The best N anime that I saw in 2013

January 9, 2014

This is much like last year's best N, namely what I consider to be the best or most enjoyable N anime that I saw in calendar 2013 (regardless of when they were made or released). The top three shows this year are extremely close, so close they're almost a tie. I could wimp out by declaring it an actual tie but if I'm being honest the three shows are not quite equal in my affections.

(See also the winter, spring, summer, and fall retrospectives.)

In order:

  • Shin Sekai Yori: This was an excellent but not flawless show for most of its run that is pulled up to greatness by the power of its ending, especially the last episode; I wrote a bunch of words about this. If I had done a '12 days of anime' series of entries, the climactic one would and could only have been:

    A perhaps underappreciated aspect of Shin Sekai Yori is its mastery of disturbing atmosphere. Over and over the show manages to be quietly creepy in visuals, directing, and so on, and it has quite a number of genuinely disturbing or tense moments.

    I've written enough about the show that I've made an index of my Shin Sekai Yori entries.

  • Kyousougiga: I've come to think that Kyousougiga is a triumph of spectacle in service to story. It is visually stunning and crazy but pretty much everything (including some things that you'll initially dismiss) is there because the story calls for it. And the story is good enough to carry the weight of expectations created by the visuals. I also think this story could only have been told through anime, at least in anything like this form; it fundamentally needed to be told visually. See also. Some people will dock it style points because it was not necessarily clear in spots, but that's part of why I love it; it pushes a bunch of my style buttons. I like shows that throw you into the action ('in media res' as some people like to say) and leave it to you to decode things as you go along. I personally thought that Kyousougiga did this very well.

    (Bobduh has written a quite interesting discussion of Kyousougiga if you want to read more.)

  • Uchouten Kazoku aka Eccentric Family: This is a small, quiet, but great show and one that pushes many of my buttons; I wrote a bunch in my summer wrapup. I don't love it quite as much as Kyousougiga only because it is more quiet and less visually spectacular, although it's full of its own beautiful moments.

    (I actually find it hard to directly compare the two and I sort of consider them tied here. Also I'll refer you to Bobduh's review of the show once again for more informed commentary.)

Because my top three are very close to being a tie, I want to add some more words on where each of them excels. Shin Sekai Yori is the most ambitious show; it aims very high and hits what it's aiming for, although at the expense of its characters. It confronts us with uncomfortable questions and doesn't give us easy ways out and it's the show that most makes me think and talk this year, as you can see. Uchouten Kazoku has the most fully realized characters and the best and most interesting story, but it's a small story in a small setting (it's both fantasy and ordinary life at once, and that's part of its power). Kyousougiga is the most spectacular and enthusiastic of the three shows, the most anime of the three, and it has the most interesting characters.

(For example, Koto is a great character and great fun, but I don't think she's as fully realized and human as Yasaburou or Yaichirou. She's closer to Benten and Benten is deliberately mostly a cipher.)

  • Gatchaman Crowds: I really liked Crowds and it made me think; it's a very smart and aware show, one that repeatedly subverts your expectations in order to do interesting things. At the moment I feel that I can't rate it properly because I think that the Blu-Ray release is likely to involve a significant restructuring of the last two episodes. As it is, the TV broadcast version loses some style points for the first half of episode 11. See also and also, and relatedly some entries: 1, 2, 3 (all may have spoilers). As usual Bobduh has interesting things to say.

  • KILL la KILL: As I like to say, this is BURNING ANIME. While it hasn't finished airing, how much I've unconditionally enjoyed the 12 episodes produced so far means that the show has shoved its way into this list anyways (which is perfectly appropriate). Besides, I don't think that this is the kind of show where the ending can ruin the overall experience; even if it goes down in flames in the end, we'll always have things like two-star banchou Mako.

    (I'm pretty sure that KILL la KILL is going to be remembered more for a succession of epic moments than for the stirring depths of its plotting and characterization. And it's delivered plenty of those moments so far.)

  • Ghost in the Shell ARISE episode 1: Call this the special merit award for the best cyberpunk anime of the year. The first episode of ARISE is everything I could have asked for here, complete with genuine surprises and chilling moments that could only really have been done in this genre. I really like this new version of the Major, and of course it delivers good action and animation too.

    (I did not love the second episode as much and the whole thing is incomplete so far.)

  • Space Battleship Yamato 2199: See my views on the show, which are too complex to try to summarize here.

Just on the edge:

  • Psycho-Pass: As I said at the time this is far from flawless but it managed to become a good show by trying hard and having Akane. I wrote about Sybil and the ending. For all of its flaws, I will give it this: the show had ambition and it tried, and in the process it raised a number of interesting questions (some actively, some just passively and thus possibly not deliberately). That is fundamentally why I am reluctantly listing it here.

    (This is not as good as some of the shows below but more memorable, which shows that my classification scheme here has a bug or two.)

Shows that I consider good but not memorable over the long term:

  • Girls und Panzer: This is an extremely well executed sports action show; it was fun and interesting and enjoyable throughout. It delivered a stirring climax that was worth the wait, although I kind of wish it had managed to air all of its episodes last year so that I could put it among better company in last year's list.

  • Little Witch Academia: This is a great little adventure story of a sort that we rarely see any more because everyone insists on complicating things (and often putting darkness and grimness into them). It was also very well made. Again, though, there is no real depth to it; it was simply fun. Not that fun is bad, but fun by itself usually lacks staying power.

  • RahXephon: For all that I wound up somewhat down on it in the end the show was compulsively watchable, well made, and generally good throughout its run. It's the best and most interesting reaction to Neon Genesis Evangelion that I've seen.

  • Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince: It had heart and affection for all of its characters and the result delivered a good show. It is not the show's fault that I am not a big mecha fan or that it did not have anything really new to bring to the table, just a good execution of relatively standard concepts. However it is laced with great little moments.

  • Zetsuen no Tempest: In retrospect I didn't quite enjoy the second half of the show as much as the first half (as usual the romance plot was not quite successful with me) but it remains a very solid show. See my winter retrospective for more commentary.

Honorable mentions:

  • Suisei no Gargantia: It was technically well made, it had a number of good characters and good ideas, and Chambers stole the show by the end. I think I've warmed to it somewhat since my views at the end of spring.

In the end I completed 28 shows, OVAs, and movies this year, which turns out to be exactly the same as last year (I also looked at and dropped a lot of shows). If I'm counting right, six of these were movies, also the same as last year. Overall I think that this was an excellent year, as I saw at least three shows that I consider great and a bunch more than I consider excellent. Shin Sekai Yori alone would have made for a good year; that I have at least two other shows jostling it for the top of the list is amazing.

While I saw all three Rebirth Rebuild of Evangelion movies this year, they do not make this entry for reasons beyond the scope of this margin. The third movie was the most interesting one.

Sidebar: Noteworthy things that I have not watched this year

I have not seen Wolf Children, Aku no Hana, Attack on Titan, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure (which I tried out but couldn't get into), Silver Spoon, Watamote, the Madoka movies, or pretty much any of the 'cute girls doing cute stuff' shows. I understand that many of these are well done and appear on other people's top-N lists for good reasons.

Written on 09 January 2014.
« More words on the ending of Shin Sekai Yori and the show overall
Brief early impressions of the Winter 2014 anime season »

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Last modified: Thu Jan 9 00:15:15 2014
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