The year 2018 was definitely one characterized for me with many very well done manga adaptations, yes (seven of them made this list’s top ten!), but also one filled with pleasant surprises – hidden gems discovered in places I was not expecting. Overall I might be inclined to feel it was a little weaker than average – while Winter was extremely strong for me Summer was unexpectedly weak. Even so, in the midst of all the series that came our way there were still plenty I enjoyed, and enjoyed a lot. This post will be an attempt to talk about some of the series of the past year that I felt were the standouts for me.
As I have mentioned in the past, please do note that first and foremost these series are primarily a list of what I enjoyed the most. They reflect my taste more than anything else, and while visual or audial or story writing or acting based comments or such have a place in it they are not intended to be an “objective evaluation” of the elements that make up the art medium itself. I am not an “art critic” nor a “specialist”, nor should readers expect such highly trained or cultivated viewpoints from me. I am a fan writing to other fans and sharing my experiences and tastes first and foremost. Anyway – on to the listings!
10) Hinamatsuri (Spring): First up in our list of excellent source manga adaptations comes this series. I was surprised at how well the studio was able to convey the endearing combination of craziness and surprisingly moving story elements here – in some ways for me it came across stronger than the manga itself (which is thankfully still ongoing) in terms of hooking people into the story as a whole. And that is a feat, I think, for the story itself and especially its sense of humor is sort of an “acquired taste”. Studio feel has been doing some pretty good work of late, especially in conveying the … well … the “feel” or heart of manga they have adapted, and I am glad they were able to add such an enjoyable series to their list of achievements!
9) Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho (Winter): Here is one of the surprises of the year for me (and for many people it turned out). This anime original story production by Studio Madhouse came out of nowhere and blindsided me. I was expecting standard shenanigans of an all girl cast, but this series unexpectedly took what honestly seemed to me to be a rather silly premise (before it aired) and turned into something convincing, engaging and even downright … moving. The characters especially were very strong, and while the dynamic of the main cast was especially rich I also felt as if I were somehow able to “enter into their individual worlds” at the same time. Can we have more series like this, please?
8) Mitsuboshi Colors (Winter): Truth be told this is probably the most controversial entry in the list here. First and foremost it is comedy, and comedy of a very particular sort. Comedy either works or does not for someone, and if it doesn’t it’s really hard to enjoy a series dedicated to it. Of course for me this series worked, and worked on most every level. As with other superb manga adaptations this year I was already familiar with the source, but it is true that it took me a while to “get used” to the mangaka’s sense of humor. For me though Studio Silver Link captured the pulse of the source manga excellently (once again); this series had me literally chuckling aloud many, many times every ep, and maybe even more importantly I found myself highly anticipating a new episode’s arrival every week: they must have been doing something right to evoke such a response!
7) Planet With (Summer): Another surprise from left field here, and especially so since it involved the use of mecha (a hard sell for me). Here it worked as part of the story, though, and in large part that seems due to the brilliance of the writer Mizukami Satoshi. Really, in terms of “serious content” touched on this one probably presented the most content and depth wise of any series that aired this year. Much of the story was in a “maximum content/minimum words” style of presentation that just plain worked. If the final arc of the series had not ended in a manner that was a little less powerful than the first 2/3 or so then it could easily have threatened the number one spot of the year, but what we got was what we got, and it was excellent, quality material on the whole.
6) Hakemei to Mikochi (Winter): Yep – another manga adaptation that was really well done and whose source material I loved before the anime was announced. The anime delivered in spades, and as with many carefully done anime one of the most interesting things about it was seeing how they chose to select chapters of the source and present them in the episodes and the series as a whole. Effective approaches like this can serve to enrich the franchise as a whole, and this series was no exception. This was one of those that was a “quiet surprise” to a smaller number of people who were unfamiliar with it beforehand; I heard not a few first time viewers charmed and even a little intrigued by the world building of the series as the eps quietly flowed by – which was the same effect I have seen both in myself and in readers of the source and which is one of the strongest aspects of the story. In other words – the adaptation conveyed the essence of the source once again, a thing not always easy to do, and made it even wealthier in the end result.
5) Hataraku Saibou (Summer): Probably my brightest star in what I felt was a pretty weak summer season, this was (again!) a manga adaptation done quite effectively. The best part of this series would be the “living breath” that David Studio infused its characters with – they almost all (even the viruses) came across as enjoyable and endearing, and I felt it conveyed the heart of the source. The comedic parts of the series were especially well adapted, and the VA choices and their work was exceptional. This was probably another series that just “clicked” with me, and the subject matter is … well … both very accessible and not so accessible. The mangaka for this is brilliant in my opinion; their transformation and personalization of the functions of the body is not only somehow very “Japanese” in my mind, but also very deserving of the crazy popularity of the source manga, and for me that was conveyed nicely in the anime.
4) Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou (Spring): This is not a “new” series but rather a (really, really good) modern remake of a small part of a much longer anime series that aired some decades ago. And I must say that the series sucked me in from the first episode and never let me go. For me this is an example of the space opera science fiction at it’s best – where do I even begin to praise this one? The story, the many characters, the setting, the world building, the VA work, the visuals, the bgm, the OP and ED … so many things about it were just so well done! It would be a real treat to see the entirety of the original anime series remade like this single cour “beginning” of sorts, but … well … if it happens it happens. Until it does though (hopefully) at least we had this, and in my opinion what we had was absolutely brilliant.
3) Golden Kamuy (split cour in Spring and Fall): And while we are on the subject of brilliance, we have the next series. I think for me (as in previous years) this number 3 slot often goes to the series of the year that was a combination of a series I enjoyed greatly, yes, but also which I felt was technically the best anime of the year as a whole. In this case the source manga is even better than the anime, and that is saying something when what we were given in Golden Kamuy was … larger than life, in a way. This is not something I would say about many anime series, but yeah – the large cast of characters and the unique setting and story in Golden Kamuy are indeed larger than life, and it is (once again) a sign of a brilliant writer who is able to convey that to their audience. The fact that the anime was was to also convey so many aspects of that greatness to its viewers is the highest praise I can think of for it. For me this series on the whole was both powerful and downright superb.
In previous years, the numbers three and four slots were often for me what I considered to be the best anime of the year in terms of approaching some kind of “semi-objective evaluation”. Maybe one could also say they were what I felt to be the most “important” or the most “significant” series that aired. However, they were often not the ones I loved the most. To that category often the last two series in the top ten served as examples – they were the series that I often most eagerly anticipated on a weekly basis, sometimes even counting the days before the next episode came out. Both the number 2 and 1 picks were (yet again!) masterful adaptations of manga I had read before the adaptations aired and greatly enjoyed. Perhaps for those who have “gotten used” to my writing and preferences over the years these choices may not come as much of a surprise, but here they are in any event.
2) Yuru Camp (Winter): This is probably the series that got under my skin in a personal enjoyment way – but one of the most interesting things the anime adaptation pulled off was (again) enlarging and enriching the source material itself. In many ways the source manga had a very “signature” look and feel as a whole – one that was perfectly summarized by the personality of Rin, yes, but especially by the reserved, subdued and minimum words/maximum content style of art. However the anime itself seemed to take that element and yet make it explode in a full rainbow of colors, yes, but without losing the original “melody” of the feel the manga conveyed. Just as with the overall feel of the manga, though, so with the anime the main element for me is still Rin herself. She positively blooms in this adaptation, and comes across thousand times more endearing for me (who she is is delightfully accentuated by the wonderful ED of the series as well). This series was lovely in so many ways and as heartfelt as series come. And even moreso, it’s rewatchability factor is probably the highest for me of any other series this year.
1) Mahoutsukai no Yome (Two cour series that finished up in Winter): This may come as no surprise for many. From the very first time I heard that this manga was announced as slated for an anime adaptation I was incredibly excited. It should probably be mentioned that the series itself is rather intricate and touches on a lot of history and folklore that a fair number of readers (or viewers for that matter) may be unfamiliar with, and because of that it may be hard for some to relate to because of a sort of “double dose” of foreign content. For me, though, this was not the case. I love the source manga (another still ongoing), the world, the history and folklore sources the mangaka draws from, the characters, the setting, etc., etc. and the anime adaptation of both the earlier OVAs and the series itself; Studio Wit did a spectacular job here, and on most every single front. For me this is a series that is much more powerful when steamrolled, and was able to convey moments of the source manga in ways that even approached sublime beauty. It is definitely not for everyone, but the adaptation was an incredible one for me, and edges out a victory by a nose for this year’s favorite series.
I should also add some series that for me qualified for the “Honorable Mentions” category, of which there are quite a few this year: and Irozuku Sekai no Ashitara kara, Amanchu Advance! and Hisone to Masotan come to mind immediately. The former especially was thoroughly enjoyable (in some ways my favorite series of Fall 2018, though it just missed the #10 slot, I think). Amanchu Advance may be a surprise to some that it did not crack the top 10 list, but again I would probably give it the # 12 slot (behind Irozuku) … sometimes the lower rankings of the top 10 can be the toughest to choose. Hisone to Masotan was another anime original and was … definitely odd and “itself” all the way through, kind of like the “adorable yet wacky red-haired stepsister”. I enjoyed it throughout, and it was one of the few cases where my hunch that it would be a sleeper hit for me proved correct before it aired.
Regarding series that seemed to fly under many people’s radar – the first to mention would definitely be Wakaokami wa Shougakusei!, and hopefully the movie follow up to it will become available outside of Japan sooner than later. Two other surprise series of this sort for me that I greatly enjoyed ep by ep were: Merc Storia: Mukiryoku Shounen to Bin no Naka no Shoujo and Tsukumogami Kashimasu. The former was totally from left field, but grabbed me from the get go – definitely an effective story geared towards a younger audience with surprisingly good audio/visual content and an engaging cast. Tsukumogami is tougher to articulate why I enjoyed it … maybe something of the “old world feel”? … whatever it was, there was just a quality about it that clicked with me on a personal level.
A few other series I also enjoyed that I feel deserve mention would include Uma Musume: Pretty Derby and Gakuen Babysitters. Gakuen Babysitters was a another well done manga adaptation of the year (though I still prefer the source manga as a medium) and well worth checking out. Uma Musume, however, was another surprise – this frankly absurd premise (even for me) was actually executed in a very effective fashion, and special kudos go to Studio PAW for being able to present material where even though part of you knew what the results would be still proved to keep viewers (and many of them!) on the edge of their seat. Part of that is due to excellent production, but for me the use of the audio in this series really stood out. Another series I was pleasantly surprised by was SAO-Gun Gale Online. Like Uma Musume this was another example of engaging overall presentation and execution – in some ways the spin off and its characters were easier for me to relate to than the original 2 seasons and movies. Studio 3hz did another good job with this one in my book.
As regards a few other categories to mention … my favorite movie from the past year would probably be a tie between the first of the Girls und Panzer das Finale and When the Promised Flower Blooms (it was a pretty successful year for PAW works this year it seems). As far as OVAs (though some could argue that it is technically a movie – ah well), for me a special nod goes to the Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka: Dear My Sister. A “favorite” ongoing series at the moment (meaning either carryovers from the previous season or known split cour series) would probably be Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken. This series has been another surprise in the sense that Studio 8 bit has done a pretty darn good job quality wise on many levels and has executed the episodes and story quite nicely to boot. I look forward to the second half! There were also disappointments. The biggest disappointment of the year, hands down, for me goes to Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru, though Violet Evergarden and Island were let downs too. Won’t go into too much of the why I thought they were disappointments – lets just leave it with the fact that they were for me. ˆˆ
Will add an extra section here of a few more categories that might provoke some discussion:
- My list of Best Male Leads: Yang (Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou); Sugimoto (Golden Kamuy); Soya (Planet With).
- Some of my list of Best Female Leads go to: Rin (Yuru Camp); Chise (Mahou Tsukai no Yome); LLENN (SAO-Gun Gale Online).
- Finally some of my votes for Best Supporting Roles go to: Hitomi (Hanamatsuri); Silence Suzuka (Uma Musume); Ginko (Planet With).
On the matter of some aspects of the anime production itself (will be giving a few more OP and ED suggestions than usual):
- My votes for Best Animation go to: Irozuku Sekai no Ashitara kara; Planet With; and Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho.
- While my votes for Best Soundtrack goes to: Yuru Camp; Uma Musume: Pretty Derby and SAO-Gun Gale Online.
- Some of my Favorite OPs: Mitsuboshi Colors; Irozuku Sekai no Ashitara kara; Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou; Merc Storia: Mukiryoku Shounen to Bin no Naka no Shoujo and Tsukumogami Kashimasu.
- Some of my Favorite EDs: Yuru Camp; Amanchu Advance!; Hataraku Saibou; Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou and Hakumei to Mikochi.
And there we have it for 2018….
One year ago I announced a long term leave of absence. It certainly has been a while, has it not? (Rest assured I have been present in the background and regularly conversing with both Setsuken and FlareKnight.) In any event, since I was able to find a small break of time available and the timing seemed right I thought I would throw together one last post for “auld lange syne” and the rest before bowing out full time. Without going into too much detail, events have moved along in my life that will require extremely full time requirements from me … very big commitments, and things I have been pondering over for quite some time now. Both Setsuken and FlareKnight (and the other bloggers who have contributed during my time here – Dee and Random Wanderer) have both been wonderful people to “work alongside with”, or just to plain enjoy the same things together with. It would be hard to find more supportive fellow enthusiasts, or even (if I may say so) friends … than they have been. And I have been blessed to come to know many people throughout the manga/anime/etc. online community who are fine people (two other bloggers I would especially mention include Guardian Enzo and Marina). To all of you I offer my thanks. It has truly been an enjoyable experience. And I ask for your good wishes, kind intentions, prayers and anything else any of you are willing to send in my direction as I begin taking on these new levels of commitment. May your lives be blessed!
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