2018 was yet another year of evolution in my journey as an anime fan. Throughout the year, I spent less time watching anime and less time engaging in anime-related activities like doing freelance writing, blogging, and livetweeting shows. So as I started to consider “my year in anime,” I wondered if I would have much to say.
I needn’t have worried. The year is 2018 and anime is still good, so in the spirit of the 12 days of anime project (that I didn’t do this year)—here are twelve anime things that brought me some joy this year.
I Rediscovered Anime Crushes
It had been a long time. A long time since I’d felt those little flutteries you get when an anime character is really cute, really good, and really nice. But even before I knew that Ginko was a space princess, I was enamored. Cute anime girls are a dime a dozen, but characters that exude genuine warmth and care in the way Ginko does—from her time as a princess all the way through her cathartic moment in Planet With‘s finale—are something special.
So I spent a nice time with Planet With, amidst all of the show’s other wonderful strengths, feeling a cozy bunch of crushy feelings about Ginko Kuroi. It’s silly, but it was nice to be reminded what it felt like to have an anime crush once again. And, seeing as Ginko is far and away the Best Girl of 2018, my heart couldn’t have made a better choice.
Space princess! Space princess! Space princess!
Finding My Fate Anime Niche
I’ve never really been much of a Fate fan. After an extremely poor experience with Fate/Zero, there’s never really been much to attract me to the sprawling franchise. But when you’re needing an that you can put on while washing the dishes and cooking and Netflix shoves Fate/Apocrypha into your face, what can you do? You can watch it, be surprised at how much you enjoy it (especially Astolfo), enjoy the fact that the two opposing Ruler characters are both Catholics, be wowed by the stunning animation of #22, and finish the show somewhat more positively disposed to Fate than you’ve been before.
This will lead you to give Fate/Extra LAST ENCORE a shot, and after the show gets over its early inclination to appeal to the audience’s presumed base desires for Nero, you’ll be stunned as the show pulls a truly evocative atmosphere out of the now-cliché SHAFT stylings you thought were too tired to be effective. You won’t understand quite everything that happens, but the tremendous thematic coherence and the way the character relationships evolve from dull to genuine will grip you. It’ll be one of your favorite anime of the year. And, in combination with Apocrypha, it’ll leave you feeling like maybe alternate universe Fate series are the ones for you—which is good to know.
3 Perfect Episodes
If you asked me to name my favorite episode of TV anime of the year, I’d probably give the honor to Hugtto Precure‘s #16. But, fortunately, I don’t have to make such a specific choice here, so I can also add Yama no Susume S3‘s #10 and SSSS.GRIDMAN‘s #9 to that list. If you watch these three episodes (honorable mention to Hugtto #4), you’ll likely see the stylistic similarities between them. Of course, there are also plenty of things to distinguish them from each other, but it’s those similarities—a strong affiliation with cinematographic language, a tight grip on the power of atmospheric storytelling, and a webgen animation-adjacent visual style favoring bold and flat colors—that stayed with me.
But more important even than those smaller details is a sort of ideological unity that these episodes share. Each is distinctly a cartoon, yet also displays an impressive level of cinematic sophistication. Although some might be tempted to place cartoon and cinema in opposition to each other, these three episodes are a brilliant refutation of such narrow thinking—they embrace, even dance, in the best qualities of both. They are proof that cartoon-making and film-making are not separate arts but, rather, one and the same.
Hisomaso Wins Everything
When it comes to TV anime this year, one show stands head and shoulders above the rest for me: Hisone to Maston. Yet another show confined to the Netflix dungeons, I wasn’t prepared to let the streaming giant deprive me of my chance to watch Mari Okada’s return to TV anime weekly, and Hisomaso, yes, was worth it. From story to scripts, background art to character design, OP to ED, Hisomaso had it all—including the X-factor of the adorable dragons.
In short, there was really nothing else that aired that was anything like Hisomaso. Cute and quirky throughout, thoughtful and incisive at times, funny and dramatic in turns, this anime had basically everything. In the final rundown of the year, I expect it’ll likely go criminally under-watched, underrated, and under-remembered, but such is the reality of the anime times in which we live. I, at least, will remember Nao head with immense fondness. We salute you, brave solider, and all you stand for.
An Ode to a Strawberry
What do I think of Darling in the FranXX? I think it’s bad. I didn’t finish it, but I watched enough to consider it a representative portion, so I’m comfortable making that kind of wholistic statement. Basically, I think the very early criticism I made of the show proved to be a crucial flaw in the whole dang thing. But Ichigo? Ichigo was very good. She might have done a few things wrong, but not many. I liked Ichigo. 苺 means strawberry, and Ichigo was a very good strawberry with a killer character design.
No anime watcher is unfamiliar with the phenomenon of a good character—or even just a character the really appealed to them personally—stuck in a bad show, but I’d be hard pressed to think of another character who surpasses Ichigo’s gap between her relative goodness and the quality of her show. Not only was she cute and a childhood friend, but it was fascinating watching her navigate her complex feelings for Hiro, try her best to be a good leader for her team, and struggle against her own flaws. Best girl? Heck yeah. Eat your heart out, Zero Two stans!
This year, Rie Matsumoto (Heartcatch Precure! Hana no Miyako de Fashion Show…Desu ka!?, Kyousougiga, Blood Blockade Battlefront) storyboarded a few random episodes for other anime here and there. But in the time that she’s had a last major project, which if you’re counting like I am is THREE DAMN YEARS, other of her contemporaries have had multiple films released and done other great things. Meanwhile, aforementioned storyboards, the Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond ED, and whispers of a possibly discontinued film project aside, Matsumoto’s existence itself has been in question.
That’s why, when “Baby, I Love You Daze,” a music video/commercial directed by Riechang-kantoku herself and backed with some legitimate animation power, appeared almost out of the blue, I experienced a rush of joy unlike anything else I felt this year. Not only was Matsumoto back with something completely original, but it was a delightful, energetic little thing emblematic of pretty much everything I love about her as a director.
Please 2019. Give us something, literally anything. An announcement, an actual show or film. I don’t care. Give us back Rie Matsumoto.
This Bit is about Liz and the Blue Bird…
Wow, I saw a lot of anime movies (in theatres!) this year! Thankfully, I wasn’t asked to be on any year-end anime panels, so I wasn’t forced to make a choice that would kill me—to pick my favorite anime of the year. Liz and the Blue Bird, which is a stunning, delicate, spectacular, [blah blah blah how to make actual words about this damn thing] film, would be one of the top contenders, although as you’ve seen I can barely articulate what about it impressed me so much. But this is a blog post, so I will try.
If we set aside the craft elements (HA! You coward!), the heart of Liz is that its resolution is about something like learning to let go. Mizore and Nozomi are different people, with their own paths to follow in life. And yet, at the same time, they love each other deeply, and that love makes such realizations difficult to even perceive—as both struggle to do throughout most of the film—and to accept. But that catharsis of letting go, which is in many ways similar to the slow process of grief after the death of a loved one, is healthy. Love can tempt us to possessiveness, to illusions of control and ownership. But we may find in letting go that love can flourish in newer, healthier, and truer ways than we’ve known. [Editor: This paragraph might be complete garbage. Please give Bless some leeway if you think so. An attempt was at least made.]
…and This Bit is about Maquia.
I could not pick between Liz and Maquia if you asked me. I could not do it. Unlike the previous pair of Yamada/Okada analogues, Koe no Katachi and Anthem of the Heart (which is dominated by Anthem), these two films are at once so similar in concern (love) and yet so different in every other way that I could not, in my great fondness for each, possibly choose between them. They are, together, the best anime I saw this year. Fortunately, unlike with Liz, I’ve already struggled through the pain of writing about stupidly good things with Maquia. So you can read that if you like.
Maquia‘s merits left to my prior writing, the other thing that made Maquia particularly special for me as a moment in my 2018 anime-watching is what it represents for Mari Okada’s career. Okada was the first anime creator’s name I ever learned, and it was because she had been involved with so many anime I loved. So seeing her continue to grow as a writer over time, seeing her reputation improve, and seeing her career flourish to the point that she was the chief director for her own movie has been really special—and Maquia is, in many ways, the culmination of that journey so far. Here’s to you, Okada-san! May you have many more works to come!
Owned by Macross. Again.
Early in the year, I watched Macross Flashback 7. Now, Macross has some horribly gratuitous parts to it—and I love them all—but you could make a very, very compelling case that FB7 is caps them all. The plot of the OVA/movie/special/whatever is that Ozama Lee finds some VHS tapes that basically contain the footage of Macross 7, which results in most the main members of Macross Frontier coming over to his and Ranka’s apartment to watch them. Yes, the Macross Frontier characters get together to have a Macross 7 watch party. I could type that out again in all caps, but I won’t.
That on its own is pretty pandering, but then the whole thing concludes with a Sheryl and Ranka mega-medley of Macross 7 songs with Basara even appearing in some of the background vocals. I was basically in tears by the end of the performance, which is just ridiculous, but that’s just what Macross does to me. It swings for the fences, trusts you love Macross, and gives you the fanservice you want, with big guitars and Sheryl and Ranka belting “OMAE NO MUNE NI MO LOVE HEART” in unison, and the gleeful stupidity of it all just smacks you in the gut and you feel the tears coming because it’s Macross, dammit, and you love Macross. Point, Shoji Kawamori.
A Comic Girl Isn’t As Good as a Doujin Game Artist, but I’ll Take It Anyways
If 2017 was the year of Saekano Flat, then 2018 was the year of me desperately hoping I’d find another show about creatives that would move me in the same way. I didn’t, but I did find Comic Girls, which gave me enough periodic artist anxiety that it earned a mention here.
Actually, looking back on Comiga, I think I actually didn’t give the show the credit it deserved at the time. While it was airing, one of my main complaints about it was that Kaos’ perpetual incompetence made it difficult to believe that she was indeed a manga artist with an editor, but then I think about my own haphazard art practice habits and my own incompetence despite my desire to be an artist and suddenly I feel like maybe it was spot on. So, just like Kaos, as down in the dumps as I might feel about my work and my talent and the speed at which I’m progressing, I’m not going to give up. Even though it hurts sometimes, I’m not going to give up! So yeah, thanks for that, Comiga.
METAL OVERMAN KING GAINER
In 2018, I finished watching Overman King Gainer. Inspired by my positive experience with Reconguista in G, I was interested in watching another original Tomino show, and settled on King Gainer mostly because I’d seen the OP on YouTube, and thought it was awesome. This proved to be a good choice, as King Gainer has many good reasons to watch it. I enjoyed the show quite a lot, and had fun tweeting about it and learning about some aspects of its production.
But that OP… I went out a bought it and let me tell you, there is nothing like coming to the end of a run with the Overman King Gainer OP pumping in your ears as your make a final sprint to the tree that marks the end of your workout. King Gainer‘s broadcast ended in 2003, but that song is timeless. 2018 may have been a crappy year for the world as a whole, but according to iTunes I listened to “King Gainer Over” about 60 times, so it’s impossible to say whether the year was truly bad or not.
And those were the highlights of my year in anime! I’ll probably put together a little graphic at some point for my top shows, but this’ll be the only blog post from me wrapping up the year. Happy New Year’s to you all, and here’s to a wonderful 2019!
What were some of your favorite shows, episodes, moments, or anything else of anime in 2018?