Many anime came out in 2013. Listed below are ten of them which came out very well, to much enjoyment by me. The numerical ranking is forced. All 10 are perfectly valid, and may be re-ordered to your preference.
Episode 0 of Kyousogiga is a nightmare of postmodernism. Like Book of Bantorra, when cowboys and maids or mad scientists and oni exist in the same space it feels like there has been a breakdown at the archetype factory and all quality control has been thrown out. In both cases, this horror is merely the feeling of postmodernism working in the best way, ripping out walls in your brain and allowing previously pure pools of story to intermingle and contaminate each other. But like its late simulcast, Episode 0 likely does Kyousogiga no favors with its chaotic FLCL-meets-Eccentric-Family hyperactive family drama and its hateful choice to name two, TWO, characters Koto and two characters Myoue, and one of the Myoues wasn’t even called that to begin with. It’s an alienating first step.
But if you watch a few more episodes, it all starts to make sense in a crazy kind of way, as a giant overflowing well of Japanese pop culture going back to the Japanese animal scrolls that some scholars consider the first “manga.” But pop culture is only one of the spheres on which Kyousogiga operates, and it claims there are seven. One is also surely religion, with its world occupied by oni and buddhas, another illusion, with rabbits and quotes from Alice in Wonderland. With only one viewing under my belt, Kyousogiga may be one of the hardest shows to define, and it may be harder still to determine whether it actually all coheres together in the end or if it’s kind of a glorious trainwreck.
Another show ended similarly, with befuddled audiences having seen the worst or best thing ever, and that was Evangelion, and I don’t use the comparison lightly. Director Rie Matsumoto and Toei Animation have been working this story over for years, as OVAs and ONAs and what has come together through it all is a kind of shoujovangelion, replacing the tropes about robots and masculinity with more shoujo-type concerns of family and memory. Very real similarities can be found, but to spell those out means giving up an awful lot of the show’s secrets, and from its view count the show is still underexposed.
Maybe in a few years we’ll decide it really was a train wreck that bit off too much when it tried to go beyond the family and into metaphysics, but for the time being fandom really needs to watch and digest it. There will be much time for discussion later.
2. Gatchaman Crowds
I do not expect there is any person who did not expect this show on my list, considering how much I have written on it already. I will not rehash it all. The show is delightfully girly and queer and gets all kinds of cooties in the Batcave. One might forget I was so unenthusiastic for this show at its premiere that I thought Dog and Scissors would be a more worthwhile show to review. Part of this is due to a certain superhero fatigue. American popular culture has been on a revenge kick, examining morality by having superheroes decide if they really have the BALLS to torture a 10 year old girl in front of her father so that he might give up his terrorist plot. Even Superman was made into an insane killer, which should be a dangerous red flag.
Main character Hajime has been accused of being a Mary Sue, a perfect person who is never wrong. This is not so much untrue as it misses the point. Hajime was not designed to be perfect. The world of Gatchaman Crowds was created to be a world in which Hajime could actually succeed. There was something very inspiring to see an optimistic idealist take on a foe and defeat him on her own terms. If Hajime’s attempts at fighting back with glitter and ribbons had failed, and it had fallen to Joe to take on Berg Katze with guns and bombs and fire, the Gatchaman Crowds experiment would have lost what made it special. A world was made in which unbridled girliness could triumph, and for those of us who could believe in it, we do believe in it.
Some characters are designed to never fail. Hajime just happens to be one of those types. Rui is the true heart and soul and tortured conscience in the battle between Hajime’s optimism and Berg Katze’s pessimism. The way the depressed and apathetic characters transcend into a state of joy in the final episode is the most hopeful entertainment has left me in too many years for me to count.
3. Shin Sekai Yori
A widely acclaimed favorite with accolades all across the anime blogosphere. A post-apocalyptic coming of age horror story. There’s no point to echoing what is said elsewhere. What I will note is the show’s greatest innovation is its approach to Japanese religion. A lot of Shinto and Buddhist practice in modern Japan is not doctrinal so much as ritualized. When a Japanese person buys a get well charm for a friend, they do it not so much because they literally believe in the cosmology of the kami, and that this kami has enchanted the charm with supernatural powers that will combat the viruses in the friend’s body. They do it because it is expected or appreciated. The trouble of going to the shrine and paying the money is encapsulated within the charm. You buy it for your friend because they are your friend, and thus the religion provides the means to express this.
Shin Sekai Yori basically creates a religion, the rituals, the folkways, the urban legends that allow the psychic powers in the show to be controlled. That is Shin Sekai Yori’s greatest triumph. The interior of the mind is projected outwards with psychic power, and so the scientists and elders in the show create a cosmology that controls the exterior world through the interior. This may sound terribly abstract, but when you watch the show, you see what great care was taken in this world building, and these stories that we tell ourselves about who we are.
Psychics have been a sci-fi trope in anime for forever, but this is the first time I have ever seen such a thoughtfully anthropological look at what this kind of consciousness means. A lot of the “slow episodes” where not very much happens are often case studies on the maintenance of social order. Fantastically imaginative stuff.
4. Blast of Tempest
Perhaps no one loves Blast of Tempest as much as I, so it falls to be to explicate its brilliance. Sadly, I lack the expertise to defend the show on a Shakespearean level, so I have to admire its stagecraft from an amateur’s viewpoint. So much of shounen has become a dry formula perfected by the marketers at Shounen Jump. Triumphs like One Piece remain, but even this exists within the framework. Noble heroes fight dastardly villains in long, involved combat sequences with all sorts of supernatural powers.
I cannot describe how delighted I was when our heroes flee from the first enemy with any real combat expertise. Or that “our heroes” are kind of dicks. Blast of Tempest is the story of a bunch of imperfect people trying to achieve what they think is just in a confusing, corrupt world. Many people lost interest when the two leads and the dastardly villain face off outside the cult complex, debating for two or three episodes about whether the Tree of Exodus or the Tree of Genesis was the true villain. I loved it, all of the uncertainty, all of the desperation, all of the pragmatism destroying all of the smug certainties we expect from these kinds of shows.
This is a show that would rather show the main characters talking in circles instead of fighting. It could be staged as a play, and probably was designed that way by the original mangaka. The meta-textual turn it takes in the second act, the tricks it plays on you, and the ultimate ending are all satisfying. Blast of Tempest has a core of emotional honesty and maturity, despite its literary pretensions and silly sense of humor. What Fullmetal Alchemist is to other people, I expect Blast of Tempest is for me.
5. Flowers of Evil
It seems like everyone hates Flowers of Evil now, because of its ending, or still, maybe, because of the rotoscoping. And there’s no denying that in all, the show is a bit of a mixed bag. Criticisms have also come at the show due to its slow pace, and the fact that each episode was basically one single manga chapter stretched out. All of this is true, but the fact remains that when Flowers of Evil was good, it was the best. Episodes 7 and 10 remain some of the best episodes of the year and decade, even if episodes 8 and 11 take the show down a few notches.
I also see the show oversimplified into being about how in high school, people take on pretensions to be better than other people, and that those pretentions are ultimately meaningless. That’s just the surface narrative, however. There’s also a lot going on about sexuality, and the way men view women through a virgin/whore complex, and about small town life and boredom in general. Director Nagahama and Mangaka Oshimi are to be saluted for this experiment, which succeeds far more than it fails, though its failures may damn it in the eyes of many. At least everyone can agree that the ED is the best of the year. Honestly, the OP is probably the best of the year, too.
6. Turning Girls
Oh, just watch it. It’s six episodes, with a recap for a seventh. Each episode is five minutes long. It’s great, and it’s easier just to watch and see than for me to spoil the whole thing.
7. Muromi-san of the Seashore
Stupid, bawdy, and lewd shows get a lot of hate, and much of it is deserved, because they’re stupid, bawdy, lewd and terrible. But every once in a while otakudom comes up with a horrible show that is also incredibly entertaining, and Muromi is one of them. Sort of a mix of Urusei Yatsura and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, immortal beings hang out with normal humans and screw up their lives because immortals are just horrible, horrible people. Muromi’s animation is also top-notch and the show has moments of true poignancy in between all of the shocks and gross-outs. A license and second season would be appreciated.
Jojo because Jojo. You can go back to reading #1 now. But seriously, a kind of re-imagination of the monomyth hero as a kind of fabulous freak show. And Speedwagon.
A show designed for failure that succeeds on every level. Sure, a glasses club is stupid, but lots of groups are built around shared enthusiasms. A glasses club is just an anime club for people who like glasses. Combining the character humor of Milky Holmes with the metaphorical warm fuzzies of Polar Bear Cafe (not the literal warm fuzzies), Meganebu works as a comedy, and then in the final episode, it all comes together for a genuine character study. Stunning, and quite literally out of nowhere.
A show that was loved and hated for its ability to do one thing extremely well: characterize social isolation in its truest form. Tomoko is the boddhisatva of loneliness, designed to make mistakes for our benefit, so we might learn how to save ourselves. Thank you, Tomoko.