Yet another year gone by.
Shows I dropped after at least 4 episodes:
This might be the best show I ever dropped. I dunno, I just lost the desire to keep watching, and the romance between the two main characters was probably my least favorite part of the story.
Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin (4)
All the boring magic nonsense of Fate with none of the action.
Initially seemed like an okay conspiracy-thriller, but then it got really stupid really quickly.
Boogiepop Doesn’t Laugh (4)
I don’t even remember anything about this.
11. Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia
I wasn’t going to watch this. Fate series are just okay at the best of times, and this one was based on a mobile game so it had no chance of being good. But halfway through the season people started talking about the crazy animation, and I figured that even if the story is dumb at least the fights would be entertaining, right?
Well, no, because it turns out fights are only interesting if you’re invested in the outcome, even if they do look pretty cool. It’s not just that I don’t care about the story or characters. There’s hardly any consequence to most of the fights. People throw attacks at each other for a while and then one side just leaves. Either the main characters teleport out, or the bad guys remember they left the stove on. Even in the big fight against Tiamat, where characters actually died, their deaths accomplished nothing and she’s just fine and decides she didn’t actually want to attack them. I guess your sacrifices were for nothing, characters who got like one scene before that point.
And the writing is a total mess. It’s inevitable when you adapt a later arc from a mobile rpg based on an already convoluted setting, but damn. The early episodes are bogged down with exposition and it still doesn’t really matter or explain much. The story takes place in ancient Mesopotamia but virtually all the characters are from other times and places. The characters have a mission but spend over a month doing manual labor for no real reason except that maybe the king will be impressed with their brickmaking techniques. They spend a bunch of time talking up the threat of the Three Goddess Alliance but then they bring 2.5 goddesses over to their side in 3 episodes.
It’s also so far removed from the core concept of Fate that it barely even feels like a Fate series anymore. Everyone is a servant, but also no one is because they’re effectively just regular characters who happen to be in the wrong time period. Fujimaru is a Master but never does anything in that capacity so it doesn’t even matter which characters are his servants and which aren’t. All he brings to the table is being he blandest Nice Guy Protagonist imaginable. It doesn’t help that Mash is equally devoid of charisma.
The one positive thing I can say is that this is the first time I’ve liked Gilgamesh as a character. Maybe it should’ve just been about him.
Sometimes I finish a show and I’m not sure why I watched it all the way through.
Granbelm was okay for a while, but right from the beginning it was shoddily written, and pretty much any emotional moment fell flat because I wasn’t invested in the story or characters. A lot of things seem to happen because they’re convenient to the plot, and make little sense if you think about them even a little. On top of that, for a show about mecha fights the battle direction was terrible. Half of the time I couldn’t tell what was going on, and it didn’t help that all of the mechs were vaguely spherical lumps that were difficult to tell apart mid-combat. This wasn’t a bad show, but it certainly wasn’t worth watching.
Whew. I can’t remember the last time I saw a main character this annoying. Wakaba was the sole reason it took me two attempts to finish this show, having originally dropped it two episodes in. It’s like he was intentionally written to be annoying, and his voice actor took every opportunity to get on your nerves. Admittedly he got a little better as the show went on, but that’s not saying much. It didn’t help that the other characters reacted to him in such a baffling way. They’re suspicious of him at first, which is natural. But it goes way beyond reasonable caution. For no clear reason, they think he might be one of the ‘bugs’ they’re fighting against. These bugs are red, mechanical, don’t speak, and aren’t human-shaped in any way. But even though they straight up consider killing him, he responds with Christlike acceptance and keeps jumping recklessly into danger to help them. Once they get over that nonsense Wakaba gets a little more tolerable, but I can’t say I especially liked any of the main characters. And don’t even get me started on the ‘romance’.
But despite all of that, I was still sort of interested in seeing where it would go. The setting and background story are actually decent, and the flashback episode that explained most of it was the best of the whole series. If the characters hadn’t been so weak it could’ve been a pretty decent show.
8. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Yaiba was like the inverse of Kemurikusa. One was poorly animated and ruined by the main character, the other was well-animated and ruined by the side characters. Whether it was Zenitsu’s constant shouting, the annoying doctor’s assistant, or the clown gallery of Hashiras that showed up at the end, there was always someone wasting valuable screentime with their irritating antics. Which is weird, because it didn’t start out that way. I quite like Tanjiro as a protagonist. He manages to pull off the ‘overly nice guy’ personality without being grating (largely because he doesn’t do it at the wrong times).
While the animation quality was great, the writing was consistently lagging behind. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. The demons are given backstories to try to make them seem sympathetic, but they keep coming too late, and some of them were just baffling (like the demon who wanted to be a writer and also play drums).
I also can’t help feel weird about Nezuko. She often comes across more like a pet than a person, not just in how she acts but how other characters act towards her. Early on in the story I was able accept the fact that she’s semi-feral, but then we started seeing more and more other demons and the one thing they all had in common is that they’re fully sentient and perfectly capable of talking. And to reduce her even further as a person, she got hypnotized into treating other humans like family instead of it coming naturally. And what bothers me is that not a single character finds any of this odd. Look, you can’t tell me no one would bat an eye at a guy traveling around with his sister in a box wearing a muzzle.
I wanted to like this, but there was always something that bothered or distracted me in every episode.
Dororo was… just okay. It had its moments here and there, but on the whole it was inconsistent and didn’t have a strong enough overall story to carry it. I liked seeing Hyakkimaru grow as a character throughout the series, but after all that growth his sudden turn towards “I must get my body back at any costs” felt unconvincing, like it was only happening because there needed to be conflict.
The show also suffered from some clumsy writing. For example, there’s episode where we’re introduced to a bunch of crippled orphans just so they could get slaughtered for Hyakkimaru’s character development, which was particularly hamfisted. A lot of secondary characters fell in one of two categories: perfect self-sacrificing saint or brutal psychopath. The whole silly subplot about Dororo’s father’s hidden treasure barely mattered, only resulting in a side story full of contrivances and a flashback that reflects very poorly on her mother if you think about it for two seconds.
The themes and message of the show were muddled. You’d think it would be hard to screw up ‘killing people is bad’, but then it gets mixed up with ‘humans are the real monsters’. Why is killing demons a good thing, but killing people in the process of murdering orphans is bad? Is it because demons are innately evil and don’t have the capacity for redemption? Well no, because there is an episode where a demon basically ‘turns good’, to the point where Hyakkimaru no longer sees her as a demon. It tries to portray Hyakkimaru killing humans as a line he should not have crossed, but by blurring the line between humans and demons it undercuts itself.
At least the ending was pretty decent, even if it did have the cliché of “my arc is over, so I will stay here and accept my death instead of trying to escape”.
6. Blade of the Immortal
I can’t even be bothered to say anything about this show. Sure, as far as adaptations go. it’s not as badly made as One Punch Man 2, but it loses more in the transition. The absurdity of fitting a 31 volume story into a 24 episodes is plain to see. Blink and you’ll miss crucial character details or plot elements. Or entire fights, for that matter. Some of the action is impossible to follow because the director seems to have ADHD, or maybe directed it in slow motion and then sped it up by a factor 2.
Of course, when you have so much content to adapt, you’re going to have to cut entire arcs. But it’s done with little care as to how it affects the rest of the story. Episode 12 is a prime example of that. The main characters fight a bunch of guys, but you don’t know why because all the context is missing, so there’s no reason to care. The fight is cut short, flashbacks and chararacter development were left out, and what you’re left with is just the crew meeting up so they can kill a couple of random dudes. This is a legitimately good part of the manga, and it’s not done justice at all.
And this isn’t grumbling from a manga purist either. I watched the first three episodes blind before I went back and read the whole manga, and if anything I liked those episodes less. At least when you’ve read the manga you can fill in the gaps, and you don’t get the feeling that you’re ruining the story for yourself by watching this. At that point, it starts becoming mildly enjoyable. But for the love of god, don’t watch this without having read the manga.
5. One Punch Man Season 2
There are good things I could say about the second season of One Punch Man (it’s in fifth place after all), but they’re all just compliments to the source material. The anime itself was a huge disappointment, and not just because the first season was excellent. Many action scenes were reduced to a couple frames of animation put on loop over a bright white background. But the direction was especially terrible. Yusuke Murata is a first class artist, and almost every action panel in the manga is impactful. In the anime, many of these same moments were gone in a fraction of a second, barely noticeable, or stuck in between the aforementioned 3-frame loops.
Thankfully I’d already read the manga, so I lost nothing by watching this. Some scenes came out all right, and it’s always neat to see things you’ve read before voiced and animated. But I would definitely not recommend it to someone unfamiliar with the source material, if I were to recommend it at all.
4. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure – Golden Wind
Most of what I said about Golden Wind in my 2018 ranking still applies. It was enjoyable to watch, but the action translated poorly from the manga to anime. This didn’t bother me as much in the previous parts, and I don’t know if it’s due to a worse adaptation or worse source material. I do remember part five being where Araki’s art started getting confusing in places. The story peaked in the middle, and the final battle was probably the weakest in all of Jojo. Overall it was still entertaining, but it definitely wasn’t as good as parts 2 or 4.
3. The Promised Neverland
At the time I watched this, I hadn’t read the manga yet, so I went in completely blind. This probably helped, since one of the strongest points of the series is the tension. There was a constant feeling that something could go wrong at any moment, and it’s what really drew me in. The characters were also solid. The three main kids were your familiar stereotypes, but the way they interacted with each other and worked together gave them more depth. And while they were all extremely clever for a bunch of 11-year-olds, it only challenged my suspension of disbelief a couple of time (and it’s better than the alternative of having them be too childish).
But the show was at its best when it had some degree of subtlety. Early on, it was interesting just seeing the kids interacting with Mother. They knew what’s going on, but they couldn’t let it show. It made Mother ominous even though she acted nice and normal –because of that, even. And so when she eventually took off her mask it only made her less scary. It’s also why I didn’t like Sister Krone’s character. She was so goofy and over the top it ruined the mood, and her plotline didn’t even amount to anything.
The ending was also a little disappointing. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. This is the moment that the whole series was building up to. The escape plan is set in motion, and you’re just waiting for something bad to happen. But it never does. There’s no bit where they run into a snag and have to improvise on the fly. Whenever there’s a potential problem, we get a flashback showing how they prepared for it. So it left me with a feeling of “Oh, that was it?”.
But even though it was flawed, I still enjoyed the show a lot. I wonder what the second season will be like, considering the direction the story takes.
2. Dr. Stone
Why is Dr. Stone one of the best shows of the year? Because it was just so damn fun to watch. It’s really not much more than that. It managed to be consistently entertaining, and it didn’t have a single weak episode. Sure it’s silly and the technological advances Senku makes border on ridiculous, but that’s what makes it fun. It has an almost Jojo-esque flair. It also shows how you can make an ‘overpowered’ main character work: you give him an entertaining personality, and actual challenges that test his abilities.
And speaking of characters, that was one of Dr. Stone’s strongest points. Pretty much all of the characters were fun and likeable in some way, and there wasn’t anyone single-handedly ruining the show (unlike some other anime this year…).
Even the times it tried to be touching or sentimental, it kinda worked. It’s not an amazing show, but I have little negative to say about it. It was something to look forward to every week, and it never disappointed.
1. Vinland Saga
I had high hopes for the Vinland Saga anime, but I was a little worried we’d get another Berserk 2016, a great story ruined by a terrible adaptation. But no, that ended up happening to other acclaimed manga series this year. The Vinland Saga adaptation was solid, cutting some corners here and there but great when it counted.
But the real strength of Vinland Saga lies in the writing. It’s a lot more than just a story about vikings. It’s also a lot more than a kid trying to get revenge for his father’s death. The characters are fleshed out and complex (well, except for the guy who just wants to fight people), and it’s their struggles that drive the story. Askeladd in particular is a very compelling character. At first he just seems like a bastard, but by the end of the anime he completely steals the show. He’s really the main character of the prologue, the part of the story the anime covers. And that’s also something that helped the anime a lot. The prologue is a largely self-contained story, and it fit neatly into 24 episodes without feeling too fast or too slow.
It’s hard to pick anything specific to talk about. It’s not a show that excels at one particular thing, but rather managed to be interesting, intruiging and exciting throughout. Whether the characters were fighting a frantic battle, or quietly meditating on the state of the world, it was always well written and well executed.
The anime isn’t perfect, but I’m still happy with how it turned out, and I’m looking forward to the second season.