Last week I raved about the best film of 2019, Penguin Highway. Initially, I wanted to get a head start on a new multi-part series of reviews but things take time. January tends to be a time to reflect on the previous year anyhow so why not keep the ball rolling. I watched more shows this year than I have in a while and there are still more which I missed, but for now, here are my top five TV anime of 2019.
Each of the five anime on this list will have a link to each of my reviews and I implore you to check those out as well for more of my thoughts on these wonderful shows.
5. Lord El Melloi II’s Case Files
Kinoko Nasu’s Fate universe is a sprawling modern fantasy rivaling the works of Tolkien and Rowling. This show acts as a sequel to 2011’s Fate/ Zero and follows one of its most popular characters, Waver Velvet, as he takes on the name of his former rival and teacher to become Lord El Melloi II, a teacher of modern magecraft theory and an investigator of magic-related incidents.
As I stated in my review, this show is one half episodic detective story while the second half can be described as “Murder on the Orient Express by way of Harry Potter“. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will. Magic has always been fascinating in this universe but this series found ways to wow me every episode with some new piece of world-building or the reveal of some cool new power.
Furthermore, getting the chance to see a beloved character like Waver all grown up – how he has changed and how he has stayed the same – is a luxury few stories pull off successfully. While Case Files can stand alone, it offers fitting closure to Waver’s story from Fate/ Zero sure to satisfy any of that show’s fans.
Perhaps a larger reason why Case Files was so fun for me was that it felt like a return to classic Kinoko Nasu storytelling. While the original work was not written by Nasu, it carries that same passion for creating an expansive world of magic which Fate/ Stay Night and the Garden of Sinners were founded on.
Nowadays, every new Fate spinoff seems to either take place in an alternate universe or is just lumped in with the Fate/ Grand Order cannon. Grand Order, in my opinion, is overly complicated and magnifies some of the franchise’s weak points (such as lazily re-skinned characters for the sake of fanservice). Granted I haven’t consumed nearly enough Grand Order content to have an informed opinion, but from the outset, I just feel like Fate has strayed from what it once was.
Both in setting and aesthetic, this show just feels plain classy. Even when it follows in the tradition of giving us another Saber lookalike, it differentiates them enough that they don’t feel like another knockoff. Gray – the lookalike in question – is a wonderful character in her own right and the perfect companion to our older and in some ways wiser Lord El Melloi.
Case Files was the kind of show that I could look forward to each week to see something really cool and further get lost in the world. It’s what I want from any fantasy, be it medieval or modern.
4. The Rising of the Shield Hero
Speaking of fantasy, the whole isekai genre may not be my thing, but Shield Hero was pretty dope regardless.
In fact, I think watching Shield Hero was a really important moment in curbing my standards and expectations of this industry. When you spend your time obsessing over sakuga and visual quality, you can sometimes forget the limitations of this industry. Somewhere along the line my efforts to avoid watching too much to avoid oversaturation turned into a morphing of priorities which made my tastes unfortunately selective.
Shield Hero may not have always been visually consistent, but it still delivered on a story wrought with complicated characters that got me teary-eyed on a couple of occasions. A well-written story can do wonders and despite the initial controversy, the show’s popularity persevered. I was happy to see Rising of the Shield Hero get such acclaim and even the confirmation of a second and third season to come in the future.
With how much the story beats down our hero at the beginning, every victory and every new ally makes the narrative inherently satisfying. Couple that together with a phenomenal and emotional soundtrack by Kevin Penkin, and you have the makings of a great adventure I can’t wait to see continue in the future.
3. Mob Psycho 100 II
Mob Psycho 100 will be remembered as one of the best showcases of hand-drawn animation not just in the past decade, but in the history of the medium. Season one got seriously snubbed at the 2016 Anime Awards and only time will tell if the awards will make the same mistake this year.
The show is still a funny and charming story of self-betterment that will resonate with anyone that has ever wanted to change themselves. With the sequel, the show switched focus, honing in on Mob and confronting him with newer, even more taxing challenges.
As Mob’s abilities evolved, the spirits he excised began to change as well. At the same time, more people with psychic powers began to come into the spotlight, casting further doubts in Mob’s mind about how best to utilize his powers. To top it off, the relationship between him and his friends, especially Reigen, were tested as Mob started to change. The results were some pretty heavy episodes enjoyable enough without needing to break up the tension with action.
If anything, my one issue may have been that the series didn’t keep that consistent all the way through The final cour takes the heroes and the turn-coated antagonists of season one, teams them up, then pits them a larger threat than ever before.
That isn’t to say the show fell apart towards the end in any way, though. The philosophical divide between the good guys and the bad guys was just as compelling as ever and produced even more great character moments. Plus it’s hard to stay mad when you see the end result of Studio Bones’ labors.
There were some exceptional fight scenes. Too many good ones to name them all. However, I will point out my favorite and one which I believe to be the absolute greatest work by animator Bahi JD. Watch it above it’s exceptional.
2. Demon Slayer
To rank Demon Slayer above Mob Psycho might re-open wounds for those of you who participated in arguments about the quality of Demon Slayer. Ever since the entire anime community took Funimation’s best-of-the-decade polls way too seriously, it almost feels like a vocal subsect of people really wants to hate it.
Look, I’ll give Mob Psycho animation of the year- hell, the decade – but you know what’s worse than recency bias? Contrarianism. There is a reason Demon Slayer is getting love and its because it’s really fucking good.
Hot off the heels of a season where I was let down by Fire Force, Demon Slayer came into my life and reminded me how funny and charming the cast of a battle shonen could be. A perfectly paced adventure that started strong with a training arc accentuated by simple but memorable character moments. From there, the series could only go up and in a lot of ways it did.
The biggest takeaway was its themes of compassion and how it strengthened not only Tanjiro as a protagonist but also the antagonists. I shed a tear for villains more here than in any other show. In their final moments, we see the kinds of people the various villains were before they became monsters, turning even the most hated ones into truly human characters.
That all alone would have guaranteed the show’s place on this list, but as a bonus, the series looked fantastic, courtesy of studio Ufotable. This last decade has been huge for them, from Fate/ Zero to the Heaven’s Feel trilogy and they sure ended the decade with a bang. It could have even been at the top of the list were it not for number one.
1. Bungo Stray Dogs Season Three
Season one may have taken some time to really hit its stride and season two arguably lacked strong villains, but Bungo Stray Dogs hit incredible highs with season three. What began as a story of super-powered detectives versus mobsters became a sort of study of community marked by action spectacle and theatrical characters.
The second season took a magnifying glass to the Port Mafia and its relationship with the Armed Detective Agency, as they unified to face a larger threat. With the third season, all the pieces come together and this somewhat directionless character-driven action show takes on a whole new meaning.
The good guys and bad guys go back to war with one another as per the machinations of a new foe. This time though, it all comes off as tragic. By this point the audience has come to care for both sides equally and the line between good guy and bad guy has blurred. This ultimate season is a culmination of every bond and flaw in the characters, building to a conclusion that comes very close to being a perfect finale.
No other show this year had me as excited week-by-week in anticipation. Almost every technical aspect is unique and demonstrates studio Bones at the top of their game. The character designs by Ryou Hirata and Nobuhiro Arai are striking and beautiful, the aesthetic is warm and attractive, and as expected, masterful direction by Takuya Igarashi. Most impressively, Taku Iwasaki took cues from his more Hollywood-inspired soundtrack from the film last year and has produced his best work yet.
I described my thoughts best in my review back in August: “It is as if the creators set out to channel the romantic allure of old serial dramas and merge it with the battle seinen genre. It’s such an odd mixture but it creates personalities and moments so theatrical I feel like I’m indulging in some alternative theatre.”
Bungo Stray Dogs is a masterpiece befitting of the names of the authors whom the characters share their names.
Every show listed above is available for legal streaming through FunimationNow and Crunchyroll.
Thanks for reading! What was your favorite anime of 2019? Leave a comment below and tell me what your most anticipated show of 2020 is!
2019 may have been one of the best years in anime for me. There was a slew of new animated films hitting the states and great show after great show each season. I ended up giving Demon Slayer and Bungo 10/10 scores. Penguin Highway also got high marks as well and regardless of if I end up dropping it from a 10 to a 9 later, it was still masterful. In the grand scheme of things, I also finally watched 2011’s Steins;Gate this year and promptly gave that a 10/10.
2020 looks to be even more promising. The final Eva rebuild, the final Heaven’s Feel film, and some exciting new original stories. Amidst all that excitement I aim to work on my biggest projects yet, covering entire franchises which I previously haven’t written about. My only reason for not disclosing them now is that I have a lot to work on and I don’t want to make too many promises. But they’ll be good, trust me.
So wish me luck, and I’ll see you next week!
2 thoughts on “My Top Five Anime of 2019”
For what it’s worth, I enjoyed El Melloi II a lot myself. It’s a shame not more of us were in on it. Happy to see it make the list!
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I’m happy you liked it too! Thanks for reading! 🙂
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