Yeah, I’m doing this too. As a whole, I consider 2019 a great year of anime, especially comes right after 2018 which I consider the worst year of the decade. It’s a year where many Anime Auteurs – some of the best working Anime directors today – helming original visions. Ikuhara, Shinichi Watanabe, Yuusa, Shinkai all have their original, passionate projects, and many manga classics like Vinland Saga and Kimetsu no Yaiba receive anime treatments. 2019 also saw many reboot from the 90s, early 00s decade with varying degrees of success, such as Boogiepop wa Warawanai (2019), Fruits Basket (2019) and Blade of the Immortals. On the negative side, the amount of isekai escapism is at its peak, at least in terms of quantity and not for their quality. My format is gonna be this: look at the most Popular show of the year, the most Underrated show, then some honorable mentions before I get to the top 10. Hope you enjoy the countdown.
Most Popular Show of 2019: Carole & Tuesday
If I have to give one definite quality of Carole & Tuesday, it’s “accessible”, for better or for worse. Streaming in Netflix with the majority of the audiences isn’t used to watching anime, I can see this show as a getaway to have a first dip of what modern anime is like. And there are many aspects of Carole & Tuesday to support that approach: the animation is expressive, the art styles are gorgeous and attentive to details, the plot is simple but inspirational, the leads are likeable enough and most of all, the music is well-produced – everything you would expect from the great master Shinichi Watanabe. On a flip side though, because the anime is too mainstream it unfortunately doesn’t have enough edge or depth. The titular characters Carole & Tuesday suffer from that the most. There is little to no conflict between them, and throughout its 2 cours runtime they often act like one, there is no personality to them at all. That is why the supporting cast is often more interesting than the leads themselves. Second, the story arcs remain quite simple and predictable, and it becomes clear that the show is more concentrated on the music than the story. All in all, with the gorgeous visual, crisp animation and the top-notch soundtrack, if you don’t expect too much of it, you’ll enjoy it as you go along the ride.
Most Underrated Show: Kemurikusa
Kemurikusa is your very definition of an overlooked gem, one that never really gains much discussion anywhere, but one that has a distinctive style from an up-and-coming auteur who has full control of his projects. Coming to Kemurikusa, all the attention it has came from the fact that it is created by TATSUKI, a mastermind behind global surprise hit Kemono Friends, in a season where the actual sequel of Kemono Friend also aired. While at the end Kemurikusa would never achieve the crossover status TATSUKI’s previous anime had reached, in an essence Kemurikusa is his more personal, more ambitious and overall a better one. Kemurikusa’s style is so distinctive that it brings a fair share of goodies and baddies. Naysayers often point out the clunky level of CG animation style, but for me the production values look rather impressive. It’s no wonder that with the amount of attention to details TATSUKI has over this project, the intriguing post-apocalyptic world building remains its biggest selling point. The Kemurikusa concept, about artificial energy and its variations based on the colour concept are highly-detailed, and add up to the mysteries of this world. Episode 11, in particular, is a one big flashback that not only explains the current events, but also helps exploring the richness of the world that for me rank it amongst the most well-written settings in anime in years. In addition, the show successfully delves into the origin of Kemurikusa girls and their attributes with satisfying explanations that help deepening its concept. TATSUKI’s aesthetic isn’t for everyone and can take some time to get used to, but there’s no denying that his works have their own charms and the world he created here is simply impressive.
Honorable Mention #1: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Although shounen is not usually my strong suit, Kimetsu no Yaiba’s production is something extraordinary. The show’s aesthetic is singular, and all the battles between the human and demons are breathtakingly animated by Ufotable. It just looks great most of the time. The characters, unfortunately, are from the loud side for me. Zenitsu in particular with his antics are just too much that he’s nearly a dealbreaker to me. At the end of the day, Kimetsu no Yaiba is a typical shounen with top-tier production values and a few critical issues such as some poor character writing and pacing.
Honorable Mention #2: Blade of the Immortals 2019
Well, it’s true that this version of Blade of the Immortals is only half its run, and it has been burning through the source material like crazy, but it’s also one of the best-directed shows I have seen in 2019. There are many gores and disturbing scenes, making it a tough show to recommend, and the fast-pacing of the story means that sometimes the emotions don’t have time to bleed in, but episodes after episodes I am still invested in the side characters, and the main quest of our duo leads. This anime is a vintage “show, don’t tell” show and while sometimes it’s hard to catch up with the story, it takes the audience seriously. It’s a flawed but intriguing show from start to finish.
The Top 10:
#10 – Hi Score Girl 2
It must be noted that I considered the entire two seasons (and an OVA) of Hi Score Girl for this #10 slot. While the CG animation can turn off the audience in the first few episodes, when you get used to it, it becomes charming in its own way. At heart, Hi Score Girl is a coming-of-age romance show about Haruo, Akira Oono and Hidaki in a backdrop of arcade games during the 90s. There’s a certain geekiness in there as far as arcade games are concerned, but the show’s warm humor, its love for its characters, and the strong development of the main cast are its biggest strengths. Not only these three leads are fleshed out and gradually growing up and maturing throughout the show, it’s one rare show where the supporting cast all has their own contribution to the story. In addition to that, Hi Score Girl is masterful in tones, given it can deliver goofy humor, drama and romance in equal measures. There’s also a sense of nostalgia to that already-gone innocent past, where arcade games were at its peak and where our main kid could spend hours playing them, with a romance just around the corner.
#9 – Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai
Hands down as the best anime comedy of 2019, Kaguya-sama has a charming cast who bounce off each other very well, and it has one of the sharpest comedic timings in years. While the manga has been a fan favorite since its first issue, the anime adaptation is more than capable of standing on its own. The direction, for example, is a highlight. The show’s use of red and blue colors (to represent our two main characters), their dramatic inner thoughts and their life-and-death visual representation emphasize the heights and the stakes of our leads’ mind games. The results are often hilariously unexpected, whimsical and warm. The chemistry between the cast is very solid, and it reserves its best moments towards the end where it ends on a pretty high note.
#8 – Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo
Also known as O Maiden of Your Savage Seasons in English (a title I quite like). Araburu is penned by Mari Okada and you sort of see her trademarks written all over it. At their age, the thought sex and romance seem larger than life, and Araburu explores these insecurities through a group of five girls in the literature club. In the first few episodes in particular, the show succeeds on bringing some humors out of the awkwardness of the characters, and while I can say some later developments are over-dramatic in not a good way (though Okada is well-known for this), at the end Araburu is still a nice coming-of-age story where the girls learn to accept their own qualities. For a series, in hindsight Araburu functions more as a feature film, with clear beginning, middle part and climax. The show can go dark and uncomfortable at times, but it captures love and sexual desire from the point of view of teenage girls in a refreshing manner, as it takes teenage girls’ concerns seriously.
#7 – Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These
Just like in Hi Score Girl, LoGH claims this spot based on the strength of both “seasons”. I use the word ‘seasons’ very cautiously here, as the second cour is released as trilogy films, but it fits much better in episodic format. I haven’t watched the original OVA so I have no point of reference, but as a new viewer perspective, Die Neue These more than offers intriguing central conflicts and the two main opposing characters worth following to. Their ideals, political agenda and personal lives are solidly constructed, and most importantly both Yang Wenli and Reinhard feel humane and deep enough that we have a reason to care for them. The political war is also very interesting. It feels epic, exciting and many of its thoughts are relevant to today’s world context. The 2-cour ends on a game changing note that will change the direction for the rest of the story and I am more than willing to see how everything pans out.
#6 – Vinland Saga
Vinland Saga is a grandeur story of revenge and tragedy, in every true sense of the word “grandeur”. This season functions more as a prologue to Thorfinn’s quest to find the meaning of his life and make peace of his past, and every plot thread is set up neatly, tragically most of the time, to support that. As a result, you might get the feeling that these characters are more like clogs in a clock tower than real people, but that is the right kind of character for this type of epic tale. Nonetheless, Askeladd remains a pretty well-written character. Vinland Saga is dark and grim, but also powerful and and rich in subtext.
#5 – Mix: Meisei Story
Adachi could do no wrong with his staple baseball high school genre. Mix is the type of show that is not at all showy but the character writing here knocks everything else out of the window. It’d be far-fetched to say that Mix is about baseball. Yes, baseball is there and the main storyline is based around baseball events, but the main focus is on the main 4 leads and their interaction with each other sparks one of the strongest chemistry this year has to offer. The mastery in Adachi’s script isn’t from the things the characters say, but rather the things they don’t or can’t say. While it just sort of ends and we are still unsure about the second season, I know that I am always in to watch Mix again and again just for those exceptional banters between the leads.
#4 – Mob Psycho 100 II
The first season of Mob Psycho 100 already informed us about its stellar animation from a studio at the top of its game, but this second season is on a whole other level. There are sakuga sequences after sequences, Mob has gone through some significant growth and the entire cast, especially Reigen, are a joy to watch. The second half drags a bit, unfortunately, when it leans more to typical shounen formula and the main villain for that arc isn’t as interesting but on a technical standpoint alone, Mob Psycho 100 is something needed to be seen to believe.
#3 – Chihayafuru 3
Season 3 of Chihayafuru picks up right where the second season ends, and it has been firing on all cylinders since then. One of the biggest assets in Chihayafuru lies in its diverse cast, and this season again demonstrates that. From main cast members like Taichi, to the surrounding characters like Harada-sensei, and even small roles like Chihaya’s teacher, each member has their moments where we can clearly see the depth, or the growth in their characters, which produces many emotional moments. I’m not a sentimental viewer, yet this season made me tear up multiple times with how adept it is at reflecting the characters’ feelings. Season 3 also introduces new blood in Haruka Inokuma, and she fits in with the cast like a glove. Chihayafuru season 3 might be only halfway through its run, but its consistency across all departments, especially its character writing, is one of the main reasons why it sits comfortably in the third spot of 2019.
#2 – Sarazanmai
Sarazanmai certainly is a divisive series. Even our group of four writers is sharply split in terms of its reception (just look at the runner-up for Worst Show). Those who love it, love it passionately enough that it appears here at number 7 of the year. As one of its supporters, I feel that its visual and thematic quirkiness marks this show as one of the most original anime of the year. There’s one element in Ikuhara’s brand that I feel is greatly underappreciated, and that’s his absurd sense of humor, which Sarazanmai achieves with flying colors. While strange and off the wall, the emotional directness is also there, and our three lead boys go through some significant development throughout its run. While I’m not too pleased with the Otter/Kappa war and the theme of “connections” can be on the nose at times, I consider Sarazanmai to be one of the rare cases where Ikuwara wraps up as conclusively and wildly as he could. Add to that the crisp animation, gorgeous and detailed background designs, and catchy (to the eyes and ears) musical sequences, and there’s no doubt that Sarazanmai is unique, and totally not for everyone. If you consider watching something to be an experience, then Sarazanmai is certainly one hell of an experience, and for that it’s exactly my kind of show!
#1 – Beastars
For me, Beastars is, at its heart, a Greek melodrama of two star-crossed individuals who are not meant to be together. The fact that the show coasts that theme with anthropomorphic world full of carnivores vs herbivores policy is an icing on top. The world-building is refreshing with its own laws and rules of thumbs, and through that the show boasts an engaging protagonist who has fought through his hunting instinct with his feeling of love. Legosi’s complex struggle to make sense of his feeling is well-articulated and believable. Orange again does a magnificent job at adapting it, and again proves that CG anime can be great if they don’t try to mimic the traditional hand drawn style. There are many iconic moments in this first season, and like Vinland Saga, it feels more like a prologue for an epic story to come. Here’s a toast to a job well done, and let’s all look forward to the second season.