It’s that time again! Forget earnest textual critique, emotional reflection, or thematic exploration, it’s time to PUT SHIT IN A LIST WOOOO. This season has offered us a ridiculous bounty of shows, and I’ve responded in kind by ruthlessly punishing anything that fails to continuously dazzle my senses. I dropped Garo, I dropped Grisaia, I dropped Inou Battle… at this point, it’s pretty likely I’m even dropping Psycho-Pass (I’ve stalled on watching the latest episode, so I left it off the list). In spite of that, this season continues to offer a hefty pile of top-tier shows, all of them jockeying for that storied number one spot. Who gets the spot? Why, it’s motherfuckin
I’ve made no secret of my love of this show, but just in case you’ve been out of the loop, I love this goddamn show. It’s not the deep, sensual “this is a perfect show” love of something like Ping Pong or Uchouten Kazoku – it’s more a “I enjoy everything this show is doing and feel continuously happy watching it” kind of love. Shirobako has wonderfully energetic storytelling, a broad and engaging cast of characters, and an effortless way of integrating its drama with its real-world worldbuilding. Though there are occasional messages here and there, its thematic weight leans more on the naturalism of its world and conflicts than on any central point. It glorifies everyday drama – its very nature evokes a strong humanity that bubbles to the surface in small moments like an animation director sharing a conversation with his wife, or a twenty-something worrying that even the endless work they’re doing isn’t pushing them in a sustainable direction. Shirobako is real, and I like things that are real.
#2: Your Lie in April
Your Lie in April is definitely not a show for everyone. If Shirobako has its “naturalization of drama” dial set somewhere around a two or three, Your Lie in April is a seventeen – its characters talk in exuberant poetry, its music rushes to crescendos every episode, and its direction couldn’t be more ostentatious. It is adolescent drama framed as the end of the world, but if you can buy it on those terms, it has a tremendous amount to offer. Every episode is an embarrassment of visual riches, the setpieces like the episode four performance are transcendent, and the show’s use of music has been appropriately deft and empowering so far. Even the dialogue works – it’s certainly heightened as can be, but in the context of this show’s aesthetic tone, that’s actually appropriate. That said, I’m still not one hundred percent on this show – I feel like it’s coasted largely on beauty so far, but the jury’s still out on whether it matches that with emotional truth.
#3: Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
It’s Pirates of the Lost Ark: The Anime. Zombies fighting mermen, dragons fighting titans, demons fighting giant crabs. It takes all the jumbled variables of a classic fantasy adventure, shakes them together, and lays them out with the expert care of a Hollywood master. It’s basically bottled fun – the show couldn’t be flimsier when it comes to depth, but when the journey is this entertaining, that’s not a flaw at all.
#4: Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
Pleasantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying this one. I was lukewarm on Fate/Zero and deeply unimpressed by what I played of the FSN visual novel, but ufotable is nailing this adaptation. There’s still obviously the classic Fate glut of exposition, but it’s scattered between some really gorgeous fight scenes, and the character work here is top-notch. Both Shirou and Rin feel like echoes of their parents and compelling, unique people at the same time, making FSN interesting both as a comment on Fate/Zero and a character story in its own right. This might actually be the show I look forward to most each week, even though it’s not the one I tend to most enjoy.
The only real problem with Parasyte is that it’s not one of the shows higher on this list. Well, that and the dubstep. But yeah, the main problem with Parasyte is that unlike the top shows, it doesn’t really distinguish itself – it’s just very consistent every week. It’s building up themes, establishing solid character dynamics, pulling off feats of commendable animation… it’s pretty much the whole package, it just lacks the distinguishing factors that really elevate my top choices. Fortunately for Parasyte, it’s clear that the work it’s doing now is foundation-building, and so I’m still very excited to see where its thoughts on human nature and the Shinichi-Migi relationship eventually go.
#6: Amagi Brilliant Park
Amagi isn’t a brilliant return to form for Kyoto Animation – it’s just a very solid show. The jokes generally land, the characters are likable, and the animation is excellent. As I said a couple weeks ago, it feels very much like an extremely competent team putting in an acceptable amount of labor – it’s never blowing me away, but it’s always entertaining, and it’s nice to see that at least one animation studio understands the fundamentals of comedic timing. I’m still waiting on a show that’ll make me fall in love with the studio again, but I can’t really complain about a production that makes comedy look this easy.
#7: Chaika -avenging battle-
Look, Chaika is Chaika. We’re halfway into the second season, it remains an endearing and consistent but unambitious D&D adventure, we all know what we’re getting here. You and I both know this paragraph is really just an excuse for more Chaika faces.
#8: Log Horizon II
Log Horizon II started off fairly slow, but it’s picked up steam these last two episodes. Playing Akatsuki and Lenessia off each other has enriched both characters, and the Akihabara narrative is finally starting to pay off dramatic dividends. It’s also actually been trying to be pretty for once, which is frankly something I never really saw in Log Horizon before – both episode five’s fight scenes and episode six’s Ash Lake sequence were compelling purely on their aesthetic merits. I’m guessing the show will slow down again once it’s run through this arc’s supply of setpieces, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if it stayed this engaging from here out.
#9: Sword Art Online II
This third quarter of season two has featured almost nothing happening, but I don’t give one hot fuck. Six episodes to go. Six measly episodes. That’s essentially one afternoon of anime-watching – certainly longer if you include the six writeups I’ll have to accompany them with, but still. After forty-some long, long episodes, I am so, so close to free. Free at last. FREE AT LAST.