2021 started off with such promise, but by the end it felt like the year we’d originally ordered had gotten stuck in a pile of shipping containers somewhere and we were making do with a cheap replacement. Still, we got some pretty good anime along the way.
Speaking of shipping delays, the finale of The Faraway Paladin had a week’s delay due to production issues (and then the finale was pushed back another couple days at the last minute), so we still have to take a final look at that. To avoid spoilers, it’s down in the last section of this post.
I’m going to name my top three shows for the year, and if you disagree and need to look up some credits to fill in on your awards ballot, I recommend heading over to Anime News Network’s encyclopedia. Look up “Animation Production” for the primary studio, and “Series Composition” for the head writer.
#3: Rumble Garanndoll
Fans vs. a fascist occupation, is that a guaranteed audience-winner or not? Well, it could easily have collapsed to a singularity of fanservice, but Rumble Garanndoll is bolstered by sturdy writing and a willingness to mix in a dash of gentle criticism. It is also an immense amount of fun, and the final message of international cooperation is one that fandom could use right about now.
Director: Andō Masaomi
Series composition: Uezu Makoto
#2: Megalobox 2: Nomad
Megalobox was a brilliant show about boxing. Nomad is an even more brilliant show about loss, guilt, and redemption that also happens to include some boxing. It examines what happens after the champion peaks, won’t accept that he needs to move on, winds up losing his found family, and hits rock bottom, where he is at the start of the story. Where Megalobox was a tribute to the classic Ashita no Joe, Nomad had the courage to turn around and repudiate Ashita no Joe‘s celebration of staying tough at all costs. In just about any other year this would have easily been my #1 pick, but it had the bad luck to not even be the best show in its season due to this year’s actual #1.
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Director: Moriyama Yo
Series composition: Manabe Katsuhiko, Kojima Kensaku
#1: Odd Taxi
Odd Taxi is the unlikeliest of champions— an anime that hardly looks like anime, created by unknowns, with a cast mostly drawn from outside the industry. And yet here we are, with a tightly plotted noir centered on a middle-aged walrus driving a night taxi as the best thing anime has produced all year. It encompasses the machinations of crime, the social effects of technology, a dash of weird medical science, and an examination of the human condition, nearly all through people just sitting in cab, talking. It’s utterly original and absolutely wonderful from whatever angle you look at it.
Studios: OLM, P.I.C.S.
Director: Kinoshita Baku
Script: Konomoto Kadzuya
A few other thoughts:
- Best show that wound up getting squeezed out of the weekly lineup: The Heike Story, which will get its due next time I’m travelling and need to write a replacement column.
- Best moment of the year: Throwing in the towel, in the Nomad finale.
- Disappointment of the year: Wonder Egg Priority tried hard for it, but it was one series which will soon be forgotten, and Higurashi Naku no Koro ni – SOTSU put me off an entire franchise.
- Trope I am officially done with: Videogame-style monsters which spawn in hordes from nowhere for now reason and dissolve when the heroes kill them. (Yes, I am looking forward to that kaiju disposal movie.)
- Shows which currently have spots reserved on my 2023 Hugo ballot: Attack on Titan and Ranking of Kings.
And now back to finishing up the weekly blogging for the year…
The Faraway Paladin finale – Just when Will is at his lowest, Menel arrives to punch him right out of his inexplicable funk. Newly reconverted to teamwork, Will marshals all his forces, stages a coordinated assault, but then runs off to solo the chimera, meaning Menel has to chase him down again, although it eventually turns out that Will is not the craziest munchkin in this party.
At least the extra week means all the animation is decent, but this is a dismal end to an increasingly dismal arc. The first few episodes of The Faraway Paladin really felt like this could be something special, but everything since has been way too obvious about its D&D roots. In these last couple episodes, it has even fallen past being standard D&D; Will doing things the World Bank way last week was not in keeping with the ideal of the charitable paladin, and I’m pretty sure the reasoning that leads to Menel’s arm getting broken this week would have been called out by any competent GM as an alignment violation.
Even the upbeat epilogue is grounded in D&D, and poorly. Get to a high enough level, and your character can spontaneously acquire followers. How exactly this happens is not specified in the rules, but Menel telling Will that he basically owns these people already does not really feel in the intended spirit.
If this show had ended at episode 5, I could have recommended it. As a whole, though, no.