2013 was the Year of the Short. Out of the 12 series on this year’s list, 7 of them had an episode runtime of 15 minutes of less, and 5 of those had an episode runtime of 5 minutes or less. Only 4 normal length series made it onto this year’s list. The short is the future of anime, peeps. Get with the program or become obsolete.
12. Aku no Hana
Aku no Hana is less a narrative and more a collection of moments. That makes sense, since that’s usually how you recall your youth– a bunch of important moments surrounded by large gaps of forgotten time. So if you couple that with the sheer awkwardness of the whole thing, Aku no Hana really nails what it feels like to be a teenager discovering all the nasty aspects of life. But does that make for a compelling piece of entertainment? That sort of structure doesn’t really lend itself to this sort of medium– this shit just isn’t translating well to the serialized animated TV show. So yeah, there are some brilliant moments in this thing, but it doesn’t quite gel into a cohesive whole worthy of more praise. Still, it’s one of the most interesting things to come out this year.
11. Yondemasu yo, Azazel-san Z
The second season doesn’t quite reach the heights of puerile brilliance as the first season and OVAs. The whole bit with the demon who gives peeps hemorrhoids just didn’t work, and it took up about 1/4th of the season’s run time. The bit in the end with the nude dude running around causing chaos finally brought Azazel back around to the sort of perverse insanity that made me love the series, but it was too little too late. The second season was still fun, but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the first.
The set-up is pretty generic: Kids are locked up in a school and have to kill one another. Anyone who gets away with murder gets to leave and everyone else gets it. We’ve seen these sorts of youthful persecution fantasies before, so we have a good idea of where it’s gonna go. What makes Danganronpa work is Monobear. He’s the mastermind behind everything. He’s also an adorable mascot character who bounces around like a character out of an old school American cartoon. The sound effects they use for him are straight out of 60s Hanna Barbara cartoons, with all the sproings and bonks and all that. The rest of the cast is pretty amusing as well, since they play their stereotypes to the extreme, and I love the Yu Gi Oh-like character designs. The whole thing was good campy fun.
9. Sparrow’s Hotel
From a purely formalistic standpoint, Sparrow’s Hotel is brilliant. The first half of the series is intentionally animated like something out of the 90s. The character designs might not be as garrishly 90s as, say, Sabre Marionette, but they’re pretty damn close. The only thing that betrays Sparrow’s Hotel’s date of origin is the lack of a 4:3 aspect ratio. Then, everything changes halfway through the series. The character designs become more modern and the animation quality increases slightly. The catch here is that they incorporate this shift into the story. The hotel undergoes renovations, and it’s the hotel’s grand reopening that signifies this change in aesthetic. It’s a brilliant way to incorporate that shift in style, and it may be the most clever thing I saw in an anime this year. Other than that bit, the show is an amusing little short that doesn’t really stand out all that much, but that one stylistic thing really elevated the whole series.
8. Miss Monochrome
Idol culture results in the apocalypse. An android wants to be an idol. Santa Claus grants her this wish. Aliens attack Earth. Said android cannot defend the Earth because she’s busy being an idol. Humanity is wiped out. She promises her idol friend that they will meet in the next life. The android continues her existence, and history repeats. Humanity re-evolves on Earth and goes through the same course of history. Idol culture reemerged in Japan. The same promises are made. Santa Claus grants the wish again. Humanity dies again. History is cyclical, and we can never escape this cycle of horrific death because of the existence if idols. Damn you, idols. Damn you for this Hell we live in.
7. Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san
Mermaids are assholes. Well, at least Muromi was an asshole. She’s self-centered and manipulative. She’s racist against dolphins. She’s perfectly OK with her buddy wiping out ancient civilizations over petty differences. This thing’s a neat little mean-spirited comedy that makes jokes out of death and destruction and all sorts of horrible things. A real heartwarming anime.
6. Kill la Kill
I’m not quite sure where this is going just yet. It’s crazy fun, with all of its one-upping and over the top characters. There’s definitely some overarching scheme the “villains” are conspiring against, and things are likely to explode come the second half of the series. So while I’m pretty excited about this thing and loving it on a purely visceral level, I can’t rank it much higher than this since it could easily slip up and botch things. At the same time, its sheer craziness and energy easily makes it one of the most enjoyable things I’ve seen this year. Call this a cautious #6. It may go up and it may go down.
5. Little Witch Academia
This is a kids cartoon. “Kids cartoon” is not a bad word. Not in the least. This is a damn good kids cartoon– quite possibly the best straight-up kids cartoon I’ve seen since that new My Little Pony cartoon premiered. It’s all about kids discovering the shit that makes them unique and putting said kids into a world of magic and high adventure. It’s the sort of thing that demands a full-on television series, so that we can see the inner workings of this world and see these characters grow and play off of one another. Yeah, if this were an actual series and it maintained the same relative level of fun and adventure as this OVA, it’d probably be at the top of my list for this year.
4. Turning Girls
We had things like Watamote and Aku no Hana that deal with the awkwardness of adolescence. That’s all well and good, but being a dude in his mid-30s, that shit’s old. Turning Girls filled that hole way better than either of those series, since it deals with the awkwardness of being a working adult still loving this adolescent shit and still experiencing those “pains.” What makes Turning Girls work better than either of those series is that it has the self-awareness and levity of actually being funny. When you’re a teen, yeah, you find all this shit so important and meaningful. Once you grow up a bit you realize that even when you’re being an awkward twit, it’s all pretty damn silly. So, by turning it all into an actual sit-com-like comedy, it reflects that shift in attitude that comes with being a bit older. It’s hard to take those other shows seriously because they take themselves seriously. Turning Girls is goofy as all gets out, and that makes it far more relatable. This is the best otaku self-reflective series of the year.
3. Samurai Flamenco
This thing takes seemingly shocking plot developments and turns them all into the most banal of slice of life. A dude turns into a monkey and beheads peeps with the guillotine in his belly? By the time the next episode rolls around, that’s just as “everyday” as a cat walking across a piano and underaged girls eating cake. Chainsaw hands are the new beach episode. Samurai Flamenco is doing a brilliant job of showing how making the extraordinary into tropes and patterns, all you’re doing is making those things just as mundane as the fictional expressions of everyday life you see in slice of life shows. Much like Kill la Kill, this still has time to bungle things, but if it keeps this same pace, it’ll likely jump up to #1 when I revise this list later on.
2. Teekyu 2 + 3
Teekyu is the future of anime. Seriously. For reals. It takes so many of the things I don’t like about anime– cute girls doing nothing of consequence, everyday life crap, and so on– distills it into 2 minute bites, and ramps up the pacing to feverish levels, and in doing so it turns everything that’s wrong with anime into everything that’s right. Teekyu is an exercise in how pacing and structure can make all the difference in how one perceives things. By cramming these things down our throats like some sort of speed dating Roman orgy, rather than dwelling on them like a piece of shitty Russian literature, it makes these elements of anime enjoyable. Teekyu is a work of metatextual genius.
1. Inferno Cop
Inferno Cop is a work of nightmarish dream logic– seemingly unrelated elements melding together in some sort of collective unconsciousness and creating a beautiful fever dream narrative. The limited animation adds to the charm. The references were pulled from media rarely referenced in anime. It’s the anime equivalent of someone smashing action figures together and making up shit as they go, and in all honestly we need more of that. A brilliant mess.