After a barrage of really good series last year, 2013 stepped things back a little to take a breather, slowly working its way up from an empty winter season to a promising-but-disappointing spring to an acceptable summer before finally pouring its heart and soul into the fall. Looking at the makeup of my list for this year, it indeed seems to be the case that Fall 2012 was the best season of 2013. That says more about how amazing last fall was than anything else, though. While this fall didn’t have any anime to match the highest tier of last year’s shows, it outstripped fall 2012 in terms of the sheer number of interesting series and served as a great showcase for several up-and-coming creators, and the summer – normally a pretty dead season – had an uncharacteristically large variety of enjoyable (if flawed) shows.
This list – like my list for 2012 – will specifically be looking at the portion of each series that actually came out in 2013. Continuing series from fall 2012 will have primarily their second halves taken into account, and long-running shows will only have this year’s worth of material accounted for.
Some notable series absent from this list include: Blast of Tempest, GJ-bu, Monogatari 2nd Season, and Majestic Prince – which I dropped early on but want to give another chance, Yamato 2199 – which I put on-hold and need to get back to, and Hajime no Ippo Season 3 – which I plan to watch once I’ve seen the first two seasons.
Also, honorable mentions go to Yama no Susume, Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman, Danganronpa, Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta, and Attack on Titan.
20. Psycho Pass
The second half of Psycho Pass saw it trying to be smarter than it actually was, leading to some silliness like HYPER OATS and Uncle Gen’s Book Club. But once I realized that I couldn’t take the show as seriously as I once had, the quickly vanishing poor-man’s-Ghost-in-the-Shell appeal resurfaced in the form of kinda-dumb-but-still-awesome action-movie appeal, with some cool fight scenes and dramatic moments to spice things up. The best part of the show, for me, though, was the very strong character growth from Akane – it was a real treat to watch her grow from the naive, directionless rookie cop into a confident, self-assured woman who don’t take crap from nobody, while still maintaining the youthful idealism that was such an important part of who she was. Her character arc really helped to offset a lot of the show’s weaker points. I’m kind of iffy on the idea of watching a second season, but there was certainly enough to like this time around. Plus I got some delicious cookies out of the deal.
19. Samurai Flamenco
The first 6.95 episodes of Samurai Flamenco were a character-driven dream, and a real contender for a top-ten slot this year (there’s admittedly not much that could penetrate that top five). The characters were relatable, their interactions subtle and meaningful, the commentary on superheroes and culture was clever, and the gags were pretty consistently funny. And then there’s the Guillotine Gorilla in the room. It’s at this point that it became clear that at its core, Flamenco is truly a love letter to various tokusatsu tropes, and while I can appreciate them on a sort of meta-level, from this point on I imagine that enjoyment of the show depends heavily on your familiarity with/tolerance of toku. While this has been a barrier for me as the series has gone on, it still manages to bring the laughs when it wants to, and the first seven episodes alone warrant an inclusion on this list, because they are much more universal and absolutely fantastic.
18. Space Brothers
This year of Space Bros was much more of a mixed bag than the last. We had a lot of great arcs like Hibito’s haunting moon mission, the CanSat arc with Pico (which spoke a lot to me as an engineer), flight training with the crazy DeNeil Young, and Mutta’s undersea training with Kenji (which brought back a lot of what made the astronaut exam arc so excellent) – the moon and undersea arcs especially were some of the series’ best output to date. Along with the show’s move to a primetime slot however, came a lot of extended recap and unfunny cartoon animals that substantially cut down the effective runtime of each episode, exacerbating the already slow pacing. What content there was in that runtime has been good, however, and Space Bros has been a nice, calm break from all the busier things every week. I look forward to following it into the next year, which has been off to a strong start so far.
17. Gatchaman Crowds
Gatchaman sees Kenji Nakamura teaming up once again with scriptwriter Toshiya Oono of Tsuritama, and the results are fairly comparable – a very bright, colorful series of endearingly obnoxious characters on a whimsical but purposeful adventure to save the world. Instead of fishing, though, the theme this time is superheroes. It’s an exploration of the necessity of superheroes and the dangers and benefits of social media – a decidedly modern tale – and while it had a bit more ambition than it was able to consistently handle, it’s always clearly having a lot of fun doing so, looking and sounding good in the process. Main character Hajime is both the show’s biggest strength and weakness, so if her X-Treme Genki personality doesn’t scare you away, you’re probably in for a good time.
16. Eccentric Family
The Eccentric Family is a bit difficult to pin down thematically, but in a word, it’s a show about family (makes sense, given the title). Told through a guise of Japanese folklore and a sprinkle of bizarre eccentricities (this show is exactly what it says on the tin, folks), it’s very metaphorical and very character-driven, and while there’s very little “plot” to speak of, there’s a good deal to think about in each episode. The rookie team on this (well, they’re veteran animators but this is their first time at the helm of a show) did an excellent job and provided a refreshing break from the frustrating melodrama of PA Works’ typical fare, while keeping the studio’s inimitably beautiful background art firmly in place.
15. It’s Not My Fault I’m Not Popular (WataMote)
Poplan-chan (as I’ve lovingly taken to calling it, by way of a convoluted perversion of the abbreviated title translation, an internet meme from Working!, and a character from Legend of the Galactic Heroes, with an honorific tacked on for good measure) is cringe humor epitomized. The voice acting and source material are the big strong links in this series – it all centers around being able to feel for the main character. All of Poplan’s problems (I’ve called her this for so long I don’t even remember her real name) are real problems that she’s desperately trying to sort out but are also entirely self-inflicted, and the show is an exercise in laughing through the pain as you watch her dig herself deeper and deeper into the delusional mindset from which these problems stem in a fruitless attempt to insulate herself from the reality of both her loneliness and the fact that it is all her own doing. Poplan-chan’s vicious cycle of self-destruction is the series’ only real joke, and while it does get repetitive, it’s also deeply relatable – this is such a personal work that I found it incredibly hard not to put myself in her shoes and remember times that I had been in the same pathetic boat. It’s very easy to attach yourself to Poplan-chan and hope that she can find some way out of mound of crap that the show cruelly piles higher and higher upon her as each episode wears on, and it makes the one beautiful cathartic moment at the end of the series all the sweeter.
14. Rozen Maiden Season 3
After the huge surprise of Sankarea last year, I was quite intrigued to see how director Mamoru Hatakeyama handled this new adaptation of Rozen Maiden. While not as memorable as Sankarea was for me, what we got was a massive step up from the Rozen Maiden that I remember. The focus on adult Jun here was wonderful – I’ve always found him more interesting than all the fantasy doll nonsense and Hatakeyama (along with lead writer Tomomi Mochizuki) bring out this part of the story extremely well. Not to mention that, like Sankarea, this series has some beautiful visual direction. This director is going places, artistically if not financially – I hope that he can continue to find work despite the commercial flop here because whatever he touches seems to turn to gold.
Kyousougiga was, like Eccentric Family, very centered around the idea of family. It was big and flashy and colorful and had saving the world and giant robots and space and multiple dimensions and what have you, but all that was just eye-candy for a touching family reunion (and BOY is this show full of eye candy – this is one of the most beautiful anime I’ve seen in a long time). I’m still not completely sure what all happened in the series, but this family-reunion centerpiece gave Kyousougiga the firm grounding it needed even as everything around it swirled in chaos. While I did have some trouble digesting it, this show is near the top of a large number of anibloggers’ 2013 lists, and it’s there for a good reason – I imagine that going back for a rewatch will only increase my love for this show.
12. Kuroko’s Basketball Season 2
Despite the higher ranking, I felt like this season of Kurobas has been a bit of a step down from last year so far. It’s started a descent into more typical shounen territory that has me worried, and despite the large success of season 1, there’s still very little animation to be seen (outside of the jaw-dropping OP). That said, this is still Kurobas, with all of the wacky hijinks and ridiculous basketball that come with it. Kuroko is still a great main character, we’re getting to meet more of the Generation of Miracles (as well as a secondary set of “uncrowned kings”) and potentially some more backstory that I’d be interested to learn. I’m hoping that once the winter tournament gets going that the show will pick up its stride again – the first season didn’t really start to shine until its second half, either.
11. Yowamushi Pedal
This fall, to me, was characterized by two things: up-and-coming creators with fresh and unique styles (Kyousougiga, Yozakura, Meganebu, Kill la Kill, etc), and a rush of quality sports anime. With its lovable, upbeat characters, d’aww-inspiring after-credit sequences, and unique choice of sport, Yowapedal carves out a niche for itself among the rest of the season’s sports offerings. The characters’ friendships and rivalries are the driving (or pedaling) force behind the series, and these are being built up so well that the slow pacing and wonky CG have done little to get in the way of what makes the show so much fun. Onoda is a great little-engine-that-could that has believably-built raw talent, and the support and competition his teammates offer him is the tool that will help bring out the best both in him and in the show.
10. Silver Spoon
Silver Spoon is quite a departure from mangaka Hiromu Arakawa’s shounen epic Fullmetal Alchemist, but her background as a farm girl makes it feel incredibly natural. She’s clearly writing about topics she’s very knowledgeable about and experiences that hold great sentimental value to her, making Silver Spoon a very frank story that gives a nostalgic, familiar feeling to the struggles and joys of farm life, which I’m fairly sure most of us are neither nostalgic for nor familiar with. As Hachiken slowly finds a direction for himself, learning the values of labor, the values of love, the value of life, it’s easy to see the passion that Arakawa has for this subject, and it’s hard not to get caught up in it.
I am thoroughly flabbergasted at how much I ended up loving Meganebu. It’s such a stupid idea. It’s such clear fujoshibait. The characters are such one-note archetypes. There doesn’t seem to be any possible room for merit here at all. But there is. It’s astounding. Once it gets going after a somewhat unwieldy start, Meganebu is consistently funny – it knows how dumb it is, and uses it to its advantage. It plays off the ridiculousness of the glasses theme for laughs and for visual creativity. For a show based on a drama CD, Meganebu has a terrific sense of aesthetics – Soubi Yamamoto knows what she’s doing, and the once-maligned Studio DEEN has been hitting it out of the park recently with picking up bright new talent like her and Hatakeyama. The comedy, when not derived from the inherent outlandishness of the premise, is reminiscent of Milky Holmes in the way it lovingly punishes its characters (or rather, has them punish themselves) for being a bunch of endearingly useless good-for-nothings. I never thought a show would get me excitedly talking about the Power of Glasses or make me want to run into the horizon shouting “MEEEEEGANE,” but, well, here we are.
8. Kill la Kill
Kill la Kill is Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima’s continued love letter to all things retro-awesome. After taking on the super robot genre with Gurren Lagann, Killer Kill sees them tackling the old-school shounen action formula. With school tournaments and The Four Great Generals and the ridiculous outfits and powerups and the deceptively slow pacing and Imaishi’s wacky Go Nagai-inspired sense of humor and fanservice, the feel of the show is decidedly vintage, with the experienced eye for flowing and impactful action choreography that only Trigger can provide. Full of yelling and wackiness and energy and over-the-top showiness, there’s so much cool stuff happening in every episode that the plot has barely had time to move forward. Oh, and Mako is the most bestest.
7. Ace of the Diamond
Of all the sports series I enjoyed this fall, Ace of the Diamond stands proudly atop the heap. While Production IG and Madhouse were busy working on sequels for their current ongoing big sports franchises (Kuroko and Ippo), some portion of each studio must’ve gotten jealous and decided to join forces to make their own sports anime. The results were splendid. Its knowledge of baseball is as encyclopedic as Yowapedal’s is of cycling, and it doesn’t resort to Shounen Jump tricks to make things happen – everything develops naturally and believably (at least to my limited understanding of the finer points of the sport). While it doesn’t move quickly, it never feels like it’s dragging its feet, and the characters all have a lot more to them than meets the eye. A definite high point of the entirety of the fall season, episode 13 was a powerful release of all the emotions and tensions that had been running through the show, and would’ve easily nabbed a last-minute spot on my 12 Days of Anime if I hadn’t fallen four episodes behind while writing the posts. Of the year’s sports anime, it is Ace which takes its sport the most seriously, and Ace that has best portrayed the story it wants to tell.
6. INFERNO COP
INFERNO COP is pretty much the anime equivalent of a bunch of grown men playing with action figures: Studio Trigger sitting on the floor in their basement, smashing toys together and making funny mouth noises for sound effects while enthusiastically making up a nonsense stream-of-consciousness story using their outdoor voices. It’s an irreverent, juvenile parody in exactly the style I’d expected and hoped for from the studio’s debut work, with imagination oozing from every pore. The paper-cutout-style lack of animation comes off as endearing as it does cheap, strongly invoking the smashing-action-figures-together imagery described above. It’s one of the funniest anime I’ve seen for a while in all respects – many of the best comedy moments in Kill la Kill are those that channel INFERNO COP. At about four minutes an episode, it goes on just long enough to be substantial, just long enough to be funny, but not long enough to get old. It all adds up to INFERNO COP being every bit as fun to watch as I’m sure it was to make.
5. Flowers of Evil
Flowers of Evil was my favorite new anime to come out of 2013, and if the ending hadn’t choked like it did, it would’ve been up there in the overall top 3. This is the type of anime I’d like to see more of – it’s a series that took a bunch of big risks that in my opinion succeeded handily (from an artistic perspective – financially, well, there’s a reason this is the type of anime we don’t see more of). From the unconventional and offputting animation style to the agonizingly slow pace to the reworking of the manga’s overall mood, almost every controversial decision worked in the show’s favor, lending it a voice both in line from the manga yet entirely the adaptation’s own. Drenched in atmosphere, so familiar yet so alien, Flowers of Evil uses the medium in ways that go above and beyond the stagnant status quo of anime’s self-imposed limitations, and establishes itself as the type of series that made me start watching anime in the first place.
4. Girls und Panzer
We only got two episodes of Girls und Panzer in 2013, but they were two absolutely glorious episodes that brought the series to the spectacular conclusion that it deserved. This was everything that makes Girls und Panzer great, taken to the fullest extent it could be taken. There’s a movie due out sometime this next year (I think), and if they can top this, I’d really love to see how.
3. Hunter x Hunter
After a year and a half, Hunter x Hunter has finally reached new ground. The Chimera Ant arc is upon us at last, and it has not disappointed in the least. The Greed Island arc was a short-but-sweet training arc that, from what I hear, greatly outstrips the equivalent section of the original series, and I’d believe it. The Chimera Ant arc, all through 2013, has been almost entirely buildup – establishing characters, setting the scene, putting all the pieces in place, but even the buildup packs as much punch as the big payoff of any comparable series as Hunters shows again and again that everything is connected, everything is important, everything is there for a reason. Every fight has meaning. Every character, no matter how minor, no matter how inhuman, is a full human being with relevance to the story – nobody’s there just to fill an archetype, and no one can be easily placed inside a single mold. The heroes are out of their minds in the best way possible, and the villains are so likable and well-developed they could just as easily be the heroes were they in any other show. It’s utterly astounding how Hunters has managed to maintain so high a level of consistent quality without slipping up for over two years now, and it’s only gotten better as it’s gone on – the show’s biggest flaw at this point is that they haven’t changed the opening song in over a hundred episodes. And it’s not just good in the sense that it’s not bad – Hunter x Hunter is consistently genuinely emotionally stirring, with animation quality ranging from “good” to “awesome”, a sound designer that – despite struggling at first – seems to have found his way last year and is now nailing it every time it counts, a strong respect for both the audience and the characters, and a true sense of adventure and the thrill of the journey. There’s no filler, there’s no nonsense, there’s just Hunters.
2. From the New World
The second half of From the New World is nothing short of amazing. Not only is it outstanding in its own right, but it incredibly manages to redeem a first half that I had enjoyed but thought too flawed to save. It doesn’t just make the first half worth it, it makes the first half better. The fantasy, the politics, and especially the horror rear their head here, striving for and achieving an ambition that few series even dream of attempting. All the tiny details of the world converge to form a whole that thoroughly exceeds the sum of its parts, and when your parts are as good as the horror episode with the Fiend or Squealer’s triumphant stand, that says a lot. Top that off with an eerie art style and one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in an anime and you’ve got something really special. There is nothing out there like this, and it is nothing short of miraculous that it was even made at all. I hope the lack of commercial success for shows like this and Flowers of Evil doesn’t discourage studios from making more anime this good, this risky, this ambitious. Shinsekai is a prime example of anime’s power as a medium, and truly pulled itself together into something absolutely stellar.
1. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure