The Best Anime of 2020
Nick, Rebecca, Steve & Best Characters
by ANN Editorial Team,
5. My Hero Academia the Movie -Heroes: Rising-
Shonen Jump franchise movies have a pretty well-earned reputation for being formulaic and repetitive. With rare exception they involve shipping out the main cast to a totally unconnected setting and having them fight some equally inconsequential bad guys. Maybe the main hero gets a new power that they conveniently never use or mention in the actual story. All of that is equally true of Heroes:Rising, but sometimes it's not about how original you can make a story, but rather how well you can deliver it. And this film acts as a punchy, gorgeous encapsulation of nearly all of the things I love about My Hero Academia as an anime. While the big final battle comes down to Deku and Bakugo, the knock-down, drag-out fights before that involve the entirety of 1-A in a way even the main series has never managed to make time for, and it's an absolute delight to see characters who have otherwise hung around in the background get to contribute in unique and meaningful ways. Seeing this cast work together and come into their own, even against largely expendable enemies, is just too satisfying to ignore.
Also, that final battle is maybe one of the most jaw-dropping pieces of animation in a franchise that's no stranger to fantastic action sequences, ending in an absolutely astonishing finale that I could watch on repeat for literal hours. The film as a whole is actually incredibly rewatchable, full of fun details and standout moments of animation that never get tired, and it's made the wait between seasons a lot easier to handle. Heroes:Rising is essentially a victory lap, celebrating the continued success of MHA as an IP and offering a boatload of eye candy for fans, but when it's executed this well and presented with so much style, that's all it needs to be.
4. Hi Score Girl II
I was technically a 90's kid, but didn't really get into video games until after the turn of the century. I also grew up in the US which had a distinctly different 90's experience than Japan. Plus outside of watching EVO highlights I'm largely ignorant of fighting games of any era. Yet in spite of those barriers Hi Score Girl managed to punch me in the nostalgia more effectively than any amount of internet listicles about VHS tapes ever could. The entire series is awash in the video games and technology of the 90's, and uses that as the in to get us to love its cast of weirdo gamer gremlins and their awkward journey through adolescence. What could have been a tiresome checklist of arcade-era game IPs instead became a wonderfully unique way to let Haruo, Hidaka, and Ono express their inner selves more clearly than an inner monologue would be capable of.
The second season (which, yes, technically aired last year in Japan, but thanks to Netflix still counts for 2020) takes all that and ramps up both the drama and charm while never losing the energy of the first. Characters grow, make mistakes, and trip over themselves trying to figure out who they are, and it all culminates in the cheesiest possible conclusion that makes no sense and all of the sense at once. It's an unbelievably cute finale that Sonic Boom'd my cynical heart back to life just long enough to write this sentence, and if that isn't a strong enough endorsement I don't know what is.
3. Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2
I don't think I have to sell Kaguya-sama. Sure, it's a wonderfully funny and charming comedy series that can make you laugh until you're ready to pass out just as easily as it can make you gush over its adorably stupid main cast flailing through first love. Yes, it's a lavishly produced and directed series that can pack more stylish and varied character animation into one episode than most anime can manage in an entire season. And yeah, it's arguably the most popular and recognizable rom-com anime in over a decade. But we already knew all that from Season 1.
The real secret sauce that puts Season 2 ahead of its predecessor is how it manages to take all of that, improve on every aspect in measurable ways, and at the same time redeem easily its least likable character in a way that's as believable as it is heartwarming. Ishigami still isn't my favorite of the cast, but the sheer alchemy Kaguya-sama works to rehabilitate his character and turn him from a tired punchline into a fully-realized person is nothing short of astounding. That would be a crowning achievement for any series, but this show managing it while also remaining hysterically funny made it the absolute bright spot of an incredibly stressful year. If love really is war, then I certainly hope war never changes.
2. If My Favorite Pop Idol Made It to the Budokan, I Would Die
If you told me at the start of the year that one of my favorite anime of 2020 would be a love story between a D-list idol and her scarily obsessive fan, I'd have been very confused about the premise of the next Love Live anime. But for all the red flags and land mines surrounding this show (henceforth known as OshiBudo for my sake and yours) I ended up absolutely enamored with this unique take on the idol anime genre, in some cases because of its problematic elements. For as much fun as Love Live and other idol anime can be, they tend to limit themselves by embodying sanitized fantasies of the industry. OshiBudo is far from a realistic docu-drama, but its angle of exploring the idol-stan membrane and the myriad ways it can both facilitate and stymie human connection makes for a fascinating watch.
It's also just super funny, with a self-deprecating humor when it comes to its cast of diehard idol fans that captures the vibe of modern-day fandom better than any other piece of media I've seen. There's a self-awareness to its portrayal of both the awkward and euphoric parts of being a fan that both acknowledges and embraces just how silly it can seem to outsiders, while never shaming its characters for the passion or dedication they embody. Even as it prods at the thornier, harsher aspects of fan devotion it manages to find the kernels of human sympathy at the core of it all, and it succeeded in opening my perspective to a community I thought I'd never really understand. It's not perfect, but OshiBudo manages to charm me by being its unabashed self, and there's nothing else quite like it.
1. BNA: Brand New Animal
I was already a mark for BNA the moment it was announced. The combination of Little Witch Academia director Yoh Yoshinari and the vibrant neon aesthetic of its key visual was enough to make it my most anticipated show of 2020, and it easily rocketed to the top of my list when Netflix finally let this beast out of its cage. Just on a purely artistic level there was no other show I enjoyed just looking at than BNA. The simplified yet effortlessly expressive character designs that managed to pull double duty, its neo-noir drenched nighttime and action sequences, and the chemistry of the musical score all made it a delight to take in on its own. Yet what really sank this show's claws and fangs into my heart was its sheer, messy ambition.
In a scant 12 episodes BNA tries to take a swing at a billion different lofty ideas, from the history and mechanics of oppression to the concept of open borders vs apartheid states, to the influence of religion, science, and government on the collective psyche of society. You could make an engaging documentary series of the same length about those topics and just scratch the surface, yet the series sees fit to weave that all in with at least 3 tightly crafted character arcs exploring the personal and political intricacies of activism and empathy, centered partially around a neon-pink foxgirl who can transform into a wolf with angel wings and dreams of becoming a pop star. It's a bonkers amount of ideas to juggle in barely any time, and the series doesn't always keep those plates spinning as well as it would hope, but it made for a show I couldn't stop thinking about long after I'd shotgunned it this summer. Like LWA, this is the exact kind of series that helped me fall in love with anime to begin with, and I cannot wait to see what the folks behind it have up their sleeve next.
5. Healin' Good Precure
Healin' Good Precure marks a major moment for magical girl fans: it's the first Pretty Cure to be simulcast with English subtitles. But that means nothing if the show isn't actually good, and while I wouldn't necessarily call it the strongest PreCure series, it's definitely been one of the shows I've most enjoyed this year. (Especially, you know, once I could watch those first twelve episodes.) Appropriately for 2020, the theme of this iteration of the magical girl mega-franchise is healing, and one of the things I like is that this doesn't just mean in the physical sense. Yes, main heroine Nodoka (alias Cure Grace) has recently recovered from a mysterious illness that kept her in the hospital for most of elementary school and the first year of middle school, but what really needs attention is not her physical self, but her emotional core. She feels like she missed out and wants to do as much as she can to remedy that, but she also understands that she has to be careful to a degree…just maybe not as careful as others think she should be. That means that Nodoka has to convince those around her that she really can do it, with one of the most important people being her new familiar from the Healing Garden, Rabirin, a tiny pink bunny who gives her the ability to transform. The episode where Rabirin thinks she made a mistake in choosing Nodoka is particularly striking, not just for her doubts (which Luna and Artemis both have over in Sailor Moon), but because she has to learn to trust Nodoka's strength and appreciate it in a different way. That's true for all of the characters – Pegitan, Chiyu (Cure Fontaine)'s penguin familiar is the most anxious mascot in all of anime, while Asumi (Cure Earth) has to start from scratch as a person, essentially learning emotions from the ground up in a healthy way. And then of course there's the environmental message with the villains this time around set on “undermining” the health of the planet, so that the Pretty Cures have to physically and magically heal the earth and “elements” (personified bits and pieces of nature) from their contaminants.
This series isn't over yet, but I have high hopes for how it will continue to work with its themes, especially now that we know where the bad guys come from (Daruizen's origin is kind of upsetting, actually). There's a lot of potential for the girls finding a way to heal them physically, environmentally, and emotionally, and the possibilities are really exciting. I hope it can live up to them, because this is just a good, solid show that I'd love even if it didn't involve a magic puppy.
4. Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle
Let's be frank – if there was anything the world collectively needed in this garbage fire of a year, it was something to make us laugh. This series couldn't have been better timed. Playing with tropes of classic JRPGs and fairy tales, Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle is one of the funniest shows I've seen in recent memory. Princess Syalis, scion of the land of Goodereste, is essentially the anti-damsel in distress, instead functioning as a damsel who CAUSES distress for…well, pretty much everyone. To be fair, all the poor girl wants is to sleep twenty-three hours a day, but this whole being-kidnapped-by-the-demons thing is really getting in the way of that – almost as much as being the heir to the throne did. So what's a poor hostage to do if she's given crummy sheets and a crap pillow? Obviously go out and murder, destroy, and pillage until she finds herself the proper sleepy time accoutrements!
By the time the demons are starting to think that maybe they kidnapped the wrong princess – or that humans are much, much scarier than they thought – it's become clear to us that Syalis is exactly where she needs to be. She may not be a literal demon, but she's definitely demonic, and despite that she's also slaughtering her way into the demons' hearts, one ghost shroud at a time. That everything is framed as a quest (complete with quest music) only makes it better, especially when the show starts mixing things up towards the end with a failed and an abandoned quest. What's even more remarkable is that the anime is really cherry-picking its way through the source manga; the series doesn't proceed chronologically through the books, but rather takes a piece here and a bit there and successfully puts them together, even nicely rewriting one character's entire relationship with Syalis along the way. It's not only funny, bur also one of the best adaptations I've seen, and I can't wait to start rewatching it as soon as it ends.
3. Woodpecker Detective's Office
If there's one series I find myself thinking about at odd moments, it's this one. Woodpecker Detective's Office was my pick for the best of its season, but that was at least a little because it actually finished on time rather than because I loved it. And yet, it comes to mind sometimes, when I'm just sitting in the quiet or thinking about people I've lost, because while the series was billed as a mystery – which it was – it was an even better picture of what it means to know that someone you love is slipping away and trying to accept that. The central relationship in the series, between real-life authors Kyousuke Kindaichi and Takuboku Ishikawa, isn't healthy by any stretch of the imagination, and it's clear that Kindaichi is a better friend to Ishikawa than Ishikawa is to him. We as viewers don't necessarily like Ishikawa, but the story doesn't ask us to – it instead asks us to look past our dislike of him and to see how much he means to Kindaichi and to be sad not because Ishikawa's death is sad for us, but because it's a loss that Kindaichi will feel forever.
One of the best classes I took in grad school was called “The Space of Absent Characters,” and it covered a lot of the writing techniques that are used here to give someone we never really meet the importance that they have for others. Although Ishikawa is present for most of the series, making him a less classic absent character than, for example, Tohru's mom in Fruits Basket, his loss looms over everything. We know he's going to die from the very beginning, we see him dying as the series goes on, and his foretold absence takes up more space than his actual presence does in some ways. It's not an easy storytelling feat to pull off. Neither is what the series ultimately wants from us: to be sad for someone else's loss because we know how much it hurts the characters. I think that in that end Woodpecker Detective's Office succeeded. I don't love it, I won't rewatch it, but it haunts me in a way that no other series this year did. That earns it a place on this list and probably in my memory for a long time.
2. Somali and the Forest Spirit
I think the best word for this series is “beautiful.” Somali and the Forest Spirit is the sort of lovely family story we don't always get to see in anime in that its sweetness isn't tainted by any hint of creepiness (although I'm sure if I looked hard enough, I'd find it in a dark corner of the internet), a story about a dad and his adopted daughter as they make their way through a difficult world to a place where they can be safe. It's much more about the title's “forest spirit” in some ways than it is about Somali – Golem, the protective dad, picks up a little human girl in the woods where she is the lone survivor of a carriage accident and decides to help her find a place where she'll be safe. This is harder than it sounds because they inhabit a world where humans are discriminated against and hated by the animal-people who are the dominant species, and Golem finds himself jumping through more and more hoops in his efforts to keep Somali alive and well than he ever imagined. He also finds that helping her is something that he ends up wanting to do – the longer he stays with Somali, the more he starts to think of himself as the father she addresses him as, and the more emotive he becomes. Despite the fact that he's nearing the end of his predetermined lifespan, Golem is finally learning how to live as a person, to realize that the idea that golems don't have feelings is a lie, and to want things for himself.
Like at least two other series that I can think of this year, Danmachi 3 and the final cour of GeGeGe no Kitaro (which I restrained myself from putting on this list because I assume you're all sick of my unending love for it), Somali's story explores the idea of what it means to be human. As a human, Somali is very much the Other in her beautifully painted world, and that makes the beastpeople fear her in the same way that monsters are feared in the other two titles. Who is the monster and who is not isn't a question Somali and the Forest Spirit ever really answers. We see a variety of people acting across a broad spectrum of ways, and the story seems to settle on the idea that what truly matters in the end is who you choose to make your people. That's not only a nice message, it's an important one, and that the series pulls it off without being too preachy and with a relatively open end is very well done indeed.
1. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon III
Despite a title that put me off when it was first licensed, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon is a solid fantasy story with world-building that impresses me more and more with each new volume of the novels. The anime, while consistently good, hasn't always quite lived up to its source material (Sword Oratoria's depiction of Lefiya comes to mind), but the third season absolutely knocked it out of the park. That's because, while it did gloss over a few bits and pieces, it was ultimately true to the point of the story arc: that change is hard and scary and the real heroes are the ones who can stand up to all of that, while also understanding that changing the minds of everyone may not be possible. Danmachi – and any fantasy title, really – is in a uniquely good position to explore this without getting out the ol' Sledgehammer of Symbolism because the setup of most fantasy fiction already has beings that are called monsters. In the case of this series, the Adventurers have been fighting the monsters in the dungeon since basically chapter one – it's pretty much what Adventurers do in the Dungeon. And any non-human being in the Dungeon therefore must be a monster, right?
That's the safe and comfortable status quo that this season, which adapts the Xenos arc, upends when Bell rescues a young vouivre girl who turns out to be as intelligent and emotional as the humans. For the members of Hestia Familia, this is weird, but they can handle it, and as it turns out Ouranos, the god in charge of Dungeon exploration, has been waiting for a group like them to help the Xenos (as the intelligent monsters call themselves) with their dream of peaceful interaction with humans and living on the surface. But the rest of Orario is unconvinced, an evil group, Ikelos Familia, tries to kidnap and profit off of the Xenos, and Hestia Familia is put in the position of facing off against everyone to do what they know to be right. And what's remarkable is that they do.
Danmachi trades in dueling ideas of right and wrong, of monster and man, and of different kinds of heroes. The story's mythology-based roots certainly help with this, and it does a remarkable job of calling to mind literary speeches and real-world instances where someone was called less than human because of how they looked, what they spoke, or what they believed in. It's Shylock's speech from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in anime form as Loki Familia (with at least one major exception) think that killing the Xenos is no worse than killing anything else that doesn't look human and the city turns against Bell when he is perceived not to be following what they think is common sense. And although Hestia Familia comes out physically okay, as do most of the Xenos, there isn't a happy ending with humans and Xenos all living together peacefully. That would have devalued the core idea of the story arc, which honestly feels more grounded in reality than a fantasy story has any right to be.
Change is slow. People are stubborn and see what they want to rather than what's really there. But sometimes someone stands up and asks why. That's what this series does as it points out that we all bleed if someone pricks us.
As a huge fan of the Cronenberg school of messy psychosexual body horror, I didn't exactly need much more than competence out of Gleipnir for it to bury itself in my mind. It's not the tightest-written story, and this isn't a gold star adaptation or anything, but Gleipnir's core conceit is a visceral tour-de-force that never once got old for me. I mean, to reiterate: the male protagonist turns into a big dog mascot, the female protagonist unzips his back to reveal a mucus-slick fleshy interior, and she climbs inside to pilot him like an Evangelion that somehow managed to become even more Freudian. It's gross, uncomfortable, subversive, and sexually-charged in the best way possible. Beyond that, however, Gleipnir also manages to tie its audacious imagery into a compelling symbol of the burgeoning codependency and romance between its main characters. Claire in particular is a wonderful anti-hero with shades of complexity beyond her villainous exterior, and Shuichi is the perfect timid complement. Although the adaptation concludes without any kind of finality, it left me eager to see how these two broken kids would continue to enable their mutual downward spiral, and I hope I'll be able to sing its praises again in the future. This horrible war criminal girl and her fleshy boy mascot hole were made for me.
4. Akudama Drive
As far as high octane crowd-pleasers go, I haven't seen anything as purely entertaining as Akudama Drive in a long, long time. Kazutaka Kodaka's beautiful brain and the anime team's incredible dedication to every facet of its aesthetic adds up to an experience soaked with unique character, in spite of the series' frequent heart-on-sleeve tributes to genre films. I'm most blown away by how well it manages to sustain its momentum throughout its entire runtime. Almost every episode introduces some new wild set piece or dramatic twist designed to catch the audience off guard. Thematically, it also falls neatly in line with Kodaka's exploration of oppressive systems in the Danganronpa series, and furthermore, it develops them strongly into powerful political messages that feel right at home amidst a tumultuous 2020. But by all means, do also feel free to turn your brain off and enjoy the sight of a very large, very happy man punching the shit out of everything in his path. Akudama Drive contains multitudes upon multitudes, and it proves that there are still anime-original projects out there with vim and vigor to spare.
3. Gal & Dino
I'm tempted to make this my number one choice, because I won't be surprised if nobody else puts this one on their list. And that's a real shame! Gal & Dino made for one of the most consistently delightful experiences—anime or otherwise—in my 2020. I'm someone who likes looking for stuff I've never seen before, and this series hits that mark with a comically oversized Acme-brand mallet. Gal & Dino mixes animation, live-action, and everything in between into an eclectic collage that's one part manga adaptation, one part Sesame Street, one part art exhibit, and one part absurdist humor. That last part comes as no surprise, considering this is helmed by the same creative team behind Pop Team Epic's landmark adaptation—in fact, there's even a storyline here that shares continuity with Shouta Aoi's cameo in the Poptepipic finale. Trust me, it makes sense if you watch it. Kind of. However, Gal & Dino also achieves a level of sincerity and warmth that belies its shitpost spiritual ancestor. Dino's antics are shockingly adorable, and in its best moment, it feels like a children's show made for grownups who love animation and want to rekindle some lost childlike delight. There's also a part with an underwear-clad cowboy who haunts Dino's nightmares. It is a bizarre experience from tip to tail, but I love it to bits, and I'm never again going to be able to look at a dinosaur without hearing a lightsaber sound effect.
Dorohedoro is quite possibly my favorite manga of all time. For a long time, I also thought it was functionally unadaptable, so to say that this adaptation was fighting an uphill battle for my approval would be one hell of an understatement. Yet here it is as my runner-up favorite of the year, so suffice to say, I think this anime did a pretty darn good job capturing what I love about the original. Q Hayashida's manga is a twisted mystery narrative blending gory ultraviolence, scribbly punk zine aesthetics, and wholesome friendships into an ominously bubbling cauldron that might look unappetizing (or straight-up poisonous) to the general public. However, if your brain is properly attuned to absurd B-horror delights, you'll find a lot to love about Dorohedoro's quirks. The anime, thankfully, understands this wavelength, focusing just as much on the genuine camaraderie between its big cast of murder-happy weirdos as it does on the huge biceps of its burly women protagonists. Shinji Kimura is also an MVP for his pitch-perfect art direction, breathing life and character into its dingy urban setting and warped Wonderland-esque locales. The CGI character models probably wouldn't have been my first choice, but by the end, I saw them as a necessary concession instead of a blight on the production. In many ways, it's an anime that shouldn't work, and the fact that it does is why I'm placing it so high. Come for the sneaker-wearing giant talking cockroach; stay for the flame-spewing hell toilet.
1. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
To be a fan of anime is to be a fan of animation, but I know I've spent most of my anime fandom woefully ignorant of the intricate and interwoven processes that go into making even the simplest of cartoons. When I rekindled my love of anime in my twenties, this became a facet I was a lot more interested in, and it's one I still find myself excited to learn about today. Every piece of animation I've talked about on this site—even the bad ones—is a product of a miraculous and collaborative effort between artisans, technicians, managers, and beyond. It's people that make anime, and I don't think I've seen a show celebrate that as creatively and brilliantly as Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken. Masaaki Yuasa is one of the most important directors of the past decade, and in many ways, Eizouken feels like a culmination of the work he's placed into creating an outlet for uniquely expressive animation. Eizouken celebrates everything from the high-concept dreamers to the nuts-and-bolts producers who keep the wheels greased. Every single worker in a production is important in some way, and more often than not, it's basic things like solidarity and teamwork that separate a good production from a disastrous one. As more and more anime are made under increasingly exploitative conditions and wages, I can't help but despair at the dissonance between the joy animation can bring and the pain it can bring to the people making it. I certainly don't know a quick and easy solution to that. However, a show like Eizouken goes a long way towards communicating the unique magic of animation, as well as the mountain of labor that goes into it. If more people can become enlightened about both of these facets, then perhaps that'll be a step in the right direction. Regardless, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is a peerlessly delightful experience, and I hope its magic inspires as many people as possible.
The Best Characters of 2020
From the bubbly chaos engine that was Maple in BOFURI to the fluffy nervous wreck of Beastars' Legoshi, there's no shortage of iconic and memorable personalities to pick from in anime this year. But for all that makes those characters a joy to watch, there's just no beating a good villain. Or perhaps not even a villain, really, as Echidna occupies a much more nebulous and fluid space in Re:Zero's second season. She's at once our hero's closest ally and most dangerous threat, offering him information and resources he desperately needs as the world itself conspires against him and his loved ones. Yet through every eerily quiet tea party and smug smile, there's the sense that there's something more to this witch than her fluffy eyebrows and infinite knowledge of the universe. Really, for all the many (many, many) dangers Subaru faced throughout the season, the greatest source of tension was waiting for that other shoe to drop and reveal just what Echidna was after this whole time.
That reveal fully delivers and then some; a glorious moment that had me howling like a hyena as our wayward hero stood slack-jawed, finally realizing just how deep into her web he's crawled without realizing it. And really, who could blame him? From her striking eyes and fashion sense to Maaya Sakamoto's sublime performance, Echidna stole every scene she entered with ease, and between her subtle steering of Subaru's actions and the implications of late-season revelations, it's not a stretch to say she MADE this season of Re:Zero what it was in more ways than one. In a year and franchise with more than a few smug anime witches, Echidna was the smuggest and witchiest by far, and I can't wait to join her for tea again next year.
I was culturally predisposed to like golems long before this show came along – my grandmother used to tell me stories about the Golem of Prague. In Jewish mythology, the golem is a protector, and legend has it that, like many other folk heroes, he sleeps, waiting for the day when we need his help again. That tracks with Golem from Somali and the Forest Spirit. He's an artificial construct like the mythological golem, created to watch over the world and keep things in balance. But he alters his path when he finds the orphaned Somali, and in taking care of her, he discovers that there's a lot more to him than just an emotionless automaton. Over the course of the series, we watch as Golem discovers that he can feel and does love, and to become comfortable enough with that and with what he wants that he becomes Somali's father in truth rather than just in title. It's a slow, sometimes harrowing transformation and it ultimately makes the series as warmly rewarding as it is, even more so because no Blue Fairy waves her wand to turn Golem into a real dad – just the experience of learning how to be one.
From her appearance, to her distinctive (and somewhat menacing) monotone, to her love of that sweet sweet moolah, you just don't see a whole lot of characters like Kanamori—let alone one depicted so heroically! Managerial positions are frequently derided or ignored, probably because they're very easy to be terrible at, or because a lot of the work they do is subtle, if not invisible. However, Kanamori proves just how hugely important a good manager is in any team setting. She can be blunt and uncompromising, but she's also the only reason that Asakusa and Mizusaki ever create anything that isn't a bunch of sketches in a notepad. She directs, inspires, and rescues their asses on multiple occasions, in addition to providing some of the most quotable moments in all of Eizouken. She's a hard worker, a shrewd businesswoman, and a terrifying adversary. Asakusa and Mizusaki are lucky she's on their side, and let's just say I really wish we had some more Kanamoris at my day job.
There are some show formats that, as a necessity, are only as entertaining as their main character. As someone who's not as fond of My Hero Academia as many others in the anime- sphere, I was immediately down with Talentless Nana's vicious shredding of its setting, but pulling me along even further was how its titular character also inverted a lot of the aspects we expect from this setup. Unlike your Light Yagamis or Lelouch Lamperouges, Nana is the one being among her cast who lacks some sort of supernatural power, and seeing her demonstrations of just how a ‘normal’ person would take down various superheroes makes for naturally compelling television. Everyone's favorite fluffy pink murder machine also stands apart from those aforementioned examples with how imperfect her machinations are. For all the entertainment value in her killings, Nana is still a serial-murdering assassin, but her show brilliantly conspires to undermine her in increasingly ridiculous ways, letting us watch her squeak by with barely-concealed panic and frankly absurd bluff checks. All that results in this slaughtering schemer still being presented as a situational underdog, and beyond just wanting to see these self-assured superpowered schmucks taken down, lets me have a great time rooting for her.
Hello, have you met Noi, my huge beautiful wife? If not, you should. Immediately.
This year, for all its faults, brought us a plethora of memorable, lovable, flawed, fascinating characters; enough so that this was easily the hardest category for me to choose. In my deliberations, however, one face kept bubbling up to the top of my mind: Dorohedoro's Noi. An enormous Great Pyrenees puppy of a woman, Noi's friendliness, eagerness to please, and tail-wagging adoration of her partner Shin endeared me to her. And how could anyone not love the fact that, since her power to heal gives her no magical offensive abilities, she trained her physical abilities to the point that she can just punch her enemies into submission? Not to mention how her physique actually matches her strength, and she's still presented as beautiful without being unnecessarily sexualized either… She's one-of-a-kind in anime and manga, and I simply adore her.
Though Legoshi is the star of the show, Haru is arguably Beastars' most important character. While I could write an entirely different article on where the manga eventually goes with her story (and what I hope Studio Orange might be able to correct, down the line), what we see of Haru's story in Season 1 of Beastars feels kind of revelatory. Here we have an emotionally complex young woman who owns her sexual and romantic experiences, even as her own understanding of how and why she loves the men in her life continues to change. She could definitely stand to have healthier dynamics with her romantic partners, all around, but Beastars never falls into the trap of shaming Haru for being a girl that craves the same physical and emotional connections that so many male protagonists have gotten a free pass for over the years, nor does it punish her for having reasons to pursue men that go beyond innocent, uncomplicated romance. All of this, and Haru is just as funny, likeable, and compelling as any of her male counterparts on the show. Beastars' greatest flaw in my book is that it doesn't give Haru more to do in the story, but what we do get is still head and shoulders above most of the competition. I know the manga just finished, but I would be the first fan on board if Studio Orange went ahead and just made their own spin-off that is just all about Haru. Come on Netflix, you know it's a great idea! Just make sure to make the royalty checks out to James Beckett when the idea makes you a billion dollars.
Do a survey on what makes this series watchable and the most common answer is certain to be “Moroha.” She is the perfect blend of the traits of her parents (Inuyasha and Kagome) in both appearance and personality, so a certain amount of nostalgia is involved in this pick, and her vivaciousness compensates for a dearth of it in the other two leads, but it's more than that: she is one of the rare anime characters whose charisma transcends her role in the series. At least some of the credit for this goes to voice actress Azusa Tadokoro, but her smile, her goofy side, the way she takes everything in stride, and the way she blends both demonic melee and spiritual ranged powers also contribute. Other characters in the running included Kahvel, the female knight obsessed with “slicing flesh” in I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives; Echidna, the Witch of Greed from Re:Zero 2; and Maple, who takes her own uniquely ridiculous approach to becoming OP as the protagonist of BOFURI.
There were a lot of great characters this year, but Natsume was far and away my favorite to watch grow and change. When we first meet her, she's an earnest girl with a dream of entering the frontlines against Gadoll attacks. Her elders and peers have repeatedly attempted to veer her away from this choice because she uses a prosthetic arm. The technology is far from graceful and she finds herself sequestered to clean-up duty. But Natsume doesn't give up, even when her enthusiasm makes others uncomfortable who wish she'd just maintain the status quo. She refuses to see her prosthetic as a hindrance and has to grapple with others perceiving her as a burden. I was certainly caught up in Natsume's determination and it was refreshing to see someone adapt what others saw as a hindrance into a boon that made her more capable than most for the career she wanted. Also, she makes very good cartoon faces.
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