If you were fortunate enough to manage to survive not only the literal end of the world, but also a year full of...questionable anime choices in 2012 and were hoping to return to even merely the standards of anime we got in 2010 and 2011, 2013 would prove to be a most bountiful harvest of anime that few were expecting. In some ways 2013 would ultimately become a crossroad year. It gave a last hurrah to some of the more beloved series and trends from the 2000s, while also being ground zero for some of the properties that would transform the industry for the rest of the decade and for the foreseeable future.
Despite how good this year was overall to anime fans, to say the love wasn’t evenly distributed is a vast understatement. In fact, Winter 2013 might as well have been a bad hangover for those who endured 2012, thanks to the sheer dearth of titles that history would remember fondly, or even remember at all. When going back through the seasons on MAL in preparation for this article, I was stunned at the vast quantity of shows from this particular season that I never even heard of, including among the season’s most popular titles.
This is practically the direct inverse of Fall 2013, which was so utterly filled to the brim with high quality shows that you could easily make strong arguments for being the anime of the season, if not anime of the year, in addition to multiple shows that were just purely entertaining, that it is still to this day my personal gold standard for an anime season that I weigh all other anime seasons against. To be perfectly honest, the weird distribution of titles throughout the year is why I had such a difficult time deciding how I would format this article, but in the end I came to the decision to just go through each season and break down some of their highlights in terms of new shows, sequels, shorts, and movies.
In terms of brand new titles, this season essentially is a one show wonder in hindsight really. That particular title is Love Live! School Idol Project. I know it is only fifth in the MAL rankings for the season in terms of popularity, but the funny thing about MAL is it doesn’t really track how big shows can get in Japan, and if you know anything about anime in Japan, you probably know at the very least that Love Live! became a runaway freight train of success, routinely selling like hot cakes on home video, and doing even better business with its music CDs, character merchandise, and concerts. Together with the also extremely popular iDOLM@STER franchise, Love Live! would prove to be one of the genesis points for the prevalence of idol anime all throughout the decade.
Despite shows like Problem Children are Coming from Another World, aren’t they?, Oreshura, and Kotoura-San being pretty popular, if their user numbers on MAL are to go by, they didn’t really seem to “stick” in the grand scheme of things. The other brand new full length shows this season that didn’t completely fade away into the ether are Maoyu, whose biggest lasting legacy unfortunately seems to be a ready source of image material for the perennial “I watch it for the ‘plot’” meme, and Tamako Market, which is a fine show in and of itself, but is probably more notable for being the first of three different KyoAni productions this year. We also received a few anime shorts that would prove to be more than a flash in the pan, with Encouragement of Climb eventually proving to be the most successful of the bunch.
The seasonal prospects improve a little bit when you expand into the sequels it had to offer, giving us a new season is the popular Haganai series, as well as the second season of the critically beloved Chihayafuru series. In addition we also got the conclusion of the quirky space idol show AKB0048. The real workhorses of this season, however, was its movie output. Not only was this the season that saw Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods drop into Japanese cinemas, but other highlights included the final entry in the Berserk: The Golden Age Arc trilogy, Trigger’s first “real” production, Little Witch Academia, and Death Billiards, the beta version of the excellent TV series Death Parade. All in all, while there were some titles of note in this season, you were better served mainly dining on the reheated leftovers from Fall 2012, which included things like Psycho-Pass, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Girls und Panzer, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, From the New World, and Blast of Tempest.
This was also another rather top-heavy season, like Winter 2013, but with one extremely drastic difference; you are actually likely to have heard of many of the shows that stood at the top of this season! This season is of particular note to me on a personal level, because it was also the season I came back from my roughly four year long “hiatus” from anime where I had kind of just...dropped off from actively following all the hip new anime and just watched whatever I fancied whenever I wanted, and god damn what a season to return to the full swing of things.
What drew me back into the active anime fold was the unquestionable king of the season, and the entire year really, Attack on Titan. This mega hit of, let’s just get the pun out of the way, titanic proportions took the anime world by storm, all across the globe. It gave birth to new anime fans, and served as a beacon that drew back in lapsed fans like myself. The funny thing is, this wasn’t actually the first show I saw upon my return to actively participating in current anime discourse. That honor would fall to the second biggest hit of this season, The Devil is a Part-Timer!. This might seem odd, but in truth it was merely the buzz around Attack on Titan that got me interested in checking out all the new anime, though I did of course check it out as well.
The Devil is a Part-Timer! would end up only being one of many light novel adaptations that would strike it rich in this season, however. Other success stories would include My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, Date A Live, and HENNEKO - The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat -. Additional new shows that made a name for themselves, for both good and bad, include the original mecha shows Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet and Valvrave the Liberator, as well as the manga adaptations Flowers of Evil, The Severing Crime Edge, and Yuyushiki.
In terms of sequels, Spring 2013 was shockingly light in terms of quantity, but their notoriety are well known. First up was the newest entry in the much loved “Raildex” sci-fi/fantasy franchise, A Certain Scientific Railgun S. The other is Oreimo 2, which has its place firmly secured in anime history for entirely different, and all the wrong, reasons.
There weren’t really any short series of note in this season, but like Winter 2013, the Spring 2013 season brought with it a stellar stable of anime films. This season saw the Japanese releases of titles like The Garden of Words, Steins;Gate: The Movie - Load Region of Deja Vu, Hal, Saint Young Men, and the first entry in the Ghost in the Shell: Arise series. As you can see, history has been far kinder to the shows from this season compared to the last one, despite both seasons being absolutely dominated at the top by a handful of shows, at least according to MAL. As impressive as Spring 2013 looks when viewing it from a historical perspective almost 7 years later, the best was still yet to come.
Focusing on merely what shows were “popular” on MAL this season, it would appear that we have a repeat of the Winter season on first glance, a handful of titles at the top that dominated the popularity, but didn’t really stay around aside from one or two shows. What sets this season apart from the Winter season is it makes up for this by being home to several genuinely beloved shows that routinely get recommended by their small, but beloved fanbases. In a rather funny twist, many of these “critical darling” shows would go on to get sequels, while this would be the end of the road for some of the mega hits from this season.
Speaking of those mega hit titles, though, Summer 2013 has an interesting mix of shows, and it is funny to see how their legacies panned out. Right at the very top, the biggest hit of the season according to MAL was, of all things, the anime adaptation of Danganronpa. Despite being widely known for being a poor adaptation of the loved murder mystery video game, the show found an audience, and actually boasts a really solid rating on MAL, all things considered. It would eventually spawn an official prequel and sequel anime series that...confusingly aired at the same damn time.
Other successful brand new shows that came out this season include KyoAni’s juggernaut about swimming bishonen fitness gods, Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club, which amusingly gave many guys their first taste at what a lot of women feel when they see an anime with a bunch of tits and ass fanservice, and the much maligned WATAMOTE, whose particular brand of cringe comedy didn’t sit well with everyone. Moving on to the more critically successful shows from this season that would spawn sequels in the future, we have the excellent Silver Spoon from Hiromu Arakawa which utilizes her knowledge from her upbringing in Hokkaido, the stellar sci-fi series Gatchaman Crowds, which would among multiple topics tackle how the volatile nature of social media can be used for one’s own gains, and The Eccentric Family, a loving, mystical tale about tanuki and family.
Moving on to the notable sequels this season, we have three that stood at the top in terms of finding an audience. These are the latest entries in the High School DxD, The World God Only Knows, and Monogatari franchises. We also have a couple of sequels from shows that were decently popular back in the 2000s, Rozen Maiden: Zuruckspulen, and the extremely confusingly named Genshiken Second Season. I’ll fit the only really notable anime short with this grouping, since it is also a sequel. What I’m talking about is Teekyuu 2, the first in many, many sequel seasons for what is quite possible the biggest success story from this decade in terms of anime shorts, if we use the sheer number of seasons they got as a metric.
Lastly, we have the movies again, and as seems to be the trend this year, it’s another really strong line up of titles that dropped into Japanese cinemas. This season contained films like the Anohana movie, AniTAY’s all time favorite anime film The Wind Rises, the second Code Geass: Akito the Exiled film, the final The Garden of Sinners film, and the Captain Harlock CGI movie. We’re three seasons through the year, and I’d already be confident in saying that 2013 was a rather solid year all things considered, but little did we know what a phenomenal finale to the year we had ahead of us.
Talk about coming out of the gate swinging. The Fall 2013 season, purely on the metric of their MAL user numbers, has the second, fourth, and sixth most popular shows of the entire year leading off their impressive barrage of titles. Heading the charge is the venerable Kill la Kill, the first true TV production from Studio Trigger, what would prove to be the first of many over the decade. It’s the first directorial work from Hiroyuki Imaishi, the legendary master of manic action layered over impressively deep thematic storytelling, since he made Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt with Studio Gainax. Kill la Kill was the much memed about show that would “save anime”, even though this year had already proven quite convincingly that anime need not saving anymore.
Though Kill la Kill only lasted for one season, it has been a constant presence in the anime world since its debut, being referenced in several series, including in a few from outside of Trigger’s wheelhouse. The volume of merchandise the show has seen is honestly the most I’ve seen for an original anime IP in this decade that wasn’t an idol show. They even released a game for the series this year, a full 6 years later!
Right behind Kill la Kill we had Log Horizon, another one of the members of the early vanguard of isekai titles that would eventually come to consume the decade as it would progress. Focused around world building, economics, and the use of planned out strategies in combat, many flocked to Log Horizon as an “intellectual” person’s alternative to the mega successful Sword Art Online. Log Horizon would get a second season that was...less warmly received, due to a combination of a different art style from switching animation studios, as well as one of the early arcs in that season being rather below par for the level of writing expected from the franchise. In a rather ironic twist, the author of the books the series is based on, Mamare Touno, would eventually be busted for tax evasion.
The third major title of the season was Beyond the Boundary, KyoAni’s third title of the year. Beyond the Boundary was an interesting adaptation case, because its source material wasn’t that far along at the time of the show’s production, so they essentially had to wing things, adding in some original characters, and presumably original plot details. In the end, the show’s narrative kind of fell apart as it was crossing the finish line, which would ultimately sour many people’s memory of it. Eventually they would be able to fix many of the issues people had with the show’s conclusion with a much loved sequel movie, but even with the film’s existence the damage was already done for a lot of viewers.
Other new shows of note from this season includes *deep breath* the emotional roller coaster romance series Golden Time and Nagi no Asukara, the absolutely balls to the wall bonkers My Mental Choices are Completely Interfering with my School Romantic Comedy, the saccharinely adorable and deeply heartfelt country slice of life series Non Non Biyori, the hilarious yet otaku media reference-heavy Outbreak Company, the soon to become sports powerhouses Yowamushi Pedal and Ace of the Diamond, the wonderfully artistic supernatural series about family Kyousougiga, the superb early achievement in this decade’s advancements in CGI animation Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova, and the highly divisive Japanese superhero deconstruction and reconstruction Samurai Flamenco that developed a devoted cult following that is absolutely convinced it was amazing from start to finish.
Needless to say, without even getting to the sequels this season had, it was an incredibly dense season. I don’t even have much time to talk about my own personal anime of the year, Arpeggio of Blue Steel, for crying out loud! Now, speaking of those sequels, even there the season doesn’t let up. In Fall 2013 we got the second seasons of the Magi and Kuroko’s Basketball franchises, and the third and for now last season of the highly popular and acclaimed boxing series Hajime no Ippo.
Then there is the confusing case of White Album 2, which isn’t the second season of the anime adaptation of the White Album visual novel, but rather the adaptation of its sequel game, and technically you can watch White Album 2 without seeing White Album. In fact I’ve heard it’s better to do this. We also had a couple of notable shorts this season in the form of the third season of Teekyuu, and the official anime for Miss Monochrome, the virtual idol persona of singer and voice actor Yui Horie.
Fittingly, for such a jam-packed season, the films that also released during this time were packing a mighty punch as well. We saw the releases of such films as Puella Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion, Patema Inverted, Studio Ghibli’s adaptation of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the first entry in the Persona 3 film series, and the second entry in the Ghost in the Shell: Arise series.
Because of my own personal ties to this year of anime, I was always going to look back upon it rather fondly with nostalgia goggles, it was just impossible for me to do so otherwise. However, actually looking through everything each season had to offer made me truly realize just how special this year was, and how it would have reverberations throughout the rest of the decade. So many works I would either come to love years later, or would continue to watch new entries in as the decade rolled on, found their starting point right here in 2013. I’m not entirely sure 2013 is my favorite overall year of anime from the 2010s, but it is for damn sure the one I’ll remember the most, and for me, the most important one.