The Best and Worst Anime of Winter 2018by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
Now that the snow is finally melting as the winter season winds down, it's time to decide which shows were the best—and the worst. We asked our critics to pick their favorite, their runner-up choice, and their least favorite anime of Winter 2018. Once you're done perusing their choices, head on over to our forums and let us know your picks for the best and worst anime of the winter. If you're already pining for the new releases of spring, our Spring 2018 Preview Guide starts on April 1st, so look forward to that! Without further ado, here are our selections:
Best of the Season: Laid-Back Camp
I hate camping, but I love Comfy Camp. From the moment the show's uptempo opening song begins, the momentum carries through a relentlessly positive adventure through Japan's most scenic campgrounds. Each member of the cast brings an interesting personality to the table, and even before we get to know them well, it's difficult not to immediately fall for characters who are this enthusiastic about their hobbies. I love their interactions with one another, whether through texting or around the campfire, which fully capture the experience of being a goofy teen girl and make their relationships with one another ring true. It felt amazing to vicariously go on vacation with the girls each week, seeing sights and eating food that Nadeshiko makes look delicious every time. It's a highlight reel with all the fun of camping and none of the stress. Every setback has a smooth conclusion, and the inevitable quirks that occur when you're traveling somewhere you've never been translate well through the screen. In short, Laid-Back Camp's pursuit of joy in recreation is nothing short of infectious.
Runner-Up: How to keep a mummy
Sometimes you don't want an edge-of-your-seat story. Sometimes you want the anime equivalent of watching cat videos on YouTube, so that's when you watch How to keep a mummy. Miniscule mummy Mii-kun and his supernatural critter pals are so endlessly adorable that most of the episodes center around nothing more momentous than them eating food together—and it still ended up being the purest and most perfect half-hour of television I've watched this season. I admit to getting a bit misty whenever it veers away from daily life to focus on the squishy emotions between owner and pet as well. Honestly, I think the show does best when it focuses on the precious but mundane aspects of Mii-kun's world. When the story expands to the world at large and the dangers represented by rare animal collectors, the tone shift belongs to a different kind of show. I'm happy the show wrapped up before it could transform into a “monster of the week” series.
Worst: Yowamushi Pedal Glory Line
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. At first, I was crushed when Yowamushi Pedal Glory Line didn't make weekly streaming review coverage. I'm a huge fan of this series. I love the way it showcases all sorts of body types and incorporates singing a catchy anime song into road race strategy. But after getting let down week after week, I began to see why nobody voted for it this season. Glory Line is the epitome of a show that has overstayed its welcome. Sohoku already won the championship two seasons ago, and “defending our title” does not a compelling underdog story make. The show has also put my favorite characters, like Onoda, into side character roles in order to make room for people I just don't care about. Sohoku has added a first-year, Kaburagi, whose overconfidence is matched only by his ineptitude. And don't get me started on Komari and his sexual harassment that's played off as a joke. I would have been sad to see Yowamushi Pedal conclude, but this slow-motion descent into dullness is even worse.
Best of the Season: DEVILMAN crybaby
In an age where I'm so accustomed to comparing different anime series as they progress week to week, DEVILMAN crybaby definitely felt like a weird outlier, just kicking open the door all at once to deliver an act that nothing else could follow. After I shotgunned the whole thing in early January, I just spent the rest of the winter season wondering what would come in (a distant) second place. I wasn't a big fan of Masaaki Yuasa and knew nothing about Devilman beyond its classic '70s theme song, so DEVILMAN crybaby came as a revelatory surprise to me that I'm still thinking about months later (and still listening to the amazing Devilman theme remix by Avu-chan). Darkly humorous, emotionally gutting, and visually inspired, DEVILMAN crybaby took me on a wild ride, from irreverently raw puberty metaphors to a subversive reimagining of the Book of Revelation, from the end of childhood to the end times, and from an explosive orgy of sakuga to a boldly thought-provoking portent of mankind's self-destruction. I got to lay out my thoughts more thoroughly on ANNCast, in probably one of my favorite series discussions we've ever done, and I'm already eager to revisit the show and peel through more layers of its ambitious allegory that I might have missed. It's pretty weird to feel so sure that the first anime series I finished in 2018 will be among the best of the whole year, but DEVILMAN crybaby was just that nakedly excellent.
Runner-Up: After the Rain
Right away, this was a gorgeous production and a thoughtful character drama. But beyond its divisive premise and attention-getting art design, After the Rain just had my number in one of those uncomfortably personal ways. What initially appeared to be a romance between a 17-year old girl and her 45-year old boss quickly became a completely different kind of "love story" that explored powerful emotions I'm not sure I've ever seen addressed in anime before. In truth, After the Rain is a story of lost love between two people and their life's passions; the improbable romance that never quite starts between them is just a desperate rebound that makes for an intriguing hook. So if the initial pitch turned you off at first, I can't recommend giving After the Rain a second chance enough. The incredible subtlety and delicacy with which it presents difficult emotions of feeling cut off from the passions and dreams that once defined you is incredibly cathartic for anyone who has been through a similar experience—especially if, like Akira or Kondo, you rebounded from that loss into other infatuations to avoid dealing with the pain. The thoughtful Kondo has so many conversations I've had with others or myself, and the way the show illustrates the far more tight-lipped Akira's feelings through all the little changes in the scenery around her was sublime. It meant a lot to me to experience a show like this, and I hope it speaks to others who have gone through similar hardships and come back stronger. (And while I'm on the subject of things that meant a lot to me personally, I also gotta give a shout-out to episode 22 of The Ancient Magus' Bride. If I was picking best single episodes of the season, that would be an easy winner.)
Worst: Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody
Like most rurally raised kids in the 90s, I didn't have internet growing up, so it was still considered this somewhat magical yet dangerous and totally impenetrable thing. But I vividly remember the moment the internet lost some of its mystique for me. I was staying with a family friend for a week or so during the summer, and their son who was close to my age spent his time playing a lot of Runescape online (which was brand-new at the time, so his computer could barely handle it). I had never encountered an MMORPG before, and the idea that you could speak to other people across the world playing this game at the same time initially fascinated me—but once the novelty wore off, I realized that watching someone play Runescape all day was just about the most boring way to spend your summer, and I gradually came to resent how many hours my would-be nerd friend spent looking at reams of menus and farming resources instead of literally anything else.
Anyway, take all the fun of watching someone grind and level in Runescape, add a pile of personality-free slave girl NPCs to fill out our cardboard lead's obligatory harem (literally obligatory since he owns them), and that's the fittingly titled Death March for you. Once the novelty of someone having the audacity to make this their show's entire premise wears off, you're left with nothing but threadbare animation, threadbare plotting, and threadbare flavor of any kind (but plenty of poor taste). And of course, menus. So many menus.
Best of the Season: School Babysitters
When it comes to epic storytelling, School Babysitters isn't really in the race. Still, this winter really felt like the season of adorableness—with everything from How to keep a mummy to Hakumei and Mikochi making me go “aw” all winter long. Though it was a tough call in a season full of feel-good series, School Babysitters gave me the warmest fuzzies. Protagonist RYUICHI may not have many—if any—flaws to speak of, but his gentle nature and strong bond with his toddler brother, Kotaro, are among the most endearing fictional sibling relationships I've seen in any media. The other teens and adults in the series are largely one-note, but the charming situations in which the kids find themselves each week kept me looking forward to each episode. There isn't much character development to speak of, but the realistic and heartwarming depiction of toddlers and babies ensures this one will stick with me for some time to come.
Runner-Up: A Place Further Than the Universe
Whenever Gintama is airing, it's hard for me to leave it off my top two picks of the season, but A Place Further Than the Universe presents such a compelling story with fleshed-out characters, I'd find it remiss to keep this One Off the list, too. There are a lot of anime with teen girls working toward achieving a dream, but few that actually take those teens to the ends of the Earth in order to achieve that dream. Antarctica not only presents opportunities for breathtaking visuals, but the journey there provides plenty of occasions for the girls to grow as people and as friends. They aren't just tropes—they feel real and they experience tangible character growth. The resolution to Shirase's storyline in particular is especially moving, but each girl gets some time in the spotlight. At the same time, a number of the adults on the trip are presented as flawed and important characters, too, not simply background means to an end, like they often are in shows that focus on teens. (Assuming adults show in those series at all.)
Worst: Hakyū Hōshin Engi
This convoluted mess of a show isn't worth watching, but I stuck with it anyway because a friend liked the original series back in the day. Quiz me on what the show is about, though, and after three months, I have almost no idea. The insanely fast pace is relentless, not pausing once to give viewers a chance to catch their breath, and there are way too many characters to keep track of. There's plenty of action, but it's a snooze fest when you can't make heads or tails of what's going on. There's a lot of gratuitous violence, too, with entire populations wiped out for shock value, but my head would usually still be reeling from the last weird, unexpected moment on the show, so the shock barely had time to register. The series sometimes attempts humor, but it often falls flat, like villainess Dakki's “cooking show” cannibalism segment. The art is distinct and based on the source material, I realize, but the characters' appendages are often comically and distractingly large. In short, there's little to recommend this adaption of a 1990s classic.
Best of the Season: A Place Further Than the Universe
Each episode of A Place Further Than the Universe has been a journey in its own right. This show set the bar high as one of the first anime to premiere this season, and it's kept up that high water mark to the point where even its ‘pretty good’ episodes still had outstanding character work or effective emotional resonance. Those characters are the foundation of A Place Further's success. The gimmick of sending any generic quartet of anime high school girls to Antarctica might have been enough to catch some attention, but this series went the extra mile by making them multi-faceted people who could endear themselves to us. Kimari and Yuzuki's struggles to respectively take risks and make friends were immediately relatable, while Shirase and Hinata forged a delightful bond over their own issues and surprising willingness to be petty and selfish in a sympathetic way. Shirase's triumphant “In your face!” upon finally setting foot on Antarctic ice and telling Hinata's fake friends to piss off over a live broadcast are already some of the best anime moments of the year for me. Other surprising elements are similarly effective, such as the show's willingness to use technology as an asset to its storytelling. Who would believe an anime could get me to cry over a bunch of unread e-mails? A Place Further Than the Universe can definitely get a bit Disney Channel at times, but in the hands of talented director Atsuko Ishizuka, that calculated heartstring-tugging treacle is extremely good at what it does.
Runner-Up: DEVILMAN crybaby
On the complete opposite end of the idealism spectrum sits this already (in)famous piece of work. The phenomenon DEVILMAN curated was certainly deserved, and being a Netflix show that you could watch all at once made the harrowing experience more visceral, as it was possible to urge yourself on constantly even when you might feel the need for a breather. (I know I had to step away for a moment after episode 9.) The serial nature of DEVILMAN belies the escalation that makes watching it so compulsory, as it only barely pretends to be a monster-of-the-week superhero show before all (literal) Hell breaks loose and things escalate to a conclusion I could scarcely believe was real the first time I saw it. Maybe being unfamiliar with the plot of the original Go Nagai work helped, but the other name defining this show, Masaaki Yuasa, is just as responsible for the unforgettable experience of this adaptation. Yuasa's free-flowing style is perfectly suited to the wild, unhinged escalation of DEVILMAN's plot. It lends just enough abstraction to the otherwise gratuitous sex and violence in the show to be charitably categorized as ‘artistic’, and the cartoony visuals also lend a degree of detachment necessary to compartmentalize the show's worldview. DEVILMAN is a dark downer of a show, especially in the last stretch, but it's impossible to look away from its vision for long.
Worst: Junji Ito "Collection"
There seems to have been a lack of truly loathsome anime this season, and I avoided shallow light-novel junk like Death March to Parallel World Rhapsody. I did have to watch Junji Ito "Collection" though, and while this one does belong at the bottom of the barrel, it's hard to not feel sorry for it. Junji Ito's horror manga is held in high esteem, and his distinctly hyper-detailed art would be extremely difficult to translate into animation even with the highest level of craftsmanship. This anime's meager resources never stood a chance, to say nothing of the difficulty of adapting a genre as exacting as horror from page-turning manga form to TV anime paced for a specific timeslot. But Junji Ito "Collection"'s scattered weakness is also its one major asset, as the anthology format could yield a success every once in a while, just like a broken clock. In the interest of positivity, and because good horror anime is so hard to come by, I can actually recommend a few segments from this otherwise awful show! Long Dreams and Gentle Goodbye are both interesting conceptual exercises, while Shiver and House of Puppets are among the few that manage to be scary. Greased is a masterwork of grossness, and Painter is such an effective introduction to popular recurring Ito creation Tomie that I'm genuinely excited about the forthcoming OVAs focusing on her. But those successes are still few and far between, with most of the other segments measuring as some level of disappointment.
Best of the Season: Overlord II
Making my top picks this time was especially difficult, as the Winter 2018 season had a wealth of entertaining shows but a shortage of quality shows. (I did not care for the way The Ancient Magus' Bride, my pick for the best of last season, summarized scenes it was skipping or handled its humor). Hence I based my decision for the top spot primarily on consistently high performance, which led to a surprising choice. This follow-up to 2015's Overlord overcame a rocky start to become the season's most engaging series for me. Despite the titular character only peripherally being present for most of the season, the series succeeded by using a highly-likable cast of supporting characters and guest stars to effectively power its two major story arcs. Using body language to help turn a lizard man romance into one of the season's most delightful events is a feat unto itself, but the series also follows up with an arc awash in compelling portrayals of nobility, loyalty, and emotional frankness, along with one of the most interesting yandere characters to come along in quite a while. (And I'm not referring to Albedo.) Mix in sparse but effective and non-distracting humor and a handful of well-handled action scenes and you have a quality experience.
I have no doubt that many will look askance at this pick, as it commonly polled in the bottom half of the weekly rankings, and I didn't always give it high grades in the weekly episode reviews. It's also far from one of the season's more visually inviting series. However, it does have one important aspect that I feel overrides deserves attention; this is one of the most conceptually thoughtful sci fi series I've seen in recent years. In just nine episodes so far, it has pressed hard into ruminations on the advancement of artificial intelligence and humanoid constructs than most other anime series, including examinations of things like legal responsibility and analog hacking that I've never seen dealt with before. Unlike many series which merely accept an advanced AI as a villain, this one is showing how that might come to pass. Its portrayal of a world where AI intelligence has surpassed human intelligence is stealthily becoming frightening. I greatly look forward to seeing where the second half of the series goes.
Worst: Pop Team Epic
At one point I was following eight of the eleven lowest-rated shows in the weekly episode rankings, but that's because I found each of those shows at least regularly entertaining, even if some (Black Clover in particular) also regularly frustrated me. Even at their worst, none of those shows engendered such a viscerally negative reaction as the first episode of this comedy series. I might have even applauded the show for its initial misdirection with Hoshiiro Girldrop, had it not turned into something that looked like a Cartoon Network reject, and the gimmick of using incongruous voices and then repeating the first half with different voices didn't work for me at all. There's an audience out there for stuff like this, but it doesn't include me.
Best of the Season: DEVILMAN crybaby
While there were quite a few shows vying for my runner-up position, the choice for the top spot this season was an easy one: DEVILMAN crybaby is far and away the best anime I've seen this year so far. Masaaki Yuasa's adaptation of Go Nagai's seminal Devilman manga does what the best adaptations do and transforms a familiar piece of media into something that feels as fresh as it did when it was first released almost fifty years ago. Yuasa's idiosyncratic aesthetic fits this particular vision of the Devilman story perfectly, taking Akira Fudo's tragic journey and laying on a thick coat of surreal impressionism, threaded with the anxieties of coming into adolescence as a disenfranchised youth in the 21st century. Thanks to the show premiering on Netflix, Yuasa and his crew can indulge in levels of explicit violence and sexuality that would never fly on broadcast television, but the grotesqueness on display is always in service of telling a thrillingly visceral and agonizingly human story. DEVILMAN crybaby may not be the easiest show to binge-watch (it lives up to its title in more ways than one), but for anyone who can stomach all the violence and heartache, this is an absolute must-watch.
Runner-Up: A Place Further Than the Universe
This one was a close call. Between this series, After the Rain, and Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san, Winter 2018 was filled to the brim with comedies and dramas that routinely melted my heart. Still, I had to pick one, and since A Place Further Than the Universe is the only one of those shows I've been able to finish yet, it won out. Don't mistake this for a mere consolation prize, however. A Place Further Than the Universe absolutely earns its spot by virtue of its quality writing and the almost supernaturally endearing cast of girls that drive this inspirational story forward. While the story of Mari, Shirase, Hinata, and Yuzuki's expedition to Antarctica had to make a couple of dramatically convenient leaps to get the girls to the far reaches of the globe, their collective coming-of-age story is one of the sweetest things I've seen in years, the perfect pick-me-up for a cold winter afternoon. Not only are all of the protagonists adorable cupcakes that are too good for this world, but APFTtU is also very funny, and when it isn't making you laugh, the show sneaks up on you with a heartfelt moment of pure empathy and warmth that gets me teary-eyed just thinking about it. There have been many excellent slice-of-life series this year, but APFTtU managed to instill a genuine sense of camaraderie and adventure into every episode, and I won't soon forget the time I spent with everyone's favorite Antarctica Girls.
Worst: Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody
Just about the only nice thing I can say about Death March is that it lives up to its title. This is the show that takes all of the laziest isekai clichés and stuffs them in a blender, mulching it all down into an indistinguishable grey paste of an anime. For an isekai, the “Other World” featured in this story is hopelessly generic, and Satou remains a horribly bland protagonist from beginning to end. The infantilized gaggle of slave girls he collects over the course of Death March's run don't do his character any favors, as the show never figures out how to rationalize Satou's growing collection of moeblobs in a way that isn't off-putting. Couple all of these issues with stilted animation and amateurish direction, and you have easily the most boring and disposable series of the Winter season.
Best of the Season: After the Rain
There were a fair number of satisfying, melancholy character dramas this season, but in a season that was already pretty much tailored to my tastes, After the Rain was the clear winner. From the start, the show's piercing portrayal of Akira's teenage malaise and Kondo's regretful middle age was incisive, sympathetic, and deeply relatable, and the show only got more emotionally rich as it moved beyond Akira's crush to truly explore the roots of each of their unhappiness. The visual tricks Studio Wit honed on Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress felt right at home in the context of Akira's heightened fantasies, and though the show's subtle character acting and beautiful backgrounds faded a bit across the course of the season, it was still a very smartly directed show from start to finish. And ultimately, the show's focus on the danger of chasing your dream, and the ways its unlikely middle-aged hero Kondo grapples with those dangers, give it an almost unique perspective within anime, a rare and frank look at adult disappointment that you only occasionally get in shows like Planetes or Shirobako. After the Rain was beautiful, emotionally rich, and thematically poignant. If you were initially put off by its ostensible premise, I'd urge you to give it a second look.
Runner-Up: Laid-Back Camp
I'm not always a big fan of slice of life shows, largely because the Manga Time Kirara-style “friends in a clubroom” subgenre generally tends to miss me, while the atmosphere-focused stuff that I like tends to be a little more rare. Laid Back Camp essentially presented an even split between these two styles, with Nadeshiko and her club friends providing some genuinely great comedy skits, while Rin held down the atmospheric fort through her consistent solo expeditions. Laid Back Camp's careful articulation of those solo trips was easily one of my great joys this season; the show's beautiful backgrounds, warming soundtrack, and total understanding of the unique satisfaction of being alone all made it easily to enjoy Rin's trips along with her. Laid Back Camp's consistent aesthetic strengths, charming cast, and many insights into the fun of camping all made it a wonderful vacation destination this winter.
Worst: DARLING in the FRANXX
My usual caveat here is that I don't hatewatch shows, and I don't generally give this “worst” designation to the worst single episode I saw—given that I watched basically everything for the preview guide, that'd just feel like kicking an obviously terrible show when it's down. But I actually got halfway through a season of Franxx before its relentlessly disappointing writing finally lost me. Franxx had so many things going for it - an excellent director, a terrific crew of animators, well-partitioned support from two major studios. The show's standout visual qualities kept me watching for a while, and I began with hopes the show would actually say something compelling about youth or gender or something, but from its butt handles onwards, basically every time this show attempted to be sexy or say something about sexuality, it stumbled over itself and collapsed entirely. I'm very amenable to a show about kids in an oppressive society attempting to stumble through adolescence, but as episodes mounted, it felt more and more clear that Franxx's writers had just as much trouble understanding sexuality as its cast. There was a great vehicle for a compelling story here, but Franxx unfortunately drove itself straight into the ground.
Best of the Season: A Place Further Than the Universe
In a season full of emotionally compelling stories, the thing that impressed me most about A Place Further Than the Universe was the relative simplicity of its appeal. There was nothing otherworldly or scandalous about its premise, its art style was fairly typical for the medium, and it wasn't drawing from already-popular source material. It was just an original story about four teenagers traveling to Antarctica, and that's all it needed to succeed. It's a reminder that good writing and artful direction can build a memorable story out of ordinary pieces.
As befits a coming of age story, A Place Further Than the Universe was especially good at handling the thoughts and mixed emotions that accompany adolescence. Each of its four main characters approached the theme of restless youth from a different angle, and the series handled their journeys well. It placed characters into situations that were neatly tailored to bring out their past regrets or present insecurities, and it presented their inevitably raw and heavy emotions in a way that felt both insightful and authentic. These stories were all wrapped up in a unifying theme of pushing your limits and taking on new challenges, and the occasional moments of triumph felt well earned. It's not often that a show can maintain a positive tone without sacrificing its dramatic impact, but A Place Further Than the Universe proves it's possible.
Runner-Up: After the Rain
I spent this entire season worrying about After the Rain. Its premise was such an obvious thematic minefield, and just one step in the wrong direction could have derailed the show completely. The fact that it somehow stayed on track (at least for the eleven episodes that have aired as I write this) is a small miracle in and of itself. The genuinely impressive series sitting atop that foundation almost feels like a bonus, but those strong points are certainly worth exploring.
After the Rain wasn't the first show to add flourishes of color and effects to otherwise ordinary scenes, but it was one of the few cases where that visual style didn't feel like a gimmick. There was a sense of deliberate artistry in the way those effects were used, and they almost always helped call attention to the emotional or thematic core of a scene. The writing was smart and subtle, and it took a slow but effective approach to exploring the personal dilemmas faced by the characters. The recurring conflicts between the desire to hold on to an ambition and the desire to give up on it gave the narrative something to focus on while still leaving room for the characters to be themselves. I frequently found that I didn't want to watch anything else after finishing an episode, as there was something special about the vague feeling of melancholy that lingered after the ending credits. That's an impressive effect for a series to have, especially one that could have easily been the biggest train wreck of the season.
Worst: Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody
After hearing universally negative things about this show, I decided to give it a try out of some morbid, “it can't possibly be that bad” curiosity. I ended up sitting through the first three episodes, and I would dearly like to have that time back. Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody wasn't necessarily terrible in the “massive dumpster fire” sense of the word, but it was utterly devoid of any meaningful conflict or dramatic tension. It fully embraced its genre's bad habit of taking a bland protagonist and making him so overpowered that he somehow becomes more boring than he already was. I didn't get any sort of impression that the good guys would ever face a challenge they couldn't easily overcome, and so there was nothing to get excited about. There's room in the anime world for the occasional power fantasy, but a story this unbalanced is just too dull to be worth anyone's time.
Best of the Season: How to keep a mummy
I wasn't expecting much out of the Winter 2018 season, to be honest. I don't generally like cute girl shows, and there were just so many that by the half-way point of the preview guide, I was beginning to despair of finding anything I'd want to watch to completion. Luckily for me, it turned out that my not-so-secret cute kryptonite was lurking in the wings: a show about adorable animals/mythological figures.
How to keep a mummy manages to balance on the edge of being cute for cuteness' sake and having a genuine emotional impact. Yes, School Babysitters does that too, but Mummy does it with a bit more subtlety – rather than having a blanket tragic past for the main characters, each caretaker of a very special pet has his or her own specific circumstances, and they aren't harped on or brought up constantly. Yes, Sora's been essentially abandoned by his father (and then plagued with his “gifts”), but we're shown how much happier he is with Mii-kun rather than being reminded at every turn that he's the previous victim of a lonesome life. Tazuki's cold attitude towards Conny is likewise explained without being harped on, and we don't even fully know what Asa's deal is. Maybe she doesn't have one beyond really not liking lizards. It almost doesn't matter, because she and Isao are able to be there for each other, and it's easy to see that both of their lives are the better for it. Daichi's issue is much more medical (or psychological) than the other three kids', and that's also a nice change in that there's no real blanket situation that the new pet parents find themselves in. Everyone's got their own circumstances, some more upsetting than others, but ultimately they're all able to be happier together.
If that sounds a little corny, well, I suppose it is. But that's another reason I love the show – it manages to be kind and a bit cheesy without going over the top. It's just a nice feel-good story, and that's what I needed this winter. That the character designs are adorable (I love that second oni baby with his angry eyes) certainly helps, and I could listen to Conny and Mii make cute sounds all day. (It's always a good episode when Conny says, “Gu!”) But really at the end of the day why this is my top series for the season is because of the way it demonstrates the bonds between pets and people and how mutually beneficial it is. I could recognize a cat or dog I've had in all of the creatures, and that not only made watching the show fun, but it also made it feel personal and familiar. Whether Conny is an oni or the anime incarnation of my late cat Horus, watching him and the others is a guaranteed way to make me smile.
Runner-Up: School Babysitters and DamexPrince Anime Caravan
For a season I didn't think I'd like, I ended up with three shows I really enjoyed. They didn't touch me the way my number one did, but both School Babysitters and Dame X Pri also delighted me, albeit in very different ways. The former managed to hit on a lot of the same points as How to keep a mummy – it's basically a charming feel-good show about cute characters. Mostly what stops it from tying with my first choice is the relationship between brothers Taka and Hayate: I just can't get past the way that the older hits the younger all the time. That probably comes down to sensibilities and my own experience as the oldest sibling; we weren't even allowed to play the “punch buggy” game (where you punch someone on the arm when you see a Volkswaggon Bug) in my family. The show also had a little less continuity, with its half-episode storylines and the characters having to tell us that a year had been covered over the course of the series rather than us finding out more organically. But it never shies away from showing that little kids are both cute and gross or explaining that relationships with them are just as complex as relationships with older people. School Babysitters has an honesty to it that works in its favor, and a charm that feels only slightly overdone.
DamexPri, on the other hand, is a riotous send-up of the standard reverse harem otome game tropes, and I love it for that. Whether it's heroine Ani calling out Vino for making up a random nickname and posing weirdly or Narek unable to decide whether he looks more fabulous against the sky here or the sky over there, the show is unforgiving as it skewers its genre. That Teo's princess-senses always seem to tingle just a little too late or that Ani really can take care of herself are fun elements that take aim at the hapless, blank-slate heroines of a few too many reverse harem stories, as does the fact that Ani always seems like she'd jump out of her series and into something saner in a heartbeat. Dame X Pri feels like the reverse harem for everyone who has ever screamed, “What the hell are you doing?!” at an otoge heroine, because you just know that Ani would be screaming along with you.
Worst (Most Disappointing): Sanrio Boys
For the last couple years, I've been actively out of the hate-watching business. That means that I haven't actually been watching anything that I actively dislike unless it's unavoidable. Hence my semantic decision to reword this selection as the “most disappointing” rather than the worst: a series that I really liked at first but that dropped the ball.
It was tempting to go with the hapless Märchen Mädchen, but as we've found out, that's less a case of the story's fault and more a production plagued by misfortune, so I'd feel rotten doing that. Instead my disappointment falls on Sanrio Boys, Sanrio's latest marketing attempt brought to animated life. In part, my disenchantment with the show is my own dumb fault – I somehow managed to forget the entire opening part of the first episode, where the main characters put on a god-awful play. That's because once those three minutes are over, the first six episodes are about assembling the cast of boys who think that they have to hide or deny their love for Sanrio characters. While I'm not a big Sanrio fan, the base story is something that could be about Barbies or stuffed pigs or anything that a high school boy might be uncomfortable liking because it isn't in line with the social definition of “masculine.” Watching the guys come to terms with the fact that they're allowed to like something even if they're not “supposed” to is heartwarming and touching, especially Kouta's memories of his grandmother. All of the guys are different too, so there's no blanket stereotypes employed. For the first half, this is a lovely story.
And then there's the second half. Once the cast is all in place and all basically one big happy friend group, the series takes a major nosedive into Cheesy Land. Suddenly Kouta is talking about how he wants to “sparkle” and the gang begins writing their play from episode one. Instead of story we get fanservice, plot clichés, and a major halt to the actual development of the characters. With lame plot devices that we've seen in virtually every other show, like the threat of one of the characters being forced to move, Sanrio Boys devolves from an interesting story about people coming to accept that they don't have to fit into social norms to something much more mundane. It isn't terrible by any means, but it is an abrupt shift in how it tells its story, almost to the point where I felt like I was suddenly watching a completely different show about the same characters, albeit more shallowly written.
If Sanrio Boys had started out that way, it would have been fine. But it teased me with a better story and more depth of plot. For it then to turn around and become just another series about cute guys hanging out together, to say nothing of ramping up the product placement in the second half…well, that's a good way to foster disappointment and to bring a story down.
So what were your favorite series of the Winter 2018 season? Share them with us in the forums!
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