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.
More and more lately I find shows and films that I call “pseudo-nostalgic.” They are stories that fill me with a sense of yearning for the days of older trends in storytelling, even if the subject matter is not something which was known to me when I was younger. Are these films and shows which I attribute this label just banking on nostalgia? I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I believe revisiting an old formula in a new time can feel just as refreshing and an older story adapted for the now can be made to fit in rather nicely. Today, I’m reviewing an adaptation a long time in the making… 52 years to be exact. This is Studio MAPPA’s Dororo.
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.
Honestly, I’ve never been too worked up over finding originality. I know that a tried and true story can still be told in over a million ways. Is the setting a fantasy where it used to be sci-fi? Are there comedic beats or is it more series? What sets this apart from others? John Wick‘s concept wasn’t necessarily original, but we never saw a revenge film about a dog being killed, nor did we see one with such elaborate world-building.
Even the most acclaimed creators’ works can be traced back to the maker’s inspirations. Media is all about inspiration and telling old stories in new ways by combining myriad elements in a really creative way. Today, I want to look at a film that in a lot of ways is unoriginal, but that I don’t think has to be discarded because of that. From Studio 3Hz and director Kazuya Nomura comes Black Fox, a new film that just recently released on Crunchyroll.
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.