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 summer 2018 . . .
Best New Show
Banana Fish from MAPPA The classic, and incredibly melodramatic, crime thriller finally in anime form! This is a twisty, sad, violent tale of drugs, street gangs, and the mob in New York City. The anime has a clipped pace that is many times gut wrenching as young gang leader Ash seeks revenge for a life filled with tragedy.
Ash and his exploits were only known to me through word of mouth, and now I know that didn’t even do him justice. He has suffered greatly, and suffers continually as the story goes on, but he rarely sees himself as a victim (even when he should).
Banana Fish is originally from a period of time when gay characters could only have the saddest of stories, and Banana Fish is filled to the brim with darkness. Even though we’ve seen a shift towards more variety of late, your mileage may still vary.
Cells at Work! from David Production Educational entertainment series have to balance carefully themselves if they wish to live up to their full potential. Series can easily lean into either aspect of their dual nature and succeed at one task but fail at the other. An educational series can be very dense and accurate but dry as dirt or it can be super fun but mostly fluff with some minor vitamin fortification. Neither of them counts as a total failure but they tend to miss the strength of the format. The best of the best stand out because when the title is fun and rich with information which sticks with you long after you experience it. That is why people remember Bill Nye the Science Guy or Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? years later. I think Cells at Work! exists in that same illustrious category as some of the best.
If Cells at Work! was just a workplace comedy about cells in a human body I think it would be an odd little niche comedy that existed as a good example that anime can set a simple premise anywhere and make it work. If it were middling but informative it would be relegated to the hell of mediocre educational shows for kids and only kids. Cells at Work! works because it has great characters and silly jokes but still gives you some major insights into how the human body works. Red and White Blood Cell make some great point of view characters who can interact with a good deal of eccentric weirdos while also have a snappy relationship. The show throws in just enough information that your actually getting insight into how the body works without turning each episode into a biology lecture with mascots.
Now it is worth noting that there is some definite exaggeration and artistic license taken for better dramatic or comedic effect in stories. But at this point, if you can’t deal with that I think you’re going to have a bad time with a good deal of media in general. The point of the series is to show the complexity, magnificence, and oddly janky design of the human body all at once more than act as a precise medical reference. If you take everything you learn in the show with an appropriate pinch of salt you will learn a lot and have fun at the same time. That is an amazing feat for an otherwise goofy workplace comedy. The show brilliantly walks the line by entertaining and teaching at the same time which makes both parts far more effective.
Nagisa Aragaki from Hanebado! Just a quick note because people constantly seem to miss the point about this when watching Hanebado. You’re not supposed to like Ayano Hanesaki. This might seem like an odd thing to talk about when discussing Nagisa but it is vitally important in understanding her role as the deuteragonist. When you realize that Nagisa exists in the show not only to have her own compelling story but as to exist as a foil for the distasteful protagonist her place in the story makes far more sense.
Nagisa starts off as a toxic character who would normally be the sympathetic villain that has reformed by the noble main character so she can join the protagonist on her hero’s journey. The thing is while Nagisa’s transformation occurs because of the introduction of Ayano the actual healing has nothing to do with the main character. It is a mixture of empathy from other characters and Nagisa rediscovering her own inner strength that ignites her redemption into the character we are supposed to root for. If anything Ayano exists as a detriment to that progress with her own toxic growth. For the rest of the series, Nagisa mostly acts as a someone who helps other characters be reborn like she was by playing them. Occasionally she will slip back to her former ways but it is always because Ayano sets her corrupting attention on her. For the most part, she sits in the position that a typical sports heroine would occupy.
But Nagisa does not just exist to be the light to better show off Ayano’s darkness. Her friendship with Riko helps build both characters and helps offset some of the darker parts of the series. Riko and Nagisa face some hard challenges and difficult revelations about their abilities but they are always the brighter part of the story even when faced with adversary. Nagisa’s mentorship under Kentarou mirrors a more conventional sports show and reinforces the positive themes of the show. It is also worth noting that most of the time Kentarou usually gives Nagisa more of a push in the right direction and allows her to find the path she needs as opposed to just giving her the answers she could not find on her own. This gives her an appropriate amount of strength while still showing she is not an invincible machine that needs no one else.
In a way, this back and forth mirrors the seesaw feeling of a high-intensity badminton game. The rise and fall that Nagisa and Ayano experience reflects their matches on the court. This lets Nagisa’s role in the narrative mirror the feeling of the sport it is discussing which is pretty damn clever. It makes her more than just a simple rival or ally. She becomes a critical part of the story even if she is only a secondary main character.
Levi from Attack on Titan S3 I’m quite late to the Levi fandom, but I finally got here. Amidst the political intrigue and surprising secrets of S3, Levi finds himself as a rebel leader and confronted with some revelations of his own. How he handles both of those situations makes him a standout this season.
Revue Starlight from Kinema Citrus Why is there a giraffe? How is this play important? What is the meaning of the duels? Which wish will be granted? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN??? Revue Starlight did a good job of making me think, wonder, consider, and interpret, and created an ending with meaning.
Planet With from J.C.Staff If you have watched enough mecha anime you are probably all too acquainted with the idea of the Sunrise stretch. While it happens with lots of long-running robot shows and is particularly common in 50+ episode Sunrise anime. Somewhere in the second third of the show, a new set of antagonists are added whose whole purpose is merely to extend the plot. They are usually introduced with not much setup, they fight the heroes, and then they are defeated without much impact on the plot. While it might help create more models for the anime company to sell they don’t much else. Planet With avoids the Sunrise stretch.
With only 12 episodes to tell a whole story Planet With does not have any time to have a Sunrise stretch. It does a great job of telling a complete mecha story in its single season so it does not have any time to waste of filler or nonsense. Planet With sets up its characters, world, and plot very efficiently and then gives an arc to all of its characters while getting in a robot battle in almost every episode. I have seen too many shows get lost on the way to end and have to try to push out an ending after they have run out of time. The show is even able to have three distinct sections that build upon each other. That in of itself is quite an accomplishment.
The final battle does a fantastic job of wrapping everything up in a way that acts as an end cap for all the pilot’s stories while answering most of the major mysteries while still leaving some things up for your imagination. And they do that all while still subverting some of your ingrained expectations. If you want to watch a mysterious robot show but can’t commit to 50+ episodes or just want a mecha anime that messes with the formula without going full Evangelion then this might be the show for you.
Best Way the Human Almost Died in Cells At Work!
Cancer from Episode 7 This feels like an episode of Batman: The Animated Series where a bunch of villains are sitting around playing poker while trading stories about how they Almost Got ‘Im.
I feel few episodes of Cells At Work! got as much attention and provoked as much attention as the episode with the Cancer cell. Considering the fact that cancer tends to always been in the top 10 causes of death via disease in the modern era it is almost impossible to not know someone who has had to deal with cancer at some point or another. That alone would make it a potentially emotional episode by itself. Add on to that the fact that the show made the Cancer cell a sympathetic villain and you make people’s feelings go all over the place.
It was also one of the episodes that has some of the biggest fight scenes just to remind you this was done by the same staff as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. You had White Blood Cell, Killer T Cell, and Natural Killer Cell going all out in a battle against a monstrous enemy that felt like something more out of standard shonen series. While there were some fight scenes before the battle they felt more like random encounters. This felt like a major boss battle.
If nothing else you can’t say the episode was mot memorable.
Food Poisoning from Episode 4 A battle against a parasite in the very dramatic-looking stomach (think giant furnace with acid), made that much better by the overly cryptic Basophil cell.
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
Rin and Sousuke from Free! S3 Dive to the Future I mean, a million times yes? So glad to have these two back for a season, and Free! back in general. Last we saw them, Rin was heading off to Australia on his own and Sosuke was deciding how to handle his shoulder injury. In this season, though they appear much too briefly, we get a touching reunion!
Red Blood Cell AE3803 and White Blood Cell U-1146 from Cells at Work! When Kate and I were discussing the Case Closed podcast for Cells at Work! and we were discussing the fact that the anime has a bit of a shipper’s bias when it comes to pairing up Red and White Blood Cell. While Kate mostly found it slightly odd I had no problem with it. They are clearly good friends and any romance between them would be a good lesson for some of the more isolationist cells in the body. Plus someone really needs to take care of Red Blood Cell AE3803 and White Blood Cell U-1146 seems to be up to the task.
Last Hope OP: “Sirius” by BUMP OF CHICKEN I will admit I have not seen Last Hope (aka Juushinki Pandora) yet. While I was very interested to see Shoji Kawamori’s new show but since it was licensed by Netflix they are releasing it in binge-watching chunks as opposed to week to week. Since we have really fallen behind with this season I have not had any time to watch this show now that the first half has come out. But it is a Shoji Kawamori show so figured I would at least check out the opening for an award consideration. That was a very good idea.
BUMP OF CHICKEN is always a good sign for an opening. They have a gentle sound that still has a lively tempo that gives their songs a good energy. Sirius is no exception to that rule. I really want to watch this show so I can see if the show itself lives up to its excellent opening.
Hanebado! OP: “Futari no Hane” by YURiKA This opening has a ton of style with a limited palette and high-octane action shots.
Free! S3 Dive to the Future ED: “GOLD EVOLUTION” by STYLE FIVE Colorful outfits, a Westside Story-like moment on the streets, then a costume change to tuxes, and dancing. We all need a full dance version of this ending.
Revue Starlight ED: “Fly Me to the Star” by the Starlight 99-gumi The Revue Starlight ending was one of those endings where a different member of the cast (or sometimes a different pair of cast members) would sing the ending each time. While a cynical person might point to the fact that it helps them pump out character singles CDs if the show is popular it adds more to the experience than just added potential profit. Each of the endings highlighted the characters of pair of characters that were the focus of the episode. Since the cast are all performers it makes sense to highlight each of their singing styles to reinforce a part of their character that might otherwise so neglected despite how integral it is to them. It is a nice bit of fleshing out their characters in a part of the show that might otherwise be just a perfunctory time to just play the credits. That is a nice bit of dual purpose which I very much appreciate.