Early thoughts on anime in 2023
People who follow me on my main project, The New Leaf Journal, will know that I follow the latest anime series (the ones I can tolerate, at least). I published year-in-review pieces for 2021 and 2022 with my top-six rankings.
I published my 2022 review in a timely manner in January 2023. However, I published my 2021 review in April 2022. Fresh off my very late 2021 review, I published a short Leaflet post on April 26, 2022, offering my initial impressions of the first quarter and a third of anime in 2022. I quote from my Leaflet:
My clear early-frontrunner for anime of the year in 2022 is the excellent third and final season of Teasing Master Takagi-san. The first two seasons were good fun, but neither was quite anime of the year caliber (although the second season was almost my pick in a soft 2019). The third season, however, posted three episode-of-the-year caliber episodes in 6, 9, and 12 of 12, and concluded in a more satisfactory way than one would expect in light of the fact that the series is actually concluding with a forthcoming movie.
It turned out that no series would outrun my early front-runner. I chose Takagi-san season 3 as my 2022 series of the year, noting that it was the best season of an anime comedy since 2012's Humanity Has Declined (Declined is my 2012 anime series of the year). For purpose of my subjective ranking, the 2022 anime of the year race was over after spring. My runner-up selection, season three of Kaguya-sama: Love is War, aired in the spring and was implicitly referenced in my early-impressions Leaflet.
Since my early-impressions post in 2022 foreshadowed my ultimate selection for anime series of the year, I thought that it would be interesting to assess where we stand at the 37.5% point of 2023 in a BearBlog-first article.
Anime's 2023 winter season did not inspire me much, but I still tried, and ultimately finished, a good number of series. I reviewed the best of the bunch, The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten, at The New Leaf Journal (see review). Despite some shaky production values and a slow first half, the series about two high school students slowly falling in love while essentially playing house ended up being better than the title and premise would have suggested. However, despite it being the best of the winter slate of series, I described it as "an early borderline top-six candidate for 2023." In making that assessment, I concluded it would have been a top-six series in some years (2022 is one example) but not others (it would have missed 2021). Based on my having declared the best series of the winter season to be a borderline top-six candidate for the end of the year, it should go withouts saying that I do not think the 2023 series of the year aired in the winter season. (Note: Endo and Kobayashi Live! was fun (see my review)).
Surely, Angel Next Door will not be the leader in my anime of the year clubhouse after the spring season!
The spring season is much deeper than the winter season (from my perspective, at least) and I think at least one of the series will top Angel Next Door in my final analysis, but the fact that I am not entirely certain at the half-way point of spring 2023 betrays the fact that I do not see an obvious anime of the year front-runner at the moment in the same way that I did at this point in 2022.
The three best shows of spring 2023 through six episodes are probably OSHI no Ko, Insomniacs After School, and My Clueless First Friend. I wrote that before remembering that season four of Golden Kamuy, which had its first half run in 2022, is about to reach new episodes -- I suppose that was better than My Clueless First Friend. Season 3 of Golden Kamuy was strong, but I did not like the first half of season four as much. However, it hung at a point which promises to set up an interesting second-half. There are several other notable series, namely the unfortunately production-challenged Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke's Mansion. (Honorable mention: The Dangers of My Heart for inspiring a short post which people seem to read for some reason.)
Oshi no Ko is probably the current spring season front-runner despite the fact that I had mixed feelings about half of its episodes. It may end up being a question of where the second half focuses its attention. Setting aside the theatrical-length first episode, Oshi no Ko has been excellent when it focuses on Aqua and Kana. I have found it less compelling when its attention is elsewhere.
(I will probably try the second seasons of Tsurune and The Ancient Magus' Bride at some point when I get around to refreshing myself on their first seasons. However, I did not particularly like the first season of Tsurune despite its beautiful animation and Magus' first season topped out as decent.)
Would it be unusual for me to lack a clear anime of the year candidate after the spring season? I published my year-end top-three rankings going back to 2015 in my 2021 and 2022 anime review articles. First, let us see when my previous eight anime of the year picks aired:
|Year||Anime of the Year||Season(s) Aired|
|2022||Teasing Master Takagi-san (S3)||Winter|
|2020||My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax||Summer|
|2018||March Comes in like a Lion (S2)||Fall (17)-Winter (18)|
|2017||Tsuki ga Kirei||Spring|
|2016||Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju||Winter|
|2015||My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO!||Spring|
By my recent history (I have seen enough series for credible year-end reviews back to 2005), my anime of the year finished airing before the start of the summer season in six of eight cases, and none of my picks finished their run in the fall season. Thus, unless one of Oshi no Ko, Insomniacs After School, or Golden Kamuy impress with a very strong second half, it would be unusual to not have a clear anime of the year front-runner at season's end. Out of curiosity, I decided to check my memory for the best first-half series (meaning finished by the end of the spring season) in 2019 and 2020, the only years where my anime of the year pick ended in the summer season.
In the case of 2020, my runner-up, the second season of Kaguya-sama: Love is War, ended in the spring. The second season of Kaguya provided the best comedy of the three seasons thus far, but it was a weaker anime of the year runner-up than its third season in 2022, and not quite of the caliber I would expect for a series of the year. 2019 was a back-loaded year (and the weakest in our eight-year sample). My runner-up series, the second season of Teasing Master Takagi-san, finished its run in the summer (season two of Takagi came close to being my 2019 pick for best of the year, but as I noted, 2019 was weak). Our half-way front-runner would have been the first season of Kaguya-sama, which aired in winter 2019. Kaguya's first season was a terrific comedy, but clearly less substantive than its second and third seasons and not, in my estimation, an anime of the year-caliber series.
While 2023 has not produced any masterpieces yet, I will conclude on a positive note by observing that it has been a strong year for opening and ending songs and accompanying animations -- one such case demanded that I write an article.