2018 sure was a slow-mo train wreck of a year – culminating in catastrophic hard drive failure destroying most of my archives – but hey, there sure were some good Japanese cartoons, huh? As always, please make sure to check out everyone else’s posts over the coming days, for they’re all much smarter than me, and definitely check out our latest long term project where we watch and talk about Legend of the Galactic Heroes. So, without further ado, here are some of my thoughts on the past year in the form of highly irreverent and inconsistent awards.
The Yamato 2199 Award for Best Show I Watched All At The Last Minute And At Great Expense
I wouldn’t have watched this show if people who are better than me hadn’t insisted on it. I’m not especially into romance shows, and I’m especially wary of yuri romance shows because of the hurr-hurr-girls-kissing-is-sexy stereotype. But Bloom Into You makes it clear that it’s a show about dealing with – and defying – the stifling expectations placed by society and by oneself, in the context of a LGBT relationship. I’m pretty uninformed about the genre’s conventions, but even outside of those, this show distinguishes itself in nearly every category and is one of the best things I watched this year.
Best Old Show I (Re)Watched in 2018 That Wasn’t LoGH
It wouldn’t be fair for this award to go to Gundam: Reconguista in G two years running, would it? GaoGaiGar was one of the first mecha shows I’d ever watched, in all of its toy-shilling children’s show glory. It’s the last and greatest of the Brave Series, standing in (almost) full defiance of how Neon Genesis Evangelion changed the genre forever. Though simplistic at heart, the writing is unexpectedly deft for the demographic: plot twists are foreshadowed, strange circumstances are justified, and there’s plenty of drama if you’re willing to meet the show halfway. Truly something from a simpler era, GaoGaiGar helps us remember that courage, friendship, and cool new toys are always enough to save the day, no matter how dark things might get.
Best Old Show I Watched in 2018
There isn’t much to say here that hasn’t already been said in much more depth on our recap podcast, but allow me to reiterate: as of this writing, I’ve seen only a third of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and I’m confident in saying that it’s one of the best pieces of media I’ve yet consumed. It is enthralling in its depth of character, setting, and story, and its themes remain relevant even thirty years after it aired. It guts me that we only watch three episodes every two weeks, but we get so much thought and discussion out of those three episodes that I don’t think we could handle any more. It may seem like a daunting task, but please think about giving LoGH a go if you haven’t already.
Best “Woke Yang Wenli” Line (Season 1)
There were lots of choices here – plenty about government and warfare, in particular – but this one has stuck with me ever since those early episodes. We’ve all been there, I think; in a situation where you think, know that you should speak up, act up, just do something to prevent an injustice, but you’re tired, scared, paralyzed. So we keep our heads down, don’t make waves, allow others to keep being hurt. And no judgements here, we’re all only human, we gotta look out for ourselves first because nobody else will. But if we (I) spared just a little bit more energy to look after other people, maybe we’d all be a little better off.
Show That Most Deserved Better
I’ve been an evangelist of Satoshi Mizukami’s work for years: Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Spirit Circle, Sengoku Youko, even collections of his one-shots. He has a keen ability to cut straight to the emotional core of a story with an earnestness and heart rarely seen anywhere, not just with anime or manga. I was thrilled to hear that he was finally involved in an anime adaptation… and then it all sort of fizzled out. Planet With was saddled with JC Staff animating, CG mecha, and just middle-of-the-road production all around. The plot, characters, emotion, were all up there with Mizukami’s – hell, some of the entire mecha genre’s – best, but the damage was already done. In another couple months, nobody’s going to care about this show, and that just makes me sad.
Best Single Episode
Lupin III Part V was always a show that relied upon – no, it’s more accurate to say they deftly made use of – the legacy of our favorite thief’s myriad accomplishments, particularly in the final arc, but this episode is where it worked the best. Lupin’s in his tightest pinch yet (isn’t he always?) before he’s saved by his oldest friend, Daisuke Jigen, in an absolutely bonkers gunfight scene. And here, Jigen – still voiced by Kiyoshi Kobyashi, the only remaining original cast member – asks if it ain’t just time to pack it in and retire… we’ve done this a long time, and it’s been a good run, yknow? But the legend of Lupin III will keep going until it can’t go no more, and the gang hides out in the last place I expected.
Best Episode of “Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family”
I had to sneak Fate/Stay Night in here somehow, right? The franchise is permanently entrenched in crappy spinoffs and mobile games these days, so this lighthearted cooking show right out of the front half of Fate/Hollow Ataraxia was something I sorely needed. There’s still something about the original F/SN cast that none of the spinoffs have quite managed to tap into, and this was like meeting a bunch of old friends once a month. And yes, I thought the pool episode was the best one. It’s that most rare of pool/beach/whatever episodes, in that the focus is on the characters hanging out and having fun, and not on them wearing skimpy swimsuits (and let’s be real: if you want some Fate-brand fanservice, there’s plenty out there). I’d love a second year of this.
The Zeppeli Award for Best Song Playing at the End of the Episode Moment
A Place Further Than The Universe ended almost every episode with some kind of insert song, so really it ought to be disqualified, but I couldn’t think of any other particularly good “Zeppeli Moments”, so… here we are. Honestly, the ending of the eponymous Ep12 stands strong on its own, without me surgically removing its impact by explaining and spoiling it for those who haven’t seen the show. Suffice to say that I’m not sure there could have possibly been a better emotional climax for the show.
The Love Lab Award for “Where Did That Come From?”
I hate Sword Art Online. But I gave this spinoff a shot because A) it was written by the Kino’s Journey author and B) it was being animated by Studio 3Hz of Princess Principal and Flip Flappers. And hey, turns out that when you just make a show about people taking a video game way too seriously instead of a show about unpleasant and harmful power fantasies, it turns out to be mildly entertaining! Don’t get me wrong – this show is still complete junk food – but it does some fun things with the setting and at least I didn’t want to scream while watching it. For something with the SAO branding, that’s about as good as it gets.
The Amnesia Ghost Award for Worst Person
This is halfway cheating because I’m mostly thinking of the OVA version of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but fuuuck this guy. He’s just the worst. He’s nothing but a shitty sycophant who wormed his way into a position of power by sucking up and spouting a bunch of garbage rhetoric, and then keeps doing it while other people suffer. Admiral Bucock’s amazing verbal smackdown on this guy is among the most satisfying moments of the entire year.
Coolest Mom of 2018
2018 was a pretty sparse year for Cool Anime Moms, but I’m loathe to let this tradition die. Though she’s a posthumous character (and we hardly get much of her even in flashback), Shirase’s mother seemed pretty rad, considering she was an Antarctic researcher. Even besides that, her legacy drives the entire plot of the show; we’re repeatedly shown just how important she was to Shirase and the other researchers alike. That’s enough to qualify for this.
Biggest Gut Punch
I could probably extrapolate this to something like “The Last Few Episodes of Devilman Crybaby” but I did that with Made in Abyss last year, so here we are. By this point in the show, human society has collapsed into anarchy and witch-hunts on… well, basically anyone who gets unlucky. The Makimura household always seemed like the final bastion of goodness in the world of the show, but when confronted with his own son’s transformation into a Devilman, Noel Makimura finds himself with an impossible choice. The sequence lasts a full two minutes, and every second of it is heartbreaking.
The Mondo Misao Award for Best Overacting
We don’t expect – or even necessarily always want – good acting from the likes of Super Sentai. What makes them work is campy overacting, and Lupinranger VS Patranger certainly delivers in that department. It took a while for the cast to really settle into their roles, but from the start Keiichiro’s actor knew his job was to mug the camera with the most absurd, overwrought facial expressions imaginable. He really hates those thieves and will shout it to the heavens at every possible opportunity.
The Bubuki Buranki Award for Hottest Mess
As Gee has said in the past, Double Decker! feels like a dumb show made by smart people. So many aspects of the show are incongruous and nonsensical (up to and including the bizarre CG animation) but it’s also one of the funniest things I’ve seen this year, playing off buddy cop and anime clichés alike. While watching and riffing it with friends, the show makes the same sort of jokes we do, and that’s something I’m not used to seeing. How many other anime would be willing to spend a full third of an episode on a dumb spoof on trashy reality-TV cop shows complete with blurred faces and pitched-down voices, let alone have it be a major plot revelation?
There were a number of other shows that could have fit here, but upon reflection, none of them let me down as hard as Hisone and Masotan. Almost everything about the show is so incredibly charming. The art is vibrant and fun, (most of) the characters are goofy and likeable, the premise is just weird enough to be intriguing… But there’s still that poison in the well. The antiquated, backwards personal politics and misogynistic undertone in the show put me off so hard that I had to stop watching halfway through, even though I was so in love with every other aspect. I watched “worse” anime this year, but none let me down as hard as Dragon Pilot.