Friday, January 3, 2014

Reflecting Lights 2013 Anime & Manga in Review

2013 was possibly one of my biggest anime watching (and manga reading) years in quite some time. Not only did I follow a lot of current anime via legal simulcasts, but I also began a project to watch my backlog of DVD and streaming anime. Meanwhile, Paradox began posting occasional gaming and anime reviews, which I've found fun to read and I hope others have as well. Following up on last year's inaugural "year in review" style post, here are my favorites (and biggest disappointments) from 2013.


As a surprise to no one, my favorite simulcast this year was Chihayafuru 2. It picked up right where the excellent first season left off, and while it became a bit more about the game than the characters, it kept my interest throughout. The incorporation of new characters worked fairly well, and I loved the additional focus on Shinobu as the chief rival. I'm eagerly awaiting an announcement of a third series--surely they wouldn't leave us hanging?

* HONORABLE MENTION: There were a lot of other very good shows this past year. Gatchaman Crowds was a surprise hit for me, Flowers of Evil was a disturbing trip, andAttack on Titan usually had me on the edge of my seat (at least when it wasn't spending multiple episodes talking about moving a boulder). However, there was just one other simulcast that I watched day of release and watched with relish: SILVER SPOON. It might not be a best show ever, but I thoroughly enjoyed each charming episode. It was packed with a lot of heart and realism, and I appreciate how they handled farm life and food production. It made me want to plant a garden (if only I had a non-shady area of my yard in which to do that).

[NOTE: I did not have the opportunity to complete Kyousogiga before this post. However, it is quite likely it would have taken the honorable mention place if not my favorite of the year based on just the first few episodes. The art, world building, character stories, and interactions have been magnificent, plus Hisakawa Aya has a role so it gets bonus points. Perhaps it will be my 2014 non-simulcast anime instead.]


Most of my favorite shows this season were watched via simulcasts. While I started my DVD backlog project, the first few series didn't really set my heart afire. However, there was one series that I ate up like a it was ice cream: (or Oniisama e if you prefer). It was dramatic, melodramatic, sentimental, over-the-top, funny, realistic it was a bit of everything in different moments. The characters were unbelievable and yet I felt completely engaged with them. The twists and turns throughout added a layer of intrigue that made it difficult not to watch five or six episodes every time I turned it on.

* HONORABLE MENTION:was a surprise hit in our household. I watched it on my own and immediately begged Paradox to watch it with me. While it was a very simple story, the way it was told and the beautiful animation made it something very special.


I was rather intrigued by the idea of SERVANT X SERVICE, a rom-com set in an office rather than in a high school. Unfortunately, the jokes were even more one-note than the typical rom-com, and even the acting felt like it was phoned in. There were elements I enjoyed, but in the end it ended up being nothing special at all.

* DIS-HONORABLE MENTION: I'm only considering shows that I watched to completion, but I think KICK-HEART ended up being a bit of a disappointment for me, if only because I really just didn't enjoy it at all. Since I backed it on Kickstarter, I had a lot of excitement to see it. But when I popped it in, I found myself thinking, "Well, that wasn't worth the money I spent on it." It was just a bit too juvenile in the humor for my tastes, I think.


Without a doubt, the stunning ROSE OF VERSAILLES release from Nozomi was my favorite release in 2013. The art boxes are absolutely beautiful, and getting to have this classic in my collection was a dream come true.

* HONORABLE MENTION: I feel like I didn't buy a lot of flashy/collector's edition anime this year, so for lack of a better option, I'll choose Funimation's release of LUPIN III: THE WOMAN CALLED FUJIKO MINE for my runner-up. The box art is lovely, at least. I haven't peeked inside it just yet though.


There were so many gorgeous manga released this year, from continuing series like Wandering Son and A Bride's Story to other new series in delicious hardcover editions. In the end, I think that THERMAE ROMAE V. 2 was my overall favorite. The oversize design, well-done translation, and all of the extra historical pieces and essays from the artist made it into an amazing release.

* HONORABLE MENTION:was a very close second in quality of the release. The cover is beautiful, the paper thick and glossy, and the inclusion of various essays were much appreciated.


While I read a lot of really good manga this past year, from Kodansha USA was my favorite. I was taken by surprise at just how good the story was, particularly given my assumed disinterest in things relating to Vikings.

* HONORABLE MENTION: Vertical has released a lot of great manga, and this year was no different. While the latest volumes of series like Wandering Son and A Bride's Story are worthy of being favorites, I really wanted to take a moment to appreciate which was outstanding. It was dark but funny, absurd but bitterly lifelike--a contradiction in every way that made it appeal to me.


While Vertical released some of my favorite series of the year, they also put out my biggest disappointment: . There's not much more that I can say about it beyond what I wrote in my review, but it just lacked the originality I expected out of something by Kon Satoshi. It was a serviceable little story, maybe one I might have appreciated more 15-20 years ago by a different author, but at this point it lacked anything new and just didn't feel like a Kon work.

* DIS-HONORABLE MENTION: After disqualifying Utsubora because only the translation was a disappointment (not the actual content) and reminding myself that I couldn't be disappointed with Limit since I knew going in was going to be a teen angst fest based on the author's previous works, I was left with with as my other big disappointment. In the end, I still did appreciate it; however, I came in with Helter-Skelter expectations, and while I could see the flashes of brilliance that would culminate in that later work, PINK was a bit of a mess.


There were certainly some excellent theme songs this year, although it also seemed that most of them came earlier in the year--of the few autumn shows I watched, none of them had particularly remarkable theme songs. For the opening theme, I think that "Crowds" by White Ash from GATCHAMAN CROWDS just edged out the competition with its tempo and tone that perfectly matched the series itself.

* HONORABLE MENTION: SPACE BROTHERS had a lot of great opening themes again this year, but "Crater" by Merengue was definitely my favorite. I like the more adult feel of the music in the series. It has a richer tone in general compared to the bubble gum pop often associated with anime.


I didn't even have to think about this one--ATTACK ON TITAN OP 1 was easily my favorite opening animation. The timing of the animation with the fantastic opening theme was so perfect in getting the blood pumping and excitement started for each episode. It's too bad the full version of "Guren no Yumiya" was almost unrecognizable (if not unlistenable) or might have tagged in as my favorite theme song as well.

* HONORABLE MENTION: While I didn't particularly like the song itself, the opening animation for WATAMOTE was very intriguing. Rather than focusing on introducing the viewer to all of the different characters in the series, instead it almost serves as a music video for the theme song. It was dark, a little disturbing, and a daring choice for the series.


There were a few great song this year, but none quite had the same immediate hook that my favorites from 2012 had. That said, "Utsukushiki Zankoku na Sekai" by Hikasa Youko from ATTACK ON TITAN was a beautiful song and another highlight of the show.

* HONORABLE MENTION: "Goodbye Isaac" by Hata Motohiro is just another example of how good the music from SPACE BROTHERS is. It's another one of those adult-rock songs that fit so perfectly with the exuberance and maturity of the show.


I doubt any ED animation is going to catch my attention like From the New World did last year, but the first ending animation for ATTACK ON TITAN meshed perfect with Hikasa's voice. The sketchy drawing and limited animation came together nicely for an impactful ending to each episode.

* HONORABLE MENTION: Simple as it might have been, I never skipped watching the ending animation for WATAMOTE. Sure, it was just Tomoko "running" through her mobile phone, but there was something about the playfulness of that imagery with the slightly off-key singing that worked really well for me.


2013 was my second year as a figure collector, and the collection has grown nicely since that time. None of this year's figures were quite as flashy as Saber with her Motored Cuirassier or Ultimate Madoka, but for its elegant beauty, FATE/STAY NIGHT - RIN TOHSAKA YUKATA VER. 1/8 COMPLETE FIGURE is probably my favorite figure this year. The red yukata is perfect for the dark-haired Rin, and I like the bench and little burner that came with her. It's especially lovely alongside all of the other figures in that particular collection.

* HONORABLE MENTION: Speaking of Fate franchise figures, the M.M.S. COLLECTION - FATE/ZERO: RIDER 1/8 COMPLETE FIGURE was also amazing. The level of detail in the figure is amazing, from the fur to his hair, beard, and musculature. Admittedly, I'd love to have a t-shirt version of Rider just as much (if not more). The only problem with the figure is that it is a bit too much of a contrast with my Waver figure.


2012 was an amazing year for anime news, what with the license announcement for Rose of Versailles and the announcement of a new Sailor Moon (which has yet to actually see light of day, unfortunately). 2013 was a bit less exciting in that regard. Sure, Cowboy Bebop was rescued and a blu-ray announced, but I didn't have any moments of shouting out in joy. In fact, the best news I can think of was Anime Sols putting DEAR BROTHER up for crowdfunding--and that 2/3 of the series has already been funded. That's pretty awesome news, although not quite as big of a deal as its predecessor.

* HONORABLE MENTION: PERSONA 5 was officially announced! While this is gaming news rather than strictly anime/manga news, I'm just as excited. It's a game franchise with a very anime-feel to it, so it's close enough. Now to count the months until it's finally released in the U.S. as well.
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