectations was enough to really make Kira stand out as a villain, and while he’ll probably never be as beloved as Dio, I found him to be just as fun.

Honorable Mentions: Yuri Katsuki (Yuri on Ice), Mob (Mob Psycho 100), Izuku Midoriya (My Hero Academia)

 

Best Female Character– Tsumugi Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

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Again, I could probably come up with someone better if I tried but gosh darn it, I really want to give this one to the adorable 4 year old. Portraying kids as well…kids has always been a challenge for most forms of media and the same goes for anime. The last time anime notably managed to get it right was with Naru from Barakamon, and while I found her endearing, I didn’t quite see her as the soul of the show in the same way that many others did. Here though, the stage really belongs to Tsumugi, and her infectious nature really helps in keeping Sweetness and Lightning consistently heartwarming. She really feels like an actual little kid from her curiosity about the things around her, to spontaneous tantrums that result from the tiniest problems, and all of those little quirks help in making her an absolute delight to watch. For all of that though, the real reason she’s topped the list for me is that her cute expressions managed to kill me every episode. Like seriously it should be illegal to make something this adorable *dies*

Honorable Mentions: Kayo Hinazuki (Erased), Nico Niyama (Kiznaiver), Asuka Tanaka (Sound!! Euphonium 2)

 

Best English Dub– Your Lie in April

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I already talked about this one in my 25 Days of Dubs list so I won’t go too much into it, but this dub was a real standout. Patrick Seitz may not direct stuff often, but when he does, he really knows how to deliver. Everything from the direction to the scriptwriting works extremely well, and they’re matched by some equally great performances. Max Mittleman’s Kousei does a fantastic job at selling the character’s depression, and Erica Lindbeck’s Kaori works just as well, with the two playing off each other pretty well. The rest of the actors are strong too, and it’s a super-solid effort from top to bottom, as each of them manage to pull off the hefty amount of turmoil displayed throughout the series. There’s been some other solid dubs this year, but this one was easily the best of the bunch, and if you haven’t given it a peek yet I highly recommend it.

Honorable Mentions: Rage of Bahamut, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

 

Best English Voice Actor– Max Mittleman

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While things managed to pick up a bit towards the end, this has been a fairly lukewarm year for dubs, and while there’s been some good individual performances, I haven’t seen much in the way of actors consistently hitting all the right marks. Of course there’s always an exception and this year that crown goes to Max Mittleman. While he’s only snagged two lead roles this year (and one is much more widely recognized than the other) his work on both proved to be excellent, with his aforementioned Kousei managing to standout as a very emotional performance, while his Saitama proved to be a lot more deadpan and comedic than I ever expected from him. Both roles showed that he has quite a bit of versatility, and his smaller roles this year have managed to work out pretty nicely as well. He’s well on his way to becoming the next JYB or Bryce Papenbrook of the California dub pool, and going by some of the work he’s displayed this year, it’ll likely be a title that’s well earned.

Honorable Mentions: Ricco Fajardo, Jad Saxton, Erika Harlacher

 

Best Japanese Voice Actor– Tasuku Hatanaka

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I’ve been meaning to highlight some of my favorite Japanese VA’s for a while now, so I figure that now is as good a time as any to start. I’d first heard Tasuku Hatanaka as Yuma in Yu-Gi-Oh Zexal and given that Zexal is well…garbage, that didn’t exactly leave me with the best first impression of him. His work as Ushio in Ushio & Tora on the other hand, managed to pull a complete 180 for me, as he did a great job of selling the brash but endearing nature of the character, and his delivery of Ushio’s breakdown during the final arc of the series, really stood out to me as one of the more memorable performances I’d heard on the Japanese side of things this year. His Ikoma from Kabaneri, while less compelling than his Ushio was also a really solid performance, and there’s a very unique quality to his voice that really sticks out amongst the usual stock anime leads, and feels a lot more rough and grounded. I’m glad to see that he’s gradually getting more work these days, and while he may have gotten off to the wrong foot with me, he’s since become a pleasure to listen to.

Honorable Mentions: Megumi Han, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Akira Ishida

 

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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 Series– Keijo!!!!!!

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It’s been a really weak year for anime comedies (though coming off of something as off the wall as Mr. Osomatsu, there was nowhere to go but down) but a couple of good ones managed to work their way through the cracks. Among them was, Keijo which to be perfectly honest I wasn’t even going to watch at first. Almost everything about it’s premise seemed like an excuse for gross fanservice so I was happily surprised when it not only turned out to be a lot cleaner than I expected, but way more entertaining than it had any right to be. Keijo is completely aware of how silly it’s premise is, but rather than simply going the skeevy route, it has fun with it, and treats the “sport” as though it’s legitimate competition with everything from training arcs to “sad” character backstories, which sounds awkward in theory, but the show does a good job of making it all work. What makes it a great comedy though is all in the Keijo battles, as the crazy special attacks are all delightfully ridiculous, and over-the-top, never failing to deliver at least one or two good laughs. It feels strange saying good things about the show centered around bikini butt battles, but it’s certainly earned that much, and while the premise might more than a little off-putting, if you’re looking for a good time, this one’s more than likely to keep you entertained.

Honorable Mentions: Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Taboo Tatoo, Dagashi Kashi

 

Best Action Series– Thunderbolt Fantasy

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When I first heard that Gen Urobuchi was doing a show about puppets, I was more than a little disappointed since I was really looking forward to his return to anime scriptwriting. Needless to say I was surprised when said puppet show, not only turned out to be good, but is also quite possibly the single most entertaining thing the man has ever written. The story follows a lot of the usual fantasy beats, but it has some solid execution both in part due to the show’s rich character dialogue as the conversations between the core cast are almost always excellent, and the over the top action action sequences, as the fight scenes have some surprisingly good action choreography and special effects which all make for a real treat. Of course if you’re a fan of the Booch’s usual sense of style there’s still some of that here too as he sprinkles in a few messages regarding tradition and what really lies beneath any “heroic” legacy, but he’s mostly here to entertain this time around, and if you found Fate/Zero or Madoka to be a bit too dour, this one’s a lot lighter in comparison. Urobuchi’s return to scriptwriting may not have happened the exact way I expected, but I’m more than happy with what we actually ended up getting, and I’m glad that there’s more of it coming our way in the future.

Honorable Mentions: Mob Psycho 100, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Diamond is Unbreakable, My Hero Academia

 

Best Drama Series– Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

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It always feels a bit pretentious to say that something is “for adults”, but there’s really no other way to accurately describe this one. The series is a slow moving drama, and centered around an artform that’s about as strictly Japanese as it gets, which makes it a tough sell for both younger audiences and anime fans at large, but for all it lacks in broad appeal it makes up for in execution. The tragedy concerning the lives and respective downfalls of Yakumo and Sukeroku is a compelling one and the innate struggles concerning the former’s sexuality and the latter’s sense of identity really helps in painting a picture of what it was like to struggle as an artist during one of the harshest time periods in Japan’s history. I also found myself really getting drawn in to the show’s frequent demonstrations of Rakugo demonstrations, and they did an excellent job of simultaneously showing the insane level of skill required for the craft while also using some of the pieces as solid metaphors for some of the events that were going on around them. As I said before though it’s a very slow moving series, and I’m not really surprised at how much it flew by the radar for most people, but for me it was easily the most moving anime drama to come out this year, and one of it’s best shows in general.

Honorable Mentions: Yuri on Ice, Orange, Sound!! Euphonium s2

 

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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:

 

Best Anime Series (Adaption)– Mob Psycho 100

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One-Punch Man was one of the biggest mainstream anime successes in recent memory, and as a series by the same author, Mob Psycho 100 had some big shoes to fill. Fortunately the team of animators at BONES and director Yuzuru Tachikawa of Death Parade fame were up to the task and delivered on an adaption that not only went toe to toe with it’s predecessor, but for me, exceeded it. As an adaption one of the biggest difficulties concerning this series was whether or not to stick to the original author, ONE’s, crude artstyle considering that One-Punch Man did not. However Tachikawa and co. made the decision to stick to that style, and while it might have cost the show the opportunity to enjoy the same level of mainstream success as it’s sister series, it gave the animators free reign to go all out with the show’s art design, making for one of the most impressively animated shows of the last decade, and giving it a unique visual aesthetic that really stands out from just about any other anime made in the last few years.

Of course while the show’s visuals are part of it’s appeal, the real heart lies in it’s storytelling, and it’s portrayal of Mob’s journey through adolescence. A lot of Mob’s issues concerning his abilities and his humbled attitude, seem reminiscent of Saitama from OPM at first glance, but it quickly becomes clear that his issues are less about his overwhelming talent causing him to hit wall, and more learning to deal with the reality that his abilities alone won’t get him on a fast track through life. It’s not a gigantic shift in perspective, but it’s enough of one to make Mob’s story his own, and he’s joined by a fun cast of supporting characters, all of whom manage to do a good job of standing out on their own. Especially Reigen, who managed to go from semi-annoying comic relief in the show’s early episodes, to it’s moral center and easily the best written character. All in all, Mob Psycho turned out to be a fantastic ride, and while it may not have been able to step out of the shadow of OPM’s popularity, it was certainly able to shine on it’s own as a stellar series.

Honorable Mentions: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, Sweetness and Lightning

 

Best Anime Series (Original)– Yuri!! on Ice

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So before this series even began, I was already pretty sure I’d like it. Sayo Yamamoto is a director with a lot of style, and her work on Michiko and Hatchin really won me over with it’s flare and strong feminist commentary. What I wasn’t expecting though, was exactly how much I’d end up digging this show, and I sure as heck wasn’t expecting so much of the anime fandom to latch onto it that it’s become the biggest mainstream success of the year. In a lot of ways though, it’s kind of fitting that this show would end up becoming so widely beloved, because love itself is what really lies at the core of the series.

Yuri on Ice is about love, and love in various forms. Familial love, sexual love, and most of all, being able to love yourself, as told through Yuri’s journey of self-discovery and his realization of the significance behind the various relationships that surround him. What’s really impressive is that none of this is every explicitly stated through the usual hamfisted means we’ve come to expect from most anime, and Yuri’s coming to terms with these feelings comes off in very much the same way you’d expect of someone his age in real life. Although, as is widely known by this point, one of the biggest highlights of this show lies in Yuri’s relationship with Victor, and the fact that their romance is portrayed in a way that’s just blatant enough that any denial of their sexuality would be delusional, while also having enough subtly and nuance to feel like a genuine relationship between two adults rather than the usual “will they or won’t they?” antics of anime, and I feel as though it’d mostly draw the same kind of reaction from me even if one of them was a woman.

The show isn’t without it’s problems of course, as it mildly suffers from some heavy repetition in it’s latter half, and the overambitious nature of the production in regards to animating every one of it’s figure skating scenes, leads to some serious woes. Ultimately though, these issues feel like minor gripes in comparison to everything else it achieves and between it’s stellar soundtrack and fun cast of characters, it’s hard not to get lost in the magic of everything it’s attempting to do. Yuri on Ice is by no means a perfect show, and if I were grading on consistency alone, Rakugo would probably beat it out as my favorite show this year, but this one spoke to me, and apparently a lot of other people in way that nothing else this year did, and for a show with about as anti-mainstream a premise as gay figure skaters, that’s one heck of an accomplishment.

Honorable Mentions: Thunderbolt Fantasy, 91 Days, Flip Flappers


And that’s it for me this year. A big thank you to everyone for reading my crappy little blog, and while it’s hard to say exactly what the future will bring for next year, I plan to keep writing as much as possible, and I’m looking forward to pumping out more work. Until then, have a happy new year, and stay animated.

Toon Talk- Monthly Retrospective (October 2016)

We’ve finally hit November and this long year is finally starting to wind down. October saw the start of a new season and with it some new shows as well as some new highlights so let’s take a brief look at some of what happened last month.


New Season, New Anime

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The beginning of October marked the start of the Fall 2016 anime season, which means a ton of new shows have come out over the last few weeks. I already went over my first impressions of a lot of these shows earlier so I won’t go into too much detail on individual stuff again, but I will say that despite some of the reservations I brought up while I was doing those (and nearly burning myself out in the process) it’s actually looking to be a pretty strong season. There’s a lot of chaff as always but stuff like Izetta: The Last Witch and Flip Flappers have stayed consistent enough that I’m fairly confident they’ll make for a fun ride the whole way through, and while Yuri on Ice already seemed like it was easily going to be the best show of the season, it’s only improved since it’s first episode, and to my amazement it seems to actually be popular. It’s certainly nice to see something that doesn’t scream super-mainstream actually picking up steam (and weirdly not many people seem to be actively talking about Drifters despite that being the obvious big action title of the season) and I guess it’s another sign that times are changing. Time will tell if the bigger Fall titles manage to stick the landing in the end but now that I’ve got the amount of shows on my plate down to a manageable number, I’m certainly pleased with what I’m seeing so far.

 

Toei FINALLY Brings Dragonball Super to the States

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So it’s finally happened. After over a year of being denied Dragonball Super despite DBZ being about as mainstream as anime can get when it comes to the U.S., Toei’s finally decided to wisen up and bring the show to legal streaming channels ala Crunchyroll and Daisuki. All I can say is: it’s about time, and while it’s easy to speculate over what the hold up was (knowing Toei I imagine it was them trying to push for television deals first) at this point I’m just glad it’s been made available. As of right now I have yet to actually check out Super since I have a ton of other things on my plate to shift through, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it from both enthusiastic and jaded Dragonball fans alike, and I’m looking forward to taking a peek at it whenever I get the chance.

 

Shelter and the “Anime” Debacle

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One of the most interesting and simultaneously irritating discussions of the month came when a short music video called Shelter was uploaded to Crunchyroll. It looked absolutely gorgeous, and was helmed by some of the folks at A-1 Pictures, but despite that listing, having a Japanese voice actress attached to it, and being having some marketing in Japan, the fact that it was partially produced by American musician, Porter Robinson was enough for the mods at Reddit’s anime forums to declare it “not-anime” and similar debacles were brought up elsewhere. Honestly I have to say that it’s really frustrating to still be having this conversation in 2016, but apparently some parts of the anime fandom haven’t moved past gatekeeping culture, and the whole thing has gotten to be tiresome. I’ve made my stance on the whole east v.s. west thing and what exactly defines “anime” pretty clear, so I’m not going to go into too much of a tirade on that, but as far as I’m concerned if it was animated in Japan, features Japanese voice talent and was marketed for Japanese audiences in some capacity: it’s anime and arguing otherwise is kind of nonsensical.

Co-productions have been a thing for years now, and with the ever increasing influence of the western market and China on anime sales they’re only going to grow in number and it’s time for folks to start getting with the program. It’s fine to debate over exactly how much good or ill western influences might have on what gets produced, but arguing their validity is inherently pointless when you take into account how fragile the west’s definition of “anime” is, and the time people spend arguing over this stuff, is time taken away from actually evaluating the works themselves, and for what it’s worth, Shelter was pretty good, and the overall reception seems to have been positive. Sadly I don’t imagine this’ll be the last time these kinds of debates pop up, and all the more considering stuff like Children of Ether is coming down the pipeline, but I do wish certain sections of the anime fandom would give it a rest already.


And that’s it for this time. This one was kind of short despite October being a fairly big month, but I mostly just wanted to get my thoughts out on the Shelter thing (and to be frank I almost forgot about doing this entirely). Hopefully I’ll have a bit more to talk about next time but until then, stay animated.

Toon Talk: Monthly Retrospective- September 2016

So I don’t really have much in the way of a clever segeway this time, but quite a bit went down in September, so might as well hop straight to it

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Crunchyroll and Funimation do the Fusion Dance

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There’s been a lot of feuds between U.S. anime licensors, and as the market has started to revolve more and more around the viability of streaming, the one that’s shaped the industry for the last couple of years has been the one between Funimation and Crunchyroll. A few years ago seemed to be more or less common knowledge that the two companies didn’t particularly like each other due to the latter’s checkered past, and those rumors of bad blood have persisted to this day, so the last thing anyone was expecting was an alliance between the two. It does however, make a great deal of practical sense from a business standpoint given the rising cost of anime licenses, the threat of streaming giants like Amazon Prime and Netflix, and the apparently fast growing anime market in China, all of which have the potentially to doom the two companies to irrelevancy so it’s a good way of fighting back.

As many have already pointed out by now, there’s a lot of potential good and bad to this little alliance. The good is that between the two companies, you’re effectively getting 70-90% of the new shows for each season in one place, with both companies lowering their subscription prices to make everything more affordable for fans. It also means more dubs, and now that Funimation doesn’t have to spend as much time, if any at all on subtitle translations (which they’ve been kind of iffy on for a while anyway) they can put more time on dub production, allowing us to get their simuldubs closer to the start of Japanese airing, and dub fans can get their fix faster. On the downside though, while this alliance won’t have any real effect on companies like Aniplex USA or PonyCan whose continued partnership with CR and their monopoly on properties belonging to their respective parent companies grants them immunity, and Viz who’s selective about what anime they get to begin with, it could end up cornering companies like Sentai, who already seems to be taking quick measures in making some of their simulcasts exclusives. It could also end up having an adverse effective on the quality of the dubs as well since Funimation has but only so many resources, and taking on more shows could hurt them, not to mention that having even more dubs potentially shipped to Texas wouldn’t do much for the sake of variety either. Of course there’s always the chance Funimation could expand their dubbing operations to LA or elsewhere so I suppose we’ll have to see how that goes. For now though, it looks like we’re witnessing the start of a new age, and regardless of what exactly it entails it’s clear there won’t be any turning back.

 

Summer 2016 Anime Come To An End

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Yesterday marked the end for a few of the summer’s remaining stragglers and now there were some definite winners and losers as to which shows successfully crossed the finish line. Among the winners were shows like Mob Psycho 100, which despite having a slower start than it’s predecessor OPM, managed to outdo it in the end, with it’s combination of stronger themes and a more rounded cast of characters, along with Sweetness and Lightning which managed to maintain it’s perfect level of fluffiness and genuine warmth right through to the final episode. 91 Days also managed to stick the landing in achieving the mafia movie aesthetic it was going for, and Thunderbolt Fantasy managed to consistently stay the most entertaining work of the season bar Jojo’s with Boochi instead opting to go for clever writing rather than a heavy amount of thematic depth. As for the losers, they were more or less the shows that seemed to be doomed from the start. Taboo-Tattoo was one of the most entertaining anime trainwrecks I’ve seen in a while, but that certainly isn’t enough to detract from how utterly trashy it was, and while I gave Hitorinoshita- The Outcast a pass on it’s first episode, it proved to be a gigantic slog the whole way through, with both shows definitively being the worst things of the season. On the bright side though I can at least say that nothing really ended up cratering which is always nice and while Berserk 2016’s overall reception is still pretty negative, the strength of it’s source material still shone through fairly well, and I’m cautiously anticipating the second half in 2017 (hopefully they’ll have improved the CG by then). All in all I have to say that looking back, it was a pretty good season for anime. Not exactly a standout, but there were enough humble offerings to get by, and the bigger titles managed to pull their weight well enough to compensate, so I can at least say that it’s nowhere near as bad as the Winter season was. Here’s hoping I can say the same thing about the fall…

 

Zoids Rising From Beyond the Scrapyard?

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So this last one isn’t exactly big, or potentially even animation related, but it’s fairly important to me on a personal level so here it is. While I watched bits of Gundam as a kid and enjoyed what I saw, it was the Zoids franchise that more or less defined my childhood where giant robots were concerned and arguments concerning the practicality of actually making a Liger were frequent playground discussions when I was growing up. I’ve seen at least parts of all four Zoids shows from the 00’s including Zoids Genesis which somehow never made it here despite Viz dubbing it, but the franchise as a whole has mostly been in complete radio silence for the last decade, so the prospect of a new series or a potential reboot both sound pretty appealing to me. Though while it’s certain that there’s a new Zoids project in the works it’s possible that it could be anything from a new video game to a live-action movie going by the visual Takara Tomy uploaded and an anime may or may not be a part of whatever’s coming. Of course it would be nice to get a new Zoids anime (and maybe even picked up by Viz for old time’s sake) but whatever this is, it’s nice to see one of my favorite childhood franchises being brought back from the dead so I’m pretty excited.


Well that’s more or less it for this month. Sorry if this one seems a bit short since I was juggling both this and my first impressions of the Fall anime shows at the same time. September came with a pretty big change in the world of anime for the U.S. and as we head into October, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Toon Talk: Monthly Retrospective- August 2016

Well September just started…so what better time than now to talk about all the stuff that happened in August? As far as animation news goes, it was a relatively quiet month, but the discussion on the other hand has certainly been pretty lively…though not necessarily for all the best reasons. Let’s dive into it.


Summer of Steven Heats Up Some Controversy

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August brought us the remaining Steven Universe episodes of the Summer of Steven (plus one) and with them both joy and headache. With the back half of this event seeing the show delving back into Gem lore, it’s produced an interesting array of topics to discuss, but the one that caught the most attention for better or worse was the episode “Bismuth” and it’s titular character. Particularly in having brought up the issue of whether or not it’s okay to kill one’s oppressors through the eyes of Bismuth who wants to crush the Homeworld Gems at any cost and Steven who believes in trying to reach an understanding with them without resorting to murder (or shattering in this case). This being a kid’s show, we’re obviously meant to sympathize more with the latter view point and it’s caught the ire of fans who feel it’s too heavy handed (The fact that Bismuth resembles and has the voice of a black woman only added to this outcry) and that the show should have handled it with more grace. .

While I can certainly understand where people might see some unfortunate implications here (as a black person myself I wouldn’t read too much into that race bit, but I obviously can’t speak for others) for the most part it just feels really overblown. Steven Universe has always embraced empathy and understanding as it’s core values, and Steven’s world view is pretty much consistent with that of the show itself, so taking issue with it this late in the game feels odd. I recall seeing similar complaints over the final moral conflict in Avatar: The Last Airbender back in the day, and I’d be lying if I said that was executed perfectly, but it was handled decently, and this was done much more tactfully in comparison. Even though it’s clear we’re supposed to lean more towards Steven’s point of view, the show itself points it out as just that, his point of view, and not only is Bismuth’s perspective made fairly sympathetic, but the conclusion points out that there can be negatives to Steven’s pacifistic views, and that he’ll have to live with those consequences if he wants to maintain that viewpoint. If anything it serves as further proof that Rebecca Sugar and co really know how to throw these kind of ideas at children without talking down to them, but I suppose there’s always going to be the question of if they aren’t pushing things far enough. Well at least the latest episode gave us the show’s best musical number yet, that also doubles as a collaboration with Japanese animator Takafumi Hori and it’s really neat, so hopefully we can all at least agree to be happy about that one…right?

 

Ash Loses the Pokemon League…Again

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It’s that time of the year again (well couple of years I guess but whatever) where all of Ash Ketchum’s hopes and dreams must be crushed in order to keep the Pokemon anime train going. As someone who’s used Pokemon as Saturday morning background noise for over a decade, I’ve seen my share of ridiculous losses (the Darkrai deus-ex machina in the Sinnoh League being the worst offender) but this one particularly stings. The XY season has seen Ash make some real strides as a trainer, learn some good lessons and build up a roster that actually looks pretty darn competitive. Adding to that was the show introducing rival trainer Alan, who had decent dynamic going with him, and had already beaten him a couple of times before the League tournament had even began. Combined with the fact that this season may very well be the last one with traditional leagues, it seemed like things were really in favor of Ash’s victory this time, and even skeptics like myself felt the slight twinge of hope that it might actually be possible this time…then reality struck.

Needless to say that even though I wasn’t surprised at the outcome, I was kind of disappointed, and I wasn’t the only one apparently as that sentiment seems to have echoed across the internet, and even the Japanese fandom seems to be pretty upset about it. Of course this is all more or less status quo at this point, and long past the point of being a joke in and of itself, but that’s basically the problem. To the anime’s credit, there is a tremendous amount of value in teaching kids the lesson that failure is a part of life, and that you can’t let setbacks stop you from achieving your dreams and it genuinely worked…the first couple of times. You can only repeat the same lesson so many times before it starts getting ridiculous, and while it’s easy to make the argument that each Pokemon season is meant for a different generation of kids, and therefore shouldn’t be judged in a general sense of continuity, that frankly just makes things even worse.

Why should it be the exact same lesson every season? Shouldn’t the writers find other big themes to explore at this point? While it’s unfair to say the Pokemon anime’s been running completely on auto-pilot (well BW came closest and the ratings suffered for it) it’s definitely been afraid of changing the status quo and their over-reliance on it has only become more blatant over the years. It’s depressing because there are any number of ways to shake things up a bit and many of which don’t have to necessarily involve removing the anime’s most iconic characters (which seems to be the driving fear behind these stunts). Of course status quo has long been the way of the franchise in general, and the upcoming Sun & Moon games look to it’s first real attempt to break free from it. With some luck that sentiment might end up carrying over to the anime too (and the fact that we have yet to hear any information on the Sun & Moon season of the anime makes it somewhat plausible) but at this point I’m not sure I have enough faith in the anime producers to think they’ll make the effort.

 

Bleach’s Ending Has It’s Fans Seeing Red

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Speaking of controversies, there was another one that occurred the same morning as Ash’s latest downfall (well officially the Monday after but unfortunately the speed of manga scanlators is not to be underestimated). After years of the manga’s final arc stretching onward from fight to fight, with the ending feeling a lot further out of reach than it should have, the story finally concluded…very, very abruptly. The outcry over Bleach’s supposed cancellation has been going on since the beginning of July where it was made clear exactly how much time was left and that it wasn’t nearly enough to resolve everything, leading to all kinds of conspiracy theories on how Bleach’s author Tite Kubo somehow got screwed over by his editors. Personally I’d say it’s more likely that his editors got tired of his stalling and/or gave him a specific deadline that he had to rush out the remainder of the manga in order to reach, but we can only really speculate either way. I was however, able to come across the most plausible explanation behind it and the downfall of the series in general through a rather detailed video analysis (which I’d link but it seems to have been the latest victim of Youtube’s nonsensical policy enforcement changes) and while we’ll never know the exact answer, it’s at least clear that Kubo was running on borrowed time .

As for the ending itself, it was about as good as could really be expected after all this. I’ve long since lost interest in Bleach’s actual plot, and things got so rushed towards the end that the final chapter had to quickly shoehorn in Ywatch’s motivation while simultaneously pretending the series had an actual ongoing theme (and felt incredibly tacked on in both accounts) but it was nice to see what Ichigo and his core group of friends were doing as adults. That in itself seems to have caused the biggest controversy of all though as the fandom at large seems to have been incredibly displeased with the manga’s final romantic pairings of Ichigo ending up with Orihime and Rukia with Renji. While I recall seeing a similar outcry during the end of Naruto when the titular character ended up with Hinata and not Sakura, the blowout here seems to have been much worse and so much so that there’s been numerous videos and pictures of angry fans destroying their Bleach collections in frustration. While I don’t want to make this entirely about pairings (though having spent much of this year powering through the Bleach anime I can say that Ichigo and Rukia’s relationship felt incredibly platonic, and even Kubo himself apparently said so during a commentary in the Hellverse movie, so this all seemed like the most probable outcome) I do think it’s more than a little silly to see people destroying merchandise they paid for just because they were mad about who ended up with who, and they could have at least sold them and got their money back or something. Thank goodness Eiichiro Oda’s made it so One Piece won’t ever have these kinds of problems.

 

Voice Acting Blaz-blues 

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Well this last bit isn’t totally animation related, but I consider voice acting to be a pretty vital part in what makes this stuff work so it’s worth pointing out. Voice acting saw it’s own share of controversies in August  as a couple of big things came to light. The first was video game publisher Aksys Games deciding not to include an English audio track for Blazblue: CentralFiction the latest game in the franchise, despite having dubbed all the previous entries. From what’s been publicly stated this seems to have been an issue of speed more so than any financial woes (which is usually the simplest explanation when stuff like this happens) and they feel like not dubbing it will get the game out to the audience faster. While there’s certainly a lot of truth to the idea, it feels incredibly short sighted, since they are in effect taking something away from their audience and that typically never ends well.

Though some will make the argument that people will still buy the game regardless and that it’d be “worse” for them to delay it for such a reason, what’s often missed a lot of the time is that in a similar vein to how anime releases with dual-audio work, people are generally pretty willing to wait if it means getting a more ideal product. Though it’s certainly true that interest fades over time and it’s best to get stuff out while the iron is hot, they’re a lot more likely to lose sales by including one audio track then they are to gain or maintain them, as history as show that stuff typically sells better when people are given more options. It sucks that things had to come to this when it could have been avoided, and it’s all the more frustrating for the VA’s who were involved with the games and had gotten attached to their characters over the years. Of course there’s always the slight chance they could change their minds or include an English audio option later on, but if the game sells regardless, then what reason would they have to go back and spend more money on a option they don’t “need” in order to make money? It’s a lose-lose situation either way, and while those who prioritize getting stuff quickly might be pleased with this outcome, the rest of the fandom seems to have been left in disappointment.

This isn’t the only VA related issue to have happened during the month though, as when voice actress Krystal LaPorte was asked why she didn’t reprise her role in the second season of Chika the Coffin Princess, she revealed through a long statement that she’d been somehow exiled from Sentai Filmworks for reasons unknown. It’s bizarre to think something like this would happen for no reason, but it seems to have really been the case, and it’s very alarming. While it’s pretty much impossible to speculate about why this happened, it’s ridiculous that it occurred at all , and it’s beyond depressing to see a voice actor being treated like this, or frankly anyone for that matter. I sincerely hope there aren’t similar horror stories for other VA’s regularly employed with Sentai, but even if it isn’t this just seems both incredibly heartless and downright unprofessional, and really hope more people call them out on it. With all that said, I suspect that we’ll probably never learn what Sentai’s exact reasons were for all this, but for now it’s definitely knocked down my respect for them a few pegs.


And there’s my thoughts on August in a nutshell. Yeesh, that was a lot more negative than I thought it would be. Here’s hoping September turns out to be a lot brighter.