Time again at last. Episodes have passed, cartoons have risen and fallen, and the moment has arrived for us to once again slot stories into a reductive hierarchy that cheapens the very idea of media consumption. Does ranking shows inherently contribute to a system that commodifies art and undercuts the complexity of emotional engagement? Are we essentially belittling ourselves by implying that our relationship with the stories we choose to consume can be summed up through a simple “eh, at least it’s better than this other one?” Will any of the people whose attitudes I’m critiquing in this opening paragraph possibly not skip to the numbers themselves, rendering this sarcastic thought experiment totally pointless?
Maybe so. But goddamnit, we’re gonna do it anyway.
#1: Oregairu S2
It’d be hard to topple this one, and it’s a credit to this season that there are actually shows that give Oregairu a run for its money. But this second season has just been way too good. The light novel jokes have been cut, the focus has been tightened, and everything good about the original season has been amplified and interrogated. We’re almost getting the opposite of the classic light novel stasis here – with all the characters firmly established, season two has been stress-testing the relationships of all our principals. Hayama has stepped up from being a sideline counterpoint to Hachiman to more of a direct foil. Hikki himself is being forced to more directly and consistently grapple with the contradictions of his philosophy. And the production is elevating all the small character moments, giving the most thoughtful of high school dramas the execution it deserves. There’s just so much to unpack in every exchange here, and yet the dynamics still feel natural and emotionally resonant. Oregairu’s sequel is doing every damn thing right.
#2: Blood Blockade Battlefront
It’s basically just personal story-priority preference that sets Oregairu at the top for me, because I don’t really have any complaints about Blood Blockade Battlefront. It’s taking some the best aesthetic and storytelling cues from madcap style-fests like Baccano and Cowboy Bebop and refracting that through both an anime-superhero and Rie Matsumoto filter. Each episode is a self-contained adventure filled with flashy visual ideas and narrative gimmicks, but the consistently beautiful presentation almost conceals how well this show manages its fundamentals. There are lots of ostentatious shots, but the character work is anything but – a great deal of the scenes that really tie you into this world work simply because the dialogue is both efficient and natural, and the often distant shot framing keeps the viewer from being overloaded until an episode hits its big punches. BBB is polished enough to look effortless, and that is not an easy trick to pull off.
#3: Sound! Euphonium
Rounding out this season’s largely bulletproof top tier, we have Kyoto Animation’s best show in years. Euphonium is a triumph of atmosphere, with each scene evoking an intimate and lived-in adolescent experience before ambling forward at the pace of Kumiko’s daily life. Only a couple of the characters have been deeply sketched so far, but that pretty much works for the angle this show is taking, and the tradeoff there results in a legitimate ensemble feel. And the show’s just marvelously composed – the visual storytelling here is certainly beautiful, but it’s also wickedly purposeful, with basically every cut and camera position conveying clear emotional information. Sound! Euphonium is a small, simple story told with profound clarity and grace.
#4: Ore Monogatari!!
Ore Monogatari!! is basically just comfy as all fuck. It’s not a perfect show (it’s repetitive and episodic in a way that doesn’t really help it, it can’t help indulging in some of the drawn-out drama baiting that’s so common in its genre, it’s not the most impressive to look at), but it sure is a pleasant one. Its three leads are deeply endearing people, it’s been consistently able to trip up key assumptions of shoujo romance, and it’s just so very nice to see a couple actually enjoying each other’s company for once. Keep doing what you’re doing, Ore Monogatari!!
#5: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
The JoJos took a rocky road to Egypt, but their time in the capital has been a blast. Highlights like D’Arby and Pet Shop have managed to recapture most of what originally made JoJo so enjoyable, and there’s been a real sense of momentum as the JoJos finally begin to hone in on Dio’s lair. JoJo’s just a fun time, and though the visual tricks still aren’t as engaging as they were back in the first season, its execution has been very confident regardless.
#6: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
Holy crap was this Caster arc a hot mess. Her kidnapping of Saber basically brought the whole show to a standstill, and her story never managed to rise above being a slight inconvenience on the road to greater battles. The dialogue felt like it actually got worse this season, and with so few engaging fights to break up the monologues, this second half has been a bit of a trial so far. The emotional peaks the show has been reaching for with characters like Ilya and Caster were just never earned, and the high drama affectation has been betrayed both by the bad dialogue and the ultimately underwhelming plotting. I really wish UBW had turned out to be a show worthy of the gravity of its first couple episodes, but it’s been tumbling in nonsense for half a season now.
The silver lining here is that the show is still very pretty and also that Caster’s finally out of the picture. Hopefully the second half will let it go out with a bang.
#7: The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan
To the surprise of likely no-one, Nagato Yuki-chan has turned out to be a bunch of fluffy, cliche nonsense. I can’t really complain, since I’m also getting to write up two of this season’s three Great shows, but yeah, this is just a silly face repository filled with endless stale anime gags. Sorry, Nagato.