We’re highlighting each anime season with a mini-version of our end of the year awards. We hope this helps cap-off the season with a splash (and helps us remember all of the great things we watched by the time the end of the year rolls around). So without further ado, our picks for the best of spring 2018 . . .
Best New Show
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These from Production I.G We are big Legend of the Galactic Heroes fans around here, so when a new version was announced I was thrilled but also worried. This new adaptation follows the novels much more closely than the original OVA. This ended up being both good and bad. The bad was that we had less chance to get to know the many fascinating ancillary characters of the series. The good however was very good because Yang Wen-li emerged as the primary focus of this season after a split beginning.
LotGH is a look into war and politics right when I didn’t want to watch it but when I needed it more than ever. As the series goes along, we see the waste of lives and resources by the government exponentially increase on both sides. We see people in power make terrible, callous decisions to fit their own needs.
Yang Wen-li is a thoughtful historian and brilliant strategist manipulated by the military and living in a faltering democracy. Yang does his best to keep a level-head and get as few people killed as possible in his post as Commodore as the government insists on fighting an endless “righteous” war against the dictatorial Empire. Despite these problems and more from his government, Yang believes in the strength of democracy. Yang isn’t naive or an idealist; he sees the corruption before him. But Yang isn’t willing to support authoritarianism, which offers easy solutions to their problems.
Yang is why this is my pick. Yang is everything.
Hinamatsuri from feel. Longtime readers of the blog will notice that one of the seasonal awards we don’t really give out anyone is “Show I Unexpectedly Liked.” The main problem was that at the minimum there was one of these shows a year but sadly there is not always a surprise hit every season. Also, we tended to find the most surprising shows on our own. That usually meant that one of us had to come up with some mediocre examples every season and maybe two or three times a year both of us had to do that to keep the category going. All of this makes me think we should bring back the award for the annual awards as it is perfect as a yearly award. It also makes me think that this season actually had an abnormally high number of pleasant surprises. The strongest of them is Hinamatsuri.
On face value, the show is rather innocuous but also pretty unremarkable. A mysterious girl warps into the apartment of a mid-level yakuza, she forces him to take care of her, and then hilarity ensues. At worst it could be boring and banal or disgusting and uncomfortable thanks to Hina’s age. It would seem at best it would be unexpectedly funny and maybe a little charming. Hinamatsuri turns out to be exceptionally funny and it has charm in spades. The thing is Hinamatsuri is actually also remarkably heartwarming. Even more surprising actually works in a good deal of social commentary. The fact that Hinamatsuri actually has something to say other than buttocks are funny blindsides you in the first episode and is still a bit shocking even in the last episode.
Hina and Nitta start off as merely lousy and selfish people who put up with each other more out of convenience than anything else. As the series goes on they grow into better lousy and selfish people who have a touching if somewhat dysfunctional father-daughter relationship. The rest of the cast grows alongside them in expected ways. Anzu starts off as a stock loud rival that was sent to capture Hina and bring her back home. By the end of the season, her journey as a character touched a number people in unexpected ways. Hitomi is originally just Hina’s hapless normal friend but her bizarre adventure is worthy of Hirohiko Araki. While she is introduced near the end even Mao’s story has some fascinating depth which could get even more complexity if there is another season. All the characters on the show actually grow in surprisingly permanent ways, especially for a comedy show.
But the real shocker is the fact that there is actual meat on the bones of the show about silly psychics. When Anzu can’t home after trying to capture Hina she winds up homeless on the street. While it is mostly played for laughs it actually leads to a rather thoughtful examination of being homeless in Japan. Anzu’s journey with the homeless community manages to be thought-provoking and sympathetic while still be hysterical. Hitomi starts off as a silly girl who has a hard time saying no and ends up becomes a bartender at a fancy bar. By the end of the season, she is a tool for examining the soul-crushing nature of corporate capitalism. Adults tend to love Anzu but perhaps see too much of themselves in Hitomi.
Karen Kohiruimaki aka LLENN from Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online Another surprise of the season had to be Sword Art Online Alternative. While being written by Keiichi Sigsawa of Kino’s Journey fame easily explains why this spin-off is not the punchline that the main series is Sword Art Online Alternative is still a prime example of how you can spin straw into gold. Karen Kohiruimaki is a prime example of this.
Karen Kohiruimaki is an extremely tall girl who wishes she could be petite and cute. She gets into VR games in hopes of stepping into a character with a body type she dreams about. Eventually, she gets her wish when playing Gun Gale Online. While she starts off generally neutral about first person shooters she eventually starts having really fun when gives the game an earnest effort. As the story goes on it becomes a tale of how video games let people explore alternative existences. As she grows Karen becomes more comfortable and accomplished in the game which in turn gives her greater confidence and boldness in real life. Her friends/rivals in SHINC show that different people can get that same power in different ways. Sword Art Online Alternative also shows how games can also reinforce the worst parts of people’s personalities and let them indulge their personal demons. Games can be very powerful tools so the player’s mindset is very important in that regard. Karen’s growth is never guaranteed. It is always the result of her perseverance and dedication. The game is just a powerful conduit for that transformation.
It is also worth pointing out that Karen thankfully avoids the godlike traps that Kirito falls into. She is good but not the pinnacle of perfection in a silicon form. She has some solid skills and some cool advantages that make her stand out but she is not nigh invulnerable. She always needs help to achieve big goals but never comes off as helpless or pathetic. Solid and admirable competence with a healthy bit of weakness is a refreshing change for a protagonist in the series.
Karen Kohiruimaki really shows the fascinating stories the Sword Art Online could have been telling from the start if the main character was a person instead of a power fantasy.
Emiru first appears as one of the many people the PreCure girls aid in town. She is anxious about the big and little mishaps that could happen at any time no matter how unlikely. She doesn’t express her worries for her friends well and her overprotective nature ends up being a bit of a killjoy on her class outing. Next time we see Emiru she is imitating the heroic PreCure with a bit too much enthusiasm as she goes about town trying to help citizens. Then she befriends villain Lulu which leads to the discovery that Emiru is a talented musician secreting away her guitar skills from her traditional family. Their new friendship eventually leads Lulu to breakfree of the evil organization and allows Emiru to be confident in herself. This friend has become an important part of the series as they learn to navigate the emotions and complications of having close relationships. Emiru is still evolving and I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.
Megalobox from TMS Entertainment The ending to Ashita no Joe might well be one of the most iconic finales in all of anime history. It has been parodied, referenced, and paid tribute to by countless other anime. At this point, the final frame of the manga has become a recognizable piece of visual shorthand that it needs no further explanation to a Japanese audience. Sufficed to say Megalobox had some big shoes to fill. I’m not going to claim that the ending of Megalobox is going to ever become as symbolic as its origin. The number of shows that could do that can be counted on one hand even when you look outside of anime. I feel that the ending of Megalobox brings no shame to its predecessor and even adds a bit to its legacy which in of itself is a major accomplishment.
There is a distinct rhythm to sports series like Megalobox. It does not matter if the series is about tennis, baseball, shogi, or cooking. Megalobox captures that rhythm wonderfully without overstaying its welcome. The fights have a steady progression that highlight Joe’s growth while building up the tension of the dynamic of Team Nowhere and whether or not they can go the distance. But all of that is nice but nothing more than pretty window dressing if the ending falls flat.
In the end, Megalobox earns the ending it delivers which is what it needed to do most of all. The anime knows old fans have some very distinct expectations and takes them into account while also staying true to its own identity. The ending feels like where the story needed to go and leaves the audience feeling fulfilled. A very thoughtful salute to the original that carves its own place in anime history.
Best “That’s Me” Movement from Wotakoi
Narumi trying suss out if Hanako is also an otaku.
As someone reading this blog you have almost certainly been in this situation too. You meet someone and you begin to wonder “Are they an anime nerd?” They might be a relative, someone at school, a colleague at work, a romantic interest, or just a casual acquaintance. You have some hints that they might be an otaku but you don’t have definitive proof. You could just ask them directly but you are just a little too embarrassed to do so. So beings your detective work.
You definitely start examining them for more concrete evidence. Do they have some little tchotchke that you might have missed that shows their allegiance? Does their phone or personal computer perhaps have a wallpaper waifu or husbando? You might try a few leading questions that don’t give away your power level but perhaps give a hint to the nature of the person you are investigating. You are looking to see if it is safe to geek out with this person without looking like an idiot.
Sometimes you’re lucky like Narumi and the answer falls into your lap and sometimes you just have to be brave to get the answer that you want. It is a silly game but one most of us have played at some point in our fandom.
Narumi isn’t getting her work done because she keeps looking at her Twitter feed. Amiright?
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
Hanako Koyanagi and Taro Kabakura from Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku A pair of stubborn and strong-willed people who have been dating for a long time, show a contrast to the newly dating Narumi and Hirotaka. They fight and bicker, but are also unencumbered by expectations around each other. Sometimes I wondered why they were together, and sometimes it was blatantly obvious.
Arsene Lupin III and Fujiko Mine from Lupin the Third: Part 5 At this point there really isn’t a 100% canonical portrayal of any of the Lupin characters. While they have become so ingrained into the medium that they have become stock characters and archetypes but they also have been written by so many writers that they actually have significantly different portrayals depending on when you examine them. At this point, they have entered a state where they are free to adapt to the times as long as they retain some key elements. In that regard, I have really been enjoying the portrayal of the relationship between Lupin and Fujiko this season.
Lupin and Fujiko are also some sort of item in every iteration of the series but their exact relationship is always a little different. Sometimes Lupin mainly lusts after Fujiko and she is all too willing to take advantage of it, sometimes they are passionate rivals with electric sexual tension, and other times they are almost downright friendly with a dollop of danger on the side. In this version, there is a mixture of all of those but that seems to be a major theme of part 5. It wants to pay homage to what came before as a springboard to do something slightly different.
Lupin and Fujiko seem to be like to satellites in that are always in a slightly eccentric orbit around each other. Always together and always apart. They regularly come together but just as routinely drift part and they both seem to enjoy that. Never too close but never too distant. They happily see other people but that is their nature. Never quite a friend but never quite enemies. A constant fixture in the other’s life but one that is defined by fickle their whims. They are both people who need new thrills and experiences but love to come back to the old vices from time to time.
The best part is so much of it is unsaid but readily apparent. It is a mixture of what has come before with a bit of a unique part 5 kick.
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku OP “Fiction” by Sumika Wotakoi is a series that is filled with energy, humor, and love of its characters tempered with a bit of dry wit. All of that comes pouring out the show’s opening. The opening really shows who the four main characters are superbly. All of their interactions in the opening speak volumes about them as if they were a detailed Wikipedia entry without saying a word. Narumi’s energetic neuroticism, Hirotaka’s straight-laced demeanor, Kabakura’s sly playfulness, and Hanako’s mixture of competence and sexiness all come through. Even the difference between the two couples is apparent with how they play off of each other.
But beyond that, it is also just a visually vibrant with an equally bouncy song that expresses the whimsy of the show. It is filled with a nice mixture of the cast working in suits as well as them playing games, cosplaying, and just geeking out in their time off. It is a joyous tribute to how they balance their professional lives with their hobbies and romantic pursuits and how they do that collectively and individually. If that does not encapsulate the show then I don’t know what does.
Also the segment of them all hand dancing is just adorable.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These OP “Binary Star” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Uru from Despite (or maybe because?) I can’t stop hearing Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in the middle of this song, I am constantly getting this opening stuck in my head. It’s a more modern song, but it still fits in with the many other openings from the OVAs. And visually it is very sweeping.
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online ED “To see the future” by Karen Kohiruimaki (Tomori Kusunoki) The duality of Karen Kohiruimaki and her online persona are on full display in this ending. The ending expertly showcases how LLENN is mostly just an extension of Karen Kohiruimaki’s normal personality with a little injection of self-confidence but it also shows that there are parts of her that only really exist when she is LLENN. I would have loved to have seen that done with some of the rest of the cast as well but I understand why they did not do that. There are some important surprises in the show is when we learn the differences between people’s digital avatars and who they are in real life. It is better to preserve those reveals for the show itself but I still think it would have been fun for a unique last episode ending.