As I said last year, Top 10 lists aren’t really my forte. Ordering entertainment by objective value can be easy if we’re talking an entire range of media, but when limited to the best of the best, I find any constituents of a Top 10 list can change positions day to day, moment to moment. Maybe I’m just too wishy-washy (definitely true), or maybe there’s just been too many good anime and games in 2018 (also true), but I’d rather just share the things that made an impact on me. So rather than do a strictly-numbered list, I’d like to highlight some of the things that defined this year in Tobias.
And like last year’s list, this is not limited to media that came out this year, but that I experienced this year. Is that a cop out? Maybe, but haven’t we suffered enough this year without worrying about technicalities?
Anime Movies in Theaters
It’s not fair to say that anime has only just become mainstream. Arguably, you could make the claim that it has been a pop culture hit for as long as I’ve been a fan. But it certainly seems to have only risen in prominence in the streaming era, and there is no greater proof of that than the sheer amount of anime movies you can see in your local movie theater. Every month, Fathom Events screens at least one movie, whether part of their year-long Studio Ghibli Fest or a new movie like Mary and the Witch’s Flower and Mirai. Movies have always been harder to market to the US, since they don’t air week-to-week or have the backing of a popular franchise to support them. Rather, word-of-mouth and the reputation of their directors is critical to their success and aren’t nearly as prevalent as years of popularity.
The fact that I can see amazing anime movies on the big screen every month still blows me away. The fact that these screenings are never empty is very encouraging and helps prove to me (and obviously the powers that be) that anime is here to stay and important to our pop culture.
If there is any clear winner to the prevalence of anime movies in theaters, it is Science Saru. Founded by Masaaki Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi, Science Saru’s style doesn’t fit the mold that people think of when it comes to anime. Not only did both of their 2017 movies, Lu Over the Wall and The Night is Short, Walk On Girl get screenings this year, but the Netflix-hosted ONA series Devilman Crybaby also reached widespread appeal in January. The Devilman franchise has always been a little more obscure in the anime canon and no one really expected Crybaby to take off as quickly as it did. Science Saru was able to blend Go Nagai’s weird story with their own frenetic animation and design sensibilities, creating something greater than the sum of its parts.
After years of being a fan of Yuasa’s work and seeing his weirder stuff mainly ignored by the mainstream, it makes me happy to see his new work get so much love. I’m eagerly awaiting their new project next year and am sure I’ll be seeing it thanks to Fathom Events!
Zombie Land Saga
When a new season starts, I’ll try to do a little research beforehand. I’ll try to see what studios are doing what series and read what other, more-knowledgeable fans are looking forward too. This method absolutely failed me this season, however, as Zombie Land Saga came completely out of nowhere. Maybe because I’m neither a fan of idol stories or the zombie genre, but it was only after seeing a couple of screenshots on Twitter that I gave it a chance, and it did not disappoint. The snappy humor and animation were enough to draw me in, and the character development is enough to keep me watching every week. The positive portrayal of a trans person also makes this show notable, as such representation is rare in Japanese media and often played for more fetishistic reasons.
See my review of Episode 1 here.
Katamari Damacy lives on as one of my favorite games of all time, but aside from the various sequels and remakes (including one out earlier this month), there haven’t been many other games that capture that same magic of low-poly design, quirky humor, and gameplay that maybe could be considered “action-based physics puzzles.” Donut County hits all of those notes, without being a carbon copy of Katamari outright. It still revolves around a gameplay loop of destroying scenery to allow you to destroy more scenery, but you are having to think around the limitations of a hole instead of a rolling ball. The humor is still quirky and sarcastic but has been updated for a post-Internet audience. My only complaint is that it’s a little on the short side–I could have used a few more levels before the final boss, but considering the price point, the length is absolutely fair.
Donut County is available on Steam and PS4 for $12.99, or iOS for $4.99.
Dirty Pair (1985)
Probably the furthest away from 2018, the original Dirty Pair television series is the subject of a recent simulwatch on Twitter. I’ve never felt the need to watch the series, as the characters Kei and Yuri seem to be iconic and stand alone, but I’m glad to have changed my mind! The sci-fi plots and designs definitely feel like something from the 80’s, but the humor and style has aged well over thirty years. If you’re looking to go back and watching something vintage, I give Dirty Pair my recommendation.
The Hype Leading up to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Despite playing every iteration of the franchise, I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of Super Smash Bros—that has a lot of implications in 2018, and not to disparage anyone in that community or the FGC as a whole, but it’s just not me. What I am, however, is a Nintendo devotee, and the newest iteration of this franchise has Nintendo fanservice in spades.
But even then, as much as I’m enjoying Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I can say that my favorite part of the experience isn’t the game itself—it was the hype-fueled lead-up to release over the past year. Every Direct had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what new minutiae I could spot in the videos. Hell, I’d probably consider the Isabelle reveal as one of my top gaming moments of the year by itself. I completely understand that Masahiro Sakurai is overworked, and that the game is already overstuffed with content, but if Nintendo had decided to just keep revealing characters and stages for all eternity, rather than actually put out any game at all, I would be more than happy to ride the hype train.
The Netflix Acquisition of Neon Genesis Evangelion
Ok, yeah, I’m a huge Evangelion nerd. It took me from casual anime fan to the deplorable state I am now and helped me through a very depressing time in my teenage years, like many other people who stand by the series. The fact that nobody has held the North America license for the series for almost ten years now caused me hold my Platinum Collection tight, hoping that someone would eventually bring the new Blu Ray discs over. Surely someone would snap it up eventually, but I don’t think anybody expected Netflix to pick it up for streaming in 2019.
Much has already been said in the past few weeks of the announcement, but I think the news itself is just as prominent as the availability of the series. Knowing that a whole new generation is going to revisit it and be really confused by both the TV and movie endings is just icing on the cake.
Every year, I tell myself I’m going to start reading manga, but while Golden Kamuy blew me away last year, I still haven’t committed myself to reading Japanese works as opposed to watching them. In 2018’s noble attempt, I started Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun, and it’s taken me to feeling and pathos I didn’t think the medium was capable of.
Goodnight Punpun is a brutally honest story about an odd boy’s life, spanning from his childhood to early 20’s. He wrestles with a dysfunctional family, trying to keep up with all the anxieties common to modern Japanese culture, and girls. The twist is that he’s portrayed not with a typical, anime-style design, but as a simple, bird-like character. The juxtaposition between Punpun and the intricately-detailed background in Asano’s work, as well as some of the shocking events he goes through. If Evangelion was the perfect work to discover as a teenager, Goodnight Punpun is the perfect work to pick up a decade or two later. I can’t help but revisit the angst and depression I felt then and relate to the main character, even if he looks goofy as hell.
It seems like all of my notable anime series from 2018 came as surprises to me, and Megalo Box certainly is included in that list! Sports anime isn’t my thing, much less boxing anime, and Tomorrow’s Joe, the classic series to which Megalo Box is a successor, hasn’t been on my radar. But as I said in my initial review of the first few episodes, as well as our podcast on it, this show oozes style from start to finish. The fights are gritty, a fact enhanced by the mechanical Gear the boxers use, and you can’t help but be engrossed by Junk Dog’s journey to the Megalonia tournament, even if it is a little cliche as a whole. I’m glad to see that Toonami has picked it up for broadcast and hope that this catches the hearts of a more mainstream audience.
Pop Team Epic
You thought I forgot about Pop Team Epic, didn’t you? 2018 feels like five years rather than one, and this little show that aired back in January might have been forgotten by many (perhaps on purpose!), but assure you I’m still thinking of Hellshake Yano. You can go check out my reviews of the series at these links, but I still have to give this show props for not being afraid to dig up older, obscure references and use a variety of styles, from AC-bu’s weird animation, to felt dolls parodying Earth, Wind, and Fire, to using notebooks to animate one particularly memorable segment. Pop Team Epic’s weirdness may keep it from hitting any mainstream appeal, but it’s this same weirdness that will keep it in the fandom’s mind for years to come.
Despite being hellish in reality, 2018 had a lot of good media. I know I missed a lot of shows and games in the above list, many of which I’ll remember approximately five minutes after this article is posted. Did you think I missed something important that you’d think I would like? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I’ll be happy to check out recommendations as time permits.