As nature abhors a vacuum, so too do I usually abhor lists on the internet. However, another year has ended, and as such I’ll even forgive myself for indulging in a look back at the previous 12 months and the things that were good in it (i.e. anime, duh). In all seriousness, I followed currently-airing series closer than ever in 2013, and the last time I did anything close to comparable was probably 2009. It was fun to see what I missed and didn’t miss, what was still good, what got better, what got worse, and what was more interesting than I had remembered. I’ll be keeping everything as spoiler-free as I can make it, and, of course, these are only my opinions and not necessarily the opinions of the rest of the Shibireru Darou crew. Let’s dive in, shall we?
10. Turning Girls
As far as progressiveness in the medium is concerned, I was both surprised and pleased by the amount of material that could be found for free, on the internet, and readily accessible for English-speaking viewers, to the point that there is an entire YouTube channel devoted to it. As a venue for shorts that have neither the need nor expectation to be on par with the production values of television or movies, it’s a great place for young animators and directors to get their feet wet, or for veterans to try something different just for fun. Trigger’s Inferno Cop could easily have gone on this list, as a series that reminded me of the joy and irreverence that came with staying up late to watch Adult Swim, but I have to give the edge to Turning Girls. Perhaps it’s a sign of me growing up, but I was delighted to watch a comedy about four girls in their late twenties still acting like idiots. It was simultaneously funny and reassuring, not to mention nice to see that my rapidly approaching age bracket is, in some small way, being catered to.
09. Little Witch Academia
Trigger are currently in the middle of making one hell of a statement with their inaugural TV series Kill la Kill, but they started 2013 strong by following up the insanity/inanity of Inferno Cop with the childlike exuberance of Little Witch Academia. As a venue for their animators’ talent, it excels, but as a contained 30-minute story, it also does a very admirable job. With very limited space, Little Witch Academia establishes a fun cast of characters filled with quirks and conflicts, builds a world filled with color and magic, and still manages to dazzle the viewer with enough scenes of action and flying around castles. Technically impressive, but with enough warmth to hide it, it’s no wonder that they were able to Kickstart a sequel with ease.
08. Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo
Hideaki Anno gives us the most Evangelion of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies yet by giving us an Evangelion movie that is nothing like the Evangelion we’ve come to expect. It’s a film with many flaws (almost entirely centered around the action scenes), but when it finds its quiet moments Eva 3.33 evokes a signature surreal gloominess that other franchises and films can only hope to achieve.
It’s a show about nothing! But it’s also a show about glasses. But it’s also a show about glasses culture. But really it’s also a show about a young director (Soubi Yamamoto) turning quite possibly the dumbest-ever premise for a CD drama into her own playground of supersaturated color and stunning composition. Yamamoto doesn’t take refuge in audacity; she builds an entire universe out of her audacity and populates it with anything that can wear glasses (hint: everything can wear glasses). Sometimes funny, sometimes not, sometimes just baffling, and sometimes actually touching, there isn’t another show quite like Meganebu! You may consider this a blessing, but the anime world could do with more Soubi Yamamotos.
If 2013 was the year of backlash against the frequently false portrait of the idyllic anime high school life, then Watamote was its most insidious weapon. What looks and sounds like another high school slice-of-life romp quickly bares its teeth as a surprisingly black comedy about a young girl’s social anxiety and how it perpetuates itself. Tomoko Kuroki is quiet, shy, and overthinks everything. Although she’s usually simply a victim of circumstance, her negative thought processes inevitably exacerbate whatever situation she finds herself in. When she forgets her textbook, she’s too shy to ask the boy next to her to share, for fear of embarrassment. But when her teacher yells at her for not having her textbook, projected embarrassment turns into palpable mortification. It has the structure of a joke, but it’s too real to elicit anything other than a knowing chuckle stifled by a cringe. It’s an opportunity for people like Tomoko (people like me, maybe people like you) to experience these familiar events and feelings from a third-person perspective, to understand the absurdity of a lot of it, and to realize what Tomoko does wrong. It’s a strangely therapeutic show, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better adaptation, from the fantastic OP down to the cubist Tomoko faces.
05. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
If you’ve seen JoJo, you know why it belongs on this list. If you haven’t seen JoJo, you need to fucking fix that immediately.
04. From the New World [Shinsekai yori]
From the New World is about being human. What “human” and “being” mean, however, is left for the viewer to decide and constantly reassess throughout the progression of the series. Based on an actual (not light) novel by Yusuke Kishi, it approaches its strange, far-flung future with a dual sense of wonder and horror. It features spectacular psychic powers and weird mutant creatures, but tells its story with an admirable amount of maturity and gravitas. I watched it all the way at the beginning of the year, but certain scenes still replay themselves in hauntingly clear detail in my head. It’s a science fantasy work of an exceedingly rare caliber, and unless the novels ever get translated, this is your best way to experience the story.
This is the story of a supernatural family who fell apart, and the one girl who tried to fix it by smashing everything with a giant hammer. Rie Matsumoto’s directorial debut is stuffed with ambition, and that she is able to realize it in such a dazzling fashion speaks volumes towards the talent we have still to see from her. Equal parts Alice in Wonderland and a condensed history of Japanese art, Kyousougiga is the kind of experimental show that disguises itself quite well. Beginning with the original ONA, it starts with sheer bewilderment, throwing characters and explosions at the audience without even the hint of a promise of explanation. The next five episodes are less absurd and more revealing, but also fascinating in their choice to structure themselves around individual characters rather than plot progression. It’s only in the last five episodes that the plot moves forward from the original ONA, but it’s here that Matsumoto ramps up the energy and emotions toward a shockingly satisfying conclusion. It has family drama, wise-cracking sidekicks, a delightfully proactive heroine, an Ikuhara-ish attention to symbolism, and a giant robot. Kyousougiga is fun for the whole family, even if half of your family consists of drawings magically brought to life.
02. Gatchaman Crowds
Kenji Nakamura transforms a sentai reboot into a mouthpiece for heavy ideas about identity and heroism in the social media-saturated 21st century. I’d argue that no other piece of animation this year was quite so intellectually dense while simultaneously so refreshing and against the grain. When wars on terror and the global recession have turned even our superheroes into brooding, gloomy harbingers of death and destruction, Gatchaman Crowds is a bright and positive perspective on people learning to work together, yet nuanced enough that it never ignores the darker sides of the internet age. Hajime and Berg Katze act as perfect foils for the best and worst that we can strive to be, but they’re also the two characters who understand each other the best. Rui, caught in the middle, is both the audience stand-in and a crossdresser–two facts that are never perceived to be in opposition. The show is strongly feminist, strangely socialist, and unapologetically thematic. The Gatchaman’s battle is won not with the concentration of power into a singular muscular fist, but the distribution of power to people through words and ideas. It’s a show about the superheroism of the Gatchaman, but more so the heroism of the Crowds.
01. The Flowers of Evil [Aku no Hana]
No series was as fundamentally deviant as The Flowers of Evil. Weird-looking, full of imperfections, dusty, rusty, indulgent, creepy, and unpleasant, Hiroshi Nagahama’s adaptation of Shuzo Oshimi’s manga is so wrong that, in my eyes, it can only be right. It’s easy to dismiss the show as a reactionary middle finger to many current trends in anime, as the “anti-moe” crusader, but there is too much happening under the rotoscope for a fair reading to ignore. It’s a love triangle made from the bloodied tip of an arrow piercing through flesh. It’s about finding sexuality, denying sexuality, dressing up sexuality, and releasing sexuality. Shame and frustration explode into acts of violence and vandalism. The most gorgeous scene of the year is followed up by half an episode of walking in silence. Individual frames match up perfectly with the manga, yet in motion they are transformed into a ghostly surreality of wandering eyes and parted lips, of blank faces and oppressive concrete. It ends not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with the cruel tease of a twisted redemption leading into destruction. The Flowers of Evil may stand forever as an awful anomaly never to be repeated, but it, for a moment at least, challenged the capabilities of this medium and bloomed into something new. We may have been terribly afraid of it, but it bloomed.