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Mar 28

Sean’s Top 10 Anime of 2013

Hint – It’s not this one

So, with March drawing to a close and the news that the Spring season has 61 shows I’m get to watch the first episodes of (well that’s the April updates sorted…), its time to look back on the year that was and assign arbitrary numbers and awards.

145 series in total, narrowed down by my first episode judgements to a mere 29 that I saw through to the end, for better or worse, with a handful of others picked up at later dates. Some amazed and amused, others… well, were shit. Can’t win ’em all. But now its time to go one step further and narrow down that group one last time to a mere ten. The best of the best that 2013 had to offer. Some of these have been shown at Anicom, and are well worth pursuing if you enjoyed them even slightly. And while overall 2012 hit higher highs, this past year still had some classics I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. So click that button and lets begin the journey to Anime of the Year 2013.

Starting off the list with good old sequel bias. After a fairly solid two seasons of romantic parody and Keima wooing a variety of archetype girls, it looked like that was it for The World God Only Knows. The ending teased what future girls could be out there and the possibility of a happily ever after, but also wrapped up the narrative. But as time passed, a steady release of OVAs eventually led to the third season being confirmed and airing over the Summer.

Abandoning the “save x girl” format for a more coherent story, it turned out some of Keima’s past conquests actually had goddesses hidden within them, whose services were now required to stop demon group Vintage. Which boiled down to Keima having to figure out which of them housed said goddesses, with the giveaway being their returning memories of Keima’s conquest.

While the pacing issues of the show left something to be desired, with the first half flying through girls past and new at a rapid pace (which was especially weird for non-manga readers as two of the goddess girls hadn’t been covered by the show before) before the ending culminated with it down to one of two girls and eating up the second half of the season. Luckily, the same creative writing of the originals shone through, and the multiple twists and turns in those final few episodes kept you constantly guessing as to the final outcome. Combined with solid animation and another great soundtrack, TWGOK proved it still has it.

“Oh Slazo.” I can see it now. You’re looking at me with those “of course you’d put Pokémon on here” eyes. Well, when its the best thing the franchise has put out since the DP series ended, hell yes I would.

Origins rolls back the clock to the old days of Red, Blue and Kanto. Back when there were 150 (or more ) to see, and to catch ’em all was your destiny. The four episodes cherrypick the best stories from the games, showing the start of Red’s journey, his tangles with Team Rocket in Lavender Town and Saffron City, and his final battles with rival Blue and Mewtwo.

And it tells those stories damn well, a flashback to the old days where the series was a bit more experimental and didn’t go for cheap gimmicks to boost its livelihood (Mega Pokémon can mega off). You watch Red evolve as a trainer, even if a lot of that has to be fast forwarded with the short runtime, and you get to see a few great battles. Sometimes the show dumbs, but those times are few and far between.

It all works together to make a far more compelling and intelligent viewing experience than any of Ash’s Unova or Kalos adventures, and serves as a reminder that when the show gets its shit together it can go with the best of them. More of this please Nintendo.

Ah, Valvrave. For the purposes of this list I’ve merged the two seasons into one, because the 3 month hiatus was essentially a mid-season break, to the extent that the second half just kept the episode count rolling on.

A bunch of oppressed school students got sick and tired of that life one day, deciding to fight back against the evil Dorssian Empire attacking them by piloting Valvraves, mysterious mechas which require you to resign as a human being before being able to pilot them. But what does that mean?

It means one heck of a rollercoaster journey. The first half is more about defending the school from the Dorssians and introducing the various Valvrave pilots, with a focus on the strategy of piloting them and their strengths and weaknesses, while the second saw them bring the fight to the Dorssian’s backyard while dabbling in politics, as well as unloading twist after twist after twist with each episode had its own reveal.

Certainly, it’s far more beneficial to watch it now that it’s all aired as opposed to having that three month break where you forgot half of the actually important plot points. The show also has no problems with kicking the leads in the teeth, taking rather dark turns at times, even if it does go a bit far at times and become silly in its overdramatisation. But it still does well, and is one of the best mech shows since good old Gurren Lagann.

G-G-G-Gatchamaaaaaaan. And if that 40 year old series doesn’t ring a bell, well… that’s not surprising, almost nobody had heard of it when this was announced. And you certainly don’t need to have seen it to understand what’s going on here.

Gatchaman Crowds instead focuses on Hajime, who one day is approached by the mysterious JJ, and made a member of the G-Crew (guess what that stands for) thanks to her overly inquisitive personality. She sees something new, she just had to investigate it and become friends.

It’s that attitude which shapes the way the entire G-Crew operates, going from secret defenders taking out the MESS that supposedly threatens humanity to public knowledge super heroes fighting for what’s right. The show seemingly took a new direction each week ensuring that you were never 100% sure what was good and bad, where they were off to next or the heck was going on in Hajime’s head.

But it progressed well, culminated in a perfect penultimate episode showing the impact Hajime had had on the entire G-Crew, before a… bizarre ending that threw almost everyone watching and left a bitter taste for what had otherwise been an exemplary series. But one sour note didn’t detract too much, as great writing and a cool and vivid style very reminiscent of our next entry made it one of Summer’s standouts. And with a second season inbound this year, the show has a chance to right its one wrong and go to the next level.

I tried describing and reviewing Kyousougiga as it aired in our weekly reviews. I failed horribly. So now let me try once more to describe Capital Craze Comic.

Its mad. It’s utterly, totally cuckoo. Set in the Mirror Capital, a world which follows its own rules and doesn’t give a shit, we follow Koto, a young girl who broke in somehow with her magical hammer. We learn about the residents of the place and their backstories, before the second half kicks it up as the outside world comes to pay them a visit and their lives come crashing down more than they usually would.

Why? Because they’re all ruddy gods so can do whatever the hell they want. There’s some plot about their father wanting to pass on and leave all his life’s work and desires for them, and plenty of “ooohhhhhhh” moments at the end, but you could rewatch this a dozen times and still notice new stuff. It’s very FLCL like, except this time the metaphor isn’t puberty, it’s that life is fun so go live it.

A vibrant tour de force of colour and action and insanity, you might not be able to make sense of it all, but you’ll be smiling regardless. The fact that it’s here on the Top Ten once again is testament to its quality. And with return visits by Toei unlikely, this is a series you should check out before it fades away.

Apparently Shin Megami Tensai games get good anime adaptations. Persona 4 did well, apparently the Persona 3 film is good (I’ll find out later in the year), and Devil Survivor 2 also turned out far better than I hoped. Set during the final week of humanity’s existence, an app is going round which can foretell your death. Sadly our leads are too dumb to put two and two together and, well, die. Until the app gives them another chance.

Thus they become demon summoners, fighting the Septentriones to prove humanity a species worth existing in the eyes of god, or Polaris as he goes by in this. So a lovely happy shōnen show then and oh they’re all dying horribly. There’s no easy way out as humanity is decimated and the various factions and agencies at work vie off with each other and try to win protagonist Hibiki to their cause.

The constantly accelerating plot, interesting battles and cool designs are what drew me to DS2, but what ultimately kept me was the sense that anyone could die. There were no guarantees, even amongst the main characters, and watching the ending have less and less people each week hammered it all home. I couldn’t tell you how the game compares to this having not played it, but I certainly want to check it out because of this show, which is pretty much mission accomplished.

I waxed lyrical over Shinkai’s latest piece earlier this month as part of Movie March, but to summarise, this is a story about love in the sorrowful meaning of the word. Two people are brought together by the rain, and spend those rainy days in the park together. You learn about the kinds of people they were and now are, and the nature of their relationship before a classic bittersweet Shinkai ending.

It’s ridiculously pretty, its more emotionally charged than anything else on this list, and if you think of animation as an artform you’ll love it. And if not, its only 45 minutes, so just let this sombre story envelop you and maybe you’ll come to like the medium a little more. Between Shinkai and Hosoda, the future of animated films is in good hands.

One of anime’s best female protagonists returned to the screen in Spring, but with a different feel to it this time around. A Certain Scientific Railgun Sisters brought the sisters arc previously covered in the original season of Index 5 years back kicking and screaming into modern times, also showing how far JC Staff have gone in that time.

This time around, the sidecast took a backseat as Misaka herself went on the warpath to save her sisters from their fate as a mere killcount for Academy City’s strongest esper, Accelerator. Featuring new characters and content not seen from the Index side of things only helped make this arc stronger, with its culmination and final fight hitting harder than ever and looking damn good.

Sadly, that left one-third of the show to be filled with a filler arc about mysterious little girl Febri which took far too long to get going and was only really there to give Railgun’s supporting cast something to do this season. But the relatively damp ending didn’t detract too much from the success of the first two-thirds, and made for one of the best Raildex entries, and with an Index 3 announcement imminent, the future’s as bright as ever for the franchise, lackluster movie aside

Old McDonald had a school, apparently. Silver Spoon (or Gin no Saji), based off the manga written by Fullmetal Alchemist’s Hiromu Arakawa proved she’s not just a one shot wonder. Hachiken, sick of his life in the city, enrolls into Yezo Agricultural High School, expecting an easy ride, despite a complete lack of any farmyard knowledge.

But those believes are soon shattered, as he discovers country life is a full-time job, from getting up early to collect eggs from the laying chickens to late night romps looking for lost animals. He makes new friends with dreams and desires he never knew existed, and comes to learn the hard way that in the end the animals you spend so much time and money raising and caring for aren’t there to be your pets, as the story of Pork Bowl which runs over most of the first season proves.

Silver Spoon might not be the most action-packed or drama fueled show out there, but it was a consistent feel good show that had damn good writing, as Arakawa’s talent shone through. NotiaminA’s big success story of 2013 is well worth checking out, with the now drawing to a close second season continuing the good work of this one. Will it be AotY 2014? We’ll see.

Some anime suck, like last year’s winner of this award, Sword Art Online. Others are just plain bad. And then some transcend mere badness and become atrocities. Such as Flowers of Evil.

By my normal standards, I wouldn’t have watched past episode one. But there was something about it. Flowers of Evil (or Aku no Hana) made a number of interesting stylistic choices. The rotoscoping is the most obvious one, and I for one had no problem with that, but the soundtrack was ominous, the way the episode was paced and focused was ominous and the end seemed to hint that shit was about to get real. So I second guessed myself and bought into it.

What I got was the worst anime series I’ve ever sat through. I’m not joking around, viewing a single episode was goddamn painful, let alone a series. The show went nowhere, you had a vapid lead who admits as much, a perfect girl as his romantic interest who does almost nothing of interest, and the puppet-master psychopath whom when it comes time for the big reveal on why she’s a nutjob… the show bails and tells you nothing.

My favourite part was, following an episode where the male lead finally snaps and destroys the classroom he’s taught in, in the following episode him and the psycho walk home hand in hand with nice atmospheric music. For 8 minutes. And I loved every second because nobody was bloody talking. Sadly even that wasn’t enough to trigger any character development.

It’s just a big series of nothing happening that utterly fails to justify its own existence. It’s not entertaining, there’s no drama, there’s no reason to give a shit about anything happening before you. I state once again, this is the worst anime series I’ve ever watched, and the closest I’ve ever come to awarding something a one out of ten. It just barely avoided that ultimate damnation, but that’s hardly a compliment.

When I wrote the first draft of this, it was Silver Spoon at the top. Then I got around to catching up with WA2. With no relation to the original bar the titular song, this was very much its own piece instead of a sequel.

Following a select few high school students in their final year, the first half of the show focuses on Haruki, the lead guy, endeavouring to recruit Ogiso, school idol and vocalist, as well as Touma, musical prodigy to his club so they can perform at the school festival. He struggles to keep up with the two vastly more talented girls, and they form a tight knit group as they go up on stage and perform at the halfway point.

From there, the story transitions to romantic drama, with Ogiso and Haruki dating while Touma looks on, and they all desperately struggle to keep the three of them together as life moves on. And it becomes a real rollercoaster ride of emotions, filled with plenty of bittersweet moments. There is no happily ever after, and it makes the story all the stronger, as none of the characters ever succumb to dumb anime tropes.

There was one point where I realised I was getting tense over wondering whether Touma would screw up a piano recital just because Ogiso and Haruki were watching, and that was the point I knew that I’d found my anime of the year. Well written, well paced, great songs and a tight focus keep this show going from strength to strength. It might not be the prettiest or ask the deepest questions, but it tells the best story, and that’s ultimately what matters.

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Aaand now to answer the inevitable “where’s X” questions.

Attack on Titan – An alright show, but with far too many flaws in pacing and animation to reach the top ten.
Kill la Kill – Neat animation but pretty mediocre writing and teribad fanservice humour.
Gargantia – I actually considered this one. Sadly, the middle part of the show goes off the rails and drags down an otherwise solid series. Watch the OVAs if you get a chance though, they’re good, especially the second one.
ZKC Unlimited / Love Live – My two Winter darlings were simply outclassed. They’d be in the next five.

There’s still some 2013 stuff I need to watch, like the Fall sports shows and the Anime Mirai lineup, so if I get spare time during Spring (unlikely) I’ll give them a whirl.

See y’all back on Monday for the final Movie March article!