We here at Glorio routinely subject ourselves to a lot of crap on a yearly basis so other people don’t have to. We’re like the garbagemen of seasonal anime. 2019 was no exception thanks to shows including (but I assure you, not limited to) Val x Love, Isekai Cheat Magician, Maou-sama, Retry!, The Rising of the Shield Hero, An Angel Flew Down To Me, and of course, Are you willing to fall in love with a pervert, as long as she’s a cutie?. Man, looking back, I personally got off pretty light, huh? Sorry, guys!
However, as has now become more or less tradition for me, instead of talking about all the shitty trends that anime, if not directly responsible for, then certainly often propagates, I’m taking this opportunity to highlight those titles of 2019 that actually exceeded my expectations. Although not necessarily the strongest of the year, these are all shows I assumed would be average at best, but which nonetheless managed to prove to me once again that you can’t always judge a show by its synopsis.
Near Death!! Ekoda-chan (Winter)
What I expected: A fanservice-laden series with little interest in character realism.
What I got: An unconventional series with little interest in perfectionism.
A title that flew largely under the radar this year, Ekoda-chan is already an interesting show just on paper; a series of 5-minute shorts, with each episode directed and voiced by completely different people. Then there’s the unconventional art style, which also changes dramatically from episode to episode, although consistently remaining rather abstract and… well, non-‘anime’-like, at least in the sense most of us are probably used to. The series might also be described as frenetic, and yet at the same time curiously down-to-earth, as it explores the life and mindset of a young career-woman – usually in the privacy of her own home, where her thoughts and actions are refreshingly frank. More like seeing random snippets of a personal diary playing out on screen than anything else, I consider Ekoda-chan to be explicit without being particularly suggestive, since although the titular character spends a large amount of screentime completely naked, the artwork is just too conceptual to qualify as graphic or objectifying. No doubt also too whimsical and haphazard to be considered mainstream, Ekoda-chan definitely made for a unique watch, and one that I simply wasn’t expecting going in.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season (Summer)
What I expected: Sex, melodrama, and potentially laughably bad scripting.
What I got: Sex and melodrama, but with a ton of humor and even… some realism?
I tend to see the name Mari Okada and back off, as I generally find either her storylines or the writing attached to them exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. However, while Maidens does (in my opinion) fall a bit off the wagon towards the end of the series, it also treads a pretty fine line between ‘refreshingly direct’ and ‘oh god this is embarrassing just to watch’ with remarkable grace… most of the time. I’ve always loved a good coming-of-age story, and while melodrama does definitely take place here (and in the most unoriginal way I could have possibly imagined – did Okada just copy/paste the AnoHana story beats from and for the final episodes?), I wouldn’t say Maidens itself is either poorly-scripted or derivative. It’s also certainly not bland, and particularly over the first handful of episodes, has enough genuinely funny moments for me to possibly warrant calling it my favourite comedy of the entire year. To say that’s not something I ever expected to claim about any Okada-created series is an understatement.
What I expected: Really bad boys love content, because anything else in this genre in anime is a unicorn.
What I got: A UNICORN.
To be clear, I like BL itself, but have a hard time reconciling this with its very often abysmal track record in anime, particularly with regard to rape and sexual abuse being portrayed as sexy and/or romantic (not that this is by any means a BL-only trope, but I find it most prevalent within the genre). To my excited glee, Given not only steered completely clear of this, but turned out to be a genuinely excellent – yes, excellent – show in its own right, growing stronger and stronger with each episode. Comedy, romance, drama, you name it and Given did it both well and believably. I mean, even the damn music was good, and we all know how rare that trait is in anime centering around music. Indeed, episode 9 gave me literal goosebumps, the likes of which I’ve not experienced since Yuri on Ice. My advice to anyone who didn’t watch this purely because BL isn’t their thing: you’re missing out, so do yourself a favour and give it a try.
Stars Align (Fall)
What I expected: Prince of Tennis but, like… soft, I guess?
What I got: Slice-of-life drama with tragic backstories (and some soft tennis).
I have zero interest in soft tennis (or really in any kind of team sport), so it’s safe to say that aside from a couple of exceptions, I just don’t ‘get’ sports anime the way a lot of other viewers seem to. In fact, I wouldn’t have watched Stars Align at all had it not been for a comment about the show on one of my blog posts, but I’m sure glad I did. A slice-of-life title where the parents and other family members feature almost as prominently as the main cast? Where romance never becomes a selling point of the story? Where some of the tennis scenes are not only fun to watch but actually pretty hilarious (thank you, episode 6)? Count me in! Stars Align is far from perfect – the revelation at the end of its premiere episode aside, there are just too many tragic backstories crammed into one 12-episode show, so at best, this aspect of it feels rushed and not exactly realistic. However, it was certainly a pleasant surprise for me, and no matter its faults, there’s more than enough here to ensure it stands out from the crowd.