The Best Anime of 2018
The Best Characters of 2018
Hanako Honda – Asobi Asobase -workshop of fun-
Hanako is a terrifying little puberty gremlin filled with angst, rage, petty jealousy, judgement, and any other awful descriptor one could prescribe to what can only be described as a filthy-minded avatar to the entire experience of being a middle-schooler. She's also a perfect, hilarious angel, and I will fight anyone who would try to slander her good name.
Much of what makes Hanako my favorite character of 2018, aside from Asobi Asobase's almost universally perfect writing and direction, comes down to the skills of the actress playing her, Hina Kino. Kino is a young actress/singer with only a few roles to her name as of this year, but she manages to steal nearly every scene Hanako features in by virtue of her completely committed, unhinged vocal performance. Many anime comedies rely on over-the-top screaming/shenanigans to sell their jokes, but few series milk this particular brand of adolescent hysteria like Asobi Asobase does. Whether the girls are arguing about boobs and butt lasers or desperately trying to keep from being charged with felony arson, Kino manages to create guttural, insane sounds for Hanako to spit out that I wasn't even aware could be produced by a normal human body. Half the time, the spirit of a gag lies in anticipating what genuinely terrifying noises Hanako might produce next. It also helps that, underneath all of her simmering jealously and mean-spirited rage, Hanako's really a sweet kid. She doesn't know how to relate to anyone even approximating “normal”, but in the Pastimers Club Hanako can let her freak flag fly and make some lifelong friends while she's at it. She'd be a terror to actually have to teach and spend time with in the real world, but in the context of the year's best comedy, Hanako is a true superstar.
Akane Shinjou, SSSS.Gridman
SSSS.Gridman was already more than meets the eye, but probably the best trick the show pulled was its repeated reframing of its villain, Akane. Initially being portrayed as simply a petty misanthrope being manipulated by an alien presence into creating monsters to destroy a world, it was eventually revealed that said world was a virtual one that Akane herself had created. Many of us perhaps have experience of retreating into our computers and online media as an escape from the rigors of the real world. What was clever about reframing Akane this way was that making her out to be the ‘God’ of the world actually made her more relatable and sympathetic, and that promotion from simple villain to tragic figure further defined her as the true main character, the driving force of the show. SSSS.Gridman had a lot going on, and Akane turning out to be such a unique brand of villainous protagonist was a major element that made it feel so special.
Rin Shima (Laid-Back Camp)
There are two reasons why Laid-Back Camp's soft-spoken solo camper was my immediate choice for this category. The first is her ability to carry a scene, alone or as part of a group. Rin was written with enough quiet wit and charisma to make an episodic storyline work with nothing but her inner monologue. Her one-liner reactions and observations worked well on their own, and they also helped to set up some strong comedic chemistry with the rest of the cast. The second reason Rin takes this category is that she forced me to expect more from other slice of life shows. Laid-Back Camp did a great job of embracing Rin's introverted personality and giving her room to do her own thing, instead of immediately dragging her into a new social circle. That approach has permanently ruined the “hyper girl forces shy but talented girl to join a school club” premise for me, to the point where I've passed on watching at least one new show because it stuck with that old trope. Rin's role in Laid-Back Camp proves that good character writing can make a huge difference.
Best Character – White Blood Cell (Cells at Work!)
White Blood Cell put a smile on my face whenever he stepped onto the screen. He's not particularly nuanced, I'll admit. He's a man (cell) with a mission and that mission is slicing up infectious bacteria and viruses. He's often overshadowed in fandom by those saccharine platelets and their tiny yellow flags but White Blood Cell is cute too, in his own way. Whenever his little receptor perks up on his hat and he dashes towards the next potential foe I can't help but want to cheer him on. Go White Blood Cell! I'll have a cup of joe waiting when you get back!
Katsura Kotarou (Gintama)
Since Katsura is my favorite Gintama character, I'm admittedly biased, especially since when in the series alone, there are so many MVPs in the endgame battle. However, Katsura stood out even though he was just one of a group of characters to spearhead the space campaign of the climactic endgame battle—and that's largely because of his role during the epilogue. As Japan's first prime minister, Katsura is at his airheaded best in the role of “Donald Zarump,” the nation's leader who says whatever he thinks of off-the-cuff, regardless of the consequences.
Erina Nakiri (Food Wars! The Third Plate)
I never would have thought that I'd come to be so proud of Erina. From starting the series as a snobby, close-minded villain, the third season of Food Wars saw her grow in unbelievable ways as she rises to overcome her father's indoctrination. Erina starts thinking and living for herself, a move that would be impressive in anyone, but for her is even more so because she's had such a long climb to get there. She may not be be my favorite character, but I'll always be impressed by her growth and look forward to seeing how far she'll go.
Yut Lung Lee, Banana Fish
When "Moon-Dragon-kun" was first introduced, I was all ready to hate him just like I did every other one of the series' one-dimensional villains. But Yut Lung turned out to be anything but one-dimensional, and far from another sleazy rapist like Ash and Eiji's other adversaries. Instead, Yut Lung is another wounded teen fighting his way through the horrific mob system, but coming to very different conclusions about how to go about that than Ash is. He is consumed by his hatreds, without the love Ash has for Eiji that might steer him down a different path. That's more than enough for a fascinating character arc, but on top of that Yut Lung was also just deliriously fun to watch. He's a wannabe criminal mastermind in the body of a petulant teenager, lounging around swirling champagne, but also needing his handlers to remind him not to make himself sick drinking too much. He satisfied my love of campy villains on a series that kept denying me that, and shone his brightest when the rest of Banana Fish was at its weakest and bleakest. And finally, at the very end, he shows hope of redemption. I'd eagerly watch the sequel about Yut Lung finding his own Eiji, if anyone wants to make that, please.
I really can't think of the last time any other character, live or animated, caused such a large cross-section of people of all ages, backgrounds, and genders to look at her and immediately exclaim “That's me!” But just take a look at Retsuko, a hopeful and hardworking young adult professional struggling with friendships, abusive co-workers, and the dating scene, and you're bound to see something of yourself there. The fact that she's an adorable Sanrio-designed red panda who sings screaming, guttural death metal songs as a means of catharsis is just icing on the cake.
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