In 2015, P.A. Works produced what would be remembered as one of the best shows of the year, Shirobako. The series was, funnily enough, an anime about making anime. It was praised for its depiction of the hardships of working in the industry as well as the optimism with which it approached its story of overcoming hardship.
There have been a few shows that have dealt with similar subjects, usually in a business-type setting. There was New Game, about game development, Girlish Number, a cynical comedy about the darker side of anime production, and all-in-all, plenty of shows about working women in creative fields.
However, no other show quite retained the same popularity and acclaim over time quite like Shirobako. That is, until now. After ONA’s like Devilman and films like Ride Your Wave and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Masaaki Yuasa returned to TV anime for something truly special.
Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na, or Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, might very well be one of the most uplifting, insightful, and inspiring shows I’ve seen in a very long time. It does for the industry much what Shirobako did, openly disclosing the ups and downs of the business, but in a way far more imaginative and stylistic than it’s predecessors.
The end goal of any traditional story of good versus evil is to battle to a point at which good has triumphed and evil has been defeated. The setting returns to or discovers a comparably peaceful status. From there, it can be assumed that peace will persist for as long as it can after the curtain has closed.
But what happens when a story paints that perpetual conflict between good and evil not as a disturbance or ongoing plague, but as the goal? Furthermore, what if a story progressively affirms it to be preferable to another, worse turn of events. While it may not be clear at first, Bungo Stray Dogs is the very thesis of this notion.
On the surface, this show is about the conflict between the simply named Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia, set in modern-day Yokohama, Japan. Every main character is named after and based on a popular author or poet, each possessing supernatural abilities based on their works.
Beyond the first season, the story evolves slowly into something far grander in such a way you might not notice it. It’s the kind of stylish show that could be unfairly criticized as lacking, narratively. My purpose in writing this is to parse the purpose of a story that I consider to be the very essence of character-driven storytelling.
International Women’s Day was this past Sunday and ever since my hiatus I have been excited to take the opportunity to praise some of my favorite female characters. Whether they be relatable, funny, awe-inspiring, or simply badass, anime has given us so many iconic female characters there’s bound to be a few gals in every anime fan’s list of favorites.
About three years ago, I ranked the five hottest anime dudes I’d seen, based solely on sexual reasons. As I am not straight, the same can’t be said for this list. I would have called it “anime women who almost turned me bi,” but that wasn’t necessarily accurate either. Regardless, the important thing about any ranking of characters be that the writing produces a character worth giving a shit about, regardless of attractiveness… still though these women are fucking gorgeous.
While not necessarily in vogue among anime critics lately, it isn’t hard to find rankings of very specific subjects within the community. “Top 10 Strongest Anime Characters”, “Top Ten Anime Villains”, “Top Ten Anime Couples”, etc. And of course, who could forget the perpetually memed “Top Ten Anime Betrayals,” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen created unironically.
However, while overdone, it has never felt like the kind of thing that anime critics do begrudgingly out of some unspoken tax as per the job. After all, anime has a lot of cool shit and fights are no exception. It’s only obligatory so far as such a thing is relatively easy to create and an ample excuse to ramble about things we like. That’s half the reason people like me become critics anyway.
So in no particular ranked order, here are a few my favorite anime fight scenes.
In 2018, a new trilogy of films set in the Psycho-Pass universe was announced for a 2019 release date called Sinners of the System. The three short films, each about an hour in length, take place at various points throughout the timeline. It would be the first new entry in the series in about four years. In the same year, a third season would be announced and released in the fall.
Psycho-Pass was back, with original director Naoyoshi Shiotani’s involvement being a major selling point. They wanted us to know that the series was returning in good hands. Even so, with such a long delay and the second season still a sore spot for many fans who felt the film didn’t make up for it, how well would this new phase fare?
The only thing worse than a bad show is a bad sequel to a great show.
Last time, I gave a resounding review of Psycho-Pass‘ first season, hailing it as one of the best science-fiction series of the last decade. When I first caught wind of a sequel, it was right after the premiere had aired. I had no idea that it was coming out and suddenly got super hyped to watch it. After all, it hadn’t been that long since the summer when I first binged season one.
I watched week-by-week, admittedly impressed for the most part, before reaching a conclusion that seemed to come far too soon. As time passed, I started looking back on it with more disdain. Psycho-Pass had hit a rough patch and I wondered if it could recover.
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
Devilman Crybaby wasn’t my favorite show. In fact, about a year after its release, I was surprised to find that I gave it a 6/10 on MyAnimeList.net. I must have been somewhat underwhelmed upon finishing it. After all, I wouldn’t call it a show with an incredibly satisfying ending. But it was an ending appropriate of the source material it was adapting.
Go Nagai’s Devilman taps into the darkest reaches of the human condition and juxtaposes it with the horrors of demonic monstrosities. The story tells of the end of days; the brutal end to an imperfect race consumed by sin, depravity, and hatred. Masaaki Yuasa’s vision of the story modernized the doom and gloom, creating a unique series with far more of an international appeal than many anime.
It had issues, to be sure. The abundance of Engrish lessened the impact of big narrative moments and certain characterizations paled in comparison to previous adaptations. The animation – while lively – could be laughable at times, teamed with some inconsistent artwork that I could take or leave. Despite all that though, I think I was too harsh on this series. I came to that conclusion when I reflected on one scene which has stuck with me to this day.
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.