Before I get into my favorite anime of 2018, I’d like to go over some notable shows that could easily swap in for There Goes My Kokoro’s coveted title and still be just as worthy. A Place Further Than the Universe is a show that means the world to me, and an anime that I connected with on a level that I haven’t felt since The Pet Girl of Sakurasou (2012)—uncoincidentally from the same director. Atsuko Ishizuka is an inspirational genius that understands how to convey filmic meaning in ways I hope the industry at large is taking note of. Describing Violet Evergarden as utterly breathtaking wouldn’t even begin to do the show justice. Chief animation director Akiko Takase had already blown my mind with her work on Sound! Euphonium, and now with this showing I don’t think my brain is ever going to truly recover—and this goes without even mentioning the harrowing narrative behind the anime’s immeasurable beauty.
Both those series deserve the highest of recognition, and I see as near equals to the show that I decided to crown Anime of the Year: Hinamatsuri. Hinamatsuri kept me smiling from start to finish. Every episode was like a gift that I never thought I would deserve, but nonetheless received for twelve straight weeks. The show is seemingly relentless in its humor, sweetness, and down-to-earth nature, and the way that it comes off as so simple makes it terribly difficult to describe why this anime so great. A brief synopsis of the show would be that we’re following a spry, wealthy Yakuza member by the name of Nitta that reluctantly takes in an aloof telekinetic girl that just appears in his apartment one day. Her name is Hina, and she has a knack for destroying things, but she’s also good at a variety of other things like landscaping, taking out rival gang operations, street-performing, and rock-paper-scissor matches of brute strength. Still, she manages to make Nitta’s life a living hell and together they gradually figure out how to make their living arrangement work—and develop a surprisingly touching father-daughter dynamic along the way.
But to say these two characters and their growing relationship are the core of the show wouldn’t be entirely true. Hinamatsuri is an ensemble comedy full of brilliant, endearing characters that could each be the center of their own show. Some characters are introduced that never even physically connect with the main cast whatsoever, yet I’m still just as invested in what happens with the castaway girl and traveling street-rocker as I am with the sweetest girl in the whole world Anzu and best bartending girl Hitomi. Unlike some shows where shifting focus off main characters to develop the supporting cast seems like just a cheap way to fill time within a series, exploring other characters’ lives in Hinamatsuri is always a delightful treat. This show could go anywhere it wants and I wouldn’t care because every aspect is still carved out of pure gold.
I think what really ties together the ensemble is the fact that everyone is nice. Whether its homeless people, street-performers, or straight up Yakuza, everyone is nice to each other and they don’t create cliched problems for the show to derive conflict and humor from. The only person who is even remotely mean is the jaded bartender Utako, who blackmails a child into working at her bar. But, she still makes up for that because she volunteers by feeding the homeless—and yes, those two things DO cancel each other out. Definitely.
Back to the comedy, I think what really makes me love the humor of Hinamatsuri is how straightforward it is. No tricks, no gimmicks. No misunderstandings, no mistakes. Every character just accepts what’s happening around them, like a little girl lifting a street performer into the air without any possible setup the make that illusion possible, or when grown men talk about their problems over a drink to a schoolgirl bartender that’s being blackmailed to work there. Side note: I really love Hitomi and everything that happens to her. Lies are told only out of convenience, like when explaining Hina’s powers—the secret isn’t treated as an issue whatsoever. This anime is just a fairly wacky cast of characters having hilarious interactions with each other, and I know that doesn’t seem like a very high bar for a comedy show, but I’ve just never seen it done better than I have in Hinamatsuri.
The best part about Hinamatsuri, however, is that it’s a silly comedy show with characters that legitimately change—almost drastically, if you look at it from the perspective of just an episodic timeline. Anzu, for example, starts as a ruthless thug and petty thief in the beginning of the series, moves on to be a caring but pitiful, can-collecting member of the homeless community, and then once the homeless family migrates away, she gets adopted by a kind, small restaurant owning couple, and Anzu becomes the greatest daughter they could ever hope for. If you’re reading this and have a precious daughter of your own, I mean no offense, but your daughter would be a wretched pile of unwanted garbage if you were to compare her to the shining ray of unyielding goodness that is Anzu.
Errhm, anyway, Anzu is just one of many characters that goes through great changes across the 12-episode season, and for some reason I just love that. Each development made in a character feels either heartwarming, hilarious, or both, and always comes off as a natural progression—whether it is Nitta becoming more fatherly, Hina becoming more concerned about others, or “ROCK” T-shirt man leaving on a journey to study magic for his musical act. It’s all totally natural, and it really makes the show that much more interesting. Watching all these characters go off and live their lives in whatever direction they please is…it’s just inconceivably great. I can’t even think about this show without instantly sparking a grin on my face, and I believe that just goes to show that Hinamatsuri does something extraordinarily right. And that’s why it’s my anime of the year for 2018.
Thanks for reading.