Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Best Anime of 2013: #34-#21

As we move into the middle of my list, it's perhaps going to be a bit weird to see a lot of really big-name titles falling short of the top 20. And all of the shows in this section are ones I liked a lot; there were simply a lot that I liked better. Still, these are all great anime that were well worth the time.

Still no pictures, but I'll be giving some more in-depth descriptions of what I liked about each show.

I might not gush as much about these as she does about muscles… but I might not be too far off.

8/10 shows (#34-#18): "Very good" shows - These shows are all shows I really liked. They might not have left as lasting of an impression as shows higher up, but they are all great shows that I would definitely recommend to others. Note that all shows scoring 8.0 and higher are eligible for my Hall of Fame, provided that the show can be legally streamed (or is available on DVD/Blu-ray in the US) and has no known sequels planned.

#34. Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)
Rating: 8.0/10.0

Yeah, that is not a mistake. I am starting off this part of the list with probably the last year's biggest show, and it only barely broke into the 8/10 range. Fact of the matter is, this show is definitely not my type of show. The extra-violent aspects, especially with the Titans attacking and eating the humans, combined with the overall negative and cynical feel of the show, makes for a show I would normally not touch with a Titan-length pole. Had it not been done well, it easily would have been one of the worst shows of the year for me.

With that said, it is a testament to just how well done this show was that despite all of that, I did enjoy this show a lot, enough to put it among my hall-of-fame-worthy shows. Whether it is providing exciting titan battles, looking at various aspects of humanity, or exploring the mystery behind the Titans, this show has everything it needs to be a big, mainstream hit, and this time around, I'm glad to have been able to take part in the Titan fever, even if I might be as absolutely enamored over it as many people are.

#33. Beyond the Boundary (Kyoukai no Kanata)
Rating: 8.0/10.0

Here's a show that's rather divisive. There's definitely one aspect that is universally praised in this show: the top-notch KyoAni animation. But whether the story itself holds up to the show is another matter. Certainly, some have been hoping for KyoAni to do another action-based show like this one after mainly doing slice-of-life stuff, so the fact that the show's story itself is maybe not on the same level as other works contributes to a sense of disappointment.

Personally, though, there are still plenty of great individual aspects to this show that are well worth the impressive animation. The relationship between the main leads is overall good, and there are some good side characters to go along with them. There are also some good themes in this show relating to grace and forgiveness. It has its stumbles, but overall, this show was definitely not unpleasant.

#32. MAOYU - Archenemy & Hero (Maoyuu Maou Yuusha)
Rating: 8.1/10.0

Maoyu is a show I had high expectations for, after hearing that it was like a spiritual successor to Spice and Wolf, which is a series I love. Certainly, opening episodes had a lot of promise, with what looked to be a great relationship between the Hero and the Demon King, along with plenty of the whole economy/sociopolitical aspects that made Spice and Wolf so engaging despite having no personal interest in economy or politics (anime really does make everything interesting). However, this promise never quite got carried through during the TV series; it had way too many ideas to fully develop in a 12-episode season, and unfortunately, the Hero/Demon King relationship ended up getting pushed to the side.
For all of its disappointments, though, Maoyu remained a very likable show. The highlight was definitely the events related to the Elder Sister Maid, who I talked about in-depth earlier. Beyond that, there’s a great cast of characters, and there’s something fun about seeing all of the modern world’s greatest inventions get re-invented in this fantasy world (and yes, orange soda is definitely one of the modern world’s greatest inventions). All in all, this was a very enjoyable show. (And besides, a later novel from the same original author would get adapted and really show what this sort of premise was capable of, even with a different setting involving online gamers…)

#31. Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class  (Stella Jogakuin Koutou-ka C³-bu)
Rating: 8.1/10.0

Hah, I totally thought this show would just be a fun little show about girls playing airsoft, perhaps with the lead girl growing through it. I was definitely not expecting the show to go down a much darker route, showing how this sort of premise could actually be destructive for the girl in question. This is something I talked about in a previous blog post. I definitely have to appreciate this show for daring to go in this direction, even if it potentially lost some people by making the lead girl a lot less likable.

I do wish that her issue was ultimately resolved in a better way, as the way it was resolved left something to be desired. That does keep this show from scoring a lot higher. Still, this show's unique direction, combined with some fun airsoft combined with a fun soundtrack and a good cast of fellow club members (especially Rento), gives it a very respectable score.

#30. Oreimo S2 (Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai.)
Rating: 8.2/10.0

…you know what? Instead of saying the same thing again and again, I'll just link to this post where I explain why I thought the ending of Oreimo was a complete failure, and this post where I explain why my overall impression of the series, including the second season, is still overall very positive.

I'll also add that the Oreimo series as a whole would score a 9.2/10.0, so the ending was essentially a 1.0-point deduction for the second season.

#29. Rozen Maiden Zur├╝ckspulen
Rating: 8.2/10.0

This show was definitely one of 2013's big surprises. The two seasons of the original series scored a mere 6.5/10.0, so I can't say I was particularly looking forward to this reboot from that aspect. And certainly, the first episode, which was a rushed recap of various events in the manga (from which the original anime series diverged from), was no better. But then, the focus switched to an alternate-universe Jun, who did not choose to wind the dolls, and his life in college. And then, slowly but surely, the show got good.

The key was that the show focused more on the development and growth of this college-aged Jun. The story of the dolls was still there, and it wasn't bad, but here it served more to develop Jun's story than it did in the original series. Overall, the focus on this college-aged Jun as he overcomes trials in his life turned out to be the kind of Rozen Maiden story I had been looking for. As a bonus, it is one of only a few anime series that focuses on college-age students instead of high school students, a trait it shares with...

#28. Genshiken Nidaime
Rating: 8.2/10.0

Genshiken is back! And it brings with it an overall more female angle as the club becomes one mainly of yaoi-loving fujoshi. There's still plenty of otaku humor, though, so anyone looking for more of that will certainly not be disappointed.

Two things made this newest iteration of Genshiken even better than the first. First of all, there's Hato, perhaps one of the best portrayals I have ever seen of a crossdressing male anywhere. Amidst all the otaku humor, his trying to work out his gender identity and reconcile that with his interests and his friendships feels very real. There's also a further look at Madarame, who gets some good development himself that leads to a very nice conclusion to a long-running storyline. All this adds up to a very satisfying season of Genshiken.

#27. Sasami-san@Ganbaranai
Rating: 8.3/10.0

Here's a show that unfortunately hasn't gotten much attention, despite being a very good show. It's what happens when you mix a bit of the ol' Studio SHAFT insanity with some Shinto influences. If you're like me and enjoy shows with some spiritual influences, this show provides plenty to like in that aspect. (Maybe I should write an official post on it sometime.)

Beyond that, though, it's all about that SHAFT insanity. It helps that the cast is a lot of fun, the relationships developed are solid, and even the incest aspect is both sensible in the context of the show's setting (it refers in part to an incestuous relationship in Shinto mythology--and we all know that the only thing that loves incest more than anime is mythology) and not entirely played up for the fetish. It's a bit unpolished at times, which can make the show a bit too hard to follow, but overall, its combination of insanity and spiritual influences makes a show that really needs more love.

#26. Sunday Without God (Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi)
Rating: 8.3/10.0

In and of itself, there's a lot to love about this show. It provides a very interesting fantasy world that has its own unique concept of death, and explores the concept of death in some interesting ways, all within a very neat and atmospheric environment. The show does not always execute things quite as cleanly as it ought to fully bring its strengths forth, and the ending is bound to leave viewers puzzled (it leaves some important information out of the original light novels), but overall the show is one I feel is very solid.

Of course, this is to say nothing of the main character, Ai, who I have already talked about earlier in how she pretty much carries the whole show. Her cheerful and optimistic personality, as well as her honesty and struggles with the things that she learns of the world, all make for one of my favorite characters of 2013.

#25. Love Lab
Rating: 8.4/10.0

As far as comedy goes, Love Lab is one of the best. The silliness these girls get into as they "practice" love is absolutely hilarious, and makes for one of the funniest shows of last year. There's plenty of cuteness, too, which helps.

While romance is the subject of the girls' studies, the show itself focuses more on the girls' friendships. Here, a solid story is told, although it relies on one particular misunderstanding a bit too much, to the point where it's a big relief when that misunderstanding is finally resolved. Still, with a combination of great comedy and solid storytelling, this show is definitely one that is worth a look.

#24. Robotics;Notes
Rating: 8.4/10.0

I've still yet to see Steins;Gate, so I can't compare this show to that, which might be a good thing, because from what I hear, it's not a comparison worth making. Evaluated on its own merits, Robotics;Notes has that charm of a bunch of kids building a giant robot to save the world, along with some more mysterious elements and a bit of the ol' visual-novel-adaptation "resolve each girl's (and guy's) arc".

There are definitely flaws, such as some poorly-explained or unexplained elements and a villain that is not particularly interesting. But despite all of this, this show is still a nice, fun show with some good relationships, some nice sci-fi elements and just an overall good feel to it.

#23. Servant x Service
Rating: 8.4/10.0

From the same author of Working!! comes yet another funny work-com, this one with more adult characters, though still with plenty of silliness. Comedy-wise, this show does not disappoint, being perhaps a bit less funny than Working!!, but still very worthy of being from the same author.

That said one of the highlights of Working!! was its surprisingly high level of heartfulness in the relationships involved, and this show is great in this department, too, featuring a very good central relationship that gets developed well. In part due to Lucy and Hasebe being adults, their relationship is less dysfunctional and more mature than Souta and Mahiru, and it'll ultimately be up to personal preference which one is preferred (in some ways, I actually prefer the latter), but this show definitely has everything it needs to be a great show.

#22. Love Live! School Idol Project
Rating: 8.6/10.0

Idol anime are frequently a lot of fun, and this one's no exception. The fact that this show involves school idols means there's a more of a school club feel to this show, though that in no way hinders the idol song and dance in any way. Your mileage may vary on the use of 3DCG, but while I prefer hand-drawn dance sequences, the 3DCG dancing here, in my opinion, is still pretty good. The music is plenty fun, too.

Of course, idol anime lives and dies by its characters, and Love Live's characters are plenty good. None of the girls individually ranked in my Top Female Characters list, but the cast overall is strong, ranking 10th for best overall casts. The great relationships and interactions among the cast is the real draw of this show, as it should be. The show does suffer slightly for not ever quite getting to the titular idol competition, but there's a second season coming in Spring, so hopefully that problem will be rectified. For now, though, this first season was still a fun ride.

#21. Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club
Rating: 8.6/10.0

If this show has taught me anything, it is that Kyoto Animation's ability to craft a good show trumps the fact that I'm nowhere near its target demographic. I might not be going gaga over the guys and their muscles like Gou does (in fact, Gou herself is my favorite character of this show), but this show still provides a great sports story with a good cast and nice swimming action, beautifully animated by KyoAni as usual.

There really isn't too much else to say about this one. It's a lot of fun and also a good story, plus it can be hilarious when it wants to be comedic. It needs more swimming competition, but hey, there's a second season coming, so there's no problem there. Free! might be a fanservice fest for female viewers, but it is also a very good show for viewers of both genders.

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