It feels like each year favors a specific medium, doesn’t it? 2017 had a seemingly never-ending slew of good movies, 2016 had a ton of great games, 2015 was a return to form for pop music, and 2012 was when all of those mediums somehow reached a zenith that we haven’t seen since. 2018 meanwhile will probably go down as a standout year for anime, which is why I’m expanding my usual Top 5 list to ten full entries, with an additional five honorable mentions, one of which will be for some needed house cleaning for two old articles of mine. Honestly, this feels like an indication of how far I’ve come in being part of AniTAY for the past four years: getting back into anime and writing about it, and reflecting on a past year in a way that I feel proud of, from now to when I’ll inevitably revisit this piece in the future. With that said, the aforementioned house cleaning...
Best Missed Anime of 2017: Rage of Bahamut Virgin Soul, and Best Anime of 2014: Rage of Bahamut Genesis
See, I knew this would happen. Right as I publish my Best Missed 2017 article and claim there wasn’t anything from that year I missed out on, I decide to give Virgin Soul another shot, and wouldn’t you know, it clicked for me this time. I previously tried this series out last year, but the first episode kind of lost me somehow, and this was before I adopted the three episode rule for new shows. Now though I can give Rage of Bahamut two delayed (but deserving) honors of mine: Virgin Soul for Best Missed Anime of 2017, and Genesis my revised honor of Best Anime of 2014 (sorry Legend of Korra, but hey, second place still works right?).
I’m not a huge fan of... well, just about anything with a fantasy setting, but Rage of Bahamut somehow finds a way in both iterations to start out with a likable character (Virgin Soul’s Nina and Genesis’s Favaro), a good supporting cast, an interesting inciting incident, and a story with themes and wonderfully animated events that kept me hooked. Also I got into this franchise in possibly the best way, with Virgin Soul as my introduction to the series, and treating Genesis as a prequel series (even though it isn’t). And it somehow works, with Virgin Soul standing well enough on its own that you arguably don’t need the knowledge of Genesis to get into it, and Genesis itself is so much damn fun (especially in its fantastic dub) that if it were a prequel it would hands down be the best prequel to anything ever made. If you treat it that way, I highly recommend Rage of Bahamut if you’re looking for some good fantasy shows. And with that out of the way...
I can feel your disappointment already, and let me make it clear that in another year this would make it onto the main list. This show just missed out on being a top five anime, mostly due to the main ten entries being more “my kind of thing”; I’m not a big fan of moe centered shows, but A Place Further than the Universe deserves praise for being so, so much more than a moe show. Underneath the pitch perfect Studio Madhouse animation lies a story of an earned and honest friendship, journeying to a place most would think impossible, mending the past and finding closure; A Place Further than the Universe is all about doing what was previously thought to be beyond one’s means. Be it going further than your home, further than your job, further than your past, further than all that arguably defines you, this show is all about exceeding your own universe, and experiencing all that lies beyond it.
Yeah, this was arguably the biggest disappointment of the year, but I stand by having it as an honorable mention on this list. Like many others I waited for well over a decade for a continuation of Full Metal Panic , and even though this series didn’t have nearly as much of the humor that made the previous shows classics, I’m still glad Invisible Victory is here, because the drama and action are still as good as ever (even if the pacing stalled a third of the way into the season). Also, key voice actors returning to their definitive roles made this feel less like a cash grab on 2000s nostalgia, and more like an honest continuation. I have no idea when we’ll get a fifth iteration of FMP , but I’m still as invested as ever in seeing where Sousuke and Kaname go from here.
Yup, even with an expansion to ten full places, MHA still wound back up in my honorable mentions. I’d say this was mostly due to there being just enough stuff to edge it out, but I won’t deny that season 3 just didn’t quite measure up to the level of quality season 2 set last year. Don’t get me wrong, season 3 had some of the best moments in the entire series (All-Might’s last stand still makes me misty eyed, all these months later), but... I’m not sure exactly what it is that dragged it down here. Maybe it stalled just a little too much here and there, maybe there were a couple of cliched character moments that turned me off a bit. Or maybe it’s because season 3 really was as good as season 2... but no more than that. Still good, but not as fresh. But hey, season 4's coming next year, and it’s still fun as hell, so I’m not jumping off this hype train anytime soon.
Just when we think there’s nowhere to go with isekai, a series somehow pops up with a fresh enough take to pull us back in. Instead of the other four shows, this series just makes it onto the honorable mentions section itself, oddly enough by being notably uncynical. Much like its protagonist, this show (just) won me over by being a power fantasy where the would-be hero honestly just wants to make the world around him better, and that’s more refreshing than I’d thought it’d be, especially for an isekai. It’s not a deconstruction like Re:Zero, but rather it’s more of a reconstruction. Like honest criticism, it doesn’t necessarily point out what’s wrong with the genre, but instead says “this is how it can be better,” and I love it when media does that. Because it’s optimism, not pessimism, that truly changes things for the better. Dammit Slime, why are you stupidly inspiring? It’s not like I like you or anything, baka...
And with the honorable mentions, er, mentioned:
I’m not sure if there’s a whole lot I can say here, at least not without repeating myself or completely giving everything away about this show. It’s short, it’s well animated enough, it’s funny in the right way, it talks about a real world subject that most of us don’t already know a lot about, and it has a ton of fanservice for people who read manga, light novels, or just watch anime. You can read my original thoughts on it here when I covered it for the fall season, but this still remains my favorite short form anime of the year (well, if you don’t count another entry down the list...).
Yeah, I know this isn’t a great adaptation. I know the direction is questionable, I know the animation takes a dip here and there, I know it’s now in real danger of becoming an absolute mess, but Karakuri Circus is keeping me in through its sheer charisma, action, and a slew of likable characters. I also find myself really liking its aesthetic, thanks to a 90s vibe that we’re seeing more and more of in today’s anime (and that I can’t get enough of), and also seeing clown-inspired puppets get destroyed week after week somehow isn’t getting old. I’m going to stick with it, and regardless of wherever it ends up, it’s a show I’m definitely going to remember for a good long while after it ends. Also, Shirogane is best girl, end of discussion.
I’m not a huge fan of sports anime, which makes this entry all the more perplexing for me personally. I know a good number of viewers wrote it off for being too serious and fan-servicey, and while I will admit the latter did annoy me at times, it might actually be the former that really caught my eye. I’ve seen a lot of sports anime that play things safe, that are a bit too cutesy, and are too, well... nice. To see one that goes full throttle itself is honestly refreshing; Hanebado is the anti-Amanchu, and I love it for that.
Also, the first two and last two episodes were four of the best episodes from this entire year, where you start the series watching Nagisa get her ass handed to her and then directly watching her get her groove back, and then all the way at the end where you watch her take everything she’s learned and force her formally unbeatable opponent Ayano go beyond her own limits to put up a fight. Megalo Box had some of the best slugging matches in anime this year, but Hanebado’s finale was one of the best anime slugfests of this decade.
Arguably, this isn’t a short form anime (at least not the version we got on Netflix in 2018), but technicalities aside this was one of the most “too real” shows of 2018. I feel like this show is a great counterpart to the other animated show about animal-people living in the 21st century, with Bojack Horseman having more dry humor and centering on the entertainment industry and social issues, while Aggretsuko is more cutesy in look and tone, and focuses on a salarywoman dealing with what it’s like to be like living through your 20s in the 2010s.
And like Bojack, I found the one aspect of this show that I kept coming back to were the characters, who were all more fleshed out than I was expecting. Thanks to stellar voice work in both the sub and dub, and most characters having backstories and past experiences that on multiple occasions made me go “oh yeah, this is an actual person”, Aggretsuko was a series that while small in appearance, had a sense of thoughtfulness I wasn’t expecting. Here’s to a second season we hopefully won’t have to wait too long for.
There’s subversion, there’s deconstruction, there’s reconstruction, and then there’s this show, which does all of those things. When this series started I had a feeling it would surprise viewers by being something unexpected, and even though I turned out to be right, I still find myself pleasantly surprised by how this show exceeded so many expectations. The dialogue and delivery that pleasantly reminded me of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (which I’ve badly missed since 2015), the story and structure that, while predictable, still found ways to make every character arc feel thoughtful and heartfelt in how every person’s personal problems were each resolved in a manner that almost felt perfect.
And while Sakuta and Mai weren’t my favorite couple of this year (that goes to Karakuri Circus’s Shirogane and Narumi... no I’m not kidding), their relationship felt fresh in how honest it was.No “will they won’t they”, just three beginning episodes detailing how they got together, the remainder of the series showing how they’re making it work, and a final episode where the two find themselves strained, but resolve their issue in an intelligent, mature manner. Also, this show subverts the little sister stereotype in the best way I’ve ever seen in an anime. That on its own could’ve made this one of the best shows of the year, but Bunny Girl Senpai earns its place here by doing that, and so, so much more.
You know, I was worried about where I’d place this show, and even though I know a lot of you will probably think it’s too high, I’d say it somehow feels right at place in number five. As much a sucker I am for romances, I honestly can’t say I find too many of them in anime endearing. “Will they won’t they,” the show doesn’t know what to do once they get together, it breaks them up for some stupid reason, one of them dies in order to save the world; anime romances are a minefield. But the relationship between Inuzuka and Persia here is just so goddamn adorable and sweet. I know I said Shirogane and Narumi were my favorite couple of 2018, but... gaaah, this might just beat it, honestly.
The confession that’s one of the best in all of anime, the whole series having so much fun with the two hiding their relationship while simultaneously trying their best to make it work, the superb voice acting (which had a load of voice actors who I didn’t realize I missed as much as I did), and moments where the two put everything on the line for each other. Part of me kind of knows Boarding School Juliet is as high on this list as it is because it’s so recent, but thinking back on it I honestly really love this show. If you’ve been sorely missing a good anime romance, I wholeheartedly suggest you go watch this right now.
Thank you, studio Trigger, for not giving us two Darling in the FranXXs this year, or for having a mecha show that went full-Eva with its ending. No, SSSS Gridman instead went partly Digimon Tamers with its ending, and you know what? It worked pretty damn well. Not to say Gridman didn’t take notable inspiration from Evangelion (because it definitely did, albeit it was Eva’s better aspects): its atmosphere and subversion of genre of course, but Gridman did so in a much more intelligent way. Not letting its tone suffocate it right at the end, subverting its source material while paying the upmost respect to it, and instead of ending on a note of confusion or cynicism, Gridman went out on a final note of not giving up on someone for their past actions, overcoming who you once were, and ultimately not letting your worst nature consume you. With SSSS Gridman, studio Trigger has shown that they are now an undeniable successor to Gainax in terms of not just outstanding animation, but by also flying miles above the usual storytelling pitfalls that befell their parent studio. Who needs 4.44 when you’ve got SSSS?
As over the top as this show was, as depressing as its ending was, the early runaway hit of the year still remains a great callback to the anime we used to get in the 80s and 90s. But instead of the tepidness of Goblin Slayer, Devilman Crybaby had plenty of enough skill and soul to back up its edge. I’m still somewhat astounded that the over half a century old source material has enough in it to remain relevant, but thanks to intelligently updating the original work here and there with it, Devilman’s themes of acceptance and self-made apocalypse ring all too true (and needed) in this day and age.
So much of this show still amazes me a year after first seeing it: the animation, the pacing, thematic elements that reward repeat viewings, clearly seeing where and what Hideki Anno took inspiration from when he made Eva (which actually makes Eva’s shortcomings all the more visible), the soundtrack which I’ll readily admit was the second best anime OST of the year, and also remembering which scenes in this show destroyed me when I first watched them. Crybaby took the not at all easy task of adapting classic manga, starting out with an almost silly tone, ending on a wholly traumatic note that somehow felt right, animating it all with a style that would immediately turn a lot of people off it, and somehow... it’s something I would like to watch again. I rarely want to re-watch shows that end on as dour a note as this one did, but that’s really just how excellent Crybaby was.
Can a show be too “out there” to think of anything to say about? Can it be so good that you can’t think of anything else that needs to be said about it? I wouldn’t say Planet With has made me speechless, but it really is one of a few pieces of media that I can’t imagine a single fault with. Its pacing puts 90% of all other shows (anime or otherwise) to shame, doing perfectly in 12 episodes what some shows fail to do with more than 50. It had pitch perfect character growth that never felt like it drew itself out, nor was it “blink and you’ll miss it.” It somehow made the theme of “forgiveness” feel fresh and nuanced repeatedly by finding new ways to show it, so that every time it felt like a lesson in something more people should know about. I find myself wanting a sequel season or series because Planet With was so damn good, but you know what? Sometimes, it’s alright for a series to just end after one season. Perhaps that’s the weirdest aspect about Planet With: I’ll miss it, but I’m glad to say goodbye it to it. Because it earned it.
Sometimes, greatness isn’t appreciated until long after it debuts, and I really hope that’ll be the case here because this is the one show of the year that I wish the industry and viewers as a whole would take notes from. Planet With showed what quick but well-executed pacing and storytelling looks like. Boarding School Juliet has a romance that was honest, sweet, and almost smart in how it didn’t go overboard like so many others do. SSSS Gridman was a mecha show that demonstrated how to balance 3D and 2D anime, while having an atmosphere that didn’t suffocate itself into something nonsensical or hollow. Every show in my top ten this year had something that put them above all the dozens of shows we had in this amazing year, but Megalo Box... this is the one series were every single aspect of it felt like massive amounts of thought, effort, and care were put into it, and absolutely nothing was left to chance. Megalo Box is a show were everyone involved said “let’s do our absolute best.”
The animation that not once used 3D animation to cut a corner. The soundtrack that stands up there with Cowboy Bebop in its variety and quality of production. The characters who all go through an experience that changes them, and makes them a better version of who they were from the start of the show. The nuanced acting and performances, which made the moments where they went all-out land with so much more impact. Various themes of “deciding what to do,” how far one will go even when they don’t have much to go on, self-sacrifice, and ultimately going all-in with nothing held back. All of this perfectly encapsulated what made Megalo Box what it was: putting everything you have into something, and knocking it out as hard as you can. I’ve seen almost everyone who’s talked about this show compare it to its inspiration Tomorrow’s Joe, but Megalo Box exemplifies what a re-imagining should be capable of: standing on its own, regardless of where it came from. I hesistate to call this the best sports anime of all time, but I know for certain that Megalo Box is my choice for The Best Anime of 2018.
TGRIP is a film student studying in Portland, OR. TAY’s resident Xbox and racing game fan, he also (part time) reviews and does opinion pieces on games, movies, television, comics, and anime. He also runs his kinja sub blog Work(ing Title) In Progress. You can follow this third person narrating weirdo on Twitter @Dennis_wglasses, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SVJ”.