Sometimes with anime, don’t you think there can be too much of a good thing? Look at the Fall 2023 season , including ongoing shows; around seventy new anime episodes are premiering weekly. That sheer volume of animated entertainment is impossible for all but the most unhealthily dedicated fans to consume. Looking back a decade to Fall 2013, there were still an impressive forty-something shows premiering that season, plus eighteen movies — more than enough to sate any fan. And what an incredible season it was—conceivably one of the strongest in living memory.
One of Fall 2013’s biggest new mainstream hits was a little show called Log Horizon — another “trapped in a VRMMORPG” isekai snapping at genre pioneer Sword Art Online‘s armored heels. Sword Art Online‘s anime premiered in 2012 (though its source novels began a decade earlier). Still, many seasoned anime fans seem to prefer Log Horizon — or at least Satelight‘s well-received first season before the infamous Studio DEEN got their hands on the property. I’ll admit that I’ve only seen the first few episodes. I’m not the biggest fan of this genre, but for what it is, it’s an entertaining fantasy with a simple yet fun core cast of characters.
(Log Horizon streams on Crunchyroll and Hulu in the U.S., and on Crunchyroll in the U.K.)
Continuing the fantasy theme, One Thousand and One Nights-inspired Magi returned for its second season, The Kingdom of Magic. As a kid, I loved those old Columbia Pictures movies like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. I would love to watch their anime equivalent in this show; it looks like a lot of fun. However, living in the U.K., there is no legal way for me to access it. Unavailable to stream anywhere, certain volumes of the low-print-run Kaze/Manga Entertainment DVDs and Blu-rays have disappeared from even the secondhand market, making this essentially lost media in some English-speaking territories outside of the U.S. Perhaps someone can tell me in the comments how much they enjoyed the show? You know, just to rub it in a bit harder?
(Magi: The Kingdom of Magic streams on Crunchyroll, Netflix, and Funimation in the U.S. but is unavailable in the U.K.)
On October 4, 2013, Studio Trigger unleashed its first full TV anime with director Hiroyuki Imaishi‘s deranged but massively entertaining Kill la Kill, one of my all-time top anime. Rescuing much of 2007’s Gurren Lagann‘s staff from the essentially defunct Gainax, Imaishi founded Trigger to continue his ethos of producing hyperactive and visually creative animation. The title is a multi-layered Japanese pun that can be translated as “Dressed to Kill,” and the show features sentient clothing, S&M-themed school uniforms, some of the most uncomfortable family dynamics ever animated, and a butt-naked terrorist organization calling themselves “Nudist Beach.” Never has an anime deployed so many strategically placed light sources. Do you want blindingly incandescent nipples? Kill la Kill is your show. Make sure you seek out the final OVA episode (25) — depending on the streaming service, it doesn’t always stream alongside the rest of the T.V. show.
(Kill la Kill streams on Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Funimation in the U.S. and Funimation in the U.K.)
Equally bonkers is Toei Animation‘s Kyousougiga, which began in 2011 as a series of short Niconico/YouTube ONAs. Greatly expanded into a ten-episode TV anime (in addition to an insane, essential prologue episode compiled from the preceding ONAs and an utterly superfluous epilogue/recap episode), Kyousougiga is one of those anime where initially nothing makes sense. Sharing an anarchic sensibility with 2000’s original FLCL OVA, it begins in media res with a barely-explained world full of colorful explosions, floating oddities, stylized characters, and little coherence. Stick with it, however, and it reveals itself to be a masterfully-planned fantasy and family drama. I’m not ashamed to admit that towards its conclusion, Kyousougiga made me cry like a baby on no less than four occasions. Perhaps it’s because this sort of thing hits harder when you have kids yourself, but seeing a long-estranged family reunite and heal their deep emotional scars together while they attempt to save a whimsical multicolored multiverse from catastrophic destruction is an incredibly moving experience. I cannot recommend Kyousougiga highly enough. Also, Bunny Mom is hot.
(Kyousougiga streams on Crunchyroll in the U.S. and U.K.)
Depending on who you ask, Samurai Flamenco is an unpredictable work of mad genius or a show that jumps the shark at least four times. Perhaps both takes are accurate? Describing what Samurai Flamenco is… is difficult. It begins as a relatively grounded vigilante hero show similar to U.S. comic and movie Kick-ass. Our hero and male model, Masayoshi Hazama, dons a homemade superhero costume to fight “crime” in his spare time. This primarily consists of trudging the streets at night, telling people off for littering or jaywalking. He befriends lonely cop Hidenori Goto and teams up with fellow vigilante (and idol singer) Flamenco Girl. Flamenco Girl is an absolute delight of a character, with her magical girl costume, electrified magic wand, and “special move” (stamping repeatedly on her enemies’ genitals). From episode seven onwards, Samurai Flamenco regularly flips its script, switching entire genres to include Super Sentai teams, kaiju battles, and psychological horror. If anyone tells you they predicted where the series was headed at any point, they’re liars. I adore this bonkers show, but your mileage may vary—also shame on Aniplex for hogging the U.S. rights and failing to release an English-language Region A Blu-ray. With Anime Limited‘s Region B Blu-ray release, this is the one time there’s an advantage to being a U.K. anime fan.
(Samurai Flamenco streams on Funimation in the U.S. and U.K.)
Fall 2013 was good for fans of overwrought and emotionally devastating dramas, with three all-time great examples. First — Golden Time, which, refreshingly for anime, features college-age characters rather than school kids. They’re young enough to be immature and messed up but old enough to have some independence while still navigating adulthood’s confusing world. Voice acting royalty Yui Horie provides a fantastic performance as the main female protagonist, Kouko Kaga, an intense young woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. Although Golden Time is marketed as a romantic comedy, it becomes more dramatic and emotional later. Some of the character writing gives me chills. Kouko, in particular, matures through pain and heartbreak as she works through her pathological fear of abandonment and the way her self-worth is detrimentally tied to her male relationships. Leading man Banri is a bit of a blank slate, but that’s deliberate as he’s an amnesiac haunted by the “ghost” of his previous pre-amnesia self. Yeah, it’s weird and contrived, plus ghost Banri sucks ass, but the show is worth it for the way it evokes fond memories of young adulthood. The cast of oddball student characters reminds me of my university friends.
(Golden Time streams on HIDIVE in the U.S. and U.K.)
From the prolific pen of screenwriter Mari Okada comes Nagi no Asukara: A Lull in the Sea, a stunningly beautiful anime from studio P.A. Works. A love-polyhedron-filled coming-of-age tale set in a slightly fantastical world, it’s a show that will make your heart ache for a world that doesn’t exist. In this version of Japan, underwater towns dot the coast, populated by people who can breathe both below water and above land. When a group of underwater children come to the surface to enroll in middle school, they develop complex relationships within and with their tightly-knit friend group. A simple school drama gradually evolves into something more profound as disturbing environmental and societal changes conspire to rip families and friends apart. It’s languidly-paced, though never dull, and like the majesty of the sea, the narrative eventually swells to a powerful climax—very worthwhile watching. I wish I could breathe underwater and visit A Lull in the Sea‘s gorgeous subterranean landscapes.
(A Lull in the Sea streams on Crunchyroll in the US and UK.)
An adaptation of only the first arc from its source visual novel, White Album 2 still functions well as a complete story. It’s also unnecessary to watch the original White Album; all that connects them are the setting and some shared musical tracks. As with so many of these stories, everything begins pleasantly with a trio of final-year high school friends — a guy (Haruki Kitahara) and two girls (Setsuna Ogiso and Kazusa Touma) who practice together and stress about their upcoming school cultural festival musical performance. Only once the festival ends their friendships are tested as long-suppressed emotions bubble to the surface and erupt into a painful, messy love triangle. Of course, Haruki objectively chooses the wrong girl, and the plot fallout is almost hilariously apocalyptic in the final episode, which is full of missed communication, poor choices, confused feelings, and devastating loss. White Album 2 is “Emotional Violence: The Anime,” and in a way, I’m glad the rest of the visual novel wasn’t adapted because I don’t think I can take any more. Anyway, if you enjoy the sensation of having your heart hollowed out with a sharpened ice cream scoop, White Album 2 is exactly what you need to empty your feelings and stamp on them repeatedly.
(White Album 2 streams on Crunchyroll in the U.S. and U.K.)
Fantasy and Strange Worlds
Although I’ve written about the Monogatari series extensively elsewhere on the site, I can’t ignore this chance to recall the popular second season that continued into its second cour during Fall 2013. Comprising five arcs of between four and six episodes each, this second season is the favorite of many fans. I prefer the third season personally, but this season provides plenty of character development for Monogatari‘s extensive and varied female cast, all depicted in studio Shaft’s distinctive head-tilting, psychedelic, and mesmerizing style.
(Monogatari Second Season streams on Crunchyroll in the U.S. and U.K.)
Top tier studio Kyoto Animation‘s offering for Fall 2013 was the somewhat underwhelming Beyond the Boundary that received a concluding movie in 2015. KyoAni’s art design and animation always look spectacular, and with pretty girls wielding enormous blood swords and fighting weird monsters, what can go wrong? It’s… just not that interesting. Despite his supernatural abilities, Protagonist Akihito Kanbara isn’t the most dynamic of leading men. As a “half-yomu,” he harbors a poorly-explained power that could potentially end his world, but we’re told so few details about this world it’s difficult to care. Although the female lead Mirai Kuriyama is incredibly cute, she’s also quite annoying, and I never found the central relationship engaging. Add an underwhelming villain and a vague non-ending; it all amounts to a series where I can barely recall any details despite watching it only recently. It’s not bad, exactly, merely… unremarkable, which isn’t how one would typically describe most KyoAni productions.
(Beyond the Boundary streams on HIDIVE in the U.S. and U.K.)
In a similarly underwhelming vein comes studio GoHands Coppelion, a manga adaptation. Superficially, it sounds similar to superb 2017 anime Girls’ Last Tour— a group of teenage girls explore a ruined post-apocalyptic city looking for survivors — unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as interesting. Although it begins promisingly, it never goes anywhere with its setting, and I found it boring. It doesn’t help that Aoi, one of the leading trio of girls, spends almost every episode whining, hiding, or crying. GoHands as a studio is infamous for its… questionable… aesthetic choices, and much like their previous show K (2012), every frame of Coppelion is drenched in a distracting color filter that makes everything look wrong — and not in a good way. I have to hand it to GoHands for managing to make something that looks like it has both too many and not enough colors simultaneously. Every character looks dangerously overexposed and anemic; their complexions are so pale, while the lower half of every screen looks like an accident at a screenprinting plant with solid blocks of green, blue, or purple wash. Who thought this would look good, and why? Considering their recent output, I don’t think anyone at GoHands has ever thought to question their godawful house style.
(Coppelion streams on Hulu in the U.S. but is unavailable to stream in the U.K.; the KAZE/Manga Entertainment DVDs are long out of print.)
An excellent example of entertaining fantasy anime is Outbreak Company or “Cultural Imperialism: The Anime.” An interdimensional portal is discovered in modern-day Japan that leads to the Holy Eldant Empire in a parallel, fantasy world. Protagonist Shinichi Kanou, a NEET, is recruited by the Japanese government to manage the task of introducing Japanese otaku culture to this new market. To facilitate cultural exchange, he established a school where he and other Japanese people instruct the local children on such important topics as BL and thigh gaps. Although this sounds like an idiotic premise, it is a lot of fun, especially when it becomes clear that Shinichi’s employers don’t have the purest intentions. The subject of cultural imperialism goes from subtext to text, as importing Japanese culture into the fantasy world is only the first step in a plan that will eventually culminate in economic dependency and subjugation. It’s a fascinating about-turn in a show ostensibly about spreading the good word of anime, manga, and video games, demonstrating how these things could be used for evil. Shinichi’s solution is ingenious and worth watching until the end.
(Outbreak Company streams on HIDIVE in the U.S. and U.K.)
Slice of Life
The final TV anime I want to mention is the delightful Non Non Biyori, a gentle and pure slice-of-life comedy set in a rural Japanese village, following the “adventures” of four girls of varying ages. Their tiny school has only five pupils, one of whom is a boy who never speaks. Youngest girl Renge is the breakout character with bizarre expressions, odd philosophy, and funny misunderstandings. Renge’s relationship with the sweet shop lady is particularly heartwarming, and the episode where Renge is unexpectedly separated from her summer holiday friend tugs at my heartstrings. The other characters are similarly fun, particularly prematurely-developed fifth-grade transfer student Hotaru and her intense fixation on older student Komari (to the point where she fills her bedroom with hand-sewn effigies of her beloved “senpai”). Komari herself has an extreme complex about her height and lack of physical development and is complete — and adorably — dense regarding Hotaru’s crush on her. Non Non Biyori got a second season in 2015, a movie in 2018, and a third season in 2021.
(Non Non Biyori Season 1 streams on HIDIVE in the U.S. and U.K.)
2013 was a big year for Studio Ghibli. Not only did they release Hayao Miyazaki‘s The Wind Rises in July, but November brought The Tale of Princess Kaguya, the final movie from legendary director Isao Takahata. Based on the 10th-century Japanese folklore The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, it was a labor of love for Takahata, who initially planned to animate the story in the 1960s. Bringing his vision to eventual fruition made it the most expensive Japanese film to date — and what a vision it is. Painstakingly hand-drawn and water-colored, The Tale of Princess Kaguya looks like no anime movie before or since. With the appearance of a traditional watercolor painting in motion, simple character designs, and minimalistic backgrounds, the focus is emotion and movement. The titular Princess Kaguya herself starts as a tiny baby found in the forest by her poor adoptive father. Still, she grows to adulthood quickly and finds herself constrained by the tight social restrictions of medieval Japan. Her rebellious spirit and empathetic frustration still strike a chord today in this feminist fable where Kaguya refuses to “know her place.” The ending sequence is particularly bizarre and powerful, with similar supernatural imagery later evoked to equally unsettling effect in 2017’s Land of the Lustrous.
(The Tale of Princess Kaguya streams on Max in the U.S. and on Netflix in the U.K.)
Fans of Leiji Matsumoto‘s gruff, scarred antihero Captain Harlock probably wouldn’t recommend 2013’s super-shiny CGI theatrical movie Harlock: Space Pirate as an ideal place for newcomers to start. Veteran CG animation director Shinji Aramaki (Megazone 23, Appleseed) makes an overly-serious and ponderous two-hour movie that, despite its incredible visuals, fails to capture the whimsy and adventure of Matsumoto’s original manga or TV anime. With a generic story and unengaging characters, it’s pretty to look at but otherwise unmemorable. As one of manga and anime’s most iconic characters, Harlock deserved a better story than in this now mostly forgotten, movie.
(Harlock: Space Pirate streams on Amazon Freevee and Plex in the U.S. and U.K., plus Tubi T.V. in the U.S.)
Patema Inverted is a marvelous animated fantasy best suited to those without a crippling fear of heights. Directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Time of Eve and Sing a Bit of Harmony), this is a wonderful family film that I already wrote about elsewhere on the site.
(Patema Inverted is available on Blu-ray/DVD from GKIDS in the U.S. and Anime Limited in the U.K.)
2011’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica was arguably the magical girl genre’s answer to Neon Genesis Evangelion — a darker, edgier, psychologically complex, and adult evolution of the genre. After a definitive ending, it was surprising for fans to learn there would be a sequel. How? Original writer Gen Urobuchi reunited with director Akiyuki Shinbo and mad designer duo Gekidan Inu Curry to create this follow-up. The fan reaction was… mixed, to say the least. I think that Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 3 is a fantastic sequel that expands Madoka Magica‘s world in fascinating and troubling ways. Most hate is directed toward the ending — which wasn’t initially what Urobuchi had in mind. Originally, he intended a completely happy ending, a total resolution where the god-like Madoka would raise suffering time-traveler Homura to Heaven with her. However, Urobuchi’s colleagues wanted the film to end on a cliffhanger to provide a hook for a possible future sequel. Therefore, the downbeat shock ending we received is what Urobuchi scrambled to concoct from the wreckage of his original premise. That he managed to produce such a psychologically scarring ending that remains thematically appropriate and true to the characters is nothing short of remarkable. I salute him as a writer for this single act of narrative acrobatics alone. Now with 2024’s upcoming Madoka Magia: Walpurgis Rising, we’ll finally see if this gamble paid off…
(Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie Part 3 is available to rent or buy from many U.S. streaming services but is unavailable to stream in the U.K. The U.K. Manga Entertainment Blu-ray is still available.)
Finally, studio ufotable released their ultimate installment of TYPE-MOON co-founder Kinoko Nasu‘s The Garden of Sinners with sequel movie The Garden of Sinners/recalled out summer and its accompanying short film Extra Chorus. It’s not an essential watch, but for fans of the supernatural detective noir series, it’s fun to spend more time with Mystic Eyes-wielder Shiki Ryougi, all-round nice guy Mikiya Kokutou, and slightly terrifying mage Touko Aozaki. It’s an oddly structured story that jumps about in time, but that’s to be expected for The Garden of Sinners. In particular, Recalled Out Summer focuses on the concept of time via the conceit of multiple characters with precognitive abilities. Some esoteric gobbledegook is hard to follow, but for anything written by Nasu, that’s par for the course. It’s a shame that the hideously overpriced Aniplex USA Blu-ray is long out-of-print and that they never seem to answer their U.K. distribution partner MVM‘s emails about a U.K. release.
(The Garden of Sinners/recalled out summer and Extra Chorus are available to stream on Crunchyroll in the U.S., but not in the U.K. What’s your problem, Aniplex?)
With a couple of notable exceptions, most anime in this article is still readily available to either stream or buy — at least if you live in the U.S. Availability in the U.K. is much spottier, and this is at least partly due to an early-to-mid 2010s licensing mess left behind by the exit of Manga Entertainment‘s European partner Kaze from the U.K. market and the reabsorption of the short-lived Animatsu label back into Manga Entertainment. Manga Entertainment was subsequently devoured by Funimation, which dissolved into Crunchyroll. Where these licensing rights are now, I presume corporately, no one either knows or cares. With Crunchyroll U.K.’s drastic cutback in local Blu-ray releases, Right Stuf International’s amalgamation into the U.S. Crunchyroll store (who won’t ship anime outside of North America), apart from the occasional license rescue from Anime Limited, the outlook for U.K. fans seeking physical anime releases looks grim.
Of the other shows I considered covering for this article, Strike the Blood is unavailable to stream in the U.K. and was never released on disc here. Perhaps that’s for the best? I’ll never know. Also, despite the availability of later seasons in the U.K., the first season of Yowamushi Pedal from Fall 2013 isn’t available in any way here either. Arpeggio of Blue Steel, an anime featuring anthropomorphic sentient warships as cute anime girls, was popular among a certain demographic of fans. Still, after a couple of episodes, I felt it wasn’t for me. That’s not a criticism. There’s no way an average human being trying to keep up with the current anime season could watch everything that came out in a previous season — so please share in the comments any shows you enjoyed that I haven’t covered. There are undoubtedly other hidden gems I’ve missed!
Kevin Cormack is a Scottish medical doctor, husband, father, and lifelong anime obsessive. He writes as Doctorkev at https://medium.com/anitay-official and appears regularly on The Official AniTAY podcast. You can also find him on Twitter @Herrdoktorkev. His accent is real.
Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.