It sure has been an interesting decade for anime. I don’t just mean in terms of new trends or the anime industry in general (although I’m sure the same could be said for these aspects as well), but rather in terms of my personal anime viewing experience.
Having spent over half the decade living in Japan, I found that my anime viewing habits were often influenced by what many of the people around me were watching – sometimes because I was curious enough to take a look based on the conversations I was hearing, and at other times simply because I wanted to be able to take a more active part in those conversations, even if the anime themselves weren’t necessarily my cup of tea. To be sure, this often led me to watching some… let’s just say, titles that didn’t really line up with my own tastes, but it also introduced me to some shows I might have never otherwise watched, and which I ended up enjoying very much.
The following anime are not, therefore, comprised of what I would say are the ‘best’ anime of the decade, or even necessarily my top favourites of the 2010s. Instead, this post is about those titles I was introduced to by others in Japan, or which for one reason or another made a real difference in my life in terms of who I was able to make better connections with during my time there.
Sword Art Online
I started watching this show purely from word-of-mouth from the same kids I was teaching in Japan. SAO had begun airing only a couple of weeks before I arrived there to live for the first time, and it was crazy popular with my junior high students for a time, especially the guys. Since I do like fantasy as a whole, and because I thought it might be a good way to find common ground in conversation when it came to some of the shyer kids in particular, I ended up giving it a try. Now I know a whole lot of people in the Western blogging community like to hate on SAO these days as though it signals the coming of the anime apocalypse, and I’m not really here to defend it, since the show has plenty about it that I don’t like either. What I don’t mind admitting is that it did genuinely act as a kickoff point for more than a few discussions, and not just about that specific show or even anime in general. And purely from that perspective, I’d consider SAO a resounding success.
Attack on Titan
This is another show that, while not really my thing, I ended up watching the first season of thanks entirely to word-of-mouth, this time from a sizeable number of junior high girls. I especially remember how insanely popular Levi’s character was. He appeared absolutely everywhere – on pens, pencil cases, pencil boards, phone straps, keychains… everywhere I looked, there was his face staring back at me. This made Attack on Titan really easy for a jumping-off point for conversation, especially at my largest school, where it was more difficult to get to know the students on a casual convo/first-name basis unless I was also able to talk to them properly outside of class. And as it turns out, being able to simply point to a random object with a character’s face on it and say, “Oh, from AoT, right? Yeah, he’s my favourite character, too” helped to forge some pretty strong relationships further on down the track.
While I started watching Free! of my own accord, it led to one particular talking point with a student who I’d see just once a week. He wasn’t a swimmer himself, and I never asked what exactly drew him to the show in the first place, but when he asked me one day if I watched anime and I listed this title as an example, his eyes suddenly lit up as he demanded to know who I liked better, Haru or Rin. It turns out this student, who was quite studious, would record every episode of the show as it aired so he could watch it whenever he was done with his homework. Then, every time we met before or after class, we’d steal a few moments to chat about that episode and argue amicably about who really deserved the title of Best Boy. We of course lost touch when I left Japan, and that student would be in university by now (as are, incidentally, much of the main cast of the still ongoing series), but it was an adorable relationship I’ll never forget. I hope he’s still watching, wherever he is out there.
Polar Bear Café
I don’t know of any of my students who watched this show, and in fact by the time I became aware of it at all, it had already finished airing. I was actually introduced to it by one of my colleagues – and frankly, I can totally see why this kind of title might appeal very much to overworked Japanese female teachers looking to relax at the end of their day. It’s an extremely calming, soul-soothing series that has equal amounts of heart and humour, and is also cutesy enough that you could buy memorabilia for it in Japan without necessarily revealing you liked anime (if this so happened to be a concern). At the same time, Polar Bear Café definitely targets adult women rather than young girls, and therefore likely wouldn’t ring any bells with students or be viewed as an overly childish watch if anyone else did know about the show. I think I actually ended up enjoying this series even more than my colleague did once I got into it, but it was still the source of a number of fun little conversations with someone I didn’t otherwise have that much in common with.
Yuri on Ice
Okay, so this title definitely would make it onto my personal list of top anime of the decade, or of all time for that matter. It’s just an amazing show, as well as one, incidentally, that helped get me through a really difficult time in my life. However, the reason it’s here on this particular list is because of someone it unexpectedly brought me a lot closer to, despite the fact that I was actually living in Thailand when it was airing, between my first and second time living in Japan. When I got back to Japan for that second stint of teaching though, only days after I’d moved in to my new home, I binge-watched it together with someone who would later become an extremely close friend – he missed the last train back to his house and, since neither of us had received our company cars yet, he was stuck for the night. We stayed up the whole time and watched all 12 episodes of Yuri on Ice back-to-back, and I can honestly say that no other anime binge-watching anime experience has been more rewarding.