Welcome to the ninth consecutive year of the AAA – the one-woman award ceremony where the tickets are free, the drinking policy is BYO, and the results are guaranteed to be 100% subjective.
For those who might not be familiar with my annual series, contrary to the article title, these awards aren’t for anime released solely in 2020, but instead for shows released any time from the start of the spring 2021 season until the end of the winter 2022 season (mostly because I get tired of scrolling through all the usual best-of lists in late December/early January, but also because there tends to be fewer ongoing anime titles between the winter and spring seasons.) Only officially televised anime that I watched right through to the end are eligible for these awards – in other words, films, specials, OVAs, and any shows I dropped part-way through (or happen to be still ongoing) are automatically out of the running.
And now, with the pleasantries out of the way, feel free to kick back with your preferred snackage/beverage, and let’s get on with the show!
The Congrats-For-Not-Being-Shit Trophy (Biggest Surprise Title)
Winner: Vivy – Fluorite Eye’s Song
I honestly didn’t have much to go on when I started watching Vivy, but from the synopsis, I got the impression it was going to be one of those idol-centric shows, whose main character gambarus her way to the top and saves/wins over the hearts of humanity through the power of (pretty terrible) J-pop. Thankfully, that’s about the opposite of what happens (sort of), so if you haven’t seen this one yet, suffice to say that Vivy is a hell of a lot of fun. If the pacing suffers from time to time (in a “well, that sure escalated quickly”) kind of way, rest assured that the surprisingly tightly-written narrative and fantastic action scenes more than make up for it.
The Shiny Entrance Medal (Best Debut Episode)
Winner: Fumetsu no Anata e/To Your Eternity
While Fumetsu may have suffered from various issues down the road, particularly in its final major story arc, the first episode sure tore my heart into shreds in the most poignant way possible. If you’re looking for hard-hitting emotional impact and beautifully nuanced, understated storytelling, look no further than here. The premiere is all the better for basically being a self-encapsulated story in its own right, so even for those people who have no interest in watching an entire series at the moment, I’d still feel perfectly comfortable recommending Episode 1 of Fumetsu.
The Blue Ribbon of Fabulosity (Best Character)
Winner: Destiny (Takt Op. Destiny)
Given how lukewarm (at best) I felt about the male main character of this show, you might think it wouldn’t occur to me to hand this award to its other main character, but there you go. Destiny had just the right kind of completely dry, utterly deadpan delivery to tickle my fancy, especially since her one-liners frequently revolved around insulting Takt. That being said, Destiny had me in the very first episode with her remark about donuts. Honestly, what more could I ask for in an MC? A girl after my own heart.
The Holy Eyedrops Award (Best Visuals)
Winner: Super Cub
There was plenty of stiff competition to choose from here, but readers of this blog who know me probably know that I’m an absolute sucker for rural locations and nature-centric titles that are both off the beaten track and depict real-life locations (many of which I may or may not have visited during my 6-year stint in Japan). Super Cub delivers just that thanks to its fantastic portrayal of a particular area of Yamanashi prefecture, complete with absolutely stunning backdrops that look like something of a cross between photography and watercolor. Truly a feast for the eyes, especially for viewers who gravitate more toward quiet, introspective anime rather than faster-paced or more action-heavy titles.
The First Miniature Crown of Swank (Best OP)
Winner: Ousama Ranking/Ranking of Kings (OP2)
I’m still coming in hot from the finale of Ousama Ranking (and mostly not in a good way), but man is that second OP great. It’s everything Ousama Ranking is in its first half and absolutely deserved to be in its second: urgent, uplifting, and heartfelt. I even like the visual sequence a lot, which I can often take or leave in anime because… well, we’ve all seen that “every anime opening ever” AMV, right? Conversely, I feel that Ousama Ranking’s OPs both have plenty to say, and the visuals of this second one complement its music beautifully.
The Second Miniature Crown of Swank (Best ED)
Winner: Ousama Ranking/Ranking of Kings (ED1)
You’re really making me do this, aren’t you Ousama Ranking? If I like the music of the second OP a lot, I like the music of the first ED even more. I’m pretty sure I may have even shed a tear or two after the first couple of episodes. The series sets the tone in its own right, of course, but the ED sequence carries that right the way through to the last of the ending credits. I don’t think I’d ever listened to anything of yama before, but that soft yet wonderfully expressive and beautifully husky vocal style reminds me a lot of Aimer – one of my all-time favorite Japanese artists.
The Wooden Spoon of Shame (Worst Overall Title)
I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I was by the vast majority of Sakugan given its banger of a first episode. So much promise, so much potential, entirely squandered by just flat-out terrible writing and pacing. That takes a special kind of awful, because if anyone loves a good dad anime, it’s me (I mean, there’s a reason why Usagi Drop still makes me sob on the umpteenth watch). But here we are – Sakugan somehow managed to deliver a genuinely fantastic premiere (especially that last few minutes), and then fall flat on its face for pretty much every single episode after that thanks to its complete lack of both timing and nuance. If the conclusion of this show is anything to go by, there’s going to be a second season of this at some point, but the series lost so much goodwill with me that I’m assuredly not going to even try it. Not even Kaizoku Oujo/Fena: Pirate Princess screwed up that much – and if you’ve watched Kaizoku Oujo all the way through, you’ll probably understand how much of an insult that is.
The Diamond-Studded Tiara (Best Overall Title)
Winner: Ousama Ranking
Well shiiiiiiiit. Yes, even after that ending, even after the anime delivered something totally contrary to the delightfully nuanced characterization and heart-achingly lovely themes and messages of its earlier episodes, I still somehow can’t overlook this series for best of the year. I hate that this has to be so problematic, but I guess that also shows the high caliber we’re dealing with here, as well as just the sheer emotional wallop showcased by the first half of the anime. Part of me thinks that if Ousama Ranking had debuted a lot earlier on in the year, I might have cooled down sufficiently to forget how much I was moved by that first handful of episodes, but it is what it is. Hopefully next year, I won’t need to be so torn on such decisions.
And finally, wrapping things up as always, here are those shows that aired over the past anime year that I also completed watching but took home none of the above awards. I enjoyed the majority of them to at least some degree, so with a couple of exceptions, they can be considered more honorable mentions than snubs: Blue Period, Fruits Basket: The Final, Kaizoku Oujo, Shiroi Suna no Aquatope, SSSS.Dynazenon.