The Top Ten Series – The Best of 2013
It has been a strange year for me – I spent most of it on the other side of the world with pretty crap internet access, and so had to curb my usual impulse to watch anything and everything that appeared on my torrent feed. As such I didn’t really follow the seasons, watching stuff in large chunks instead of weekly…..and yet despite this I somehow still managed to finish 47 current shows in 2013. Yeah, I’m just that addicted.
My overall impression of 2013 is that there were some real gems scattered throughout the year – my patchy internet access meant I was a bit more selective about what I watched than usual, but I still ended up with lots of completed shows. Generally I think it was a better year than 2012 – certainly has quite a few shows that broke into my Top 50 anyway.
As ever I only pick shows that ended their run in 2013, regardless of when they started – anything running over into 2014 will have to wait until next years list. I had quite a large short-list, but in the end it wasn’t too hard to pick a top 10. Anyway, onto the list!
EDIT 2: And now the 2nd part is also up – here!
10. The Flowers of Evil (Spring 2013)
This was one of the shows I watched in a large chunk after it aired. That is to say, I made the massive mistake of watching all of Aku no Hana in one day……take it from me, never do that. This show delivers an extremely heavy emotional punch – I hated these characters, but I couldn’t bare to look away from them.
The oppressive, unflinching atmosphere of Aku no Hana is something very difficult to cultivate, but this show managed it with ease thanks to its haunting sound design, and unique rotoscoped art-style. Sure it was ugly, but the ugly emotions this show revels in would not have worked with traditional animation, and live action would have been just a bit too realistic. Aku no Hana needed the extra dimension that the uncanny valley art provided to heighten its unnerving atmosphere. Highly recommended show, but definitely not for everyone.
9. The Eccentric Family (Summer 2013)
Focusing on a group of mythical creatures mixing with humans in modern day Kyoto, Uchouten Kazoku blends comedy & drama exceptionally well. The final quarter went a wee bit heavy on the drama aspect, which caused me to lower my final score a touch, but over all the series really hit an emotional cord with me. The dialogue is rich and nuanced, every conversation feels natural and adds something to the characters (unsurprising given this is from the same author as The Tatami Galaxy). However it is a pity that we never learn more about Benten given how prominently she features in the show, but the series was always more about the tanuki family rather than the tengu, so I can’t complain too much. The depiction of the family and their interactions with each other was just heartwarming and delightful to watch – truly some wonderful characterisation on display in this series.
The animation is beautiful, a strikingly different style to PA Works usual faire, but all the more interesting because of it. The beautiful backgrounds and glorious use of colour are just breathtaking, even if they are much more stylised than the usual realistic style the studio uses. This is probably the first PA Works show I can honestly say I loved every aspect of – a real gem of a show.
8. Gatchaman Crowds (Summer 2013)
While it is far from perfect Gatchaman Crowds is certainly one of the more striking and memorable shows to air this year, and I personally really enjoyed it. I am a fan of Kenji Nakamura’s shows – they’re rarely perfectly realised and often suffer from being too short for their stories (Gatchaman suffered from this too) but they are stuffed full of fantastically interesting things and really eyecatching direction. Gatchaman Crowds is pretty classic Nakamura in that respect – it is the first show to really tackle the potential of social media and the internet in a meaningful way. The execution may not have been perfect, but the show throws out plenty of intriguing ideas that really get you thinking.
On a purely aesthetic level Gatchaman Crowds is pure eyecandy – filled with a whole rainbow of colourful, eyecatching designs, the action scenes are pretty damn cool and the series is never boring to watch. The characters are fun, and even though I initially couldn’t stand Hajime with her impossibly genki personality, she really grew on me throughout the show and I really quite liked her by the end. But yes the ending was very rushed and a lot of plot threads were discarded with little explanation, but that doesn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the show as a whole, so here it is on my ‘best of’ list even if it is not to everyone’s taste since it is so very flawed.
7. Majestic Prince (Spring 2013)
The world set-up in Majestic Prince is one most anime fans are familiar with – child soldiers with the fate of humanity resting on their shoulders, battling it out with alien invaders in highly advanced mecha. Hardly the most original of plots but it is done with such loving sincerity in Majestic Prince that you forget to be critical of the rather standard scenario. It does take a few episodes to get going, and at the start I was very doubtful that I’d ever like our central quintet of Team Rabbits, as they come off as throw-away comedy characters with little to no depth at the beginning. Thankfully Majestic Prince, while it never discards the comedic edge that makes it so endearing, does allow its characters to grow organically and they all become very likeable by the end.
The CGI battles are absolutely fantastic, both in animation and direction, and there is an impressive amount of thought put into how each unique mecha should move and its role in the team, but there is also lots of attention paid to the manoeuvres of the capital ships and what’s going on in the battle-field as a whole – which was refreshing.
It’s been quite a few years since there was a traditional mecha series that captured my attention the way Majestic Prince did. The show is extremely aware of the tropes and usual formula for mecha series, and it plays them with a straight-face for the most part. It’s abundantly clear that the team working on the series love mecha shows and this shines through since nothing comes off as cliché or rote – everything about Majestic Prince feels warm and sincere, it’s a pleasure to watch and I was pretty sad when I ran out of episodes.
6. Psycho-Pass (Autumn 2012)
Sure the wheels came off a bit towards the end when the series started rushing though its explanations (and including some really ridiculous elements like HYPER OATS), but for the most part Psycho-Pass was intelligent, well written and very interesting to watch with some extremely engaging characters. Cyber punk hasn’t really been a massive favourite of mine, but I was completely drawn into the world Psycho-Pass portrayed. Not many shows succeeded in making me think quite like Psycho-Pass did – I really enjoyed it.
The show also looked amazing, great character designs, wonderful world building and great action scenes – it all just looked really cool. Yeap, I had a lot of fun with Psycho-Pass.
5. Polar Bear Café (Spring 2012)
This a show I couldn’t watch without a smile on my face, the show just thrums with feel-good vibes. It’s also consistently hilarious, and displays excellent use of puns, parodies, basic comedic timing and the usual tsukkomi/boke routines. The series uses all the run-of-the-mill s’life situations (festivals, onsen, road-trips, all the holidays you can think of) but simply having the characters be animals puts an interesting spin on things, as they have a unique outlook on things.
I don’t usually get on well with s’life shows, but I adored Polar Bear Café – it just balances the mundane with wit so well. The characters are probably what kept me coming back to the show so much – the central quartet of Polar Bear, Penguin, Panda and Sasako just have superb chemistry and play off each other brilliantly. The side characters are also wonderful and all get their own episodes to shine. Basically this is just a fantastic feel-good series and so much fun to watch.
4. From The New World (Autumn 2012)
There need to be more anime with this kind of ambition. Shin Sekai Yori was a superbly crafted series that often had me sitting on the edge of my chair. The horror scenes were just so well done that I felt a chill running down my spine, despite the fact I was watching this show in the middle of summer in an Australian hostel common room. The world building on display here is amazing – the niggling feeling of something not being quite right sets in early, and quickly escalates into full out horror at how twisted the world of Shin Sekai Yori is.
I found myself completely captivated by this series, it really grabbed my attention with each successive episode. It is full of really interesting animation and direction, with highly engaging story-telling. If there is one flaw it is that the main human characters are somewhat dull – the side characters and antagonists are much more engaging. More shows with this kind of vision need to be made – I loved this series.
3. Kyousogiga (Autumn 2013)
Kyousogiga basically packaged a whole load of things I really like and tied it up in a beautifully animated package. It was entirely my kind of show, and had been ever since that fragmented, high-energy OVA a while back. What I loved most about Kyousogiga was the warm atmosphere that it emanated – despite all the tragic backstories and parental abandonment issues that I found interesting in their own right, there was the warm glowing heart of loving family warmth and fun that was just lovely and uplifting.
Kyousogiga is just an enchanting show – the world is presented with so much care and attention to detail that you can really tell that this is a labour of love for the production team. It would be so easy to let the show run off into a colourful riot of stuff given how free-spirited the cast is, but the tightly controlled direction means that the focus never falters from the core family. It is really remarkable how well thought out this series is. Yes, Kyousogiga was so much fun to watch – I loved the characters, I loved the world and I loved the whole presentation of the series.
2. Attack on Titan (Spring 2013)
Thank god shows like this are being made – they’re one of the main reasons I’m an anime fan. A massive blockbuster of a show, Attack on Titan is the kind of series that you cannot help but get swept up in – and I love that feeling. Sure it has pacing issues, and since the manga is ongoing we get a rather inconclusive ending, but all that is over-ruled by just how much fun Attack on Titan is to watch. The action is fantastically animated – that 3D Manoeuvre Gear makes for jaw dropping action scenes – but it is the constant twists and gut-wrenchingly brutal ends some of the characters meet that kept me gripped throughout the show.
Series like this make me happy to be an anime fan and I am really delighted that Attack on Titan has proven to be such a massive hit both in Japan and in the Western fandom. Yes it has flaws, and yes it is very mainstream – but things are popular for a good reason and there is so much to love about Attack on Titan.
1. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (Autumn 2012)
I love shounen shows. I love hugely overblown shows. I love super stylised art. I love everything ridiculous that anime can fire at me. I love Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure because it gave me all that and so much more – like an inspired dub-step soundtrack, cyborg Nazis, vampire squirrels and characters named after 80s bands. Jojo’s oozes style – from the flamboyant Vogue poses the characters constantly contort themselves into, to the technicoloured rainbow colour palate employed it is an amazing show to look at – every frame is a work of art. Sure the character designs aren’t exactly traditionally attractive, but that doesn’t mean the show isn’t visually appealing – and the characters larger than life actions and personalities are the real draw.
I really can’t praise Jojo’s enough – it was just an amazing trip and I really want to go on another Bizarre Adventure soon – roll on Stardust Crusaders!
So that’s my picks of 2013. Honourable mentions to Silver Spoon, Free!, Watamote and Zetsuen no Tempest. I’ll have the second part of this list with my movie/OVA/ONA picks up within the next few days.
So yes a pretty good year for anime, lets hope 2014 is even better!