WARNING: This post contains minor to major spoilers to multiple series.
I was never good at making intros. I was taught as much as they could in high school about how to make good intros—gotta have an attention getter, gotta have your thesis, gotta know how to tie everything together, make it firm and to the point, and so on. But really, I was never a fan of that mainly because I would always get stuck on it and never move on to the content that actually matters. I recognize that’s probably entirely personal but what can you do when you’re me?
Anyway, 2018 was a long year. A lot happened for me, more than I bargained for, honestly. But I’m still here, and I also watched shows! Probably less in number than I did in years prior, but I still watched them! And this is the first year that I decided to compile some of my favorites in a cohesive list like all the cool kids! I got my top 5 anime of 2018 right here for ya but first let’s get through some honorable mentions!
I’m absolutely certain I’m not alone in feeling #sideblinded by this one’s entrance onto the stage. Expecting little more than generic zombie apocalypse fare, we were given something more—much more, I think. Equipped with a charming cast and class-A vocal performances, Zombieland Saga takes on the tropes of both idol and regional anime with side-splitting impact and even manages to craft some genuinely endearing and emotional moments. (We love you, Lily!) Between this show and Manaria Friends coming later this month, it’s fair to say that Cygames have saved anime. Now if only they’d give me Kumbhira…
Liz and the Blue Bird
Gorgeous. That’s the term I would use to describe this film in every single way, no exaggeration. Liz and the Blue Bird is KyoAni legend Naoko Yamada’s latest contribution to anime and it’s arguably her best yet. With dreamlike visuals, a score I am enamored with, and character writing to back it all up, this film is not just one of the best non-Ghibli anime films I’ve ever seen but one of the best animated films I’ve seen in the past three years, period. I’d even argue it would be at the top had it not been for Spider-Verse. Had this been a Top 5 Films of 2018, this would find a spot on there for sure. Love this film to death, and I cannot stress that enough.
Now that we’ve gotten our honorable mentions out of the way, it’s time for the actual Content You Are Looking For! Here are my top 5 anime of 2018.
This was one of the original two shows I was set on watching during the Fall season and for good reason. It looked set to have giant punchy action trademark to most Trigger shows that gets me going at any given time. Don’t get me wrong, I did get exactly that— “that” being the action, the charming cast of characters, and the score from the immortal Shirō Sagisu—and it was awesome. There was just something else in it that I wasn’t expecting.
In a way, I think, SSSS.GRIDMAN wasn’t about the main character, Yūta Hibiki, or even the titular Gridman himself but rather the main “antagonist” Akane Shinjō. I used quotes around the term antagonist because even though Akane was partly responsible for the kaiju rampaging throughout the series, the answer to whether she’s an actual villain or not is complicated. As the show progresses, and especially in the last third, it is very clear that Akane is deeply emotionally disturbed and is being exploited by a bad agent. The way her story is presented is like that of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, specifically the third film Rebellion: a new world fabricated from her desires, how she wants it to be. “You can’t possibly hate me,” so speaks Akane to her “friend” Rikka Takarada in the eighth episode. From there, we become more aware of the true extent of Akane’s anguish and the resulting onslaught which doesn’t stop once it gets going. I went on too long about one thing here, but it’ll suffice to say that SSSS.GRIDMAN had far more depth to it than I initially thought and boy gosh I’m all for it.
4. A Place Further Than the Universe
“The Girls Are Alright!” And more than alright, I would argue! Who would’ve ever thought that a show about some high school girls going to Antarctica would be so…heavy? I’ve heard all about the madness over the twelfth episode, but actually experiencing it myself, and on my flight home from overseas too, it really broke me down in ways I never thought possible, let me tell ya…
But more than that though, A Place Further than the Universe is a testament to the raw power of friendship, as cliché as that is. The show starts out with the main character, Mari Tamaki, declaring, “Gosh, my life is really boring, I should do something special while I’m still young!” But as the show progresses, the focus shifts away—well, expands—from Mari’s desire to live in the now to an entire quartet making the most of their lives in the now. They go from being complete strangers to having iron bonds with each other, even stepping up to tell the fake friends to buzz off forever. It’s a show that’s as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking, a rollercoaster of emotions with the ultimate message being, “Friends are good.” Simple as it may be, it’s a message with power. Live on.
3. Comic Girls
You ever just decide to agree to an anime trade with one of your buddies? Back in September, I agreed to exactly one of these—they agreed to watch an anime of my choice, and I agreed to watch one of their choice. I went with Yuyushiki (which, while not the topic here, is also a good show!), and they went with the Spring 2018 slice-of-life anime known as Comic Girls. I went in expecting standard fluffy “cute girls doing cute things” (CGCDT) shenanigans, and yeah, I did get that! I just didn’t expect to feel as hard as I did when I watched it.
Insecurity. As far as I’ve seen through seeing posts and friends online, it’s a prevailing attitude especially among artists, and Comic Girls highlights that. The protagonist of the show—Kaoruko “Kaos” Moeka—is the raw manifest of this concept. Consistent rejection up until the endgame, clumsiness, general helplessness, self-doubt… For me, seeing Kaos in this near-perpetual state of fear and self-loathing was kinda difficult to watch. Every time her storyboard gets rejected or some other mishap occurs, there’s this tug that pulls at me, getting stronger with each tug (felt like yanks by the end of it all). It got to the point where I just straight up cried a ton during the last episode. I can’t remember the last time any show—much less a CGCDT anime—made me just break down like that. The frustration of not being able to create, the pain and heartache of loneliness and dependence, the joy and burden of being in the company of people who only wish to see you be successful, it was all an overdose of not just emotion but “I relate to this way more than I should.”
Was this show just an unrelenting emotional disaster for me, though? No, I wouldn’t say that. Yes, there was a ton of relatability in Comic Girls, but it’s exactly because it was relatable that it gave me profound catharsis. I’d even argue that it was validating! It’s like someone out there completely understands me! (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually the case, since very strong evidence suggests that Kaos’ character is autobiographical…) Make no mistake, this show made me feel, and it made me feel a lot. But gosh, was it exceptional at doing so. One of the best trades ever, huh?
2. Laid-Back Camp
Imagine, if you will. You’re inside, right next to the fireplace, wrapped in the absolute softest blanket you can think of; a weighted blanket, even! You have beside you a freshly brewed cup of chamomile, and outside the window next to you the snow gently descends, dressing the ground in a blanket of its own. In a non-literal sense, that’s Laid-Back Camp—pure unfettered comfy.
But even more than that, this show is a masterclass on how to incorporate a toasty warm atmosphere and stellar character writing without sacrificing any of either. Just as nothing in this show’s execution ever feels rushed, the characters in this show are in no hurry to get anywhere. No one is ever pressured into doing anything nor is there a big scene made of it like in a bunch of CGCDT shows—it’s all just gentle encouragement and if they’re turned down, they just accept it! Throughout the show, one of the characters—Rin Shima—primarily communicates with her peers via SMS and tends to do most of her camping solo. This is acknowledged but not once does anyone in the show ever call that fact out in a “hey don’t be a loner” sense. This shows one of the deepest and healthiest understandings of introversion that I have ever seen in any anime to date and commands a significant amount of respect for this alone, I think. And on top of that, Laid-Back Camp has one of the best anime soundtracks I’ve heard in a while (even got shortlisted for my AOTY list!), from the soothing incidental music to the comfy groove tune of an OP, and back to the ultra-relaxing ED. The entire show is iyashikei at its finest, and I am so grateful that I was able to see it.
Y’know, if any of you have been following along since February, I had Laid-Back Camp set as guaranteed anime of the year for months. Then late November came in, as did the show that took its place.
1. Hugtto! Precure
For those of you keeping up with the Velv Affairs, I put out my top albums of 2018 list about a couple of weeks ago. At number 3 is a very particular album I like: OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES by musician Sophie Xeon. I hold this album in such high regards not just because of how absolutely glamorous the production is, but also the themes it has—loving yourself, exploring yourself, being the self that you have always wanted to be. In a way, Hugtto! Precure—the fifteenth iteration of the long-running Pretty Cure franchise—is not much different.
Like its predecessors, Hugtto! revolves around a team of magical girls fighting against a villain group—in this case, a corporation of cynics bent on stopping time to rob every one of their future. But within that concept lies something far deeper. I could go on for a while about Henri Wakamiya being the legend that they are. I could talk about how they are able to present how they want to despite people looking down on them. I could bring up their struggle with their own body changing and the conflict with how they want to present. I could mention their glorious transformation into the first “boy” Precure in the franchise’s fifteen-year history in episode 42. I could even talk about how the show uses Henri as a reaffirmation that you really can be anything you want and how all of this helped me ease into my still recent revelation of being nonbinary!
While the importance of all that cannot be overstated, the reason I have this show up at number one? Hope.
I’ll be real, I’m absolutely terrified about the future. I haven’t exactly lived my best life over the years. I’ve stumbled over a lot, not just in raw frequency but in how many ways as well. Academics, social skills, relationships, and when actual self-care is not all there it’s a miracle that I even get out of bed every morning. I’m never sure of what I’m doing at really any given time. I always feel like I’m running blind through life, just doing things, just existing. How do I know what tomorrow is gonna bring? How do I know that tomorrow isn’t gonna bring more pains, more nightmares, more reason to just stay shut in my room for the entire day? How do I know that tomorrow is gonna be better? How do I know yesterday’s mistakes aren’t gonna be repeated like they always are despite best intentions?
Thing is, Hugtto! knows this already. It knows about all the pains and worries people have about tomorrow. It knows how the mistakes of our past and demons of our present can and often do affect how we see our future. It even knows that sometimes we can hope for the best tomorrow but the best just…doesn’t happen. It’s those same worries that serve as the foundation for the villain group, Criasu Corporation. The show acknowledges that yes, things might not have been the best yesterday, and they might not even be the best today. But despite this, it tells us, time and time again, to keep the faith—to continue hoping—that tomorrow will be better. It tells us that our future is our own to take a hold of. It tells us that we create our own tomorrow. It tells us that our tomorrow can be one hell of a spectacle, but we can’t know for sure if we never take that jump forward. Even in the opening, the main character, Hana Nono, chants out, every single episode, “You can do anything! You can be anything! Take your shining future and grasp it tight!” And through characters like Henri and many others, this could not be any truer.
I spent a three-day period rapidly catching up on this show in late November (thirty-six episodes!) and to this day it’s one of the best media-related decisions I’ve ever made (an impulse decision, to boot). Colorful, brilliantly written, genuine, and life-affirming, Hugtto! Precure is not only the best anime I’ve seen in 2018, it’s the one I needed the most. The fact that I held out long enough to witness this show is something I will be forever grateful for. フレフレ、私！