Here it is, folks: Otaku USA’s Top Anime of 2013.
Some of our top minds have come together to share their feelings on the year past and choose for you, dear reader, their favorite anime of the year – and believe it or not, no one chose the same thing! What does that mean, exactly? We’ll leave it to you to decide.
Submitted for your approval, and in no certain order: the list.
Daryl Surat – Space Battleship Yamato 2199
Ten years from now, we’re going to look back and say “wow. 2013 was a really strong year for anime, wasn’t it?” It’s not going to be easy to pick out which one was “best” in the sense of “what is something we would encourage the next generation of anime fans to go back and watch from this era?” goes. Thinking back on years past, so many titles enjoyed sweeping mania for a period of time only to be forgotten and looked back upon as “not worth the effort.” So while this was the undisputed year of Attack on Titan, I don’t know if I can truly call it “best of the year” until it’s further in the history books and I know whether or not the story continues in animated form (seems practically guaranteed) and resolves itself satisfactorily without declining in quality. Guess we’ll know once the manga ends.
So I’m going to pick something that I know for certain is superlative NOW, with the only caveat being “do we really count it as 2013 or not?”: Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Although it was first screened in 2012, the series didn’t air on Japanese TV until 2013, during the exact same season as Attack on Titan, on the same day and channel…and Yamato trounced Attack on Titan in the ratings. 2199 is a remake of the original Space Battleship Yamato TV series from the 1970s, in which the inhabitants of a dying planet Earth on the verge of alien conquest have one year to make an interstellar journey to a distant alien world and back. They may be just one battleship and fighter craft complement against an entire alien army, but they’ve got the mother of all equalizers in one of the all-time great weapons in anime history, the Wave Motion Gun. What made Yamato 2199 deserving of my top spot is that it’s NOT a slavish sort of remake that’s only accessible to fans of the original from decades past. Enough got altered about its story, characters, and designs to not only keep old-schoolers guessing, but appeal to modern sensibilities as well. Even with a somewhat rushed finale, the animation quality was top-rate with a soundtrack worthy of its predecessor, which was the anime that popularized the concept of selling anime soundtracks in the first place!
Which is why it’s more the pity that practically nobody in America has heard of or has interest in Space Battleship Yamato 2199, especially compared to Attack on Titan. The overly-restrictive Japanese publisher has only itself to blame for that one. Unlike Attack on Titan which did everything right as far as making itself available to us, there was no simulcast of 2199. It’s not streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, Netflix, FUNimation, The Anime Network, or anywhere at all for that matter. And while chances are slim for a US TV broadcast of any anime, the fact that no English dub will even get made guarantees this won’t ever be. Plus, once it does come out it’s going to be released one disc at a time, and each subtitled-only single disc will cost more than entire box sets of other series do. A show this good deserved to be experienced by more fans in the USA, but with that kind of release, the only people that will even consider picking it up are already diehard Yamato fans. Even then, those people are either in Japan themselves or imported the Japanese discs already, since those included a professional English subtitled translation. Ugh, now I’m mad about it all over again…
David Cabrera – Samurai Flamenco
It’s completely reasonable that Samurai Flamenco flew under the radar. Look it up on Crunchyroll, and the show offers only the vaguest summary of itself. A young man plays superhero in modern Japan, dreaming of his childhood idol Red Axe, while his friend, a lowly desk-bound cop, looks on and sighs disapprovingly. And that’s the core of it: like a josei manga version of Kick-Ass, we watch these awkward, vulnerable guys try to deal with the idea of superheroism in the real world. The show never stops being about that. But even so, Samurai Flamenco is setting you up for something else. It snarks, it jokes, but Samurai Flamenco believes in superheroes. This show is in a chicken race with you, and you’re going to lose because you will underestimate just how far it is willing to go. In the middle of its run, more has happened in Samurai Flamenco than in two full-length anime series and probably four of the Japanese live-action super hero shows that influenced it. By the end of the series, it may well be in another genre. Despite the insanity of its plot, the characters remain deeply grounded and human. The contrast between them is a subtle pleasure… but Samurai Flamenco is not subtle. Don’t let it fool you into thinking that.
Jason Moses – Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
Confession: I didn’t really dig what I initially saw of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a TV adaptation of the first two story arcs of Hirohiko Araki’s very long-running (26 years!) cultural institution of a manga series. Something about the look of the characters, the staging, and having to listen to Takehito Koyasu as perrennial series badguy Dio yell “GOODBYE, JOJO!” left me in the lurch a little bit. Except for that last thing I mentioned, which is great. What was I thinking?!
Anyway, at some point everything just came together, and Jojo’s quickly became one of my favorite shows in recent memory. Some of that I have to chalk up to the quality of the source material itself — Part 2 is way better than Part 1 — but turning a property as audacious, outrageous, insane as Jojo’s takes serious guts, and dammit, David Production pulled it off.
Now, there’s a lot to like about the show. It’s got inspired, psychadelic visual design, great casting, breakneck pacing, the works. But man, it was probably the big showdown in Part 2 between protagonist Joseph Joestar and evil uber-vampire AC/DC (sent by his comrades Wham! and Cars) who, after having one of his limbs vaporized, proceeds to cry uncontrollably for a full minute before recovering his composure and saying “I’m good now” that I realized yes, this show is the real deal. Also: this was following a training montage featuring Jonathan’s training partners Loggins and Messina, set to classic progressive jam “Roundabout” by Yes. Best anime of 2013.
Ink – Flowers of Evil
The second I hear “best of 2013,” Flowers of Evil is the first title that comes to mind. Not only do I consider it the best animated series to come out of Japan during that year, but Flowers of Evil was one of my favorite media experiences in general for 2013. I wrote about it for our print mag (subscribe!), I broke down each episode’s imagery and themes on anigamers.com, and I’ll happily continue to write anywhere and everywhere about this phenomenal show that managed to trump its source material tenfold!
Portraying and maintaining an oppressive atmosphere of anxiety is difficult, especially in a medium where high school is generally thought of with a great fondness. But the acting and voice acting; the ambient noise and subtle scoring; the delightfully restrictive pacing; and the colored-in, blurred lines struck between animation and real life (rotoscoping) make this series stick in the viewer’s head with an uneasiness that is the very core of the show. If you like slow, moody pieces, Flowers of Evil is a must!
Matt Schley – Kick-Heart
I already wrote about Kick-Heart in our other 2013 roundup (oh, and I reviewed Kick-heart it way back in May too), but it bears repeating: this is the most charming animated film about sadomasochistic pro wrestlers ever.
The brainchild of Masaaki Yuasa, Kick-Heart went through a very unique production process. Funded on Kickstarter, it quickly raised more than enough funds to cover its budget, despite very few of Yuasa’s previous works ever having been released abroad.
What arrived in backers’ mailboxes a few months later was a true treat for fans of Yuasa, or just fans of unique, off-the-wall animation. Kick-Heart stuffs more, well, heart into its 12 minutes than anything else I saw this year.