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Friday, December 13, 2013

2013, Best Year in Anime Ever:

Looking back on 2013, it has pretty good credentials as the best year in anime ever:

55 of the top 160 shows in anime history had some portion of them air during this year.  On December 31st, Sword Art Online's OAV will make that 56.  Another way of looking at it is that 14 of the top 20 shows in anime history got additional content this year, an overwhelming majority.  But if you don't want to look at borrowed success, another stat that conveys how amazing anime was this year is the number of good shows which originated during this year alone:

#68, Outbreak Company.
#79, Kiniro Mosaic.
#97, Kitakubu Katsudou Kiroku.
#122, Hataraku Maou-sama!
#123, Zettai Bouei Leviathan.
#130, Vividred Operation.
#131, Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru!
#133, Kakumeiki Valvrave
#135, Shingeki no Kyojin
#150, Ore no N┼Źnai Sentakushi ga, Gakuen Love Come o Zenryoku de Jama Shiteiru
#151, Non Non Biyori

In total, eleven new shows never before seen.  That's near a record amount if not the record number of new good shows to air in a year.

It's difficult for a show that has just begun this year to be in the top ranks of anime, because most good anime is long and thus physically requires many years to build.  But if you want to consider series that have had major contributions this year to their quality, look no further than:

#1, Pretty Cure.  Doki Doki Precure is a really solid entry to this franchise.  If I wanted to rank the Precure seasons individually, it would look like this:

1.  Smile Precure
2.  Fresh Precure
3.  Yes Precure 5
4.  Doki Doki Precure
5.  Suite Precure
6.  Yes Precure 5 Go Go
7.  Futari wa Precure
8.  Heartcatch Precure
9.  Futari wa Precure Splash Star
10. Futari wa Precure Max Heart

2013 gave us the 4th best entry to the best anime of all time.  And most of that is due to Regina.  And most of that is due to Regina falling into the volcano.  That moment is one of the most emotional scenes in all anime, not just Precure.  I also think the theme of selfishness being the root of all evil is really insightful, and something that's never really been brought up before in any other work of art.  Nor does the show have a bunch of brutes who selfishly going around raping in order to make its point.  Just the selfishness of someone wanting kids to quiet down at a public park is enough.  Just the selfishness of wanting to cut in line is brought to the fore.  Basically, the importance of being considerate towards others, of seeing things from their perspective instead of just yours, of having respect and balancing the needs of others alongside your own, is something unique to Doki Doki Precure, which is extremely strange, because you would think that such a vital idea would have already been discussed a million times before.  But nope, until 2013, there wasn't a single argument made against selfishness or for decency in human history.  It was all just romances, action flicks, and other mindless personal stories with no universal moral theme whatsoever.  It actually makes you feel pity for all the people who came before us.  How could they possibly be good, when no one had ever even bothered to tell them what they were doing was wrong?  Is it any wonder the chief job of men up until the second half of the 20th century was to kill their neighbors and take their stuff?  What do you expect when they haven't even watched Doki Doki Precure yet?

#13, Index/Railgun.  Railgun S is the best season of this franchise, by miles and away.  Railgun S is so perfect it's just breathtaking.  Sisters has everything.  Laughter, tears, action, philosophy, strength and weakness.  This series is so beautiful, musically, visually, and rhetorically.  It's like every line of dialogue in this season was written in fire instead of a normal pen.  The season that aired this year is the main reason this entire franchise is ranked where it is.

#14, Bake-(etc)-monogatari.  Monogatari 2nd Season is the best season of this franchise, by miles and away.  Monogatari 2nd Season revolutionizes everything about this series, time and again, providing a completely fresh look on everything we took for granted, in terms of plot, setting, characters, and words.  The whipsaw of this season, that goes from one story to another, all seemingly completely different and unrelated to each other, but all actually tying back into each other through a subtle web of fate, is just an intellectual masterpiece.  To think that if Mayoi Hachikuji didn't die in a car accident ten years ago, that the whole world would have turned into a zombie apocalypse, for the simple reason that she wouldn't have been there during the events of Tsubasa Cat to casually mention where Shinobu was hanging out when Araragi passed by her, is just boggling.  If he hadn't befriended her before then by leading her home when he found her lost in a park, zombie apocalypse.  And because he led her home and thus destroyed the basis of her ghost-hood, the Darkness came to hunt her down, and so he failed to protect the one girl who was vital to the protection of the entire rest of the world, all due to his own choices.  And this is just one part of the story, with the other half being the amazing contortions Nadeko and Senjogahara are going through in their duel for Araragi all born from the same overwhelming power of love.  How do you describe it all?  How can you describe a story like this?  Only those who watch it can understand the magnificence that was put into it.  The voice acting, the choreography, the choice of colors, words used like razors they cut distinctions so fine between one meaning and the next, and the amazing ability to sympathize with everyone on all sides simultaneously -- this is Monogatari.  When you look back at the rather simplistic stories in the first two seasons, how low stakes every contest was, it's hard to imagine how far the series has come during this year.

#19, Fate/etc.  Prism Ilya is the reason this series is rated where it is.  Fate/Stay Night is virtually worthless (which is probably why they intend to renovate it with a remake in 2014).  Fate/Zero was okay.  But Prism Illya was fantastic.  You finally actually felt attached to the characters who were fighting with their lives on the line, because you finally had a reason to care about them.  No longer were they just a bunch of unscrupulous mages fighting in a death game out of overweening greed.  In Prism Illya, that's all thrown out, and instead magical girls are fighting for the safety of their town, and for simply a chance to belong, to be recognized, to be cared for by someone, anyone in this world.  Illya wants Miyu's recognition as a capable girl who can stand at her side.  Miyu wants the world's recognition that she has a right to live and shouldn't just die friendless, alone, and homeless due to an absolutely apathetic society.  The two of them fight so hard for these things, more precious to them than life itself, even though they're terrified.  Even though they're just little girls.  Even though their opponents are way stronger than them every time.  If you can't sympathize with the girls in this show, you're just a heartless monster.  And once you've started to sympathize with them, the show's magic begins, because now you're rooting for them every step of the way during some of the greatest action sequences ever animated.  Archer-Illya's fight with Saber is jaw dropping.  Saber-Miyu's fight with Berserker is awe inspiring.  It simply doesn't get any better than this.  Prism Illya is the birth of one of the greatest stories ever told -- and there's a lot more to tell coming.

#30, Oreimo S2.  I've already said more about Oreimo S2 than any other anime on this blog.  Suffice to say Oreimo S2 is one of the most important anime series ever made.  It's one of the best romance stories ever told, with just the right number of twists and turns, ups and downs, and victories and defeats that leaves your soul stirred.  Kyousuke realizing he was falling for Kirino even as she tried to fetch back his happiness by tracking down Kuroneko and getting them back together again is an epic moment.  And then to see Kirino falling for Kyousuke in turn at crucial moments throughout the season and flashbacks to the first season and even back when they were still children is so utterly satisfying.  Her gratitude, after all he did for her, not a single portion of it was forgotten, nor was any of it done in vain.  Every time she noticed, and every time she fell a little bit more in love with him, until by the end she would do anything for him and defy the whole world in the process.  And then to have that heart rending ending, where they put their love in a spiritual box, to never be affirmed physically, in order not to offend a prejudiced and cruel world which hates them for no reason more than that they happened to fall in love with each other, puts one of the strongest moral messages ever conveyed in anime front and center.  How dare you rip these two apart?  Did you see how much effort, how much time it took to put them together?  Do you see how precious, how hard, how rare true love is?  And you just ruined it for nothing.  For no reason at all.  Just out of blind, prejudiced, uncaring hate.  If you think this message is only about incest, you're wrong.  It applies to anyone who has cruelly destroyed anything that others had to build as a life work -- it applies to anyone who has ever trampled over anyone's feelings.  It's a universal message of tolerance and forgiveness and love towards mankind which counsels us not to harm others based on any arbitrary rule or system, but to only judge someone once you truly know them and know their hearts, from the inside out.  If you can know them that well, if you can experience what they have experienced and seen through their eyes from childhood on up, and you still hate them for who they are, and not just because they crossed some random taboo that was written in some dusty thousand year old book, that's fine.  But if you are going to hurt someone, you should at least go this far seeing just what exactly you are destroying first.  Otherwise, the pain you're causing is absolutely unforgivable.

#31, Little Busters!  Most of Little Busters! has aired during 2013, including the all-important refrain arc where we learn the secret of the world.  Rin and Riki's romance is really good, as are the wonderful missions they go on, like running a puppet show.  But perhaps the high point of this series was Kudryavka's arc, which also aired in 2013, where she escaped a literal cave of darkness and made it all the way back to her ii-basho (good place, the place where she belongs, her home), the baseball diamond at school where her nakama were practicing like always.  With that one line, "Kudryavka Strikes Back," nothing but tears can erupt from hearts of pure stone.  The amount of effort it took for her to get to that point, the vast gap in possibilities between that happy ending and what could have otherwise been, the relief of seeing her smile after so many painful and dread-inducing before, the sheer contrast of heaven and hell all encompassed in that single line. . .  This is Key, and it's why Key is the most important existence in the world today, or any day in the history of mankind.  Key's works are the greatest treasure mankind has to offer.  Just like how in the past, we included Mozart on our Voyager probes to show aliens just what we're made out of, today we would include the collected works of Key.  Clannad, Planetarian, Kanon, Air and Rewrite, yes.  But also Little Busters!  Little Busters! has nothing to be ashamed of standing in the company of those other greats.

#39, Haganai.  The second season of Haganai was nigh perfect.  It was as good or better than the original season, in that it brought out a lot more character in its supporting cast -- especially the mad scientist Rika.  While generating interest in everyone else, it still delivered on more progress concerning both Sena and Kobato, the stars of this show. (to the jealous frustration of Yozora, who made no progress this season).  The episode where Sena, Kobato, and Kodaka are mistaken for mother, father and daughter, with Sena taking the suggestion flatteringly, is a hnnnng inducing moment that simply cannot be beat.  But Rika's plea on the rooftop that, in the end, all she wants is friends, just like the damn poster said she could have, and Kodaka's promise to somehow make this seemingly easy but ridiculously hard dream come true, is just a fantastic season finale.  Even if the anime never goes forward from there, the value of friendship has already been proven, as has been the difficulty of men and women being 'just friends' in the first place.  But if you could just overcome that hump, the paradise that lies beyond, where everyone in the club gets along happily and excitedly, just like they did all those months until now, is so alluring that it makes you want to try anything to win.  Shows like Haganai, while having extremely sexy girls and being extremely romantic, simultaneously makes one wish that there were no sexes to begin with, nor any such thing as sex or sexual jealousy to worry about.  It's such a conflicting feeling, such a dramatic Hegelian moment of thesis and antithesis, the series feels like it could be the birth of a new universe or something.

#40, Hunter x Hunter.  Up until now, Hunter x Hunter has just been repeating what was already animated a decade ago.  But in 2013, Hunter x Hunter entered the chimera ant arc, which is all new to the anime world.  Not only is this arc new, and thus more valuable than all the series that came before it, but the arc is just plain better than all the arcs that came before it.  By a great deal.  This is the first arc our protagonists are actually fighting with their lives on the line.  This is also the first arc they've ever been strong enough to actually be useful in a fight.  This is also the first time what they were doing with their lives has been significant to the rest of the world, instead of just themselves.  In other words, this is the culmination of the entire series, what they've been training for all their lives, the very meaning of their belonging to the Hunter organization.  It was for catastrophes like this that Hunters are made to fight against them and trained so hard to be ready for them.  This is the moment they'll always be remembered for, for the rest of their lives, like that picture of the marines lifting their flag on Iwo Jima.  Not only are Gon and Killua given their finest chance to shine during this arc, but other characters are also written extremely well -- the King and Komugi, the Phantom Troupe, Morel and Knov, Knuckle and Palm, Kite and Neferpitou, the number of really fun or interesting characters shoots up exponentially during this arc compared to everything that has come before it.

Supposedly, the manga is just on hiatus, and will start again some day.  But there's really no need for it.  With the closure of the Chimera Ant arc, and the short 'heal Gon' arc that stems from it, we're at a perfect stopping point where nothing more need really be said.  Gon and Killua became heroes and saved the world.  What more do you really need?  It's the best ending possible for these two, whose friendship is already on a legendary level no other story has ever managed to match on a platonic scale.

#44, Love Live!  A lot of value of Love Live comes from the short dance oav's that have been airing for years now.  But surely a measure of praise can be reserved for the actual TV season, that brought to life these characters as people instead of just singers and dancers for the first time.  There's a lot of great drama, of relationship building, of friendship strengthening, of starting from scratch and working your way up to the top, in this short but poignant season.  Love Live is set to continue in 2014, and I'm sure it will be fantastic then too, but this first season has been the best idol story yet told in a market already full of great idol based anime series.  Love Live is also just flat out gorgeous, both musically and visually.  They even put the girls of Idolm@ster to shame.

#134, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.  Yes, there were some random oav's in the 90's concerning Jojo's.  But essentially, the Jojo anime started in 2012, and actually became awesome in 2013.  The pillar man fight was much better than the original fight with Dio.  Plus the favorable treatment of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany is a breath of fresh air in a world that likes to paint every villain in every story as either the Nazis straight-out or a vaguely similar group to the Nazis in terms of ideology or aesthetics.  To give a fair-minded account of Germany that shows some of its virtues as well as its fatal flaws, many of which were inseparably intertwined, when everyone else just vilifies it as being terrible in every way makes for a uniquely good show.  In other words, Stroheim rules.

In other words, no matter what metric you measure 2013 anime by, it comes out on top.  The number of good shows, the number of good new shows, or the number of great shows at the very top of the rankings, it all comes out the same, 2013 is on top regardless.  2013 was just that splendid.  Because anime was so good this year, nothing else had much of a chance to compete.  Video games had DW8 and Tales of Xillia.  Visual novels had the Oozora fansub and the Rewrite fansub.  Light novels had a little Baka to Test, Sword Art Online and Zero no Tsukaima translated.  College football had the Auburn-Alabama game.  Hollywood had Ender's Game.  But in each of these cases, only one or two good things happened all year long.  Meanwhile anime kept publishing, every week, multiple things to be delighted and excited about, all four seasons long.  It makes the world outside of anime seem so very small, like the moons of Jupiter helplessly orbiting around a massive supergiant.  Looking back, will anyone really care about any political or economic development in 2013?  Aside from Croatia joining the EU, nothing happened of note whatsoever.  Cancer still isn't cured.  We still haven't made up the ground we lost during the recession.  Syria still isn't free of its brutal dictator.  Egypt is still a mess.  There wasn't any meaningful progress in computers or software.  (We're still stuck with that awful Windows 8).  The PS4 came out, but it still doesn't have any games, so right now it's only good as a doorstop.  While I can quickly point to Railgun and Monogatari as things that we will remember 2013 for forever, no one will care about 2013 concerning any other aspect in five years.  It will all be forgotten, because not a single thing of note happened all year long.

Life, death, anime in between.  Nothing proved this better than 2013.

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