This is it, folks. I have officially hit rock bottom. The yearly scramble for a massive review post from each Glorio crew member has been a continued struggle for me, both because of writers’ block and because of my staunch refusal to write about anime in a post on an anime blog. Because December is such a busy period for me, I have occasionally let this opportunity pass me by. I was going to do the same thing this year… until yesterday, when I was hit with something I’ve hardly ever felt before: guilt. Was a lack of time truly an excuse for abandoning my friends and neglecting my duties?
I couldn’t live with that. But with only a day left until my designated due date, I couldn’t exactly an ambitious masterpiece out of nowhere. So, I debased myself to the lowest of the low depths any anime blogger can stop to. I’m going to be boring. I’m going to give you my five favourite shows of the year, and my thoughts on them, and that’s it. So put on your beige shirt and produce some kind of monotonous grunt to express your excitement in a respectable fashion. Here are — deep sigh — the shows of 2022 I want to shout ou— err, I mean, highlight. Boringly.
5 — Birdie Wing – Golf Girls’ Story –
It is said that if given enough time, infinite monkeys hammering away at infinite typewriters will eventually produce the entire works of Shakespeare. The monkeys aren’t quite there yet, but in the meantime, they have produced another masterpiece. Birdie Wing is a ridiculous blip in the matrix, a show that treats its irrefutably boring subject matter with both utter reverence and scathing disdain. It’s nothing new for an anime to depict sports that are frustratingly unspectacular in real life into physics-defying spectacles. The way in which Birdie Wing depicts its particular sport, however, feels more akin to those medieval paintings of lions the artist based entirely on second-hand accounts read in a book whose author had a second cousin twice removed who might have been to Africa once. Its portrayal is about as accurate as a fifth-grader’s report sourced entirely from a Wikipedia article in Polish. It is not unrealistic, it is unreal.
You see, very few actually impossible things happen in Birdie Wing. What you get instead, however, is an unrelenting barrage of improbablilties. The dialogue constantly feels just slightly off. Virtually everything that happens is simultaneously the most serious matter in the universe and a complete and utter joke. The script’s dedication to maintaining an appropriate mood is about as shoddy and noncommittal as your average new year’s resolution. The result is a show that is equal parts soap opera, sports drama and absurdist farce. There is lesbian melodrama the likes of which you haven’t seen since the pulp fiction of the 1970s. There is an ever so slightly disturbing number of references to Pac-Man. There’s a rocket launcher. There’s a prosthetic arm. There’s underground mafia dealings. There’s bets made for model kits. There’s threats of murder. There’s hallucinogenic sweat. There may or may not be cloning involved. Oh right, have I mentioned that this show is about golf? Yes. Golf.
4 — Spy x Family
One of contemporary anime’s biggest weaknesses is its self-referential nature. Familiarity with the medium, its conventions and traditions and its many signature tropes is so often presupposed, the majority of anime still hasn’t gotten any closer to escaping the niche it’s been in since the era of bootlegged VHS tapes with yellow subtitles. As a result, it’s a net win for the medium in my book whenever an anime comes out that you could show to your grandparents without any reservations whatsoever. With its likeable cast, pitch-perfect gags and deftly executed combination of action, humour and heart-warming cosiness, Spy x Family is one of these shows.
Set in a kitchen sink of 20th century aesthetics and Cold War analogies, Spy x Family introduces us to a super-spy by the name of Twilight, who is ordered to infiltrate the personal entourage of a high-ranking foreign politician, but quickly finds out that the only way to do so will be to pose as the proud father of an honours student at the prestigious academy attended by his mark’s sons. Being the best there is at his job, Twilight is quick to find himself a wife and child, but little does he know that the strays now making up his makeshift family have secrets of their own. It’s this deeply goofy and oddly complex, yet unique premise that establishes Spy x Family as an excellent sitcom, yet it’s the combination with simple and broadly appealing jokes that seals the deal. This is not a show trying to tickle your funny bone with clever subversion and layers of convoluted metatext, this is a show that turns all the silliest classics into a feast. Anime tends to be a an acquired taste, or at least a dish that requires a certain level of familiarity with the cuisine to be fully appreciated. Spy x Family, on the other hand, is a hearty, home-cooked stew, cooked with love from your favourite ingredients by someone who wants nothing more than for you to have a nice meal.
3. — Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners didn’t exactly have the cards stacked in its favor. The game it spun off from had been met with a tepid response, and the whole project reeked of two major multinationals — Netflix and CD Projekt Red — desperately trying to buy themselves some rebel cred by shanghaiing a beloved cult anime studio into making an extended commercial for a product that ended up being about as edgy as a bouncy ball. Everyone expected both ends of the deal to treat this project like a quick cash grab. The Polish superstar developers would peddle some more copies of their game to the anime crowd and the Japanese artists would flex their muscles in front of the Westerners whose attention they actually wanted, and after that, they would both go back to having nothing in common with one another. Oh, how wrong we were.
It turns out that CDPR and Studio Trigger do have one thing in common: unbridled ambition. Their shared dedication to make Edgerunners more than an easy way to make a quick buck managed to propel both participants to all new heights. The CDPR delegation’s strong artistic vision of the dystopian future likely inspired director Hiroyuki Imaishi to supplement his usual zany shenanigans and distinctive eye for stylized carnage with moments of quiet introspection, sombre touches of atmosphere and unnerving, but cinematic echoes of psychological horror. This ambition in turn may have driven CDPR to abandon the puerile power fantasy writing of the game in favour of a more tragic and wearily cynical take on the Cyberpunk-with-a-capital-C universe, more in line with what cyberpunk-without-the-capital-C is actually supposed to be about underneath all the robotic arms and virtual reality sex.
I wouldn’t call Edgerunners a perfect show, far from. The build-up to the inevitable tragedy of its ending is somewhat oddly paced, some characters could have used some more time in the spotlight and the show’s eagerness to show female characters in various stages of undress can be quite on-the-nose in certain places. Nevertheless, there is a true sense of empathy underlying the proceedings, as all the objectionable content in the world cannot hide the core message that loyalty, camaraderie and love are stronger than any oppressive force an anonymous and uncaring system can muster. No show has stoked the fires of revolution in me more than Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has.
Well, except for one, maybe.
2. — Kamen Rider Black Sun
There is sticking the landing and then there is doing a US Airways Flight 1549. I’ve already written extensively about Kamen Rider Black Sun and just about everything that I wrote about it after watching the first two episodes still applies after watching the last. Most importantly, after ten episodes of tragedy, bleak satire and gruesome ultraviolence, Black Sun doubles down on being about as subtle as a blunderbuss to the face and as incendiary as a gasoline-dosed copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook, deftly dodging all the pitfalls of combining superheroics with political commentary. In a medium where the wheel of morality invariably lands on either “both sides are bad, actually” or “incremental change is the only way forward”, Kamen Rider Black Sun, a show that — need I remind you — is predominantly about a fiftysomething ketamine addict in a rubber bug costume kung fu fighting other Halloween freaks while everything around him inexplicably explodes, has the gall to come out and say that “no, actually decapitating the conservative prime minister while he’s taking a leak in a shady back alley will not put to rest the spectre of imperialism and the unsettling reality that modern ‘civilization’ can only exist by virtue of the exploitation of a scapegoated underclass, but it sure is satisfying as fuck” and that the only moral response to a world that hates you and your brethren is to teach twelve-year-olds how to make Molotov cocktails. Hell fucking yeah.
1. — Bocchi the Rock!
Nothing Bocchi the Rock! does is particularly revolutionary. There have been anime about teenage girls starting bands before. There have been shows that successfully portray the burden of social anxiety before, and there have even been shows that have successfully milked this topic for all of its comedic worth. Even the smorgasbord of animation styles and creative flourishes Bocchi the Rock! brings to the table, adorning nearly each and every individual joke with its own brand of tailor-made nonsense, from Yoshino Aoyama’s deranged vocal performance of Bocchi’s glitch freakout in “Jumping Girl(s)” to the Garry’s Mod-inspired CGI shenanigans in “Duodecimal Sunset”, is essentially nothing new. Nevertheless, there have been few shows that do any of these things in a way that feels as thematically cohesive as the way in which Bocchi the Rock! does it. When girls in an anime start a band, the only real reason why they do this instead of, I dunno, starting a book club, is because making an anime all about music sells boatloads of concert tickets. Anxiety is often portrayed as a desirable, cutesy quirk, rather than as an impairment so crippling and callous you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of your own mental state. And when animators, voice actors, composers or other creatives decide to show off, they tend to do so in service of the story being told, as opposed to in a way that makes the medium itself the message.
Bocchi the Rock!, however, manages to recontextualize all of the many elements it has in common with other shows within its own central theme. It is a show about the joy of creative expression and how sharing it with others can set you free from the mental anguish weighing you down. This message is the reason why the main characters start a band and perform songs together. It’s why all of Bocchi’s most humiliating and traumatic moments of self-sabotage are blown out to comical proportions, teetering on the edgy between heartfelt empathy and riotous gallows humour. It’s why the artists involved need to show off, why they need to express a love for their craft in everything they do, because what better way to hammer home a point than by serving as an example? For a show that mostly sells itself based on its relatability and breezy gags, Bocchi the Rock! is a stunningly holistic work, its exuberant wealth of artistic excesses, memorable quotes, goofy faces, directorial embellishments, stunning musical performances and authentic references to indie band culture, all serving to empower a singular, all too human thesis: Art is life.
Anyway, yeah, that was it. What did you expect, some insightful conclusion that ties all of this together? Get out.