2019 has been a weird year. While it hasn’t been a very good year for the world as a whole, it’s been a surprisingly decent one for me. I’d go as far as say 2019 was one of the best years I’ve lived in a few. Sadly, the anime of 2019 didn’t quite match up. If there’s anything 2019 will be remembered for in anime, it’ll be a lot of promising starts but unimpressive conclusions. And if nothing else, 2019 also represents the conclusion of our journey among the sea of stars with Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It’s a bittersweet parting, but one I don’t regret in the slightest. In general, the few anime that I loved in 2019, I really loved. So despite the pool of nominees being a little thin this time around, know that the winners here are up there with the best of em.
Kaen by Queen Bee is for better or worse, the most notable thing about 2019’s Dororo adaptation. What a banger though. The party truly is over.
99.9 by Mob Choir proves that the anime’s first OP wasn’t just a fluke. I might like it even more than the first honestly.
Wild Side by ALI came out of nowhere and blew us all away. Stop motion puppetry is an inspired choice for Beastars, but it works unbelievably well.
A catchy jazzy tune, a unique art direction, and just enough of a hint of the underlying darkness that lurks in Beastars’ heart makes it the coolest opening sequence of 2019. Arriving just as the decade comes to a close, it’s a easily a contender for even OP of the last 10 years. In a perfect world, the entire anime would be stop motion, but I’ll happily take what I can get.
Favorite Looking Anime
Bones continues to flex its animation talent with Mob Psycho 100 Season 2. It’s bigger, badder, and the spectacle is even wilder than it’s ever been. Visually, it’s everything you could hope to get from a sequel.
Is it unfair to be put a movie like Promare on this list? Sure, but also I can’t think of a better experience I’ve had this year than watching Promare in theaters.
Every Beastars fan in the world held their breath when it was announced that CG studio Orange was going to be handling the adaptation. Who would have thought that not only would they do a largely admirable job of adapting the manga, they’d even find a new sense of directorial flair that elevates certain scenes above their source material? If I had such a thing as a “best directing” award, Beastars would win it by a landslide.
Despite not winning, Mob Psycho 100 should take pride in the fact that it took a literal full feature movie to truly compete with it. Like last year’s winner, SSSS.Gridman, Trigger continues to establish that there is no one in the anime industry with such a knack for art direction as them. Promare is a visual spectacle from start to finish. It’s exhausting to watch, but in a good way, like a roller coaster or driving a rocket powered car. It never really lets up and in fact only finds new ways to escalate what can possibly happen on screen. Is it a particularly nuanced story? Not really, though perhaps deeper than I’d expect from Imaishi, low as that bar is. Luckily, this is just the category for the best visuals of 2019 and nothing comes close to Promare.
Strap in folks, Granblem is about to make the rounds in this feature. From a largely unknown studio and touting a chibi Super Robot Wars inspired artstyle, it was hard to really say what Granblem was going to be. Turns out it was going to be one of my favorite anime of 2019, and even one of my favorite mecha anime of all time.
Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note is handful of a title but belies a fairly simple premise. It’s the world trotting adventures of a now-adult Waver Velvet, survivor of Fate/Zero and now a much grumpier man. But underneath the cigarettes and scowls, he’s still the fundamentally sensitive soul he always was, and it’s that quality he uses to earn both the adoration and contempt of the Type/Moon magical community. It wasn’t the most ambitious show, but when compared to the current state of most other entries in the Fate franchise, Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files was a refreshing and genuine return to what made us all fall in love with the silly story about genderbent King Arthur in the first place.
The Magnificent Kotobuki is an anime that astounds me that it even exists. A love letter to propeller plane dogfighting and the minutiae of WW2 era flight, Kotobuki is a weird story that basically exists as a vehicle for some of the most realistic air to air combat I have ever seen in media. There’s an obsessive attention to detail far beyond what most creative teams would consider necessary, but Kotobuki knows exactly what it wants to be. As an actual piece of entertainment, it’s frankly all over the place. The all CG production is workmanlike at best, laughable at its worst. And yet, I can’t help but respect its ambition.
There’s a sincere love for the mecha genre found in Granbelm’s soul and it shows in every episode. I didn’t have as much fun watching any other anime week to week this year as I did with Granbelm. In the way it moves and feels, Granbelm adores the mecha genre, but not in a cloying way. Its references and homages are subtle and thematic rather than explicit. Its characters, while fairly straightforward, are well composed and immediately memorable. Its ability to fit a good-to-great mecha fight into nearly every single episode of its brief runtime is nothing short of a miracle. It’s the sort of thing you’d like to expect from a Bones or a Sunrise, but both studios have disappointed mecha fans so many times. I don’t know what they do next, but Nexus is a studio name I must keep an eye on going forward.
Granbelm presents Favorite Non-Granbelm Moment
Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files Episode 13: “The Clock Tower, Usual Days, and the First Step Forward to the Future ~Glory lies beyond the horizon – Challenge it because you know it to be unattainable.~” is proof that Lord El Melloi II can’t be concise about anything, episode titles included. It also includes an emotional payoff that works only because the story had the restraint to not pull the trigger any sooner. The result? Sublime.
Mob Psycho 100 Season 2 Episode 7: “Cornered ~True Identity~” presents Reigen at his very lowest. It’s an examination of what a despicable individual he is and how Mob was the only thing he ever had going in his life. It’s also an episode about redemption, and finding qualities in you that you always had, even if they were buried under a mountain of cynicism and misanthropy. It’s about how friends will always see the best in each other. It’s an episode that makes good on Mob and Reigen’s peculiar friendship as well as act as a milestone in Mob’s emotional growth. It’s not a gigantic climax of any kind, but honestly, this is the stuff that sets its apart from any run of the mill high budget visual spectacle.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes Die Neue These Episode 18: “Bloodshed in Space” isn’t really here because it’s that special by the standards of the story, but boy, remember that for one episode, LOGH turned into a goddamn mecha anime?
It would be so easy to ruin Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files. Just look at the rest of the Fate franchise in a post FGO world. And yet, Lord El Melloi II manages to pull off its inclusion of a legacy character with grace and emotional fulfillment. In the closing minutes of its final episode, Waver finally speaks to Rider in a dream for the first time since the events of Fate/Zero. I won’t get into details here, but it’s an emotional payoff that works because the show refused to indulge us in that way the entire run of its story. Rather than see Rider himself, we see how Waver has developed as a character, these traits informed by his brief time with the legendary king. Instead focusing on Waver’s personal growth the entire time, it makes his eventual meeting with Rider so much more meaningful. There is a deep sense of melancholy, but also a celebration of how much he has matured. Yuki Kaijura even brings back a version of their original theme song for old time’s sake. Indulging fans with fanservice like this is a careful balance, and had the anime done anymore, it would have weakened the work as a whole. Instead, we’re given a moment so well deserved that I am more than happy to consider this entry in the Fate franchise the canonical sequel to Fate/Zero.
Favorite Granbelm Moment
Episode 5: Nene’s last stand – This is the episode that really sold me on Granbelm. Nene, back against the wall and her pride as a mage on the line, cashes in all her chips, transforms her mech into a bigger kung fu mech, and goes out swinging as hard as any side character obviously doomed to defeat could hope for. And it all somehow ties back into her character arc, making the fight act as both visual spectacle and meaningful storytelling. This is the stuff mecha anime was made for.
Every single time Anna Fugo is on screen: Anna Fugo’s wild ride – I’m not one of those types who’s going to say Anna Fugo did nothing wrong. Hell, Anna Fugo might have done everything wrong, but that makes me love her even more. She’s a total fuckup who has every right to be furious at the people who have wronged her.
Basically the last third: Suisho takes over as the main villain – With Anna Fugo oh so gracefully exiting stage left, Suisho does an admirable job of picking up the slack as the show’s new villain. Where Anna Fugo was all white hot fury, Suisho is all about exuding an aura of self assured superiority. There is no situation too great for her, no enemy too insignificant, and no persona not worth systematically breaking down through emotional torture. She alone isn’t enough to save Granbelm from its slight downturn in its final episodes, but she carries it all on her smug shoulders.
Anna Fugo is my favorite new anime character of 2019. Every time she’s on screen, Granbelm was just better as a whole. Her early departure from the show is a shame, because she is undeniably core to the themes of the story. Nonetheless, her character arc is an entertaining one to watch, even if it’s really less of an arc and more of a dramatic incline until it immediately falls off a cliff. Shingetsu talks a big game about how much the magical mecha battle royale has ruined her life, but it’s Anna Fugo who deserves to hold the twisted game and its participants accountable for her downward spiral. She spends her entire life being manipulated and outright lied to by her own family. Rather than try and let her down easy, the people who are ostensibly closest to her spend most of their time trying to emotionally break her. Is it any surprise her eventual reaction is a painful and self destructive lashing out at anyone in the vicinity?
And so, we have a character who like Nene cashes in every chip she has, but unlike Nene, Anna Fugo bets her own life too. She gleefully rips apart the people who have wronged her. Her emotional catharsis is earned in blood. She looks like a woman on her wedding day, all tears and smiles, as she tortuously squeezes the life out of her adopted sister. In mecha anime, there are few things as satisfying as when a character leaves it all out in the field. Battered, bloody, missing limbs and crying blood, Anna Fugo goes the distance in her final fight. Regardless of how you feel about the actions that led to this moment, you can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for a character who tragically never had a chance. Of all the characters in Granbelm, Anna Fugo is dealt the harshest fate, perhaps deservedly so, but she burned brighter than any other character.
Anime That Made Me Feel the Worst About Watching It
The Price of Smiles has all the makings of an original mecha anime trainwreck. But rather than relish in its own trashiness, it eases off the pedal in its final moments, settling for an even worse fate. Being boring.
Carole and Tuesday is maybe proof that Shinichiro Watanabe might be a one trick pony, because every attempt he’s made to get out of the “slick episodic action show with good music and visuals” umbrella has been middling at best.
Demon Slayer isn’t the worst show I watched this year, but it sure is depressing to see so much talent and resources get poured into something so bland.
I wanted to like Carole and Tuesday. In fact, there are times when I genuinely did. But as a cohesive work, Carole and Tuesday is well, not very cohesive. It ping pongs between themes and arcs on the drop of a hat, and it never really finds its footing. It uses its episodic format poorly, and perhaps even more egregiously, its music isn’t even that good. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some genuine talent attached to the show and there are some solid tracks, but when compared to Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, or Space Dandy, it has a strangely anemic musical identity. Carole and Tuesday themselves never really become their own characters, instead sort of fusing into a pseudo gestalt being that likes pop music and has a lot of underdog moxie. If Carole and Tuesday is the show Watanabe genuinely wanted to make, then I’m happy for him. But as a fan of his older works, I can’t help but think his recent attempts at exploring beyond his comfort zone are just highlighting his actual limitations as a director.
Gee’s Top 5 of 2019
The Magnficent Kotobuki is probably not better than anime like Vinland Saga or No Guns Life, which did not make the cut. But unlike those, Kotobuki is entirely original in more ways than one. It falters more often than you’d like and its actual production values are tolerable at best. Still, there’s an undeniable authenticity to its ambitions bound together by a roughshod but likable personality.
Mob Psycho 100 Season 2 makes good on all the promises of its first season, and then compounds on them in compelling ways. It’s everything a sequel should be. Even better, it sticks the landing in a thematically appropriate way. Few characters in anime as a whole have been as satisfying to watch grow throughout the story as Mob.
Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files Rail Zeppelin Grace Note has no right to be as good as it is. It’s an authentic love letter to the Type/Moon franchise in ways no other Fate property has been in years. Is it basically a bunch of urban fantasy nonsense? Hell yeah it is, but its brand of magical nonsense is deeply steeped in the foundations of Nasu’s original worldbuilding. Rather than make up a bunch of new and even sillier concepts, Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files plumbs deep into the lore of Type/Moon and brings some rather interesting gems to the surface. There are better anime that aired in 2019, but none filled me with as much joy as watching Waver Velvet essentially solve the ills of the magical world through a combination of basic human decency and access to an internet connection.
As a longtime fan of the manga, I awaited Beastars with baited breath. CG? Netflix? There were too many factors that filled me with an anxious dread. So imagine my surprise when Beastars managed to be a mostly solid adaptation of Paru Itagaki’s school life/drama/romance/societal allegory/crime drama/battle shounen manga about a wolf whose got it bad for a bunny. But adapting great source material into great anime isn’t just copying one for one. Beastars goes above and beyond with some truly astonishing directing. From split panel layout to shot composition to the occasionally gorgeous hand drawn sequence, the Beastars anime enhances parts of the original manga while faithfully maintaining its themes.
As I’ve told other members of the Glorio blog, in the same way that the Magiaconatus created Mangetsu as a cipher of its love for Shingetsu, I too feel that Granbelm must have been the mecha genre harnessing the dying embers of its life force and producing one last cosmic gift for me. I have never felt so seen by an anime in my life. Granbelm was nearly everything I could have hoped for in a mecha anime in 2019. It had drama, it had compelling (side) characters, and most importantly, it had fights, and by god did it have fights. When we first started watching Granbelm, we assumed the format of monthly battle royales would mean a lot of downtime. Instead, Granbelm ended up having more episodes with fights than without. They weren’t necessarily all winners, but for the most part, they were exciting and raw in the way it’s always been fun to watch giant robots fight. Shingetsu and Mangetsu themselves might not have been the most compelling pair of protagonists, but it really speaks to the strength of all of Granbelm’s other qualities that it still remained my favorite anime of the year.
My understanding is Granbelm didn’t make much of a splash in either the East or the West, and that’s a shame. Even if the artstyle and the designs don’t initially look to your taste, if you’re a mecha fan, I insist you give it a fair shot. Its love for the genre is authentic in a way I haven’t seen in years. It deserves to sit with the classics. In the meantime, when are they going to get represented in Super Robot Wars?
Gee’s Anime of the Decade, Every Decade Forevermore
Honestly, I’m not sure I can say much more about Legend of the Galactic Heroes that I haven’t already said in our recap podcast, Legend of the Glorio Heroes. It would be no exaggeration to say the anime has changed my life, or at the very least, changed the way I look at storytelling, how fiction handles politics, and how those themes should be communicated to an audience. It’s no surprise that the 30 year old story should still hold an almost unnerving degree of relevancy in our modern political zeitgeist.
I can’t say it enough, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is one for the ages. All of its characters, stories, and messages still hit in 2019, and they probably will in the next decade too. Of all the things I’ve done in the last couple years, deciding to finally tackle this 110 episode monolith was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Why not ring in the new decade with a classic?