July is all up ons, yet again! And we all know what that means: more “baffling and mysterious” yet routine record-breaking heat waves and droughts! But such misery cannot stand in the face of the cooling refreshment and comforting relief that is my awkwardly timed and somewhat inaccurately named “Anime Year in Review!” Here are my top ten anime that I watched between July 2020 and June 2021. No, this isn’t the anime that came out this year, or even the anime that I gave the highest scores to (though many are on here). These are the ones that stuck out as memorable to me, and that I (unless otherwise stated) recommend you watch with your eye-holes. And ear-holes too. Order is flexible.
10. New Game!
This one was a fun and very interesting show for a handful of reasons. First, it’s a mundane sitcom with no fantasy/sci-fi elements. Second, it takes place entirely in an office setting (no High School student council shenanigans, etc.). Third, it’s cloyingly “kawaii” in character design, all-female cast, and animation. But mostly, it was one of the most, if not THE most, down-to-earth, relatable, and even cathartic pieces I watched this year. It combines the Aggretsuko venting catharsis energy with a slice of Eizouken’s love-letter to artistic craft and passion, and a dollop of Wagnaria’s workplace shenanigan comedy. A solid comedy that oddly enough made me excited for quarantine to end so I could go back to work in the office with other people. Corporate brainwashing successful.
9. Ghost Stories (English Dub)
This beauty. This horrible, brilliant, genius, terrible gem. I feel this one is for the boomer anime fans out there (like unto myself). I’ll be among the first to say “Good riddance” and “finally” to the societal changes in making progress to be more sensitive in media and humor to what is appropriate. At the same time, some of my favorite teachers in Junior High and High School were the ones who would swear at us, throw stuffed animals at rowdy kids, etc. Ghost Stories is kind of like those memories: It wouldn’t fly today, and is intentionally offensive and abrasive, but boy howdy is it witty and hilarious. If you can roll with the punches, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this blend of MST3K and Abridged Series humor.
Are you looking for a borderline psychedelic Magical Girl show that touches almost every genre from Horror to sci-fi to fantasy and psychological? One with stellar and breathtaking animation that leaves you excited and just a bit uneasy? One as ridiculous as Kill la Kill, magical and trippy as Alice in Wonderland, and as symbolic and poetic as Madoka? Then it sounds to me like you want to watch Flip Flappers! The intense styling and fantastical world of Flip Flappers is truly unmatched, and has one of my favorite episodes of anime ever in it.
7. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
This one was a real surprise. The jump in caliber from the series to the movie was truly astounding. Animation, story, cinematography, music, and emotional connection are all expertly done and make you realize how much you’ve actually come to care for the characters of the series. Yes, even those you thought you hated.
6. Neon Genesis Evangelion (and End of Evangelion, and Rebuild Series)
Look at that cheating throwing three/four entries into one single award spot! There are some historical anime pieces we watch simply because they are historical and influential, such as Naruto. Those shows don’t age well, and are mostly just enjoyed through the lens of nostalgia or recognizing influence. Evangelion, however, remains one of the most visceral and intense experiences I’ve ever had that made me experience emotion combinations I didn’t know existed. While I can’t say any specific entry (main series, End of Evangelion movie, Rebuild of Evangelion movies) is without flaw, each brings something unique to the table in creating this eternal, emotional mythos that leaves you to come to your own conclusions on canon and truth.
5. My Next Life As a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
I didn’t expect a Harem Isekai with an oblivious protagonist to ever grace my top 10 list, but it turns out the secret ingredient is to make it a REVERSE Harem Isekai. And to not have there be any powers or even fighting involved. Catarina is a precious, blessed idiot who must be protected at all costs because she is the sweetest cinnamon bun. This show is wholesome as heck, charming as all get out, and more fun than a picnic with multiple kittens. And if you ever were curious what my wife Harbour was like in College, Catarina is a pretty good representation.
4. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
An anime about anime and animation, that focuses more on the animation than the anime to the point that it really doesn’t feel like an anime, but that’s great because this really is in its own category. From the great animator/director Masaaki Yuasa (who better to make an anime about animation) this is such a beautiful love letter to the entire process of creating animation. From the concept art to the story, to foley, to production, to management. Fantastic and painfully realistic characters take you along for the journey that any artist would engross themselves in.
It thrills me to see very well executed comedy that is smart and creative. To come across a show that we’ll watch and scream and slap the couch with excitement and laughter in nearly every episode. It’s especially great when that same show is also sweet and touching with fantastic and distinct characters you grow to love and root for. Love is War is a brilliant and quick-paced comedy that will always leave you happy.
2. Violet Evergarden: The Movie
At long last, we’ve come to the conclusion of Violet’s story and this movie met my very, VERY high expectations. The crisp, beautiful artwork throughout, the subtle yet sweeping soundtrack, the structure of the story, and the poetic cinematography all come together in a shining testament to KyoAni and how it remains on so high a tier. Subtle and powerful storytelling moments abound, giving you that cathartic release you didn’t know you needed.
1. Demon Slayer (and Movie)
I had thought that I had outgrown Shonen. I’d thought that while it can be fun, as a whole there isn’t much artistry or potential for emotional impact for me since I’m a curmudgeon in my 30s. Then Demon Slayer came along with ufotable’s animation and Yuki Kajiura working the soundtrack to set a very solid tone and immerse you in the most gripping story I’d seen in a long time. Every episode either gave me full-body goosebumps, made me cry, or both. I never knew I could cry from sadness and laugh at the same time and not have them distract from one another. While this definitely does have “Shonen humor” in it, it isn’t as patronizing or infantilizing as what comes up in other Shonen, and most importantly, IT DOESN’T DERAIL THE TONE OF THE EPISODE. There’s a reason the movie is the all-time highest grossing foreign-language film in the U.S., and the #1 movie to ever hit Japan.
We had a heavier roster this year to choose from, 64 vs last year’s 32, so literally twice the candidates. As a result, there are some that definitely deserve mentioning.
- Goblin Slayer – This is more a “for me” worth mentioning. I’ll admit that as an anime, this has a slew of problems and not too much substance. For me, however, it fulfilled the dreams of what I’d wanted Tabletop RPGs (D&D) to be as a kid. It took the world and mechanics of such a world and brought them to life in a way almost exactly as I would have imagined it to be. It gave me the dangerous “realistic” fantasy experience while being a love letter to D&D that made me reminisce fondly on the magic that only TTRPGs can bring.
- Re: Creators – So much interesting dialogue and very digestible philosophical questions. A meta look at the various approaches to writing fiction and the relationship creators and viewers have with it. A “Fate/Zero – lite” as a Reverse Isekai with an excellent ensemble.
- Castlevania (Season 4) – I feel Castlevania really got its stride going and knew what it wanted to do with this season. The pacing and dialogue were much more fluid, the animation better than ever, and there was some fascinating character growth. It finally shook off the premise of trying to prove that it’s really for adults and not for kids (which the first seasons really struggled with) and was able to just Be a Great Show.
- Magia Record (Game and Show) – This was an interesting new experience for me: playing a mobile game / visual novel that spanned the entire year. It was interesting to experience story in tiny chunks spread out rather than my usual bingeing, and then to experience all of it again condensed when archiving the entire game. There’s merit to each method, and there’s merit to DOING both methods. Going along as it airs gives the feeling of it being more a part of life; you are experiencing the hype with everyone else at the same time, and character growth feels more impactful. Bingeing allows you to more easily notice storytelling motifs, foreshadowing, see themes and references more clearly, and keep previous events/characters in your memory.
Oh yay, New Game! (or as I like to call it, anime-friendly Silicon Valley) and Evangelion, two great shows, making the list here!
Funny you brought up Ghost Stories, that was a funny experience that sure flipped anime upside down from what I know! 😅