Writing for The Backloggers has always been a unique experience. What started as, more or less, a way for some college friends to stay in touch by having a creative outlet to talk about anime has given us a pretty broad platform to dive deep into a lot of different shows that we love, and has largely motivated us to keep on top of things – what’s good this season? How does this new piece look at X thing? How does it perhaps relate to some great older series?
As much as I love writing those kinds of pieces (I actually had another one in the works before I started on this one, oops), we are worldwide in a pretty weird, unprecedented state of affairs. Looking just at the microcosm of anime as an industry, for instance, we are seeing delay after delay of many anime projects, with many studios and series not looking to resume until the summer. But obviously on a much grander scale, people are, as a whole, not doing great. And as I was sitting and working on a completely different post, I found myself wondering if that post was what would be best at this time.
“Everyone, have you heard of the trolley problem?”
Over the last few years, I recall numerous times seeing folks on Twitter crying for politics, social issues, and “SJW”s to be kept out of anime. Comments and sentiments like these have been around for quite some time, even though they may not use the same language or platform to disseminate those ideas. Hilariously enough, however, one can easily look back to some of the oldest anime we have, or some of the anime considered to be in the canon of the medium, and see that there is a solid history of series that have worked to discuss issues that are deeply important and relevant to the human condition. So when I hear people complaining about the so-called “tainting” of their entertainment media, I can only think about how many shows have worked over the years to actually be about something, even if it isn’t right in your face, and how the medium has always, in some ways, been political or about real-world ideas.
With that being said, I think that it is important to consider how shows actually work to approach more serious concepts. While a lot of shows might want to be about some loftier or more important ideas, the inclusion and handling of them might not always be handled well, which honestly may be worse than not talking about them at all. Considering this, I have a small selection of shows from the current and previous anime seasons that I feel highlight the two different extremes of this concept – shows like Stars Align and The Case Files of Jeweler Richard, which effectively highlight current social and cultural issues that don’t get much attention in anime, as well as shows like Babylon, which try and fail miserably to be about mature moral and political issues.
When I was constructing this list, I have to confess that I really had no idea for any kind of structure whatsoever. I just started pulling entries from my list of completed anime, and before I knew it, I had accidentally pulled shows that were all from different years of the decade. So, I figured, why not just keep up the trend until I have one from each year? While I tried my best to keep the list to just one show per year, there were a few instances where I had to bend that rule just a little bit. Thus, we have the list you are looking at now.
Since I constructed this as a list of shows from each year, it almost felt weird to rank them, and as such, I have opted not to do so. Instead of, say, a battle royale of sorts to determine which is the single best anime of the decade, which seems like a silly effort to try to tackle in the space of a post like this, I have instead opted to have this post function as a showcase of sorts to show that there are shows that I believe should absolutely be watched from every year this past decade.
Each show is going to be on this list for different reasons, and none of these entries are perfect (honestly, what show is?). However, I do believe wholeheartedly that each entry deserves to be on this list and should be watched for different reasons. I’m going to try to be as detailed as I can for my picks with each entry here, but for the sake of space on this thing, each entry is confined to just a few paragraphs. A few entries have redirects to other articles done for The Backloggers, so you can follow those for some additional details, if you wish.
I think that’s all we really need to say at this point, so let’s get a move-on!
I’ve always been a sucker of sorts for shinobi or ninja-based series. Rurouni Kenshin was my first love in that regard, as I quickly fell in love with the weird, diverse cast of characters, Kenshin’s code of honor and ever-present desire to help and protect those in need, as well as the flashy swordplay and sword arts, moves, and styles. For a young Tofu, it was absolute heaven. Other series caught my eye similarly – Naruto was an early favorite, for instance. Between the hype that came from watching it as it aired and the ever-present escalation and new uses of interesting and powerful jutsu, the show had me hooked. As I grew older and branched out beyond the shonen genre, I found myself deep in the throes of shows such as Samurai Champloo, which took the idea of warriors embodying the idea of the samurai I had come to love and re-positioning it in a way I had up until then not seen.
Not all first loves last, though.
It’s the end of 2018. The year is coming to a close, with a new year and new anime just on the horizon. As I scan over the Winter 2019 season’s offerings, I spy a show called W’z that stirs something within me – it looks a whole lot like Hand Shakers, a show that, no pun intended, shook me to the core almost two years ago. I find a trailer, and sure enough, it’s the same style, aesthetic, and even the jarring gear-looking weapons. I’m having minor heart palpitations. Surely Hand Shakers didn’t get a sequel greenlit – a show that was as consistently panned by critics and viewers alike couldn’t have been given the blessing, let alone the budget, for a season two. I talk to my co-host Owningmatt93, and I’m assured by him that “it’s just the style GoHands does, man. All of their stuff looks like this.” Looking at trailers for, for instance, K: Return of Kings, it does indeed look pretty much exactly the same, aside from a lesser emphasis on a mix of 2D and 3D animation. My fears assuaged somewhat, I continue on with my look at what’s in store for the next few months.
It’s 2019. A new year, a fresh start, and a new season ahead of us for anime. It’s 2019, and I get this message in The Backloggers Slack chat:
Given how it works within the romcom genre of anime, 3D Kanojo is an odd show to begin with. It eschews a number of tropes that make so many of the romantic plotlines in those series feel contrived and samey through how it approaches the awkwardness and insecurities of new romance, and in turn makes its characters feel surprisingly relatable. As we reach the midpoint of the season, however, things seem to have gotten a bit muddied in terms of some of the show’s strong track record out of the gate. While episodes 5 + 6 do have their fair share of heartfelt moments that get to the core of what makes this show so good (in my view), it definitely suffers in terms of a few pretty important story plotlines and character-building moments.
3D Kanojo got off to a fascinating start in the first two episodes, giving us some perspective and a view into our awkward, complicated romantic leads Tsutsui and Igarashi. It was a pretty solid foundation, in my opinion, to base the rest of the show off of, and episodes 3 and 4 have both proved to have not dropped the bar of quality that has been set for the show thus far. While the first two episodes acted as a primer of sorts, episodes three and four focus quite heavily on the ways in which insecurities can develop on all sides of a new, burgeoning romance, how they can complicate issues between partners, and ultimately how people can respond to those issues in healthy, trusting ways.
3D Kanojo, on the surface, isn’t exactly a show we haven’t seen before. At first glance, it appears to follow the archetypical show/book/etc. formula of “nerdy boy finds love through beautiful girl”, a trope which, obviously, is fairly problematic. But there is far more to this show going on below the surface. From these first two episodes, we find that, in fact, it has so far come to us as a show about harmful misconceptions, and how looking beyond them can lead to genuine, satisfying relationships. While there’s a lot that we could focus on for a discussion of this show, I want us to look specifically at our main characters, Hikari Tsutsui and Iroha Igarashi, and the fascinating, complex spaces that they inhabit.
Violet Evergarden’s final episode is an episode largely of catharsis, and it is one that I, and many others, have wrestled with. In many ways, it brings us to the logical conclusion of the show, or rather to the stopping point for this portion of Violet’s story that we receive. In truth, I have watched this episode numerous times over, mulling its events over in my head, and it has been a process of numerous revisions to how I have come to finally view this last piece of Violet’s story (for now, anyway). Through this, I have found that my thoughts have changed significantly in more recent viewings. This final episode, depending on your reading of events, can be quite clear-cut on the surface, or somewhat more muddied as you dive deeper into it. It does give Violet a great sense of closure, a lifting of burdens, a renewed sense of self and purpose, and a renewed vigor to live her life. But that vigor for a life that she has fought tooth and nail for over the course of this season, again, depending on your reading, can manifest as either a genuine sense of moving on, or it can be somewhat tainted, if it is read as a vigor to live her life for Gilbert; no longer in pursuit of him, but to live life waiting for him, should he be alive. I want to talk about the two as we go forward here, because through my viewings of this final act, I have come to see both.
The Winter 2018 season was, in many ways, a genuine surprise, primarily so because of the sheer volume of genuinely solid shows that were offered in this first bit of the year. What has surprised me beyond this, however, is that not only did we have a number of shows that I am already seeing as possible contenders for anime of the year, but a number of shows, to my surprise, made some concerted pushes in terms of working to buck some norms (or at least attempting to do so) that are fairly present within the general sphere of seasonal anime. For this season in particular, one theme that stood out to me has been that of self-love/self-acceptance, and this came to me most notably while watching Yuru Camp and Sanrio Boys.