The Best (and Worst) Anime of Spring 2018
Summer's finally here! Before we break out the popsicles and head for Anime Expo, 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 Spring 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 Summer 2018 Preview Guide starts on July 1st, so look forward to that! Without further ado, here are our selections:
An anime doesn't need mainstream, non-otaku appeal in order to be good, but it's certainly not a bad thing either. Netflix Originals have the power to make you stop and think to yourself for one moment and ask if this is something that could hook a non-anime fan, and I think Aggrestuko is in a unique position compared to the service's other offerings. People all over the world know Sanrio, and the concept of taking their cutesy aesthetic and propping it up as a surprisingly adult-minded, extremely hashtag-relatable workplace comedy has its hooks.
And as a relatable workplace comedy, Aggretsuko is as sharp as a knife with stabbing satire of everyday life. Equally, however, I found the show astonishing warm and full of heart. The characters all feel like people you've met in your real life, and it makes a concerted effort to have something to add to the conversation started by a million other workplace sitcoms. I haven't seen a show deal with these themes of ennui, self-pity, destructive office hierarchies, and heartbreak in quite this way before. Aggretsuko has a very firm identity of its own, and yet I believe this show manages to be for everybody at least a little bit. That's amazing.
MEGALOBOX is the crossroad between a chest-thumping “Never give up!” shonen sports manga, and the more meditative sensibilities of Cowboy Bebop and its sort. The novelty of the show broadcasting in a phony low-resolution never quite felt right on my eyes, but it's a standout example of how far MEGALOBOX is willing to go to earn its lived-in, dirty look. The art direction, fight compositions, and banging soundtrack all play into why this show is impossible to ignore, and the characters are endearing enough that the ending is all but guaranteed to stir a hurricane of feelings, whatever Gearless Joe's fate ends up being. I don't see this show making so much of an impact that we'll still be talking about it a few seasons from now, but for the time being it's a great ride.
Runner-Up: Cutie Honey Universe
Chalk this one up to “I wanted to like this more than I did.” Go Nagai fever is running red-hot nowadays, thanks in no small part to Devilman Crybaby, and I've always thought Cutie Honey was alluring property to explore further; essential in its influence and simplicity. But Cutie Honey Universe isn't a show I'd recommend to anybody. More artistic fervor would be needed to sell its brand of spice to adults, and it's old-fashioned story lacks the freshness needed to hook any teenagers looking for some sexy pulp. CHU is dull as dishwater.
A cheery yakuza, a stoic telekinetic alien teen, and their random slice-of-life adventures make for the season's funniest offering. Considering the setup alone, the alien aspect is really underused, and even the yakuza appear less often than one might expect, and yet the episodes never fail to amuse. Probably one of the funniest storylines follows alien Hina's middle school friend, Hitomi, who haplessly becomes an expert bartender. She lives in a swanky, expensive condo and takes on high-paying job offers coming at her left and right—despite wanting nothing more than to be a normal girl. Nitta's exploits as a reluctant father are both hilarious and touching, though he's surprisingly sometimes less devoted to the role than you might expect after all the episodes they spend building a relationship of sorts. The other main alien girl, Anzu, goes through a rather surprising character arc throughout the series, but it all builds naturally, changing this tsundere to a much kinder and considerate girl before series' end. There isn't a dull character in the bunch. There might not be that much screen time placed on an overall cohesive storyline—like why these alien girls are on Earth to begin with—but the show is all the better for it.
Runner-up: Golden Kamuy
Some questionable animation aside—not that it isn't well-animated for the most part—Golden Kamuy combines action, mystery, buddy comedy, and stunning vistas in a historical setting into a series that stands out from many other anime. Asirpa and Sugimoto, united by their desire to find the missing Ainu treasure, make for an odd pairing, but they each bring something to their quest that the other lacks. Shiraishi as a later addition to their party keeps things hilarious with his airheaded tendencies and dumb luck. Though it feels like the story has just gotten started, there's still plenty in this cour to keep the audience riveted.
Worst: Magical Girl Ore
As a fan of anime comedy and parodies, I had high hopes for Magical Girl Ore, and the first couple of episodes were somewhat promising, if not amazingly funny. However, the series never really took off, forever stuck in the same basic gags while at the same time not doing enough with a fairly interesting set-up. How can girls who transform into muscle-bound hunks when in magical girl form who have a yakuza-man mascot and fight funny bear-looking bad guys go wrong? Magical Girl Ore shows us how. One episode in the middle in particular that focuses on a side character and his brothers rushing to complete the animation work on the episode and battling some giant monster tries to be funny and meta but just comes across as confusing. The twist at the end somewhat redeems the monotonousness of the show before it, but it's still not enough to recommend the series. All in all, it's not the worst comedy I've seen, but it certainly doesn't live up to its promise.
Though Megalobox started strong, I just didn't have the time to keep up with it. Besides, three other series were about equally deserving of this honor, albeit for entirely different reasons: one because it's a great continuation of a beloved franchise (Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory), one because of the concepts it presents (see below), and one because of its eccentric but surprisingly effective balance of absurdist humor and serious emotional content. Of those three, the latter wins out because I decided to use “doesn't have multiple recap episodes” as a tiebreaker. Hinamatsuri is well deserving entirely on its own merits, though. It isn't the most raucously funny comedy out there but its mix of personalities, emphasis on putting its characters in absurd situations, and willingness to even spend an entire season setting up one joke has its own unusual kind of charm. The writing also understands perfectly when not to be absurd, and that results in some surprisingly strong emotional moments, too. I thought the season peaked in the middle with the episodes about Anzu leaving the homeless camp and being taken in by the old couple, but the drop-off wasn't a big one and no series surged hard enough at the end to overtake it.
Even with the irritating multiple recap episodes (including two in four weeks at one point!) and mediocre production values, this is the lowest that I felt that I could justify placing this series. That's because, conceptually-speaking, this season's episodes continue to blow everything else out of the water. I'll be going into much more detail about that in a full write-up once the final episode of this season airs, but the short version is that it provides a more thoughtful examination of man's potential future relationship with AIs than any other sci fi series I've ever seen, anime or not, and it does so without automatically casting super-intelligent AIs as villains. (That's not to say that the series doesn't offer some disconcerting considerations about them, however.) This season's episodes further win bonus points for revealing that some early-series scenes which seemed frivolous at the time, like the infamous public modeling show, were actually anything but that.
Worst: Fist of the Blue Sky Regenesis
Black Clover was probably the weakest out of the series that I watched more than a couple of episodes of this season, but I wouldn't actually call it a bad series; it's just very typical shonen action fare. I was tempted to go with Magical Girl Site based on that horrendous first episode, but the second episode is much better so I'm going to reserve judgment on that one until I watch the rest. Hence I'm going with the other series that I rated a 1 in the season's Preview Guide. The first episode of this franchise prequel basically didn't do anything right, including offering CG that even I couldn't tolerate – and I can tolerate worse CG than most. While there have been premier episodes in the past few seasons that I've found more objectionable, it's been a long time since I've seen a first full-length episode this all-around bad.
Best: Lupin the Third: Part 5
I loved the first of the two "blue jacket" series, Lupin III: Part IV, ranking it as one of my favorite anime series of 2016. This season's Part 5 looked to be more of the same, and that would have been just fine on its own. And yet, I think this one might be even more entertaining: funnier, more original, and with way more riffs on the previous series for preexisting fans. And yet, it makes those nods without confusing the hell out of newbies, where other recent franchise media (I'm looking at you, Solo) could really learn a few things from it.
Part 5 also does a great job with its new characters. None are as colorful or engaging as Rebecca Rossellini, Lupin's new wife from the last series, but they get pretty close. Ami turned out to be surprisingly interesting for someone who initially felt like a rip-off of previous kuudere hacker girls. Albert's existence throws a huge wrench into the series' mythology. The show's multi-arc format also allows it to have the best of both worlds, in terms of the strengths of both episodic and longer-form storytelling. All in all, there's just so much to recommend this series. I love that I live in the time where we have new Lupin III television series to watch, and what's more, they manage to feel creative and fresh instead of just re-treads on the old material. This series still has a whole cour to go, and doesn't feel like it will run out of steam any time soon.
I could have just as easily put this series as my no. 1 pick. Aggretsuko might be the most relatable "workplace comedy" anime out there, even with its cast full of cutesy anthropomorphic animals. It captures the frustration of dead-end jobs and the "fuck I'm in my 20s" quarter-life crisis better than most other media I've seen, Japanese or Western. What I'm most impressed by is how it manages to capture basically every type of annoying coworker you'd have in an office job. There are the obnoxious brownnosers; hyper-competitive weirdos; the office gossip; the parent who never shuts up about her kids… the works. At the same time, it also shows the way that the travails of these jobs can lead to a real camaraderie with the people you do get along with, and it's heartening to watch Retsuko find friendship (and even romance!) among her colleagues across the series. Finding friendship like Retsuko and Fenneko's is the best outcome in a job you hate, or even just one full of people you hate—just having one person to laugh along with at all the chaos around you, and understand or even share your frustrations. This series is such #relatablecontent that it's become the easiest anime for me to recommend to my non-anime fans since Yuri on Ice, because every Millennial I know can find something familiar in Aggretsuko.
Worst: Tada Never Falls in Love
This is far from the absolute worst of this season, but it was the weakest I watched to completion. It also has to be one of the season's biggest disappointments: There was strong hype for this series, sharing a director with one of the best recent anime comedies, Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun. Which made it particularly sad how much Tada Never Falls in Love failed as a comedy. Its jokes just fell flat more often than not, and its comic relief supporting characters were boring anime clichés. The only reason to keep watching was for its central romance, which had a lot of potential but that was also squandered. Both leads ended up being a little too bland and nice, without much to distinguish them other than that. There were nods at childhood trauma, but not enough to make them truly interesting characters. You want them to get together because they are just so gosh-darned good and they deserve it, not out of any real tension to their relationship.
It's not fair to compare Tada Never Falls in Love to its director's previous work, but you can't help it when this work does so little to distinguish itself. I wasn't expecting to be blown-away by this one, but at least for something that could entertain me and make me smile. Tada Never Falls in Love couldn't even accomplish that. It's yet another forgettable, paint-by-numbers school rom-com, and that's what makes it so sad.
This pretty much never happens to me: both of the shows that I named as my most anticipated for the Spring 2018 season turned out to be my favorites of the Spring 2018 season. This may have ruined me for life, but in the meantime, I will bask in the glory of something I was hoping for turning out to be as good as I dreamed.
Best: GeGeGe no Kitaro 2018
As a fan of folklore, middle grade novels, and horror fiction, to say nothing of Shigeru Mizuki's original manga, GeGeGe no Kitaro seemed destined to be a favorite. Luckily this turned out to be precisely the case, but more than that, it has overshot my expectations at every turn. Not only is this a faithful adaptation of Mizuki's original, it's also a careful updating of its source materials – you need look no further than episode 7's ghost train story, which has been retold each time the manga is reworked so that it hits on salient contemporary points while still driving home its central message. That's the case with most of the episodic stories here: whether lifted directly from the manga or not, Kitaro is as at home in 2018 as he is in 1960, helping humans with the results of their hubris and folly. Dumbass YouTuber or tofu peddler, the series reworks its stories to ensure that they continue to resonate.
That's the other reason why I like this show so much – it never underestimates its (intended) child audience. Children's shows often dumb down scary topics or beat viewers over the head with their messages, but GeGeGe no Kitaro trusts its watchers to be able to grasp difficult subjects. Once again, the ghost train episode is a stand-out, unrelenting in how creepy it is (and morphing creepy into scary), and making a very clear statement about bullying that goes miles beyond standard “very special episode” fare. Kitaro flat-out tells the girl who called him that bullying will send you to hell, never once trying to implore her to be a better person. Similarly, albeit less scarily, the Shiro episode tackles the difficult subject of losing someone you love without resorting to platitudes, while episode 13 delves into a very dark look at man's inhumanity to man when greed is involved. The only episode that has garbled its message is when Mana finds herself dealing with unwanted male attention; that one is definitely sending out some mixed messages. But by and large, this hits all the right notes: creepy/scary, trusting its audience, and sticking with you after the episode is over.
Runner-up: Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits
I had a very hard time deciding which of these shows to put first, but the precipitous drop in animation quality in Kakuriyo ended up making the decision for me. Kitaro consistently looks gorgeous. Kakuriyo suffers from serious derp, which increases as it goes on. That aside, however, this is another winner in terms of plot: heroine Aoi's nobody's doormat when she discovers that her late grandfather affianced her to the Oni Master of an inn in the spirit realm, announcing that she unilaterally rejects the deal and will instead work to pay off her grandfather's debt. Although it's clear that Oni Master has no intention of letting her go, he's also not a creep about it, allowing Aoi to refurbish a closed restaurant on the inn's grounds and run a small apparent realm (human) restaurant there. Aoi is determined to make this work, and even as she grows closer to the Oni Master, you can see that if she does decide to marry him, it will be on her terms – because she loves him and she chooses to, not because she's collateral for a debt. What's even better about this is that she's not simply an amalgamation of traits that someone threw together to create a “strong female character,” she is a strong female character in that she's a believable person who happens to be female. As the story continues to build in its second cour this summer, I think we can look forward to more interesting ayakashi and learning about what really brought on her grandfather's bargain (I strongly suspect he's protecting her in putting her under Oni Master's jurisdiction), and, like with Kitaro, I can't wait to see the next episode.
So this topic put me in a bit of a bind – I decided to keep watching both Butlers x Battlers and Nil Libra of Admirari with the idea that I'd end up not liking one of them and could use them for my “worst,” but ended up enjoying both. So that leaves me with my least favorite that I watched more than one episode of, Gurazeni. Notwithstanding the fact that my learning disability hates the title and I can barely write it correctly (Gurazeni? Garuzeni? Garuzine?), this show was largely a disappointment in that for a show about baseball there's precious little baseball in it. I do realize that that's not the full scope of the series, and I honestly do think that it's likely a much more engaging manga. But between the lack of game, characters I found difficult to like, and unattractive visuals, this just didn't do it for me in a big way.
This pick shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who followed my streaming reviews of Hinamatsuri. Completely bonkers and yet remarkably endearing, this series started off strong and only got better as the season went on. While it's common for shows to mix comedic and dramatic elements into a single story, it's rare to see both halves of that formula delivered at such a consistently high level. The script's willfully absurd sense of humor was backed up by sharp timing and delivery, with the end result being that every single episode managed to make me laugh. In between the jokes, the characters gradually developed into a lovable cast of lunatics, and many of their personal journeys featured some genuinely moving moments. I don't know what sort of narrative witchcraft Hinamatsuri employed to keep its two tonal halves in balance, but it worked out amazingly well.
All of that would be enough to make a series good, but what raised Hinamatsuri up into “great” territory for me was the show's constant commitment to breaking the rules. There was almost an aggressive quality to the way in which the series went about upending audience expectations whenever and wherever it could. Heartfelt, dramatic scenes were turned into fodder for self-parody almost instantaneously, storylines took sharp turns away from easy or obvious conclusions, and not even the finale was safe from Hinamatsuri's reckless creativity. It's uncommon enough for an anime series to take so many risks with its story, and it's rarer still for those experiments to pay off in such spectacular fashion. For proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that there's still room for something fresh and surprising in this medium, Hinamatsuri is far and away my favorite title of the season.
While Hinamatsuri made its mark by throwing narrative logic out the window, Megalobox stood out by making the most of a classic story structure. As a spiritual successor to a classing boxing series, this was very much the archetypal tale of an underdog rising to take on the established champion. It's a story most people will have heard before, and yet Megalobox told that story with enough style and heart to make it all feel fresh and compelling. A genre shift to near-future science fiction certainly helped to shake things up and add some neat “man vs. machine” elements, but it was the gritty, human tale of Gearless Joe fighting to earn his place in the ring that gave this series its beating heart. Teamed up with a group of charismatic yet flawed allies, Joe was the kind of protagonist that you can't help but root for.
A naturally cool visual and musical style certainly helped, and that distinctive appearance was backed up by artful direction. The fight scenes in particular were well-presented, with each punch feeling intense and physical enough to tell the audience exactly which fighter had the upper hand at any given moment. Joe's opponents weren't just expendable “villains of the week,” either; the fight against Aragaki made for an especially moving mid-season highlight, and Yuri was so compelling as Joe's ultimate rival that he could've carried a series of his own. With so many of its characters ideally suited to their particular roles in the story, Megalobox was as gripping outside the ring as it was inside it.
Worst: Real Girl
The streaming review process can be an unpredictable one: sometimes you end up covering a gem like Hinamatsuri, and sometimes you get stuck with a dud like Real Girl. What frustrated me about this series is that it was by no means doomed from the start; with a solid premise and a reasonably well-matched pair of main characters, this could've been a perfectly decent entry in the romance genre. Instead, each episode of Real Girl felt like an exercise in wasted potential. Plausibly entertaining at its best and utterly dull at its worst, it suffered from weak antagonists, meandering storylines, poor animation quality, and a persistent failure to make good use of its stronger points. Consider this a counterpoint to the two titles above it: without strong execution, even an intriguing premise can turn into a forgettable series.
Best: My Hero Academia
There were some solid seasonal contenders this spring, but in the wake of the last few episodes, there's no way I can give it to anything but My Hero Academia. As an avid reader of the comic, I'd always known that the summer training arc and All For One battles would be high points of the adaptation, but the anime still managed to surpass my expectations. With our understanding of Class 1-A's powers and personalities growing stronger with every new arc, the show has become a series of continuous payoffs, as our investment in threads like Deku's relationship with All Might or Iida's concern for his friends is rewarded with cataclysmic expressions of those feelings. But this season isn't simply great because it's built on what came before - fights like All Might versus All For One absolutely speak for themselves, and represent a high point not just for this show, but for action animation altogether.
And to its immense credit, My Hero Academia isn't strictly interested in the glamorous side of superheroism. In fact, the “battle” between All Might and Midoriya's mother might actually be my own personal favorite moment of the season, a moment that was rich in character, directly reflective of Academia's resonant themes, and brought to life beautifully by Academia's talented team. Hearing this utterly justified and heartbreaking exchange between two people who both love Midoriya deeply in their own way felt like one more resounding validation of everything this show has said about family, influence, and what we owe to each other. My Hero Academia has never been better, and I couldn't be happier about it.
Runner-up: Legend of the Galactic Heroes
As for my runner-up, I'd say the most technically impressive show on the whole would likely be Megalo Box, but my own heart belongs to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. If pressed, I'd likely describe this current adaptation of the classic franchise as “sturdy” or “workmanly” - the kind of damning-with-faint-praise rhetoric you reserve for shows that are putting in the hours and selling their story, but not really thrilling with visual flair or anything like that. Fortunately, Legend of the Galactic Heroes happens to possess one of the best underlying narratives adapted to anime, and its consistently barbed reflections on the nature of war and politics are pretty much one of my only happy places in this mess of a modern world.
Galactic Heroes operates on a fairly refined base level of political insight, assuming or offhandedly describing an understanding of political theater that most shows have no interest in approaching. When you tether that savage theater to a conflict like this and a protagonist as just-plain-comforting as Yang Wen-li, you wind up with a show that reminds you everything is always on fire, it's just the names and faces and weapon technology that changes. It's a great show in any right, but what might most endear me to Galactic Heroes is its calm assurance that everything has been and will always be terrible in roughly the same way.
Best: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
For once, this was also one of my most anticipated shows for spring! Pixiv has been amazing for democratizing the manga market and introducing wider audiences to previously unknown or rookie authors. Both My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and Wotakoi started as Pixiv hits before finding success in the west. Wotakoi's unusual beginnings show in its subject matter, a romance between geeky office workers. It's rare to get an anime story about adult characters, and even rarer to get one with characters this motivated and expressive. Our main four all have distinct, established character beats that fit into various strain of otaku with plenty of overlap, leading to multidimensional characters who befriend each other, banter, and fall in love like real people. However, there's nothing homegrown at all in this show's slick visuals, color-coded character designs, or polished pop theme songs. With more of a sitcom feel compared to Recovery of an MMO Junkie's soap opera, it's the sophisticated otaku's love story.
Hinamatsuri was spring's biggest surprise, perhaps because its description sounds like a confusing jumble of tropes. Combing girls with psychic powers and the yakuza underworld to somehow get a heartfelt slice-of-life comedy sounds like an unconvincing sales pitch, but that's exactly what happened. By focusing on its characters' feelings and relationships, their absurd circumstances become less dire and more like a comedy sketch. A soft, pencil-drawing art style mellows out these stark profiles even further. That means Hinamatsuri can tackle some truly dark subjects (homelessness, yakuza hits, risky survival situations) and somehow have its audience burst out laughing while loving the characters more than before. How? Apart from its pitch-perfect comedic timing, it walks a delicate tightrope to keep its light tone. A single falter would convert this warm and affectionate show into a depressing black comedy.
Worst: Magical Girl Ore
I was amped for what I thought could be a spiritual successor to Excel Saga. So when Magical Girl Ore turned out to be a perfectly standard magical girl show with some surrealist trappings, I was more disappointed than I expected. I'd argue that the show fell into a very common trap for parodies when it became the very thing it wanted to parody. Sure, these magical girls transform into muscular men, but their story has all the plot elements of a typical magical girl show, with an idol subplot, first love, and a final boss to be defeated. With only twelve chapters of manga to work with, Magical Girl Ore quickly exhausted its source material, stretched out its jokes into nothing, and somehow still didn't have time to wrap up more than the base plot, leaving a bunch of threads hanging about its more bizarre aspects (like a conveniently available cyborg). The lowest point? The disastrous episode 5, in which some side characters abandoned the main plot in order to have an inside-baseball tantrum about the anime industry.
In the hands of a less capable crew, Megalobox could very well have a total-misfire. This a series that has been produced as part of the commemoration of Ashita no Joe's 50th anniversary, yet it relies on the same sport-drama tropes and archetypal characters that were going stale by the time the Rocky sequels sputtered out in the 1990. It's also a slavish homage to the digipaint anime of the early 200s, going so far as to recreate their same muddy, standard-definition resolution, which I'm sure many aficionados would prefer to forget in this glorious age of HD, on-demand streaming. Plus, compared to the original Ashita no Joe's combined 126 episode run, Megalobox has only had twelve weeks to develop its characters, build its grungy science-fiction world of robotics-enhanced boxing, and weave a story worth caring about. I can easily imagine a world wherein Megalobox turned out to be something akin to Cutie Honey Universe, a well-meaning piece of fanservice that just can't live up to what made the original such a classic in the first place.
Despite all of these potential limitations, though, Megalobox has been a monumental success. The underdog story of Joe, Nanbu, and Sachio has managed to work in spite of its archetypal roots because of the show's earnest, powerful commitment to its storytelling. Its aesthetic perfectly captures everything worth remembering about the anime of twenty years ago while still managing to run wild with its own imminently cool style. The fights themselves work around Megalobox's resource constraints with expert direction, and also by never forgetting the human drama that fuels the fighters squaring off in the ring. And enough cannot be said of mabanua's impeccable soundtrack, which gives every episode of Megalobox a pulsing, hypnotically cool energy. More than anything else, Megalobox is so confident and brazen in its ability to entertain and inspire its audience that once can't help but cheer when a new episode is released. Even with its finale having yet to air, I'm confident in the abilities of director You Moriyama and the crew at TMS Entertainment to provide a rousing conclusion to what is easily my favorite anime of Spring 2018.
This season's race was much closer than I would have expected, as I never expected to fall as head-over-heels for Hinamatsuri as I ended up doing. The first episodes of the season were funny enough; I found the premise of a self-centered Yakuza having to care for a destructive, psychic girl from the future to be entertainingly unique, and even in its first couple of episodes Hinamatsuri demonstrated a deft hand in the kind of deadpan comic timing that I'm almost always in the mood for. As the weeks went on, however, I was astounded to discover just how sweet and complex a comedy Hinamatsuri really is. While Hina and Yoshifumi's mismatched father-daughter dynamic is always good for a few laughs, it's in exploring the lives of it's side characters where Hinamatsuri really shines. Hina's fellow future psychic Anzu has a story-arc which includes a surprisingly touching and empathetic look at the lives of the Japanese homeless that eventually leads her into the arms of a loving adopted family, and their compatriot Mao gets a one-off story as a Tom Hanks-esque castaway, complete with approximations of Hina and Anzu made from coconuts and straw.
Nothing could have prepared me for the misadventures of Hitomi, though, the 9th-grader whose inadvertent transformation into a successfully independent member of the working-class is as hilarious as it is tragically relatable. In almost all of its episodes, Hinamatsuri somehow manages to combine truly empathetic characters with a keen sense of storytelling, all while never failing to forget to keep things perpetually weird and hilarious. If MEGALOBOX weren't around to hog the spotlight, Hinamatsuri would easily be my favorite show of the season, and I'll be the first one rioting in the streets if this quirky comedy doesn't get picked up for the second season it so obviously deserves.
Despite being based on a game that was written by Tadashi Satomi, one of the main writers for the original Persona games, Caligula feels more like a rip-off of that venerated RPG staple, offering a similar cast of stylish teens who use their superpowers to fight off monsters and a world-altering conspiracy, but providing none of the action-packed flair or fun characterization that Persona has become famous for. The “characters trapped in a digital world” premise has been done to death already, Caligula offers nothing new to bring to the table, saving all of its most interesting plot twists and character development for the final episodes of the season, meaning that everything leading up to that feels like barely coherent filler that has been plucked from the source material with little rhyme or reason. Having not played The Caligula Effect, I have no clue if the game is better than this anime adaptation, but I can only hope so. Caligula isn't so much awful as it is boring and confusing, which I think might be worse than if it were a memorably terrible garbage fire. As it is, I can barely remember anything that happened in this series, and I'm sure that before too long it will be as if I never watched it at all.
One thing I'm thankful for since getting this job is how it seems every season since has delivered at least one anime that is just an unquestionable, top-of-the-heap, excellent series. I've never had to settle for one that was just ‘pretty good’ in my final rankings. This season, that unmistakable winner was Megalobox, which came out immediately apparent as something special. Something I really like about Megalobox is how the underdog story it contains is applicable to the surprising success of the show itself. It's considered an absurd impossibility in-show that Joe could fight his way to the top of a robot-arms boxing tournament without using any gear himself, and similarly the idea of an anime intentionally downgrading its looks to a low-res, digipaint, early-DVD-era style would be a hell of an aesthetic gamble. But in both cases that gamble pays off as a shocking success that's all the more resounding for the risks it overcame. Whether other series to come will imitate Megalobox's grainy effort in the same way Yuri downgrades himself on the eve of this show's big final bout remains to be seen, but all the x-factors in who will be left standing (or even alive) after the climax of this passionate drama between men surely carries the series to a victory all its own. It's a knockout.
Runner-Up: Food Wars! The Third Plate - Totsuki Train Arc
The question of the second-best thing I watched this season ended up being more of a toss-up, but as excellent as the new Lupin III has been, I've got to go with my hungry, hungry gut on this one. Food Wars has been a perennial favorite of mine since its inception, a tasty treat in any season it's present in. What made this latest portion even more satisfying was the same ingredients that elevate any good shonen series: Ever-higher stakes and a host of great characters. Expulsion has always been threatened as on the menu for the punishment-gluttons at Totsuki, but to see it finally enacted on a whole crowd of characters we loved, reversible as it may turn out to be, drove home how dire the situation was. That it was meted out by Azami strengthened that, as Erina's bad dad has proven to be both the first antagonist the series takes entirely seriously, and leaning into that as a hauntingly realistic portrayal of child abuse. Alongside all the usual outrageous recipes and sexy tasting shenanigans, it's a flavor combination that should have been too disparate to work. But then like any dish Soma comes up with, it somehow tied together for a satisfying meal, and I can only hope the next course is served soon.
Worst: Cutie Honey Universe
Cutie Honey Universe actually hung in there at ‘mediocre’ for quite a while, even hitting a spike of potential with its gutsy (though manga-derived) decision to messily murder most of the supporting cast halfway through. But the inability to make the qualities on either side of that upended apple-cart work only dragged the whole show down. The monster-of-the-week antics in the first half were repetitive with dark elements that were misplaced amongst all the bouncy creature-fighting. Meanwhile, post-massacre, Honey's continued mental downward spiral proved all too dark and self-serious to be engaging, only worsened by the show's insistence on heaping more tragedy on her. These failings got no help from the frustrating, protracted writing and some of the worst comic relief segments I've ever seen. With an utter faceplant of a finale, this might turn out to be one of those adaptations that's a blessing in disguise: Encouraging viewers to seek out other versions in an attempt to find something, anything better.
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