A Very GLORIO 2021: Iro’s Year of Surprisingly Good Shows

It’s time for the year end post again, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, I’ve already said everything I care to about Fate this year in my Heaven’s Feel 3 review, I’ve personally spoken with too many isekai-likers recently to do that whole rigamarole again, and I definitely can’t be assed to drag out my dumb old awards posts. Plus, I’m a regular on the podcast and can talk about this shit more consistently there! What’s even left to say, at that point?

What’s left is that this was a pretty solid year for anime, despite it all. Every week I was scrambling to make sure I watched everything… and for once, there were shows I actually wanted to watch, even if that meant dipping into the backlog. Here are a few I’m willing to speak on (in roughly chronological order), however briefly.

BEASTARS (SEASON 2)

I almost forgot this aired in 2021. With Season 2 of Beastars, Orange cemented its status as the top CG studio and the staff made an incredibly tough adaptation sing across a mere twelve episodes. I lament the cuts and insist anyone who enjoyed the anime ought read the manga, but they managed to fit in all of that climax’s absurd glory. I am worried about the purported “final season”, though…

My Favorite Part:
The end of the killer’s flashback sequence shows how strong directing and audiovisual additions can elevate an already great moment.

JUJUTSU KAISEN (SECOND HALF)

This show finally got good in the second half, with Seong-Ho Park showing off his chops as an action director. We here at Glorio have been fans of his work since that first Garo anime back in 2014, and it’s been gratifying to see him graduate to a major Shonen Jump property and make it shine with his direction. Jujutsu Kaisen brought back some of that shonen fighting spark in my heart that My Hero Academia has been slowly dowsing over the past few years.

My Favorite Part:
The entire second half has amazing action, but the season finale turning what seems like a minor battle in the grand scheme into a wild butt-rock AMV got me hootin’ and hollerin’ like I was a kid watching DBZ.

KIKAI SENTAI ZENKAIGER

Super Sentai has been running long enough (and is so formulaic) that they can pull out some big anniversary series every five years and make it work. Zenkaiger knows that it’s a wacky comedy first and foremost, that the good guys always win, and that toy sales are down this year so it has a proportionally lower budget. Why not have a little fun?

My Favorite Part:
To defeat a monster of the week, the team invokes the power of Choujin Sentai Jetman‘s infamous finale where Black Condor is fatally stabbed by a common mugger. In a shot-for-shot remake, the monster is also stabbed, slowly bleeds out on a bench, and explodes.

TO YOUR ETERNITY

While the adaptation leaves much to be desired (just go read the manga, please), I think the content of To Your Eternity’s story holds up well enough to justify itself. I see Gugu or Pyoran and I still get teary-eyed, it’s as simple as that.

My Favorite Part:
It’s been the common refrain about this show, but despite its issues Brain’s Base really nailed the first and last episodes.

VIVY: FLOURITE EYE’S SONG

Vivy was a rock-solid romp through robot Disneyland, bringing to mind the style and vibes of an 80s cyberpunk OVA. I had low hopes considering its staff pedigree (if you like Re:Zero, why are you reading this?), but I was consistently excited to see each twist and turn even if the broad strokes were pretty standard. I love to see these surprising one-offs.

My Favorite Part:
The climax of the Grace arc mixes the perfect amount of delicious ambiguity into its pulpy insert song action scene. I was 100% confident Vivy was going to make the opposite choice until she’d already thrown the punch.

ODD TAXI

I’m confident calling this the single biggest surprise of the year, even if only because Ranking of Kings is an adaptation. The contrast between its cutesy art style and its gritty, immactulately-constructed, Yakuza-like story made Odd Taxi a stand-out in a whole season of stand-outs.

My Favorite Part:
I’m still stunned by how tightly woven the entire plot is, first scene to last. I wish I could write this well.

NOMAD: MEGALOBOX 2

I would have been at least third in line saying Megalobox didn’t need a sequel, but Nomad proved itself as an essential counter-punch to the first season. I recommend checking out ANN’s interview with the director and writers where they speak about their desire to examine and transcend the toxic masculinity of Ashita no Joe.

My Favorite Part:
Standing before Nanbu’s grave, Joe admits that his selfish desire to keep fighting and prove his own worth ended up destroying everything he’d built, that there are things more important than one’s personal pride.

SSSS.DYNAZENON

I think on the whole Dynazenon is a better show than Gridman (the latter’s untouchable ending aside). The Amemiya-Hasegawa combo hits hard, and I’m hoping the recently announced film knocks it out of the park for the third time in a row. It’s been a lot of fun seeing the studio come into its own and prove that it’s more than just an Imaishi house. Stick with Trigger and you’ll make it.

My Favorite Part:
Licking their wounds from an embarrassing defeat, the entire crew holes up in some kind of amusement center slash shopping mall overnight to get ready for round two, and work through some of their personal issues in the process.

GODZILLA: SINGULAR POINT

Screenwriter Toh Enjoe has elevated technobabble to a new level with Singular Point, turning Godzilla from an allegorical nuclear threat to an existential attack on the fundamental mathematics of reality. I did not always know what the hell was going on in this show, but it was definitely a fun ride.

My Favorite Part:
Garage-league junk heap Jet Jaguar (The People’s Hero) picking up a spear made from a kaiju spine and going to town on a bunch of giant spiders will never not be amazing and hilarious.

GETTER ROBO (ARC, ARMAGEDDON)

I can’t really say in honesty that Getter Robo Arc is very good, but it did lead to me watching Getter Robo Armageddon, which is good. Viewing them side by side led me to repeatedly think to myself, “Ah, that’s where that comes from”, and that’s definitely a plus anytime you watch something that’s scare quotes “old”.

My Favorite Part:
Arc – Moving past the infamous final cliffhanger of the franchise after Ken Ishikawa’s death… to arrive at another, newer cliffhanger.
Armageddon – The first three episodes gave me a newer appreciation for Yasuhiro Imagawa’s ability to make everything feel operatically huge in scale. Also, the Stoner Sunshine.

TAKT OP.DESTINY

On the gacha spinoff scale that ranges from Rage of Bahamut: Genesis to Magatsu Wahrheit -Zuerst-, this sits somewhere slightly left of center, easily beating out D_Cide Traumerei. The show never really bit off more than it could chew, looked good when it counted, and was just a solidly good time through the whole season. It won’t be topping any lists, but I wish we had more series like this.

My Favorite Part:
Titan, a shotgun-wielding technicolor anime girl, unleashes her true power: a second gun.

86: EIGHTY-SIX

Of all the shows this year, 86: Eighty-Six might be the one that got the closest to greatness while still undeniably falling short. I like a lot of what it’s doing with its geopolitical AI mech war plot, but all the characters hew too close to cliche anime melodrama and the show has a serious lack of self-awareness. A fascinating mess.

My Favorite Part:
The start of season 2 introduces a whole world outside of the first part’s Republic with compelling hooks attached to what we already know.

THE HEIKE STORY

A straight-faced adaptation of the pseudo-historical Heike Monogatari sounds like it could be dry; this is anything but. Naoko Yamada and the staff at Science Saru tighten the story’s focus and the result is some of the most beautiful and emotional animation of the year. Incredible stuff.

My Favorite Part:
The final scene, especially in greater context of precisely who is making this show.

RANKING OF KINGS

I initially dismissed this, but I’m usually happy to eat crow in these situations. Ranking of Kings uses its fairy tale storybook aesthetics to trick you into complacency, then sucker punches you with multifaceted characters, amazing animation, and emotional storytelling. It would genuinely be a contender for this year if it wasn’t running into next.

My Favorite Part:
After two kinda “afterschool special”-y episodes, the third fires a shotgun blast worth of plot hooks into your thigh and proves there’s more going on than you thought.

THUNDERBOLT FANTASY

Time did not permit me to get into Thunderbolt Fantasy until the dry summer season prompted the backlog dive. I am so glad I did, because this puppet show is genuinely incredible. The inherent silliness of the format causes the wuxia melodrama to feel properly self-aware, and it allows for copious amounts of violent spectacle without descending into fetishism. I’m still excited to see what comes next even after three seasons and two movies, and that’s a mean fucking feat these days.

My Favorite Part:
The natural choice is the power level reveal towards the end of Season 1, but the duet scene in the second movie is everything great about the show with an obviously higher budget than usual.

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