We’re finally there – the absolute, definitive (if only in my mind) ranking of the best anime of 2018 (that I watched). I promise that this is the end. Part 1 of this list is here, while Part 2 is here.
10) Zombieland Saga
This show was an absolute scream from beginning to end. It was the first idol anime I’ve ever watched, though it probably won’t inspire me to watch any others. I can’t imagine they’d be as weird and fun as this utterly bonkers premise: Perky young girl has dreams of becoming a pop idol, rushes out of the door and in the first minute of the first episode is run over by a truck, her lifeless body rotating multiple times through the air before it falls limply to the ground. Well, that certainly was an unusual way to start your main character’s ascension towards pop immortality, with her lovingly animated and detailed death. Fast forward a few years and the now – obviously because this is anime – amnesiac main character is press-ganged into becoming part of a zombie idol group and all that entails. There follows an undead-inflected succession of tropes – pre-show nerves, inter-group tension, insane manager that screams nonsense via megaphone, rope swings over slimy mud, death metal concerts, breakneck motorcycle dares and bizarre rap battles. I imagine this wasn’t quite standard idol anime fare. Reliably hilarious but with a soft squishy (decomposing) heart, every single episode was a joy. Even the musical numbers were ok even if the CGI dance sequences were a bit “off”. I really really hope they make more of this.
9) Planet With
It took me two attempts to get into this. First time, I watched the initial two episodes and wrote it off as weird nonsense. Then I saw how positive the online reviews were as the series progressed. I waited until it was finished then binged the lot. What a ride! A breakneck pace, so much plot progression smushed into a mere twelve episodes. And that plot itself – wildly unpredictable with characters seemingly switching sides and alliances multiple times though the series, though by the end everyone’s motivations and backstories made sense which is a testament to how well planned it was. The colourful CGI mecha and enemies reminded me somewhat of Yuki Yuna is a Hero but with less overall angst and existential horror. I think watching this within a short space of time helped. I can only imagine how frustrating some of those cliff-hangers must have been for those watching week-to-week.
8) Banana Fish
Or “Prison rape - the anime”, as my wife called it. There was a lot more to this show than squicky paedophilia and sexual assault, but boy was that a high bar to cross initially. I’d already read some of the manga (back in the days when it was serialised in Viz Comics’ Pulp Magazine and then Animerica Extra), so I knew what to expect. Ash Lynx was a fascinating main character – both powerful and vulnerable at the same time – loved and respected by his friends, lusted after and hated by his enemies. It was slightly ludicrous how almost every older male in the series was portrayed as an amoral sexual predator, but it reflected the heightened melodrama of the original material. The character designs retained the slightly retro-1980’s/Katsuhiro Otomo-esque look of the manga, while updating the setting to the modern day. I wonder if it would have been better to keep this as a period piece, those updates were really only cosmetic at best. It added nothing to the story that the characters had access to cellphones and the story lost some dramatic resonance from the manga’s references to the Vietnam war. Also missing was the manga’s coda (published separately as Garden of Light, published in English as part of Banana Fish volume 19), which would have offered some closure to the almost needlessly tragic ending. With some great action sequences and complex, interesting characters, I think this adaptation did justice to the original material. Yut-Lung Lee remains one of my favourite manga bad guys, over and above “chief” baddie Dino Golzine. Golzine is a power-hungry dirty old man. Lee is a damaged, dark mirror to the protagonist and his actions are petulant, selfish and unpredictable. The other main character Eiji Okumara is an improbably innocent cinnamon roll, but I can see why Ash would want to sacrifice almost everything to keep him pure and unsullied by the criminal underworld. Conspicuous by their absence are any female characters of note, other than Max Lobo’s ex-wife.
7) Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family
If last year I’d been told that the Fate anime I’d put in my top 10 was a light-hearted cooking show and not my eagerly-awaited Fate/Extra, I would have laughed. This monthly short anime was an absolute delight, a cute “what if” instead of all the Fate/Stay Night masters and servants killing each other they instead cooked meals and drank beer together? Some of those lovingly-depicted meals looked truly mouth-watering, I was tempted to try to cook some of them myself. This was such a relaxing watch, it’s a shame there were only 13 episodes.
6) Happy Sugar Life
I know that I am a bad person for ranking this horrible show so high. But it was so much fun. Going in, the premise was super creepy – pink-haired starey-eyed weirdo high-school girl Sato Matsuzaka has never loved anyone in her life, not until she meets Shio Kobe, a vulnerable little girl, falls in love with her and then keeps her like a pet in a locked apartment with suspicious bloody stains on the walls. Not to mention the extreme measures she takes to keep her secret life as idyllic as possible with blackmail, extortion, psychological manipulation and horrific violence. This sociopathic schoolgirl and her prey/pet/one true love (yuk) even wear wedding veils and exchange rings at one point. The plot is one turn of the screw after another, a tightly wound thriller where the viewer is never quite sure who they should be rooting for, every character is uniformly awful and broken. At least there was very little in the way of overt sexualisation or I would not have been able to stomach this. It had me guessing right up to the end to see if any character could escape this weapons-grade-uranium-fueled dumpster fire unscathed. Spoiler – they don’t.
5) Laid Back Camp
From psychosis-drenched horror to one of the most relaxing entertainment products I have ever seen. Laid Back Camp is just the right palate cleanser after Happy Sugar Life. A paean to both the joys of solitude and spending time with good friends, this show almost lulled me into a deep, relaxing sleep in a good way. I’ve never wanted to go freeze my butt off in a creaky canvas tent in the depths of winter ever quite so keenly until I watched this. Gently humorous and also educational, there was little in the way of plot. This was very much a mood piece that I hope to return to soon when season two ambles out of production.
The best sports anime I have ever seen. Possibly also the only sports anime I have ever seen, but I can’t imagine many come close to this almost perfect 12-episode series. A determined protagonist, an overpowered but ultimately honourable opponent, a grizzled trainer and a scrappy kid sidekick, Megalobox has it all - wrapped up in a brilliantly paced story with fantastically choreographed fight scenes and deep emotional resonance. I almost fancied myself going out and punching some guys after this, though thankfully I didn’t as I know I’d get my ass handed to me. Made to look like an old analogue-style anime, before the advent of digipaint, the aesthetic was reminiscent of a cross between the works of Buichi Terasawa, Yasuhiro Nightow and Yoshiaki Kawajiri. The closest thing to the original Rocky films I’ve ever seen in anime. If Rocky ever fought using metal exoskeletons.
3) IRODUKU: The World In Colors
Another show unfairly hidden in Amazon Prime’s Black Hole of Obscurity. This rivals Violet Evergarden for most unfeasibly beautiful anime of 2018. A charming coming-of-age tale that mixes magic, time-travel and deep personal introspection with a more grounded high-school setting. Main character Hitomi takes a long time to come out of her shell and develop much of a personality, but her grandmother Kohaku is a bright and breezy agent of chaos who carries the show. These characters really cared for one another and although their development was slow, it was well-earned and by the end Hitomi had certainly grown as a person. Scenes inside Yuito’s paintings were quite unlike anything else in anime this year with their expressive bright colours and surreal expressionism. The ending was bittersweet and brought a lump to my throat, but as the rules of the world had established, it could not have ended any other way. A stunningly elegant, heart-warming story.
2) After the Rain
Never has a show so soundly silenced its detractors as After the Rain. When the premise was first announced – high-school girl falls in love with divorced middle-aged restaurant manager – a certain section of anime fandom poised like vultures, sharpening their knives. What I imagine they didn’t expect was for this to evolve into a gorgeous, thoughtful meditation of how the friendship between two very different people, both very stuck in life, could lead to mutual healing and progression. Akira the love-struck girl was a relatable but also frustratingly realistic teenage girl - single-minded and emotionally stunted who sublimated her frustrations and insecurities on being unable to run into an infatuation for her manager at work. Likewise, he was an initially simple archetype of the lonely single man but his hidden depths as a frustrated writer who had given up on his dreams manifested later. Although he recognised that an attractive young girl was infatuated with him, he was too much of a good person, and also perhaps too shy to ever attempt to reciprocate her feelings. Instead by their interactions they were able to help each other – haltingly, stumbling often but enough that by the final episode Akira was able to run free once more, much as his pen was freed from his self-inflicted mental cage. As a sometimes frustrated writer and runner myself, I was able to empathise deeply with both characters.
1) Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
I was initially not even remotely interested in this anime. Bunny girls? Ugh. I’m not sure why I started watching it, perhaps nothing else on my Crunchyroll queue that day appealed. So I watched the first nine episodes all in one binge, it was that good. Why is this my first choice? The main couple – Sakuta and Mai – are both such fun characters – smart and snarky but also both very caring and considerate in their own quirky ways, I actively willed them to get together and to stay together, despite all of the other cute girls that seemed to gravitate towards Sakuta. It has the appearance of a harem show, but is in fact anything but. Sakuta is faultlessly loyal to Mai, and she is kind and understanding yet has a rigid concept of her personal boundaries that makes her an excellent role model. Sakuta wants to help the girls who come to him with problems – not because that he stands to benefit in any way, nor because he has some kind of male saviour complex, but because beneath those layers of sarcasm and snark he actually cares. The scenarios he was expected to solve were bizarre, funny and thought-provoking and in many cases deeply emotional. The final episode of the series is quietly devastating, though only for Sakuta. What should have been something happy for him was in the end a pyrrhic victory. Roll on the upcoming movie, I’d love to spend more time with these characters.
That comes to the end of this overly epic list. Those who have survived - thanks for reading. Let me know in the comments if you agreed or disagreed with my choices!