Welcome to the sixth consecutive year of the AAA – the one-woman award ceremony where the dress code doesn’t matter, the tickets are free, and the results are guaranteed to be 100% objective.
Before we kick things off, a brief explanation for those who may not be familiar with this extremely prestigious ceremony. Contrary to the title of the post, these awards are not for those anime released solely in 2018, but rather for shows released any time from the start of spring 2018 that finished airing by the end of winter 2019. This is because a) scrolling through best-of lists in late December and early January gets old fast, and b) there tends to be far less in the way of ongoing titles between the winter and spring seasons. Only those shows that were televised, and that I watched right through to the end, are eligible for awards – so films, specials, OVAs, and any shows I dropped part-way through (or are still ongoing) are automatically out of the running.
And now, on with the show!
The Congrats-For-Not-Being-Shit Trophy (aka Biggest Surprise Title)
While I’d hesitate to call Gun Gale Online actually good, I have absolutely no qualms in saying that it far exceeded my expectations. A gun-focused action show that doesn’t need to be labelled a part of the SAO franchise at all for any of the characters, or the plot, to exist or even make sense as a story, Gun Gale Online turned out to be a surprisingly fun little series. Sure, it’s not a particularly deep one, but then, I never got the impression it was trying to be, and I was genuinely impressed by the fine line it walked between enjoyable action and on-screen violence. Overall, this title manages to remain entirely inoffensive, and is relatively entertaining to boot. And in SAO terms, that’s a major win.
The Shiny Entrance Medal (aka Best Debut Episode)
SSSS.GRIDMAN was not originally on my weekly watch list when it came out at all. I make no secret of the fact that I’m not much of a mecha fan, and that robots punching each other in the face just ain’t my cup of tea. The first episode not only convinced me to stick around, but also made such a strong first impression on me that I still remember the show as one of the highlights of its season. Of course, I’d also argue that every episode was at least okay and that there were several incredibly strong ones over the course of the series, but the premiere really encapsulates what I like about the title overall: it’s smart, sharply directed, introspective, and obviously crafted with a ton of thoughtfulness and care.
Hisone to Maso-tan is by no means a perfect show (and I’ll get to that later on in the proceedings), but it absolutely hooked me during its first couple of minutes, and I still remember the first episode in particular for its introduction of Hisone – the kind of female protagonist I constantly long for, but which only ends up coming along once a decade or so. Her personality quirk of speaking exactly what’s on her mind, even (or especially) when she doesn’t actually intend to, is a wonderful source of genuinely funny comedy, and remained one of the highlights of the entire series for me. The premiere also does an excellent job of showcasing Hisone to Maso-tan’s visual chops, with a highly distinctive and extremely charming art style that’s drawn and animated to perfection.
The Blue Ribbon of Fabulosity (aka Best Character)
Second Runner-Up: Fujiko (Lupin III: Part V)
With the notable exception of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, Fujiko has always struck me as a vaguely dull character in the franchise. She’s cool, sure – men want her, women want to be her – but she usually exists as little more than a sly romantic interest and occasional partner/rival in crime, constantly evading Lupin’s perverted clutches, and any impact she has on the plot is largely incidental. Her portrayal in Part V is a significant departure from this. In part this is because she has a somewhat more major role in the overarching story, playing an entirely capable and worldly foil to Ami’s youth and inexperience. Her altered relationship with Lupin, however, is what really appeals to me. There’s an odd melancholy about the pair, as though something has happened off-screen some time ago that’s made them both realize it’ll never ‘work’, nor was it ever meant to. Even Lupin’s customary lechery, and Fujiko’s knowingly flirtatious response, seem to ring hollow – roles they each play purely out of habit and expectation. Beneath the surface though, there’s a heaviness here (mirrored very well in ED) that’s curiously more complicated and mature in tone than I’m used to from nearly any incarnation of the Lupin franchise – and personally, that really elevated the entire show for me.
First Runner-Up: Rikka, SSSS.GRIDMAN
Despite ostensibly being about Yuuta/Gridman and his/their heroic fight to save… well, the world (kind of), it’s Rikka’s character who really shapes this series for me. While everyone else tends to either panic and/or get caught up in the excitement of the fight, Rikka is the one to remember what this actually means for the world around them in terms of destruction and human casualty. Torn between wanting a normal high school life and the need to keep her friends alive in both body and in memory, she keeps a cool head, is usually the last to jump to conclusions, and clearly cares very deeply for her friends, even when faced with the truth of what that friendship is built upon. It’s no exaggeration to say that without Rikka, SSSS.GRIDMAN would be a very different show, and probably not one I’d care to watch. Yuuta may be the face of the series, but for me, Rikka is the character at its contemplative core.
Only one word seems appropriate in summing up Asirpa’s character: badass. While Golden Kamuy can be seen as part action/adventure piece and part oddball comedy, it’s also very much a wilderness survivalist story, and this is where Asirpa shines like no other. The face of her people, the Ainu, who live completely self-sufficient lives even in the middle of the bitterest Hokkaido winter, Asirpa can and does do absolutely anything it takes not only to survive, but to thrive while beating all the odds. This is a girl who knows how to track animals and people, expertly hunt and prepare fresh meat, trap and kill dangerous bears, treat major wounds, and avoid hypothermia, among other highly impressive skills. Oh yes, and lest we forget, she’s around 13 years old. Can your Best Girl beat that? I think not.
The Holy Eyedrops Award (aka Best Visuals)
Tie Winner: SSSS.GRIDMAN
A lot of attention has been paid to SSSS.GRIDMAN’s action sequences in particular, and I can certainly see why. The use of 3D here is easily some of the best I’ve seen in any anime to date – it looks sharp despite its complexity, fluid but not so perfect that it appears unnatural. More personally arresting to me as a viewer though is the overall visual direction of the show, with its lovingly hand drawn scenes and precise composition of shots (many of them highly detailed and referential, others pointedly minimalist), beautifully rendered color palette (where Rikka and Akane’s character designs are especially striking), and the sheer consistency of quality right through to the end. What can I say – the production staff really outdid themselves with this one.
Tie Winner: Hisone to Maso-tan/Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Maso-tan
If SSSS.GRIDMAN is a testament to what can be achieved through the use of carefully and thoughtfully rendered 3D, Hisone to Maso-tan is like a walking advertisement for the virtues of hand drawn and 2D artwork. Much of the traditionally painted background artwork in particular is absolutely stunning, and the character art also allows for a lot of freedom of movement and facial expression that just isn’t present in many anime. This lends the show a real sense of unique personality and charm – and while I get that the art style might not be for everyone, it’s drawn and executed with such liveliness and polish that I can’t help but be deeply impressed.
The First Miniature Crown of Swank (aka Best OP)
Runner-Up: Lupin III: Part V
Parlez-vous français? I’ll be brutally honest and say that I actually preferred the 2015 take of the classic Lupin theme, but this didn’t detract from this 2018 version which, in keeping with much of its setting, is all about that accordion-heavy, faux-Gallic charm. Moreover, while the visuals might appear simple at first glance, it’s clear a lot of work went into this opening sequence. It stands in sharp contrast to the artwork of the series itself, but presents the kind of utterly ridiculous storyline all fans of the franchise are probably familiar with: Lupin launching the iconic yellow Fiat 500 into space… for the purpose of ogling girls, and in particular Fujiko, on the beach back down on Earth.
Winner: Tsukumogami Kashimasu
I’ve long been a fan of Kavka Shishido. There are comparatively few mainstream Japanese female rockers and drummers out there, and Shishido’s vocals are very distinctive – quite different from any I’ve heard before within the Japanese music industry. While many of her singles have taken on a lighter, more pop-friendly tone of late, Shishido still has a killer attitude, and to see her eventually collaborate with someone like Miyavi, a well-established J-rocker and guitarist in his own right, came as little surprise to me. ‘Get Into My Heart’ isn’t my favourite song from either artist, but it’s still a catchy, fun, and rather interesting choice to pair with Tsukumogami Kashimasu – and imo, ‘interesting’ is something anime OPs could definitely use more of.
The Second Miniature Crown of Swank (aka Best ED)
Second Runner-Up: SSSS.GRIDMAN
It feels only right to me that a series centering so heavily, at its heart, on the decidedly odd and should-be-stereotypical-high-school-girl-friends-but-definitely-isn’t relationship between Rikka and Akane, has an ED focusing solely on the pair. It’s bittersweet in a way, because it plays out a kind of comfortable, everyday friendship that never actually existed, but which is still somehow the motivating drive behind many of Rikka’s actions – and at the end of the day, probably Akane’s as well. Appearing over footage of a real Japanese high school, there’s a distinct atmosphere of introspective nostalgia here, the characters interacting as casually as only best friends can but rarely appearing to actually talk with one another – perhaps because words are superfluous – as Uchida Maaya sings compellingly about summer, fleeting feelings, and a never-ending connection.
First Runner-Up: Double Decker! Doug & Kirill
How can you not love a Japanese rock-centric ED whose opening lyrics begin, in English, with “I don’t give a shit”? In fact, I’d argue that everything about the ED encapsulates the easygoing stupidity of a show like Double Decker – it’s so self-conscious about its own idiocy, and it embraces that aspect of itself so completely, that you can’t help but find it charming. The visuals here are pretty basic, but provide several nice little snapshots of the characters and their work couple/team dynamics. Meanwhile, the tune is simple but incredibly catchy, so much so that it immediately puts me into a great mood whenever I hear it, dumb Engrish and all.
Winner: Hisone to Maso-tan/Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan
While there are plenty of anime OPs and EDs that are performed in either Japanese, English, or a mix of both, occasionally with snippets of other languages such as German or Latin thrown in for good measure, I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand the number of them performed entirely in French. A cover of yé-yé singer France Gall’s ‘Le temps de la rentrée’ originally released in 1966, Hisone to Maso-tan’s ED is sung by the voice actresses themselves – sometimes only one of them depending on the episode’s focus, sometimes part of or the entire group. Your mileage may vary depending on who exactly is doing the covering, but the song itself is arranged very nicely and makes for an undeniably enjoyable listen. The visuals obviously add to the sense of fun, featuring each of the pilots dancing in their own distinctive manner – my favourite being Hisone’s weird full body shake near the end, matching her character’s bumbling quirkiness to a tee. Despite the fact that this is mostly just a continuous cycle of one or two dance moves per character, essentially making it a high-quality gif, there’s something vaguely hypnotic about it, and I don’t think I skipped the ED even once during my watch.
The Wooden Spoon of Shame (aka Worst Overall Title)
Winner: Sword Art Online Alicization
This certainly can’t come as a surprise to anyone. I’ve argued previously that the initial SAO anime series – or at least, the first half of the initial SAO anime series – is nowhere near as bad as people gleefully make it out to be, but there’s very little I can say in defense of Alicization. Plot details are imparted over and over again via awkward exposition that regularly takes up half an episode or so, the pacing is wildly inconsistent, and many of the characters are little more than awful stereotypes calculated to pander to a clearly largely male audience. And oh yeah, there’s an attempted rape scene that goes on for entirely too long, which the creator ‘apologized’ for, and which is seen again in a flashback scene because I guess once just isn’t enough after all? Seriously, the amount of care put into this scene for all the wrong reasons is downright creepy, making it eerily reminiscent of the kind of ‘rape is hot’ pornography that’s so rampant in the hentai industry. Surely, surely even a franchise like SAO can do better than this crap.
The Diamond-Studded Tiara (aka Best Overall Title)
Winner: Hisone to Maso-tan/Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan
I’ve already talked about the production side of this series in regard to its artwork, animation and music, so I won’t repeat my words. Allow me instead to gush about its characters for a bit, because but I honestly can’t even remember the last time I was introduced to a main cast of this size and liked each and every member, not just in spite of their flaws but because of them. This goes doubly so for Hisone herself, who’s just so refreshingly candid and unintentionally verbally forthright that I couldn’t help but immediately love her. I don’t think I need to point out how rare this is for any anime lead, but particularly for a woman in a military setting. My one major reservation about Hisone to Maso-tan is, of course, the menfolk, nearly all of whom are constantly either trying to get their colleagues into bed or else demeaning them by loudly discussing their supposedly overwrought emotional states – sometimes both in the same sentence. Basically, they’re assholes, and to my dismay, the series just lets them get away with this it. To be sure, this could be considered a wry social commentary on women in the workplace/military, but the show doesn’t actually go anywhere with it, essentially condoning (and in the instance of Zaito and Hoshino, even rewarding) the dynamic. The fact that I so thoroughly enjoyed Hisone to Maso-tan despite this significant flaw speaks to its extremely high quality. It really is a truly excellent show in its own right.
And as always, just to wrap things up, here are all the shows that aired over the past anime year which I finished but did not make an appearance in the above awards. I enjoyed all of them to at least some extent, so most should probably be considered more honourable mentions than snubs: Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion, Banana Fish, Doukyonin wa Hiza Tokidoki Atama no Ue, Free!: Dive to the Future, Fukigen na Mononokean Tsuzuki, Kakegurui××, Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru, Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan, Tsurune: Kazemai Koukou Kyuudoubu, Yagate Kimi ni Naru, Yakusoku no Neverland.
Question of the post: Agree? Disagree? Completely affronted by my taste in anime? Sing out in the comments and let me know some of your own picks for these categories (or for any other category you care to make up on the spot).