Right. Here’s where the struggle gets real. With so much great TV anime in 2018, how on earth to choose which is best? This is my best shot for 11-20. For the also-rans and not quites, see part one of this article here, the same caveats mentioned there still apply.
Did anyone else watch this? Beatless seemed to pass by like a ship in the night with barely a squeak online about it. Perhaps appearing on (or being hidden in) Amazon Prime’s Anime Black Hole of Death and Irrelevancy didn’t help. Seriously, Amazon – what’s the point having exclusive anime but then not telling anyone about it? Or actively hiding it? How the hell is anyone meant to find any new anime on your service? The only way I can find anything is using the “people who watched this also watched” functionality. How do these other mythical people find anything when they also presumably rely on others to watch and find shows? It’s like a bizarre (anti)social experiment where Amazon anime-watchers are on an eternal mobius strip hamster wheel with no beginning and no end.
Anyway, this was a nice little hard SF show with surprisingly deep musings on the role and purpose of AI viewed through a prism of pretty robots. The plot meandered and the main character was infuriatingly idiotic, but the concept of an “analogue hack” was disquieting. Perhaps one day the AIs will all become perky anime idols and brainwash us all into eternal servitude, and we’ll like it. Hatsune Miku fans are already halfway there. Although the concepts were good, the execution tended to lack bite and some episodes were plain dull. Extra points for making me think, though.
19) Children of the Whales
Dumped onto Netflix in one unholy splurge, like most of their anime, this was a mostly slow, contemplative anime with very Ghibli-like character and setting designs. With a natural, hand-drawn and rural/rustic aesthetic, this was a relaxing watch, some scenes of violence notwithstanding. It won’t win any awards for drama or pacing, and many of the characters were bland, but I hope they make a season 2 of this. I want to find out what happens to the people of the wandering island that is The Mud Whale.
18) Attack on Titan Season 3 – part 1
In previous years I would have ranked this higher, but I suspect that I spoiled myself by reading ahead in the manga as I was desperate to find out what happened next after season 2. This was a pretty good adaptation of a slow portion of the manga. I think the anime improved on the source material here, though there were still minimal “attacks” on any “titans” as the story had other priorities. Roll on the second half of S3 – that part should be great.
17) A Place Further Than The Universe
So many reviewers rank this in their top 3 of 2018. I like it a lot, it had great characters it was easy to root for, an initially fanciful story that became more plausible as it unfolded and real emotional catharsis towards the end. Ultimately though, it left little of a lasting impression on me. Other than a few primary story beats, I can’t recall too many details about it now. I’d happily show this to anyone who claims anime about high-school girls is only empty slice-of life fare or vapid romantic comedies.
16) Violet Evergarden
KyoAni’s latest is possibly the most beautiful show on this list. Detailed and lovingly animated, this is visually superior to almost any other television anime in living memory. Those mechanical hands. Violet herself is something of a cipher, she often exists merely as a vehicle through whom other people’s stories are told. Those stories tend to be episodic, each instalment usually distinct from the last. Almost every episode is worthwhile; some are frankly tear-jerking. My only criticism is with the pacing – it is slow to start, though when the scenery is this beautiful perhaps it pays to take one’s time. Violet’s backstory is also improbable, but the story could not function without it. It is a story worth experiencing, perhaps best with a warm blanket and a large cup of cocoa.
15) That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
Initially I was prepared to put this much higher on the list. Slime started well but kind of fell apart in a slide of apathy. What happened to narrative urgency? Drama? Stakes? They all melted away. It remained a fun, colourful show up until the end but I can only guess the lack of urgency in the storytelling is a feature of the original light novels. Season 2 has already been announced, but I’m wise to this now. They’ll keep introducing new threats and new characters and each situation will deflate into whatever easy resolution Rimuru contrives. The narrative doesn’t build to anything. I’ll probably still keep watching though, if only for the odd characters and warm humour.
14) Darling in the Franxx
Another show I planned to put higher up, but seriously, Darling, what was up with those last few episodes? Episode 15 – “Jian” was one of the best, most fist-pumpingly-exciting episodes of anime I’ve seen in years, and then it was all downhill after that. Darling was a self-consciously weird take on now-common Evangelion tropes, to the point they even copied the structure of entire episodes. (Compare Evangelion episode 21 with Darling episode 19 – they occupy an identical role in their respective stories and entire scenes are lifted/adapted.) Zero-Two was probably my favourite character in all of anime last year (I mentioned before my thing for crazy women) and I thought the series might have something worthwhile to say about gender roles, it seemed so integral to the setup. But no, it had very little to say - the whole male/female thing was merely a plot contrivance that the writers even undermined themselves towards the end. Much heat and little light was produced in the frenzied fan discussion during at least the first half of the series, but that fizzled out towards the end as the show tipped its hand as being merely another Evangelion wannabe with very little original to call its own. Despite this, it was an entertaining show and the anime I looked forwards to the most when it was on, if only because I actively willed the creators to do something daring or meaningful with it. Even though they failed, I’d still recommend it as a fun watch.
13) Steins;Gate 0
Steins;Gate – the original show from 2011 – ranks as one of my all time top 3 anime. My recent play-through of the excellent Steins;Gate: Elite on PS4 only helped cement that. Steins;Gate 0 the visual novel was a worthy successor with a great story that expanded on the original in mind-bending, unexpected and emotional ways. I awaited the anime adaptation with barely contained excitement. So why is it only at 13? For a visual novel about time travel, the original Steins;Gate is surprisingly linear. Although it has multiple endings, they are all merely branches off a main story trunk. Steins:Gate 0 is a different beast altogether with two main story routes that run parallel but contradictory to one another, plus there are multiple endings that give context to the overall story in a way that the alternate endings to the first visual novel do not. That posed a difficult challenge to those who adapted it into a linear anime. They did not manage. Hugely important plot beats were removed entirely, despite being set up early in the series. (Mayuri’s hospitalised friend – what was the point of her even appearing if they weren’t going to explain the plot purpose of the hospital?) The pacing was even worse than the original, which had an admittedly languid first 12 episodes before the pace shot into the stratosphere with ever-increasing desperation and drama. Even 14, 15 episodes into Steins;Gate 0, we endured extended sequences of fluffy romantic comedy. I get that these scenes tend to be there to build character, but over halfway through the series, we should know who these characters are already.
So why is this so high on my list? Episode 8. Episode 8 of Steins;Gate 0 ripped out my heart, stamped on it and turned me into a blubbering wreck. That episode was vastly expanded compared to the sequence it adapted from the game. A perfect storm of love, regret and self-sacrifice - that is the part that remains with me even now. Towards the end of the series, despite some laughable action sequences, the emotional stakes did return with further tear-jerking moments and it ended well. I wish the rest of the series had resonated as well - this could have been my number one anime of the year.
12) SSSS Gridman
I love Studio Trigger, so of course I was going to enjoy Trigger does Kaiju. Visually arresting and kinetic, the action scenes elevated this above the average robot/shonen anime. Rikka was my second favourite anime character this year (she wasn’t even crazy!) and I love those shiny eye designs. Apparent antagonist Akane had an interesting story arc that questioned the nature of reality and identity in unexpected ways - I initially expected this to be a fairly simple show, but towards the end it approached Evangelion-lite levels of introspection and emotional complexity. I know it was part of the plot, but I wish the main character hadn’t been such an empty vessel. The supporting characters really carried this production in his stead.
11) Cells at Work
If my username didn’t already give it away, I work in the medical profession and I freaking loved Cells at Work. It narrowly missed out on a place in my top 10 only because it was quite repetitive and the story itself wasn’t that strong. Red blood cell was adorably clueless. White blood cell was adorably EXTRA. The platelets were plain... adorable. When a viewer with a medical degree learns something new about the physiology of the immune system, you know your anime is something special. This was such a well-thought out premise that didn’t shy away from some of the horrible things that happen in the human body. Cancer dude was particularly disturbing. And killer T cells really are dicks (ask anyone with an autoimmune disorder). Every medical student that has passed through my office has been exposed to the trailer for this at the very least. I wish I’d had this show to help me through med school. I’m unfeasibly overjoyed that they’ve announced a second season. Let’s hope they animate the spin-off Cells at Work Black too. That sounds like it would be a scream.
Here concludes part two of this archaeological extravaganza. Join me next time for the final part of my detailed examination of anime’s distant past.