2022 was a weird year, it started off pretty strong (for me) but a lot of changes both personal and external have sent things in a downward trend. Social media platforms are on fire and every artist is rapidly retreating back to the tumblr accounts they made in middle school. Nobody really knows how the internet is going to look in 2023.
But hey, at least anime is always there for us. 2022 was an interesting year for anime. What it lacks in an obvious high profile mega-hit, it makes up for with a lot of surprise hits. I laughed a lot with anime this year, and that’s worth something. Join me as I reminisce about the anime I watched this year, both the good and the bad. I’m not going to lie people, I threw this together at the last minute. I hope it’s coherent?
Frankly, Winter 2022 just wasn’t very good. It had a few high profile shows that probably should have been highlights of the year, but for some reason or another, they all ended up disappointing.
Lupin III Part 6
Compared to the soaring heights of the meta-commentary focused Part 5, Part 6 of Lupin III felt like it was constantly struggling to find its footing. Was it a throwback? An anthology? Something in between? Part 5 benefited hugely from its laser focus on its theme of contending with modern technology. Comparatively, Part 6 is a reminder that quite frankly, Lupin III is like many long running franchises. It has its ups, downs, and everything in between. It’s Lupin at his most average, and honestly, you could do worse than the adventures of the legendary gentleman thief. Daisuke Jigen is, has always been, and always will be, the coolest motherfucker ever.
Sabikui Bisco is one of those anime you get where the premise is so appealing you can’t help but think, “there’s no way this one can go wrong.” I wouldn’t say Sabikui Bisco necessarily crashed, but it’s an undeniably rough landing. The unique apocalyptic setting seemed like an obvious slam dunk, what with the mushroom based martial arts and wild mechanical abominations. While it’s not a disaster on the level of 2021’s Sakugan, Sabikui Bisco is another reminder that a great premise alone doesn’t guarantee a great experience. Cool ass OP sequence though.
The Orbital Children
Mitsuo Iso’s long awaited return to directing is a noteworthy event in and of itself, even if the impact was dulled by Netflix’s release schedule. It bears all the hallmarks of Iso’s more optimistic humanist approach to sci-fi, where technology is seen as a powerful catalyst for positive change, as five children must navigate a rapidly failing space station. It’s all the shame then, that the story unravels toward the end, as it shifts from a grounded sci-fi survival story to a high minded treatise on technological singularity, religion, and the nature of prophecy. It’s not that these concepts can’t be a lot of fun to explore in fiction, but the shift is ungainly and The Orbital Children simply doesn’t have the runway to make it work naturally. It’s an ambitious story to tell in only six episodes. While I respect Iso’s eye for naturalistic character acting and visually appealing art design, the narrative doesn’t hold up in the long run.
Ranking of Kings
Now here’s a hard one to write for. Studio Wit’s magnificent adaptation was undeniably one of the brightest stars of 2021; telling a story of how compassion is the one force in this world that can truly save us, all while animating some of the rawest action set pieces of the year. And it’s those soaring heights that make discussing Ranking of Kings in 2022 so bittersweet. There’s really no easy way to say it, Ranking of Kings drops the ball at the finish line in a tragic way. It’s not that the ending is necessarily unpredictable or out of character, but it twists itself into an ideological pretzel to get away with some really disappointing narrative turns.
I could spend paragraphs getting into the specifics of it but at its core, I feel Ranking of King’s ending gives its boundless empathy to the wrong people while those who truly deserve it are left in the cold for baffling reasons. The anime never loses its sense for visual spectacle, but it seems to have lost its heart. If the first half of Ranking of Kings is about exploring Boji’s limitless potential in the face of adversity, the second half is given the heavy burden of asking what does the boy prince do with it. Sadly, the answer isn’t very satisfying. What should have easily been our #1 anime of the year may not even make our top 10. The second OP is an all timer though.
Spring 2022 was pretty strong, we were introduced to some of the year’s biggest highlights this season. Strong adaptations and surprising anime originals help tilt Spring 2022 toward the positive despite a few clunkers.
There’s a recurring theme of Studio Wit doing a great job with their source material in 2022. After Ranking of Kings came their adaptation of the Weekly Shounen Jump rising star. It takes a solid premise of a spy, assassin, and psychic having to form the facsimile of the nuclear family and continues to effortlessly mine gold from it. It’s funny, heartfelt, and Studio Wit is clearly having a lot of fun with it. And that’s impressive, because it’s really easy to mess up the adaptation of a comedy. Timing, voice acting, and movement all need to capture the essence of what were originally still images. What’s funny in manga and what’s funny in anime can often be two wildly different things, and they did a great job translating the jokes.
Kaguya-sama: Ultra Romantic
Most anime comedies struggle to stay funny for one full season. Two is even rarer. Three? Kaguya-sama may very well exist in a tier of its own. Not only that, but it’s the rare anime comedy willing to move its plot forward. In addition to all that, Kaguya-sama is a romantic comedy, which means it also has to juggle the expectations of its rapt audience, eager to see how the relationships develop between its cast. Which is all to say, it’s really cool that the Kaguya-sama anime nails it as well as it does. Boasting some of the best visual directing seen all year, it never loses its spontaneity and variety. From rap battles to PS1 survival horror games, Ultra Romantic does it all.
Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story
Birdie Wing is maybe the only real anime made in 2022. It is the one piece of media I think of this year that wholly embraces what it is so much that anime is literally the only medium it could exist in. It’s the kind of anime that reminds me anime writers are literally the bravest people on the planet. Eve is an orphaned golf prodigy who plays in high stakes underground golf games to support her found family of multi ethnic orphan children. Aoi is the daughter of two of the greatest pro golfers to ever play, supported by a multi million dollar golf conglomerate. The two meet and their fates are changed forever. It’s melodramatic, it’s funny as hell, and most importantly, it commits 100% to every insane plot development it introduces. Golf mafias, golf VR, golf powers, golf cyborgs, golf lesbians, Birdie Wing walks to the beat of its own drum. Like Eve herself, Birdie Wing is a force of nature, it demands your attention but doesn’t care what you think. You’re either in or you’re not.
Kyouksai Senki Part 2
I wrote about how much I disliked Kyoukai Senki last year and quite frankly, its second season does nothing to change this. What a fucking piece of shit.
Tiger & Bunny 2
The long awaited return of anime’s most beloved 2011 power couple was supposed to be something to celebrate. And on some level it is. Tiger & Bunny 2 does a great job of reminding you why the original was so well liked The super powered workplace comedy in anime pastiche America is just so damn fun. It makes it all the more tragic just how hard the story and characters stumble the moment even a whiff of pathos gets introduced. Ironically, Tiger & Bunny 2 should have taken inspiration from its spiritual successor, Double Decker, which leaned much harder into the episodic comedy and came out much better for it.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These
I’m amazed DNT is still going and seemingly still committed to being a full adaptation of the legendary 1982 science-fiction novel (that would go on to inspire the legendary 1988 science-fiction OVA). I legitimately don’t know what else to say, I recorded an entire podcast about this story. It’s still a deeply compelling space opera with a lot of interesting things to say. Go watch it. Or the 1988 OVA. Just do it!
Ya Boy Kongming
As a fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I came away from Ya Boy Kongming! mostly disappointed with how little they seemed to leverage its absolutely gonzo premise. Legendary Chinese strategist Zhuge Liang (courtesy name Kongming) is transported to modern Japan where he decides to take on the world of music production. It ends up leaning a lot harder on the music side of things than I would have expected, and the Kongming stuff ends up almost feeling like kind of a footnote. That OP though.
Summer 2022, like last year, continues the trend of being the dumping grounds of seasonal anime. It got so bad that it convinced Iro and myself to catch up on some old shows on our backlog, including what would eventually become far and away one of our favorite things to watch this year. Huh, getting some deja vu…
Here’s another one with a great premise that stumbles at the finish line. High school girl assassins acting as agents of the modern police state is the kinda shit I live to see in anime. It’s ridiculous enough that it could only be properly executed in animation, but has just enough sociopolitical bite to it to have some surprisingly insightful things to say. Throw in the winning character dynamic between Chisato and Takina, and Lycoris Recoil really had to try to make this one fall flat. Lycoris Recoil ended up being another anime where the ambition exceeded the grasp. Instead we get a lot of meandering plot points that don’t go anywhere, an unbelievably shitty group of final antagonists, and a resolution that doesn’t even resolve the story’s core fundamental conflict. If it narrowed the focus and scale of the story, we could have had a real gem on our hands.
Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun
How far will you go to survive? How much will you endure in the name of love? A lot of stories have these themes, but few are willing to be as grotesque, upsetting, and strangely compelling as Made in Abyss. Season two sees our cast dealing with a more internalized threat than the external ones of the first season and the feature film. That isn’t to say that we still don’t get some high power spectacle, but the enemy is more nebulous and harder to nail this time around. This also means the story doesn’t end with the same kind of satisfying catharsis of earlier arcs. Season two is an interesting litmus test. Its viewers will really need to ask themselves what they watch Made in Abyss for. Like the titular abyss itself, there’s a strange attraction to it. There’s nothing else quite like it, for both better or worse.
The Yoshiyuki Tomino Power Hour
With Summer 2022 season ending up as grim as it looked, Iro and I decided to start watching three non-Gundam Tomino directed mecha anime from his post Gundam years. These were Combat Mecha Xabungle, Aura Battler Dunbine, and Heavy Metal L-Gaim. Each one has been deeply enjoyable to watch for their own specific reasons, while still being tied together by the glue of Tomino’s distinct directing style. Xabungle is proof that mecha can in fact be funny as hell while still maintaining the raw physicality of giant robots. Dunbine is a fascinating look at an early entry in the Isekai genre, and the way it plays with those ideas in the context of warfare, politics, and society. L-Gaim is an insane fever dream that somehow manages to occasionally be even funnier than Xabungle while also containing some of the most memorable moments I’ve ever seen in any Tomino anime. It’s fascinating to look at these Tomino directed mecha anime in hindsight. You see all the hallmarks of his directing style, filtered through different genres and premises. Characters sometime behave strangely, while at other times acting more human than actual human beings. The cool robots can be both cool robots and physical extensions of what each story recognizes as power. And everyone gets a goofy nonsense name. It’s undeniably entertaining and interesting all throughout.
Fall 2022 is going down in history as having some of the highest profile shows imaginable. You had the Weekly Shounen Jump mega hits like Bleach, JoJo, and Chainsaw Man, but also equally big names like Mob Psycho 100 and Gundam wandering in as well. You even had the dark horses coming out of nowhere. I wouldn’t say every anime that aired in Fall 2022 lived up to my expectations, but there was certainly a lot to watch.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a grand achievement in the cyberpunk genre, arguably getting it better than its mediocre source material. When they originally announced the collaboration between Trigger and CD Projekt RED, I think we all expected we’d get something visually exciting but narratively shallow. I don’t think many of us expected they’d tell a gripping story so intensely concerned with the human condition and the ways in which it’s commodified and exploited by the endless grind of capitalism.
Edgerunners understands that the dystopian world of cyberpunk isn’t the result of unavoidable happenstance or some force of nature. A world that profits off human misery is working as intended by those at the very top of the shit heap. The banality of its cruelty is what makes it sickening, and it makes the motivations of its antiheroes all the more understandable. You know these loveable dirtbags are headed toward oblivion, because it’s the only destination any of them were ever given. It’s riveting, it’s beautifully made, it’s raw as hell. Imaishi’s directing is actually the perfect choice to capture Cyberpunk’s manic violent energy, but he also infuses it with a surprising amount of pathos, meaning, and artistry. This is Trigger at its absolute best. Add video games to the things Trigger has saved.
JoJo Part 6: Stone Ocean
I’m not sure what to say about JoJo at this point. You know what it is, you know what it’s going to do at this point. Stone Ocean leverages its prison break premise well to give us a lot of fun encounters. Just knowing the premise of an enemy stand got me excited for the sheer potential it would entail. From a high stakes game of catch to Araki watching Memento and turning that into an entire fight, Stone Ocean has fully made the transition from the Part 3-4 era of “weird punch ghosts” to the “conditional minigames of death” era.
If anything, what I really want to talk about is how disappointingly Stone Ocean has been handled by Netflix. It’s bad enough that the binge format completely kills a serial narrative’s ability to stay in the headspace of the viewing audience, but Netflix’s completely apathetic promotion of Stone Ocean is equally offensive. This is goddamn JoJo, it deserves better than this.
As a giant fan of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s unapologetically black comedy gore fest, I mostly walked away from Studio Mappa’s adaptation disappointed. While it’s undeniably well made, I take more issue with the intentional direction choices than anything to do with its technical construction. Chainsaw Man is maybe the logical extreme of the trend of high profile WSJ manga getting prestige anime adaptations. It’s lavishly produced to the utmost degree, which is a dream come true for most manga fans. We’ve all seen enough Golden Kamuys and Biscuit Hammers in our lifetime to know just how low a manga adaptation can sink. Chainsaw Man having so much pedigree and talent attached to it should have been a prosperous tiding.
And yet, I’m cold on the anime barring a couple of standout moments. What one calls deliberate, I might call languid. What they call cinematic, I find overly ponderous. All of Chainsaw Man’s manic energy has been sucked out in favor of desperately self-serious directing and delivery. None of the manga’s jokes land and most of the big moments, while technically impressive, end up lacking the sheer impact of the manga. What really bothers me is we’re given a cool and unique ED sequence every episode and a ton of them totally nail Chainsaw Man’s vibe and aesthetic. So you’re left in a situation where not only does the content of the anime disappoint, you can see a literal example proving they know how to do it the right way and have actively chosen not to. It’s almost maddening.
I recognize that these are mostly subjective judgements, if you love what the Chainsaw Man anime has been doing, all the more power to you. In fact I think most people seem to love the anime. Hell, as a fan of Fujimoto in general, I’m happy he’s getting such a high profile adaptation of one of his works. The man writes some of the most interesting, off-kilter, and compelling manga I’ve read in the last decade. He deserves a win, and in the eyes of the anime watching public, it appears Chainsaw Man is an overwhelming one. I can only cheer from the sidelines though.
Mob Psycho 100 III
On some level, Mob Psycho 100 III is a victory lap. Bones already crafted one of the greatest adaptations in recent memory twice with Mob Psycho 100’s prior two seasons, doing it a third time makes it almost seem effortless. And yet that would disregard the amazing amount of work Bones has done in translating ONE’s story of self actualization and growth into animation, turning it into a visual blowout the likes of which we only see once every few years. This is what all adaptations strive to be.
Mob Psycho 100 III is given the difficult task of adapting fairly sedate source material, at least compared to the climactic showdown of the second season. I think Bones has done an admirable job, giving each and every moment the technical polish it deserves while constantly keeping Mob Psycho 100’s soul intact. It never forgets that at its core, it’s supposed to be funny. Dimple can sacrifice his godlike power to save his one and only friend, but he’ll do it while looking like a buff naked man covered in gold. It’s heartwarming, even awe inspiring, but goddamn it’s also hilarious. It makes the third season a somewhat understated affair, but that’s fine. Mob Psycho 100 already won our hearts years ago, it’s good enough to see it one last time, complete unfazed by the passage of time. The champ is back one last time to remind everyone he never left.
Arknights: Prelude to Dawn
Arknights is the only gacha game I still play, because it satisfies my highly specific craving for anime girls wearing oversized techwear and high top sneakers. As a work intended to adapt the mobile game’s narrative and present it to a new audience, I’m not so sure it succeeds. Ironically, Arknights draws at least a couple comparisons to Chainsaw Man’s anime. Arknights looks great in the moment to moment, but is weirdly low energy throughout. I’ve seen what these characters can do in the game. They can summon light swords from the sky, summon angel wings made out of machine guns, flash step, and spin their shields like man sized pizza cutters. So why does the anime keep choosing the most grounded and boring way to portray these feats? It could be that the stretch of story that the anime covers is fairly low powered compared to events to come, but if you’re looking to win over a new audience with visual pizazz and shiny lights, Arknights: Prelude to Dawn feels strangely understated. With a second season announced, I guess we’ll see if this is merely evidence of growing pains, or an indication of how Arknights has chosen to present itself going forward.
Pop Team Epic 2
Pop Team Epic’s long awaited return is a masterpiece of shitposting and anti-art. While I think there have been funnier anime this year, Pop Team Epic 2 is unique in how well it understands the modern sense of humor as informed by the internet and social media. Sometimes it’s okay to make a thing bad on purpose, and sometimes it’s even funnier when you devote a tremendous amount of resources to lavishly animating the dumbest joke imaginable. Do we really need to bring on Masami Obari and Koichi Sakamoto to do what they do best, in the name of comedic dipshittery? Probably not, but goddamn that makes it so damn funny that they do. In general, Pop Team Epic 2’s greatest quality is its commitment to every bit it comes up with. They don’t all land equally, but they swing for the fences every time and that’s both funny and admirable unto itself.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
As the eternally grumpy Gundam fan of the blog, I was ready for The Witch From Mercury to disappoint me in the multitude of ways Gundam does. Imagine my surprise then that G-Witch is the most interesting Gundam has been in a little bit, thanks to some bold creative choices. I wouldn’t necessarily say G-Witch is more sophisticated or better written than recent TV Gundam series, but it is eminently more likeable. Suletta and Miorine form the bedrock of a solid character dynamic upon which every other plot point can build from. Whether it’s the loveable underdogs at Earth House or Guel Jeturk’s unexpected path toward redemption, G-Witch finds new ways to explore concepts both novel and familiar to Gundam.
G-Witch’s premise might initially baffle those expecting a grittier war story, but G-Witch also understands that there are multiple avenues through which the powerful can exercise violence upon the downtrodden. This can be as literal as shooting gundam sized tear gas grenades at protesters, or subtler, like how the foppery of the Asticassia School serves to reinforce the social hierarchy of the world. G-Witch has evolved so much beyond its initial description as “Utena with robots,” but on some level, the novelty of that concept is what keeps the anime such an interesting entry in the storied franchise.
Will it stick the landing in its second half coming next year? Hard to say honestly, I already feel the story is attempting to cram too many themes and plot points into its short run. It wouldn’t surprise me if the story collapsed under its own weight in the second half. I’ll admit this is the first time in years I’d be sad to see it happen though. G-Witch has gotten a lot right in its first half, let’s hope they can keep it together for the finale.
Bocchi the Rock!
I think it was easy to write off Bocchi. We’ve seen a million shows about high school girls starting bands. It’s sort of the progenitor premise to all the CGDCT shows. And yet, Bocchi completely won me over. Similar to Birdie Wing of all things, Bocchi the Rock is one of the other anime I think of in 2022 that most valiantly champions the medium it belongs to. If Birdie Wing could only be anime because of its bald faced audacity, Bocchi the Rock could only be anime because of the absolutely insane work CloverWorks has put into elevating its relatively banal source material to astronomic heights. It helps that there’s a solid emotional core to the story as well. Bocchi is immensely relatable, and despite the exaggerated depiction of her social anxiety, it all lands fairly close to home. Also busting out an Asian Kung-Fu Generation cover at the end is just cheating. That’s like playing the OP in the last episode except it’s literally every OP ever made.
Akiba Maid War
I don’t think any of us were sure if Akiba Maid War would stick the landing. Or if the joke would even stay funny the whole run. I get to say with great pleasure that Akiba Maid War sticks the absolute hell out of the landing. Turns out PA Works understood that the only thing that might make the joke of Akihabara maids participating in yakuza styled gang violence work in the long run, is to commit so hard to the joke that it becomes legitimate drama. The last few episodes of Akiba Maid War, while still undeniably funny, fully inhabit the yakuza crime thriller tone they’ve been inspired by the whole time. And goddamn, it totally works. I was on the edge of my seat the entirety of the last episode, unsure of how Nagomi’s story would end.
By interpreting the aesthetics Akihabara maid culture through the language of the Asian crime thriller, we’re left with a genuinely compelling story about the strength of its characters’ convictions in the face of oblivion. This is a story that expects you to pay a heavy price for your ideals. People will fight, bleed, and die for what they they prize most dearly. You must be willing to do the same if you have any hope of coming out on top. And yet the show never forgets that the people saying these things in between bloodstained cigarette puffs are ladies in maid outfits. Absurd in the best possible way. We may never get something like it again. I certainly don’t think it needs a sequel, but it’s anime like Akiba Maid War that make me grateful I put up with this medium.
5 Anime of 2022
I know I usually include my top 5 in my year end post but honestly, I don’t think I’ve really come to a final decision on how I want to order my favorites of 2022 yet. As a mark against it, one could argue 2022 lacks an obvious frontrunner. And perhaps that’s true. After Ranking of Kings suffered from its back half fall from grace, the throne has been left ambiguously vacant. There were a lot of very good shows in 2022, and some I’d be happy to make my #1, but I find myself struggling to give a confident stacked ranking.
So without any particular order decided yet, here are the 2022 anime I think you should definitely watch. Maybe next year, I’ll remember to start working on my year end post more than two days beforehand.
Akiba Maid War
Bocchi the Rock!
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury
Mob Psycho 100 III
Kaguya-sama: Ultra Romantic
Pop Team Epic 2