I started thinking about the similarities in March comes in like a lionand Teppu, of all things. They both deliberately tell a story with main characters who fit the “rival” archetype in sports anime much more than they fit the protagonist archetype. They both tell a story from the Classic Anime Rival’s point of view, and because of that, the story feels unusual and a lot of the classic sports anime tropes are messed with.
And this isn’t supposition.
March pretty much acknowledges this reversal in the scene where Nikaido frames himself as a shonen protag who needs to defeat his rival Rei and… well, when you think about it, that is essentially correct.
Rei is aloof, cynical, super talented and winning constantly because of it…but his heart isn’t really in the game. He doesn’t get along with his peers very well. He’s definitely Classic Anime Rival material.
Meanwhile Nikaido is the scrappy underdog fueled by undying passion and the power of friendship who will keep playing until he collapses and inspires everyone around him. He gets along well with others. He WOULD typically be the main character.
It’s the same for Natsuo and Yuzuko in Teppu, only to a different degree. Rei ‘s archetype is that of the more pleasant kind of rival who’s closed off rather than mean. He says he’s not the hero’s friend, but he kinda is even from the beginning. But Natsuo? She’s the nasty, hardcore rival archetype. She’s always been able to achieve the things others work at through effortless talent. She’s often “bored” by how easily she can get by and she constantly infuriates others with how lightly she takes them. She’s also violent, terrifying and has a personal mad-on for the hero.
Meanwhile, Yuzuko is explicitly noted to be the classic protagonist who got where she is with hard work! passion! determination! She’s the underdog without much talent who bridges the gap with her effort and optimism. She pulls off those surprise victories.
So both March and Teppu allow us to experience nearly an entire story told from the rival’s POV, but what new insights does this shift in focus show us? For both Rei and Natsuo, it’s lonely at the top, but this manifests in different ways.
I enjoyed every single one of the five anime I watched this season: Dororo, My Roommate is a Cat, Mob Psycho 100 II, The Promised Neverlandand Kaguya-sama: Love is War.
So here are my reviews! I’ve cut back on the anime overview a lot, so these are shorter reviews than usual (though not quite as short at I’d like. someday I’ll be able to restrain myself)
Since I liked all of the shows, these aren’t in a strict worst-to-best order or anything, but the ones I found most impressive ARE nearer to the bottom. So let’s dig into last season’s anime.
My Roommate is a Cat
Premise: An antisocial writer in his early 20s adopts a cat and they both get their worlds expanded as they bond.
My take: Much like the kitty it centers on, this show is super cute, sweet and fluffy. If you’re a cat-lover and want to bask in some kitty adorableness, I encourage you to check it out. At first, I was afraid the main character Subaru’s grumpy misanthropy might be too much- I could certainly empathize with being socially isolated and avoiding people, but the way he was just rude toward others was grating. Fortunately, his character development is swift, so he quickly went from misanthrope to anxious-introverted-mess-who-awkwardly-muddles-through-social-interaction-for-the-sake-of-his-kitty, which I found EXTREMELY relatable. Subaru is coping with the loss of his parents and the fact he took them for granted while they were alive as well, so there are quite a few heart-string tugging moments.
The show’s central gimmick is that events will be told from Subaru’s point of view and then we’ll get his kitty Haru’s side of things. Yep, the cat narrates part of the show, which is how I knew I was in it for good. And Haru’s a very good cat! She’s adorable without being cloying, and at least realistic in how most of her thoughts revolve around food. Seeing her warm up to her hopeless human is just as sweet as seeing Subaru warm up to her. As a former stray cat, she has a rough backstory, so if even a restrained depiction of kitty death is too much for you, look out for that part. This show isn’t afraid to bring the feels, but it keeps things positive overall. Subaru’s friends are supportive and help a new pet owner out, and we even get a cute doggie in the mix. Overall, if you want a relaxing, nice watch with a simple, sweet story, you could do a lot worse than My Roommate is a Cat.
Dororo (Episodes 1-12)
Premise: Thanks to his father making a deal with demons, Hyakkimaru has to wander Japan and fight monsters to get his body parts back. He meets up with a young thief named Dororo.
My take: Dororo is a very loose adaptation of the 1960′s manga by Osamu Tezuka, who’s known as the godfather of manga. I was familiar with Dororo thanks to watching the live action movie for an article when I worked at epicstream (it must not have left an impression bc I remember very little) so I was curious to check this out. I ended up reading the manga too, and overall, I find it pretty impressive as an adaptation. It does a lot to make a really dated and incomplete-feeling manga more palatable and cohesive for a modern audience. Maybe I’ll do a full post expanding on those thoughts sometime, because the changes really are worth examining.
Dororo is definitely not for everyone- it’s a grim, dark show with lots of death and destruction.The story is especially not kind to women, who tend to die or be demons. The exceptions to this (such as a lady demon actually being presented as sympathetic) are mainly anime-original. Actually, while the anime eschews the original manga’s cartoon-y, jokey tone to be more serious, it actually has a much lower body count and more hopeful tone than the original, a contrast I find pretty interesting. But “more hopeful” is still not very hopeful. The story has pretty strong anti-war undertones and criticism of how authority exploits people, and there’s a lot of “these are the horrors of war” scenes and even a scene where Dororo witnesses a woman engaging in unhappy, reluctant sex work.
I watched eight anime during the Fall 2018 anime season (why did I watch so much I am filled with regret) and I’ve now written full length reviews for each of them (except one)! So here my personal rankings of what I watched from weakest to strongest. Each anime title links to my in-depth review of said series, so feel free to click! For all the reviews at once, please see my anime overview tag here.
And remember, this is just my personal take, your mileage may vary.
The story of a special police force that deals with cases involving a dangerous drug that grants superpowers. It starts out promising as a fun buddy-cop romp with a colorful cast, but the series’ clumsy, half-hearted attempts at engaging with social issues and completely nonsense plot paired with a lack of attention and care towards its characters bring it down. It just began to drag at the end, and was a bit of a chore to finish.
The story of mild-mannered Eiji forming a close bond with dangerous gangster Ash while vicious enemies hound them concludes. I reallydebated whether to rate this the weakest just because there are SO many poorly done elements, so much yikes, and ending is so dumb, cruel and meaningless, but I have to admit it did a better job keeping me engaged than Double Decker did- I was never bored watching it and I wanted to see what was going to happen next. There are a couple resonant moments, but this is not a story that has aged well in a lot of ways, and the half-hearted modern paint job just rendered it a complete mess.
The adventures of a mild-mannered vampire, the human girl in love with her and friends. This show is pure cutesy fluff and not much more. It’s definitely nothing remarkable or even all that funny, but it was something to relax and turn my brain off to. There’s occasional light fanservice and a couple jokes that cross a line, but it mostly remains sweet and chill.
(Adaptation of the third wacky lawyer game. This wasn’t so much an in-depth review as a short post from my perspective as someone who’s a big fan of the games, I’m just including it because I’m a completist. Basically, it’s been fine, the flashback episode is good, I haven’t caught up with the current arc because it was boring).
Pretty much exactly what the title says, a series of shorts about the trials of working in the manga section of a bookstore, narrated by a talking skeleton trying his best. A fun look at the inner workings of a bookstore and retail hell in general, deals a lot with international customers, fully shows the ridiculous things booksellers have to deal with but is always gentle and affectionate in its humor.
The story of a Japanese war veteran and young Ainu girl encountering a lot of weirdos as they hunt for lost Ainu treasure continues. Golden Kamuy remains as wacky and compelling as ever. Though this season was very rushed and you could tell huge chunks of the manga were cut out, it does still manage to be entertaining and has a pretty explosive finale. Its far from perfect, but it’ll do during the interminable wait for the licensed manga volumes to drop.
An anime where a girl wakes up one day to discover she’s died and become a zombie. Even weirder, a mysterious man wants her and other zombie girls to form an idol group.
This is a wacky comedy with a lot of (rotting, half-exposed) heart that celebrates the weirdness and individuality of its loveable cast of characters. It’s a ton of fun and I look forward to seeing more of these good zomnbie gals. The show is uneven at times, with the final arc in particularly having some holes in it, and I do have some concerns about directions it could take in the future. But it was a very nice time overall.
This anime focuses on Yuu, a girl troubled by how she fails to feel the romantic passion that seems to come so easily to others. When another girl suddenly confesses love to her, she ends up being pulled into a very complicated relationship.
A gorgeous and heartfelt drama that explores identity, relationships and the trials and triumphs of being a teenager, especially a queer teenager. It takes an honest look at the messiness and insecurities of young wlw without objectifying or fetishizing, and also includes adult wlw. Just a top notch production all around and easily one of the best anime of the year.
Double Decker! Doug and Kirill follows a special police force devoted to dealing with cases involving “Anthem”, a highly dangerous super-drug that can be both fatal and grant uncontrollable superpowers. The squad is divided into three pairs of partners. The eponymous Kirill is a enthusiastic newbie who partners with a deadpan, “kind of an asshole” veteran named Doug.
It’s hard to say when a show crosses the line from “dumb in a fun way” to “just mind numbingly dumb” but I’d say Double Decker crossed that threshold around about the midpoint of the series. Which is a shame, because I was rooting for it. It seemed like an anime with a lot of potential- it was humorous, irreverent and bombastic, it seemed fun and colorful with a varied cast, it had a nice variety of ladies in the squad, and two of the ladies, Max and Yuri, were heavily coded as a couple right off the bat-
-with Max (on the left) in particular going putting off some Impressive Lesbian Energy with her aesthetic…and early on Doug announced that his life goal was to “eliminate poverty and class”, indicating the series intended to deal with social issues.
It IS possible to be a cheesy, fun show that is also inclusive and deals with social ills, but Double Decker’s clumsy, simplistic attempts to balance this with the larger goofy plot ultimately meant it fell short of being an truly entertaining romp AND was utterly disastrous at being socially aware.
Double Decker acts like it wants to say something about tolerance at points, but is ultimately gutless, toothless and halfhearted, sometimes verging on offensive. It became apparent the show wasn’t going to be truly LGBT inclusive with a character’s uh, “gender reveal” scene midseries that is a just…a mess. Some characters reactions to the “revelation” are just blatantly transphobic (thinking its hilarious, saying the character in question should “tell the truth” about their sex, etc) and this was never called out or challenged. It’s finally explained (baffllngly late in the series) that rather than actually being trans, this character is a cis man who just disguised himself as a woman for flimsy plot reasons, it doesn’t make how the reveal scene was handled and how it was painted as being “funny” any better. It’s not my lane so I won’t really go into it, but this article at Anime Heraldcovers the whole mess in detail. The whole thing is SO stupid and honestly there was no reason for it to be a plot at all.
If that “reveal” episode had me feeling wary about the show, the episode following sunk any hopes I had for it. Double Decker didn’t even have the guts to have Max and Yuri be explicitly romantically involved, instead just giving vague, baity hints. What’s worse, the episode focusing on Max was boring as sin. It was painfully bland and on the nose “critique” of high school proms SO rote it even had the girl who wanted to be popular transform into a literal “queen bee” (GET IT). The only thing we actually learn about Max in her supposed focus episode is that she hates proms because a bunch of kids rejected her trans friend at one which caused her friend to turn to drugs and disappear forever. Yep, not only can the show not bother to give us actual lesbians, trans people are just tragic props (and the attempt to say a thing about how trans people are treated badly would have felt a LOT more sincere if transness hadn’t been treated as a joke in THE EPISODE JUST BEFORE THIS ONE).
Doug also only became aware of poverty existing because of a tragic prop- his backstory amounts to a dead little shoe-shining street girl so one dimensional and cliche I’m surprised she wasn’t found frozen in an alley clutching a book of matches, and that one incident made him realize Poor People Shouldn’t Be a Thing so now he’s, uh….well, he’s not really doing anything about it, but he says he wants to, and that’s good enough right?
Yeah, that’s about the level of nuance we’re dealing with here. It’s nice that Double Deckertried, I guess, but if this was going to be the level of its effort, I wish it had just stuck to being a goofy sci-fi show. As it was, even the “goofy buddy cop” aspect felt really hollow because the show didn’t give us a reason to be invested in these partnerships or these characters.
I wanted to be invested! I was SO ready to appreciate the punk butch and her robot girlfriend, but instead we barely learn anything about them or see them interact. I was READY to be tremendously invested in the straightlaced office girl and her vulgar pink haired partner, but we didn’t learn anything beyond their surface personalities- nothing substantial about what drives them or where they come from or anything. Doug had his eye-rolly dead-little-girl backstory and admittedly sometimes amusing snarky asshole personality, but he spends so much time being insincere there wasn’t much to latch onto with him.
Kirill was pretty much the only one in this show who felt like an Actual Character, and I did find him extremely likable- he was utterly sincere in everything he did, full of heart, dumb and enthusiastic in a fun way, and incredibly sweet and supportive to his friends and loved ones (he was also the only one who was chill and accepting about the not-really-trans character too so that earned him some points) but all the stuff going around him was so empty it didn’t matter.
(ending spoilers here)
The show didn’t put the work into making you connect with these characters, but it DID still expect you to be invested in them. One of the kinda-lesbians appears to have died at one point in the show, but it makes zero impact because you knew basically nothing about that character anyway- it instead just feels annoying, like “wow, you’re just gonna kill that gay without bothering to develop her huh” but the show clearly expects you to be devastated. Then when it’s revealed at the end “PSYCH she’s alive for this ridiculous jokey contrived reason haha really pranked you huh” it’s just even more annoying. Just because I’m relieved you didn’t actually bury the gay doesn’t mean you pretending to bury her wasn’t insulting and pointless. All you did was bring my attention to how little you bothered to develop this character and how willing you are to use her and her kinda-girlfriend’s pain as a plot device, so thanks?
The humor of the show basically followed “you thought THIS thing was gonna happen but instead WACKY TWIST haha now the narrator makes a snarky comment about it” and while that was fun at first it just got old without anything going on besides that. And as for the plot, it’s…generous… to call it a plot. At the end it jumps straight to “AND SUDDENLY THERE WERE ALIENS” with almost zero foreshadowing and it just gets stupider from there. Such a ridiculous development would work on a show that was either a) a pure farce or b) something super wacky but with enough heart, drama and character to keep you invested, but DD was neither of those things. It was an anime that wanted you to care, but gave no fucks itself.
(Also this show is supposed to be related to Tiger and Bunny but I honestly have no idea how these two anime are connected in-universe. Is this a prequel? sequel? Are they happening at the same time? WHO KNOWS, THE CREATORS SURE DON’T)
The animation was also nothing to write home about, with a lot of awkward CGI shots and pretty ugly clothing designs- it was colorful enough to distract from it a lot of the time, but definitely not winning any aesthetics awards.
So yeah, Double Decker is far from the worst anime I’ve ever watched, and I like the concept I think it was GOING for- but what we ended up with was something completely mediocre. The first couple episodes were fun, but by the end it was a chore to watch. I finished it because “well I’ve come this far might as well” rather than any real investment in the show. It wasn’t painful (except for the clumsy attempts at dealing with trans issues), but it was so completely stupid and forgettable, which is sad, because it seemed like it had so much potential at the start.
Banana Fish (13-24)
Again, if you read my review for the first half of the show, you can basically expect more of the same, both with the good and especially the bad parts. We do get more downtime with Ash and Eiji’s relationship, and they continued to make me think this show would be so much better if it focused more on these quiet scenes rather than on piling as much trauma on Ash as it possibly can.
2018 was a big year for me, anime-wise. I really started keeping up with the anime reviewing community, particularly Anifem and ANN, and that meant I jumped on a bunch of series and had a lot of great finds.
I figured that a top 8 list would be fitting. I ruled out continuing series and kept it to stuff that debuted in 2018, but Golden Kamuy and My Hero Academia are still good. Also March Comes Like a Lion is the BEST, I don’t care if I haven’t finished it, it’s a fantastic, breathtaking drama with amazing characters everyone should watch and would totally be number one on this list if it was eligible.
These aren’t exactly ranked, since I have a hard time doing that with stuff I like, but the anime I found most impressive is nearer to the bottom.
Honorary mentions for Skull faced Bookseller Honda-san which was a thoroughly good time and Violet Evergarden which was pretty and had some episodes that made me cry.
How to Keep a Mummy
Let all easily-offended anime fans choke over the fact I choose this cheap-looking fluffy show over daring artsy stuff like Devilman Crybaby and the like. This adorable series about a boy and his friends adopting miniature fantasy animals is charming as heck
This show just really clicked with me, and its honestly my go-to when I really need to calm down from my anxiety. The characters are so sweet and likable, the atmosphere is so pleasant and the cute fantasy animal shenanigans hit my sweet spot. It’s a thoroughly soothing experience, but it also has enough of an “edge” to keep me from getting bored, since it gently touches on stuff like anxiety over losing pets you love and so on. Full reviewhere.
Part idol show, part killer comedy, Zombieland Saga has a loveable cast of quirky undead girls to enjoy. It goes all out with its body horror gags and outrageous slapstick, but still manages to have a lot of heart underneath it all- and that’s not just referring to one that routinely bursts out of girl’s chest cavity.
The show is about a group of misfits bonding together to find a life after death- and though they become a team of idols, they’re idols who ultimately celebrate weirdness and individuality. There’s even a ridiculous delinquent girl, which is one of my weaknesses. And shoutout to the show for having a trans character in the group, who is treated with empathy rather than derision and ultimately accepted.
I do feel the arc that wrapped up the show was kind of “meh”, and I have some trepidation about what was revealed about the girls’ manager but the stronger episodes and fun characters make up for it. I’m also intrigued to see bits of a larger plot start to form- I’m genuinely curious to see where the show goes and looking forward to more. Full review incoming!
Planet With follows an amnesiac boy who lives with a cat monster and quirky maid-looking girl, who task him with fighting the local superheroes in a cat robot. This anime goes full-speed-ahead, balls-to-the-wall and never lets up, packing in more story, twists and climactic battles in its 12 episodes than a lot of anime do in 50. Yet the entire thing remains cohesive, engaging and fun while taking the time to explore cycles of violence and the power of empathy and forgiveness. It has solid characters, a strong story and is just a good time overall. I feel like this anime was really overlooked by many this year, so I only hope more people will discover this hidden gem as time goes on. Full review here.
This comedy about a yakuza thug who is dragged into being the guardian of a psychic girl is all the wacky found family shenanigans you could ever want. The characters are entertaining, the twists are unexpected and it is full of great girls. It can also be surprisingly touching and empathetic in how it deals with things like homelessness. It avoids the skeezy and uncomfortable aspects a lot of anime comedies has an remains a fun time throughout. The animation is also wonderfully expressive. Full reviewhere.
Because I couldn’t contain myself, here are a few more of my favorite OPs. These are either a). OPs I love but have to admit are not perfect or remarkable on a technical level or b) OPs I think are really good but one aspect just doesn’t completely click with me.
Toradora Opening 1
This OP is so darn catchy and cute. I can’t watch it without remembering how equally cute and fun this show was and being overcome with affection. The visuals of this opening don’t fully keep up with the energy of the song in places- but that doesn’t matter to me. It’s adorable! I also just adore the bouncy tune and pink and white silhouettes and aahhhh.
And Taiga’s glares in it are A-plus. Seriously, I love a good intimidating glare from a girl and the one she gives at the beginning gave me chills the first time I saw it. I also love the quick succession of shots of the girls being badass in their different ways at the end- this show had SUCH GOOD GIRLS and watching this OP reminds me of that and isn’t that all that matters?
Xam’d: Lost Memories Opening
Ahhhh I remember I could never skip this OP when watching the show. I just love how it starts out with the characters tapping their feet to the music, I love the cool backgrounds, and I especially love that is just has this whole sequence with a monster chasing everyone and the Captain casually defeating it with her bigass fuck-off gun. It’s so well animated and an exhilarating action sequence that allows you to see the dynamics of the squad instantly.
However, much as I love it, I’ll admit storywise it kinds falls apart at the end. Akiyuki, why did you throw away those perfectly good apples you took the trouble to get? Why did you turn into your robot-creature-whatever form only to instantly transform back and get a letter? It looks cool, but these questions distract me. Still, great OP that always got me pumped to watch the show.
A Certain Scientific Railgun Opening 1
I adore this OP with all my heart and soul, and that’s almost 100% because the song is banger and the opening and ending shots are super badass. However, I will admit the visuals in the middle fail to keep up with the energy of the song, which is shame, because like, this song was clearly specifically written for the show. You’d think they’d be having an action scene during the whole “only my railgun can shoot it” part of the song but nope, they decided that was the time for a long shot of Misaka on a train. The song basically carries the OP, with the visuals in the middle being somewhat slow and generic.
But that doesn’t matter because I love the opening bit- it looks so badass and actually syncs with the music- and I adore the end shot of Misaka using her powers too. It’s just beautifully animated, and that utterly makes up for the lacking visuals in the rest of the OP for me.
Honestly, this one is a near-perfect OP- I debated whether to put it in my 15 favorite OPs for a long time. The song is really intense and memorable and I really like how it incorporates the time travel motif and represents it via film- the beginning shows the main character in a theater with his younger self, then later you have the film spinning by as the character’s silhouette writhes in the background and he reverts to his younger self. I also really like how even the shots in this OP that seem random and generic are actually REALLY significant to the plot of the show- there’s a lot of clues to how the plot plays out. For once, the OP focusing on random empty classrooms and fields is actually REALLY significant to a reoccurring motif in the show. The show gets extra points for making a change to the OP in one of the later episodes that reflects the events of the episode in a chilling way.
The $5 tier on my patreon allows people to nominate/vote on one post a month- about anything! This is one of those posts. Go to my patreon here to learn more.
Out of the nominations I’ve received from patrons, I chose a post on my favorite anime movies! I’m afraid I’ve watched a ton less anime movies than series, so there probably won’t be a ton of surprises here.
Favorites Anime Movies List
Movies by Hayao Miyazaki– It’s no surprise this tops the list- any movie of his is worth a look, as are Studio Ghibli movies in general. My favorites of his work are Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki’s Delivery Serviceand Spirited Away. It’s apparently a bit unusual to have Nausicaa as a favorite, but it was my first time really paying attention to a Ghibli movie, I think it’s wonderfully told and I just love the protagonist- a compassionate friend-to-all-animals warrior princess who is deeply invested in giant mutant bugs. Spirited Away is just a masterpiece with a vibrant fantasy world and colorful characters and Kiki’s is deeply heartwarming and has a lot of great things to say about inspiration, growing up and the creative process.
Whisper of the Heart- This is hands-down my favorite non-Miyazaki Ghbli movie. As a writer, I connected it so powerfully, it really depicts the struggle honestly while being a great coming of age story. I feel like the main character is probably the closest person I’ve ever found to me in a story- she just felt so real and grounded. I too both love and hate to write, flop on the floor in despair and would follow a random cat for miles.
In this Corner of the World– I saw this one recently and was blown away. It can be a little confusing at times, but it’s ultimately a story about finding a way to live when war is tearing everything around you apart. It’s a slice of life with soft colors and lovely animation, but it’s set during WWII and the main character is from and lives near Hiroshima, so I don’t need to tell you it gets dark. But there’s always hope as well.
Wolf Children Ame and Yuki- This is a great, bittersweet tale of a single (human) mother raising two werewolf children. It’s adorable and also quite sad at times, but it really impresses on you both the struggle and strength of this mother raising kids on her own, while also exploring these children who grow and try to navigate a world where they are so different from other humans.
Millennium Actress– This is my favorite Satoshi Kon movie by far. It’s follows the story of an aged actress and shows how her long and vibrant career intertwined with her search for a man she was in love with (who was a protester of the Sino-Japanese war on the run from the law). It uses the various movies the actress was a part of to represent the different stages of the woman’s life, so it often suddenly switches genres- one second it’s a samurai movie, the next it’s a space drama- and it becomes hard to separate the actress herself from the parts she plays. It’s visually and narratively stunning and a trippy look at how deeply joined art and artist can be.