The Top Anime of 2018

There’s something to be said for putting down a more permanent record of your favorite anime of the year. I didn’t do it last year and I realized I regretted it—so this year, although I said I wouldn’t and the list will be shorter than normal—I won’t make the same mistake.

These are my picks for the top anime of 2018.

top 2018 anime image

As I mentioned in my favorite anime moments of 2018 post (I apologize for any repetition in this one), I watched fewer anime in 2018 than I have in a year since I started watching anime, but I have to say that the rewards of that were worth it. Focusing in on a smaller handful of shows that I really cared about made them all the more worthwhile.

And so I got to enjoy things like Planet With, which for me had its emotional climax in Soya’s breakdown midseason and suffered from its speedy pacing to the extent that the finale missed just a little bit of the punch it should have had. Also as an honorable mention is SSSS.GRIDMAN, TRIGGER’s first entirely good anime, which hit for the stars and achieved a stunning amount of good things. Comic Girls was also good and painfully relatable, although it’s faded in my mindspace as time has gone on. And the final honorable mention shoutout goes to Hugtto Preure for being so good that I mostly stayed current with it!

And with that, let’s hit the top 5!

Planet With


5. Free! Dive to the Future

Free! is the KyoAni franchise that seems like it’ll never die, and for that I am thankful. Although the shows have been inconsistent over their three-season, multi-movie run, there’s a sense of genuine fun that pervades them even in the midst of the deepest drama. Dive to the Future as a successor to the seasons prior is a very satisfying thing, as it does what few anime do and expands the story beyond high school into the characters’ university lives—but even so, the scars of time past go with them. It’s the way that Dive to the Future tackles these pains that make it so good, building moments of catharsis out of relationships and arcs that have changed over time. My favorite? Ikuya’s resolution with his brother.

But that’s just part of Free!‘s appeal to me. The other big part is the manservice. No, not all the muscular physiques, although those are nice. Rather, it’s the emotional service that Free! provides to its male characters in the way it allows them to be emotional, caring, doubtful, and nuanced that’s the real service the franchise provides. I wrote about this a bit with regards to High Speed!, and Dive to the Future builds on that foundation more gracefully than I could have expected, blending the more poignant emotional drama of the film into the lighter tone of the original TV series with reasonable success. Overall, though, it was simply a pleasure to see these characters back again. Here’s hoping for a glorious return in 2020!

Free! Dive to the Future

4. Fate/Extra LAST ENCORE

The further I get from Fate/Extra LAST ENCORE, the fonder of it I seem to grow. I’ve already written in some depth on what I consider to be the core theme of the show, and while it was LAST ENCORE‘s treatment of the reality of despair and the difficulty—and glory!—of responding to it, there was so much else to this little entry into the Fate franchise that made it mean something to me. This is perhaps best exemplified by Nero’s triumphant speech in the finale, a rousing shout in which she describes her experience of Hakuno’s physical and spiritual ascendancy as witnessing “a star being born!” It is a grandiosity piled upon a bed of prior grandiosities, but Saber’s devotion, love, and loyalty are on full display.

LAST ENCORE is a show about belief that survives despair, and no character is so emblematic of this as the charismatic Red Saber. There is an honest simplicity to her exterior that makes her easy to love, yet she also possesses a complex interiority—born out of her multiples lifetimes—that grounds her as more than a fantasy girlfriend. As Nero and Hakuno travel together upwards, the natural comfort that grows between them likewise serves as the foundation for the grander gestures of LAST ENCORE‘s story. The almost uniformly tragic (or at least bittersweet) tales of those Saber and Hakuno encounter build to these beautifully, and even though this is a Fate hardcore fans say isn’t accessible to non-fans as promise and certainly not one I expected to love, like Saber with Hakuno, I find myself compelled to shout of its radiance.

Fate/Extra Last Encore

3. Yama no Susume S3

Somewhere along the way, Yama no Susume has become a series I treasure. When I watched the first season a few years back, I was looking for something cute and light, and nothing more. And while Yamasusu is certainly both of those things, it is also more than that. The care and attention the second season offered to Aoi’s small but poignant struggles to climb Mount Fuji—and especially to her failure—marked it as a show whose modest ambitions belie its exellence. And so, having been drawn in slowly, Yamasusu‘s (unexpected?) return was a cause for celebration for these reasons as well as those of its wonderful production circumstances.

In football, players who are especially appreciated by their fellow players (as opposed to fans, managers, etc.) are sometimes referred to as “players’ players.” Yama no Susume as a creative work strikes me as something similar, a production that holds a great deal of appeal for those of us who are particularly insert in the craft of how anime, or perhaps even more specifically, animated television shorts, are made. Yamasusu is for me a delight of execution that elevates, infuses, and blends with content. I adore it as a small story of a group of friends having small conflicts and small joys, and I both appreciate and learn from it as a work of creativity. All this had its roots in the previous seasons, but much like Aoi, I’ve changed over the years. Being able to perceive those changes in myself—in what I value, in what interests me, in what I want to do—through the lens of Yamasusu‘s simple self is special, and I’m not show any other show recently has done that for me the way this third season of Yama no Susume did.

Yama no Susumre

2. Hisone to Masotan

A friend of mine on Twitter is fond of referencing a spoken-word review of Grand Theft Auto V by Leigh Alexander in which she says that in the game “you can do a lot of things. Not too many things. Just enough things.” Although the context is different, this is kind of how I see Hisone to Masotan—a TV anime that does a hell of a lot of things, but just enough of them to be fun and weird and packed to the dragon innards without tripping over the invisible wire of Too Many Things and becoming incomprehensible. There’s the thing where the D-Pilots are literally swallowed by their dragon/planes, which is also a metaphor for how people’s work can seem to literally swallow them whole. There’s also the thing where Hisone licks Masotan. And the thing where the realization that she’s fallen in love with someone causes her scream her head off and runs into the night. Also the thing with workplace sexism. And the thing the legendary dragon and the historic sacrifice that serves as a macrocosm of the show’s thesis on the hundreds of impossible little decisions people have to make between love, life, career, family, fulfillment, and everything else.

I really do love this kind of jam-packed show, and there was no other anime this year that I enjoyed talking about with other people than Hisomaso. From its unique character designs and the vivid personalities that inhabited them to the adorable Masotan to its willingness to staightforwardly tackle difficult topics, the many things Hisomaso does make it constantly entertaining and persistently interesting. Few enough shows manage either of those, let alone both at once. And while I’ll admit the ending lacked a bit of punch for me due to how quickly it happens, such a fault is easily overlooked amidst the cascade of strengths Hisomaso contains. My favorite TV anime of 2018? This is it!

Hisone to Masotan

T1. Maquia

Talking about Maquia is difficult. Each time I’ve watched it, I’ve cried solidly through the last 20 or so minutes of the film’s three-pronged climax. When so much of a film’s appeal is located in such a visceral reaction, it’s hard to see through the literal and metaphorical tears to everything that lies beneath and facilitates those feelings. I called my mom after I saw Maquia the first time, and unintentionally freaked her out because I still hadn’t finished bawling my eyes out. That conversation wasn’t really like anything in Maquia. And that was okay. Because, ultimately, Maquia isn’t really so much an expression of a concrete reality as it is of those broader threads of experience that overcast our lives but rarely contact our daily existences. Our lives are not made up of a series of vignettes like this story is. We can’t breeze through mundanity in a cheery montage, and our conflicts don’t always wash away in the rain with a slap to our stomachs.

But the truth and familiarity in Maquia can speak so powerfully, I think, because it grasps those grander aspects of our lives that we mostly can’t see and makes them visible. Maquia mourns her son’s passing, and if nothing else is true about Maquia, certainly the fact that the ascending storm of flowers gives her grief—vast, real, and very beautiful—tangible visual expression is. These are the kinds of gestures Maquia makes toward the reality of love. Although the film is centered on a mother’s love for her son, there is universality in that unique particular. Because, really, this is what love looks like. That’s why Maquia is my favorite anime of the year.

Maquia

T1. Liz and the Blue Bird

Talking about Liz and the Blue Bird is difficult. Each time I’ve watched it, I’ve found myself more and more captivated by the film, drawn into its singular world through the immersive soundscape and deft visual framing. In terms of craft, it is an absolute wonder to me, and it is on those terms that it speaks to me most. It’s not simply that Liz is pretty or that it unspools its emotional thread so delicately that I’m barely conscious of the web being sewn with it; it’s that the film’s acuity of vision and execution is so powerful that I can’t help but be aware of it in every frame even as I am carried along with the gentle currents of Nozomi and Mizore’s story. I like these kinds of things, these sorts of contradictions where the craft-puppets’ workings are so clear that they become a part of the appeal in their own rights. Perhaps that is one meaning of “art house.”

I do like the story of Liz and the Blue Bird. As I’ve written before, to me it is a story of love through letting go, a crisp fold on the edge between togetherness and loss. But my heart is, in the end, with the way the film is made. At times I even consider that I might like the individual components of the film—music, shot composition, sound direction, colors, voice acting, animation—more as discrete parts than as a whole. But I think if that were true, Liz would be a lesser film for the lack of a holistic final product. And Liz is not a lesser film. It’s transcendant as art in a shockingly specific way. I find new reasons to be amazed each time I watch it. That’s why Liz and the Blue Bird is my favorite anime of the year.

Liz and the Blue Bird.jpg


And that’s the end! All in all, it really was a good year in anime for me—frankly, it’s one that 2019 will be hard pressed to equal. But you never know what surprises may be around the corner, and I’m certainly hoping to encounter some amazing stuff this year!

16 thoughts on “The Top Anime of 2018

  1. “Rather, it’s the emotional service that Free! provides to its male characters in the way it allows them to be emotional, caring, doubtful, and nuanced that’s the real service the franchise provides.” Oh thhhhaaaaat kind of manservice, yes Tsurune has that in spades. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Gridman” being Trigger’s first entirely good anime.
    Have you seen Little Witch Academia? It’s uplifting and in good taste the whole way through.
    Also I like the contrast between Liz’s quiet complentation and Maquia’s bombastic heart-on-sleeve drama.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t seen LWA, but I’ve heard it falls off in later episodes? Not that it would mean it couldn’t be good anyways… in any case, having to put “that I’ve seen” in as a qualifier weakens things somewhat 😛

      And yeah, Liz and Maquia are so incredibly good in such different ways… I can’t choose between them…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You probably didn’t watch A Place Further than the Universe (I’m convinced it would have gotten a mention at least, you know, like Gridman and Planet With.)

    I haven’t watched 5 & 4 at all, and probably won’t (Fate has an outsider’s chance). Hisomaso was great for the most part; I’m not sure what to do with the ending – it went down so fast that I’m still not quite sure what exactly happened. I adore the character designs, though, and Hisone is an awesome character (I wish they’d have done more with Maso-tan, though).

    I watched the first few episodes of Yama no Susume, but for some reason I got stuck in the middle of season 2, and I want to contiue with season 2 before watching season 3 in earnest. Plot-wise, it’s easy enough to get what happened, but I really felt like I’m missing important emotional development.

    I’ve seen none of the current films yet. Last year I finally watched Your Name and In this Corner of the World, and those films are about to come out around here (or have recently come out), so I might get around to them eventially. Also still wating for Mirai and Penguin Highway.

    And whether you’ll ever watch it not, I can’t leave a top anything alone, if it’s missing my favourite Hakumei to Mikochi. Looks like a kiddy show, is about working women. Excellent slice-of-life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Correct, I’ve not seen Yorimoi despite the pleas of many. At this point you have to wonder if I’m trying to frustrate people intentionally…

      I’m definitely in your camp re: more Masotan content. Because Masotan is cute and good. And yeah, if I did caption awards, best character designs for the year would have gone to Hisomaso… maybe… Liz‘s designs are soooo good…

      It’s been a while since I’ve seen Yamasusu s2, but s3 imo is definitely worth the journey, although it’s not quite as emotive as s2.

      Hope you enjoy the films! I’ll consider my piece on both of them to be said already haha. You can just come back here and comment again to tell me how right I was to have them at the top of my list. 😛

      & I appreciate the shoutout to your favorite! That’s one of the best things about making these lists, hearing what other people liked!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ack! Been meaning to reply to this… but it kept slipping my mind. (Too many projects on my plate ATM.)

    Anyhow, my top 5 series for 2018 works out like this…

    Iroduku – despite the weak ending, it was pretty strong through most of it’s run.
    Laid Back Camp – surprisingly good despite being (on it’s surface) a straightforward CGDCT show. Not in the least because of it’s strength of characterization. Probably the best final sequence of the year.
    Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai – Again, great characterization – especially Tomoe’s arc. The finale of that arc was probably the finest single ep of the season. Would have scored higher if not for the nearly fatal weakness of it’s final (Kaede’s) arc.
    Bloom Into You – Astounding characterization, incredible storyboarding, etc… etc…

    And number one should come as no surprise because I’ve been shouting about this show to anyone who would listen ever since about ep 2 aired:

    Yorimoi – What can I say that hasn’t been said? Well directed, strong characters, etc… A strong coming of age drama that really is a must watch. (And I say that rarely.)

    Of the shows we have in common… I’d say YnS misses being on the list by just a bare hair. You could probably swap it for Irodoku and still make a fine list. Despite the outstanding singular episodes, as a series… I’m just not as fond of it as it was more of a series of vignettes rather than the strong arcs of the second season.

    Masotan probably wouldn’t even break the top ten. The first half was outstanding. Everything after the “survival island” arc was just a jumbled train wreck.

    I don’t count it in such a list because it’s a poor fit with episodic anime… But yes, Liz was a friggin’ outstanding movie by any measure you care to apply. One of the very few movies in my life that I wanted to go hit the bathroom, grab a smoke, and then immediately see again.

    Like

    • Well, I’m equally slow in replying so that makes us even!

      Interesting top 5 from you (although certainly the #1 is no surprise)! You’re almost in Bobduh levels of character dramas as a viewing aesthetic.

      Definitely fair on the Yamasusu preference. I don’t know if it would’ve made my list had it not had the strong final arc focusing on Aoi and Hinata’s friendship. That won the show for me. As for Masotan, well… who wouldn’t expect me to love the Mari Okada mess. I think putting it as a train wreck is a bit hash, but I can see where you’re coming from I suppose.

      All hail Liz!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Maquia’s definitely a precious gem. It has that tiny sparks of light and hope that truly gave a satisfying end despite of how forceful the drama and how exciting the entire adventure had been. On my end, my top anime of 2018 belongs to Violet Evergarden.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad to see Last Encore getting some love! I’m a sucker for that kind of dream-like atmosphere, particularly with the Nursery Rhyme/Alice episodes. Nero was also great, just so charismatic that I firmly believe she could’ve carried the whole show herself. It’s too bad the show isn’t very well liked among Fate fans.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Alright!

    I was giving up on anime and most of manga at the start of this year because, being an old man, I found both seemed to be increasingly moving away from being about things like evoking fundamental feelings and depicting life’s turning points, and toward only providing fantasy fun for the young.

    Then today I happened to stumble upon your 2016 review of “Hyouka”. That series was one of my peak moments of anime, and I still remember it as the story of a motivation-less smart guy who happens to find a purpose in life after all. That made the anime very moving to me, and I appreciated your discussion back then all the more because you saw so deeply into it.

    Now it’s March 2019, and I’m checking over your favorite anime of 2018 with the greatest interest! Whatever else anyone may find lacking in your work, depth of analysis and appreciation of the emotional insight that’s sometimes present in the best shows appear to be your strong suits.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thank you so much for such a nice comment! Stuff like this really inspires me to try to get back into blogging a bit more regularly. Also, I really do consider my work on the Hyouka series of posts some of my best, so I’m really glad you found them to your liking.

      And, of course, if you end up checking out any of the anime from this list, I certainly hope you enjoy them! Feel free to report back with your findings! ^_^

      Liked by 1 person

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