5. Akuma Kun
It’s hardly a secret that I love Shigeru Mizuki‘s works and that the 2018 GeGeGe no Kitarō is one of my favorite series of the last few years. Akuma Kun is perhaps not quite as good as its sibling series, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fascinating title in its own right. Shifting from Japanese folklore to Western religious lore, the story follows the second person to bear the title of Akuma-kun, the adopted son of the original. Shingo rescued Ichiro as a child, and he gives the impression of not being nearly as invested in his role as “Akuma-kun” as he perhaps ought to be. But as the series goes on, it becomes apparent that it’s not that he doesn’t care; it’s that if he lets himself, he’ll get lost in the role, and that means seeing the absolute worst that humans are capable of, over and over and over again. In what is a damning look at humanity’s dark side, we learn that most of the people who fall into darkness do so to avoid having to admit to themselves that they’re doing something wrong. It’s much easier to say, “The devil made me do it,” than to closely examine the dusty corners of your soul. The series uses this as a way for Ichiro to think about his relationship with his father through episodes with obvious parent/child themes, making Ichiro peer into his depths in ways he’s uncomfortable doing. The story trades in difficult content, and it does come with a few content warnings for suicide and domestic abuse, but those elements aren’t just there to be edgy. Backed by an unsettling score, Akuma Kun is a grimmer tale than Kitaro (which is saying something), but one that manages to be that way without veering into grimdark edgelord territory. It’s good horror fiction, a series that pops into your head on dark nights.
This hasn’t finished its run yet, so I don’t feel comfortable putting it higher on my list, but if you want to see a light novel adaptation done right, look no further than The Apothecary Diaries. Or at least, that’s true if you’ve read the source novels; I suspect that keeping track of the myriad plot details is more challenging for people coming to this without reading the novels or the manga adaptation. But even with that, this is incredibly well done. That’s true for the art and animation, both beautiful, but also for Maomao herself. While the story is nominally a pseudo-Chinese imperial fantasy (though a fantasy only in that the court itself isn’t tied to any real emperor; there’s no magic here), its real strengths are in how it throws its heroine in at the deep end, and she ably keeps her head above water. Maomao is nobody’s fool, and she’s learned from growing up in the red-light district that she needs to keep herself to herself physically and mentally. This (along with her acerbic personality) has made her a keen observer, and when she’s kidnapped and sold to the inner palace, that allows her (or forces her, as she might put it) to be more than just another laundry maid. With many a sarcastic internal comment, Maomao turns her capable mind to solving poisonings and other mysteries brought to her by the dangerously beautiful Jinshi, the one person Maomao can’t handle. The joy of this series is watching her go about her tasks because while some heroines do so with a smile, Maomao does it with a dry quip and a dose of feline rage whenever Jinshi tries to get close to her. The combination of Maomao herself and her no-nonsense approach to life and interesting historical details, such as arsenic-based makeup and social structures, along with some good old-fashioned soapy melodrama (Switched babies! Hidden identities!) makes every episode feel like it’s three minutes long. Hopefully, it can keep up the quality in its second half when the story gets even more complicated, because this first part has been a total joy.
There are so many series and stories out there based on the Cinderella tale type (or at least, the Cinderella A tale type; Cinderella B’s a very different story) that if you’re going to do a new one, you’d better do it right. My Happy Marriage pulls it off by understanding its heroine’s traumas and using details from variants of the tale type that keep things feeling less Disneyfied than many other Cinderella tales. Miyo Saimori may be too wilting for some viewers, but it makes sense that she’d be so withdrawn and hesitant when you consider what she’s been through – her mother died young, and her stepmother despises her for being another woman’s child. To make matters even worse, her psychic powers appear negligible, giving her stepmother and half-sister more reason to put her down. Miyo does climb out of the pit their cruelty has trapped her in, but it takes time, effort, and the understanding that she deserves kindness and happiness. Kiyoka, her fiancé, offers her that despite his issues, and as he realizes how much damage has been done, he actively works to make her feel like she’s a whole person. Ultimately, the hard work is up to Miyo, and like in real life, that’s a two-step-forward, one-step-back process. But each time she picks herself up and steps forward again, it’s a little easier, and by the end of the series, she can call upon the power she didn’t even realize that she had, both literally and metaphorically. It’s a quietly triumphant story, made even more beautiful by the soft colors and gentle animation, and I’m eagerly anticipating season two.
It was a tough call for these last two. Ultimately, I settled on this order because the other spoke more to me personally, but Skip and Loafer is still an absolute gem of a show based on an equally good manga. Chief among its charms is how it truly cares about its characters. Where other series would have left Egashira to be the Mean Girl and Makoto to be The Quiet Weird One, Skip and Loafer embraces them and shows them to be fully-rounded people in their own right. Even adult characters like Mitsumi’s aunt Nao are treated well, and in Nao’s case, that’s important because she’s a trans woman who is never treated like a joke. Everyone’s got a reason to be who they are, and the story is diligent about remembering that and making it part of the story. That goes double for dual protagonists Mitsumi and Shima. Even though they could comfortably slot into standard tropes (she’s the country girl coming to Tokyo, he’s the hot guy with a mysterious past), the plot instead makes them people rather than characters. Mitsumi’s a bulldozer of a person, charging headfirst into everything because she thinks she understands, and when it turns out that she doesn’t, she dusts herself off and tries again.
On the other hand, Shima puts on a lovely, agreeable act but is isolated inside himself. He’s big on doing what he thinks he’s supposed to or what other people want, and Mitsumi’s near-total disregard for norms that aren’t hers fascinates him. They can learn subtly from each other, and if their friendship isn’t perfect, it’s genuine and demonstrates how much they care about each other. It doesn’t need to be a romance. It’s about two people finding joy in each other in the maze that is high school, where everyone’s stuck in their blind corners, hoping to find their way out.
Objectively, I could see where Skip and Loafer may be the better show. Power of Hope: Precure Full Bloom has its issues, from using nostalgia to get away with not animating new transformations and attacks to not going into the Karen/Kurumi, Syrup/Urara, and Natts/Komachi relationships to being a bit ham-handed with its environmental message. But despite those things, this series spoke to me on a level that nothing else did this past year. The idea of a magical girl (or a whole team of them) growing up and still being able to access what made them magical in the first place is very appealing – to hold on to that spark of hope that so many of them embody feels like something that a lot of us lose, or are told to lose, as we grow up. Nozomi and her friends are all living their adult lives, and it’s wearing some of them down, like Rin and Kurumi, but Nozomi still wants to hold on to the dreams that she had back when she was Cure Dream, the Pretty Cure of Hope, and she’s working to pass them on to her students. She still wants to believe that she can make a difference, even when principals or the world at large tell her that she can’t. That attitude, that “you have to grow up and give up,” forms the series’ strong backbone. Bell, the villain, is a character who sums up the frustration that attitude can bring as she laments what the world has become and where it’s headed. Characters like Honoka’s grandmother, who survived World War II, show that terrors can be overcome if you keep walking forward. Nozomi represents the movement between the two ends of the scale. As Cure Dream, she’s trying to guide the town from Bell to Honoka’s grandmother. It’s not easy and not without its costs (as the time flowers show), but it is something you can do if you try.
It isn’t always easy to “try.” Even Nozomi breaks down at some points in the story, as do the others. Saki and Mai show that what you’re “supposed” to want isn’t always what you actually want, while Komachi’s and Rin’s arcs are about finding space to be creative in a world that doesn’t always want to let you. Even Bunbee gets a chance to point out that the town is being protected by what appears to be a group of teenage girls while all of the adults are just standing around moaning about how it’s too hard to change. After going through a couple of difficult years, this show reminded me that hoping and trying isn’t too much to ask. You may not be able to convince everyone, and you may not save the world for all time. But if you try and have hope, then maybe you can make a difference, even if only for yourself.
Talk about squeaking in right before the deadline! I was initially worried that we might not see the conclusion to BUG FILMS‘ production-woe-plagued adaptation of Zom 100 before the end of 2023, but then the series managed to deliver its final batch of episodes as a literal Christmas miracle. In doing so, we also got to be reminded of what made Zom 100 such a fun and refreshing take on the usual zombie-apocalypse survival story. While the series never managed to reach the pure spectacle of artistry that we saw in that wonderful premiere, that’s perhaps for the best, as it would have been an utter shame for a show about the physical and psychological harm caused by a society obsessed with overworking and undervaluing its citizens to completely burn out its own studio. Besides, even when the show’s visuals lacked somewhat in luster, it always came out on top at telling a fun and hopeful story filled with characters you can’t help but root for. Akira, Kencho, Shizuka, and Beatrix may not be the most battle-hardened or inherently badass of survivors, but they’ve got enough love and joy between them to keep their adventure going for as long as it will take them. If you’ve got the seasonal blues going into the new year, then Zom 100 might just be the concentrated dose of fun you need to get back on the right track.
Even if Trigun Stampede hadn’t been an exciting and action-packed reimagining of one of yesteryear’s classic franchises, I would probably have to give it a spot on my End of the Year List purely for the quality of its artistry. Practically nobody does mixed-media 3D animation better than Studio Orange, at least so far as televised anime is concerned, and for as much as I love BEASTARS, Trigun Stampede might very well be their masterpiece. Every aspect of Vash the Stampede’s journey across the wastelands of Gunsmoke is imbued with vibrant life and toe-tapping energy, and the show’s cast of quirky (and occasionally terrifying) heroes and villains are all exceptionally well-realized because of it. Not only does this mean that Trigun Stampede features some of the year’s best action animation and choreography, bar none, but it also ensures that the show’s quieter and more introspective moments get the chance to shine. I don’t know exactly when the conclusion to this new vision of Trigun will arrive, but I’ll be impatiently rewatching all of my favorite moments from this first season until it does.
This one is probably the biggest surprise of the year, for me. While I knew that combining the wacky and nostalgic antics of the Scott Pilgrim gang with the imaginative work of the folks at Science SARU was almost guaranteed to be, at the very least, a good anime, I never would have guessed that it would outclass everything else in the entire Scott Pilgrim franchise, and most other shows of 2023 in general. Now, I have gathered that the show’s decision to go beyond a simple retelling of the source material angered some fans. Still, I’m also a longtime fan of the comics and Edgar Wright‘s film adaptation of them, and let me tell you: Scott Pilgrim has never been better. Here is a show that engages with everything that made the original property so beloved amongst us millennials, and yet it never lets its acknowledgment of its roots hold it back from telling all-new stories that give every member of the extended Scott Pilgrim cast the opportunity to become the most interesting and satisfying versions of themselves. Did I mention that Science SARU knocked it out of the park with the amount of creative and visually stunning animation they managed to cram into just eight episodes of television? It’s everything that you could ask for in a Scott Pilgrim anime, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
In my professional career as a critic, I’ve probably written more words about Attack on Titan than maybe any other series I’ve ever covered, so I’m going to try to keep this simple. No winding, introspective ruminations on humanity’s capacity for courage and cruelty. No clever jabs at the titling conventions of MAPPA‘s season(s) of the show. No attempts to justify or contextualize the very complicated and messy relationship that the series has with real-world history and politics. You can find several years’ worth of writeups if you’d like to go over any of that.
Instead, I want to say that it is truly remarkable that a series of such staggering ambition and incredible impact on the industry at large managed to craft a finale that is as exhilarating, horrifying, and emotionally moving as anything that Attack on Titan had ever managed before. After dozens of episodes spanning an entire decade and a complete shift in creative teams and production staff, one of the 21st century’s most iconic and controversial anime ended with a sweeping epic of literally apocalyptic proportions, and it somehow ended up being worth the wait. Eren Jeager’s sad and tragic fight for his “freedom” is far from a perfect story, but it will nevertheless live on in the annals of anime history for years to come, for better or worse. I think it’s for the better, since only one other series from 2023 managed to top what Attack on Titan achieved…
1. Vinland Saga Season 2
One of the benefits of Vinland Saga airing so early in the year is that I have had months to reflect on the show’s impact and success. When we reached the end of the season’s final episode back in June, my very first thought was, “It will take a miracle for something to surpass this before the year is done.” Six months later, nothing has changed, which is just as well. The fact alone that Vinland Saga exists is miraculous enough.
I really enjoyed the first season of Vinland Saga, but it concluded with a blazingly confident mic-drop of a title card—”END OF PROLOGUE”—and it was clear that the real story of Vinland Saga was waiting for us in this new season. What a story it turned out to be, too. It’s one thing for an anime to revel in spectacle and violence as its main stock-in-trade, and Vinland Saga could have ended up a perfectly respectable historical epic if it chose to do so. Instead, it used the mythic violence of Thorfinn Karlsefni’s childhood as a Viking raider as a setup for a much more challenging story about redemption, forgiveness, and the trials of striving for a life of peace in a world that only values war. It is an achingly human tale of flawed people doing everything they can to make a life for themselves that is not ruled by fear and suffering, and its heroes have no magic powers or convenient deus ex machinas to carry them to their happy endings. That is what makes their willingness to fight for their happiness, all the same, so spellbindingly beautiful to watch.
The second season of Vinland Saga isn’t just far and away the best anime of 2023; it is easily one of the most profound and dramatically rewarding stories I have ever experienced in any medium. It is the kind of art that has the power to genuinely change the lives of those who open their hearts to what it has to say, and it ought to be required viewing for anyone who still believes that the world can be a beautiful place and is worth fighting for.
You know, this slot could have gone to the second halves of Birdie Wing or Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury—nice, wholesome shows about gal-pals bonding over a murder committed via giant robots and golf. But as I thought and thought about it, I realized, no, I am compelled to give the fifth space to this: the weird, perverted, problematic-fave trans-positivity anime. Lord knows Mahiro had to succeed at something in life.
I’m happy to judge series based on my subjectivity, but a lot of what puts an anime over for the whole year comes down to notoriety and longevity. I don’t mean persistent mainstream popularity; god no, you’re talking to someone who has an all-time fave in Samurai Flamenco, after all. I mean communal notoriety—alongside how much I surprisingly enjoyed it, I had several friends who really liked Onimai. Talking with some of them about the anime and seeing others post funny gifs and neat fanart all went a long way towards upping my appreciation for the series. Onimai isn’t an immediately easy watch, and if its skeevy predilections put you off, you’re well within your rights to not worry about it. But sticking with it, the anime quickly clarifies itself as an earnest, caringly crafted production, loaded with affecting moments that are both introspective and heartwarming. Like its presentation and its poor, confused protagonist, Onimai is messy and occasionally off-putting but ultimately worth loving.
Recency bias can be a hell of a drug. Coming out at the beginning of this frankly stacked year meant it might be easy for a series like Magical Revolution to get lost in the shuffle. It’s arguable that it only stood out due to the less-crowded playing field of the winter season when it was released.
The rest of 2023 was so busy that I actually had to double-take when it was mentioned and go, “Wait, no way did that come out this year!” But here I am, time has made a fool of me yet again, as I recall this magical yuri series in a cycle that’s been oddly prolific for that genre. The thing is, Magical Revolution now seems even more revolutionary compared to its contemporaries. No wonder pablum like Am I Actually the Strongest? or My Unique Skill Makes Me OP even at Level 1 felt extra-agonizing to slog through. My tastes, like an overly strong isekai protagonist, had already been power-leveled by the goofy genius of Anisphia and her rad wife Euphyllia.
With the isekai trend seeming to at last recede as of this past Fall 2023 season (I am blissfully not double-checking what all is coming in Winter 2024), Magical Revolution represents where I hope the trend can settle as it becomes a less all-consuming genre: simply strong stories where the reincarnation angle is but one well-utilized element among many. Also, more vampire lesbian blood-make-out scenes. Those make everything better; it’s a fact!
3. Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
The previous precedent held that Science SARU would swoop in very early in the year to deliver a stone-cold stunner of a series that all other anime would have to compete with over the next twelve months. That’s what happened in 2018 with DEVILMAN crybaby, and then again in 2020 with Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!. But what was Scott Pilgrim Takes Off about if not doing things differently? So here comes the Science SARU squad at the very end, this time to sneak in their surprise in a year full of them. Plenty has already been said about how Scott Pilgrim‘s swerves from its source material turned it into a discussion-devouring powerhouse. But that wouldn’t have mattered had the creators behind the anime not put their loonies where their mouths were with a series whose production stood out as much as its story. The combination of Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s designs with Japanese animation sensibilities makes Takes Off look like nothing so much as a long-lost cousin of Panty & Stocking a lot of the time, and I mean that as a compliment on its delightful dynamism. The shameless needle drops call back to the musical references that made Scott Pilgrim stand out as much as its manga influences back in the day.
And speaking of that influence, the Japanese dub they assembled for this series? Yes, getting the original Hollywood cast all back together was an impressive stunt. But hearing Ai Fairouz carry the narrative as Ramona or Aoi Koga squeak it up as Knives was as unexpected a delight as getting to enthusiastically write about Scott Pilgrim in 2023.
With Kaguya-sama consigned to the movie mines this year, one detective Aya Rindo must shoulder the responsibility of representing Mamoru Hatakeyama on this list. Or she would if she had any shoulders. Undead Murder Farce is another one where you can appreciate its impact via simple comparison. The following season’s Ron Kamonohashi’s Forbidden Deductions would’ve been tepid at any time, but it feels extra uninspired having to come out on Aya’s heels. That is if she had any heels. Undead Murder Farce breathes style as effortlessly as Hatakeyama always does, with a particularly visionary final episode. It’s also just catnip for me and my overall plot-perpetrating preferences. Long-winded explanations are delivered with kaleidoscopic visual enhancements and minuscule aside characterization tics.
Can you tell this is a director who cut his teeth at SHAFT? As much as I’ll always welcome Hatakeyama coming back to Kaguya-sama, this series increases my desire to see him branch out to further, more varied projects. Though if he wanted to return for another season of Undead Murder Farce, I’m sure Aya would welcome him back with open arms if she had any arms.
Screw it. MyGO is Anime of the Year. I could front and put one of the more expected choices at the top here (I’ve already honored enough of them, and brilliant stuff like Pluto still missed the cut). But the fact is that nothing else came close to defining my 2023 the way BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!! did. It was advantageous since I’m already in the broader BanG Dream! fandom. Yet even with that head start, it was shocking how often I found myself thinking about MyGO as the rest of the year went on. Remember what I said about communal notoriety in the Onimai entry? I would never have fathomed that something from my beloved BanG Dream! franchise would allow this much regularly posted material about it to cross my various homepages. But here I am in 2023’s new Era of the Girl Band, with a mountain of unhinged fan art inspired by the best this series has ever been. There were parts of the previous BanG Dream! anime I loved, but those now exist largely in the context of comparison to beholding MyGO as this series, at last, morphing into its true form.
Yuniko Ayana was able to parlay the goodwill she’d built up writing for BanG Dream! all this time into being able to cut loose and reinvent the franchise. She is a visionary; that vision is girls being utterly feral about their feelings towards one another. MyGO embraces the messiness, the ugliness, the uncertainties of teenagers, and their scrappy pursuits of performance and expression. While the band’s reinvented emo sound might make you think this is all angst for angst’s sake, it conveys the same careful layers as any of the best stories about adolescence and music. Soyo isn’t just a subversive, manipulative schemer—she parallels Anon’s struggles with her surface in a way that fuels a beautiful, begrudging kinship between the two girls. Tomori’s aching inability to discard anything in life is as evident in the collective decor of her room as it is in her constant outreach to her bandmates. Not since Revue Starlight has a gacha game anime made me appreciate the mental anguish that informs these girls’ musical performances. There’s a sentence I don’t get to type very often. I know I’ve been going on about this anime all year, but there are so many good reasons for that. If you still haven’t made time for the dark horse triumph that is this improbable little mobile game tie-in spin-off reboot show, know that BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!! is worth a look. Like its titular band of lost girls, its success seemed utterly unlikely, but that only means its riotous rise to the top rings that much more triumphantly.
The Best Moments of 2023
Below are our favorite moments from the last year of anime. Note: the below choices may contain spoilers for popular series, including Attack on Titan.
Coming off of one of the heaviest episodes of Oshi no Ko, episode 7 sees the extended cast come together and use their special skills to fight back against the online abuse that pushed Akane to the edge of suicide and rehabilitate her public image. In the aftermath, all seems well, and the cast of the reality show gives Akane a tip to protect herself in the future—to create a persona to act as instead of bearing her true soul to everyone in front of the camera. As Aqua saves her life, she decides to try to become his ideal woman—i.e., Ai.
However, Aqua is sure channeling Ai in such a way is impossible. She is a special existence to him—simply born different from everyone else. But what he doesn’t realize is that Akane is a genius method actress—one able to piece together a person’s personality through fragments of information and take it into herself.
And so, in the final moments of the episode, as shooting on the reality show begins for the day, Akane closes her eyes. Suddenly, her tone of voice and cadence changed. When she opened her eyes, we saw in them something that had only ever appeared in Ai and her children—the stars that represented Ai’s irresistible, magnetic personality. With this, Aqua’s world is shaken. His idol—his murdered mother—stands before him once more, and everything he thought he knew is thrown into question.
There were a lot of fantastic, memorable, standout moments across this year, but there’s nothing quite like paying off years of anticipation for a single, beloved needle drop. Back in its early seasons, My Hero Academia‘s signature musical cue was “You Say Run” – an iconic and triumphant track that soon became a recurring meme both in and out of fandom. It punctuated several of the show’s most memorable moments, but for whatever reason, it had fallen out of use starting around season three, popping up as an occasional leitmotif in newer tracks until it disappeared altogether. That was, until the action climax of season six, when it roared back into the soundtrack as Class 1-A combined their powers to pull Deku out of his lowest moment.
More than being the perfect payoff to nearly half a decade of waiting, it’s the absolute correct choice for this pivotal confrontation. As the tragedies and failures of the season piled up on Deku’s shaky shoulders, it felt like the bright-eyed love of heroism that fueled both show and character was all but lost, drowning in a swamp of fear and self-destruction. Caked in dirt, blood, and anxiety, desperately running from the people who love him, it’s only with the combined power of every last classmate and friend that Deku is pulled out of that quicksand, reminded that he’s not alone in this fight. Six seasons of kindness and caring come to pay our hero back and rescue him when he needs it most. It’s a thrilling, powerful reassertion of the optimism that made so many fall in love with this story and its characters. For a brief moment, the unbridled empathy of those early stories shines brightly through the darkness, and hearing those familiar notes makes it feel as if the show’s universe is reasserting itself in the face of despair. As the culmination of years of methodical build-up, I could never have picked anything else for my top spot.
With as many characters as this franchise has, finding time for each to get their due can be hard. Season five gave Ryu Leon the chance to enter the spotlight as the series finally truly delved into her past in Astrea Familia, of which she is the sole remaining member. We knew before episode twenty-two that Astrea Familia perished in the dungeon, but knowing and seeing are two entirely different things. Ryu’s PTSD from watching everyone she loved die has been driving her character from the beginning, and getting the chance to see her work through some of her pain is triumphant. During the series’ final battle, Ryu calls upon the spirits of her dead sisters, summoning their strengths and memories to help defeat the monster that killed them. But more than that, Ryu is disarming her own monster. Her sisters’ memories allow her to fight physically, but more than that, they show her that the monster in her heart, the phantasm Juggernaut, can eventually be defeated. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. In welcoming their souls and then letting them go, Ryu allows herself to begin to move forward again. It’s not as flashy as any of Bell’s many battles, but it is every bit as glorious, and the sound of her footsteps as she walks forward reverberates through her character.
“I don’t have any enemies” (Vinland Saga Season 2)
Before his tragic and untimely death at the hands of the bloodthirsty Askeladd, the former warrior Thors tried to impart a difficult but vital lesson upon his young son Thorfinn: “No one is your enemy.” After seeing his father get cut down before his own eyes, only to end up trapped as a child soldier by the man whose hands were stained in his father’s blood, it feels all but certain that Thorfinn could never learn his father’s final lesson, doomed as he is to be consumed by the endless cycle of violence that Thors had worked so hard to free himself and his family from.
Then, in Vinland Saga‘s second season, something incredible happened: Thorfinn began to change. His new life as a slave tilling the land of the wealthy farmer Ketil shows him the true cost of using violence and fear to rule over others, while the empathy that he finds in friends like fellow slave Einar shows him that he is worthy of being loved and forgiven. It is hard work for Thorfinn to change, especially since his world hasn’t changed at all. Violence, strength, and craven power are still the laws of the land. What place is there in such a world for a murderer reborn as a pacifist?
All of this culminates in the emotional climax of all of Vinland Saga, where Thorfinn willingly takes on the abuse of King Canute’s soldiers to talk his old friend down from the scramble for land and power that is threatening to destroy Thorfinn’s new home. After stoically enduring a hundred vicious strikes, Thorfinn is how someone could willingly take on such brutal punishment simply for the opportunity to talk to the king. For Thorfinn, what was once impossible to understand has become all too clear and straightforward. Why should he ever want to hurt a man he has never met? Why would he inflict pain and suffering on others when he knows all too well what that kind of hurt can do to a man? “I have no enemies,” Thorfinn tells them. In that moment, Thorfinn grows into the man his father always knew he could be. It’s perfect television, and my favorite moment in anime from 2023.
Contrary to popular belief, we critics aren’t born haters. We do enjoy being pleasantly surprised! Still, there’s a key role played by expectations, and it’s safe to say those were underground in the lead-up to Netflix‘s live-action One Piece. These guys had completely whiffed Cowboy Bebop, and translating that series into live-action seemed like a lay-up compared to Eiichiro Oda‘s exaggerated excesses. I was fully on board to treat this thing as a morbid disaster watch and went to bed the night before it dropped wholly expecting to wake up to the same sort of out-of-context screencap shitposting and agog rubbernecking that had accompanied Bebop’s release. So imagine my surprise when that… didn’t happen. What I found instead was a majority of viewers were taken aback by how good the show actually was. So then, trying it out for myself, I was able to simply be taken in by One Piece‘s downright magical translation of the manga’s appeal to live-action, alongside its own specific merits. Don’t let anyone tell you that Mackenyu‘s performance as Zoro was weak—he was great in the role, and I’m not just saying that because he’s really, really hot. The come-from-behind hit status of One Piece affirmed that while communally dunking on something can be an alright way to cope with a cruddy release, there’s something special about viewers being brought together by something that actually made them happy. Joy is an outsized emotion to be treasured, and dang if that isn’t in the spirit of One Piece itself. This was easily the most delightful, sustained surprise of the season, and now I get to be genuinely, enthusiastically excited about it continuing.
Soyo Metamorphoses into a Pathetic Worm In Front of Sakiko (BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!!)
That description kinda says it all, but I’ll elaborate. MyGO is full of incredible and unforgettable moments rooted in its characters’ mutual flaws and insecurities, and it’s difficult to isolate any one of them. The show is a concatenation of those confrontations. It’s a masterstroke of writing that fearlessly allows each of its heroines to be mean, messy, and malcontent. And at this point in the series, I had been primed for all of that. Soyo had been scheming to reunite CRYCHIC, and Sakiko had been vehemently unreceptive to those efforts, so I knew there would be fireworks when they came face-to-face. I did not, however, know how desperately Soyo would debase herself to get what she wanted. This scene is downright perverse. So much of the post-CRYCHIC material maps easily onto a messy breakup, but this interaction is indistinguishable from a fight between two exes. It’s a trainwreck. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, nor could I look away.
While kissing scenes are a big deal when it comes to most romance stories, the reason this one sticks out to me so much is because of how much emotional weight is carried into the scene. For context, Ganta has just finished crying and more or less opened up about one of the most troubling aspects of his past. When he was young, his mom straight-up left his dad and him, which ended up becoming the main source of his insomnia. Ever since he was little, Ganta has associated waking up in the morning with trauma.
In his own way, he is subconsciously thinking that as long as he doesn’t go to sleep, then that means there’s nothing bad for him to wake up to the next day. It’s a very believable and real psychological reaction to a traumatic childhood experience. There’s no made-up disease or random tragedy, it’s just a kid feeling guilty and responsible over the fact that his mom left them without a word. Ganta is trying to grow up very quickly, thinking that is the answer when in reality, he just needed to find somebody he felt comfortable enough to open up to. Isaki ends up being that exact person, and she kisses him almost as a form of validation. That kiss wasn’t just a sign that the two were romantically interested in each other because that much was obvious. It is significant because the kiss acts almost like a thank you to Ganta for opening up in that moment and as validation for Ganta’s feelings of being lost. It’s OK that he feels lonely and scared, but he is no longer alone because he has found somebody who is making a promise to be there for him how he always needed.
Hypnosis Mic is not a good anime by pretty much any measure. The plotting is clumsy, the cast over-large, the characters artificial, and the verse unimpressive. Despite all that, I’ll be damned if I don’t look forward to every new episode. Its refusal to adhere to anything resembling real-world behavior or cause and effect makes it so you never know what’s going to happen at any given moment, and one particular scene in the fourth episode truly encapsulates that.
Ramuda, the leader of Fling Posse, is in Osaka and separated from the other members of his group: Gentaro, a professional novelist who likes to lie for fun, and Dice, a professional gambler with a tendency to get in over his head. They are also the only two people in the world who he even somewhat likes, so he’s bored and cranky having to work with the members of other teams. The sincere delight on his face when he ran into Gentaro, who was signing books in Dotonbori as part of his book tour, was soon mirrored by the same expression on my face. But wait! What’s that floating down the river? Why, it’s Dice, who the yakuza tied up and threw in the canal when he ran up too big of a debt at their casino. Ramuda couldn’t be more pleased to see his friends, so of course, it’s selfie time! It’s the most genuinely happy I think Ramuda, who is truly a little shit down to his core, has ever been, and it was so unexpected that I spent the entire short scene cracking up.
Attack on Titan Ends (Attack on Titan Final Season THE FINAL CHAPTERS)
The series that swelled to popularity after its anime debut a decade ago squeaks across the finish line, putting a cap on its controversial history. The series inspired numerous readings on its interplay with actual historical events, drawing ire after a poorly-considered Polygon piece denounced the blatant anti-war series as “fascist.” In retrospect, the series has, time and again, done everything it could except write “war is bad” across multiple animation cels. It indulged in its share of loaded imagery and failed to properly consider the burden of engaging in symbols, and can be rightfully criticized for it.
Included in those controversies is Eren. Hajime Isayama took a large risk casting his typical burning-heart shōnen-type protagonist as a nigh unstoppable genocidal force. It was a turn of genius to let the audience build empathetic rapport for Eren’s struggles only to ask us to turn on him and question his seemingly righteous quest for vengeance. While the final season took a questionable amount of time to complete due to what I assume is a larger issue with MAPPA‘s production pipeline, it nonetheless ended like a splash of cold water to the face. Until humanity eradicates suffering, fear and hatred will march forward with war close behind.