The Best (and Worst) Anime of Fall 2018
A brand-new year has arrived, but before we can start previewing all of 2019's newest anime, it's time to decide which shows were the best—and the worst—of an incredibly hype-packed Fall! We asked our critics to pick their favorite, their runner-up choice, and their least favorite anime of Fall 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 fall. And don't forget to check out our Winter 2019 Preview Guide, which starts tomorrow! Without further ado, here are our selections:
Best: GeGeGe no Kitarō
I honestly tried to find something that impressed me half as much as this show so as not to name it my favorite again, but came up short. Yes, I think Kitaro is just that good. Even though the Western Yokai Arc, the series' first cour-length storyline, wasn't quite as well put-together as some of the more notable single-episode plots, the overall show continued to explore pertinent topics and tell a story that is engaging whether you're the intended younger audience or older. With the Backbeard army's invasion, the series delved into Western literary tradition (Carmilla, the lesbian vampire heroine of J. Sheridan LaFanu's 19th century novella, is especially well done) while exploring themes of what is essentially Coca-Colonization and attitudes towards those perceived as “outsiders.” With Backbeard's Brigadoon plan set to turn the world into his own fiefdom, the yokai of the Ge Ge Ge Forest have to try to accept Agnes, a young witch trying to prevent Brigadoon, as well as Malay hantú – the spirits of Malay folklore – after they escape Backbeard. With only Kitaro and Cat Girl truly willing to stand up for the outsiders with no reservations, the story explores prejudice and resistance to good change, topics that are staples of children's literature but rarely explored in a way that trusts the kids to be able to draw their own conclusions. That Cat Girl is somehow even more impressive as a character (and she's consistently been amazing) is a testament to the character growth in the series, as is Kitaro's acceptance of Mana as a human friend. Add in fun moments like Mana dressing up as Cat Girl for Halloween, Wally Wall attacking bad guys with masonry tools, and the still-cute crush of a young tengu on Mana, and this is a winner on all fronts, down to the fidelity to Shigeru Mizuki's original artwork in the updated designs and the animation. Don't let the length or the “kiddy” designation scare you off, because this show is worth it.
Runner-up: IRODUKU: The World in Colors
This narrowly beat out Bloom Into You as my runner-up because I have rarely seen a show handle its surfeit of symbolism so well. Not only does IRODUKU not feel like it's beating you over the head with each important moment, many of the best details are left for you to find on your own, from the golden fish's significance in Buddhism to little things like Hitomi trying to “turn on” her desk in the past, a scene unnoticed or unremarked upon by the narrative but clear to the audience as a result of her being out of time. I'll also admit to being utterly thrilled with the use of Alison Uttley's 1939 children's novel A Traveler in Time, the story of a girl who goes back in time via an old family home. Once a staple of classic children's literature, Uttley's book (considered a pioneering work of time travel fiction) has largely fallen by the wayside, so a clear shot of someone reading it and a latter email conversation with the fictitious “Lavinia Uttley” (who would be the right age to be Alison's granddaughter) shows not only potential inspiration for the series, but also the amount of research and detail that went into crafting it. As of this writing there's still one episode left, which could potentially screw everything up in how it handles things, but the quiet character development, rich colors and visual contrasts, and the gentle pacing mean that even if everything goes to hell, it will still have been a very pleasant journey to get there.
I really didn't want to name this as my worst, because we get so little BL anime. This show, however, really struck me the wrong way. Apart from the fact that the art from the manga really didn't translate well, mostly because of shadow lines under the men's chins that made them look like they had particularly weird little beards, the story didn't quite get the balance of “I-hate-him-but-he's-kinda-hot” right, perhaps because it was trying so hard to stay away from explicit sex scenes. Nonconsensual romance is a valid literary genre (academically speaking), but there still has to be some chemistry, and that seemed to be lacking here. Instead it just came off as Junta being a predator, with the scene in episode three on the bus being my last straw. I'd still check out the manga if it were available, because this adaptation felt like it left out what may have gotten it an anime to begin with.
Of all the awesome shows I watched this season, there was one that got me up at 8 a.m. every Monday, scrambling to my computer to open Crunchyroll. Only one show had me yelling at the screen when the episode was over, because that meant I had to wait a whole week for more. That show was Thunderbolt Fantasy, which might just be the best TV show of all time, and by extension the best anime of all time, because look, puppets are totally anime. Balancing multiple villains and several intersecting conflicts with ease, the script is one of Gen Urobuchi's best scripts yet, easily besting last season's relatively straightforward RPG adventure story in thematic complexity. Every confrontation between the half-dozen or so players in the story is a conflict of competing philosophies: whether true leadership means commanding or coordinating; whether power is the ultimate prize or a necessary evil; whether it's better to trust and get burnt or to distrust and miss out; whether denying a moral compass means true neutrality. And that's on top of the extravagant displays of bloody, exploding puppets, which are, simply put, dope as hell. What other TV show features sword-fighting puppets who subdue dragons with the power of extremely loud J-rock? Thunderbolt Fantasy really is the best kind of entertainment there is: smart, propulsive, and just damn fun. I'm so sad to see it go.
Runner-up: Neo Yokio Christmas special
A Neo Yokio Christmas special, in concept, seems doomed to failure. Neo Yokio's first season gained an audience because it was an incomprehensible mess of bad ideas delivered with utmost sincerity, so a special capitalizing on its success would only undermine its own strengths. To some degree, "Pink Christmas" does suffer from being too self-aware. Charles the mecha butler makes jokes about big Toblerones, you see, because a one-off line from the first series gained meme status for fifteen minutes. And yet, despite the contradiction at the core of its existence, the Neo Yokio Christmas special manages to be an hour of pure delight. There's something magical about a pseudo-fable about a faux-British retail worker in love with consumerism going on a rampage while pink-haired anime Jaden Smith has existential crises over bougie trifles. Neo Yokio might be trying too hard to be in on the joke this time around, but enough truly golden moments shine through that no number of real-life cash-ins on "Fuck Material Goods" slogan T-shirts can ruin the fun. And really, nothing else short of Thunderbolt Fantasy made me as happy this season, so I don't feel too bad about ranking it over some of my other faves.
Worst: My Sister, My Writer
For worst of the season, I was tempted to nominate Double Decker for its double kick flip over the shark into alien conspiracy nonsense, but I decided to give this dubious honor to a show that really deserves any recognition it can get: My Sister, My Writer. From the first episode to the last, ImoImo is a wreck on nearly every level, combining embarrassingly slipshod animation with a facsimile of a facsimile of a story. Without an ounce of originality or a single lovingly-animated egg-licking scene, ImoImo fails to deliver on the one thing I watch harem romcoms for: unapologetic degeneracy. Instead, the whole show centers on potato-kun and his sister's hopelessly boring adventures in writing sister fetish fiction. Every other character exists to either play a tired archetype or wax poetic about the secret genius of imouto light novels. When it isn't regurgitating bog-standard jokes and plot beats, it seems as if the show spends every spare moment trying to justify its own existence rather than confidently doing its own thing. Worse yet, even the fanservice is spoiled by characters that regularly melt into embarrassing caricatures of their original designs. The whole thing feels like watching a train wreck in progress; by the end I just wanted to know if the animators were eating and sleeping okay. But I hate to think they suffered for naught, so at least for a while I'll fondly remember ImoImo as a sad mess that never should have been.
There were a lot of shows I enjoyed this season, but after a certain point, Gridman was the only one I was waiting to watch as soon as it went live every week. While I was initially put off by the way it relished in a moody and contemplative atmosphere alongside its cheesier tokusatsu tropes, that balance quickly became what I loved the most about it. Gridman was willing to be patient. It took the time to build a sense of unease and dread, and it paid off with both the fun monster-of-the-week climaxes and the overall slow burn of its more psychologically intense core narrative. Yuta never amounts to much more than a cipher (and at least eventually there's a reason for that), but the characters around him drive the show, from the absurdly and appropriately named Neon Genesis Junior High Students, to the more familiarly teenage exasperation of Rikka. I loved seeing Rikka's uncanny ability to be the real hero each week, and the focus on her eventually ties back to Gridman's central character arc revolving around its villain, Akane Shinjo. Akane's presence is magnetic, and her glee, even when it's in response to her wanton disregard for human life, is infectious. But Gridman truly comes into its own when her charismatic veneer cracks and reveals a person who is lonely, full of self-hatred, and highly relatable. Gridman explores some ugly parts of being a person, but it does so in the context of the kind of heroism and salvation you can only find in silly shows about men in rubber suits beating each other up. In times as difficult as the present, there's something comforting about that. SSSS.Gridman feels like the best distillation of Trigger's heart-on-their-sleeve nerdiness into an affecting story told with both quiet grace and fist-pumping bombast. It actually invokes the spirit, not merely the memory, of Gainax's best work, and I can't wait to see what Akira Amemiya applies his talents to next.
Runner Up: Bloom Into You
I have a penchant for messy romances between people with a lot of baggage that gets constantly sublimated into less-than-healthy coping mechanisms, and Bloom Into You is that show to a T. It's also, however, a really sympathetic and nuanced look at queer teenagers trying to figure out their feelings and relationships. Both Yuu and Touko blossom into fascinating characters whose individual neuroses get wrapped up in a romance that seems equal parts good and bad for both of them. Watching their dynamic sway and evolve week-to-week has been heartwarming, nail-biting, and heartbreaking—sometimes all at once! I've literally had to pause the show after certain lines of dialogue, because they strike so close to home with thoughts and feelings from my own relationship history. The secondary cast is also full of great characters, and I especially appreciate the representation of a loving, adult lesbian couple. It's just a well-written drama that sensitively tackles complex emotions, and the anime excellently adapts it into beautiful and often painterly compositions. It's a messy story, but I think it's one that will resonate with a lot of people.
Worst: Tokyo Ghoul:re
I love anime, but there are only so many hours in a day, so I try very hard not to watch anime I'm not enjoying. I'm sure, then, that there was a lot of worse crap that aired this season—in fact, based on the snippet I had to watch for This Week In Anime, Conception is pretty inarguably worse than my choice here. But if I'm judging based on the shows I watched to completion, I have to give a strong wag of the finger to the second and final season of Tokyo Ghoul:re. Its first season was already a step down from Shuhei Morita-helmed Tokyo Ghoul adaptation, but I thought it was still a passable follow-up that kept me invested both in the new and old characters. This season was a perfect storm of badness, slamming much more questionable character and narrative choices into an adaptation tasked with squeezing about twice as many chapters into the same amount of episodes. The result is an often exhausting and sometimes incomprehensible mess. Any good parts are neutered by how quickly the show has to get through them, and the bad parts are exacerbated by shoving them all in close proximity with each other. I'm glad Kaneki finally gets a proper redemption arc, but it feels cheapened by the lack of time to properly explore and ruminate on it. In the end, though, we all saw Kaneki get laid, and isn't that what the holidays are all about?
Best: Thunderbolt Fantasy
There's a current trend of near RPG/D&D settings in anime with a plethora of problems, from weak characterization to lazy or even repugnant plotlines. That Thunderbolt Fantasy manages to be the best version of this type of story without ever mentioning it is beyond remarkable. In a show literally made of puppets there's not a single wooden character, and I spent every week waiting for what new twist of fate or silly philosophical quibble would cause more grief and bloodshed. The sheer unbridled joy of the actors and puppeteers conveys the feeling of scribbling crude heroes and villains in the margins of a textbook as you daydream of grand adventures. Whether you've longed for that feeling or never experienced it I strongly encourage you to give Thunderbolt Fantasy a try. Go on, roll the dice.
I went into Gridman expecting a few episodes of silly Kaiju designs dying in repetitive but beautifully animated ways. What I got was a surprisingly sincere and honest character study about depression and the ways we use our interests to cope. The main thrust of the series was to discover not just the ways that unrestrained escapism can isolate you, but how a measured amount can form bonds that help you through the toughest times. Don't get me wrong, the silly Kaijus and slick animation are still there, along with truly memorable sound and music design. At the end of the day there's plenty of fun to be had while learning a lesson, such is the nature of playing with toys.
Worst: Tokyo Ghoul:re:
There were a few series this season I felt fell into categories such as gross, lazy, or just plain bad, but I reserve the worst category for the thing that I feel had the most squandered potential, and boy does Tokyo Ghoul:re: fill that role. Never before have I seen such thoroughly breakneck pacing for so cheap a goal. It would be bad enough if the series wasn't trying much and the studio simply wanted to be done with it, but TG as a story is far loftier than that. Attempts at conspiracy mystery, spectacle action, and slow burn characterization are thrown into a blender and stuck on the highest setting. Any one of those things requires a sense of timing and perspective to work, and when all of them are given no care all you end up with is a confused goopy mess with occasional, and clearly unintended, moments of comedic failure.
Honestly, it was extremely hard to make the call this season. Unlike something like summer, where Planet With stood head and shoulders above the rest, this has been a season of consistently great and relatively equal shows all across the board. Gridman was a consistent delight, Run with the Wind is one of the best character dramas of the year, and once I've caught up with it, I wouldn't be surprised if Bloom Into You actually takes this spot. But as for now, when thinking about which show I most look forward to each week, I have to give it to Tsurune.
Tsurune sort of snuck up on me across this season. Though its first episode's visual storytelling and overall sense of atmosphere were downright stunning, it soon settled into a familiar sports narrative groove. It's only as episodes have built up that I've realized just how much I appreciate this show's beautifully understated compositions, largely unspoken characterization, and utterly convincing world. Tsurune seems dedicated first and foremost to truly capturing the simplicity and austere beauty of archery itself; its lovely shots of vast open spaces, somber, earthy tones, and melancholy cast all seem like instruments in service of that one resounding tone. And it totally works! Every episode of Tsurune feels genuinely refreshing, like I'm sitting in the stands and breathing in the cold, clean air of the range myself. Combining sympathetic characters and utterly gorgeous visuals to create a truly cohesive experience, Tsurune is a show you don't just watch, but actually feel.
Runner Up: Run with the Wind
My catty answer for runner-up, or even best of fall, would likely be “Gridman without the fight scenes” - though I love Gridman's moody character drama, its campy battles are just too much of a drag for me to love it unconditionally. But that would be discounting the remarkably steady and welcome efforts of Run with the Wind, which has consistently demonstrated it's both a character drama and visual marvel well worth our attention. Run with the Wind excels in depicting the incidental conversations and slight interactions that make up the substance of dorm life, bringing its ensemble cast to life with effortless ease. There are indeed “focus episodes” for one character or another, but it never feels like this cast are just narrative objects - they are rich and sympathetic people, all of them growing closer and forming unique bonds over the course of their trials. And when you couple that with strengths like Yuki Hayashi's terrific score, or the absurd animation buffet of sequences like its first track meet, you end up with a sports drama that keeps impressing me anew every week.
Worst: My Sister, My Writer
Considering I contribute to the seasonal preview guide, I generally consider it somewhat unfair to pick my “worst” from among shows I only watched for one episode. For this designation to be meaningful, I sorta feel like I had to have actual expectations for some show, only to have them disappointed. Unfortunately for My Sister, My Writer, none of the shows I've stuck with this season have really disappointed me much at all, which means this honor goes to the same show that so bewildered and disappointed me back during the preview guide. If My Sister, My Writer isn't rock bottom for the “horny light novel writers write about themselves having sex with their siblings” subgenre, I shudder to think what lies below it. The show's staggering incompetence in terms of both writing and visual design are one thing, but I think it was the show's fundamental laziness in terms of how cliche it was, how bereft of any unique thoughts, that really pushed me over the edge. I'm not sure if machine learning could ever create true art, but I do know even a robot would be embarrassed to release a work like My Sister, My Writer.
Best: Zombie Land Saga
What do you get when horror meets the cutthroat idol industry? Comedy, it turns out! A colorful cast must work together to overcome the slight setback of being undead in order to become the Saga prefecture's premiere idol songstress group. From plucky Sakura to dauntless Saki, upbeat Lily to “legendary” Yamada Tae, well-formed personalities clash and contrast beautifully. A quick-moving season ensures that every girl gets her day—almost as if their tyrannous manager Kotaro was encouraging it to keep up the pace. The humor comes from this idol group tackling surprisingly ordinary problems within the unique trappings of their zombie predicament. Sometimes it's an advantage and sometimes it's a hindrance, but one thing for sure is that their creative problem-solving is never boring. The CG for their idol performances didn't always look great but came with more than one replayable song. My one complaint? The final episode of the season solved some mysteries but introduced new ones, and a new season has yet to be announced. The saga must continue!
Runner-Up: Run with the Wind
This may be my runner-up pick, but the pun is not intended! From an unexpected cold open (“Excuse me, thief, do you enjoy running in general or just when you're robbing a store?”) this show quickly warms up into a heartfelt portrait of an ensemble cast with enough emotional impact to go around. Two of the aspects that make this show unusual—it is about a generally individual sport instead of a team one, and it is about college students instead of high schoolers—differentiate it as more than just another sports anime genre show. It uses its time wisely to develop its characters so that by the midpoint, everyone has grown and changed. Kakeru and Haiji, initially the perceived protagonist and antagonist respectively, switch roles in a surprising but utterly believable way. Smooth visuals and a great score make this endurance sport seem like a worthwhile endeavor without sugarcoating its downsides (looking at you, Prince). My favorite part? Following updates from fans who say the show inspired them to start their own jogging habit.
Worst: Double Decker! Doug & Kirill
Fortunately, I lucked out of watching anything truly terrible this season, so I'm left to pick among the meh shows I stuck with for the one with the most flaws. I applaud Double Decker for taking a lot of risks even though I don't think any of them paid off. From the same series composer behind capitalist critique Tiger & Bunny, Double Decker attempted to showcase a distinct progressive perspective but the execution was less than ideal. Normally this type of critique wouldn't be relevant, but when Double Decker is constantly signaling a particular viewpoint that it fails to uphold, its perceived politics are fair game. When Kirill's sibling, presumed female, reveals the unexpected in the men's bathroom, it treats his gender as a shocking joke. When Doug asserts his plan to “eliminate class” stemming from a bad childhood experience, it trivializes class consciousness as a personal problem. In the end, the show ditches its commentary in order to triple-down on science fiction, and that's probably its best decision. That's even despite the cyborg plothole. Anyway, cheers to Apple Bieber: that name deserved a better show.
Best: Zombie Land Saga
I've always wanted to enjoy idol anime more than I usually end up doing. I tend to love stories about putting on a show and getting a musical act together, but for the slick, commercial sheen that coats most every idol-show I've seen tends to turn me off. Thankfully, this season we got Zombie Land Saga, a scrappy idol anime that mixes the usual behind-the-scenes drama with a healthy coating of horrific hilarity. The gimmick of this series' idol group is that all of the girls are quite literally undead zombies, rotting away and falling apart at the seams, and it's a brilliantly goofy twist on an otherwise familiar formula. Of course, the formula wouldn't work without good songs, likable leading ladies, and solid storytelling all around, and ZLS has all of that in spades. Sakura makes for a nice protagonist, who is in almost every way just an average teenage girl (except, you know, for the zombie thing), and biker-queen Saki is a frontrunner for coolest character of the year (her and Sakura's rap battle is one of my favorite scenes of the whole year). The Legendary Yamada Tae is the one member who is stuck behaving like a stereotypical, brains-hungry ghoul, which results in plenty of laughs, and Mamoru Miyano delivers a delightfully unhinged (and surprisingly sweet) performance as the mad doctor/manager, Kotaro – he gives Okabe Rintaro a run for his money as the best “Crazy Anime Scientist Dude”. Plus, a certain character gets a touching episode that ends up making for some of the best representation of a transgender character I've seen in anime for some time, which is always a plus in my book. Sure, Franchouchou probably isn't going to live up to The Man's traditional expectations of what makes for a “good”, “successful” or “talented” idol group, but who cares about what those so-called “living human beings with a measurable pulse” think? These zombies may not have a heart rate, but they've got a hell of a lot of heart, and I'm more than ready for this lovely little anime to get the second season it so obviously deserves.
Runner-Up: Boarding School Juliet
The runner-up spot should probably go to SSSS.Gridman, but I'm woefully behind on it, and since I'm sure my colleagues will be giving it plenty of well-deserved accolades, I figured I'd spotlight Boarding School Juliet, which is one of the more entertaining and creative romantic-comedies to debut in 2018. It's not perfect, by any means; director Seiki Takuno and the other artists at LIDEN FILMS have made great strides since producing Love and Lies, one of 2017s biggest anime blunders, but Boarding School Juliet still suffers from inconsistent production values, thin side-characters, and some lazy storytelling in the season's back half. Thankfully, the show still manages to deliver a “Romeo and Juliet” story that feels fresh and engaging without completely eschewing the trappings of its source material: At the premiere boarding school of the fictional nation of Dahlia, our Romio is the leader of the ridiculously named Black Doggie House, and his lifelong rivalry with the White Cats belies his secret love for their leader, the titular Juliet. What makes Boarding School Juliet special is that it gets the stock buildup out of the way after the first episode: After a couple of love-confessions and an impassioned sword-fight, the two are officially secret lovers, and the rest of the series follows the pair's efforts to build their relationship while maintaining the façade of their house's feud. Romio is a stupendously affectionate dork, and Juliet is a strong-willed leader with a soft side, and together the two star-crossed students make for an infectiously charming couple. Some of the supporting cast struggles to live up to the standards set by the series' deuteragonists, but a bevy of laugh-out-loud sight gags and some genuinely touching romantic scenes win the day, in the end. If you've ever wished your anime rom-coms featured a little lest wistful pining and more actual romance, then I'd highly recommend giving Boarding School Juliet a shot.
Worst: Release the Spyce
As is sometimes the case, I didn't go out of my way this fall to stick with any shows that I outright disliked - for the record, nothing in this entire year has made me feel so unpleasant and upset as Uzamaid!'s first episode, but I honestly don't want to waste even one more second thinking about that show, so instead I'm going to give this dubious honor to Release the Spyce, not because it was bad, but because it could have been so much better than it was. The ingredients were all there for a great anime: A kickass premise revolving around a group of ninja spy high-schoolers, an awesome soundtrack, and slick production values that almost gave me the impression that Release the Spyce could have ended up as this season's Princess Principal. Alas, it was not to be – instead, Studio Lay-duce gave us a perfectly average mishmash of spy tropes and straightforward storytelling that was only occasionally (and you'll have to forgive my pun, here) spiced up by the teasing of romantic developments between its characters that ultimately remained little more than heavy subtext, as is so often the case in this medium. This is one of those situations where I've actually come to like a show less the longer I've had to sit with it. To be honest, even though I reviewed Release the Spyce every week for months, I cannot for the life of me recall much of anything about it. The action was fine; the characters were fine; the story was fine – in just about every way that counts, Release the Spyce is an unfortunate example of a show that's simply there, existing and executing its duties without leaving much of an impact at all. That might make for good spy work, but it isn't so useful when it comes to making good anime. It wasn't the worst thing to happen to anime this fall, but it could have been one of the season's best series, and that failed potential is what has earned Release the Spyce this bottom ranking on my list.
Mr. Tonegawa makes villainy look amusingly banal. While the first cour focused almost entirely on Middle Manager Tonegawa and his department of henchmen, during this second cour, Tonegawa shares the spotlight with Otsuki, a debtor captured into forced labor on behalf of Tonegawa's company, Teiai. Instead of zeroing in on his hard labor underground, though, his segments most often follow him on his rare days “off,” which he's earned through manipulating a point system allowed to the prisoners, which offers hints to his eventual role in the Kaiji series proper. The fact that Otsuki is wholly content with his life and takes such pleasure in making the most of every moment on the surface makes it so that you almost forget the absurdity of his situation. Coupled with Tonegawa's bureaucratic approach to villainy, Otsuki's more laidback style of living life as a bad guy makes Mr. Tonegawa a riot.
Runner-up: Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san
This first thing I noticed about this series is its arresting character designs. Besides the fact that the protagonist is a living skeleton, the entire staff of the bookstore at which he works is distinguished by different masks and face coverings, for no other reason (presumably) than to offer anonymity to the people the mangaka worked with in real life. There isn't a lot of animation in Honda-san, but the art style makes it stand out, and there isn't much need for movement regardless. This honest, biographical take on life in retail covers everything from customer interactions to stocking shelves to training seminars. Honda is relatively subdued with the customers with whom he interacts, but there's a lot going on in his mind, and he shares it with the audience. Often funny and usually relatable, Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san offers a closer look at the camaraderie and chaos at a typical Japanese bookstore.
Worst: Gakuen Basara
Gakuen Basara is by no means a bad show, but among the series I did keep up with this cour, it was my least favorite. With characters based on historical figures (and a fighting game adaptation of said historical figures), the cast is huge and it's difficult for the neophyte to follow along and remember every single player, as well as the various rivalries and alliances among them. It's certainly true that the character designs are dynamic and it should be easier than it is to follow along, but there's only so far the joke about historical Japanese political figures reimagined as Japanese high schoolers can go—and that's the whole joke of the series all cour long. There are definitely some laughs along the way, but with its sprawling cast, it's difficult to empathize with many of the characters, which makes the whole affair less fun than it should be.
If you'd asked me about the season's best series at its halfway point, I probably wouldn't have even had this one in the top two or three. However, it finished with a strong enough run of episodes to earn the top spot. I can easily understand how the attitude of protagonist Sakuta turned some viewers off early on, but the care, sensitivity, and even emotional vulnerability that he shows in the final few episodes well more than makes up for his early flaws and turns him into a more credible and surprisingly compelling character. Some of the issues he helps girls deal with – especially those of his younger sister – are far more than trifles, with the underlying issues always being more important than the mechanism of the supernatural event, and he and Mai have one of the year's most enjoyable romantic relationships; this is much more a case of them being together because they have complementary personalities rather than because Sakuta dazzled her or any of the usual nonsense. Technical merits sagged a little in the late stages, but the series is mostly well-animated and well-constructed. If you gave up on it early on, it's well worth finishing out.
Runner-Up: IRODUKU: The World in Colors
This was a much harder pick, particularly since its last episode hasn't aired yet as of this writing and I think this is a case where the last episode is heavily necessarily to close the package on the series' quality. Nonetheless, it's here because other options were weaker; Sword Art Online: Alicization is a great adaptation but one step lower as an overall quality series, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime overperformed and had its moments but not consistently enough, and Zombie Land Saga was good enough at its peaks but, again, not consistently enough. IRODUKU, on the other hand, was never thoroughly exciting or deeply emotional but consistently put together a top-quality artistic presentation and complemented it with a neat story concept, well-developed and believable characters, and one of the year's best openers.
This was the first season in a long time that I actually fully watched out two series worthy of this distinction. All season long, Conception and Ulysses warred to avoid the bottom spot in the rankings and failed at it much more often than not. I'll be delving into the details on what went wrong for both in full series reviews, but the short version is that both, despite rare good moments, are disasters in terms of concept, execution, and technical merits. Ultimately Conception narrowly avoids the bottom because a) it has Mana, who finds amusingly creative ways to be obnoxious, and b) late in the game Ulysses develops a truly bizarre plot twist, and I don't mean that in a good sense. As much as it pains me to blast a series featuring one of my favorite historical figures, this was a travesty.
Best: Bloom Into You
Bloom Into You blew me out of the water, turning out to be so much more than just another sweet yuri series. It injected its characters with a dose of realism I'd rarely see in the genre: giving them common real-life teenage relationship problems, both specific to those in the LGBT community and more generally. Yuu's central problem is one common to teens of all sexual orientations: discovering that fiction is a lie, and real love is rarely as sudden or dramatic as in shoujo manga. Love-at-first-sight is both uncommon, and often not all it's cracked up to be, but that can't stop the yearning for it. By comparison, Touko's sudden crush on her kouhai stretches believability—but as the story goes on, we find that Touko has her own problems, giving her leaning on Yuu more perspective. All of the characters, even rival Sayaka (who'd normally be a one-dimensional mean girl) are multi-faceted and relatable. I remember when reviewing the shoujo manga adaptation My Love Story!! a few years ago, seeing it described by others as a "how-to guide" for teens' first relationships. I loved that aspect of it, but I also wished I could see the version of it for the closeted-gay teen I used to be. Bloom Into You just might be that anime. It's a refreshingly real portrayal of first love without feeling preachy, maudlin or gloomy at any point. It hits close to home in a way slice-of-life romances, gay or straight, rarely do. With that plus its handsome production values (including music by one of my favorites, Michiru Oshima), it can't help but be my favorite of the season.
Runner-Up: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind
It really doesn't matter what JoJo's Bizarre Adventure does to its formula. It can change the setting, time period, premise, make it even weirder than anyone ever thought possible… it will always be appointment viewing for me. Even Part 5, the least popular Jojo's arc stateside, still has me completely in its grip. So while it was a struggle this fall to keep up with Jojo's between teaching and studying for my Ph.D. exams, I still did it! It helps that, contrary to my expectations, Golden Wind might be the best Jojo's cast. I like how Giorno is just a little meaner than his predecessors, having the edge to him you'd expect from his hard life, but still basically good at heart. His comrades in the mob are even more fun, particularly angry genius Fugo and gullible doofus Narancia. Somehow the best Jojo's characters are always at the extreme ends of the intelligence spectrum. It also has some of the coolest Stands ever, especially Mista's "Sex Pistols" (or "Six Bullets"), which he treats like a group of toddlers he's raising. I could keep going, but all the words in the world can't quite explain the surreal appeal of Jojo's. It's fun, it's funny, it's exciting, and most of all, it's bizarre. You never know what to expect, and that's why you keep watching.
Worst: Double Decker! Doug & Kirill
Double Decker is far from the actual worst anime of the season, but it's the only one I watched more than an episode of that I overall came away from disappointed. The series promised to be a fun, stylish good time with interesting characters, and some hints of social consciousness—if Doug's hints about what he thinks are wrong with the world are any indication. As a boon for me personally, there was that almost-kiss between Max and Yuri in the ending credits, making me hope we would see an actual relationship between them. Unfortunately, it never really went there with either of those threads. The Max/Yuri relationship is firmly in the background, its true nature only shown through hints. Plus, transphobic jokes about another character mar the series' status as LGBT representation. As for any deep, political ideas within the story, it sacrifices that thematic complexity for sci-fi hijinks. Yet bigger than either of those problems for me is how Double Decker just got boring. I found that as much as I liked this group of characters, I increasingly didn't care what happened to them week to week. Double Decker ended up as just another rote sci-fi police procedural, after promising to be so much more. It just looked a little cooler than the others, but that's not enough to carry a series.
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