Favourite Anime of 2013
December 28, 2013 4 Comments
It’s always a difficult task coming up with a simple list of my favourite anime that aired throughout the year, the list always seems to extend over several pages, only to be pruned and cut down to a simple selection of the series and films I truly enjoyed watching. This year I have decided not to put the anime in any specific order, or even give them a number as I feel numbering, and ordering the anime to be rather arbitrary. Apart from one specific series the anime in this list have all been equally enjoyable for a variety of different reasons. Interestingly most of the really popular series, ones that acquired lives of their own are missing from this list, largely because I found them almost universally boring, or didn’t particularly interest me in one way of another. But before the list proper a few special mentions, series that I certainly enjoyed, but have not made it onto the final list for a number of reasons.
Senki Zesshou Symphogear G:
Senki Zesshou Symphogear was a truly strange series, one that was as ludicrous as it was entertaining, and to my, and many others surprise the sequel Senki Zesshou Symphogear G – or to give it its full name, Senki Zesshou Symphogear G: In the Distance, That Day, When the Star Became Music – picked up where the first series left off, only this time replacing the more ridiculous elements with a well thought out narrative, engaging characters, and a real hatred for the moon. The use of music is one of the hallmarks of Symphogear, and the way it is combined into the characters attacks and ways of acting is always great fun to watch, especially with the more comic book style attacks.
Girls und Panzer:
Strictly speaking Girls und Panzer is a series from 2012, only because of well-known production issues the finale was pushed back to March 2013. I already put the series onto my favourite anime of 2012 list, and it felt somewhat unfair to put it onto this list as well. That being said, Girls und Panzer delivered one of the best finale’s I’ve seen, complete with wonderfully choreographed battles, excellent use of music, and engaging characters.
Red Data Girl:
A bit of a strange series to be on a Favourite anime of 2013 list, largely because of its numerous and varied faults, chief among them a story that jumps from place to place without ever giving the viewers a chance to catch their breath. That being said I really enjoyed Red Data Girl, and found the world the story was set in a fascinating place where Japanese religious beliefs collided and fought for dominance. It seemed to me after doing a little research that the major issues with the anime; specifically the rushed story exists because tit was rushed. The anime is adapted from a series of novels, and the anime managed to fit five or the six novels into a mere twelve episodes, that alone suggests that large sections were left out, and an awful lot of the narrative and character development was rushed. It certainly isn’t one of the best series of the year, but it is one that I enjoyed watching, and it looked beautiful.
Kyousougiga was a fascinating series that used Through the Looking Glass as a framework for its story about family ties and spirituality. The world was both colour and wonderfully realised, introducing many unique and entertaining characters, some names after Kami/Bodhisattva, along with figures from Japanese historical past. There were numerous complexities and subtleties to the narrative, but it was ultimately a story about one girls quest to find her mother and discover who she really is. While I enjoyed it immensely, I only enjoyed numerous other anime this season more, but it is still worthy of a mention on this list.
Favourite Anime of 2013:
Namichuigiwa no Muromi-san:
Muromi-san is one of those classic Japanese slapstick comedies, only this time in half-length format rather than 25-minute episodes. Muromi-san uses this format to its advantage, with a series of increasingly ridiculous sketches involving the titular Muromi-san, a stupid, alcoholic mermaid with a massive crush on Takuro, a high-school boy who just happens to like fishing. Watching Muromi-san trying to hit on Takuro, whilst also holding grudges with dolphins and other aspects of the world that have been going for millennia is truly hilarious. What is particularly funny is how all the characters work so well together to create great visual gags, without ever being too long-winded.
Toaru Kagaku no Railgun S:
The main problem with the Index universe is how large it is, there is so much going on, and so many different character crossing paths that you can quickly get lost in the interrelated stories, plots, and relationships. In many respects the Index universe is just too expansive for its own good, and while I certainly enjoy aspects of the Index anime, it can easily be sidetracked by some new character or story arc, thus meandering through a fascinating universe without any real direction or sense of purpose. This is where Railgun comes in, it may be a part of the expanded Index universe, but by specifically focussing on Misaka and her friends, Saten, Shirai, and Uihara we are given a glimpse into this complex universe with the knowledge that the story will still focus on a single group of friends. The first season of Railgun was entertaining, but lacked a certain impact, something that Railgun S provides in spades. The story of Misaka, a supremely powerful Level 5 esper and how she negotiates the complex maze of political, scientific, and occult factions, plans, and infighting is truly a wonderful thing to watch. Furthermore, the serious aspects of cloning, and abusing living beings for the sake of scientific progress is always balanced nicely with humour courtesy of Saten, Shirai, and Uihara. Misaka and the Railgun story provides a concrete base from which we can explore the Index universe, confident in the knowledge that we will not get lost, and will return to the same place we started.
Hataraku Maou-sama was a curious find and one that exceeded my expectations. At first it seemed we would get a simple story about a clash of good and evil, however, we were quickly presented with an altogether different story. Instead of trying to destroy all who stands in his way, Maou starts working at a local fast-food outlet otherwise he and his subordinate Ashiya would die of starvation. Other characters from Maou’s world do appear, such as Ami the hero, and Urushihara, but the series is most at home with the daily necessities of survival in Tokyo. The best humour comes from everyday conversations and actions, especially when Urushihara becomes a NEET – due to being a wanted criminal – and the rest of the cast mercilessly make fun of him. It is a series where the magical and the everyday meet and coexist, creating a fascinating, and entertaining anime.
Gin no Saji:
Gin no Saji initially looked very similar to Moyashimon, with it’s setting an agricultural school. But, it quickly took a different route, focussing on the daily necessities of agriculture and lacking the supernatural abilities of Sawaki. It is a story about discovery and growth, where the main character Hachiken has to come to terms with his own shortcomings and learn about the harsh realities of agriculture. It is fascinating to watch Hachiken as he grapples with where eggs come from, the idea of killing animals for meat, and thinking about what he wants to do in the future. The cast of eccentric characters help to create a truly enjoyable series that is astonishingly frank when it comes to the realities of butchery and where meat and other animal products come from.
Zetsuen no Tempest:
No list would be complete without an anime written by Mari Okada, a writer who people seem to either love, or hate. This time it comes in the form of Zetsuen no Tempest, a ridiculous, overblown story taking queues from some of Shakespeare’s’ most well known plays. The first half was largely about Yoshino helping Mahiro find out who killed his family, with help from the eccentric, and forceful magician Hakaze. It is the second half when the series truly comes alive though, with Hakaze taking a greater role in plans to save the world from its impending destruction. All of the series characters are multi-dimensional, hiding their true feelings and thoughts, while also trying to work towards a common goal. The best characters, like in so many of Okada’s work are female, with Hakaze, Aika, and Evangeline pushing the narrative forward on their own. It was a truly entertaining series that could have easily come across as pompous and stupid, but instead managed to provide us with a grandiose battle between opposing forces without any clear divisions of right or wrong.
Kyoto Animation consistently produce beautiful looking anime that can be easily dismissed by many as empty, but what they also create are stories that incorporate elements of the fantastical into the everyday. Tamako Market was one such show, one that focussed on Tamako and the market she lives in. the introduction of Dera Mochimazzi, a talking bird with a fabulous walk and brilliant personality adds an element of the bizarre into the everyday lives of Tamako and her friends. In many respects very little happens in Tamako Market, which is one of the series charms, it isn’t a story about great adventures or deeds, but is instead about the everyday lives of Tamako, and the other people who live and work around her. Dera provides the viewers with an insight into the daily lives of these characters while also injecting elements of humour into this story of the everyday.
The initial reactions to Free’s first promo-video (at the time dubbed, the ‘swimming anime’) were truly mesmerising, the video and its characters seemed to have acquired a life of their own. The subsequent series – planned long before the promo video – was another wonderful anime from KyoAni, only this time focussing on a group of boys rather than the girls their anime often involve. In many respects very little happens in Free, with the main characters creating a swimming club at their school, and Haru coming to terms with his own love for swimming and rivalry/friendship with Rin as central plot points. But, as with Tamako Market, Free isn’t so much about a grand narrative, instead focussing on the characters relationships, and what they get up to in their daily lives. It also has one of the best ending’s of any anime this year. I also feel it is worth noting that Free, and the reactions to the series also demonstrates how much homophobia and sexism remains within anime fandom in general. Seeing various reactions to the anime along the line of KyoAni selling out the Fujoshi, and ruining anime with ‘homo’s’ was truly sad, and quite disturbing in the case of some of the ruder, and more insulting reactions. Such a shame when it really was an entertaining series with engaging characters, a simple but effective story, and beautifully animated like every KyoAni series.
Uta no Prince-sama Maji Love 2000%:
Ahh Uta-Pri, what a wonderfully camp, eccentric, and above all entertaining series you are. Full of memorable characters complete with their own grand entrances (Hello Camus) and desires, a series that takes the idea of an idol group and just has fun with it. There is too much to say about this series really, and it would result in more of a list than an actual explanation. Suffice to say I loved watching it, and Uta-Pri shows us that the world needs more Shining Saotome.
Non Non Biyori:
Non Non Biyori came as something of a surprise to me, initially expecting a pleasant slice of life anime set in the Japanese countryside. This is exactly what the series is, but with something extra, a slightly melancholy feeling about a part of Japan that has arguably disappeared. The countryside in Non Non Biyori is as beautiful as it is empty, with the main characters going to school, and working in the same classroom despite being different ages and in different grades. Watching Hotaru, Natsumi, Komari, and Renge go about their daily lives is peaceful as it was enjoyable. What is particularly interesting is the way the anime treats these characters, especially in regards to their age – Hotaru in particular might look much older than she is, and even acting in a very mature manner that belies her mere 10 years. And yet, there are moments where she is 10 years old again, especially when it comes to her infatuation with Komari, and the numerous plushies she creates in her image. But, the character that really steals the show for me is Renge, a truly wonderful character to watch. It is actually very difficult to find anything specific to say about this series, other than it has easily been one of my favourites this year, providing a wonderfully relaxing story about a group of girls in the Japanese countryside.
Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta:
Yozakura Quartet has been another surprise this season – I started watching it with no real knowledge of the setting or characters, but quickly got hooked on the fascinating characters and world they live in. This is an alternate version to the original series that aired in 2008, but one that fits quite neatly within the original story, albeit leaving a few specific character introductions out. There are moments in the series where characters appear almost at random, having been introduce either in the original series, or in 3 OVA’s titled Yozakura Quartet: Hoshi no Umi. At the same time I felt that watching the OVAs, or knowledge of the original series has not been entirely necessary to an understanding and enjoyment of this series. The character interactions are great, and the world they inhabit is truly fascinating, one that incorporates aspects of Japanese mythology and religious beliefs into the everyday lives of Tokyo’s citizens. The art style is nice, and the characters are all memorable, and truly entertaining to watch.
Servant x Service:
Much like with Gin no Saji, Servant x Service initially reminded me of another anime series, in this cast Waiting, although in this case it was set in a government building rather than a café/restaurant. The adult characters result in a slightly different story to that in Waiting, although they are no more mature than the high-schoolers that make up the case of that series. While the series is about an eclectic group of individuals with their own problems all packed into a local government office in Sapporo, it is the relationship between Hasabe and Lucy that is the highlight of this series. Watching them gradually grow closer, while also still remaining the same characters they were at the beginning was a wonderful sight. It also helps that the rest of the cast are pretty crazy in their own special way, the section director is even a pink bunny plushie. Servant x Service is simply a wonderful series to watch that is equal parts mature romance and slapstick comedy, a true treat to behold.
Little Witch Academia:
I actually discovered Little Witch Academia by chance, having not paid much attention to any news surrounding studio Trigger or the ‘Young Animator Training Project’. I like all kinds of animation, other than really badly done CGI which can look rather cheap and a bit horrible, and one of the wonderful things about Little Witch Academia is its handrawn animation, complete with a nice set of colours and character designs. The story is fairly simple, basically focussing on Akko’s quest to become a witch like her idol Shiny Chariot. But in this case less is more, we are presented with a charming 30 minute piece of animation that manages to flesh out its characters and present us with a couple of wonderfully animated set pieces. Little Witch Academia is a treat to behold, and easily one of my favourite pieces of anime this year – also, Sucy is great.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Uchouten Kazoku since the description, like many anime descriptions was fairly vague. What initially seems to be a story about the main character’s (Yasaburou) search for the truth about his father’s death turns into a story about the complex nature of Kyoto and the relationships between its many inhabitants. We learn about Tanuki society, and how it is a loose collection of families either squabbling, or having a good time, living alongside humans who wish to eat them and Tengu who look down upon everyone from on-high. The character interactions and plot development were especially fascinating when it concerned Yasaburou and Benten, the beautiful psychic who had an integral part in the death of Yasaburou’s father. Ultimately we are left with a story about these fictional figures within Japanese folklore, a story where the conclusion might seem a little strange, but fits with the character of these specific figures and creatures. What is fascinating is watching how it all unfolds, and how the characters interact and adapt to the lives they have. It should also be mentioned that Uchouten Kazoku marks a departure from the norm of P.A. Works, with the studio exhibiting a very different art style that was both beautiful and charming. I do like P.A. works normal art style as exhibited in Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha, but this departure really shows us what they as a studio can do, and I hope there will be more series like this in the future.
Kotonoha no Niwa:
I am not a particularly bi fan of Shinkai Makoto, finding his films to be overly complex – they may look beautiful, but the story and character development are often lacking and seem to be added as an afterthought. I’ve seen Shinkai described as the ‘next Miyazaki’, but feel that he lacks the storytelling ability of Miyazaki, and although the worlds he creates look wonderful, everything else seems lacking. This is where Kotonoha no Niwa comes in, demonstrating to me that he can write a nice story, whilst also keeping the beautifully animated worlds his films are known for. I feel that Kotonoha no Niwa demonstrates that less is more, and that perhaps some of his films have been overly complex, trying to do far too much, so not doing anything especially well. As stories go, the story in Kotonoha no Niwa is as simple as they come, focussing on a chance meeting between Takao and Yukari in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. These characters find something in each other’s company that they both lacked, and over the course of this short film they grow, learn to love and discover what is important. A simple but powerful film that demonstrates to me Shinkai can write, as long as he keeps things simple – it also has a wonderful soundtrack that perfectly fits the mood of the film.
Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199:
Yamato 2199 is a reworking of a classic manga by Matsumoto Leiji from the 1970s. The original anime adaptation is a firm classic, and charts the voyages of the Yamato, and its quest to save the earth from total destruction at the hands of Gamilon leader Aberdt Desler. This remake is a somewhat shortened version of the original anime, taking what happened in 52 episodes (2 seasons) and condensing it into a 26 episode released straight to DVD/BD. It is a classic space opera, with the crew of the Yamato having to fight their way through hoards of Gamilon ships on their journey to Iscander in the hope that they can save Earth from certain doom. While the whole series looks beautiful, it is the space combat that really stands out. Perfectly choreographed fights between ships and fighters resembling a naval battle rather than something fought in the vacuum of space zoom across the screen in multidimensional combat that is as much about tactics as it is about brute force.
What I found particularly fascinating about Yamato 2199 is its character dynamics, and the subtle changes in the central cast as the series progressed, to the point where romantic relationships in the latter half of the series seemed perfectly natural. There never appear to be any real differences between the male and female characters in the series as well, with central female characters such as Yuki, Melda, Akira, Kaoru, and Makoto holding their own and having as much a part to play in the combat and tactics as the men. Ultimately Yamato 2199 is a tragic series about various planets and people attempting to avoid destruction. As such it is also a series without any true ‘bad guys’, and while the Gamilon’s may be the main antagonists for the majority of the series, the Yamato and her crew also take part in their fair share of stupid, and destructive actions. It is a series where the main antagonist is more tragic than evil in his attempts to unite the galaxy in order to keep his promise the woman he loves. While I am not ordering these series, if I were to choose my anime of the year it would certainly be Yamato 2199. It is a gripping space opera that is both full of action, as well as more cerebral moments, a series that has excellent character and story progression, and presents us with a story of hope and struggle. I have debated with myself as to whether this is better than the original, and I think it is, if nothing else it is the remake the original deserves.