I spent an unreasonable amount of time on this.
Dropped shows I watched more than 3 episodes of, by number of episodes:
Revue Starlight (4)
Gave it a chance but I didn’t care about any of it.
Zombieland Saga (4)
Turns out I got baited into watching a genuine idol show.
It was all right, but didn’t make the cut.
Banana Fish (6)
Did you know that the key to mature storytelling is to make every character a rapist?
Oh I see, the characters were just created to be flat and uninteresting. Trigger’s pretty good at disappointing me, but I didn’t think they’d manage it twice in one year.
DOUBLE DECKER: Doug & Kirill (9)
This show had a lot of potential, but somewhere along the way the jokes got old and it became too serious without being interesting. A real shame, as it could’ve easily been up there in the ranking.
Darling in the Franxx (11)
I thought it was bad from the start, and I only kept watching because I wanted to know where it was going. Apparently I would’ve had to watch the whole thing to find out.
Island had all the right elements for a “so bad it’s good” anime. A harem VN adaptation? With a convoluted plot? That’s super rushed to cram it into a single cour? Sign me up.
It didn’t always deliver in that respect, but every now and then it would come out of the left field with some complete nonsense that left you scratching your head and wondering if you missed something. And to top it all off, the ending doesn’t even wrap up the story, as key events from the VN were left out of the anime. Setsuna is reuinited with his true love, but the world is still inevitably marching towards doom. Apparently, fixing that wasn’t considered important enough to put into the anime.
Objectively speaking, Island is far worse than anything else on this list, but I definitely got more entertainment out of it than some of the other entries. It’s not the best trainwreck show I’ve seen, but it was fun to write about every week.
14. Planet With
Planet With was probably the most forgettable show I finished this year. I can’t really point to one specific thing it did wrong. It’s more like it didn’t do anything right. It had all the pretense of being a wild and crazy ride, but there wasn’t much going on beneath the surface. Neither the characters nor their struggles were developed enough for me to care about them. At times it seemed more interested in subverting expectations than having a compelling plot.
Case in point: our main character, Soya. He’s our point of view for most of the show, but for the longest time we’re not given enough insight into his motivations to relate to him. He starts out fighting against a group of so-called heroes, who in turn are defending earth from alien invaders. If they’re the heroes, why is Soya fighting them? While there is a plot about competing alien factions, none of that concerns Soya at this point in the story. His personal reasons for fighting are different. We learn early on that his home planet was destroyed by a giant space dragon, and that the source of the heroes’ power has something to do with that dragon. So he wants revenge, that much is obvious. But what do the earth heroes have to do with the dragon? After all, they seem to have good intentions, and the alien enemy is trying to turn humanity into obedient robots. I thought we were just being left in the dark about some of the things Soya knew, but that turned out not to be the case. He just wants revenge, and is too simple-minded to care about anything beyond that. He doesn’t even care why they have the dragon’s power. As a result, I didn’t care about these fights at all. I had no reason to cheer for Soya, or to truly sympathize with him. Of course he eventually joins forces with the other side, but it was so inevitable and logical that it didn’t mean anything to me when it finally happened.
That’s just one aspect, but pretty much the same goes for all phases of the story. It moves from one enemy to the next in surprisingly predictable fashion, without ever drawing me in. The heroes were never his enemy, the Sealing Faction was never very threatening until they suddenly immediately succeeded, and the dragon was just the requisite end boss whose beliefs were already proven wrong halfway through the show. The differences between the two alien factors were worth exploring, but not in the way they did it. One faction is trying to enslave humanity, yet the situation’s portrayed as just a difference of opinions between two rivals who care about each other deep down inside. It’s no big deal what happens to earth, right?
Even the ending was mediocre. We get a big time skip that serves no purpose because they’re just wasting time until the dragon wakes up. None of the characters underwent meaningful change during that time, and because so many of the characters were utterly forgettable there was no joy in seeing them all grown up. The time skip could have been left out entirely and nothing about the ending would have been different, except that Soya wouldn’t have looked like his brother. And the final confrontation with the dragon wasn’t great either. In the past, the dragon had wiped out Soya’s entire race because they were militant and going around conquering other planets, and he believed that they couldn’t be reformed, that they simply lacked the capacity to be good. We were never given much reason to believe that’s the case. There’s one scene showing some stereotypical violent soldiers, with such obvious parallels to humanity that it immediately undermines the premise -unless you happen to believe humanity is irredeemable too. And while Soya was intentionally being raised as a kind and loving person to prove a point, his brother seemed to have been no different as far as we know.
Either way, Sensei swore he would show the dragon that the Siriusans were capable of love, something that never seemed to be in doubt. And so of course Soya has to go and forgive the dragon and save his soul. Sure he killed billions of people, but they can tell there’s some good in his heart too. Farewell, angry genocidal dragon. We’ll miss you.
The premise of Kokkoku is pretty simple: a dysfunctional family is in posession of a stone that can stop time for everyone else, and they end up in stopped time with a group of bad guys who want to have the stone for themselves. The question then is: what do you do with that premise? The answer is asspulls. Lots of asspulls.
The one thing I did like about the show were the family members and how they interacted, especially before things went south. They’re not exactly good people, but they’re not outright bad either. Just deeply flawed and trying to make things work. I wish it had focused more on that angle, but the two most competent characters hog all the spotlight.
For largely unexplained reasons, some of the family members have or develop a special power. Grandpa can teleport, and Juri learns to expel the ghost worms that allow people to move in stopped time, freezing them like everyone else. Coincidentally, as soon as this happens, all tension vanishes. The two of them start taking out the thugs with such ease that it quickly becomes boring. There’s an episode cliffhanger where one of said thugs pretends to be frozen until they pass by, when he suddenly strikes from behind. Oh no! How are they getting out of this predictament? Oh… they just do the same thing again. And that’s not the only bullshit cliffhanger, by the way. Another episode ends with the unemployed failson getting stabbed during a struggle. You see this happening in a close-up and I thought for sure he was dead, but then it turns out it was just his arm and he’s fine. It’s not a good sign when I have to watch a scene multiple times to figure out what happened.
Meanwhile, the convenient coincidences are starting to pile up. The family hid the stone in a random tree somewhere, a place no one would be expected to find it, but then some guys just happen to be standing near that exact tree and notice something’s up. Two characters get split up and are running through the city in random directions, but both immediately happen to run into some of the few remaining characters. In the world of Kokkoku, nothing is allowed to happen naturally.
Eventually the show finally remembers that conflict is a necessary part of a story. It turns out that Sagawa, the main bad guy, wants to become an immortal superman using the ghost worm powers. There’s a little more justification behind it, but it still comes largely out of nowhere. Sagawa’s motivations are relatively benign and he once he accomplishes his goal he has little reason to go after the rest of the family, so as a convenient excuse he decides he wants to test his new powers on them. So now they have to fight. They do everything they can, but nothing works, until it suddenly does and Sagawa turns into a frail old man who just wants to sit down and tell everyone his backstory. Said backstory is a waste of time and adds nothing to the character. But at least it’s over now. Oh wait it’s not, and we get another random sequence where Sagawa turns into a crystal and spreads razor-sharp wires around the city. Then he gets defeated again and turns into a baby. No really, that’s what happens.
So now it’s over, but the stone was destroyed in the process, so the only way to return to normal time is by using Juri’s power. Unfortunately, she can’t use it on herself, so now she’s trapped by herself. This part is all right. She sacrificed herself to help the rest of the family get out, and now she’s just passing the days by herself in a frozen world. All the while, you’re left wondering how it’s going to resolve itself. Will Juri spend the rest of her life alone, or will she find a way out? The answer, of course, involves another asspull. One that was technically foreshadowed at the start of episode 1, but I don’t think it counts if you show a scene with zero context just so you can later pretend it’s not a total copout. Ultimately Juri got to go back because she happened to get lucky, and there was no real closure to her story.
Was Kokkoku bad? Eh, not really. But it doesn’t deliver on any front and isn’t very entertaining either.
Out of all the shows at the bottom of my ranking, Hanebad is the one that had the most potential. It came right of the gate with some high quality sports action and animation, and the cast of characters seemed solid enough. So what happened?
Well, I’m not sure. But I do know it happened somewhere in the adaptation process. I’ve heard that the manga has undergone a couple of tone shifts, and also that the anime changed a lot of things around. As a result, not only did the anime inject a huge dose of drama into the story, it did so very haphazardly, causing characters to behave inconsistently from one episode to the next.
The worst victim of this has to be Ayano. She starts out kind of shy but otherwise friendly, but then after her match against Connie suddenly does a complete 180. It would’ve been one thing if she just happened to get super competitive while playing badminton, but her behavior off the court changes entirely as well. During the tournament you could see her slouching in her chair, hands behind her head, complaining about having to watch such terrible badminton. Meanwhile, the exact opposite happened to Connie. The first time she shows up she’s extremely antagonistic, gets along poorly with her teammates, and thinks winning is the only thing that matters. Then she comes back a while later and now she’s all friendly and wants to be Ayano’s big sister. Supposedly the earlier Connie is an anime invention, but if you’re going to change things in the adaptation, can’t you at least be consistent?
Those were not the only issues, but I don’t know to what extent the others are the fault of the adaptation, or the source material. There’s a whole plot thread about Ayano’s mom that barely gets resolved. As far as we can tell, her mom just up and left one day, never to contact her daughter again until now. Why did she do it? It’s never really made clear. There’s some babbling about how it would make her a better badminton player and how it taught her to play for her own sake, but what kind of parent abandons their daughter for reasons like that? And yet in the end they come together and seemingly make up just like that.
One of the reasons Ayano’s bad attitude was heavily embellished was in order to build up to the finals, in which she played Nagisa. The finals themselves were meaningless, since both players had already qualified for the regionals. So we’d need a reason to care about it regardless, and that reason was to be the rivalry between the two. Now Nagisa had played Ayano before in the past, and Ayano crushed her. This shattered her confidence and she still hadn’t quite gotten over it. So Nagisa really wanted to beat Ayano to bury that trauma. Would that have been enough by itself for a season finale? I don’t know, and probably not. And so they tried making Ayano as unlikable as possible, so that we as the audience would want Nagisa to win as well. It’s particularly annoying because Ayano’s behavior went unpunished up to that point. She bitches out everyone, and no one lifts a finger because we can’t allow this to resolve itself early. Not even the coach does anything when it’s happening right in front of him. It’s so transparent, and so excessive.
And that’s not the only problem with the finals. Because, at the same time, Nagisa has some trouble with her knee. She doesn’t know how serious it is, but if she goes all out in this match, there’s a serious risk she’ll ruin her career forever. But she insists on playing anyway. Keep in mind that nothing is at stake. She could’ve played her grudge match against Ayano another time. And still, she insists on playing, and willingly risks everything for nothing. Now, sure, she’s an impulsive teenager, she’s not thinking about the long term. But that’s what her coach is for, to think about what’s best for his players and make the hard decisions. This is literally said to him by another coach a few episodes earlier. So what does he do? He just sorta leaves the decisions to her. What a useless coach. And in the end, it doesn’t even matter. Nagisa wins even with this totally unnecessary handicap, and it turns out her knee will be fine.
Even though I enjoyed parts of the show, the core narrative was utterly broken. The characters were all slaves to the plot, and the closer we got to the end the less I cared.
11. Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion
I like historical shows. Anime is not the most ideal medium for learning new things, but every now and then you get something set in a time and place you never knew much about. In the case of Angolmois, is the Mongol invasion of Japan. Not exactly an obscure event, but one I’ve only heard about. I haven’t seen it used as a setting in anime before. And while large parts of the story are probably not very historically accurate (I can’t find much more about the battle of Tsushima on wikipedia than that it happened), it’s still better than yet another Sengoku period show. It feels more fresh.
All of Angolmois takes place on the island of Tsushima, close to the Korean coast, and the first landing site of the Mongols. On the Japanese side, a disgraced exiled general and an inexperienced princess have to work together to mount a defense and hold out against an overwhelming foe.
Sadly, despite the interesting premise, the show was hamstrung by terrible production values. Do you like slow pans over still frames? Because that’s what a lot of the battles look like. At other times, the animation was confusing and I could barely tell what was going on. Too many scenes focused on individual combat and it was hard to follow the overall flow of the battle. This problem was further compounded by the unnatural power level of all the major characters. While the tone of the show was pretty serious and the tactics on the realistic side, any time Jinzaburou or his allies entered the fray all of that seemingly went out of the window as they would casually slaughter piles of enemy soldiers without breaking a sweat. This aspect of the show was constantly at odds with the idea that their situation was desperate and that the Japanese side was severely outnumbered. Given that the Mongols win in the end, I’d consider that a major failing.
And speaking of the ending, it didn’t feel entirely finished. It’s more like the end of the first arc. Yes, the battle of Tsushima is over and most of the characters on the Japanese side are dead, but we were also introduced to various Mongol commanders and none of their stories were wrapped up. For example, the very first episode introduced a mask-wearing blonde swordsman. Who is he? Why is a European fighting with the Mongols? Why does he recognize Jinzaburou’s fighting style? We never find out, as he doesn’t show up again.
Altogether this makes Angolmois an interesting show, with a spark here or there, but not executed well enough to be memorable.
10. Hakumei & Mikochi
There’s not much to be said about Hakumei & Mikochi. It’s a calm, charming slice of life show, which thankfully is not set in a Japanese high school. Instead, it takes place in a fantasy world where tiny humanoids live together with sentient animals. The world feels rich and alive in a way that a lot of fantasy anime doesn’t, and because there’s no real plot it doesn’t need to bore you with infodumps or history lessons. Characters have actual jobs and hobbies, and these activities are portrayed with an attention to detail that makes them feel real, and not just like checkboxes on a character sheet.
But while it was enjoyable to watch on a weekly basis, a show like this, with no overarching narrative or strong storylines, can only be so good. That’s not really a problem though. Sometimes it’s fine to keep things simple.
9. Yuru Camp
I’m generally not a fan of the whole “cute girls doing a thing” genre. It’s like paint-by-numbers anime, all with the same stock characters and the same jokes, just with a different subject shoehorned into them. Cute girls riding bikes. Cute girls driving tanks. Cute girls watching paint dry. Many of them seem desperate, like the author realized they needed a unique gimmick in order to stand out from the crowd. And when everyone has a unique gimmick, yours needs to be crazier than all the others. Others are more down-to-earth, and have a different motivation behind them. In these series, the author is simply channeling their own obsession through the characters. The characters love motocycles because the author loves motorcycles. You only have to read one chapter to know you’re dealing with this kind of series, as it will immediately greet you with excessive amounts of detail about whatever the subject matter is. At least these are honest, but even then, it usually feels like the characters were an afterthought. The author wanted to talk about their hobby, and the only way to make it sell is to jam in some cute girls.
So with all that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by Yuru Camp. I wouldn’t call it great, but it also had such a steep hill to climb to appeal to me that maybe it had to be great for me to like it at all. Then again, I don’t dislike cute girl anime on general principle, I dislike the laziness inherent in the genre, and the usual cheap pandering doesn’t work on me. So maybe all Yuru Camp had to do was try a little in order to shine brilliantly like a diamond.
To me, Yuru Camp wasn’t an especially memorable show, but one that I enjoyed watching every week. And I don’t even care about camping! The characters were likeable, and while they weren’t exactly deep and complex, they weren’t walking tropes either. Even Nadeshiko, who initially seemed like the exact kind of character type I normally dislike, turned out to be one of the best cast members because she had good chemistry with Rin and the others. And despite not being a straight-up comedy, it was consistently amusing -maybe even the funniest show on this list.
But I think the most remarkable part of Yuru Camp is Rin, and the way she’s treated by the story. Rin is not the usual main character for these kinds of show. She’s somewhat quiet and reserved. She’s fine being alone. She likes to go on camping trips by herself and doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything by doing so. In many other shows, these character traits would be considered defects that need to be fixed, by force if necessary. She would be dragged along by the others, signed up for the camping club, and taught not to go anywhere alone. After all, camping with friends is the only permissable way to enjoy yourself.
But Yuru Camp doesn’t try to ‘correct’ Rin. It acknowledges that different people have different needs. And while, sure, camping with friends is fun, it’s not the one true path to salvation. Over the course of the show Rin opens up a bit more, and she starts going on trips with others as well. But she still also travels by herself. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only a small thing, but one that makes Yuru Camp feel more genuine. It’s also a testament to the show’s quality that these episodes where it was just Rin traveling around by herself were still enjoyable to watch.
Objectively speaking, Yuru Camp is better crafted than some of the things above it in my ranking. But, alas, this is my subjective ranking and I enjoyed it in the way I might enjoy a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day. It makes me feel nice and warm inside, but I’ll have forgotten about it an hour later.
8. Pop Team Epic
I don’t know if I can actually call Pop Team Epic good, but regardless of the end result, I’m glad it got made. In an ocean of drab isekai adaptations and generic high school comedies, Pop Team Epic was a glowing beacon of originality.
For the first few weeks, I was really into this show. But as it went on, the wackiness itself started to get kinda formulaic. I thought they would continue to get different people to try different things, but instead we got a lot of repeats of the same gimmicks. And while some of them were consistently good, others were pretty forgettable once the novelty had worn off. In particular, the long parody segments in every episode were very hit-or-miss. It’s sort of a shame, because despite the self-deprecating jokes about being a shit anime, it had the potential to be great.
7. Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These
Although I haven’t seen it in ages, the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes still ranks up there as one of my favorite shows ever. And so, when this remake was first announced, my initial reaction was “Ok… but why?” LoGH may be old, but it wasn’t rushed or ugly, or anything else that would warrant a redo. The only thing that DNT appeared to be adding was a fresh coat of paint. And to be fair, a couple of things did come off as very dated, like the ships’ combat overview screens looking like a game of Tetris. So maybe it was fine. I’d get to experience LoGH again, and a new generation would get to see it for the first time. I personally wasn’t put off by the new character designs either, even if they weren’t as good. And hell, even if it turned out poor, the original would always still exist. Basically, I went in without expectations.
So how was it? Well, it wasn’t bad, but it certainly fell way short of being one of the best anime ever made. This left me wondering: what was different about DNT? Was this an inferior adaptation? Was the original just never that good? Did I just get a lot more cynical in the last ten years?
I ended up rewatching a couple of old episodes for comparison, and it was illuminating in several ways. It wasn’t a simple matter of one adaptation being better than the other. There were multiple factors at play, and some seemingly small changes had large effects despite not changing the overall narrative.
But to start with the obvious: Die Neue These is too short. The world of LoGH is huge, with a massive cast of major and minor characters. Introducing them and establishing the setting takes time. In order to understand Yang Wen-Li, you have to understand the politics of the Free Planets Alliance. In order to understand Reinhard, you have to understand the history of the Empire. Taking the time to learn all of these things is meant to be an investment, one that pays off later when all these story elements come together. But in DNT, that payoff never happened. It simply ended too early, and all the build-up seemed wasted. This could’ve been mitigated if the series ended with a strong arc, but it didn’t even have that going for it. The last two episodes were some of the weakest of the whole season, and the real climax is being saved for a movie or OVA. While the original was also released in four separate parts, the first one was about twice as long as DNT and had a much more dramatic ending. Instead, DNT just kinda ends, and a new viewer will no doubt be left wondering what the point of all that was.
So what about the differences between the old an new series? One thing I noticed was that the old one had entire episodes worth of material that were not in DNT. These episodes were kind of fillery, but they also provided vital background and context. For example, in the final arc the Empire withdraws from the border planets, taking all food supplies with them, and leaving the Alliance (whose aim was to ‘liberate’ these planets) struggling to feed a hungry population and straining their supply lines. In DNT, this is all presented from a high vantage point. You see some brief scenes of what’s happening on the planets, but it’s mostly officers discussing how to deal with the problem. It comes off a bit dry and it loses a lot of its impact. In the original there’s two half-episodes taking place entirely on the ground and focusing on the soldiers and citizens there. These little side stories might drag out the show, but it’s only when they’re left out that you realize what they were adding.
Another issue is the tactics used in the space battles. Yang and Reinhard are presented as geniuses, but nothing they do is particularly impressive. The early parts suffer heavily from “character looks smart beause everyone else is an idiot”. I don’t remember if this changes later on -and personally I found the space battles the least interesting part of LoGH- but it’s definitely a problem. In the first episode, Reinhard finds his fleet outnumbered by the Alliance. The enemy has split into three fleets, which are in the process of trying to surround the imperial forces. All the other admirals believe retreat is the only option, but Reinhard has an idea. While the combined Alliance forces outnumber them, they’re significantly stronger than each individual fleet. And so, he intends to take out these fleets one by one. The issues with this are twofold. First, if it’s possible to do this, why did the Alliance split their forces in the first place? Why couldn’t they see this coming? This isn’t some kind of unexpected move, it’s blindingly obvious. The second problem is that the admirals respond not with any clear objections, but just a general “yeah well but who says that’ll work?” There are plenty of ways you could have made this believable, that would have showcased Reinhard’s intelligence. But instead, we’re not given any reason to think that the obvious plan isn’t obvious, and everyone on both sides ends up looking utterly incompetent.
So how was this handled in the old series? I was actually surprised to discover that the basic strategy is exactly the same. The reason it never bothered me back then is simple: we never actually see Reinhard explaining his plan. It’s a minor difference, but by leaving out that part the focus of the scene shifts from the strategy itself onto the way Reinhard is perceived by the other admirals. The fact that the plan is nothing special is much less obvious because we only see it in action later, when there are other things going on at the same time. And by letting the viewers fill in the blanks themselves, they’re more likely to accept what’s happening.
At the end of the day, I don’t know if I would recommend DNT to someone who’s interested in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but I would still be happy if they announce a sequel. It would almost certainly be better, just by virtue of covering more of the story.
6. Sirius the Jaeger
Sirius was a fun action show, something I was happy to watch while it was running. It wasn’t particularly deep or memorable, but that’s okay. It’s a show about werewolves and vampires, it doesn’t need to blow my mind with its intellectual depth.
On the other hand, it could’ve been more than that. It had a solid foundation with a good cast of characters, but it seemed content to go down the obvious path. Revenge is bad, friendship is good, saving people is better. The complex web of factions that it initially seemed to present fell apart quickly when it turned out the vampires were just behind everything, and in the grand scheme of things only a couple of characters truly mattered to the story.
We learn along the way that the vampires are suffering from a disease that’s slowly eating away at them. There’s no known cure, and eventually the vampires will all be wiped out. There’s a potentially interesting angle there. These vampires were living comfortably, pulling strings from the shadows, without having to worry about growing old or dying. But suddenly, they’re forced to face their own mortality, at the hands of an enemy they can’t defeat. How would their society respond to that? There were glimpses of that here and there. Yevgraf is frustrated with the vampire elders, who have seemingly accepted their fate. But overall it received little attention, and served no purpose other than to give the vampires a reason to seek out the Ark of Sirius.
And the Ark itself suffered from the same problems. We were told it was an ancient artifact containing divine knowledge, but we’re never shown what kind of knowledge that was, or for what reason it was given to the Sirius. All of these things, which in a better story might’ve been neatly tied together, were little more than plot devices.
The ending also felt rushed, ultimately being decided by a macguffin that was only introduced an episode or two before. And while the whole cast showed up for the finale, most of them didn’t really have anything to do. The girl who’d been chasing after Yuliy the whole series just gave him his sword and went home. She was a funny character, but she deserved closure. He never showed any romantic interest in her, and she didn’t even get as much as a rejection.
In the end, Yuliy absorbs the Ark and gains all of its knowledge. The epilogue shows him travelling to learn how it can be used to let everyone live together in peace: humans, werewolves and vampire. It’s a nice sentiment, but with no hint as to how he plans to achieve that, it doesn’t feel like much of a resolution. The ending simply did the bare minimum and left the rest up to the viewer to figure out.
Despite these negatives, Sirius the Jaeger was still an entertaining show. The action was good, and it never dragged. My issues are more with what it could’ve done than what it actually did. In the end, it was a fine popcorn show, but not much more.
5. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure – Golden Wind
Yep, this sure is another Jojo series. We’re on part five already, and everyone knows the deal by now. The presentation and production values have hardly changed, and Golden Wind doesn’t stray far from the usual formula. It’s certainly not going to change anyone’s minds about Jojo one way or another.
It’s been pretty good so far, but slow to start. The familiar pacing issues are rearing their heads again. We’re one cour in, and I feel like we’ve only just met the characters. Oddly enough for an action series, the action is it’s biggest weakness. While the anime clearly does its best to make Jojo work in motion, there are limits to what it can do. Take any given action page from the manga, and you’ll find tons of dialogue. In the time it takes to throw a single punch a character can list every strength and weakness of his stand. In manga format that works fine. Most of the action is implied, and the text doesn’t slow it down. The focus is on key moments, and how it flows from one panel to the next is left to your imagination. But in the anime, that same dialogue becomes an obstacle, as all action has to come to a halt whenever it happens. The usual solution is to take a stylized approach, freezing on iconic shots from the manga while characters speak. This works well in moderation, and is one of the things that give the anime that ‘jojo feel’, but it’s not a perfect solution and it still hurts the pacing.
By contrast, the action that’s actually animated often does not look great, instead moving too fast. So the fights tend to snap back and forth between static shots and 2-second flashes of action. These are not issues that ruin the show, but they do hold it back.
This all sounds a bit negative for the 5th highest ranked show on the list, but everything that can be said about what makes Jojo fun to watch has already been said somewhere in the last 6 years. Golden Wind is also the only unfinished show in this list, so it’s naturally at a disadvantage. We’ll have to see how it develops.
4. A Place Further than the Universe
This show was easily the biggest surprise of the year, proving that execution is everything. I was all ready to pass up on yet another show about cute girls doing a thing, but it won me over with its charm and personality. The characters were quirky without being wacky, and didn’t feel like the traditional bunch of anime stereotypes. Kimari’s desire to escape normalcy and do something different was relatable, and the first episode did a great job showing that. And while it required a bit of contrivance for a group of high schoolers to go to Antarctica, it was believable enough within the context of the show to work. The show also had a good sense of humor and chemistry between the characters that meant that even episodes that had little going on were at least entertaining.
That said, things kind of slowed down once they’d secured their place on the ship. At that point, their struggle was effectively over, and they’d fulfilled their goal. All that was left was to wait until they got there. It’s not that these episodes were weak, but they were lacking the spirit that made the first third of the show good. It didn’t realy pick up again until the last few episodes.
But once they’d finally made it to Antarctica, it was time to wrap up each character’s arc. This was a little hit-or-miss. Yuzu’s episode in particular was silly and heavy-handed. As a child star who’d never had real friends, she had relatable issues. She was afraid that their time together was only temporary, that the others were only hanging out with her because they were on this trip together, and would abandon her as soon as they got back. But the way it was handled was really cheesy, with Yuzu trying to make them sign a ‘friendshp contract’. Yeah, yeah, she’s insecure and sheltered, but no one is that naive about how friendship works. Besides, this happened at the end of the show. By that point, they’d already been through so much together that it felt like a step backwards.
But the most important plot thread to resolve was always the one about Shirase and her mother. I wasn’t sure where they were going with that. Shirase came to Antarctica to chase after her dead mother, but there was no mystery about her death to solve or anything. It was always clear what she was going to find at the end of the road. The only question was how she would react to it, and what the emotional climax of the show would be. And they nailed it. The ending confronted her directly with her own inability to get over her mother’s death, and did it in a way that tied back into things that happened earlier in the series. A story doesn’t need to be amazing the whole way through, as long as it has that one defining moment where everything comes together, where everything pays off. A moment that sticks with you, and that’s the first thing you remember when you think back to the show. And for “A Place Further than the Universe”, this was that moment.
3. Golden Kamuy
Imagine that you’ve just read a book, and you really enjoyed it. Now someone hands you another copy and asks you to review it. You quickly discover that entire chapters have been ripped out of this copy. What’s there is the same, but things are missing. Most of it is not crucial, and you can understand the story fine without it, but at the same time you can’t help feel that the work is less without it. The relationships between certain characters becomes rushed or muddled because their journey together has been shortened. You’d quickly conclude that the copy is inferior to the original, but that doesn’t answer the real question: how good is the copy when judged in isolation? It’s impossible to say, because that isolation doesn’t exist for you. You know what’s missing. You can’t just forget or ignore your past experiences, because they’re an integral part of the original story. But how would a new reader react? Would they notice? Would they simply enjoy the story less without knowing why? Would they be confused and lose interest? Their opinion would be one based on the copy alone, but yours will always be a mixture. And if the main takeaway is “just read the original”, is there even a point in reviewing the copy?
Of course, in real life the copy is usually not just a book with pages torn out. It’s a movie based on a novel, a manga based on a light novel, an anime based on a manga… The whole format and presentation are different, so the two aren’t always directly comparable. But anime adaptations of manga tend to follow the original quite closely. They’ll have have the same structure, the same dialogue, the same shots.
And that’s the situation I’m finding myself in regarding Golden Kamuy. The manga is very good, but I’m not entirely sure where to place the anime. I still enjoyed it, especially once it got to the season climax, but it’s also painfully obvious how much they had to cut to get there. Some of the early season 2 was a confusing mess because entire chapters and arcs were left out. Tanigaki and Inkarmat set off to find Asirpa, and a few episodes later they find her, with nothing happening in between but the two of them having mysteriously grown closer anyway. This isn’t something that bothered me for long, because I know what was left out and could fill in the gaps, but it’s still not the same without it. All those educational tidbits about Ainu culture and hunting may not have been crucial to the plot, but they’re an essential part of Golden Kamuy, and even cutting just half of them takes away a significant part of the experience.
But I can’t truly know what the story is like without those experiences, so it’s not worth trying to figure it out. Golden Kamuy is not a great adaptation, but it’s still my third most enjoyable show of 2018. I disliked the parts that were noticeably rushed, but everything else was still pretty good because the underlying story is good. The animation is nothing to write home about, but it’s not an absolute atrocity like, say, Berserk 2016. I’d probably call it a very average adaptation, and the story definitely deserved better.
Basically, just read the manga.
2. Megalo Box
This year’s top 10 features a lot of genres that I normally wouldn’t watch. One of them is sports anime. I don’t have a problem with sports shows per se -after all, it’s the perfect setup for drama and tension- but they just never appeal to me. Maybe it’s just because most of them use the same high school setting and structure. But Megalo Box caught my eye when I first saw the trailer. There was a gritty, underground feel to it. I could immediately tell that this was something different.
And that was no accident. The environmental design in Megalo Box is great. Every location adds to the overall experience, from the seedy bar where Joe starts out fighting his matches and the surrounding slums, to the sleek high-rise of the city and its futuristic boxing arena. I usually don’t pay much attention to the backgrounds in anime, but Megalo Box was an exception.
The action was also on another level. Every puch had a real impact, and there was tension in every match even though Joe’s victory was never in doubt (after all, there was too much on the line for him to lose even a single match). And Joe himself is easy to root for: a clear underdog, a talented boxer who doesn’t want to waste away his life throwing matches in a shitty underground ring. And despite the inevitability, every match pushed him to the limit and tested his resolve.
That said, the central gimmick of Megalo Box, the gears, were kind of a wasted opportunity. Each fighter wears a mechanical exoskeleton to increase their strength, and they vary from the shoddy pile of junk that Joe uses at the beginning, to Yuri’s surgically implanted chrome plating. But let’s be real: most the gears look kind of silly. So if you’re going to introduce something like that, you have to at least make it count. I was expecting the gears to be a way of giving each fighter a unique strength/weakness that Joe would have to exploit. Instead, with a few exceptions, the gears could’ve been removed from the show entirely with little difference. Only when fighting against Yukio’s AI-controlled gear did he have to do something specifically to counter it. The fights were still good regardless, but I think the show might’ve been better without the gears. Ironically, the most significant moment relating to the gears was when both fighters took them off.
And that brings me to a bigger problem with gear, which is that Joe didn’t have any. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and Joe is the ultimate underdog. But you can take it too far. Joe had the talent to be world-class, but he was lacking in experience on the big stage, and he’d never fought an opponent that was better than him. On his way to the tournament he couldn’t afford to lose a single match, challenging ever stronger fighters in short succession. Every match left him battered and bruised, but he pushed on to train and prepare for the next one. Despite all that, he made it to the finals and disposed of the semi-finalist with a single punch. And he did it without wearing gear.
Around the midway point, my suspension of disbelief started wavering, and it was hurting my enjoyment of the show. It was all a little too much, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if they were fighting on a level playing field. Maybe you could argue that fighting gearless gives you an edge in terms of speed, but I don’t think that makes up for the overwhelming advantage of having metal fists.
I’m also still conflicted about the ending. It was interesting, and not at all how I was expecting things to end, but it also left me feeling unsatisfied. Maybe Joe and Yuri never cared about the outcome of the fight, but I did, so to have it end like that was kind of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good ending… for the characters. Joe broke out of his self-destructive spiral, and Yuri threw off his chains and rediscovered his love for the sport. But for me, it was so contrary to expectations that it felt like all the hype instantly vanished. It might be something that works a lot better on rewatch.
1. Devilman Crybaby
Back in November, I made the unusual decision to watch Devilman a second time. Normally I don’t rewatch shows unless it’s been years, but I felt like I couldn’t write much about Devilman unless I watched it again. And that’s not only because my memories weren’t fresh enough, but also because my initial viewing wan’t too satisfying. A silly misunderstanding left me confused and distracted until I realized what was going on, and at times the show is so absurdly dark that I had to watch it at night with the lights off to see anything.
I also wanted to see it again because I had a hard time figuring out how I felt about. I’m still not sure. It’s not the usual kind of anime experience. Is it a shamelessly gratuitous festival of sex and violence? Or does all this excess serve a genuine purpose? A running theme in the show is people succumbing to their vices, whether it’s lust, envy, anger or fear. And in stark contrast with all the gore and brutality, it’s often sentimental. And ultimately tragic.
Another reason my thoughts aren’t entirely clear is the ending. Devilman is not a straightforward story with a happy ending. All those final acts of courage and defiance were in vain. Satan wins, and even that is a hollow victory. There’s nothing left in the end, and so you’re forced to search through the rubble yourself to find meaning in it.
The show was treading a thin line, constantly risking being too grotesque, too goofy, and losing its effect. For me it worked most of the time, but I can easily see it failing horribly for others. For example, the one truly weak episode was the one that introduced Akira’s parents solely to kill them off. Not only did they get no real development, but his father turned into a silly-looking demon wearing the faces of his victims (including his mom). And there were a lot of moments that were almost like that.
But the strange thing is that it wasn’t like that all the time. Some parts were remarkably subdued and effective. Was that intentional, to serve as contrast? Either way, those were probably the best parts of the show.
Compared to winners of previous years, Devilman doesn’t stand out as much from the rest. It’s not clearly my favorite show of 2018 -and in fact it was slightly lower before I rewatched it- but that’s reflective of this year as a whole. There were some good shows that nevertheless had glaring flaws, and some decent shows with none. That’s not surprising though. You’re not guaranteed to get a once-a-year kind of show every year. The top 4 were all close together, and I would’ve been okay with any of them taking the top spot.