Dear god, it’s somehow that time again. The time when we all get together to celebrate the cartoons we love by putting them in a meaningless ranking system that denies the very purpose of storytelling altogether. The halfway point rankings feel even more meaningless than usual this season, as the current season is both very good and also full of shows that I’m enjoying all around the same level, but trifling problems like that won’t stand in the way of tradition. Let’s run ’em down!
The king maintains its throne in spite of tremendous competition. Shirobako just seems untouchable at this point – its execution is absurdly consistent, making the show feel like a Hunter x Hunter-style institution. The show balances itself between all kinds of strengths with a grace that makes the ultimate effect seem obvious – there’s not much competition in this strange drama-slice of life-documentary-comedy genre, but Shirobako consistently feels like an incredibly polished riff on the most natural genre in the world. Poignant and funny and just absurdly watchable, Shirobako is only really competing against itself.
#2: Yuri Kuma Arashi
The first three episodes of Yuri Kuma were rich and beautiful and funny and unique, but they were far from perfect. The main problem was pacing – the show felt like two seasons compressed into one, and the resulting manic plot movement and lack of relaxed character moments made the show feel somewhat emotionally sterile. Then Lulu kicked her brother into a volcano, and Ginko revealed her stern exterior concealed endless ridiculous fantasies, and Sumika vowed to sacrifice herself to save her love. These last few episodes have given Yuri Kuma all the space and personal passion it was lacking, meaning that although the show still feels somewhat cramped, it’s cramped because it’s filled with too many good things. It’s not a perfect show, but it is incredibly rich and tasty nonetheless.
#3: Yatterman Night
Exactly one year after Sekai Seifuku, we get Yatterman Night, a show with essentially the same premise that captures the same sense of strange, comedy-laced melancholy. Yatterman Night is less funny than Sekai Seifuku, but its execution is better, and the sadness here is right on the surface. The way Yatterman turns its weird kids-show roots into symbols of either oppression or hopeless optimism is a smart and consistently affecting trick, and the show’s shot framing, pacing, and music all really amplify its punch. The episodes aren’t all equally great, but highlights like the first one and last week’s stunner give me plenty of hope for the show’s second half.
#4: Death Parade
I was really on the fence about Death Parade before this season – in fact, I was on the fence about Death Parade for the first quarter of this season, too. The show seemed like a very competently produced but kind of emotionally vacant execution of a hooky premise that wasn’t really my kind of thing. But between episodes four and six, Death Parade has proven to me that the show’s creators had the same doubts I had, and that they’ve found compelling answers to them. The show feels alive now – the stars of the last two challenges really sold themselves as people, and their variations on the show’s premise alternately interrogated the nature of the game and simply abused the premise as an excuse to have a lot of fun. Death Parade has moved beyond the base assumptions of its premise, and the combination of its new ideas, improved characters, and consistent execution make it likely this season’s most accessible hit.
#5: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 2nd Season
I know the other shoe’s gonna drop any time now. Airing JoJo can’t be this good – airing JoJo is designed to vaguely entertain but ultimately disappoint. And yet, in spite of this season possessing all the same variables as the first half, Stardust Crusaders just keeps being really friggin’ great. It’s all of the humor of the first half, plus even more diverse jokes (like the entire Oingo Boingo episode, or Iggy admiring the sunset), plus a far more consistent set of entertaining battles. It seems like the Stands are finally being used for what they always should have been – not new in-battle weapons, but powers that affect the world altogether. The bigger and sillier this show goes, the better it gets, and Stardust Crusaders’ second half has been very big and silly so far.
#6: Log Horizon Season 2
‘Tis the season for miraculous sequel recoveries, I suppose. Although in this case, it’s not even a recovery – Log Horizon’s recent material has been better than anything the show ever previously produced. There were certainly highlights in the first season and this one’s first half, but this most recent arc has just been nailing everything that makes Log Horizon worth watching. The worldbuilding feeds into the character work, the character work feeds into the ideas on world-validity and personal purpose, and all of it bleeds together in a handful of rich and sharply observed personal moments. The aesthetics are still kind of laughable, but the storytelling carries it anyway. Looks like MMO anime can be pretty great after all.
#7: Maria the Virgin Witch
Maria’s definitely not a flashy show, but it doesn’t need to be. Its visual execution is mainly just a flat portrayal of the narrative, but the dialogue and underlying storytelling does all the heavy lifting. Dialogue often works on multiple levels, reflecting on characters in one direction and on the show’s competing ideas about sexuality and conflict in another. Maria herself is a good summation of her show’s strengths – her views are naive and contradictory, but sum up the unwinnable clashes of ideals, human desires, and practical realities that make the show compelling.
I keep going back and forth on KimiUso. In the time between episodes, I don’t really tend to look forward to it, and my mind settles on the way it’s been dragging out a plot that doesn’t really seem robust enough to support two cours. But while I’m watching the episode, all I can think about is its beautiful shot framing, or the way it manages to turn offhand lines into deeply felt reflections on the terror of performance, or just the sheer amount of emotional context it imparts purely through aesthetics. The show is lopsided, but its strengths keep it alive even as the story sometimes drags.
It’s looking like we’re finally out of the “you’ve changed, Shinichi” woods. The Kana interlude was kind of interminable, and Shinichi’s character shifts far too overstated and repetitive, but the last couple episodes have given me hope that Parasyte will manage to end strong. We’ve seen solid fights, actual arc resolutions, and a legitimately impressive tying together of all the show’s early themes. Parasyte’s wasted too much time to end up a great show, but hopefully this last arc will serve as some kind of reminder of why I had significant expectations for it in the first place.
#10: Rolling Girls
Rolling Girls, we hardly knew ye. Born in glorious animation and wild energy, you were clearly too bright for this world, and seeing your wings clipped since then has been a teary experience. I’m actually pretty okay with the coming-of-age vignette system the show has established, but in the absence of the early episodes’ crazy animation, it’s a little harder to feel enthusiastic about a show with such lightly established characters. I’m never quite as invested in what’s going on as the show wants me to be – the protagonists are cute but a little too empty, the stars of side arcs understandable but not quite relatable. But the nice thing about episodic shows is that there’s always a chance the next episode will be better, so I’m going to keep hope up for Rolling Girls’ second half.
#11: The Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls
I might have just been spoiled by Love Live!, but character work like this really doesn’t cut it. If your idol show is not going to take place in the real world and have real world themes like Shounen Hollywood, your fantasy story better be damn well constructed, and Cinderella Girls just has too much obvious artifice and fluff. It really comes down to the characters – they feel so fake that it comes across as cynical, and cynical writing is the death of investment. So yeah, I’m probably done with Cinderella Girls.
And that’s the last of them! As I said, very strong season, with all of my top five falling somewhere within “great” and most of the rest being perfectly reasonable as well. Based on what I’ve heard, the two potentially solid shows I’m missing are Garo and Akatsuki no Yona, but I’m not exactly lacking for media at the moment. Anything else you guys are enjoying?