It has been another busy year with numerous new and older anime titles getting their UK releases, although the big news is the rise in cinema distribution, with more anime titles hitting the big screen than ever before (except in my local cinema). Previously the province of the annual Scotland Loves Anime festival and similar niche events, franchises such as Dragonball Super and My Hero Academia got to share multiplex space with Pixar and Disney films for the first time.

Maybe one day this will extend to beyond limited release and reach all cinemas across the country but for now, it is a start. Meanwhile, the UK home video market faces another challenger in streaming services. Not only is Amazon Prime offering simulcasts with Japanese broadcasts, Netflix and Channel 4’s streaming service ALL 4 have joined in, adding classic titles to their listings, albeit dubbed versions in ALL 4’s case.

But despite annual reports of the death of physical media, home video releases continue unabated, with more focus on Blu-ray only releases and some nifty collectors’ editions to encourage fans to part with their money. Unfortunately, as I only receive review discs from MVM and Manga, my selection is not wholly representative of the 2019 release schedule in the UK, (unless I purchased All The Anime titles myself).

So, without further ado, here are my personal Top Ten titles which received a UK release in 2019 and as usual agree or disagree as is your wont.

 

10. Fruits Basket 2019 (Manga Entertainment)

Because the original anime adaptation of Natsuki Takaya’s manga was forced to divert from the then ongoing source material and create its own ending, a reboot was created in 2019. With artwork changes approved by Takaya, the story of ill-fated teen Tohru Honda and the Soma family of boys who turn into animals of the Chinese zodiac when touched by a human female will be told in full per the manga. This first part of the first season is a promising start, mixing, comedy, drama, pathos, and fantasy in an addictive and endearing way to enchant fans old and new.

Read the full review HERE

 

9. Okko’s Inn (Manga Entertainment)

The only film on this year’s list and the only one that didn’t disappoint because I had no expectations of it, Okko’s Inn tells the story of a 12 year-old girl who survives a car accident but is haunted by the spirit of a dead boy. Together they work to reverse the fortunes of Okko’s grandmother’s hot springs inn through determination and goodwill. Former Ghibli animator Kitaro Kosaka invokes the aesthetic and whimsy of his former employer whilst creating an agreeable work of his own.

Read the full review HERE

 

8.Princess Principal (MVM)

In an effort to subvert the usual trope of a spy being a suave, hunky, male action hero, this show proffers a group of young women as the secret agents planning to usurp the throne and reunite a divide country. A busy, complex steampunk adventure series from Code Geass writer Ichiro Okouchi, we follow Princess Charlotte and her group of highly skilled maidens across a series of challenging undercover operations righting wrongs and bringing villainous plotters to justice.

Read the full review HERE

 

7. Darling In the FranXX (Manga Entertainment)

Teenagers pitting giant mecha to ward of alien invasions is a story we’ve heard too many times before but not quite like this. The titular Franxx are the mecha designed to combat the Klaxosaurs, operated by a male and female combo of genetically created children. Whilst it starts as an innuendo-laden take on the Mecha genre, this show eventually reveals itself to be a touching and intelligent mystery drama about the emotional and mental oppression. Scary stuff.

Read the full review HERE

 

6. Steins;Gate 0 (Manga Entertainment)

The sequel that isn’t a sequel and the reboot that isn’t a reboot, perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything less from Steins;Gate. The premise behind this second series featuring time travelling scientist Rintaro Okabe and his motley crew of associates is essentially a continuation of the first series but with the twist of the timeline being distorted to change the original events to ensure the current events don’t happen. Confused? Naturally, but that is half the fun.

Read the full review HERE

 

5. Ancient Magus’ Bride (Manga Entertainment)

Like much of Asia, Japan has a history of dubious attitudes towards marriage in allowing minors to become brides. Case in point, depressed 15 year-old Chise Hatori puts herself up for auction to be married off, feeling her life is worthless, to the delight of many rich and willing older suitors. But it is grotesque looking mage Elias Ainsworth who claims Chise but doesn’t intend to marry her just yet, instead he wants her to be his apprentice. As surprises go, this is one of the more rewarding ones of the year.

Read the full review HERE

 

4. Girls’ Last Tour (MVM)

Unfortunately adding the prefix “Spice” to the title of this quirky dystopian series would be wishful thinking, but on the plus side the two lone female leads are for more likeable than the warbling harridans of yesteryear. Chito and Yuuri drive their way across a post-apocalyptic world looking for signs of life but make important discoveries about the world that once was as well as themselves. If ever there was a minimalist anime this was it yet it still has buckets of charm.

Read the full review HERE

 

3. Attack On Titan Season 3 Part 1 (Manga Entertainment)

There is no stopping this monster of a franchise telling the epic tale of the war between humans and giant titans but in this instalment takes a detour from the usual rural battles to move inner city. The scout regiment seek to find the source of the Titans’ creation, instead uncover political shenanigans with repercussions deeper than anyone could have expected. Fewer Titans should me fewer thrills but this isn’t the case, creating a whole new set of problems for our heroes to overcome.

Read the full review HERE

 

2. Hanasaku Iroha (MVM)

Another title set in a rural inn, this one comes from prolific writer Mari Okada, featuring 16 year-old Ohana Matsumae, sent to work at her crotchety grandmother’s guesthouse by her irresponsible mother. With a cast of many to flesh out the story and deepen the emotional impact, this is a clash of wills between two strong-headed females of the same family who both learn to yield to the other. Despite some early stumbles, this ends up a warm and life-affirming parable.

Read the full review HERE

 

No. 1

Made In Abyss

(MVM)

Forget Made In Chelsea, there is a far scarier world out there to explore in this sublime fantasy adventure series. The story involves Riko, a young girl hoping to find her missing mother at the bottom of the mysterious Abyss, and lays out its subversive intention from the start with its deceptively cutesy character designs that do not prepare us for the horrors and tragic discoveries that await. Flanked by an amnesiac robot boy named Reg, Riko soon learns the Abyss is not so much navigated as survived, barely in their case…

Maybe not promoted as a horror series, there is more shocking imagery and disturbing scenes here than in most shows with that label, whilst the drama is unflinchingly raw the further it progresses. In what is a tale of discovery, somethings are better left lone and there is plenty of that for Riko and Reg to find out first hand, extending to the audience too. It’s just a shame Made In Abyss will continue via feature lengths films and not another TV season.

Read the full review HERE

 

And that is the list for this year. Had they not been re-issues, even if they were on Blu-ray for the first time, the likes of Soul Eater and the underrated film Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade would have resulted in a different list from the one above. I was tempted to relax the “no re-issues” rule due to struggling to compile a definitive list from my reviews, partly due to a couple of films falling short of expectations, namely Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai and Mari Okada’s Maquia, which I hoped would have been easy contenders.

But it is what it is. From what I was able to review this year I think this is a solid list with some highly regard titles that deserve their spot, though I must confess to deliberating over the positioning, especially at the top end. Whether you agree or not, I hope there is something that catches your eye here and you get as much from them as I did.

Join me again at the end of 2020 to see what new treats hit UK shelves and impressed me enough to make the grade in MIB’s Top Ten.

Thanks for reading and until next time, this is the Man in Black saying Sayonara!

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