AKA The Anime Awards
2019 sure was a year, and if I do say so myself, it felt like a pretty strong one for games. Strong enough that I actually had genuine trouble just narrowing down the entries that stuck out in my mind, where usually the struggle is in bending their descriptions to fit in with my usual silly awards categories.
Which brings us to my yearly top picks of 2019. As before, I’ll be presenting a game and an anime series (or movie) that I enjoyed quite thoroughly.
As a bonus, and because everyone else is doing it, I’ll also be throwing a favorite game and show for each year of the last eleven. Why eleven years? Because people can’t seem to decide when the decade actually ended, and I hear odd numbers are good for SEO or somesuch.
So without further ado, let’s!
The “Delicious Leftovers” Award for Best 2018 Game and Anime of 2019
I always thought it would take a proper MechWarrior game to really recapture the magic of the old BattleTech setting again, but last year I was proven wrong by Harebrained Schemes and their brilliant BattleTech tactical RPG. The feel of running a mercenary company in the Inner Sphere was captured perfectly, in ways that even the otherwise-great Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries didn’t quite manage. The game got even better as its various DLC expansions released through 2019, with the Flashpoint expansion being a real highlight. I played BattleTech on and off through the year, finding something fresher and more interesting each time.
Anime: Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san
Call it a side effect of full-time employment, but I’ve been gravitating increasingly to workplace settings in my preferences, and Honda-san is the #relatable winner of last year. Quite simply, it’s a short workaday comedy starring bookstore employees. It’s the kind of retail hellscape that I figure only people who have had experience working will really connect with, but that’s the kind of person I am now, so it works for me.
Honorable Mentions: Into the Breach and Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
I like Into the Breach even more than I did FTL, and it’s exactly the sort of perfect-information tactical game that makes you feel like a genius when you win and an idiot when you don’t. If we’re being honest, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is a better show than the one I actually awarded, but seeing that title makes me violently angry, so I can’t help but demote it a bit. It’s good though, even if the fools in charge wouldn’t let the localization team change the title to something that doesn’t sound stupid.
“Top o’ the Backlog to Ya!” Award for Best Game and Anime I Didn’t Play or Watch
Game: Disco Elysium
People are talking about this game like it’s the next Planescape: Torment, and what very little I’ve seen of it so far inclines me to agree. There’s a of fury in its world-building and writing I never thought would make it into a commercial video game. But that’s all been gleaned from snippets clips others have been sharing, and as such I can’t properly say for myself until I can actually get some time with it.
Anime: Vinland Saga
Wit Studio’s latest show about Vikings in what would be modern-day Britain seems right up my alley, but unfortunately, I basically forgot it was on in the constant shuffle of other things to pay attention to. Nevertheless, now that it’s further along, I’ll be finding a point to binge it.
Honorable Mentions: AI: The Somnium Files and Symphogear XV
Also notable are Kotaro Uchikoshi’s magnum opus, AI: The Somnium Files and the latest (and final?) season in the legendary anime franchise, Symphogear. Both of these games had my (admittedly self-selected) social media timelines buzzing like almost nothing else this year, and I’ll find the time for them at some point in the coming year. Call it a resolution.
The “One Foot In Front Of The Other” Award for Game and Anime I’m Far From Done With
Game: Death Stranding
You might have guessed from the category title, but my pick for this is Death Stranding. Sam Porter Bridges utters the phrase quite often in his journeys across America as the world’s coolest mailman. As might be expected from the world’s most advanced, high-production walking simulator (I mean that in the most genuinely complimentary sense possible), the journey is no quick stroll, and I’m far from done. At the moment my only complaint is that Kojima Productions didn’t opt to voice record the various codex entries so I can play them on some kind of chiral network-powered podcast app. Missed opportunity!
Anime: Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld
Liking Sword Art Online became something of a punchline in the years since its debut, a weird half-joke among weebs that your taste was as lowest-common-denominator as it got among nerds who love and hate and love to hate Japanese cartoons. Dumping on people for their taste has never been genuinely cool, but it made for some fun humor, and I’d be lying if I said I’d never done it myself. But there I was in 2019, eagerly catching up with the latest big plot arc for Sword Art Online, watching Kirito do his universe’s version of an “isekai” story (i.e. an anime archetype involving main characters from the real world trapped or transported into an alternate one, usually based on fantasy or gaming tropes).
Maybe some of it was spillover goodwill from the Gun Gale Online spinoff series, or the surprisingly decent Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet game, but it genuinely felt nice to be excited again about seeing the SAO gang onscreen. It helped that Alicization‘s core concept of separating Kirito from his friends and placing him in a new context (one with genuine stakes) made the show feel fresh. The show got even better when it shifted its center away from its tiresome lead to the titular Alice, as she got up to the task of doing the whole world-saving thing.
Suffice it to say, I’m a fan, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing how Bandai Namco will handle the arc with their upcoming game adaptation, Sword Art Online: Alicization Lycoris.
Honorable Mentions: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia
Sekiro is really hard, but really good, and I am unfortunately less than good at video games, so I’m not yet done with that. I’ve promised myself I will be, though. I literally can’t be done with Fate/Grand Order‘s anime series adaptation of the Babylonia chapter, though, since it’s only just kicked into its second half (thus making it kind of a cheat to include in my “of the year” lists). Both are well worth the effort though.
The “Thanks, I Don’t Hate It” Award for Most Pleasantly Surprising Game and Anime
Game: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Maybe it seems weird that I might be surprised to be entertained by the game that basically took over gaming twitter for the better part of a whole quarter, but historically I’ve bounced hard off of every Fire Emblem game I’ve tried. The only one I remember getting past the prologue stages in is the one on the GBA with Lyn. I can’t put my finger quite on why I never stuck with them. Maybe it was the fear of permadeath, or the fact that I was more familiar with Final Fantasy Tactics, or later getting weirded out by the time-travel childbearing aspects of Awakening and Fates or disliking the stat progression in Fire Emblem Heroes. But Three Houses had that “it” factor, whatever it was that kept me hooked on it. I’m still not quite done with all three routes, but finishing even one Fire Emblem route is enough of a change from before, I’d say.
Anime: How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?
Did you know that this show, a lightly educational comedy about a high-schooler who wants to lose weight by taking up basic strength training, was created by the same guy that created Kengan Ashura, a violent fight-club manga (and now an anime airing on Netflix)? You wouldn’t know just from watching it, but both seem to have an interestingly detailed understanding of physique, and the show (I’m referring to Dumbbells, not Ashura) uses it to good effect while still packing in a few laughs. I was surprised that I was actually learning a few small things (though these tidbits are probably common knowledge the to the more fitness-attuned), where one would just assume Dumbbells existed for Studio Doga Kobo to draw cute girls lifting weights, Training with Hinako-style. “Healing”-type anime have come a ways if the things they’re now striving to heal include our sedentary lifestyles.
Honorable Mentions: Steins;Gate Elite and True Cooking Master Boy
I honestly didn’t expect the gussied-up “remaster” of the original Steins;Gate game to work at all. The idea of using footage from the anime series in place of the original art by Huke (creator of Black Rock Shooter) seemed almost sacrilegious, but the end result was worth the try, adding a sense of dynamism and life largely absent the average visual novel. The original is still good, but folks who want a nicer presentation would do well to choose it. A sequel to Cooking Master Boy, an anime I treasure almost as deeply as Sakura Wars was something I didn’t expect at all, much less have it basically pick up from where it left off in the late ’90s. It’s still as good as ever, and without the slightly sleazy edge of something like Food Wars! (which I’m OK with, it’s just that that stuff can be a turn-off sometimes).
Actual Best of 2019
Game: Outer Wilds
Honestly speaking, Outer Wilds could probably qualify for any award on my list (bar the 2018 game one, hah). It was a truly lovely surprise, considering I initially took the game up thinking it was an early release of Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds (which was rad, too). Instead of a space-western satire of capitalism, I got back a real sense of wonder and exploration, something that’s really hard to come by when you’re as dialed in to news and cynicism as the typical games media writer tends to be. The game wasn’t perfect, but I can remember almost every moment I played of it vividly. My memory of the game is as woven in emotionally as some of my oldest favorites, and I feel like solving its mysteries will come back to me in 2030 the way remembering my favorite moments from Sakura Wars 2, Super Mario World, or Command & Conquer: Red Alert do today. In other words, I feel like it’ll be the kind of all-time fave that will stick with me forever.
Anime: Kaguya-sama: Love Is War
I’m afraid I can’t really say at this point if Kaguya-sama will stay with me the rest of my life, the way I feel Outer Wilds will. Not that it has to, of course, we’re just making a dumb game of the year list, after all. What it is is a slickly executed, unimpeachably hilarious and heartfelt rom-com following the antics of two absurdly accomplished people trying to basically play each other into exposing even the slightest bit of romantic interest.
It makes for some great moments and knows perfectly when to tug on a heartstring or tickle a funny bone, and I also actually finished it this year, which is a lot for me, all things considered.
Honorable Mentions: Judgment and Carole and Tuesday
I was almost in mourning when I learned that Yakuza 6 was the end of Kiryu’s story, but I shouldn’t have doubted the powers of RGG Studio, since they made something that had just as much life and humanity in Judgment. You can’t go home again, but you can keep visiting Kamurocho, as it turns out.
Carole and Tuesday, meanwhile, was the real prestige piece of the bunch. I’ve got great respect for Shinichiro Watanabe, given he directed Cowboy Bebop and Afro Samurai, but I’d been wondering if I’d fallen out of love with his work, as I was somewhat cold on his subsequent productions like Kids on the Slope and Space Dandy. Carole & Tuesday convinced me he’s still got it (or more accurately, that I’ve still got it for him).
EX STAGE: Josh’s Anime of the Decade (+1)
It’s getting late, but I’ll just be stepping in here with a quickie list of the anime series that have stuck with me most over the last eleven years. Incidentally, I first started writing for Japanator (and Destructoid) in 2009, which makes the last decade (+1) especially meaningful, looking back. In the interest of brevity, I’ll keep it to a single sentence each.
The gold standard for what’s been derided as “cute girls doing cute things”, but is really about kids just living their lives and being kids.
The sheer style and intertwining events managed to make Ikebukuro an equal star alongside the supernatural characters living in it, centering it as a huge possibility space unlike anything else.
2011: Nichijou: My Ordinary Life
The original version of this list had Fate/Zero in this spot because I thought mistakenly that Nichijou was a 2008 show, which goes to show that it’s so good I’ve so taken it for granted that I assumed it had been a part of my life for much longer.
Brilliantly written and still featuring some of the best anime translation work (both fan and professional) I’ve ever seen, Joshiraku‘s supplanted Lucky Star as the show I go to when I want to put something on in the background while I work (it’s on right now!).
2013: Girls und Panzer
The best sports anime for people allergic to the idea of anime based on real-life sports, Girls und Panzer combines vintage tanks with all the wholesome values you might want from a cheery show about kids at play.
Anime can educate and move, and Shirobako manages the feat for anime itself.
2015: Death Parade
The best opening sequence of the decade leads into a sober and earnest reflection on life and what comes after (spoilers: what comes after is pub games).
2016: Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
“Prestige TV” is kind of a derogatory term at this point, but Rakugo Shinjuu embodies that term in its best sense, as the lengthy saga of a legendary storyteller’s life, love, and history.
2017: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
It turns out the thing we needed to redeem the hoary old “magical girlfriend” trope was to make it about an overworked woman and her disastrously gay dragon maid.
2018: Laid Back Camp
I watched this whole show again while on vacation for the new year, and it was just as comfy and warm to watch now as then.
2019: Kaguya-sama: Love Is War
Feel free to refer to the “Actual Best of 2019” award above.