As the year draws to a close and presents are boxed and wrapped, it’s time to unbox our own feelings and reflect upon this past year of anime. As always there have been a plethora of shows that have aired this year but which ones come out on top? Here are the shows that the GoombaStomp anime section think have a reason to be watched. These are the Best Anime of 2019.
10. My Hero Academia Season 4
Runtime: October 12th – Present
There’s good reason for My Hero Academia’s continued acclaim and popularity. After 2018’s stupendous third season, the king of modern shounens enters its Shie Hassaikai arc. With a new villain in Overhaul, more Mirio magic, and the usual dollop of awe-inspiring action and character-driven drama (all conveyed through Bones’s top-notch animation); there’s no better time to embrace the most entertaining anime on the market, especially with our ongoing superhero fanaticism (see Marvel’s box office dominance).
Honestly, that’s all I have to say. You’ve just gotta watch this show! (By Harry Morris)
9.The Rising of The Shield Hero
Studio: Kinema Citrus
Runtime: January 9th – June 26th
There is an unsurprisingly low amount of isekai shows on our list this year despite there having been, at minimum, three per season. It’s fairly simple to generate an isekai story that stimulates on the most basic of levels but it’s rare to see one like The Rising of the Shield Hero that, well, “rises” above the rest.
The thing about Shield Hero is that it’s not particularly unique in its setting or premise; a college kid is summoned to a fantasy-game world to defend it from evil. It’s how the show executes on those foundations, though, and tells a story beyond just being an isekai that sets it apart.
Naofumi is run through the mud, in every sense of the phrase, right from the outset, resetting both his and the viewer’s expectations of the world to the negatives. This isn’t an isekai story where everything will just work out in the end. Naofumi needs to scrape and claw his way to survive despite the pain and anger he feels inside and that creates a compelling protagonist that you want to root for. Not a hero, but not quite an anti-hero either.
It’s the fact that Naofumi knows when it’s ok to forgive and when it’s not that makes him more than just a rage-beast, though, and that’s due in part to his companions. Despite the somewhat controversial method in which Naofumi and Raphtalia encountered each other, that encounter tests and emphasizes the bond between them in beautiful ways akin to watching a family.
Kinema Citrus has done an excellent job of animating this world and conveying a sense of scale often absent from other isekai not to mention the excellent fight choreography even including a rare team fight not often seen in anime (usually 1-on-1 duels or 1-on-many). The mesmerizing score by Australian composer Kevin Penkin, meanwhile, amplifies the emotions of both tender and frantic moments to the nth degree. The presentation and story combined make for one of the most grounded isekai to date, and a series to keep close eyes on in coming seasons. (By Matt Ponthier)
8. Fruits Basket
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Runtime: April 6th – September 21st
I said it in my preview during the Spring Viewer’s Guide but I still can’t believe this remake exists. The fact that enough people saw the original Fruits Basket, a series that is about as shoujo as one can get, and thought it was important enough to give a remake treatment over the plethora of other classic shounen out there is absolutely mind-boggling. That’s just it, though. This is an important series that teaches lessons that are just as meaningful today as they were over a decade ago.
At its core, Fruits Basket is a story about learning how to accept others for everything they are, as well as oneself. Such a simple-sounding concept is, in reality, difficult to realize, especially when trying to do so alone.
The Souma family circumstances are fantastical, to be sure, but each member’s plight touches upon the many forms of doubt and insecurity one may feel throughout various stages of life. The cast of Fruits Basket all have their own inner demons to grapple with and chances are you’ll find yourself sympathetic to at least one of them for one reason or another. It’s in seeing Tohru unconditionally believe in that projection of yourself that has such a profound healing effect both inside and outside the screen. It helps that the updated animation makes the high-emotion scenes hit all the harder and knowing that we’ll be getting into never before animated scenes next season makes my heart quiver in anticipation of being wrecked all over again.
Fruits Basket is a rare anime series that challenges the viewer, challenges them to be a better person. It shows how difficult it can be to be that person to soothe others’ pain, but it also shows the importance of at least trying. (By Matt Ponthier)
Watch on Funimation
7. Aggretusko Season 2
Airdate: June 14th
What makes the second season of Aggretsuko work so well is the same charming concept and wacky characters that made the first season work. Retsuko is still endlessly relatable as she struggles through the annoying grind of 9 to 5, while looking for worthwhile reasons to keep going on.
Where this season doubles down, however, is in the nuance it adds to her character. While Retsuko has long been fixated on things like finding a husband or landing her dream job, now we see her coming to realize that authentic happiness and contentment must come from within, rather than from without.
Other characters get added layers in this season as well, with even characters that are almost never taken seriously, like Kabae, given some depth. Finally, the new additions of Anai and Tadano beef up the cast considerably, making for a richer, and funnier, slice of life with each episode. If Aggretsuko can maintain this growth into its 3rd season, it will be a must-watch anime. (By Mike Worby)
Watch on Netflix
6. O Maidens in Your Savage Season
Runtime: July 6th – September 21st
When O Maidens first aired, I was initially hesitant. The series’ writer, Mari Okada, has a history of scripting projects that lean rather hard into melodrama. Not that melodrama is bad. Rather, the danger of writing on such intense emotions in anime is that it can quickly become uncomfortable or lack the appropriate cultural context to make it impactful with foreign audiences.
What makes it work for O Maidens is the subject matter. Unlike many other dramas about high school kids, O Maidens focuses on the most universal truths to being a teenager: things like love, sexuality, betrayal, body image, and friendship. It offers an honest look at the pain and anxiety of growing up and learning not just how to be an adult, but what it means to no longer be a kid.
Much like FLCL, O Maidens uses the outrageous to highlight aspects of humanity that are very much real. Things like train masturbation jokes and excessively flowery erotic prose garner unexpected laughs in a series where you never really know what’s going to happen next. Taken off guard by the show’s brazen demeanor, it leaves you vulnerable and receptive to the uncomfortable nostalgia it exudes.
The characters possess a charming naive innocence that draws out laughs and grimaces in equal measure. Mari Okada has tapped into a deep well of shared adolescence unbound by culture. We often look back on our teenage years in disdain, scornful and embarrassed of the children we once were. Perhaps for good reason. Rather than shy away from these unpleasant aspects or romanticize them, Okada puts them plainly on display.
O Maidens loses a bit of its way in the latter half, with a few too many vague conclusions and loose ends. Understandable enough, given that it was only a twelve-episode run with a cast of five main characters. Yet, those twelve episodes are a wild ride of heartbreak, desires, and passion that truly marks this period of life as a “savage season”. (By Kyle Rogacion)
Watch on HIDIVE
5. Mob Psycho 100 II
Runtime: January 7th – April 1st
With its second season, Mob Psycho has gone above and beyond expectations. The first season did an excellent job of setting the world’s tone: equal parts zany, kickass, and heartfelt. In establishing Mob’s powers, his friends and family, and the vast landscape of psychic abilities, season one set up the perfect framework for a deeper dive into this universe.
The world of Mob Psycho 100 is one of camp, exaggeration, and utter ridiculousness. It revels in bright gags and noisy colors, moving from joke to joke with a deft alacrity. Yet through all the slapstick and witty dialogue, Mob Psycho’s greatest attribute is its heart. Season two covers a fascinating trajectory by charting Mob’s character development through dark and murky waters.
Mob’s greatest conflict this season comes from himself. Now comfortable with using his formidable powers, he nevertheless fears what might happen should he lose control. He begins to question what role espers like him play in society and whether or not the spirits he exorcises are inherently evil.
Opposite Mob is his master, Reigen. Reigen is the same as ever in season two: sleazy, self-serving, and manipulative. As Mob develops a greater sense of moral agency, he comes into direct conflict with Reigen’s own ideals and agenda. The rest of the returning cast all have their moments to shine, but season two is undeniably about Mob and Reigen growing both as individuals and as friends.
Of course, this writeup would be remiss not to mention the stellar animation work done by Studio Bones. Mob Psycho 100 is a visual feast, powering through its action sequences with a colorfully wild kinetic energy. There isn’t much reason beyond “rule-of-cool” for how esper powers work in this series, but Bones does such a fantastic job animating these psychic battles that you really don’t mind.
Rare is the anime that can be called an instant classic; Mob Psycho 100 would be a more than worthy pick. (By Kyle Rogacion)
4. Vinland Saga
Studio: Wit Studio
Runtime: July 8th – Present
That Vinland Saga is the title of a series concerned with the Danelaw, and Viking piracy in England and France, suggests a lot about its metaphorical leanings. Vinland may be the bountiful wine land of North America, but for young Thorfinn, it’s a near-mythical representation of wholeness and tranquillity the harshness of war and cruelty of life rob him of.
What sets Vinland Saga apart from simply being a historical war drama series with elegantly-animated combat is the thematic weight each blow carries. Every cut of the sword tears into the soul and is a probe into the forces that shape the emotionally ravaged Thorfinn. This is an immensely philosophical series, casting Thorfinn’s development from innocent child to weary warrior in the shadow of his pacifist father’s teachings.
Cleverly weaving Thorfinn’s story in amongst apocryphal and substantiated history, Vinland Saga has an elegiac quality to it, not just on a personal level for Thorfinn, but Viking society as a whole. Inasmuch as Vinland Saga explores the deceptively complex idea of what it means to be a great warrior—and the many answers to it—through Thorfinn’s tribulations, this is a series about finality: the death of people, the death of morality, and the death of culture.
The metaphysical introspection and inevitability of demise textures everything. This is Attack on Titan animator Wit Studio’s finest work so far, because the depth the tapestry of Viking conquest lends to its protagonists, creates some of the most human and nuanced characters anime has to offer.
This is one of the best anime series of 2019, but it’s also one of the best pieces of fiction this decade, if not longer. Vikings still capture the imagination centuries later, and there is little doubt that Vinland Saga’s uniquely pensive drama will linger in memory well after it finishes airing. (By Declan Biswas-Hughes)
Watch on Amazon Prime Video
3. Kaguya-sama: Love is War
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Runtime: January 12th —March 30th
Kaguya-sama succeeds not only because it pokes fun at the ridiculous dance of high school romance, but because it also reminds us just how serious many of those situations felt at the time. What Kaguya and the gang experience are immediately relatable; hesitating to confess one’s feelings immediately, not knowing how to exchange contact info without seeming desperate, trying to give love advice knowing full well you’re not qualified to be doing so, etc. While everything is escalated to hilarious heights, it’s all anchored by a subconscious notion of “Yeah, I’d be freaking out about this, too.”
That said, school-based romantic comedies are, frankly, a dime a dozen. Aka Akasaka and A-1 Pictures wisely manage to sidestep much of the saminess of other shows by leaning into the sketch comedy format à la Aho-Girl. Instead of following around one central character for an entire episode, each episode is instead broken up into several vignettes featuring the cast in different scenarios. From the self-serious narrator bellowing about the war of romance to the “winner” of every battle of wits being evaluated at the end of each sketch, Kaguya-sama leverages this format to deliver sharp satire and fascinating glimpses into the lives of all of its characters.
Beyond the relatability, format, and smart writing, however, Kaguya-sama simply nails the balance between comedy and meaningful character-building. For as many laugh-out-loud moments as there are (and there are many), Kaguya-sama hones in on each non-Kaguya/Shirogane cast member just enough to get viewers attached. With a massively successful first season in the books and a second one already greenlit, it’s never been a better time to enlist as a soldier of love. (By Brent Middleton)
2. The Promised Neverland
Runtime: January 10th — March 29th
The success of thrillers rests primarily on tense tone and pacing. The most captivating of premises can be undone by languidness. The Promised Neverland has a simple premise: children are reared and harvested for feeding unknown monsters, and now three children who have uncovered the truth are trying to escape. The Promised Neverland proceeds to then wring genuine fear and anxiety from that idea through taut execution. No anime series this year was so addictive, nor as emotionally exhausting, for its audience.
Set in a wooden manor—now prison—Director Mamoru Kanbe ensures that the viewer truly feels the claustrophobia experienced by the children, rarely cutting away from their perspective, and even as going as far to pan through the house’s halls from a first-person point of view to emphasize the walls keeping everyone in captivity.
Limiting the viewpoint to just that of the kids is inspired, because not only does it induce greater empathy for them, but also makes their process of uncovering knowledge and deductive reasoning all the more riveting. Their unknown variables are ours too. As characters, Norman, Ray, and Emma are a complementary and engaging trio, with their varying degrees of logical planning, emotional perceptiveness, and physical prowess counterbalancing one another. Each protagonist is necessary to everyone’s survival, and watching them discern information and trying to outwit the matriarch of the house, Emma, through careful consideration, is incredibly satisfying.
It’s then impressive that Emma is such a formidable foe. This is psychological thriller, but it draws upon horror’s visual language—most evident in the series’ approach to Emma. She is a terrifying boogie-woman for the children; her caring bedside manner belies the truth of her role. The series isn’t so facile though, and has much to say about complicity in mundane evil through her.
There has not been an adroit anime thriller that is genuinely scary for years, but The Promised Neverland retroactively has made the wait worthwhile. ( By Declan Biswas-Hughes)
1. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Runtime: April 6th — September 28th
In an age where very few traditional shounen are still making waves, Kimetsu no Yaiba took the industry by storm with the most delicate blend of visceral action, pitch-perfect pacing, and compassionate storytelling since the 2011 Hunter x Hunter remake.
There’s simply so much Kimetsu no Yaiba gets right. For one, Tanjirou’s rise in skill is gradual and earned through constant training and battle experience. Save for one instance, there are no sudden all-powerful moves that materialize out of thin air; he only uses and improves upon techniques that he’s learned.
Then there’s the fact that, instead of burning through the strongest adversaries in the first season, most of the show’s truly daunting foes haven’t even been encountered yet. From the authentic and heartwarming friendship that develops between Tanjirou, Zenitsu, and Inosuke to the over-the-top humor that keeps things lighthearted amidst all the death and darkness, Koyoharu Gotouge’s manga has absolutely thrived in its transition to animation.
Beyond the supreme coziness of the season’s final episodes and ufotable’s absolutely gorgeous combat sequences throughout, it’s the way Kimetsu no Yaiba humanizes its villains that ultimately sets it in a tier above the rest. Every demon was a human once, and illustrating their descent into losing hold of that humanity allows viewers to sympathize with them as much as Tanjirou does. The love in his heart for these unfortunate souls is palpable, and it’s this underlying foundation of empathy that makes the show such a success. (By Brent Middleton)
And that’s a wrap for 2019! Do you agree with this list? What shows do you think deserve to have made the cut? Let us know in the comments and be sure to keep a lookout later in the month for when we publish the top anime of the decade!
‘Weathering With You’ Isn’t Quite the Storm It Wanted to Be
Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You delivers a gorgeous film that doesn’t quite resonate as much as it wanted to.
Climate change and global warming have been topics of concern and discussion for years now, with melting ice caps and rising ocean temperatures being some of many signs. Director Makoto Shinkai — acclaimed the world over for his 2016 work Your Name — aims to show just how at the mercy humans are to the weather with his newest animated film, Weathering With You. Although he presents a visually stunning depiction of Mother Nature in all her various moods, Weathering With You ultimately lacks the storming power it seeks to bear upon its audience.
Tokyo has been having a particularly rainy year, seeing precipitation almost every day and nary a sight of the sun or clear blue skies. It’s during this unusual time that high school boy Hodaka arrives in the metropolis seeking escape from the suffocating life he had on his island. The young teenager naturally has trouble finding his bearings on his own in the oftentimes unforgiving hustle and bustle of the city. It’s in these early scenes that Weathering With You has some of its strongest moments, depicting the uglier side of Japanese society not often seen in anime, while also highlighting Hodaka’s strength of character to make it on his own.
As Hodaka gradually carves out his own place in the city, he eventually has an encounter with a young girl named Hina. Matching her sunny and cheerful disposition, Hina has the ability to make it stop raining and have the sunshine in very localized spots by praying to the sky. In a place where the rain never ceases, it’s easy to see why Hodaka latches onto Hina to use for the greater good (while also making a little pocket change along the way).
“The hand-drawn rain is downright mesmerizing in all its forms — fierce and calm — while the sunshine that follows seems to hang in the air caught by the leftover humidity.”
Gloomy skies and damp grounds can take their toll on one’s mood and psyche, which someone who lives in such a climate can surely relate to. Even the briefest moments of sunshine revitalize us and give a glimpse of the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Hodaka and Hina’s “100% Sunshine Girl” services to those in need of that light boldly underscore that fact, and make for a strong argument for how the weather affects us all beyond its objective physicality, along with providing some much-appreciated levity to the story.
That power of weather is beautifully illustrated by CoMix Wave Films’ stupendous animation efforts. The hand-drawn rain is downright mesmerizing in all its forms — fierce and calm — while the sunshine that follows seems to hang in the air, caught by the leftover humidity. Tokyo itself isn’t to be outdone either, with its streets running the gamut between peaceful neighborhoods to grimy and dark back alleys with dilapidated buildings. The animation is punctuated by the return of Japanese band RADWIMPS, who create numerous memorable tracks to complement the wild swings in mood that weather can elicit.
That makes it all the more unfortunate, however, that the greater narrative is so weak.
The progression of Weathering With You is made painfully obvious right from the outset of the story — so much so that it’s hard to wonder if it’s actually the set-up for a bait-and-switch. As a result, much of the first half of the film is simply waiting for the other shoe to drop, making it difficult to really settle in and become intimate with its characters.
This would be less of an issue if the cast had smaller interactions that were a delight to watch, but they fall short in that regard as well. All of the characters have a charm to them for sure — with Hina’s younger elementary school brother, Nagi, putting modern playboys to shame being a particular standout — but the story never quite makes a compelling case as to why they are as close as they are, especially Hina and Hodaka. They’re fun enough to watch be together, but don’t quite make that emotional attachment with the viewer that the story wants to create.
That lack of an emotional connection is distinctly felt in Weathering With You’s second act, when unnecessary confrontations and bizarre plot directions converge to create an artificial sense of stakes amidst a central conflict that would have been fine on its own. What’s meant to strengthen the impression of the characters’ bonds instead cheapens it, undermining the already faulty progress the first half did make. The result is a narrative that’s hard to care about, although its ending does leave the viewer with some potentially interesting questions to ponder.
Weathering With You is far from a bad movie, however. It has a clear direction and vision with a message to say about our climate crisis. The characters are endearing enough, and there are a handful of heartfelt scenes because of that. It also cannot be understated just how drop-dead gorgeous the animation is. The story, however, is simply too straightforward for its own good, resulting in an experience that is at times enjoyable, and at others plain boring.
And that’s only when being judged in a vacuum on the movie’s own merits. When compared to Shinkai’s recent masterpiece that is Your Name, it’s hard to see Weathering With You as anything but a disappointing follow-up. That’s perhaps the film’s greatest weakness, but fortunately, it’s one that Shinkai’s next work won’t have, and we can still look forward to it because of that fact.
How Rimuru Tempest Changed the Game for Isekai Protagonists
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime shines within the vast sea of generic isekai thanks in no small part to protagonist Rimuru Tempest.
The core premise of the isekai genre–a character being transported from their everyday life on Earth to a parallel universe–has become wildly popular for a reason: it’s an immensely appealing fantasy. Just as audiences everywhere fell in love with the seminal Spirited Away in the early 2000s, it’s still exciting to fantasize about discovering a new world and going on all manner of crazy adventures. However, the incessant flood of new isekai every season to capitalize on this trend has resulted in some of the most generic, overly-manufactured protagonists in any genre.
Though this sea of formulaic main characters is vast, it makes it all the easier to recognize when one bucks the typical conventions and actually proves that there’s room for unique takes on the genre. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime adheres to a few cliches, but it also manages to set a new bar for what a captivating isekai protagonist can be.
Breaking the Mold
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is as wholesome and optimistic an anime as they come. The tone can be deceptive at first; when Satoru Mikami is suddenly stabbed when trying to protect his junior, his dying wish is for his computer’s hard drive to be destroyed. But after being reincarnated as a slime–and gaining the new name Rimuru Tempest–his true desires become clear: world peace and a simple, comfortable life with friends.
What’s immediately striking about Rimuru as the main character is that he starts off as an average 37-year-old man. He spent his life working hard and appeasing his higher-ups to climb the corporate ladder. Shady hard drive aside, he lived a respectable and long life compared to the vast majority of protagonists in the genre. This significant age difference is evident in nearly every action and major decision Rimuru makes; he looks at situations practically before jumping headfirst into conflict.
When Rimuru gets a drink poured on him by a noble in a bar, for instance, he quells his anger in consideration of the bar and the friends around him. When someone asks for his aid in an impending battle, he pauses to go over all the available information and reaches a consensus among everyone before agreeing. And when protecting a goblin village from a pack of wolves, he doesn’t just mindlessly slaughter all the wolves; he looks for the way of least resistance (killing the leader of the pack) before ultimately integrating them with the goblins as equals. Though his human form looks young, it’s the wisdom behind his actions that makes those around him respect his leadership.
This is especially impressive considering just how overpowered Rimuru is. His transformation into a slime came with resistances to fire, cold, electric currents, pain, paralysis, and the ability to absorb, analyze, and take the form of anything he wants. In other words, he could go down the path of the typical shounen protagonist and solve his problems with his fists, but he never lets his overwhelming power dictate his decision-making process.
Leading a Nation
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is as much about Rimuru’s adventures as it is about the rise of the independent monster nation he helps establish. Instead of running off in search of adventure, the little slime decides to nurture the goblin village he protected at the outset. He helps the goblins and wolves “level up” by naming them, shows them sustainable ways to gather food and build makeshift defenses, and even brings back dwarves to introduce blacksmithing and carpentry.
Through expansion, industrialization, and conflict, Rimuru manages to orchestrate the creation of his country in a way that’s genuinely believable. His ambitions for a peaceful and integrated world play out in his willingness to accept other goblin tribes, ogres, lizardmen, and even friendly humans in his country. Being able to rationally read situations makes forging alliances and negotiating with neighboring nations possible. When a major calamity threatens all life in the forest, Rimuru wastes no time in holding a summit and allying with other forest dwellers over a common interest.
None of this would be possible without the uncanny, Luffy-like ability to inspire a sense of trust and reliability in those he comes across. Just like the members of the Straw Hat Pirates follow Luffy out of respect and loyalty, Rimuru’s commanders follow him because of his sound judgment and dedication to seeing everyone in his nation be happy. It’s satisfying seeing members of Rimuru’s guard take personal offense when others talk poorly of him because it’s clear that he’s earned the respect he’s given.
If isekai is to continue growing in popularity and thriving long-term, room must be made for different types of protagonists. Be they depraved, refreshingly honest characters like Kazuma or upstanding yet easygoing leaders like Rimuru, both demonstrate how valuable it is to shake up the formula and try new approaches to the genre. If the constant barrage of isekai has bittered your tolerance to it as a whole, That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime is well worth giving a shot.
Anime Ichiban 23: New Decade, Same Questionable Tastes
Hatsune Miku at Coachella? Mangadex getting targeted for legal issues? People defending OreImo? 2020 is off to a crazy start!
Welcome to 2020, Anime Ichiban listeners!
Lots of things have happened in the past few weeks, not the least of which is Hatsune Miku making her Coachella debut. After catching up on industry news, we take a look back at some of our more questionable choices in anime and how on earth we manage to defend them.
0:00 – Introduction and what we’ve been playing
17:46 – Hatsune Miku to Perform at Coachella
25:29 – Crunchyroll’s “Most Watched Shows of the Decade”
30:03 – Funimation’s Popularity Awards
38:13 – Wages in the Japanese Animation Industry
45:38 – Miki Yoshikawa’s New, Fan-Picked Serialization
47:08 – Legal Trouble Brewing for Mangadex
57:02 – Highest Grossing Domestic Anime Films for Japan in 2019
59:33 – What shows surprised us and which ones do we struggle to defend?
Intro – “Dream X Scramble!” by Airi (Keijo!!!!!!!! OP)
Outro – “Lucky☆Orb feat. Hatsune Miku” by emon(Tes.)
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