I have no plans to make any sort of big “best of the decade” post, purely because I became an anime fan right around the midsection of this decade and always feel I can become more cultured. However, if you all would permit one instance of passionate and opinionated hyperbole, it would be that Psycho-Pass is one of the best science fiction series of the past decade.
But that word “series” carries a certain connotation. After all, there have been three seasons of Psycho-Pass and about four films, not counting the novel and video game spin-offs as well. Furthermore, after season one, the quality of the series is contentious at best.
Some argue the first season is the peak and then all sequels pale in comparison to varying degrees. It’s a perspective that I can’t necessarily argue with, even if I enjoy most of the content after season two. Regardless, I think that the series’ continued lifespan speaks well of the intentions of the creators at the beginning: To create a new popular brand within the Sci-fi genre.
I want to take a closer look at the series piece by piece – similar to my Bungo Stray Dogs retrospective – and look at the franchise as a whole to see if it was a one-trick pony or not.
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.
Before we begin, YES, Penguin Highway, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, was released in Japan in 2018. However, seeing as how it was released in the US in 2019, I consider it a worthy candidate befitting of the accolade emblazoned on the title of this review. Plus I’ll use any excuse to talk about this lovely film.
Some of the most acclaimed and beloved anime films from Japan have had an inherent focus on youth and growing up. Most of the studio Ghibli films center around young boys and girls going on harrowing fantastical adventures that mature them, whether they be children or teens.
Often times the films of this nature are enveloped in that fantasy fully, never questioning the logic (and really, what’s the need?). But what happens when you set a similar type of story in a setting that is rather grounded yet slowly descends into fantasy? Furthermore, what happens when the protagonist explores said fantasy through the sheer power of science?
Not only do you get one of the most unique stories of its genre, but you also get the best-animated film of 2019
While pondering what to write for the last two weeks of November, I wondered if I could actually watch all of Demon Slayer in just week. After all if it would feel wrong to end 2019 without watching it. Friends of mine with all manners of different taste have been telling me how great it is all summer. But given the long hiatus between starting shows like Dororo and Shield Hero and finally finishing them, I wondered if I could pull it off.
Turns out it was pretty easy…
This week reminded me that I can still binge a show when I put my mind to it. It helps when the story in question is just that good. From Ufotable, the masters behind the best of the Fate series and Garden of Sinners, comes one of the best shows of 2019, Demon Slayer.
At the beginning of 2019, I wrote: Rising of the Shield Hero is 2019’s First Must-watch. It was a pleasant surprise to start the year, given how apprehensive I typically am about the Isekai genre. I was quite adamant about my excitement for this show after the first several episodes and despite the controversy, I believed it would be a total hit. I wasn’t wrong. It became one of the most-watched anime of the year and after its 25-episode run, a second and third season was confirmed.
Nearing the end of the year, as people begin reflecting on the best of the year, it bears asking if Shield Hero was worth the praise. Did it live up to its strong start?
The 1948 novel Ningen Shikkaku, known in the west as No Longer Human, is considered a masterpiece of literature in Japan. It is considered autobiographical, as the torment of the main character seemed to mirror the demons of author Osamu Dazai. Dazai had completed suicide by the time the final part of this serialized book was released.
After many adaptations across many mediums over the years, Polygon Pictures has produced a new vision of the classic. Re-imagined as a sci-fi dystopian tale, Human Lost by director Funimori Kizaki is a striking film with a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, those ideas are seldom explored to the fullest.
It says a lot when I can fall in love with a director after just one of their works. Rie Matsumoto stole mine and many others’ hearts after season one of Blood Blockade Battlefront. While at times her chaotic direction could produce scenes difficult to parse, I defend that she has a way of conducting a narrative unforgettably.
I’d always heard that there was one other show that she directed but I never got around to watching it. One day while walking through a movie store, I found a copy of a series that immediately caught my eye. Something about the art and its dynamic composition spoke to me and I thought it looked familiar. Sure enough, when I looked it up on my phone, there she was.
Kyousougiga, a Toho Animation series directed by Rie Matsumoto. Just recently I took the time to dive into it and get a sense of what an original work of hers looks like. Additionally, today I want to look at Matsumoto’s career past and present to get a better sense of her style and where she comes from.
I have tried to watch Soul Eater on four different occasions and the farthest I’ve gotten is episode four. When I tell my friends this, they are surprised (for good reason). I have long been a huge fan of the works of Studio Bones, with two of my three favorite shows of all time having been made by them. I’m also a huge fan of sakuga and consider it to be one of the coolest things about watching anime. Most importantly, Takuya Igarashi is one of my favorite directors of all time.
That I was unable to get into a show applicable to all three above qualities is entirely explainable but still a head-scratcher. Especially if you’ve read any of my posts on Studio Bones in the past, it seems like a show I would love. The short of it was that the writing and characters did nothing to draw me into the show and I was somewhat bored.
But when I saw the trailers for David Production’s adaptation of Fire Force – another work from Soul Eater author Atsushi Okubo – I got excited. The artwork and music conveyed a darker tone and got me thinking that a different kind of story by the same creator might be more to my liking. Hell, it already looked like a show by Bones anyway and David Productions has been growing steadily thanks to stuff like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Fire Force quickly became my most anticipated show of the summer.
Now, as Fire Force‘s first season nears the midway point, I’m left a little underwhelmed. How did such a promising show fail to meet my expectations? More importantly, is it good enough to continue watching?
Do you ever notice time travel stories being criticized or picked apart more than other sci-fi? There have been numerous classics with all kinds of different interpretations and theories. Perhaps because it is a particularly nebulous concept among sci-fi subject matter that it inspires more analysis and thus is more prone to criticism.
But that is the point of science fiction, is it not? To explore out-of-this-world ideas. Still, the task of formulating a satisfying and logically sound time travel story adds considerably more work to the already lofty task posed by the standards of fiction writing.
From a creative standpoint, why risk it? Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has continually prided itself on its thorough construction decided to muck things up by introducing time travel in Avengers: Endgame. Plot holes resulting from stories like this could be explained away after the fact just as easily as they could be things the writers never considered.
Is it a fault of the discussion or the writers? Well, it can be a bit of both. When I hear of a time travel story that has been widely praised even years after its release, I get that much more intrigued. Time travel is hard to do and no show does time travel quite like Steins;Gate, which I finally watched just last month.
I have long tried not to commit myself to watch a ton of new shows each season. It’s not out of concern that media consumption will become “work” because… I mean I’m a critic aren’t I? That it would become a “hassle” is more accurate, perhaps. I don’t like the idea of becoming a cynic who starts to become jaded, even if inevitably I probably will have seen enough stories that I start to somewhat tire out.
I put myself in a funny position then, because I want to stave off that creeping cynicism, but then look back on shows from before and think I missed out. But then I remember exactly why I love approaching critique in a more retroactive manner. Not only are there still plenty of classic shows that I haven’t seen, but there are even more that interest me but don’t get talked about a lot.
Even popular works don’t always have the kinds of content I look for, which appropriately enough is the content I strive to make. Every month, one of the highest viewed posts on this blog is my review of all three Kizumonogatari films together, a pretty popular trilogy. On the other hand, my series on Bones’ forgotten Towa no Quon films got more views than I initially expected. If I had to guess why it’s because people like me were looking for discussion about it and found there was practically none.
That’s why I love finding shows – even somewhat recent shows – that I completely missed, yet fall in love with when I finally see them. It’s an opportunity to shine a spotlight on a work that doesn’t get a ton of discussion in the constantly forward-facing anime community. Today’s show just so happens to be one of the hidden gems of 2017, Studio 3Hz’s steampunk spy thriller, Princess Principal.