Excellence comes in many shapes and forms, and I figure it’s high time to share my appreciation for the many formative elements of last year’s anime.
It should be obvious, but I’ll just re-iterate that these ‘awards’ only covered shows I’ve actually watched. There’s not enough time for me to watch all shows I have interest in, let alone all actual shows, so this is really way more of a personal journal for fun rather than ultra-comprehensive criticism. However, this kind of list will always be subject to possible revision/addition even long after the fact, as I inevitably caught up on some stuff that I’ve missed and/or have a change of heart. And yeah, I’m the kind of person who would check back in 2028 just to swap stuff in Honorable Mentions or something ridiculously trivial like that.
I added a quick and dirty run-down of each category, just to give the idea on how I assess them within the context of this exercise. Now, let’s get to the fun part already!
~Best OP Sequence~
Covering both the song and visual sequence. I always consider them to be Important Stuff in anime watching experience, and good ones genuinely influence my motivation to hurry up and watch a new episode.
Gold: Osomatsu-san (song: Hanamaru Pippi Wa Yoiko Dake by AOP)
Death Parade had almost sealed this spot, but this one just stormed from out of the blue and stole it through a combination of wonderfully bouncy visual sequence (which also shows off the fluidity and energy that signify how good the show’s animation would be) and an insanely fun song that instantly wormed its way inside my head. Everything in this, from the seamless parade of wacky characters to the whimsical nonsense of the song’s lyric, just embodied the show’s specific brand of zaniness extremely well.
Silver: Death Parade (Flyer by Bradio)
A pleasant surprise, especially to those who watched the preceding short Death Billiards and expected something similarly bleak and morbid. The funky song is really strong and a joy to listen, and beneath all the wild party times that never actually happened in the show, there’s some clever foreshadowing of important scenes/key images.
Bronze: Gakkou Gurashi! (Friend Shitai by Gakuen Seikatsubu)
Boasting a perky fluff of a song, it leads you down the path of adorable friendship and cute girls doing cute stuff… hm, it looks more and more sinister after every episode? Must be my imagination.
Honorable Mentions: Wakako Zake (Shiawase no Kaerimichi by Yuuka Ueno), One Punch Man (The Hero by JAM Project), Himouto! Umaru Chan (Kakushinteki Metamaruphose by Aimi Tanaka).
For how well the showrunners communicate situation, mood, and meaning through cinematic language. Great cinematography tends to assist/enhance a given show’s writing in a big way, and while I often don’t have the level of engagement required to decode and appreciate a lot of details, it’s always nice when something with extra amount of flair makes me sit up and take notice.
Gold: Blood Blockade Battlefront
They could’ve just easily made a fairly straightforward action show with superpowered people, but nah, let’s inject some pizzazz to it. Utilizing plenty of unorthodox framing, camera viewpoints, and subtle visual details, my anticipation for the episodic world-building of BBB is enhanced a lot by just wanting to see what’s coming next from its bag of tricks. It may look pointlessly stylish and chaotic at first, but it’s a thematically organized kind of chaos that never become too messy, fleshing out its fantastical world through remarkable, multi-layered, visual story-telling (see also: Best Setting).
Silver: Yuri Kuma Arashi
I’m not necessarily a fan of YKA’s overly symbolic plotting and characters, but it’s hard not to be impressed by its hell-bent determination to pack as much meaning as possible in every frame. The coating of dark and heavy subject matter with cutesy visual tone provides a curious effect, and there’s a myriad of fun things to observe, from color coding to the placement of cinematic homages covering the likes of Suspiria and Full Metal Jacket.
The fairly unremarkable premiere aside, the show generally nailed the atmospheric build-up in its 7-minute episodes, climaxing in ‘money shots’ (often taking form as a zoom out moment) that effectively communicate the scale and monstrosity of the Beast of The Week.
Honorable Mentions: Sound!Euphonium, Death Parade, Gangsta
Or, in other words, literary storytelling. Covers plotting, character writing, and narrative composition within a show’s length. As an avid reader and fiction writer, this is the element that tends to matter the most to me and what I paid the most attention to. Also, while novel idea or concept is cool and all, in the end it’s mostly about execution and just how a given show could get me to invest in what it’s about.
Gold: Death Parade
The first brainchild of the extremely promising Yuzuru Tachikawa, the show presented what appear to be a repetitive and cynical story about awful human beings, only to twist itself into something more nuanced and challenging from writing perspective. Even if the macro plot about the after life is left hanging, the Chiyuki and Decim plotline is more than solid enough to be the narrative centerpiece, while the individual vignettes are all compelling and showcase impressive tonal versatility. A good story doesn’t necessarily have to address or resolve everything; it’s more important to know which parts that you prioritize the most and make sure you come through with the thematic and emotional climax, which Death Parade did with flying colors.
Silver: Akatsuki no Yona
I already praised Yona’s character writing at length here, but it’s worth repeating how a great execution could make a relatively stock set-up and characters go a long way. Yona updated the shoujo fantasy formula with a few progressive twists, wisely putting romance (usually the bread ad butter of the genre) on the backseat without completely ignoring it, and boasting a proactive heroine, a very well-defined main party, and an intriguing villain with complex motive.
Bronze: Ore Monogatari!!
It’s a wonder what a supremely endearing set of characters, who really look for each other and whom you could genuinely root for, could do. Another well-executed and well-adapted shoujo (there seems to be many of those this year) , OreMono has great sense of humor, as well as surprising amount of maturity and insight beneath its bubbly cute exterior.
Honorable Mentions: Garo: Honoo no Kokuin, Shirobako, Concrete Revolutio
This one’s a bit tricky, since good sound mixing and editing are the kind of things one don’t tend to notice unless it’s really bad (a lot like text or visual editing. Or refereeing). With that in mind, I’ll highlight the shows with especially creative sound direction and whose sound play an integral role in the narrative package.
Gold: Gakkou Gurashi!
Gakkou has some creative uses of audio that bypass cheap and obvious jump scare effect in favor of more deliberate, oftentimes dissonant, approach that perfectly complement the show’s unique premise. It’s arguably the best part of the show, producing many memorable sonic moments (the shuffling zombies, the ominous typing of ‘Megu-nee’ in the darkened room, the safety whistle intervention at the mall), with a particular classroom sequence—where the background sound cues Yuki Takeya’s crumbling delusion—being the stand-out audio execution of the year.
The sound direction contributed a lot to the show’s atmosphere, adding significant amount of personality to Ergastulum and its inhabitants. They make a lot of good and interesting decisions to amplify, intercut, and go to silence, with my favorite moments being the early sequence where we jump into Nic’s point of view (well, hearing) and Alex’ performance (and intercutting to various simultaneous events, where every sound except Alex’ voice and the diegetic music is muted).
Bronze: Sound! Euphonium
Well, it’s there on the title. In all seriousness, the variety of instrumental sound is obviously an integral part and one of the main appeal from this show. While I do wish that there was more in quantity and intensity, they definitely nailed every single playing scene (especially that one audition scene), with Reina’s defiant trumpet sound leaving the most impression.
Honorable Mention: Your Lie in April, Akatsuki no Yona, Blood Blockade Battlefront
How good and consistent a show looks in motion, and how appealing the character design and overall art style are to me. There might be a bit of overlapping with cinematography , but the distinction should be clear enough; this one is perceived at an (even) more subjective and visceral level. I don’t necessarily have specific eye candy preferences, but distinct visual identity is always a good start in what feels like an increasingly homogeneous landscape.
Gold: Your Lie in April
I don’t rate the show’s cinematography highly due to several issues, not least of which the atrocious framing of comedic scenes. However, on pure art and character design, this is a remarkably gorgeous production and easily the year’s most beautiful to me. Stumbling onto stills (and a few GIFs) of this show had immediately prompted me to check out the series without knowing anything else about it; the color palette is splendid, and Naoshi Arakawa’s already very pretty character design translated exceptionally well to the screen.
The Matsubros are converted into the world of color, where you can finally tell them apart! An underrated part of the show, the visual greatness of Osomatsu-san includes one of the best collection of Funny Faces from the medium, silky smooth animation to punctuate punchline shots or multi-part slapstick sequence, and great neo-retro art direction. The verbal interplay can be a hit-or-miss, but Osomatsu-san more than makes up for it through the strength of its visual gags.
Bronze: Garo: Honoo no Kokuin
I was literally going to type ‘One Punch Man’, before I realized that for all of OPM’s sakuga fireworks, I actually prefer Garo’s more distinct character design, crisp transition to 3D fighting sequences, dark fantasy outlook, and demented Horror shapes. And of course, the main visual showcase: those sweet as hell CGI armors.
Honorable Mention: One Punch Man, Sound! Euphonium, Blood Blockade Battlefront
Easy enough, this covers the diegetic and background use of music in a show, as well as the song used in OP and ED. My bias for the type of music I like to hear factored heavily in this, but apart from the overall strength of the repertoire, I’d also look at how exactly the scoring works within the context of a show.
Gold: Akatsuki no Yona
Well, I’m a sucker for oriental folk. Much like his work for Twelve Kingdoms, Kunihiko Ryo delivers array of epic Eastern-flavored fantasy tunes with heavy doses of strings and flute to accompany the heroine’s coming of age journey, and I also like it a lot here. The resemblance to Twelve Kingdoms extends to the use of an operatic instrumental piece for the show’s OP, which also functions very well as main theme of the show.
Silver: Death Parade
A subtle and beautiful accompaniment to a great series. Whether it’s jazzy and soothing, frantic and sinister, or somber and introspective, the tunes provide the emotional undercurrent in various scenes, with melancholic piano-driven pieces like Memento Mori and Moonlit Night being the highlights that bring forth a fitting sense of finality and profound sorrow.
Bronze: Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
A pair of solid mood-setter for the intro and outro, and the score is always on point for the battle scenes in particular. The leitmotif for Barbatos’ entrance (also a tune used for the official preview, and as of now is still unnamed) is particularly outstanding, pumping me up like no other in this year.
Honorable Mentions: Garo: Honoo no Kokuin, Osomatsu-san, Akagami no Shirayukihime
~Best Voice Acting~
For how well a performer could convey the personality and nuances of their given character, and how memorable would they eventually be on my mind. The ‘cast’ sub-category denotes the collective performance, and mainly take into consideration how well individual performer bounce off each other.
Gold (Individual): Miyuki Sawashiro as Wakako Murasaki (Wakako zake)
Arguably the single most important element in this one-woman show, Sawashiro lends a distinct tone to Wakako’s monologue, delivering the most striking and memorable female voice acting to me since Izumi Kitta’s performance in WataMote. She conveys a significant amount of personality through Wakako’s mutterings alone, a combination of an office grinder’s worn-out resignation with cute bursts of excitement whenever she’s talking about the food, and of course, there’s The Sigh.
Silver: Takuya Eguchi as Takeo Gouda (Ore Monogatari!)
There are the mysterious allure of Sunakawa and unabashed cuteness of Yamato, but it’s Takeo who’s the undisputed emotional anchor of the show, and Eguchi killed the role. The deep and manly voice is obviously spot on, but there’s a lot in Takeo beyond that, as Eguchi also articulated his sensitivity and mental growth exceptionally well. Bonus point for also voicing Hachiman Hikigaya from OreGairu, which I didn’t watch, but from all account is a complete 180 type of role from Takeo.
Bronze: Aya Hirano as Migi (Parasyte)
As reader of the source manga way before the show, I would’ve preferred a low croaky male voice for Migi, but Hirano certainly didn’t do a bad job with her almost-cute-but-not-quite interpretation. It’s a welcome return for the actress, as she nailed the progressive change of the alien’s mindset throughout the series.
Honorable Mentions: Kenjiro Tsuda (as Nicholas Brown in Gangsta), Asami Seto (as Chiyuki in Death Parade), Atsumi Tanezaki (as Moe Nishinosono in Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider)
Gold (Cast): Ore Monogatari!
A pitch perfect team assembled by Madhouse here, nailing the drama and comedy in equally great capacity. Takuya Eguchi (Gouda) and Shimazaki Nobunaga (Suna) are apparently great friends in real life, which makes the electric chemistry between their screen characters unsurprising. Megumi Han’s Rinko Yamato is a relatively one-dimensional role, but she still charmed many viewers nonetheless. Big props to senior seiyuu Tessyo Genda and Kazuyo Aoki as the immensely charming Takeo’s parents, as well as Kikuko Inoue as Suna’s big sister Ai, too.
In a show where delivery and comic timing are absolutely paramount, every member of the cast attacked their (oftentimes crass and vicious) lines with shameless gusto. Constantly producing top-notch exaggeration, deadpanning, and silly catch phrases, the cast bounce off each other with infectious energy, and it’s obvious that they’re having an absolute ball of a time.
With such a humongous cast, the many voice performers of Shirobako (some of them are apparently newbies to the industry) left an overall very positive impression, even if some characters don’t quite work for me. Nailed the general office dynamics and banter, with Hiroyuki Yoshino as Taro being a particular scene stealer.
Honorable Mentions: Sound!Euphonium, Gangsta, Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider
A great world/setting is always one of the main signature attractions from anime, particularly from the fantasy/pseudo-fantasy genre. This is for how remarkable and well-built a show’s setting is from both narrative and visual standpoint. More fantastical shows tend to win out in this regard, but I’ll also give consideration for the realistic, down to earth, setting that play an integral role for a given show.
Gold: Hellsalem Lot (Blood Blockade Battlefront)
A possible nod to Stephen King’s vampire-infested Salem Lot, this chaotic melting pot is a key piece to the heavily setting-driven spectacle that is BBB. Rie Matsumoto and her team did a marvelous job depicting Yasuhiro Nightow’s creation (which is filled with the most wonderfully bizarre mix of inhabitants I’ve seen this side of Yoshihiro Togashi’s Hunter X Hunter universe), packing more sensory details and world-building than a lot of much longer shows out there. Whether it’s the hauntingly beautiful graveyard where Leo and White meet for the first time, the testosterone-fueled coliseum, or the super fun culinary round trip, there’s a lot of oomph in every nooks and crannies of this city.
Silver: Quindecim + Viginti (Death Parade)
The two bars in the show’s version of after life, both of them oozing tremendous atmosphere and personality. They have striking and deliberate aesthetic, color composition, and choices of interior dressings, each reflecting the sensibilities of their respective bartenders. We spend most of the time in the chic and elegant Quindecim, but I also gotta throw some love for the Japanese stylings of Viginti.
Bronze: Japan, Shinka Era (Concrete Revolutio)
The alt reality of ConRevo presents opportunity for show writer Sho Aikawa to hammer down a bunch of fascinating political content paralleling real life historical events, but the most important thing is, this is a world populated by the show’s version of Astro Boy, Ultraman, Kikaider, Q-Taro, King Kong, and many more.
Honorable Mentions: Megurigaoka Private High School (Gakkou Gurashi!), Musashino Office (Shirobako), Ergastulum (Gangsta)
For how unique/memorable/resonant a character to me, taking into account the basic design and their overall development throughout the show.
Gold: Makoto Sunakawa (Ore Monogatari!!)
In a genre where you can usually tell the characters’ whole personality and eventual romantic destination just by one quick glance, Suna is a fascinating mystery box, avoiding easy archetyping and defying the ‘everybody must always end up with somebody else in order to be happy’ arch rule (at least over the course of the anime). Questions about his romantic preference is ultimately non-essential to me though, as it’s the remarkable insight, loyalty, and warmth that really make Suna special. A great portrayal of an introverted soul who’s completely at ease in his own skin while deriving pleasure just from seeing people he care about happy.
Silver: Soo-Won (Akatsuki no Yona)
He’s the kind of villain I like: a combination of steadfast ruthlessness, deceptive proficiency, and what appeared to still be a fundamentally good heart despite everything. You can even argue he’s only the ‘bad guy’ because we’re seeing things from the main characters’ perspective. It’s Soo-Won’s triangular dynamics with Yona and Hak that provides the main source of intrigue in the plot, as the show builds things up toward what is surely going to be a harrowing resolution.
Bronze: Chiyuki (Death Parade)
From a seemingly inconsequential assistant character, she eventually became the emotional core of the series. A genuinely beautiful design for an adult female character, complemented by a complex history and personality as illustrated through the unforgettable ice skating scene. It’s a bittersweet pleasure to get to know her over the course of the series.
Honorable Mentions: Decim & Ginti (Death Parade), Takeo Gouda (Ore Monogatari!!!), Yoon (Akatsuki no Yona), Asuka Tanaka (Sound!Euphonium), Yumi Iguchi, Taro Takanashi, Aoi Miyamori, and about half a dozen other characters (Shirobako)
~Best ED Sequence~
Covering both the song and visual sequence. I always consider them to be Important Stuff in anime watching experience, and good ones genuinely influence my motivation to hurry up and watch a new episode.
Gold: Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace (song: Mikazuki by Sayuri)
The only thing that I could love from the show. Quirky songstress Sayuri busted out a darkly addicting tune with distinct vocal, its evocative lyric coupled with the visual sequence managed to tell the show’s main narrative progression and theme far better than the actual show itself ever did. Seriously, one could just save a lot of time and grief watching all the way until the show’s ending just by looking at the key images here.
Silver: Akatsuki no Yona ED2 (Akatsuki by Akiko Shikata)
The stand-out song in the show for me, starting with a lovely violin hook that carries itself to Shikata’s lovely lilting voice and a series of simple but effective imagery. It also feels like a great and fitting segue for every episode as they wind down, especially the one that ends with the most surprising scene in the series.
Bronze: Arslan Senki ED1 (Lapis Lazuli by Eir Aoi)
Again, another fantasy show selection with a great hook. Bolstered by Aoi’s powerful vocal, it’s such an effective pumping tune that I seriously wonder why this one isn’t used in the OP instead. The visual montage are very nice-looking as well, especially the stylish character portraits in the beginning (bonus point for distinct lack of worst character Alfreed).
Honorable Mentions: Oof, a lot of great EDs this year. Let’s pick five, including from a couple of shows I haven’t watched. Young Black Jack (All Categorize by Takuto), Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider (Nana Hitsuji by Scenarioart), Gangsta (Yoru no Kuni by Annabel), Shokugeki no Souma ED1 (Spice by Tokyo Karan Koron), Rokka: Braves ED1 (Secret Sky by Michi)
And here’s a bunch of other miscellaneous stuff!
Madhouse (Death Parade, Ore Monogatari!!, One Punch Man) followed by Pierrot (Osomatsu-san, Akatsuki no Yona) and Bones (Blood Blockade Battlefront, Akagami no Shirayukihime, Concrete Revolutio)
Best Fight Scene
The aerial dogfight of Ema vs. Luciano (Garo: Honoo no Kokuin). Shout-outs to Alfonso vs. Leon from the same show, and Klaus vs. Girika from Blood Blockade Battlefront.
Best Musical Performance
Kousei’s final performance (Your Lie in April), Alex’ performance in Ergastulum shelter (Gangsta), and the band’s competitive rendition of Crescent Moon Dance and Wind of Provence (Sound!Euphonium).
Stephen King reference (I’m a big fan) in Gakkou Gurashi!, from the book Miki was reading and the way the ending mirrored Cujo’s to an extent.
Best One-Episode Character I’d Love to See More of
Girika the Blood Breed chick, Blood Blockade Battlefront
Biscuit Griffon, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Best (Worst) Name
Qwenthur Barbotage, Heavy Object
“I have no idea what do you want, what you’re really thinking, or what the right thing to do really is. But I’m your friend. Let me stay.” -Takeo Gouda (Ore Monogatari!!)
“But if I drew things more carefully, I need more time to finish. At this rate, I’m never going to get faster, and I won’t be able to better my technique. I’ll end up as a useless animator and not be able to eat.” –Ema Yasuhara (Shirobako)
“They pop up every now and then. People who don’t wake up from the dream even after tens of years. I love people like that.” – Erika Yano (Shirobako)
“It’s only you who I want to call me ‘Princess’. I want you to remember my father, to remember I am the Emperor’s daughter. Even if the entire country forgets, I don’t want you to forget.” –Yona (Akatsuki no Yona).
“Why do you people get to decide that? This isn’t any of your business, is it? What do you know about me? How is any of this judgment? You just tricked me, didn’t you?” –Tachibana Misaki (Death Parade)
Best Out of Context Line
“Alright, let’s bring out the ass-sized flags, jo” –Hatabo (Osomatsu-san)
Best Philosophical Line That Doesn’t Goddamn Work within the Show’s Context
“No one fears death. They fear the life that leads up to death. If one could die without suffering, no one would fear death, right? Being alive is, itself, an exception. The natural state of things is death. And life is, itself, a kind of sickness. When the illness is cured, your life vanishes.” –Shiki Magata (Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider)