Okay, last top five of the decade. The rest of aniTAY’s detailing the decade for anime, and while I too am working on a couple of articles relating to the 2010s (look forward to the 2017 retrospective, peeps), concerning 2019 itself, this was a solid year for anime. 2019 was a solid year for most media in general; no particular medium had lot of stuff, but there was a decent amount of good stuff in most areas. Movies had Avengers Endgame, music saw the glorious return of The Lonely Island, games had Control, and television had Chernobyl and Watchmen. Anime itself had its fair share of stuff to get lost in and obsessed with, even if it was only a handful of shows. When a single year has Vinland Saga, Astra, and O Maidens, and my list is still packed with stuff I found myself liking more, the year has done more than good for itself in my book. And with that said:
Rilakkuma and Kaoru
I’m not sure how this series even got made, but I’m more than thankful for what’s, for me personally, the most relaxing show of the year. I’m not really into the kinds of shows that just make you chill, but stop motion animation somehow works for me in that aspect, in a way most 2D anime usually don’t. I especially love how it goes for an aesthetic that hits just the right balance of making the characters look like toys, but not so much so that it feels like a toy commercial. Oh, and the writing’s good too, with Kaoru coming off as the opposite side to a coin she shares with Retsuko from Aggretsuko: both are overworked, underappreciated office workers trying to find their ways in life, but deal with their issues in different ways, with Kaoru coming to appreciate an odd but loving family of unusual house guests, while the other, well... just keep reading on that other one. So... yeah, this show is nice, and you should check it out.
I was prepared to like this show, and... I did. I won’t say I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and to some people this might be nothing more than a blatant cash-grab of a publisher that happens to specialize in a certain popular genre. But dammit, if Disney can cash in on how many properties it has come to own, why can’t Japan’s equivalent of Disney do the same? Besides, I love media like this, where two dozen characters from different shows just bounce off one another in ways you’d never guessed, or maybe even possibly expected all along. I like this series so much I’ll even endure Shield Hero’s inclusion if it means we get more wacky shenanigans.
I’m gonna be sad when Bojack Horseman finishes up next month, but it’s nice to know that Netflix based furry dramas won’t be a dead genre when it goes. While not as groundbreaking as its previous season (and you do need to watch the Christmas special in order to be fully caught up on it), Aggretsuko is still as enjoyable and at times cathartic as it’s ever been, with Retsuko continuing to work through her personal struggles by figuring out who she is and what she truly wants from life. Still my favorite currently airing short-form anime.
You ever have something that rides right along the line between being something you like, and something you adore? Well, this is what Promare is for me: something I know I like, something where I can list two dozen different reasons as to why I like it and why it’s excellent, and yet... this isn’t something that sits alongside Redline, Tokyo Godfathers, or Girl Who Leapt Through Time as one of my all time favorite anime movies. Maybe it’s because Promare covers similar ground that Princess Mononoke did decades ago, maybe the art style or the soundtrack kind of overdose on their sheer awesomeness; I can’t say for certain. But these honestly are small niggles over what is undoubtedly the anime movie of the year, and its incredible success, especially outside of Japan, continues to show what Your Name has come to achieve for anime distribution outside of its home country.
Carole and Tuesday
I know, I know... this show was just cut from the top five, and I feel justified in it being here in how it’s both Shinichiro Watanabe at his most self-indulgent, while him also being his most self-restrained. I’m still thinking about this show a week after its second season finally dropped on Netflix, and while season 2 is much messier than the preceding season, I think I’ve come to understand what this show was going for. Carole and Tuesday starts out as the show Watanabe has wanted to make, possibly for years, but ends as the show he (and the people who made it) feels like needs to exist right now, in the era we face. Watanabe has always been a director who has a more global view of things than most anime series directors, as seen in how he takes looks at people and cultures you usually don’t see in most shows (especially in his past works Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy), and considering this show’s ending note of anti-fascism & anti-isolationism, and pro-inclusion & pro-diversity... even though Carole and Tuesday can be really hit and miss at times, I will not knock this show for aiming for something that needs to be seen and heard, now more than ever.
Oh, and the soundtrack’s excellent too (my personal favorite track is Lights Go Out).
With that said, TGRIP’s Top 5 Anime of 2019:
One of the lessons that 2019 taught me about shows is that some are best enjoyed on a weekly basis where you should wait a few days in-between episodes, and then there are shows that really do come through when they are binged, where you can take in multiple episodes in one sitting and get a larger, longer view of the story all at once. The latter viewing method is what really made Dororo open up for me somehow. I watched the first part one episode at a time on a weekly basis, and while it was good, I ended up falling out of it by around the 13th episode. Then a few months went by, I got back into the show when it had wrapped up, and proceeded to watch the remaining dozen episodes in the span of just two days. I get the common complaint about this show losing its pacing at the halfway mark (and kind of easing up on its tone in the process), but going through it in a shorter timespan cemented this as one of my favorite series of the year. The action’s great, the animation’s on point, the characters are all well written, and the journey of Hyakkimaru and Dororo ends on a damn near perfect note. You can read about my overall thoughts on the aniTAY review I contributed to a few months back, and I still stand by what I said then of this series being on 2019's shortlist for best shows.
Possibly the most underrated show of the year, and one of the very rare shows where I strongly advise that it be viewed for its dub, since it somehow gives Mix a soul that just isn’t there in the original sub. I know that sounds really weird, but I tried again and again to watch Mix with just the subtitles when the dub was delayed a few times, and honestly it just lost so much of the magic that made it so endearing. I rarely experience this with an anime, but regardless; with the dub, Mix is one of my all time favorite sports anime. Yes, the fanservice does really creep me out at times, but I want to say this show is so good in every other regard that even I can look past it. The tone is good and the show keeps it nailed down just right, each character has a subtle personality that differentiates them from one another without being over the top (for the most part), and it has such a good sense of humor about itself that it has some sublime forth-wall breaks that never lessens the show’s stakes and character dramas. Seriously, give this series (with the dub) a watch when you can.
3. Mob Psycho 100 2
Back on my 2016 anime list I put the first season of Mob Psycho 100 on my honorable mentions, because I felt that it covered too much similar ground to its cousin show One Punch Man. However, I was hopeful back then that when it got to season two, the two shows could and would diverge enough in their respective stories that they could really, truly be different from one another, and that Mob Psycho 100 would become something truly special. And my hope was bang on. While One Punch Man 2 might’ve been too eh for most people (I thought it was okay, although some of the backlash to it was a bit much in my opinion), season 2 is where this show finally shines, in a way that’s almost blinding. I actually stopped this season after watching the first episode because it was so good I honestly thought “okay, it can’t top this, might as well quit while I’m ahead,” and no, it didn’t get better after that first episode: it actually maintained that level of quality throughout the whole season. This season is such a step up that Mob Psycho 100 now truly deserves to be recognized as one of the shows of the decade, thanks to being superb all across the board. Animation, direction, writing, voice acting, pacing, tone; I can’t think of any weakness this series has now. Here’s to season 3.
No, you are not misreading this. Granbelm, little, supposedly derivative, unoriginal Granbelm, is my second favorite show of 2019. Because it somehow did only what my favorite shows manage to do: this is a show where every week, the first thing I did when I got up in the morning was to log onto Crunchyroll to watch new episodes. I still can’t fully explain why this show simply manages to “click” for me in just the right way, and besides myself is this show’s relatively small audience, who also can’t quite reach a consensus of this show’s level of quality. Reception and thoughts are divided on which episodes are good or bad, who’s a well or terribly written character, what the show is even supposed to be... it really, really varies (which I say is in itself a good enough reason for anyone to give this show a watch, just to see for themselves what they think of it). But if you ask me, point blank, what draws me so close to this series... this is a show that combines the strengths of many shows that have come before it, but thanks to the deft hands of its creative team, Granbelm manages to iron out the weaknesses of said shows.
Granbelm clearly takes inspiration from the Gundam and Fate franchises, but it’s way more accessible to newer viewers than either of them. It takes character and setting-cues from Madoka Magica, but is written in a way that gives its characters and story itself a much greater sense of empathy than just about anything Gen Urobuchi has done. Said characters do monologue philosophically in the heat of battle like in Code Geass, but its writing never goes completely off the rails. And even like the granddaddy Evangelion itself, it too delves into the pain of existentialism, but does so in a way that doesn’t leave it up a creek without a paddle come series end. Instead, Granbelm manages to outdo Eva by finding a great way to incorporate its themes into its story, instead of pulling the brakes and leaving the audience feeling like they’re being told instead of shown. And unlike all of the shows that have come before it, this series won’t have a legacy tarnished by spin-offs or follow-ups. No, it’ll just be an impeccably animated, wonderful show that mixed magical girl and traditional 2D mecha, taking in stuff we might’ve seen before, while ironing out old shortcomings. That isn’t to say Granbelm is perfect, far from it. But it is a show that deserves a watch (and if you’re into listening to an overly long podcast about some fool who loves this show too much for his own rambling good, I recommend you have a gander at this).
I really don’t like pirating media. If you can access something at a price, if the price is reasonable for what you’re getting, I usually encourage going through that channel, especially when unofficial online streaming is so fraught with perils that can take advantage of desperate viewers. But in 2019, after seeing so many cases of media giants actively go about making their own products harder to view, from Disney locking down 20th Century Fox movies, to Sony buying up increasingly worrying amounts of the anime landscape, to videogames being harder and harder to preserve... my anti-pirating stance has softened. There are times when you don’t know if you’ll even be able to experience media ever again before it goes away; might as well go for it while you can. I bought Amazon’s Anime Strike the one year it was active to support shows that ended up as cult classics. I bought DC Universe to officially support Young Justice. I’m not gonna feel too bad going through backwater channels to watch a Netflix show when I’ve been a Netflix subscriber for a decade. Especially when the show in question is, no hyperbole, one of the greatest anime series of this decade.
I think I might have to accept the fact that Studio Orange is probably my favorite anime studio right now. I like Bones, I’m now an eager follow of Nexus, but Orange might actually be the most ambitious anime studio that exists at the moment. What other show period can you recall that (including the OP) utilizes five distinct styles of animation? Traditional 2D, the best 3D in the entire industry, stop motion animation, what looks like a moving watercolor painting for a dream sequence, and what resembles a children’s picture book come to life to illustrate a traumatic childhood; I can’t think of another time an anime studio went this far and beyond in terms of production. And Beastars isn’t just a technical masterpiece, because every other area I can think of is outstanding. Its score is based on a central musical theme that’s re-utilized in over a dozen difference ways to give each time its heard onscreen a new yet familiar feel to it. Its direction and overall adaptation takes the source material and superbly recreates it so that not only is the original manga done justice, but also makes the series feel like it’s its own entity that brings something new to the table, justifying its existence.
And finally, there’s the writing itself. This is some deceptively masterful world-building, which knows both its own limitations in terms of what can be done with its society of beast-people, but also knows where there’s plenty of room to go and explore new situations. The world of Beastars is one where there’s obvious analogies to our own world in terms of societal issues and problems, but it doesn’t bend over backwards and risks breaking itself in trying to fully stick with the analogies it wants to tell. It knows what it wants to do, both in the story it wants viewers to draw similar experiences from, while also knowing when things should just be there for the story’s own sake. As for the characters themselves, these are some of the best characters I’ve followed since My Youth Romantic Comedy SNAFU, in terms of likability, how realistic they sound and feel, and voice acting that is hands down my favorite of the year. I feel like I could go on, but I’ll end this with gratitude that this show simply exists, and that a second season has been confirmed. Thank you Orange, for making Beastars: my favorite anime of 2019.
TGRIP is a film graduate residing and writing 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, find his other work on Unwinnable.com and aniTAY, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SVJ”.