[Hello all and welcome back to Weeb Analysis where this month we’ll be taking a look at the year in review to determine what the most notable anime of 2021 were. Weeb Analysis is a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. The question now stands: who will win our second annual anime of the year awards for 2021?]
When I think back on truly great years in anime, I’m sure that 2021 is going to be a frontrunner in that department. Thanks to a lot of anime that were originally scheduled to be released in 2020 getting delayed, 2021 was stacked with one highly anticipated series after another. For the most part, those titles delivered. In fact, there were so many excellent titles this year that I didn’t have enough time to watch them all!
Between my multiple writing jobs and normal everyday life shenanigans, I simply didn’t have enough time to watch every title that piqued my interest. That isn’t to say I didn’t watch that much anime in 2021. Quite the contrary! I actively kept up with 30 titles over the course of the year and while some may scoff at those numbers, I value the quality of shows versus the quantity of shows. The crop that I had to choose from for these awards was excellent. For you people who purely want to see me suffer in masochistic glee, I did watch some true dumpster fires so you could at least enjoy reading about how The Promised Neverland completely murdered any and all hope I had week after week.
The point still stands that I have a column to write and awards to give out for our annual Anime of the Year Awards. Like last year, if you want to catch up on the shows I covered over the past year, you can take a look at all of the links in my Cowboy Bebop feature from December. There are no set categories since I want to talk about whatever I want to talk about, and I’m only limiting my winners to shows I’ve seen a majority of their run. Also, as long as the show was released here in the States by official means, it qualifies. So for the few shows held hostage by Netflix Jail, I sadly will not be discussing them until they release here sometime in 2022.
Nonetheless, here are the winners of the eight categories for this year’s Weeb Analysis Anime of the Year Awards!
Best Opening – The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace
Song – When the Saints Go Marching In
Artist – Katsuya Kitani
There’s a lot that goes into a strong opening, or OP as it’s more commonly referred to. Obviously, there’s the quality of the theme song for the show, but there’s also just how much the show ups its visuals and/or how much those visuals connect with the series. A good OP is able to deliver strong visuals that make you excited to watch the show and will put an earworm into your head. That way, when you’re not watching the show, you’ll still be thinking about it even afterward.
The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace isn’t exactly a masterpiece, and I would argue veers off into poor taste several times. Even so, there is no way I can deny just how great of an OP the crew over at MAPPA has produced. Evoking pop art in every frame, I was mesmerized each time I watched the OP, refusing to skip it. The kaleidoscopic imagery, the bright colors, the way that the characters are broken apart in abstract ways, how shots just brilliantly flow into each other: nothing about this OP is weak. Before I even saw the first episode, the moment after I finished watching the OP, I knew that this was the OP to beat. Considering the fact that it was one of my most played Spotify songs of the year, I’d like to think that it managed to stay in my brain even after I watched the show’s finale.
Best ED – Beastars (Season 2)
Song – A Kind Comet
Artist – Yoasobi
I really struggled with selecting a winner for this category, not because of the quality of the ending themes, or EDs, but rather how few there were that actually interested me. Generally, EDs are a bit more laid back and contemplative, contrasting the high octane upbeat energy of the OP, and while that’s perfectly fine, I’m not exactly one for low-key and easy listening. The EDs that interest me are the ones that tend to break from tradition and try something different.
The ED for Beastars second season doesn’t really do that, but I can’t deny the artistry at play here. The ED depicts the relationship between two of the season’s central characters and offers up some good imagery that fleshes out their relationship. If you’re someone who knows nothing about Beastars, the emotion and depth of these two characters’ bonds are still easily felt. It only becomes more appropriate given that this is a scene from near the very end of the anime, but the context of it is removed, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks on their own until realizing what the proper context is. Once you do, it’s hard to look at this ED without feeling the tragedy of the situation depicted. It’s not exactly up my alley, but this feels like the only correct answer to me.
Best Line in An Anime – Sk8 the Infinity
I have nothing more to add. This line is magical.
Biggest Disaster – Wonder Egg Priority
Now hold on, you may say. You may be wondering why in the world I’m not putting The Promised Neverland in this spot, since that show was a disaster in every sense of the word. It completely destroyed a franchise, ruined its prior season, and took a scorched earth policy to bury any and all mention of the people who worked on it. Yes, all of those are worthy reasons to put that shambling corpse of a series in this spot… but Wonder Egg Priority was worse. This series broke my heart and spat on my face. It took all of the adoration I had for the series and slowly, but surely, turned it into sludge. Problematic doesn’t even begin to describe what happened here.
I was debating on doing a full Weeb Analysis on this series back in the summer, but I wanted to jump on that Beastars bandwagon when I could. Part of me also just didn’t want to remember everything that happened here. The metaphors, the symbolism, the icky messages, the horrid work conditions, and the wet fart of a cliffhanger ending prevented me from ever getting excited about this series ever again. This is tragic because when this show debuted in the winter, I loved it. The first several episodes were excellent and its OP still is one of the best of the year with its simple, soft, yet warm vibes.
It was clear as the production of the show went on, however, that the show was drowning in real life. The staff was inexperienced, with this being the debut of series director Shin Wakabayashi, at making a show with such lofty ambitions. They wanted to have a deep psychological show that explored suicide and the impact that it can have on both the living and the dead through the perspective of teenage girls, while also overcoming their own trauma generated by these tragedies. All of that is before you take a look at the exploration of transphobia, pedophilia, sexual assault, and rape. These are all topics that needed to be handled delicately, but the show consistently fumbled them throughout its production and left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Sometimes they would succeed at discussing these topics in a mature and healthy way, but they would fail almost as often.
Then you have the high quality of animation that the staff at Cloverworks wanted to deliver each week and you had a recipe for overpromising and under-delivering. One of the highlights of the series was its gorgeous action whenever a fight scene did actually occur, but those wonderful scenes came at a cost. Good animation does not simply happen overnight and the staff was stretched thin just to make weekly deadlines. One of the episodes actually wasn’t able to be completed by its due date, leading to a sudden recap episode in its place to buy more time. You know it’s bad when a studio goes to Twitter to hire animators on the spot to support its floundering production.
Even then that wasn’t enough as the 12 episode season couldn’t even conclude in those original 12 episodes. An hour-long special episode was announced as the season finale that was meant to tie up all of the loose ends, but half of that special was just a recap of the series while the other barely resolved any plot points. I repeat, the hour-long special, which was delayed by three months, had 50% of its content as reused footage from earlier in the series. The future of the show isn’t certain, but there have been no rumblings of a continuation since the show clearly went over budget, was behind schedule numerous times, and delivered diminishing returns the longer it went on.
Add in some misogynistic musings on femininity, hand-waving away suicide, weird multiversal lingo, and alternative timelines and I couldn’t be bothered to care about this series anymore. I wanted Wonder Egg Priority to be better than what it was. I had such high hopes for the series, only for them to be dashed six ways from Sunday. Its high-profile implosion was fascinating to watch in real-time as it was occurring, yet I still have a soft spot for the series. I would honestly still recommend watching it if only to see for yourself just how a show could fall apart right before your very eyes.
Biggest Burn Out – The GODDAMN Mugen Train (Demon Slayer)
So Demon Slayer is one of the most popular anime series on the planet right now. With a second season currently airing, as well as the movie that was released in April 2021 that propelled its box office even further into the stratosphere, it’s a good time to be a fan of the series. I like the series well enough, but now that 2021 is over, I never in my life want to watch anything that has to do with the Mugen Train.
The Mugen Train served as the setting for the movie, where Tanjiro and company went onto a train to defeat a demon. It was a decent enough thrill ride, but everyone who’s in charge of producing the series really wants you to remember that arc. Not only did it serve as the basis for the film, which was a direct continuation of the series, but it was then chopped up into 7 episodes to serve as the premier of the second season. It was a weird move to be sure since any Demon Slayer fan who watched the series had most definitely already seen the movie, so why would they show it to them again, but spread out over nearly two months of weekly airings?
The arc isn’t really all that spectacular compared to other arcs the show has already covered. The currently airing “Entertainment District Arc” is more visually interesting, the music in the film pales to the titan that is “Gurenge,” and the plot is just one long continuous action scene with a bland antagonist. Time and time again in 2021, I couldn’t escape the Mugen Train. Watching the movie twice, covering the Comic-Con panel, and then watching the movie again, but in episodic format: it just broke me. Get me off that crazy train and never let me go back on it again.
Best Show To Escape Netflix Jail – Komi Can’t Communicate
Netflix infuriates me when it comes to its anime portfolio. It’ll refuse to stream shows as they air, instead opting to hold the show for several months and dump them unceremoniously on some arbitrary day with minimal fanfare. Netflix knows that anime is popular and is going to milk this cow until its emaciated corpse is left since it didn’t deliver enough engagement for them. I mean, I get why the platform releases some shows in bulk, mainly so it can have a proper dub for the normies, but for people who like to watch their shows weekly, it just kills any interest and excitement. Let’s be honest, if you were going to watch a show that you knew was already airing in Japan, would you wait 3-6 months for Netflix to release it, or find alternative methods to watch it?
That’s why Komi Can’t Communicate is such a head-turning series. It actually released weekly on Netflix without a proper dub! The series streamed a new episode every single week and Netflix added a dub later! This was nothing short of revelatory and this show, alongside another series called Blue Period, is the first series to do this for the company. Netflix is willing to experiment with its model and while we don’t know whether or not this is a trend or an experiment, it’s still a step in the right direction for the streaming giant.
How is the show itself? Charming and hilarious. Komi Can’t Communicate follows a high schooler named Komi with extreme social anxiety. She can barely form a sentence and doesn’t know how to talk with others, yet she so desperately wants to make friends. It’s a series that can be very relatable to people that have anxiety. Seeing Komi make tiny little steps to interact with others feel like huge successes that you just want to cheer for.
The series wonderfully balances these soft and tender moments with manic comedy that hits more often than it misses. Sure, some characters can be a bit extra and have tired gags that run their course quickly, but the core dynamic between Komi, her first friend Tadano, and socialite gremlin Nagisa is worth the price of admission alone. The series is getting a second season in April and if you have any doubts about the series, just watch the first episode. You’ll be sold by the time the credits roll.
Worst Anime of the Year – Ex-Arm
HAHA, you thought again it was going to be The Promised Neverland! Yes, that show is terrible, but for as terrible as it may be, the series is still functional. It has animation. It has a (somewhat) coherent story. It is a bad show, but it is not a broken show. Ex-Arm is broken. It is terrible in every single regard with absolutely no redeeming factors to it.
Look at the clip above. This is the trailer for the show. Normally a trailer is meant to show off some of the highlights of a show or movie. Key scenes to get audiences excited and make them want to see what’s to look forward to if they decide to watch it. It’s putting a product’s best foot forward in order to hook people that are not convinced. There’s an art to making a solid trailer, but common sense dictates that whoever is making the trailer isn’t going to put anything in it that will detract people from seeing the final product.
Now just let it dawn on you that what you just saw were the good bits. That’s what they had to show you to entice viewers to watch it. Those were the highlights. I repeat… That’s the best that Ex-Arm has to offer. That’s actually kind of hilarious. Pathetic, but hilarious.
The people responsible for Ex-Arm don’t actually make anime. No seriously, the production company, Visual Flight, never made an anime before and has only provided assistance to companies like FromSoftware on modeling for its Souls series. The director, Yoshikatsu Kimura, has openly stated he has never worked on an anime before in his life, only directing live-action films. Every major staff member at Visual Flight had no experience working on an anime. Yet here we are with Visual Flight having the gall, the sheer nerve, to say its anime was going to declare war on all other sci-fi series. A series that is on the same level visually as the Globglogagalab.
The series was mercilessly slaughtered upon premiere but it kept trucking along for 12 episodes, and not surprisingly, managed to never get better. It just stayed perpetually awful. It’s not even so bad it’s good, it’s just plain bad. Crunchyroll somehow thought this show was worth labeling a “Crunchyroll Original,” which means that yes, a Crunchyroll Original has claimed the Worst Anime of the Year spot two years in a row. This show absolutely decimates any and all competition in its wake. It is, I kid you not, a contender for the worst anime of all time. No hyperbole required, Ex-Arm is just plain terrible in every conceivable way. There is no way any other series could take its slot here.
Best Anime of the Year – Odd Taxi