As sure as night follows day and sun follows rain, you can be sure that there will never be a break from new anime series appearing every year in Japan, which of course is a good thing for us fans. Without wishing to sound like a downer though, there is the usual caveat that not every show hits the target depending on our individual tastes, while others suffer from that age old problem of being sadly derivative.
2018 is no different in new shows debuting where the concept is one that has been done to death and offers nothing new to the viewer – whether it is harem comedies, people transported to different worlds or trapped inside video games, magical girls, cutesy schoolgirls fluff and high school romances, not to mention shows created to tie in with video games or pinball machines.
This is unlikely to change as these genres remain popular with audiences both native and abroad so if they work they’ll keep pumping them out – and admittedly some of them aren’t necessarily that bad. For those of us with more demanding tastes though there are some shows that strive to be different and offer new ideas and fresh concepts to make the anime journey throughout the year worthwhile, along with returning shows that still have a story to finish.
Naturally, I’ve not seen every new show that debuted this year, meaning I might have missed out on some rare gems as well as dodged a bullet or two. Whilst this may not be an indicator of the output of the last twelve months I did drop more shows then I have before, which is rather sad, including the notorious Angels Of Death which I think almost everyone dropped!
Finally I must also give a nod to Amazon Prime for their anime simulcasts that made it possible to view many of these shows which I otherwise may have missed. Being able to try a show out via my TV for free is a great help in discovering new anime show, what to stick with and what to dispense with.
So, without further ado, here are my personal Top Ten shows which aired on Japanese TV in 2018 and as usual agree or disagree as is your wont.
10. Kokkoku (Moment By Moment)
One of the few high concept fantasy shows of the year, the story involves the kidnapping of a child for a five million dollar ransom which the family have just 30 minutes to find. By giving some blood to an old stone heirloom, a mystical spell is triggered that puts the world in stasis for everyone except the family, allowing them to rescue the child. However they are not the only ones with this power. A cerebral and twisting riff on the time freeze concept with monsters and gangsters this was a great show to start off the year.
9. Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san (Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles)
You wouldn’t think that a show about a girl eating ramen noodles could be a compelling and entertaining watch but this is exactly what it is. Koizumi is a taciturn blonde student who rebukes everyone’s offer of friendship so she can eat ramen alone but persistent Yu Oozawa follows Koizumi about anyway, discovering the rich and varied world of ramen meals and the best restaurants across the city. Enlightening for gaijin and for homeland audiences too, just don’t watch this on an empty stomach.
8. Banana Fish
No, not a psychedelic comedy but a gritty thriller about teenage gang leader Ash Lynx, a former sex slave for a criminal boss looking to find the secret of the drug that made his brother go insane. A trainee Japanese reporter Eiji Okumura arrives in LA to cover a story on street gangs meeting Ash and gets involved in his dark dealings. It’s far more complex than this summary suggests but what is the real hook for many is the way the homosexuality of Ash, Eiji and others is completely open, not to mention how the source manga is over 30 years old!
7. Koi wa Ameagari no You ni (After The Rain)
May to December relationships are difficult to make work in the arts regardless of the platform because of the very nature of the age gap – it can either be sincere and touching or exploitative and creepy. This show is luckily the former, concerning schoolgirl Akira Tachibana who falls for her 45 year-old single father boss Masami Kondo at the café they work at. It’s as chaste as it can get yet the frisson created between the two is enough to invest audiences in their plight, whilst the support cast offer plenty of fun distractions.
6. Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii (Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku)
A self-explanatory title for this gentle rom-com in which otaku girl Narumi Momose gets a job in an office but feel she has to hide her nerdy passion, until she discovers old gaming friend Hirotaka Nifuji works there too. Nifuji has suppressed his otaku side but when two other colleagues are also revealed to be otaku, Narumi not only feels better about herself but starts to fall for Nifuji. It’s not as slushy as it could be since it has one eye firmly on being a caustic satire about the work place and is good for a laugh too with its relatable and likeable characters.
5. Shingeki no Kyojin Season 3 Part 1 (Attack On Titan Season 3)
Having left off a couple of other sequels from this list, the third season of Attack On Titan gets a pass because it manages to reinvent itself into a virtually new show with its shock new direction. The titular Titans barely feature this time round, with the enemy being a group of scheming politicians and other corrupt officials who know the secret of how the Titans came to be. Among the new antagonists is a psychopath named Kenny The Ripper who has a history with the military. Questions are answered but we are left with more questions at the end.
4. Hinamatsuri (Hina Festival)
I’m not really sure where to begin with this one. A yakuza named Nitta discovers a strange oval shaped object in his apartment inside which is a young girl named Hina. She has incredible powers which Nitta thinks will make his Yakuza work easy for him. Meanwhile, another girl named Anzu arrives looking to take Hina back to wherever they came from but ends up living with homeless bums and learns core values of Japanese society. Then Hina’s classmate Hitomi ends up a bartender in a local yakuza bar. Quirky, irreverent, touching and very funny.
3. Seishun Buta Yarou wa Bunny Girl Senpai no Yume wo Minai (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai)
The lurid title is both a mouthful and a misnomer for what is one of the more curious and engaging shows of the year. The Bunny Girl in question is Mai Sakurajima, a teen actress who finds herself becoming invisible to everyone, hence her racy outfit – except Sakuta Azusagawa is able to see Mai. She is one of many girls experiencing the phenomenon called Puberty Syndrome, brought by changes in their personal lives. It’s technically a harem show without being a harem as Sakuta helps Mai and other girls resolve their issues, but thankfully it is far smarter and interesting than the tile suggests.
2. Hataraku Saibou (Cells At Work)
Anime doesn’t just have to be entertaining, shocking or titillating, it can be educational too as this show illustrates. The human body is imagined as an autonomous world where the various cells that are vital to keeping us alive are brought to life as busy working figures. Central to the series is a newly graduated red blood cell who gets lost delivering oxygen to the heart, having to rely on the burly white cell for directions and protection against invading infections. The biology is explained in layman’s terms whilst the stories show how the body deals with illnesses and infections. And of course there are the platelets, which have become the new measuring stick in kawaii!
Grand Blue Dreaming
A controversial choice perhaps but no other show made me laugh as much as this one did in 2018. Iori Kitahara is about to start at Izu University, located in the seaport town of Izu, where Iori moves in to his uncle’s scuba diving shop Grand Blue. Instead of an easy life by the sea, Iori is immediately introduced to the heavy drinking world of his upperclassmen with hilariously disastrous results.
Regular readers of this site will know my stance on alcohol thus a show about rowdy drunken debauchery should be a turn off, yet Grand Blue Dreaming does in fact warn us of the dangers of over indulging whilst mocking the typical US college fraternity party mentality in a wonderfully sardonic Japanese way. Throw in some self-effacing twisting on their own tropes and luscious art for the underwater diving scenes and you have a wickedly funny slice-of-life show without the simpering clichés.
So, there are my personal picks. As ever there were other great shows that could have made this list, including the second season of my 2016 runner-up Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan 2, another sequel in Steins;Gate 0, the hilarious anti-school girl comedies Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro and Asobi Asobase, subversive idol comedy Zombieland Saga, the devilishly fun Jashin-chan Dropkick, and retro sports drama Megalo Box.
Join me again at the end of 2019 to see what new treats were served up in the home of anime, and which one made the grade in MIB’s Top Ten.
Thanks for reading and until next time, this is the Man in Black saying Sayonara!