Every year, we’re treated to some of the best animation from Japan we could ever ask for, and 2013 held a horde of great to excellent series and movies that can be classified as instant classics. These are ranked as my least-to-most preferred, and if your favorite anime isn’t here it’s likely because I just haven’t seen it yet (or I hated it). Obviously, the opinion(s) below are my own and aren’t intended to be taken as end all be all truth, but they can be! Let’s get started eh, perhaps with everyone’s most talked about series of 2013? Oh, by the way, I’ve gotten a lot of questions as to what a ‘cour’ is. A cour is simply a way to say ‘production season’ in Japan. It basically is a 13-episode run for a series and most shows run one-to-two cour in a production run. Hopefully that clears up some things for the future, now let’s get started!
You couldn’t go anywhere on the internet and not see someone mentioning, starting to watch, or paying homage to Attack on Titan. While I certainly wouldn’t consider it the pinnacle of anime series out there, one can’t deny the impact it had on the industry, both in Japan and worldwide. Products, DVDs, manga, memes; all of these various mediums were impacted by the relatively unknown series that would destroy nearly anyone that watched it. For most, they had never seen a series like Attack on Titan, so the gritty, depressing formula was almost too much. Not to sound too snooty, but having watched series like Berserk and Neon Genesis Evangelion, I was used to series that will kill off characters without missing a breath, so Attack on Titan was pretty tame by my standards. Still, there’s no refuting the impression that the series has had on the medium as a whole.
There are much better series out there, and I’ll always consider Attack on Titan a ‘gateway anime’, in which it’s a good introductory series for those not usually in to anime. On the other hand, it told a complete journey in its 25 episode run, so it did a great job as a show, but at the same time, there were a ton of questionable choices plot-wise. I won’t get too nitpicky, but it was a pretty generic plot overall. Regardless of anything negative I have to say about Attack on Titan, it helped Production I.G and Wit Studio have an excellent year, along with anime as a whole. It will likely be a long time until we see another series like Attack on Titan do what it did, but 2014 is a new year, so there’s always a chance for lightning to strike again.
Okay, let me get this out there: I hated, loathed, and detested Gurren Lagann. I watched every single episode of that series, and really wanted my time back. So when I learned of Kill La Kill’s existence and ties to the former Gainax director Hiroyuki Imaishi (FLCL, Panty and Stocking) I was hesitant to care, but damn if the previews and art direction didn’t entice me. Then, I watched Little Witch Academia, Studio Trigger’s Kickstarter anime, and it was stunningly gorgeous and worth the half-hour investment. After sucking up my pride and watching Kill La Kill’s first episode, I knew I would enjoy the hell out of this series. It’s zany, over-the-top, mostly mindless (for at least the first half so far) and it’s just a great ride to hop on every week.
The plot has been really razor thin for the aired episodes, and it’s only been until recently that the series has started kicking into the bulk of the story. But, there’s enough eye-candy and amazing animation onscreen that makes it a worthwhile watch. It’s got another cour (once again, that means season) to really expand and tell its story, and the first half really does a great job of character, world, and idea introduction, so now Studio Trigger can really delve in to what could push Kill La Kill into the ‘amazing anime’ stratosphere. 2014 will likely hold surprises for fans, and let’s hope they can deliver on the hype that Kill La Kill has lost a little bit since its first cour.
This was my second surprise series for 2013, and only because I got to check out the exemplary OVA series Yozakura Quartet: ~Hoshi no Umi~ a couple of years back. The animation found within that OVA had my jaw on the floor, and made sure I would check out the newest series Hana no Uta come 2013. And boy was the wait worth it! Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta has some of the best, most over-exaggeratedly fluid animation and action I’ve seen in anime in years. The plot can certainly feel as though you’re missing a big chunk of backstory if you’ve never read the manga (like me), but Tatsunoko Productions did an otherwise spectacular job bringing the manga to the anime medium. Well, except for one bit near the end of the series…
Unfortunately, the creators made one fatal mistake in the latter half of this series of making it that if you haven’t seen the aforementioned OVA series, you would suddenly be lost and very confused as to why there’s suddenly a new character and new opening for one episode. With episode 9, rather than retread what the OVA covered, they simply do a hasty (and I mean HASTY) summary of the OVA series in a 90-second opening. It’s very jarring and bound to make several viewers utter ‘what is happening?’ It’s really a rather large questionable choice to do, and it does hurt the series, but if you can manage to see the OVA in between episodes eight and nine, you’ll be fine. I hate saying you must watch something in conjunction with a series, but to connect all of the dots, it’s pretty imperative.
Notwithstanding, if you can get past that inconvenience, you’ll be treated with some of the best action and auditory action of 2013. Seriously, whatever the creators were doing with the soundboard during production, I salute them for it; some brilliant distortion and effects really highlight a ton of the scenes throughout Hana no Uta. God, I really just want to go re-watch the entire series once again and experience its greatness and brilliance all over again. Although, the ending left a lot to be desired (and answered), I can forgive it slightly due to the already stellar episodes that preceded it. And good news, there is another OVA series already in production called Tsuki ni Naku, but the likelihood of that also being licensed seems limited. I’m really hoping the entire ~Hoshi no Umi~, Hana no Uta, and Tsuki ni Naku series of Yozakura Quartet are all localized and if they are I will add them all to my collection so fast, it’ll be crazy!
My first surprise of 2013 is none other than Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil). I’ve already reviewed Aku no Hana for Geekenstein, so there’s not much else I can really say about it other than just please go watch some of the best psychological horror that’s ever been created. I could talk and ramble about the soundtrack, about the rotoscoped animation, the terrific cliffhanger, but it’s all for naught. Nothing I can say will truly entrance you like Aku no Hana will. Be patient, it’s a deliberately slow paced anime, but it’s incredible. There’s one episode where the first five minutes consists of nothing but our two main characters walking home with a hauntingly amazing piano piece accompanying them. FIVE MINUTES OF NOTHING BUT WALKING ANIMATION AND MUSIC!
I know it won’t be a series for everyone, but I urge you to step away from you might normally watch and give it a chance. Aku no Hana is likely unlike anything you’ve ever seen. If you can get passed the slow pacing and perhaps off-putting animation, Aku no Hana will show you how minimalism and simplistic stories can be just as powerful as big budget experiences. This is another series I’m awaiting for a US release to add to my collection, I just hope Sentai Filmworks hurries with the distribution; as well as Zexcs getting the budget and permission to finish the series. Seriously, the ending to this anime is one of the best, most teasing endings I’ve seen since maybe Evangelion, it is terrific!
Let it be known now: if any Makoto Shinaki work is ever released, it will make my ‘Top [Insert Number]’ list no matter what. I am a total fanboy for this man’s works, and Garden of Words ranks up there with 5 Centimeters per Second and Voices of a Distant Star. Again, another anime I’ve already reviewed here, Garden of Words is a brief film, but its stunning, meticulous detail and story are why it makes the list. Makoto Shinkai is probably the most anal animator (in the most complimentary way) currently going, and if you ever see any of his films cels, you’ll know why: it’s just too perfect! Every single frame of animation is always filled with lush detail and superb design that it’s hard to look away. I don’t know how he does it, or why he isn’t more highly regarded, but he certainly has a strong following, and he’s yet to disappoint me on a major scale yet.
Garden of Words is about a student and teacher who are just learning about each other and more about themselves every day as they skip their duties and hang out in Shinjuku Gyoen Park. It’s a pretty standard love story setup, but just enough tweaks are thrown in to shake up the usual ending fare. Despite its length, Garden of Words tells a story that’s as deep as even the longest Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film in half the time. Again, I don’t know how Shinkai does the great things that he does, but as long as they continue being this remarkable, I’ll be a fan for years to come.
So, there you have it, my top five anime of 2013. Be sure to stick to Geekenstein as 2014 is already in session and there are already a few frontrunners for possible anime of the year. How will Space Dandy live up to its lavish expectations, will Kill La Kill sustain its goodness, will there be another ‘unknown’ series that will enrapture and surprise me like Aku no Hana? Who knows, but 2014 is looking ridiculously great, and I can’t wait to see what it has in store…