There’s nothing quite like good timing. A review of 2018 at the end of March 2019 probably isn’t the best example of this – but bear with me here. Some of 2018’s shows have only just finished airing their final episodes, so now I feel I’m in a good position to comment on what I thought was a great year for TV anime. Before we rush headlong into Spring 2019 and immediately forget all the anime we watched in Winter 2019, let us pause to remember the now distant history that was last year.
- I’ve only seen two of 2018’s theatrical anime (My Hero Academia: Two Heroes and Mirai), so this addresses TV alone.
- There’s still a bunch of anime from 2018 on my Streaming Backlog of Shame, but honestly with so much new anime coming out who knows when I’ll have time to watch any of it?
- If an anime was released in 2017 in Japan but only became available legally to stream in the west in 2018, it’s a 2018 anime as far as I’m concerned.
- If a multi-cour anime series began in 2017 and concluded in 2018, I count that as a 2017 series. I won’t cover it here.
Firstly: the Backlog of Shame: Stuff that looks interesting but not interesting enough.
Double Decker! Doug and Kirill (need to watch Tiger and Bunny first), FLCL (where to stream in the UK???), Forest of Piano, Fullmetal Panic (need to watch old series first), Golden Kamuy, Hi Score Girl, Junji Ito Collection (I know it’s meant to be bad but I love his manga), Karekuri Circus, Killing Bites, Last Hope, Magical Girl Site, Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues (Need to watch Kaiji first... I know... probably never going to happen), Run with the wind.
Secondly: the anime I started but couldn’t finish watching. My limited leisure time is too valuable.
- Pop Team Epic: People either seem to love or hate this. My opinion was a definite “Meh”. Some of it was funny. Some of it was boring. Other bits I didn’t know what the hell it was meant to mean, which I think was part of the joke. Eventually I got bored of the so called “anti-humour” and gave up part-way through. The best part – the “Hellshake Yano” sequence wasn’t even animated. Go figure. I feel there was very much an element of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” with this anime. Perhaps I wasn’t clever enough to “get” it, but I doubt it.
- Skull-faced Bookseller Honda-san: I really wanted to like this but after 2 episodes I was almost unconscious with boredom and had to stop. Yep, customers are demanding and weird. I get it. I deal with the public every day in my job. I look to anime for escapism and entertainment, not a reminder of some poor soul’s daily drudge.
- Magical Girl Ore: After 2 episodes I noped the hell out of this. Creepy and somehow boring.
- Lupin the 3rd part 5: So I love the idea of Lupin, and I like the quick-paced and loopy manga. I just can’t get into the anime. I had the same problem with part 4. I can’t bring myself to care about any of these characters. Lupin is a criminal - a thief and he’s insufferably smug. Lock him up already.
- Aggretsuko: I watched a couple of episodes but found it too uncomfortably close to real life – like watching an animated version of “The Office” with added fluffy animals and death metal. Again, I liked the idea, but in execution it felt more like work than entertainment.
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neuer These: This is here because I only recently watched the first 26 or so episodes of the original series on HIDIVE and really liked it. This adaptation was very shiny and slightly condensed but covered the same material and I dropped it after 2 episodes. I’ll go back to it another time when the older series isn’t so fresh in my mind.
Thirdly: The anime I did finish watching, in order of enjoyment. This is a top 33. It will take a while.
33) How (not) to Summon a Demon Lord: This article must be some kind of therapy for me to actually admit to watching this. This show was so creepy and exploitative but in other places sweet and good-natured. Chalk it up to a moment (12 episode-long moments) of sheer madness on my part.
32) Fate/Extra: So I really love Fate. Fate/Zero is one of my all time favourite anime. I’m obsessed by Fate/Grand Order. I’ve even read a significant portion of the Fate/Stay Night visual novel. I really wanted to like this. But it was incomprehensible. What possessed Kinoko Nasu to pen a “what-if” sequel to the bad end of a 2010 PSP game (itself a sequel to another game) that no-one outside of Japan could play legally? Sorry, but if an anime requires me to watch an hours-long “let’s play” video of a fan-translated RPG to even have a clue what’s going on, then you have failed as a storyteller. On the surface the story looks pretty simple, and unengaging. The plot is obfuscated by needlessly obtuse dialogue. The main character is an empty cipher with no inner life other than vaguely-defined “hate” and the late “twist” involving his identity falls completely flat. I quite like the character of Saber Nero (apart from the whole insane despot, persecution and murdering of Christians aspect) but even her perky blonde bustiness wasn’t enough to save this from utter mediocrity. At least the backgrounds looked pretty sometimes.
31) Citrus: Another one of those what was I thinking? occurrences. I knew from the outset that this show might be problematic, but... ugh. The heightened lesbian melodrama started out reasonably engaging but ridiculous plot contrivances and inconsistent characters soured me on this by the final third of the series. Seriously, just because they go to an all-girls school should not make every pupil a horny aggressive lesbian. Citrus was exploitative and empty and its insistence on adding yet more stupid, selfish and self-absorbed characters to muddle the central relationship meant this became a chore by the last couple of episodes.
30) Goblin Slayer: I think I deserve an award for surviving episode one’s deeply mean-spirited orgy of violence and goblin-inflicted doe-eyed anime-girl rape. I get that this world is meant to be dark and dangerous, but does it need to be so laughably EDGY? Goblin Slayer himself is the epitome of MONOSYLLABIC EDGELORD (try growling that in a deep voice for full effect). I’m not sure why none of the characters are named, except for their classes – Priestess, High Elf etc. That makes me think the author views his own characters as mere disposable playthings, much as the horrid goblins view their prey. The use of gratuitous sexual assault as a plot device was lurid and insensitive. I found the series did improve as it went on, especially as it did attempt to humanise the main character. I enjoyed the later action sequences and the fun quotient increased as more party members joined. I guess it’s best described as “Dark Souls – The Anime” with added Goblin-rape DLC. But seriously, resurrection magic by sharing a bed with a naked young virgin? Seriously?
29) A.I.C.O. -Incarnation-: I think I watched this with zero prior knowledge the day it released on Netflix. It’s a fairly straight hard sci-fi (well, as “hard” as anime sci-fi tends to get) with some nice animation sequences, a well-conceived plot and vaguely likable characters. Apparently the dub was terrible but as a subs-user I was spared the horror. A.I.C.O. was an entertaining enough show, on par with some of Netflix’s original sci-fi movies but nothing spectacular or memorable.
28) Overlord 2+3: I watched this more out of obligation because I quite liked season 1. The main character himself disappears for huge sections of the show, thankfully the secondary characters are interesting. I felt the plot tended to meander and the overall direction of the show seemed nebulous. I kind of hope they make some more, if only so I can find out if the author intends to say anything substantial with this material, over and above “I’m an undead skeleton dude who is super powerful, might as well have some fun now in a sort-of-evil-but-still-kind-of-moralistic-way.” The main character Ains is fun, but I love Albedo the most. She’s so unhinged. I think I might have a thing for crazy women.
27) Kokkoku: Now this was a fascinating exploration of one very simple idea. What would happen if time just stopped, except for a few un-frozen people? It would have been even more fascinating if it had been half the length. Yes, Kokkoku was repetitive and slow, though I liked the main character and some of the logical outcomes of the situation explored within the show were really interesting. Refreshingly, the main character was an ordinary adult woman who on the whole was believable in her actions. Her dad was a real dick though. And that ending sequence uncomfortably sexualised the female characters in a way unjustified by the plot and tone of the show.
26) Kakegurui: Oh my. And I don’t even like gambling. Yumeko Jabami is a magnetic main character – inscrutable, unpredictable and slightly terrifying. With the best facial expressions ever, this show was the very definition of a guilty pleasure. That OP was super suggestive though, and some of the very overt sexualisation of schoolgirls and the exploitative power dynamics between characters did raise my creep warning meter to maximum. I may need to brave the second series if only to see if it gets any more crazy. That live action adaptation though - it made me want to claw my eyeballs out.
25) Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku: This was a charming series that was gently humorous rather than laugh-out-loud funny. The warm, believable characters had unique quirks and realistic relationships. I was sad it was only 11 episodes long.
24) Persona 5 – The animation: I am a big fan of the Persona games – and of the Shin Megami Tensei universe they are tenuously associated with. I never bothered with the Persona 4 animation series as I didn’t play that game for the plot. With P5 however I felt a strong connection with the themes of teenage oppression by shitty adults and the general brokenness of society. This adaptation is pretty good. Sometimes the animation struggles to adapt the fight scenes and some stuff from the games (mainly in regards to social links) have inevitably been cut, but the meat of the drama is there. The new theme songs are excellent with the same composer and vocalist as the game. It ended with two double-length special episodes that still seemed very rushed despite the extra time allotted.
23) Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind: I’ve written my thoughts on this series elsewhere. It’s the only show on this list that hasn’t completed airing yet, so perhaps it will get a lot better in its third and final cour? I mean, it’s Jojo’s, so there’s a baseline of awesomeness that comes as standard, but I’m still waiting for it to take flight like part 4 did.
22) My Hero Academia Season 3: This is entertaining bubblegum fun. I’m not usually into standard shonen sausage-machine/factory-line fare, but MHA is a cut above the usual. The characters are great, it’s funny and colourful and is generally a good time. I don’t think it’s got a whole lot to say over and above the general themes of working hard and supporting your friends, but why should it? It’s great at what it does, and I’ll keep watching as long as they keep making it.
21) Devilman Crybaby: Ooh, controversial. Many anime fans have this in their top 10s for 2018. Or top 10s of all time. I struggled with the placing of this one on my list. For one, I really respect Masaaki Yuasa’s take on the aged, kitschy 1970’s material. The animation style is fluid, fast and eye-catching. Once it gets going, the plot is propulsive and emotional. But that first episode... Much like Goblin Slayer, it was full of horrifying bloody violence of a sexual nature that initially turned me way off. Only after reading a bunch of glowing online reviews did I persevere, and I’m glad I did. I can’t imagine ever watching this again, for me this was a “once-is-enough” thing. Darkly funny in places, heartrendingly tragic in others, it was a valuable experience. Not one I’d watch with my mother, though.
Next time I’ll go through my top 20 anime of 2018. Honestly, making that list was like choosing which one of my children I loved the most (or which one I’d least like to sell for cookies anyway).