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Animation, Comics, and Games 2018

Previous years: 2016, 2017

Animation

Mushishi

A man with the unique ability to interact with spiritual beings called Mushi travels from place to place to research Mushi and aid people suffering from problems caused by them.

I read the manga a few years back and really enjoyed it, but my friend asked me to check out the anime as well. It followed the manga faithfully enough, so the plot wasn’t particularly new to me, but the animation and soundtrack were gorgeous.

Pop Team Epic

Two incredibly vulgar middle schoolers go on a variety of surreal misadventures parodying pop culture.

I ended up dropping this after a few episodes. It had some funny moments, but the random 15-second skit format wasn’t really my thing. The original manga, on the other hand, is consistently hilarious; I just don’t think it works so well as an anime adaptation.

Uhh…

Devilman Crybaby

A teenager with a remarkably wide-reaching media influence convinces his childhood friend to merge souls with a demon in order to kill God.

Everyone was going on about this show so I decided to give it a shot even though it didn’t really seem like my thing. And it definitely wasn’t; on the other hand, it was exceptionally well made for what it was, which left me with very conflicted feelings about it. The wonderful animation was offset by a variety of incredibly uncomfortable moments, as well as weird pacing and a notable lack of character development within the main cast. On the other hand, I loved the ending. It was climactic, emotional, and it fit the creepy and psychologically charged tone of the series.

Violet Evergarden

A young ex-soldier finds herself without purpose after the war ends and begins work as a travelling ghostwriter.

This was the series I was looking forward to the most this year; I read the light novel at the end of last year and absolutely adored it. Unfortunately, as is often the case, reading the original novel before watching the anime made me hypercritical of the changes they made in the anime adaptation. I felt that reorganizing the timeline to be mostly chronological instead of waiting to reveal Violet’s past until after seeing her work for a little while made the viewer less emotionally invested. When I read the original book, I had to take it a chapter at a time because I kept crying; the anime definitely did not match the emotional severity of the book.

On the other hand, some of the plot points added to the show were done so pretty successfully; Lucilia and Iris’s episodes were very heartwarming and contributed a lot of heart to the early series. Charlotte’s episode, on the other hand, was comparatively dull, off-putting, and… morally questionable.

I’m not actually sure how I feel about the change in plot direction regarding Gilbert. I can’t really tell if they’re setting up for a second season, or if they’ve just decided to alter the ending of the original novel. Either way, I’m not sure if I actually dislike the decision to keep Gilbert out of the picture and let Violet grow for herself; although their reunion in the book was sweet, it also wasn’t my favorite part of the novel by a long shot, and it’s kind of nice to see Violet actually learn to deal with loss.

The Night is Short, Walk on Girl

Two university students have a wild night of drinking games, guerilla theatre, and probably LSD.

Biggest “what the fuck did I just watch” of the year. The animation was delightful, but I didn’t find most of the plot subsections to be as funny or interesting as was probably intended. The only one that I really liked was the illegal travelling theatre, which was hilarious in concept, but lost a lot of fuel after the musical numbers began.

House of Five Leaves

A shy samurai joins a kidnapping gang in a desperate attempt to cover his rent.

Easily one of the best anime I’ve ever watched, and the original manga was even better. I can’t remember any manga making me as emotional as the last two volumes of House of Five Leaves. I really love series that juxtapose a serious plot with a calm and quiet environment; a series about criminals with surprisingly little fighting and a focus on character development basically checks all my boxes. Both Masa and Yaichi were incredibly well-written characters, and I always love the trope of lonely misfits finding family in each other.

Gunbuster

Teenage girls fight aliens with mechas.

A friend recommended this to me and it was a enticingly quick watch, so I gave it a shot. I pretty much got out of it what I was expecting, which wasn’t a ton; I’m not a big fan of mecha, and I found the characters to be pretty bland. At least the soundtrack was good.

Adventure Time (Season 10)

The final adventure.

I had incredibly high expectations for the series finale, and it actually managed to live up to all of them. The first half of the finale was a bit sloppy with all the dream-sequence stuff, but the rest of the episode was really sweet. While defeating the Big Bad of the series with music is pretty dorky, it’s also fitting for a series that has always been about music and friendship. Betty and Fern’s sacrifices, Simon’s return, Bonnibel and Marceline’s scene, the “Come Along With Me” montage, and Shermy and Beth climbing to the top of the Tree Fort at the very end were some of the most emotional scenes of the entire series, and the open-ended nature of the finale was a great way to wrap up extraneous plot points without letting the episode become too cluttered. The series has a lot of flaws in terms of pacing and plot messiness, but it’s been so important to me for so many years, and it’s made me the person I am today. It’s always going to be very dear to my heart.

Everything stays…

RWBY (Volumes 5 & 6)

Everyone gets really fucking depressed.

The current season of RWBY is easily the most intense one since season 3, and now that I can piggyback on my friend’s First membership I’ve grown much more invested in the series. Salem and Ozpin’s backstory was an excellent twist, and while I had some problems with Salem’s writing I feel overall positive about how the writers are setting themselves up for later seasons. Watching the entire cast fall into despair has been a great realistic alternative to the baseline “we can’t give up!” response that most shows of this nature tend to supply. Alone in the Woods was easily the darkest episode the entire series, and I’m pretty impressed that the writers managed to go full-on horror movie with it considering that most of the grimm we’ve seen so far have been fairly tame. The slow burn reconciliation between Blake and Yang also promises to be very rewarding as long as the writers can keep their footing.

Manga & Comics

ARIA

Cute girls train as gondoliers on an aquaformed version of Mars.

Reading this was a delightful experience; it's chock full of weird hidden fantasy, goegeous background art, pretty girls, and a calm sci-fi atmosphere similar to that of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. I liked all of the characters, even the energetic protagonist was actually cute and likeable rather than annoying. Alicia was a great mentor figure, and I loved her relationship with Akari.

The most irritating part of the series was the animals mascots, especially President Aria. It's such a mood killer seeing his stupid derpy face in an otherwise gorgeous two-page spread. Also, he doesn't even look like a cat.

Emma

Set in Victorian London, a beautiful housemaid falls in love with a member of the gentry whose family does not approve of their relationship.

Despite it's heavy focus on romance, I liked this a lot. The art is beautifully detailed, and the characters interesting and likable. Hakim and Monica were really fun side characters, although all of them were interesting enough that I didn't even mind all the unnecessary side stories. Plus, on a more shallow level, there were a ton of gorgeous outfits and an actually cute animal sidekick (a squirrel no less!)

Shirley

A short manga about an adorable young maid.

After enjoying Emma so much, I went ahead and checked out some of her shorter works. There's not a ton to say about this one, because it was very short, but it was also really cute and had the slice-of-life style that I like so much. Next year, I'm planning on reading Otoyomegatari.

Spirit Circle

A boy who can see ghosts meets a girl set out for revenge against him due to his actions in a past life.

The author of Biscuit Hammer again proves himself as one of the most talented and capable mangakas out there in terms of character development and plot pacing. I don't know if I liked Spirit Circle nearly as much as Biscuit Hammer, which is still possibly the best manga I've ever read, but it comes pretty damn close. The manga has the same high-stakes, yet somehow calm environment that I loved so much in Biscuit Hammer, and all of the characters were very well-written, especially the female lead.

Kuroshitsuji

A thirteen-year-old aristocrat sells his soul to a demon and proceeds to enlist him as his butler.

After seeing everyone go on about this for years and basically writing it off as a fanservice manga for shotacons, I finally decided to give it a shot. I liked it a lot more than I was expecting to, although I definitely find the series to be uncomfortably enabling of its gross fanbase. Still, Ciel was a great protagonist and Sebastian wasn't terrible either.

The series suffers a lot in the female character department, which I guess is to be expecting from an author who's only ever written BL. The precocious brat Sieglinde was the worst offender, although Elizabeth wasn't so great either. Mey-Rin is cute, I guess, but she doesn't get a ton of attention.

Aside from that, the large and eclectic cast was a lot of fun, the art was absolutely stunning, there was a ton of outfit fodder, and most of the story arcs were compelling enough to keep me interested. I guess I didn't like it nearly enough to keep track of updates though, which I haven't been doing since June.

Wandering Son

A transgender girl and a transgender boy become friends and support each other through the trials and tribulations of adolescence.

One of the most heartfelt LGBT manga I've ever read. Takako Shimura demonstrates once again that she is the number one expert in portraying adolescence. All of the characters felt so real, and there was a solid balance between portraying the hardships of being transgender while also giving the characters supportive friends and a happy ending. The romance was so well-written that even I enjoyed it. And there were also some pretty cute outfits.

Magic Knight Rayearth

Three eight-grade girls are transported into a magical world and tasked with rescuing its princess.

This is the first work of CLAMP that I've checked out since Cardcaptor Sakura, and I definitely enjoyed it far more. It suffers from a lot of the same issues as Sakura, namely an obnoxious protagonist who hogs the spotlight, but it had a lot more originality and nuance in terms of plot. The ending of the first part was a huge surprise, and may have been one of the best endings of the year (if HoFL hadn't completely stolen the spotlight). I really didn't think that they were going to go in such a dark direction with it. Unfortunately, part two felt much weaker by comparison, although I did like the way that the writers handled the characters' trauma by making them more cautious and less readily trusting.

You can read my full review of part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Handa-kun

An aloof, talented, and handsome boy with low self esteem misinterprets his popularity as bullying.

One of my only successful public library browses this year, I ended up enjoying this way more than I thought I would. I haven't actually read the original series that this is even supposed to be a spin-off of, but it didn't really matter all that much; I still found this to be absolutely hilarious. Similar to what I liked about One Punch Man, this series takes a lot of the overused manga protagonist tropes that I hate so much and satirizes them mercilessly. It did begin to get repetitive after a little while, but the first few volumes were comedic gold.

Orange

A group of high school students receive letters from their future selves instructing them on how to save their friend's life.

Orange was this year's iteration of ERASED, in that I binged the entire series in one day and ended up crying a lot. While it doesn't do anything super new, the author has a real talent for tugging at the reader's hearstrings with well-timed and well-executed emotional exhibitions. I also appreciated the usage of time skips, which are a favorite trope of mine. The actual sci-fi aspects of the writing were pretty underdeveloped (The Bermuda Triangle? Really?) but for a series with a strong character focus that makes sense.

The romance was pretty meh, but that's basically what I was expecting.

School Live!

Traumatized moe girls fight zombies.

I checked this out because I heard it got super dark. And it did, which was… fun, I guess. I found the characters to be less realized than in similarly dark shoujo parodies like Madoka Magica, especially with the protagonist having very little personality outside of being delusional. On the other hand, there was a good balance of plot development and relationship building between the characters, and I can respect the fact that the series seems to be actually doing it's own thing with the story instead of remaining dependent on shock value.

Silver Spoon

A city kid enrolls in an agricultural high school to get away from his family, and finds that he has no idea what to do what his life.

This was an awesome read. It's incredibly different from FMA in terms of genre, but it's filled with Arakawa's brilliant sense of humor and a surprising amount of agricultural education. The main couple wasn't great, but it was a step up from EdWin; they had some moments that even I found to be cute.

One Piece

Welcome to Wano!

This was an unfortunately weak year for my long-time love; I ended up spending more time re-reading old arcs than actually tracking updates. I don't care for Wano so far; the setting is alright, but in a series that's given us locations like Water 7, Skypeia, and Whole Cake Island, I've come to expect a little more in terms of whimsy. All of the new characters have also been pretty dull. The only one with a remotely interesting design is Tsuru, and she's gotten very little attention compared to Apple Girl and Tall Robin.

The introduction of time travel hasn't been nearly as exciting to me as I would have hoped, it just felt bizarre and rushed. It definitely doesn't help that Momonosuke is getting a larger role in the story, as he's one of my least favorite characters in the series, and I'm not crazy about Kin'emon either. I just hope this is over within the year and we don't have to see them again aside from during the between-arc montages.

Now that I think about it, wasn't the entire Reverie arc this year as well? That feels wrong somehow… but I guess it was disappointingly short. Despite it's length, I enjoyed the Reverie more than Wano, as it was fun to see all the old characters again. On the other hand, the entire arc felt very hectic and all-over-the-place, and Rebecca was way too prominent a character for my liking.

Games

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

Two childhood friends find themselves on opposite sides of a war — literally.

I never played the original Gaiden, so I probably got less out of this than I would have if I was a long-time fan. I still liked it; the new dungeon crawling feature was a lot of fun, and the characters were likable. On the other hand, the lack of supports really upset me. I can understand that it's a remake and it wouldn't make sense to implement a marriage system and second generation characters, but at the very least they could have written more than two supports per character!

Pen Pals, Space Funeral, The Mirror Lied, Aria's Story, and Fantasy Maiden's Odd Hideout

Various small indie RPGs.

I decided to finally play some more of these, especially the ones that seem to be pretty popular on Tumblr. I liked all of them, and they're all so different that I could probably discuss them all individually but… eh, I'm lazy. The Mirror Lied was my favorite, followed by Aria's Story for the gorgeous setting art.

To the Moon

Two doctors offer to fulfill a dying man's last wish using artificial memories.

This was by the same guy who did The Mirror Lied, but it's much bigger so it deserves its own little section. Anyway, this was definitely the best game of the year. Great characters, great music, and super touching story. Hopefully I'll find time to play the sequel in 2019.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu & Eevee

Against popular demand, Pokemon give us yet another stupid remake.

My disappointment with this franchise continues… I really haven't properly enjoyed a Pokemon game since Kalos, unless you count Pokemon Go. Let's Go was clearly an attempt to do something new and different with the Switch platform, but I didn't find it to be particularly successful. The removal of abilities and held items and the oversimplification of the search-and-catch system was kind of a pain in the ass, and it was SUPER stupid that the game only included the original Generation 1 Pokemon (and "it's a remake" is a lazy excuse). The entire game seemed to be based on battle mechanics and fanservice cameos, with little to no actual storyline. And I’m not really the type of person to complain about the new games being too easy, but it is a little irritating that you can easily beat the entire game using only your starter. That’s not just being too easy, it’s kind of ruining the entire point of the franchise, which is to catch and train multiple pokemon… Speaking of which, being able to carry your box with you is nice at first, but it’s yet another new feature that seems really challenge-killing, and basically obliterates the six-member party mechanic that has existed since the beginning of the franchise.

I liked seeing the redesigns of the old characters, but overall, my problems with the game vastly outweighed the few aspects of it I enjoyed. Playing it felt incredibly tedious; the only reason I didn't drop it in the middle was because it felt like such a waste to not complete a game that cost me $60, but I probably will not be replaying it any time soon.

Summary

Best…

Animation/Visuals
-This was pretty much Devilman Crybaby's main selling point.
-Honorable mention to Violet Evergarden and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl.

Art
-It's hotly contested, but I think I've got to give this one to ARIA.
-Honorable mention to Kuroshitsuji, Wandering Son, Orange, and all of Kaoru Mori's work.

Music
-To the Moon's soundtrack made me burst into tears so… I guess that means it wins.
-Honorable mention to House of Five Leaves, Mushishi, the remastered Lavender Town theme in Pokemon Let's Go, and RWBY's new opening theme.

Moments
-The ending of the House of Five Leaves manga.
-Honorable mention to the House of Five Leaves anime ending, Marceline's confession in Adventure Time, the fox wedding in ARIA, and the Magic Knight Rayearth I ending.

Laughs
-Hiromu Arakawa continues to deliver laughs with Silver Spoon.
-Honorable mention to Spirit Circle and Handa-kun.

Romance
-Bonnibel and Marceline from Adventure Time.
-Fuuta and Kouko from Spirit Circle.
-Honorable mention to Shuichi and Anna from Wandering Son and Johnny and River from To the Moon.

Relationships (non-romantic)
-Masa and Yaichi from House of Five Leaves.
-Honorable mention to Bonnibel and Finn from Adventure Time.

Male characters
-Masa and Yaichi from House of Five Leaves.
-Honorable mention to Fuuta (and iterations) from Spirit Circle, Ginko from Mushishi, Agni from Kuroshitsuji, and Hakim from Emma.

Female characters
-Kouko (and iterations) from Spirit Circle.
-Honorable mention to the Shuichi from Wandering Son and the ARIA girls.

Worst…

Moments
-Akira orgasming all over the ceiling in Devilman Crybaby was the stuff of nightmares.

Romance
-Dolores and Humbert Charlotte and Damian from Violet Evergarden.

Male characters
-Momonosuke from One Piece.
-President Aria from ARIA (do cats count?)

Female characters
-Sieglinde Sullivan from Kuroshitsuji.
-Hikaru Shidou from Magic Knight Rayearth.

Plans for 2019!