It’s time for a final look at the greatest animated works of 2022. We’ve gathered commercial and independent animators, directors,...
It’s time for a final look at the greatest animated works of 2022. We’ve gathered commercial and independent animators, directors, designers, writers, musicians, and everything in between to share their favorite works of the year in the Sakugabooru Animation Awards 2022. Welcome to the Sakugabowl!
Bocchi the Rock #04 stands out as one episode where I particularly liked the storyboarding and direction.
There are a lot of small visual devices that I enjoyed, such as Bocchi shaking her head at the start, Nijika chasing Ryo in a circle, making finger frames for the band press shot, and pantomiming a wall. From Akira Hamaguchi-san’s party animal Bocchi to Toshiyuki Sato-san’s tsuchinoko sequence, the blasts of animation are perfectly timed to help liven things up.
The episode begins with a cold open with Ryo and a guitar playing, and I like how later, when Bocchi finishes the lyrics and shows them to the other band members, the scene changes again with the same guitar playing more deftly.
I’ll refrain from going too much into technical details, because quite frankly, there are so many magnificent elements at Bocchi the Rock‘s craftsmanship level that defy description.
But it’s no surprise that wonderfully talented people lovingly committing their energy would create a splendid anime. To see the world take notice and acknowledge it to the extent it has makes me realize the significance of collective effort that builds upon the strengths of the people in each individual department. And it seems to me that everyone including the production staff, original creators, and the viewers have been influenced positively by their experience with Bocchi the Rock!. It’s a magnificent work whose anime production itself tangibly impressed upon me for the first time how making anime can create such irreplaceable value.
Bocchi the Rock! accomplishes a tremendous level of perfection, propped up by Kerorira and Keiichiro Saito-san’s extraordinary workload. And while it’s obvious that the acumen of the chief director and chief animation director would play a large role in the fate of a work, Bocchi the Rock! drove that point home like no other production.
Megumi Ishitani-san and Soty-san [Keisuke Mori] always do such spectacular work. I always think about how Soty-san’s animation is so deliberate and beautiful at the key animation stage, and the timing is satisfying in a way that is unequaled. All of this is amplified in a cel-dominant MV that is euphoric.
A wonderful work filled with elegance and decorum, and every time I watch it, my chest swells with pride that I’m in the same line of work.
Megumi Kouno-san draws proportions that take shape in a way I’d never seen before, and it feels revolutionary. Within the cuteness, there are abstractions that hint at stylishness, as well as a softness that is characteristic of Kouno-san. I’m simply blown away by the deftness evident in her art.
I’ve known he was amazing ever since we worked together on Wonder Egg Priority and My Dress-Up Darling, so I was aware of him previous to this year, but I’d like to nominate him for his spectacular work on Bocchi the Rock!.
The parts that Yoshikawa-san animated go beyond the level of what had been provided in the storyboards and layouts, and I feel that he has the power to single-handedly make a scene, and in turn, the entire episode more interesting.
There are plenty of people out there who are good at drawing or animating. However, there aren’t many key animators out there who can single-handedly make a work more interesting, and in the most optimal way at that. Watching his work makes me want to strive to become someone like that as well.
This year clearly had no shortage of wonderfully produced TV episodes, from China and Keiichirou Saitou’s emotional journeys in Yama no Susume: Next Summit to Gosso’s bold animation fests in Ousama Ranking, and of course Yusuke Kawakami’s ambitious performance-heavy Bocchi The Rock! episodes. In the end, though, I really ended up enamored by Mooang‘s directorial debut in Akebi’s Sailor Uniform #07.
Akebi is a series that was able to successfully showcase the ethereal beauty of youth by meticulously focusing on details and moments of the school life of the Roubai Academy students, emphasizing the external appearances of each character. This almost fetishistic approach was completely reversed when Mooang started narrating the story of the troubled Oshizu and her musical dilemma with the utmost empathy of a warm internal focus.
The episode almost feels like a fantastic recollection of synesthesias felt while listening to Erika’s piano and Oshizu’s guitar, with so many small coloring and lens adjustments to carefully balance almost every shot. Bocchi did also something very similar with SICK HACK’s performance in episode 10, but there the synesthesia aspect almost felt like borrowing visual elements of psychedelic culture to smack on screen, while here I sense something more ambitious in its vision and execution; something personal and solemn that clearly took an incredible amount of time to conceptualize and supervise from start to finish. It became without any doubt the kind of episode that not only you totally watch without prior context, but also the kind of quality highlight able to misguide you in perceiving the full series, an already phenomenal production, in a totally different light.
Taishi Kawakami’s supervision was also able to synergize splendidly with the direction, anticipating many of the sensible shadow-free design choices for Haruka Fujita’s White Snow music video, in contrast to all his other Akebi episodes.
Honorable mentions (excluding the ones above): Cyberpunk Edgerunners #06: Kai Ikarashi is out of control, he’s gonna burn the studio, burn the studio———— Meanwhille, Yama no Susume Next Summit #12 felt like the party after the completion of an incredibly long yet unpredictable journey. The wonderful end that YamaSusu deserved.
I know, choosing Bocchi The Rock! as someone involved can feel like tooting my own horn, but hear me out: I don’t really think there was a show more important, or even just overall stronger this year. I never had so much fun watching an airing TV anime and it really gave me a more positive outlook on the future of animation. Since chances are that you all already watched the series I won’t focus on what makes Bocchi The Show so special, but rather why Bocchi As A Whole ended up becoming so special, at least for me.
It might sound rich after expressing my love for this series, but before this season I strongly felt like the Bishoujo Anime/CGDCT sphere was starting to show important signs of staleness. Sure, every now and then you have dazzling gems able to ride the full spectrum of the emotional rollercoaster of life thanks to strong directorial vision and brilliant artistic executions, but I didn’t feel like the range of what such shows are able to do was successfully challenged maybe even in the last 10 years. Not by people other than Naoko Yamada and her disciples, at least, and certainly not on a full-fledged mainstream project. The Pink Blob, however, really showed the world a new creative path towards the future of late-night anime, a route sharp and maybe a bit darker than usual but yet still incredibly healing and fun.
While I would give plenty of credit to Erika Yoshida and her gargantuan work in elegantly reconstructing barely 2 tankobon into a full cour series, we’re clearly assisting at one of the directorial miracles of this century. No, maybe it wasn’t something that magical and arbitrary as a miracle, but rather the result of tangible efforts and smarts. The hopeful and chaotic vision of Keiichirou Saitou and his excellent directorial team might seem achievable just because of the incredible production muscle of the Shouta Umehara team, but it is also sustained by an incredibly sleek reuse of assets and crystal-clear understanding of how to create successful visual gags with a relatively small amount of frames and settei work if possible. He might be young, but what really makes him incredible is his ability to balance that boldness with critical thinking about what can be done and what has to be sacrificed in the day-to-day war to make TV anime.
In that regard, it is safe to say that I don’t really think Bocchi represents the uttermost peak of technical animation, and yet it was able to reach a spot among my favorite titles of all time thanks to the purposefulness of its animation. It’s supported by a clear vision of what was needed to feel exceptional in a season full of sharks, and within a genre where the uttermost peak of visual quality is clearly unreachable due to a way too demanding, sick industry. Don’t be ashamed of being yourself even if you don’t see anyone else similar around. No matter if you’re a kid rakugaki, a stiff 3D model, or a small tsuchinoko, you’re special exactly because there is no one else like you!
While I felt a little bit underwhelmed by the fast-paced narration that characterized the second half of The Deer King, I was really impressed by the portentous animation of a movie that really feels out of place in this era of TV-esque Anime Eiga. The most superlative showcase of that animation muscle is the scene where Van desperately tries to get back his sweet Yuna from the wolves; clearly the visual highlight of my year, such an impressive blend between the sensibilities of stellar classic films and the more recent innovations when it comes to the timing and the shapes that construct the animation itself! Realism and more expressive needs passionately making love under the full moon, baby!
The world design was also really captivating. The influences of Turkish and Native-American cultures were supported by two brilliantly dedicated art and prop design teams, always able to understand the full purpose of each architectural space, object, and outfit. It gave each scene a sense of identity and fostered the immersion, something that really makes a difference in fantasy works.
Honorable Mentions: I also really loved the comfy yet very mature atmosphere of the Yuru Camp movie. While limited in animation, the backgrounds and compositing were really charming in ways that felt different yet familiar compared to the TV series. Such a graceful finale!.
That warm, maybe even a little bit heavy, almost Shinkai-esque compositing style was a genius approach to represent the happiest moments of the Forger family. I’m simply a sucker for sequences like Spy x Family‘s second opening. Especially so, when the over-abundance of iroshitei and artboards actually serves the purpose of exploring new emotional landscapes in each different cut, rather than just presenting a couple of shots in a cooler way.
In particular, I really appreciated the moments of bonding between Yor and Anya; they felt incredibly precious, genuine, and seraphic compared to how the other directors of the series handled them.
This year had plenty of incredibly festive and cheerful endings and, while I don’t really hate them, I’m still of the idea that an ending sequence should really put you to sleep happily. And Atsushi Nishigori achieved this wonderfully with his Spy x Family sequence.
While not all that technically complicated, those yummy multiplanar motions and transitions help create a sense of intrigue and complicity with Anya; we’re invited into her space, as she is sharing with the audience her imagination first, then her lovely daily routine in her second half. The compositing effects and the general screen palette really help in creating a cozy nightly atmosphere that felt really unique compared to most late-night anime. It managed to blend child-like sensibilities with a refined and classy look.
The cutting is also immaculate, and the three-dimensionality of that animation space really helps give each transition a level of individuality that is really difficult to experience in pure, 2D full-cel animation.
Narrating such a sorrowful alternative backstory for Uta should be illegal in all countries across the 4 Seas and Grand Line, yet I cannot really thank Keisuke Mori and Megumi Ishitani enough for the wonderful present, one that even people like me who are kinda fed-up with current One Piece can fully appreciate. In fact, I think the still-very One Piece-esque designs of the two Utas really helped in generating the illusion of adventure and romance… before brutally crushing my heart at the end of the video.
These days I’m becoming quite critical of short-form music videos. I watch a Komugiko MV, and after a few seconds, I start rambling about how I would change cut lengths and camera movements’ speed till I become too negative. I can only say the opposite for Where the Wind Blows: the more I watch it, the more I end up electrified at the thought that there are people so naturally gifted at cutting and timing as this duo, while still not really understanding how they were able to achieve such harmony. Bless them, really.
The screen palette with a flat yet powerful range of colors perfectly compliments how simple and straightforward the adventure of the two girls was till the end, despite the otherworldly emotions they experienced during that way too short journey.
Honorable Mentions: White Snow (Eve): Wonderful characters and world design. I hope to see some more of them in the future. I wanna Be Your Ghost (Hoshino Gen): Incredibly fun and sweet. Lovely camera motions and charismatic animation. Kumorizora no Mukou wa Hareteiru (22/7): The ending Wonder Egg deserved but never had + Horiguchi Kami? Sign me in, fam.
The world design of Do It Yourself!! accomplishes the ambitious task of making the viewer question, review, and discover a wide range of different visual design styles represented in detail with great care; children of different ways of philosophizing the process of creation, and different cultures altogether. I can’t stress enough how important such an accomplishment is in a TV series that put the individuality, skillsets, and sensibilities of their main cast at the center of the stage. We’re not just watching a do it yourself-centered show, we’re living in a world where the title of the anime has a special meaning that permeates all things as if it were a divine mandate.
Honorable mentions: More than a Married Couple, but Not Lovers: I really loved how such a low-profile production was able to blend cel elements with its backgrounds on such a fundamental level, while creating such a dreamy and youthful scenery. Big props!
I don’t really think there is even much competition, truth to be told: Yusuke Matsuo surpassed himself with wonderful girls whose personalities are on full display just by looking at their silhouettes. The puppy-like Yua with her ruffled hair, canine smile, and pointy angles is perfectly complimented by Purin’s elegant, slightly wavy, and almost glossy hairstyle. The same applies to Shii’s almost explosive cat-like grin and Rei’s cool, calm eyes and mouth shapes.
In a way, I feel like this is a coronation of his career as a designer; not only because it’s an original anime where every character feels like his own from drafts to finished sheets, but also because he was able to combine those solid silhouettes with radically innovative visual concepts while still remaining in the classic boundaries of moe anime. Characters like Jobuko or even Rei would probably feel out of place in a less well-balanced cast of girls, yet here they are expanding the literal meaning of cuteness with the support of the more standard members like Purin and Takumi.
The mobs are incredibly interesting too; I feel a strong retro western animation and Ghibli influence that complements Fugo’s line economy in ways that feel incredibly fresh, yet rooted enough to visual archetypes that the viewer will find them familiar.
Honorable Mentions: Mobile Suit Gundam The Witch from Mercury: they’re also quite innovative designs, really rich in potential when it comes to the main student characters, but I feel a bit less convinced of the older folk, who got a way more conservative treatment.
I admit, I’m telling a bit of a lie here. You see, last year I already contacted Yusei Koumoto to work for me on a certain animation project, but at that time he was quite busy with more important work. I certainly saw in him strong potential as a beginner animator, but damn, the next time I hear about him he’s doing official illustration work for YamaSusu? And then he’s doing animation supervision for the opening with excellent results? Something he then surpasses by supervising one of the most important episodes of the season?! Talk about shattering expectations, I rarely see artists progressing at such a fast pace!
I think the biggest appeal of his art lies in how the shape of chins and cheeks, as well as the general proportions of his faces, gives an electrifying blend between cuteness and coolness to almost all the characters he draws; it gives them a larger range of expressions they can perform, while still feeling incredibly attractive no matter their role or context. This innovative way of handling characters feels appropriate in an era where the range of what “cute girl” or a “cute boy” can be is expanding again, even in the animation sphere.
In this sense, Hinata’s Mom from Yama no Susume was right up his alley because of how much of a “cooler Hinata” she is, in a way that felt incredibly natural to me. In retrospect, it felt quite unique compared to the strong majority of anime moms, starting with the ones in this same series. On paper, a beginner sakkan handling such an important character seemed like a gamble, but now that I’m fully aware of his capabilities as a supervisor it was clearly the right, no-brainer choice. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Yusei—I really hope he will be able to thrive not only as a supervisor but also as a fully-fledged designer.
Honorable Mentions: What to even say about Kerorira… I may have known the guy for around 4-5 years, but damn, I didn’t expect him to essentially become an animation studio on his own. When I get around to making my Salome Ojousama Music Video I definitely want him on my side.
Picking just one best episode of the year is never easy, but the current fall season has made sure to crank up the difficulty, with worthy candidates coming out of the woodwork on a weekly basis. Among the notable standouts, there’s the eighth episode of Mob Psycho 100 S3, which saw the return of Hakuyu Go for an experience completely perpendicular in flavor to his previous contribution, but no less special. This season’s trinity of comfy, creator-driven anime in Yama no Susume, Do It Yourself!!, and Bocchi the Rock! had their fair share of contenders each as well. Particularly of note, Keiichiro Saito and China’s split episode of Yama no Susume (#07), the pair of Yusuke “nara” Yamamoto-directed episodes of Bocchi the Rock! (#03, #11), and Yusuke “Fugo” Matsuo’s beach bonanza of Do It Yourself! (#06).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the sixth episode of BLEACH: Thousand Year Blood War was also hugely transformative. Though, having already covered it in detail, I’d instead rather fawn over Cyberpunk: Edgerunners #06. My experience with this episode can be considered truly unique since, fed up with the poor subtitle quality offered by Netflix, and without a vested interest in the story, I decided to watch it raw. Considering I have only a rudimentary understanding of Japanese, especially on the listening side, what ensued was a personal psychosis that mirrored that of the central conflict of the episode. As ridiculous as it might sound, watching liberated from what I considered to be the weakest element of the anime allowed for the enigmatic artistry of one Kai Ikarashi to completely dominate the screen, culminating in an experience that I genuinely could not replicate even if I tried. This story has a happy ending, as I eventually returned with proper subtitles and enjoyed the anime as a whole, but the overwhelming charisma on display in the sixth episode in particular will stick with me for a long time.
Since they happened to release only a few months apart, I couldn’t help but notice an interesting dichotomy between The Orbital Children and Vampire in the Garden. As Netflix-exclusive releases, they shared an unorthodox runtime that gave their respective creators around a movie’s worth of time to work with. However, in the case of the former, this acted as a restriction; Mitsuo Iso was forced to condense his plans to the point where, instead of a cohesive story, the anime felt more like a disorganized tour of the ideas floating around his brain.
On the other hand, the pseudo-OVA format played to the strengths of Ryotaro Makihara, who instead set out with a very simple story in mind. Vampire in the Garden is a tale of two girls who have fallen for each other, but as a result of living in different worlds, cannot be together. This Shakesperian premise should sound familiar to anyone who has consumed media of pretty much any kind before, though it’s in this cliché simplicity that Vampire in the Garden shines. As a firm believer that style is substance, especially when it comes to animation, the work of illustrious character designer Tetsuya Nishio does much of the storytelling, with his neat and tidy design philosophy allowing for highly emotive and lively exchanges. The other aspects of the production come together nicely with Victorian architecture painted by studio Bihou, compositing and color design that uses well-planned color scripts to dictate scene variety, as well as some strong casting choices.
Vampire in the Garden is not without its shortcomings, but as something that checks all the boxes for a classic ‘90s OVA thriller, it’s difficult not to admire its ability to even exist in the current year.
As a big fan of Seirei no Moribito, and a moderate fan of the small amount I’ve seen of Kemono no Souja Erin, I was eagerly anticipating The Deer King / Shika no Ou. The common element shared between these three anime is of course their original author: writer Nahoko Uehashi. Her stories strike an immensely satisfying balance between spiritual mysticism and grounded character drama. As if the deal could get any sweeter, the adaptation of Uehashi’s most recent work also happened to be the directorial debut of Masashi Ando.
As the occasion demanded, Production I.G. producer Keiko Matsushita would naturally ensure that such a titan of animation was surrounded with the best this industry has to offer. Toshiyuki Inoue in particular took the role of main animator to unfathomable heights, handling 400 cuts worth of layouts and taking around half of those to the final genga stages, which might be an even more remarkable feat. One would think with so much volume that some compromise would have to be made in quality, yet his indomitable skill paired with a two-and-a-half year animation production cycle (his second longest ever) ensured not even the smallest detail would be spared. Especially considering the extensive animal animation on display, productions of this caliber simply do not exist with any regularity, making Shika no Ou quite a historic endeavor.
With that said, it is not a flawless film when critiqued from perspectives that don’t involve moving drawings. As a debut work, Ando struggled with presenting the exposition-dense lore that Uehashi’s world and characters depend on. The general aesthetic, auras, and color design in particular suffer from what you might call animator-brained inexperience and leave a lot to be desired. The global pandemic which its production coincided with likely did not help matters. However, despite these warts, there is still enough charm and sheer craftsmanship to present a total package that is well worth its price of admission.
With so many notable shows this year, it’s only natural there would be a number of noteworthy openings and endings in tow. The usual industry leaders in the scene are well represented this year; and by that, I mean Shingo Yamashita and Masashi Ishihama specifically. At this point in their careers, both have carved out a niche as opening maestros, and doing little of much else has allowed them to produce three openings a piece in 2022.
While all six have individual notable qualities, on the whole, Ousama Ranking was blessed with what I believe to be Yamashita’s best work to date. The usual intricacies of his direction are present—from the rapid overlapping cuts to the photographic harmony, but what really elevates it to number one are the emotional beats of the story which he managed to extract and present with the utmost care. Yamashita’s direction and Vaundy’s lyrics also synergize with extreme proficiency, both in the context on screen at any given moment, and most importantly, in the crescendos of the music. An opening on this level could justify every cut being dissected with a fine tooth comb, however in the spirit of keeping it short, 全部, 全部.
From the moment it first aired back in 2017, Made in Abyss arrested viewers with its magical world. While there is nothing short of an army of skilled individuals in various departments responsible, a major factor in its success is the quality of its background art, which delivers on a level that practically does not exist elsewhere in the TV anime sphere. With the second season, we find art director Osamu Masuyama reprising his role, this time working alongside first-time art director Teru Sekiguchi. As the founder of the aptly named Studio Inspired, this would appear to be Masuyama’s attempt at training the next generation of art directors under his Studio Ghibli-hailed lineage. If having a newcomer under his wing happened to interfere in any way with the flow of Made in Abyss S2’s production, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the quality of the output, as the anime continues to be an exemplar of world-building through art direction.
For a non-sequel choice, Cool Doji Danshi is deserving of a mention. As an overtly modest production, expectations should be appropriately adjusted, however the staff has done well to maintain a comfortable level of consistency throughout. To that end, the low line count on Eri Taguchi’s designs is a wonderful fit for such an unassuming series. Her Tetsuya Nishio-inspired work gains further mileage when augmented by the pastel colors and thoughtful light accents frequently deployed throughout. There’s a real sense that the staff took the ‘cool’ aspect of the title to heart, and successfully channeled that concept into the aesthetic of the show.
It’s not every day, or every decade even, that a single artist outputs two episodes, one solo animated and the other intimately supervised, in the very same week. And yet that’s exactly what happened during the historic “Fugo week”, in which the world was greeted by a Yusuke “Fugo” Matsuo bonanza in both Yama no Susume: Next Summit and Do It Yourself!! within a span of only a few days. This was made possible by the former being near-completed over two years ago, though that their air dates would align so perfectly is nothing short of divine intervention.
From a design perspective, it can be difficult to speak about Fugo’s immediate impact on Yama no Susume, since the show has some of the most eclectic animation direction in modern anime. This amusingly even includes Fugo’s own takes on his designs which, while always strong, have the propensity to change depending on how he feels on any given day. The series not settling on a unified look makes it a lightning rod for skilled artists, since it allows them to uphold their own takes, and embodies a core tenet of our fabricated definition of ‘sakuga’ in the process. In many ways, the same could be said of Do It Yourself!!, although on a lesser scale of idiosyncrasy. Even still, Matsuo is beloved by his peers, and it shows in the way they move mountains just to participate in anime blessed by his designs.
The irony in picking Yuusei Koumoto and his pals as my discovery of the year is that the work which I’m “discovering” them for (this latest season of Yama no Susume), was essentially completed years ago. The series is historically among the best at integrating rookie staff among veteran animators, and this fourth and final season is the strongest yet from that perspective. Further adding to the appeal of this arrangement, many of this season’s youngest stars began as fans of the series, with their special interest in acting-focused animation synergizing well with the premise of the show.
Yusei Koumoto specifically contributed to the OP and the B-Part of the ninth episode, both of which they did solo animation direction for, and both under Eri Irei’s direction. This formidable duo of young artists established a consistent output of impressively detailed drawings, while still respecting the pipeline in a way where sequential frames follow each other effortlessly, with next to no melt or inconsistency, even throughout highly complex movements. Pairing these qualities with impressive construction in both distance models and close-up cuts alike, and you have a sakuga nerd’s dream episode. It’s rare to see such a concentrated effort to elevate the entire screen in today’s increasingly deteriorating TV anime sphere, so utmost credit where it’s due—hopefully this team continues to thrive!
An episode for veterans to show off their overwhelming power, in a season where youngsters are full of life.
It goes without saying that Norio Matsumoto-san’s animation is fantastic. Add to that another given source of excellence like Yusuke Yamamoto-san as episode director, and you’ve got a storyboard that shows complete understanding and trust in the animator in question; 20-second long takes of character animation, asking for background animation cuts like it’s nothing, precisely because it’s Matsumoto-san. It was great to see this high-output pair, in perfect sync as if they were another couple of youngsters like those who rampage all over anime right now.
Thank you, Yusuke Yamamoto and Norio Matsumoto.
A masterpiece where Keiichiro Saito and Shouta Umehara’s creative ideation shone through at its maximum potential.
12 episodes, each one a gem formed by UmeP’s beloved, resolute creators who are surrounded by director Keiichiro Saito’s deep, deep love of creation. A destination, but one that fills me with anticipation for what future endeavors from Umehara’s production line may bring.
Thank you, Keiichiro Saito and Shota Umehara.
There’s an unexpected roughness to the film that sharply reflects the agony that the themes touched upon must bring to Makoto Shinkai. At the same time, it was an enjoyable moviegoing experience that effectively makes use of the comedic direction that hasn’t been attempted since the front half of Your Name.
Thank you, Makoto Shinkai.
Every week was exciting, like keeping up with a serialized manga.
A wonderfully insane amount of output to create single-handedly.
You can sense the creators’ diligence in how beautifully the tiny gold jewelry is drawn.
Thank you, Taishi Kawakami.
Please get some rest, Kerorira…
But at the same time, thank you, Kerorira.
Just as the character designs for Yama no Susume change every season, Yusuke Matsuo changes with every series, and shows us a new side of himself.
From his designs for Do It Yourself!! paying homage to Takahiro Kishida, to his bold solo key animation on Yama no Susume: Next Summit, 2022 was a year where all eyes were on a new Yusuke Matsuo. As we move forward, I look forward to seeing different sides to a new Yusuke Matsuo as he continues to evolve.
Thank you, Yusuke Matsuo.
And thank you to all the anime creators in 2022. You really worked hard. Here’s to a happy new year.
There’s a lot to be said about the tone that series director Ryu Nakayama has furnished Chainsaw Man with in its jump to an animated format. A grounded approach packed with naturalistic animation is the furthest thing from my mind when I think of the manga, and the results have certainly proven divisive depending on which side of the world you’re on. While petitions like these are laughably misguided, it’s not difficult to see why some of the source material’s most ardent fans would react in such a way. It’s an adaptation that elevates its character drama at the cost of the source’s pristine comedic chops, and while it may not wholly succeed as a complete adaptation, its eighth episode was a perfect storm that resulted in my favourite episode of anime this year.
Shouta Goshozono (Gosso) is no stranger to Sakuga Blog readers, particularly following his gargantuan effort at the head of Ousama Ranking’s 21st episode, and he impresses here once again, taking Nakayama’s filmic direction and executing it at the highest level. Its first half alone is a masterclass in character animation, with a board that often feels distant and bordering on voyeuristic, conveying the depth of the environment while letting its characters interact with it in a way seldom found in anime. At the same time, there are an abundance of ambitious POV shots that, although not executed perfectly, offer a unique and dynamic approach to navigating its setting. With a near-total absence of music for its entire first half, it relies solely on diegetic sound and character performance to weave itself into such a delicate piece of animation, and it all comes together so well.
While there are absolutely some fantastic pieces of action in its second half, they feel like a footnote to an episode that performs its series directors’ intentions to an unparalleled degree.
Honorable Mentions: Mob Psycho 100 III #06 & #08, Cyberpunk Edgerunners #06.
CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t have the smoothest of launches, and while it could be enjoyed by those on PC with capable hardware, its console launch was criminal enough to see it pulled from the PlayStation Store. Fortunately, I found myself in the former camp, and in spite of a plethora of bugs, the gameplay clicked with me, and I quickly fell in love with its world and characters, and walked away considering it my favourite game of its eligible 2021 period.
Cyberpunk Edgerunners could quite easily have been a forgettable video game tie-in, particularly given how common these are each year in this industry. Often these are poorly abridged versions of a game or focused in on a side character that probably should have remained as such. Instead, thanks to a collaboration between CDPR and studio TRIGGER writers, the series produced a story and characters that stand on their own merits, while also honouring and living up to its video game origins. Its use of 1:1 settings from the open world, its themes, its pristine English localisation, and phenomenal music picks—they’re not only a fan’s wet dream, but are also compelling enough in their own right to have entirely reignited interest in the game, drawing players in or back to give the now-fixed version of Cyberpunk 2077 another chance.
While there’s certainly a sense that Hiroyuki Imaishi’s investment in this series was less pronounced than usual, his stylistic quirks can certainly be felt in the way it blends its frenetic energy with its quieter moments. It’s the individual directors that really make it shine as a result, and that certainly comes to a head with Kai Ikarashi’s episode 6—a harrowing climax to the anime’s first arc, with some of the most memorable visuals this year.
While its absurdly impressive production values start to falter in the lead-up to its bombastic finale, it is no less of a series for it. Yoh Yoshinari’s character designs transform CDPR’s concept work into eye-catching models fit for animation, and the choice to emphasise the neon cityscape of Night City through persistent rim lights is a genius choice that adds a unique flair with guaranteed memorability. With the likes of Yuuto Kaneko allowed to design fan-favourite Rebecca and CDPR approving it after a little pushback, it’s clear they eventually reached a sense of creative understanding here, and I think that’s the key to its success.
Arcane, Castlevania, and now Cyberpunk Edgerunners are all series that come across as creator-driven. They’re fantastic stories first and excellent video game adaptations second, but it’s the ability to execute both aspects at their highest level that solidifies their quality and provides widespread appeal. I could not be happier with its success and I hope this is a trend that continues and carries on opening up doors for people to experience each other’s favourite mediums.
Honorable Mention: Bocchi the Rock!.
Bringing Charlie Mackesy’s stunning watercolour illustrations to life through 2D animation is an astonishing feat given his work is defined by its loose gestural quality—any deviation into rigidity, even conventional linework would take away from its appeal. It’s wonderful to see that director Peter Baynton understood this, and along with his international team, developed a pipeline that saw the pencil layouts finished with loose inkwork to evoke the same feeling as Mackesy’s work. The finished results are striking, with the compositing team layering watercolour edges along the shading, and placing the completed cels against the beautifully painted backgrounds in a way that feels organic and reminiscent of traditional analog animation. It elevates the wonderful cuts to new heights and harkens back to an era of western animation seldom seen anymore. It’s currently shortlisted for the Best Animated Short Film award at the Oscars, and although largely meaningless given the ceremony’s treatment of animation over the years, it would be great to see it recognised with a nomination.
Honorable Mention: Jujutsu Kaisen 0.
I very much doubt I’m the only person on this page to have handed Shingo Yamashita this award this year, and unsurprisingly, my reasons for doing so are almost identical to why I gave him this in 2020 for his Jujutsu Kaisen opening. He just does things better.
The 3D camera work, the ludicrously detailed lighting, the shot composition, the grounded animation… Yamashita-led projects are impossible to miss at this point, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. In 90 seconds, he demonstrates an understanding of Chainsaw Man that goes above and beyond the main episode contents. It is exhilarating, funny, wacky, dramatic, grounded, and chock full of references to a plethora of films throughout the ages. If that doesn’t distill the essence of Chainsaw Man perfectly, I don’t know what does. It’s brilliant through and through.
If you ever want to win me over, just throw loose shapes, pastel colours, and minimal shading at me and I will probably fall in love. Do It Yourself!! embodies everything I love in animation, and I have never had an easier time handing out two awards.
Yusuke ‘Fugo’ Matsuo is a genius, and there’s little more to add that wasn’t already covered in kViN’s recent article on this very subject. His design work in Do It Yourself!! feels, to sum it up, effortless. It showcases stylish shape design and interesting anatomical flourishes, allowing idiosyncratic animators to thrive without feeling at odds with the more conventional scenes found across the show. Hands in particular are always so wonderfully shaped with such minimal linework, either standing on their own as cool stylistic shapes, or elevated with volumetric shading.
The art direction across the show is unparalleled, contrasting the pastel colours of its characters against deeply coloured luscious backgrounds, and utilising lighting in a multitude of different but equally pleasing ways from episode to episode. While I don’t love the choice of static grain, I can’t deny that the textural quality it adds to the image certainly fits the aesthetic.
Do It Yourself!!’s animation may have weaned as the show pushed past its midpoint prior to finding its feet again for its final episodes, but it never felt like a substantial downgrade thanks to its foundations standing this strong.
Vincent Chansard isn’t a name that’s actually new to me, but prior to this year, he was an animator who was very much on the fringe of my perception; he’d produced some wonderful scenes but nothing to the level that has subsequently garnered worldwide attention this year.
2022 saw Chansard contribute to the One Piece anime on a regular basis, taking the already high standard of Wano to previously unimaginable heights. His understanding of shape and volume is hard to comprehend, handling nightmare designs like Kaido with ease. Over and over, he drops action scenes that stand as some of the finest seen in anime this year, and he does not stop, producing magical work as recently as two weeks ago!
With the One Piece anime heading into what will be its final year in Wano, I’m sure Chansard will somehow keep growing and one-upping himself with every appearance.
I’m sure someone else will mention them, so I’m choosing to exclude all of Bocchi the Rock!, as well as Akebi’s Sailor Uniform #07, Summer Time Rendering #15, all of My Dress-Up Darling, and all of The Orbital Children.
Shoot! Goal to the Future as a whole doesn’t look particularly amazing, but the stellar direction, as well as the soccer animation that feels like it references real footage, resulted in an incredible episode filled with atypical passion.
Good or bad aside, my favorite series of the year.
I bet everyone will unanimously pick Bocchi the Rock! this year, so a different title for me.
Futoku no Guild’s animation isn’t particularly flashy or extravagant, and every episode is full of silly, pervy gags. Like cut rock candy but with fanservice, it consistently delivers the same and funny (I swear it really is funny) 30-minute slices every week. It’s a very good series.
I also really liked Deaimon, which calmed my soul week after week.
It was between this and Laid-Back Camp.
At first glance, the Bakuten!! movie seems like adolescent sports fare, but the refreshing, down-to-earth tone only feels possible now that the TV anime’s main audience have become working adults. For example, how the myopic world of high schoolers is properly depicted as such. There’s a sub-plot revolving around the main characters’ coach choosing a career, which furthers the sensation of getting a detached look into the world of these schoolboys.
All the while, the gymnastics scenes, directed by Shingo Yamashita (I believe?), get you pumped with their bold camerawork. Big emotional changes are accompanied by vivid still shots. Be they bitter or sweet for the characters, these are irreplaceable moments for them, and they’re depicted as such. I really love this movie.
It was either this or the first Summer Time Rendering OP/ED, but those feel more like we’re entering the realm of live-action and motion graphics… Since these are the anime awards, I chose Hi-DRIVERS!
I made my decision based on the faithfulness to pako’s art, the beauty of its animation, as well as how purely slick it is.
The Witch from Mercury is the peak of modern industry-standard compositing, with luxurious effects layered one after another.
At the same time, I’m drawn to Do It Yourself!! by its spirit, which feels as if it wants to reclaim the unconstrained nature that anime once possessed.
But I’m sure everyone else will also pick along the lines of these two series.
I feel like a majority of people will pick Do It Yourself!!, Yama no Susume, or Bocchi the Rock!, so I’m excluding Yusuke Matsuo-san here, as well as the absolute god Kerorira.
Deaimon’s original art by Rin Asano-san is really good and possesses a warmth to it. The anime’s designs do a great job capturing that gentle feel, and the stills in the ED especially are quite beautiful.
I also liked the designs for Extreme Hearts, which retain that 00s-era Xebec look in a good way.
I found out about Saucelot from the new season of Bleach. I feel like Jump adaptations are the perfect playground for animators who love to go wild.
Even though most of the categories this time around have had clear winners in my mind, best episode has never given me so much trouble before. Days kept passing and my pick was changing as well. I could never fully justify any one of my picks. Not because none of them was good enough, quite the opposite in fact; there’s been so many memorable moments this year that it was impossible to choose one, and in the end, I have to cheat.
Great debuts? We had those, just look at the amazing full storyboarding and directorial debut from Yusuke Kawakami on My Dress-up Darling #08. A slow and moody episode full of amazing layouts and godly animators on board. Want action spectacle instead? I have to recommend PriConne S2 #04 by Takahito Sakazume, an episode reminiscent of Fate Apocrypha‘s legendary episode #22 that really changed the way we look at digital animators and over-the-top action. Fancy a huge but expected comeback? Look no further than Mob Psycho 100 III #08 by Hakuyu Go. Gosso‘s super skillfully storyboarded Ousama Ranking #21 is also fresh in my memory, full of ambitious layouts, some of which I’ve never seen attempted before.
Last but not least, the first candidate I had in mind is well worth a shout out, even if I couldn’t give it exclusive honors in the end: Cyberpunk Edgerunners #06 boarded and supervised by Kai Ikarashi. His first dream-like episode on SSSS.Gridman was genius. When he returned for a similar scenario on its sequel Dynazenon the result was godly, but the fact that it happened now for the third time and he got away with it blows my mind; same main theme, yet it doesn’t feel stale and rehashed in any way. This is simply a testament to his storyboarding prowess and neverending ideas—and of course his amazing art!.
I didn’t even mention any Bocchi the Rock! episodes, or even the other Mob ones that also deserve a spot. What a terrible year to pick a single best episode, and what an amazing one to enjoy them as a viewer.
Let me start by emphasizing this: I’m still not sure how this show is real. With every episode feeling like a high-priority effort, knowing of the late start of the production and the sometimes overly ambitious people working on it—whether it be the producer Shouta Umehara or the character designer Kerorira—everything pointed to Bocchi the Rock! eventually falling apart. And yet, this team got Bocchi to succeed in a way that few passion projects nowadays can.
The show gathered an amazing crew since the start, however, that was not enough for me to be hyped about it. Many shows pull great people aboard, but most of them and especially is we’re talking about Aniplex titles, then fail to overcome the issues that plague the anime industry right now. To me, Bocchi simply had the energy of such a project as months passed and we did not see any trailers or even finished still shots, which continued up until one month before the premiere. Surely creators do not have enough time, surely Aniplex rushed it out and set unreasonable deadlines, surely Bocchi will need a postponement…
What I did not account for when it came to the health of this production was the ace in its sleeve: the aforementioned Kerorira, who kept casually reporting his own progress on Twitter. Every day he’d casually mention how many cuts he drew himself. Seven. Ten. Six. Eight. Nothing but steady progress, even on days where he disappointedly noted that he’d only drawn a number of cuts that a human animator might achieve in their most efficient days, showing how much of a speed demon he really is. And he wasn’t even a main animator, he was the designer with other tasks to perform as well! Kerorira lessened a lot of burden from the production; in fact, around 2 full episodes-worth of the burden on the key animation front alone. And frankly, the team definitely needed that judging by how ambitious and creative they were with this project. Series director Keiichiro Saitou did not hesitate to approve of wild, quirky proposals such as using live-action shots, building their own zoetropes, or embracing stylized CGi usage. And that’s without even getting into the musical aspect, where live performance director Yusuke Kawakami’s propensity to have them draw over intricate CG and live-action reference data definitely added to the toll. Imagine how heavy on the production team those aspects of the show must have been; or rather, you don’t have to imagine, the team has said so already. That only makes their success more impressive.
For as much as I’ve praised an animation team that somehow made this work, as a viewer, I can only bow down to Erika Yoshida—the scriptwriter for every single episode. Her work is what truly made all that effort click for me. It’s been a while since I last saw such charmingly written comedy in which every joke, every gag, and every character landed for me. Despite all the praise I can give it, my final surprise was definitely how well-received the show was. I expected an anime from animation nerds mostly for animation nerds, something that only a few see the appeal in. Instead, the love of the people making Bocchi the Rock! got even to mainstream audiences, which is great to see.
This category has already been nailed on since January for me. Ousama Ranking‘s second opening is Shingo Yamashita‘s magnum opus and probably my favorite opening of all time. I can’t sing enough praises about it, but I’ll try.
Yamashita’s heavily processed digital work was perfect for Jujutsu Kaisen last year, but would he be able to reinvent himself for a show that is so different from his usual output, I asked myself. We’re talking about a show that looks more like an oil-painted fairy tale, rather than the sleek yet gritty cityscapes that define his modern output. In the end, the answer was both yes and no. Yamashita did not change much in his usual approach, still leaning into digital tricks such as overexposing the light, using very smooth light sources or sometimes even digital maps, and of course including his favorite time of the day, the twilight right after the golden hour. Everything that worked for him before, all that made his style so distinct, is still right here. Instead, he changed the linework filter; the result makes it look like it was drawn with crayons, something that’s especially visible on irotore lines.
On a more conceptual level rather than this technical nitty-gritty, Yamashita fits Ousama Ranking naturally because of the main theme: size. It’s a show that tries to portray everything as huge compared to our tiny protagonist, and it was precisely the sense of scale that allowed him to stand out as a digital animator. Back then he already had an amazing grasp on how to board such scenes and move the camera to evoke an unsurmountable difference in size, and I feel like it culminated in this show.
Oh, and the song is a banger too!
Anytime I looked at Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls and Yama no Susume disc release covers I always wondered if we’d ever see Yusuke Matsuo‘s characters come to life in their fullest form. The man is a legend whose name is enough to bring hundreds of talented animators to a project just to work with his character designs; something that makes sense given not just their appeal but how animation-friendly they are, making use of a low linecount and adapting from project to project (and sometimes within the same series!). There’s no doubt to me that he’s greatest at his craft, and many people recognize that. However, there is a side to his work that not many really take a notice of, one that mostly gets lost in the anime industry: Matsuo is a brilliant illustrator, whose understanding of colors and soft light elevates his artwork even higher. Pastel-like orange and pink hues are what captivated me in the aforementioned disc release covers and what makes me come back to his blog every couple of days to check for new drawings.
Cue my delight when Do It Yourself!! was revealed. The promotional materials were very promising, with key visuals either drawn and colored by Matsuo himself or closely following his understanding of color, mainly those purple shadows he loves so much.
The show ended up being exactly what I have dreamed of for years; it’s as if I was looking at Yusuke Matsuo’s moving illustrations, or at the very least the closest approximation we will ever get to them within an anime pipeline. Thanks to the titanic effort of the director Kazuhiro Yoneda and the studio Pinejam staff, the color design and art design are pitch-perfect. Of course, this is again supported by the imageboards drawn at the beginning of the project by the man in question, but it’s still remarkable that they were able to execute them with such grace. What a great show with amazing aesthetics! I can only salute the staff for turning this dream of mine into a reality.
Last year I nominated Kanna Hirayama for this category mainly because of the sheer number of cuts she corrects and redraws for every project of hers. Because as much as some shows need creative freedom and a loose approach to supervising the artwork, the opposite can also be necessary, especially in an industry chronically lacking in time to flesh out animation. If your designer or animation director is very quick and skillful, then why not let them take over and truly make a show theirs?
That was just the case with Kerorira, the character designer for Bocchi the Rock!. He didn’t only play a key role in getting the project greenlit in the first place, but also proceeded to make sure that it was completed, even if that meant undertaking all the work himself. He obviously didn’t have to, but it was one of the most titanic efforts on a single cour show I have ever seen.
As the designer and by extension chief animation director, Kerorira was in charge of early stage corrections for other peoples’ animation, and he also acted as the sole supervisor for two episodes and the opening sequence. Now that’s a lot of work, you might be thinking, but we’re only getting started. For one, we have to add the workload equivalent to acting as an additional animation director for an additional 6 episodes; and being the way he is, those were not small chunks of work that he set apart from himself. On top of this all, he also key animated almost 700 hundred cuts, which is around two full episodes worth of animation. And don’t get me started on all the promotional materials drawn by him as well. Is he even a human?
Alright, but the category isn’t called most work done, right? So let’s talk about the style he imbued so much of the show with. The most prominent aspect of Kerorira‘s design philosophy is the very angular shapes without very much roundness to them. We can see it in the characters’ faces; how square they all are when you distill them to the simplest shapes, starting from their cheeks and ending on the ears. To balance it out, he rarely closes the lines on the chin so as not to make the faces too pointy. This angular approach is not only part of his linework, but also how he shades his characters with a very prominent diagonal line across characters. This is most noticeable in promotional materials and works he can color himself, which just like his animation, come across as very easy on the line despite this underlying angularity. And given that this is a music-themed work with a protagonist who plays the guitar, those shapes also come into play during the performance scenes. Bocchi leans hard into playing instruments realistically with guitar chords and fret movement being shown every time the girls perform—and what better to showcase that than Kerorira‘s easy-to-animate fat square fingers (praise, I swear, look how easy to replicate they are!).
Considering the amount of work Kerorira has done, the speed necessary to do that given how late the production started, the perfection of the lines he draws and easy-to-spot quirks of his art, he has to be my favorite character designer this year. What an amazing artist!
Every time Yama no Susume loses some key staff members, they are able to replace them with new talent who appears to come out of thin air, putting together incredible work under the supervision of Yusuke Matsuo. China and Kazuaki Shimada, later Satoshi Furuhashi and Noriyuki Imaoka, and now Ryosuke Shinkai and Yusei Koumoto; it’s always huge fans of the series and designer who force their way into the project, be it by drawing as much fanart as possible or by taking up other job offers by the studio with the condition of a YamaSusu reward.
Perhaps more than any of those previous cases, Koumoto instantly turned people’s heads when he served as the animation director for the opening and the amazing episode #09-B. Yama no Susume was always a show with creative freedom for all the people involved, not enforcing a particular aesthetic as much as other shows. Each animation director’s rendition was different and you never knew if the next episode will show you young, old, round or very thin-looking characters. There were no rules there, and as a viewer, it’s kind of amazing. Thus come Koumoto’s turn to supervise our beloved characters, not only giving them a more mature flair than usual, but also paying extra attention to the shadows and folds on every piece of clothing—giving the whole thing a serious and realistic undertone, in an episode precisely about the adult’s outlook.
What elevates his job as an animation director even more is the consistency of his corrections. Each cut gets the same treatment when drawing tons of shadows on clothes; you could even assume Koumoto fully redraws most of them, that’s how detailed and in his style all the corrections looks. Since it very well seems like the final season of the show, I can’t wait to see where he goes next, and hopefully even in less stable productions than YamaSusu he will still be able to supervise animation as thoroughly.
Despite being far too old for the target demographic, I feel like there’s still a lot to take away from when experiencing horror pieces aimed at children. Ideally, it lands on a sweet spot where it’s truly scary in the eyes of kids, but also not so overwrought as to traumatize them—a goal that forces creators to think outside the box, to envision worlds and creatures that play off of kids’ fears so that the experience sticks with them without turning fully sour. Digimon Ghost Game (mostly) does a great job at teetering on that fine line, with the Digimon of the Week operating more like youkai instead, wrecking havoc in a myriad of creative and horrifying ways. The show’s been a blast to keep up with week-to-week and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re looking for kids horror done right; Digimon was always the best when it was scary!
Episode #19 is a prime example of how the show works within its limitations—both the margins of children’s horror and Toei’s economic production model—and still manages to create an episode that towers over most of the hard-hitters for me this year.
The unsung master of horror Hiroyuki Kakudou drops you right into the madness from the onset. The first minute assaults you with distorted layouts of the city, complemented by that burning sunset, setting the mood for the atmospheric horror the rest of the episode revels in. It’s not the most impressively animated, and it doesn’t have to be, since Kakudou manages to create a world that’s equally enthralling as it is chilling through his direction alone—all without the usual cheap horror tricks. No lame jumpscares, no immersion-breaking stingers… just the ever-growing tension and dread in the face of the unknown.
You’re just as clueless as the protagonists who found themselves suddenly spirited away are, and by the end of the episode, you really don’t get many answers as to what that alternate space was; and frankly, you don’t need them. Ambiguity is another vital part of writing horror. Sometimes you’ll never get answers for everything, and if successfully executed, you won’t ask for them. You’ll never figure out what that bump in the night was, or if it really was the wind that blew the door open, but it’ll always be on your mind, a truly otherworldly experience that sticks with you. That’s what this episode represents to me.
Honorable mentions: Kai Ikarashi’s batshit crazy Cyberpunk Edgerunners #06, every other episode of Bocchi the Rock!, but more specifically Nara’s eclectic #3 and Keiichirou Saito & Takeshi Seo’s climatic #08, Hakuyu Go’s 3rd sawn song on Mob Psycho s3 #08, and Yusuke Kawakami’s debut on My Dress-up Doll #08, which is now my new favorite number!
Bocchi rocks. Need I say more? With everything stacked against it from the very start, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop eventually. However, what I wasn’t expecting was for every new episode to be my new favorite episode! Every week I looked forward to the myriad of different ways Bocchi’s debilitating social anxiety was going to be portrayed. When every small little task feels like you’re putting your life on the line, the normal shy mannerisms ain’t gonna cut it, and the visually multifaceted approach to her anxiety makes her all the more relatable, and more satisfying when she finally starts making her first steps. Keiichiro Saito and Shouta Umehara’s team reminds the viewer that there’s a bit of Bocchi in all of us.
Oh and I guess the music was ok too.
Do It Yourself’s designs are the type of deceptive simplicity that makes me envious of Yusuke Matsuo aka Fugo’s skill. Every drawing feels so organic and effortless, yet you certainly gotta know your stuff to simplify them that well in the first place! Special shoutout to Noriyuki “Eel” Imaoka’s animation direction on episode 3. Demonstrating the importance of thoughtful line economy and placement when it comes to simplistic designs, adding the proper amount of nuance without taking away from their minimalist appeal.
Naturally, after watching a good ass episode of anime, you just have to go find out who’s responsible. The name that greeted me after looking up such an episode was Toei titan Hiroyuki Kakudou—one who’s still freelance, but don’t think too hard about the studio’s contractual situations—best known for directing the first two seasons of Digimon. To me, however, he should be known as a true master of horror!
Kakudou has been a regular on many Toei projects for decades now, but he truly shines once he’s in his element, and Ghost Game happily enables the horror fanatic that’s been dying to come out. His episodes are the show at its most grizzly, but if you don’t have the time to binge 50+ episodes, I heavily recommend checking out his short films. White Hand is an exercise in tension and build-up leading up to a twist you could never guess no matter how hard you try. Dancing Briefly, meanwhile, turns a typical nightly stroll into something more sinister on a dime, all while retaining a very playful tone throughout. He always offsets the eeriness with a dash of whimsy, making his work so enthralling to me, and hopefully for whomever decides to check him out as well.
Disclaimer: Let me start by saying I won’t be including Bocchi the Rock!, as I can’t judge it neutrally, being both a huge fan as well as a part of its staff.
If I may be so presumptuous as someone involved with the episode, this episode of My Dress-Up Darling was a dream team assembled thanks to Yusuke Kawakami’s reputation.
The series’ comical nature as well as its dramatic structure are both part of its charm. But this episode manages to strike a quieter tone that’s a drastic change from the usual, with beautiful visuals and pleasing animation from beginning to end.
Keisuke Kobayashi’s corrections extend to the finest of details and breathe life into the characters, which reaches its peak in the final beachside scene with Marin and Wakana and ends on a refreshing note. You’d be hard-pressed to make a more beautiful episode than that.
When the symbolism of anime gives way to characters that feel alive, that is the moment I find most wonderful, and consider the ideal to strive for in anime. Which is why I can safely say that this episode is the best of 2022.
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club Season 2 begins with more developed relationships compared to season 1, and with the personalities of the new characters in the mix, I enjoyed it even more.
From Lanzhu’s striking introduction in the first episode expanding into vignettes featuring sub-units, the season is constructed to make the characters even more likable. The individual and sub-unit songs have powered up and are all great. The group songs are also wonderful; the OP and ED especially are the height of the polish you’d expect from an idol anime. Takumi Yokota’s designs have evolved as well, with slightly more realistic proportions and neck widths. Being able to incorporate details leaning on the side of realism as opposed to 2D-ish abstraction feels like it offers more flexibility in expression than Love Live! has in the past.
The second Spy x Family opening is my favorite amongst Tetsuro Araki-san’s shorter sequences. I really like the previous, cool Masashi Ishihama opening as well, but I’m a fan of how this one has more domestic scenes, lending it a warmer feel. The seasonal outfits, combined with the polished 3D work and compositing, serve to enhance the characters’ charm.
The structure that tells a story in its short length, with visually impressive glamour shots mixed in, all make it feel like a proper opening sequence. It’s also the most effective use I’ve seen of the rainbow lens flare effect that’s so popular these days.
Do It Yourself!! represents the ultimate form of cute girl animation, one that you could call the culmination of Yusuke Matsuo-san’s work. The fact that he himself dramatically changes how it feels for episode 6 is amazing.
This goes for Norifumi Kugai-san on Sonny Boy as well, but episodes where the character designer acts as animation director are the one time when it’s perfectly valid for the art style to change freely. And when it’s also the best possible move, it feels so much like cheating, but that’s what makes it a treat. You love to see it.
All hail Bocchi the Rock!, rightful overlord of this year’s Sakugabowl! Give me the prophesized Bocchi Sweep or give me death! That’s what I would say, but in the spirit of fairness and to share the love, this is the only award I’m dedicating to it; there have been so many incredible shows that I can’t just give every category to Bocchi, as good as it may be!
Regardless though, god, did this episode ever hit! If you’ve seen it—or even if you haven’t and just take a look at the episode title—you’ll know that Nijika said the thing, and boy do I ever love it when something successfully pulls off that sweet titledrop! That moment, coming right off Bocchi’s heroic moment where she came into her own and saved the performance, and of course the moment of sincerity that the guitarhero reveal represented! Bocchi’s response to that whole situation is exactly how I would’ve dealt with it, as someone who also struggles with anxiety (albeit not to her extent). Relatability at its finest!
Please don’t tell me I’m the only one who sings this at night when trying to sleep, only to just get up and watch another episode of Paripi Koumei? That last bit isn’t exactly true, but point is, it’s borderline impossible to not get this stuck in your head. And y’know what? I’m all for it!
For more specific reasons I love this opening so much, the intro part with the traditional flute going into that awesome Eurobeat is just the coolest turn to me. The sheer contrast, plus the fact it makes narrative sense is so neat! The general vibe of this eclectic sequence fits so damn well with the show itself too!
I’m a huge fan of Made in Abyss to begin with, but this ending must have something special to it given that I’ve had it on loop for ages, ever since it popped up on Youtube. The full version turned out to be even better, but the TV size is still amazing. I absolutely adore the visuals for the sequence; so weird and abstract, the type I just love to see. That, and MYTH & ROID simply don’t miss! Dark but beautiful is a combo that always hits for me.
She said “let me show you“, and then the light of God returned to the world. I don’t care what you think of her, Lanzhu is an absolute queen who can gaslight, gatekeep, and girlboss me whenever she wants! But more seriously, after her introduction to Love Live NijiGaku oozed charisma from every pore, I found myself listening to Eutopia for weeks on loop, just rewatching that clip from the series. After all this time, I can say it’s still an absolute banger! It embodies her personality so well, and somehow makes people fall in love with her no matter how haughty she may seem. To me, she, that sequence, and this song really are the best of the best.
Okay, c’mon. You, yes, you reading this! Look at my face and say that the Sandevistan effect isn’t cool. You can’t, right?! Honestly, I just love the aesthetics of the genre in general, but Cyberpunk Edgerunners really hit that note perfectly for me. The glitches and all the visual gimmicks they derived from it are super cool tricks to add to its charm. Even the opening and ending sequences, for as simple as they look, are pure eyegasm that complements it. Frankly, I’d say the same thing as I did with Bocchi— it’s so good I could have easily given the series multiple awards, but I’m trying not to make this the BeccaBowl either, lol.
I just can’t get over how simply awesome Masanobu Hiraoka‘s morphing animations are! This year we’ve seen him represented in both Made in Abyss S2‘s ending and Aimer‘s Chainsaw Man ending; both incredible works of art if you ask me! After this discovery, I can only say that I’m extremely excited to see what he works on next!
At this point, Mamoru Hatakeyama needs no (re)introduction: his prior experience in elevating manga material into a dynamic medium is almost unmatched these days when it comes to TV adaptations. With 24 episodes under his belt for Kaguya-sama already, one could possibly think that the third season would be just more of the same; which is to say, Hatakeyama’s typical creative hijinks as our two warriors continue to battle out their adolescence and feelings towards each other.
And yet here I am, still thinking about the sixth episode, months after its airing. That’s not to say this is necessarily the most creative episode of the year—not alongside giants like Pop Team Epic S2 and Bocchi the Rock!. However, I cannot help but fall in love with the ways directors will go about having fun while working against schedule constraints; not to glamorise the insidious habits of the industry, but as a sign of respecting that kind of resourcefulness that those situations demand. Reverse-working a scene by creating a rap first, and then storyboarding while taking shortcuts to accommodate production issues in addition to a solo animated ED that just elevates the experience—I’ve never had so much fun with a romcom. Hatakeyama, as well as storyboarder Toshinori Watanabe and episode director Takayuki Kikuchi, deserve ample praise for their efforts here.
Honorable mention: I can’t just ignore One Piece #1015. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this episode blew away everyone’s expectations, both anime and manga fans alike. Megumi Ishitani‘s work on this episode is nothing short of masterful. A recurring complaint I’ve noticed and can understand when it comes to the Wano arc as a whole is its reliance on heavy compositing effects for its dramatic action beats, which if you value clean animation, might get in the way of your enjoyment of otherwise great work. But from Yamato’s emotional flashbacks to the inevitable, fiery climax of Luffy hitting Kaido with Red Roc in a flash of rage and vengeance, this episode hits harder than ever with a wider, more nuanced range of expression. Keisuke Mori and Bahi JD’s weight are carried by her grasp of symbolism, eye for color, a plethora of nice transition cuts, and more purposeful use of filters to create an immersive, harmonious piece of emotional catharsis.
2022 has had incredibly strong moments; from the emotional heights of One Piece, to ambitious sequels like Pop Team Epic S2, and even original series like Lycoris Recoil. But the two series that stole my heart were an expansion that concluded a ten year legacy, and a cartoon series that bravely navigated unknown terrains.
Endwalker technically came out last year, but I had the joy of playing it in 2022. I still find myself stunned at how it managed to not only bring together overarching plots and character developments from an ten-year-long epic fantasy story, but also tell an incredibly powerful tale about enduring the loss and pain from a pandemic that we’re keen to put behind us. It’s as anime as anime will get—after all, you’re split between fighting high concepts of existential despair and running around with your found family to cheer folks up and bond over chai. Natsuko Ishikawa may as well be an anime scriptwriter herself, but what makes Endwalker stand out from the rest of its peers isn’t how she makes it so feel so weirdly anime: it’s how she executes a multifaceted story about loss, love, and bearing the weight of the dead, while coming to terms with the burden of living. It is an incredibly earnest plea to hold on when everything else falls around you, and it is that plea that strikes true nearly a year after its release.
And how can I not talk about the second season of Dana Terrace‘s The Owl House! It’s a series that’s leaving us far too soon despite boasting some of the most nuanced, compelling storytelling in recent Western animation, paired with an incredible world and a dynamic cast of characters. Even setting aside its mature treatment of a canonical queer immigrant girl and her coming-of-age tribulations, The Owl House is in every sense of the word, fearless: fearless in its ability to tackle complicated topics like honest communication and overcoming trauma while holding oneself accountable to making mistakes, fearless in its challenge to squeeze in fascinating plot twists with character arcs that have solid resolutions, and fearless in its charm to push the medium of animation—balancing atmospheres of horror with charm and acceptance of self-identity. I cannot help but be both entranced and heartbroken at how despite all odds, it’s come together with such a lasting poignance, as I eagerly await its next—and final—chapters.
Anime has always been one of the best across mediums when it comes to exploring dramatics and theatrical presentation, and as someone who grew up with Bollywood, the combined aspects of this and the musical side made Revue Starlight immediately feel right up my alley. Despite this, the TV series left many unresolved tugs at my heart; so many of the characters felt like set-piece dressing rather than fully fleshed-out ideas, and this especially held true for the main pair, who ironically got most of the screen time towards the end.
Enter Revue Starlight the Movie, a concept that sought to address all of these issues with a mesmerizing two-hour audiovisual experience. Sakuga Blog has already dissected Tomohiro Furukawa‘s extraordinary vision behind this movie so I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s a carefully controlled chaotic mesh of Ikuhara, Anno, and Igarashi—three brilliant directors, each with their own towering vision and style. What makes Revue Starlight the Movie succeed isn’t just the high-octane dialup of visual flourish and teenage angst, but the confidence of a director to kill its own god (figuratively and literally), and cut ties loose with the constraints of what makes a ‘movie sequel” and “inspired visionary” while still paying tribute and creating your own kind of story. The entire sequence of Super Star Spectacle is possibly my favourite scene of the year, and is a reminder of why anime does indeed, deserve to be brought to the big screen.
Barring the fact that it’s most likely my (real) favourite anime of the year, Call of the Night‘s opening just oozes grooviness, style, and sharpness, despite constraints in animation. Whether is its the use of contrasting cool colors, Umetsu-like weaving of the credits into the opening itself, or matching fun transitions and cuts with a jam of a song—Call of the Night‘s opening visually immerses you in letting yourself go and having a good time.
Yes, this is cheating, but how do you expect me to pick from the rich showcase that were the 12 endings of Chainsaw Man? Many of them feel like a direct inspiration from the variety and creativity that was brought to the Monogatari franchise; so much that ED #05 and #07 come across like a response back to Monogatari‘s Mathemagics opening and the Kogarashi Sentiment opening. If I had to really pick two favourites, Hitomi Kariya‘s solo work on ED #02 is charming and a flex of color design and line work, as is Masanobu Hiraoka’s work on ED #08, where he continues to demonstrate an unmatched understanding of morphing and transformation in both a grotesque and entrancing manner.
Honorable mention: Komi Can’t Communicate ED #02 – Kouki Fujimoto’s carefully detailed storyboard, brought to life by the talented Hanako Ueda and other Beyblade animator friends, is one of the most quietly charming sequences of the year and brings to life so many of the characters and their relationships with each other, all in the brief setting of getting ready to go home. I always love when anime uses rotoscoping to explore new heights and advantages and this ending is no exception.
I’m a huge sucker for Mai Yoneyama‘s designs. They balance illustrative qualities with room for fluid human expression, and nothing I think encapsulates this better than her work on the Yoku music video. Whichever form the intimate body expression takes—an entrancing blink of an eye, or the delicate movement of hands reaching for the sky—Yoneyama captures our constant need to express ourselves with gentle screen effects matching head to head with some eloquent animation. By pairing an analog-like, monochrome focus on simple light and shadow contrast, with a stereo and color-filled world of imagination and beauty, Yoneyama shows us that composite, digital work, character design, and animation can all work together collaboratively to create an animated piece that enhances a song’s meaning.
Honorable mention: Mafumafu’s Shiori – I’ve had my eye on Asuka Dokai since Brave New World last year, because of their seeming love for soft colours and joyful, naive expressions when it comes to youth. That’s seen again in an equally stunning music video for Mafumafu, which just draws you so easily into its world. There’s some Studio Colorido inspiration here, but I in particular just love the usage of cool colors to create an ambiance of reflection and charm.
In my journey to follow more women in the industry over the year, I’ve found myself consistently gravitating to the performances of Hanako Ueda—mainly her work on Komi-san‘s second season, as well as her ending for Summertime Render. It’s been deeply satisfying to watch how she grew from a key piece within studio OLM, with roles like her Beyblade Burst solo animation efforts, to an artist with the ability to further develop her own unique style and vision. This is especially seen in Summertime Render‘s second ending, where she brings out her love for soft blues, watercolors, and poignant human expressions. But even outside of her ability to create charming opening and ending sequences, she’s also played a pivotal role in ensuring solid animation and production across tight schedules. I’m incredibly excited for whatever she decides to tackle next.
While Cyberpunk Edgerunners didn’t quite capture my attention like it has with most people, episode #06 blew all my expectations out of the water. Considering it was Kai Ikarashi drawing the boards for this episode, I was on board to begin with; and after watching it, I can confidently call this episode my favorite work of his now. Edgerunners‘ world is more often than not a hostile and uncaring place, though it wasn’t until this episode that I could feel this expressed through every fiber. The harsh color palette, the stark blacks used for shading, the jagged, rough shapes; all that paired with the oppressive, eye-catching compositions, make for an unbelievably tense experience.
There are palpably different moods in the episode, each assigned its own limited color palette. Despite that, the vision feels coherent, culminating in the tragedy this episode is building up to. The shocking violence never takes away from the underlying desperation and sadness, it more so adds to the feeling of inevitably of what’s to come. Short and long term, a grim reminder for the rest of the show’s runtime. From start to finish delicately constructed, both horrifying and somber at the same time.
No other show had me feel so much joy as Bocchi The Rock! did. It’s hard to even call it a feel-good show; Bocchi‘s social anxiety often hits too close to home for me, but that alone is a testament to its prowess I believe. Anime isn’t a stranger to the shy, anxious character archetype, however rarely did I feel so compelled by one of them like I did with Bocchi. While from the outside a simple premise, every aspect in the adaptation plays a role in getting us into Bocchi’s head space as successfully as it does; from the quirky experimental animation to the layouts, all in their own way, paint a part of Bocchi’s headspace. Stellarly so, I’d say!
The show never drags, and the dialogue feels wonderfully punchy. The believably-written characters move at times hilariously, at times with weight and care, really breathing life into them. This is significantly aided by Kerorira‘s absolutely lovely character designs. While quite simple and low in line count, depth is easily conveyed in its shapes, making the small delicate movements a real treat; fust as much as the absolutely delightful comedic outbursts, of course! The constantly repeating fits of experimental animation, using any kind of material they could find to perfectly portray Bocchi’s inner world, won’t go overlooked by anyone. The whole show is an absolute creative powerhouse, easily garnering love from all over the world. And deservedly so!
Chainsaw Man did not only coin one, but two of my favorite endings of the whole year. In some ways, they give us a glimpse of the CSM anime that could have been. While by no means a bad show—I really enjoyed the portrayal of the more mundane moments in particular—it was in the stranger and violent moments where I felt the adaptation didn’t quite convey the glorious absurdity of the source material. However, these endings got my back in this regard. ED #03’s eclectic direction, with strikingly wild and violent visuals, is what I wished CSM‘s action scenes would have been more like. Blood pulsing, chaotic colors, and rough line work, easily portraying Denji’s and Powers’ temper, while also including glimpses of Aki’s collected nature within the madness as a contrast. On the other hand, ED #5 is head-tilting and tense, showering the viewer with beautiful yet distressing imagery. Never-ending loops as the visual elements become more and more bizarre, correlating with the increasingly unhinged and desperate mental states the characters experience in this arc.
Made in Abyss is back—and with it, a strange, terrifying, yet beautiful world. The Abyss can be a cruel world, yet there are glimpses of warmth to be found, with this season in particular being full of contrasts. The beautiful planes of the 6th layer of the abyss, lush and comforting in color, are frequented by gigantic hostile creatures. While majestic, they are jagged in design; their long and sharp limbs are impossibly huge, immediately making our protagonists feel small and out of place. Similarly, the town of Ilblu is somehow lively, colorful, and showered in warm sunlight. It initially comes across as one of the few friendly sites the protagonists have stumbled upon on their journey, but we eventually notice the unfathomable darkness behind it all.
Visually, this is probably best portrayed in the members of the town itself. There is an incoherence to them, not just among each other, but individually. While some of the designs feel straight-up alien, others are at least at first sight cute… before one notices the disgusting secondary design elements about them. The coin can’t exist without these two sides to it. The show, for better or worse, never shies away from portraying flesh, secretions, and fluids uncomfortably exuding out of characters who look cute on the surface. In all these ways, Made in Abyss is purposeful in its visual approach; portraying a world full of awe, but one where something always seems a little bit off.
Do It Yourself!! and Bocchi The Rock! certainly have the best designs in terms of animation friendliness; the amount of joy their characters exude in their movements in both of these shows is testament to that. That said, G-Witch easily wins this category for me in regards to the designs themselves. Their overall style is appealing, maintaining certain groundedness despite cartoonish freatures like ChuChu’s glorious poofy twintails and Guel’s eccentric pink hair streak, and they’ve got an eye-catching degree of variety on the whole. Each and every character seems to have been given consideration about their background and personality put into them, with an array of body types and face shapes, something I am not always used to from anime. Despite most of the characters wearing the same school uniform, there are twists and variations that feel unique to each of them; at times they don’t even feel like the same uniform at all, so much for uniformity! This thoughtfulness makes the already charismatic cast burst with personality, not just in their interactions, but through their visual presence alone.
I’ve been noting that the Fall 2022 season of anime felt exceptional in the sheer quantity of great TV anime we’ve been blessed with; though, unlike actual heavenly gifts, this has come at the clear cost of barren surrounding seasons and plenty of labor crimes. When it came down to finally sitting down and choosing my favorite episodes of the year, though, the recency of such a season made picking the absolute best one weirdly complicated. I don’t mean this just in the sense that there are many candidates, but rather how this season has somewhat numbed me to the excellence of its shows, normalizing what would normally be TV anime highlights. My favorite titles have been so consistently strong that I don’t have it in me to single out one moment, because their greatness is in the whole.
It’s not like Bocchi the Rock!, Do It Yourself!!, Mob Psycho III, and Yama No Susume: Next Summit haven’t had particularly memorable moments, but rather that there’s so many of them, that those highlights feel like normalcy for all those titles. Even in a case like Gosso’s Chainsaw Man #08, where I feel like the episode is heads and shoulders above the rest of the series, it’s a peak over an already extraordinary production effort, and in many ways coherent with the philosophy behind the entire adaptation—even if I feel like it was an order of magnitude more confident and poignant than usual. Which is to say that congratulations, Fall of 2022, you’ve completely defeated me. You were so good that I lost the ability to differentiate between levels of greatness.
Realizing that got me to reflect on the rest of the year, specifically seeking out the episodes that clearly stood out from within their own series. Kaguya-sama S3 brought to life some of anime’s best romcom in ostentatiously silly fashion, despite the deck being stacked against them. But again, be it Mamoru Hatakeyama’s episodes or contributions by his acquaintances like Nobukage Kimura, the show normalized its greatness to the point that individual episodes don’t really stand out. I have similar feelings about Lycoris Recoil, even with its clear pure animation standout in Tetsuya Takeuchi’s episode #04. The likes of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform and My Dress-Up Darling definitely had episodes that stand over the rest—I found Shouko Nakamura’s Yamada-like Akebi #03 and Yusuke Kawakami’s brilliant debut in Bisque #08 to be particularly excellent—though they’re again attached to such consistent productions that they’re not what I set out to find this time.
So, what did I settle on in the end? There are two episodes in particular that I felt were singularly great in a way that really resonated with me. The first one was the return of Toshimasa Ishii for 86: Eighty Six #22. The episode itself is perfectly consistent with his vision for the series as a whole, so rather than a radical reinvention, what shocked me to the core is the moment when it arrived. The moment for the production, that had been collapsing across the second cours of the series as the dodgy planning finally caught up with the staff, even forcing a long delay for the last two episodes. And yet, its return was so impactful that you’d have never thought there were so many problems behind the scenes.
Perhaps more impressively was the moment within the narrative. Ishii is gifted when it comes to threading animation together, with an ability to modulate transitions according to his needs; he may use match cutting that’s smoother than butter if he needs to emphasize the flow, or take the absolute opposite route with L-cuts employing asynchronous diegetic sounds as a wake-up call to the viewer, forcing them to pay notice to the change that occurred. While he’s not reinventing the wheel, the sheer variety of techniques he uses and his ability to find a way to connect those with the overall thesis of his works have helped him quickly stand out as a director. The first cours of 86 brilliantly weaponized that with the folding structure of the show itself, where Ishii’s impactful transitions bring us back and forth between a hopeless war and a corrupt bourgeois society.
That said, the second half of the series has a much more streamlined narrative, which forced Ishii to find new tricks—and that he did. This penultimate episode in particular ties another technique that he likes, the manipulation of aspect ratio, to the increasingly more narrow-minded vision—physically so!—of a protagonist who has lost his goal in life. Coupled with those sleek transitions of his and excellent sound direction, the episode is one of the best showcases of directorial prowess I’ve seen in recent TV anime. Ishii really is that good.
To my own surprise, the other episode I realized I held in this high regard is the prologue to Gundam: The Witch From Mercury. As someone who’s quite enjoyed what I’ve seen from the TV show itself, it’s not as if I find it to be of a completely different level of quality—though the animation is clearly a notch above a show that is compromised due to severe production issues. Instead, it’s the self-contained quality that also fits neatly within a larger work.
What I love about it so much is how, thanks in great part to Ichiro Okouchi’s distaste of subtlety, it immediately establishes a worldview that could make it stand on its own; had this been all there was to the project, I’d already consider it a successful Gundam AU, a window to yet another universe torn apart by war, capital, and cool robots. And yet, at the same time, it has kept people wondering about the significance of its events in the context of G-Witch’s overarching narrative. Given that the idea to make this prologue came after writing the first episodes of the show according to Okouchi himself, the way it works on multiple levels is remarkable. And that ending? Already one of those memorable Gundam moments as far as I’m concerned.
Honorable mentions: Tatami Time Machine Blues #01 had Shingo Natsume turning back the clock to the time of Tatami Galaxy in a way that even Yuasa didn’t, and likely couldn’t, do nowadays. That series clearly meant as much to him as a creator as it does to me as a viewer, but as much as I loved that episode… well, it’s not an episode, but rather a chunk of something that was made as a film. A great one, though! Shout out to the pure animation spectacle of Priconne S2 #04, and to Megumi Ishitani’s One Piece #1015, which is somehow only her second-greatest contribution to the series this year. Ishitani’s simply a monster.
For as much as I struggled to identify my favorite episodes of the year, picking the best show was a cakewalk. Mind you, I still second-guessed myself for a second because my brain is poorly wired like that, but there’s no arguing about it: Bocchi The Rock! is my show of the year, if not already an all-timer for me. While I usually favor original works and 2022 has certainly had some interesting ones, the reason I treasure those experiences is the feelings that they bring something entirely new to the table. As an adaptation that sticks to the narrative beats of the original work, in a well-established genre at that, it wasn’t in Bocchi’s cards to offer a completely new worldview or premise. What this team has done, though, is creating animation in an original way, so the experience did end up feeling like something I’d never seen before regardless.
That process never came at the cost of emotional resonance, but rather was employed as a sometimes quirky, sometimes grand way to amplify the manga’s solid foundation. The thesis of newbie series director Keiichiro Saito has been proven right over and over, as has his fostering of creativity throughout the team; I find it very significant that so much of Bocchi’s experimental work is made by standard 2D animators whom we’d never seen let loose like this, proving that with enough boldness and the right guidance, we could have more commercial works this creative. In the way it exposes that, Bocchi makes me both more and less optimistic about anime as a whole—but since it’s such a brilliant show, the optimism does win over in the end.
I’d say that I’ll spare you a more in-depth look at what makes Bocchi so extraordinary, but that’s a lie, it’s just that I’ve already extensively published that on this site. While I’m not the kind of person to wish for sequels to projects that stand out precisely because of how fresh there are, I think there’s plenty of room for their brilliance to continue on this series; and just as importantly, Bocchi’s solid source material still hasn’t said all it needs to by this point in the story, so it would benefit from continuing narratively and thematically as well. Here’s hoping that the already busy staff find time for it!
Honorable mention: The way Shingo Adachi took a messy original scenario and reformulated it into a buddy cop movie premise, threw in all sorts of fun movie clichés, and then allowed the result to be shamelessly anime-like really endeared me. Lycoris Recoil owns.
If you had asked me what my favorite animated movie of the year was right after watching all of them, I’d have said it was Inu-Oh without thinking about it for a single second. This isn’t meant to be backhanded praise to imply that it doesn’t stand further scrutiny, or even that those feelings have faded with time—it’s just that the movie rightfully leaves that strong of a first impression. It’s an appeal to the senses so radical that you’d have to go as far back as Kemonozume to see a Masaaki Yuasa this wild; and for right about any other director, you just wouldn’t ever find a comparable work.
Inu-Oh is a performance of a movie about performing, and even when it’s not offering an electrifying feudal rock spectacle, its visceral quality is evident. From the diffuse painterly animation that depicts the world as perceived by a blind kid to the otherworldly musical acts, this movie is dedicated to fulfilling the wish of its characters: they wanted the world to know that they had existed, that they were there—and watching Inu-Oh, you can feel it.
While Inu-Oh had that positively devastating immediate impact, there’s been another movie that has been stuck in the back of my head for months. A Bite of Bone is a short film by independent creator Honami Yano, who created something that is as highly specific as it is universal. If I say that she used this project to get something out of her chest, I’m not being overly presumptuous in my assumptions—she has said as much in interviews and even on her own site. Having grown in a small island rooted in old traditions, Yano was shocked when following her father’s death and cremation, she was offered one of his bones to take a bit off; the tradition of honekami, which has people bite if not outright eat a bone of the deceased to make them part of yourself. She couldn’t bring herself to do that, and that regret became inseparably linked to another memory of that past: the presence of a warehouse of explosives in her remote island, a sordid reminder that they were in a way conveyors of death. An island that represented her birthplace, but also death in multiple forms, that’s the contradiction she couldn’t swallow.
Yano’s way of processing this involved embracing that contradiction, rather than lying to herself about it. A Bite of Bone tackles those heavy topics, but it does so through visuals that evoke the hazy memories of a child. Since it’s not now but in the past, she opted away from properly digitized animation, instead bringing the idea of photography back to its roots. And what’s more interesting is what she was filming—Yano decided to animate those memories through pointillism, which resulted in a style that embodies that child-like charm, the lack of clarity you’d actually seek to best represent old memories, and also enable both the flow of her animation and the contrast with the inseparable specter of death. The synergy between materials and themes from an author who always seeks that is impressive on an intellectual level, but more personally, this movie has kept me wondering about how something like animation—like many other creative tasks—can play a role in processing grief. You know what, art is pretty rad.
Over the last few years, Shingo Yamashita has made his way into a very exclusive list: that of the greatest opening and ending directors of all time. In the same way that not all of those are actually suited to lead longer form works—something that can’t be said of Yama—many brilliant directors actually lack the ability to condense their greatness into just one minute and a half. It’s a very different skillset, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a different mentality; arguably even more so than a regular episode or series director, these OP/ED maestros have to balance an understanding of the work and ability to summarize its appeal with pure, unadulterated selfishness. All the greats in this field are self-indulgent, uncompromising in their quirks, bending works to their style while convincing the viewer that they’re doing the opposite. And that very much applies to Yama, in the same way that it does to the likes of Masashi Ishihama and Yasuomi Umetsu.
Given that he’s been particularly busy this year, I actually have multiple Yama sequences to choose from. In the end, I decided to go with his opening for Chainsaw Man, for the simple reason that the degree of difficulty there felt the highest. Capturing the full width of Tatsuki Fujimoto’s appeal is no easy feat in a whole TV series—the actual show can attest to that—which means that doing so in a short sequence, and one where you’re embracing all your personal quirks at that, should be nearly impossible. And yet here we are, with an addictive opening that packs in countless movie references that allude to the author’s eclectic taste, plenty of narrative teases, twists on Yama’s classic techniques, and some kick-ass action on top of it all.
Honorable mentions: Nekotomi Chao is a director bursting with fun visual ideas, and the Shikimori opening gives a small taste of that. Yojiro Arai’s Colorido-like opening for Do It Yourself!! is the most joyful one of the year, but the biggest surprise? Tetsuro Araki having something as warm as the Spy x Family OP #02 in him.
Chainsaw Man opting to run with nearly a dozen trendy artists for the music and visuals of their ending sequences, giving room for the stylization that was not allowed within the show itself, makes a lot of sense when you think about it—but it’s still so much work that it’s astonishing they pulled through. Although I do have favorites, it’s the initiative as a whole that I find amazing. And getting about as many endings out of living legend and noted animation cryptic Kou Yoshinari, whose methods are so unusual and demanding that projects are lucky to have him as a guest once? The original request for his Yama no Susume: Next Summit appearance was only for one sequence, and yet he just kept making more, to the point that his appearance in the staff book points out he had more ideas floating around still. I don’t even know what to say about this. It shouldn’t be possible. But it’s real. Bless Aninari.
Honorable mentions: I casually stumbled upon Natsumi Uchinuma‘s ending for More than a Married Couple, but Not Lovers and absolutely adored it. Although there have been other great endings, I’ve found myself treasuring that sweet surprise.
You can’t teach what Soty and Megumi Ishitani have, it’s innate. Intimate, respectful in its depiction of loss, and with a feeling of complete effortlessness—not because they don’t put any work into it, but because the imagery comes naturally to them, to the point that this barely had an actual storyboard. Genius x Genius.
Honorable mention: Is Nijisanji Unit Festival a music video? A series of music videos? Who cares. Event of the year arriving at the end of it. Day 3 unmatched.
Inu-Oh is unbeatable when it comes to the sheer number of memorable, impactful visual styles, and they’re certainly pointed approaches at the film’s best. That said, I think there’s no real competition when it comes to the greatest aesthetic accomplishment of the year: every single element in Do It Yourself!! coalesces with each other, and with the theme of hand-crafted creation, in a way no other title this year does. Frankly, in a way few commercial works ever do. The minute tricks to add cohesion to the show’s presentation are neat, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the team having perfectly figured out what they were doing and getting everyone on the same page. DIY is the ideal form of collective creation.
It’s of course up to debate which designs take the crown in 2022, but if we’re talking which have had the most quantifiable positive effect, the utilitarian award has to go to Kerorira’s work on Bocchi the Rock!. They abide by the traditional rules of good design work, with recognizable silhouettes paired with body language that always tells you what those characters are like. At the same time, they’re excellent animation designs; the series director’s decision to lower the linecount that Kerorira was initially aiming for has definitely paid off, allowing them to make a show that moves a lot, does so in fun and deliberate ways. It’s thanks to them and the designer’s herculean effort that Bocchi actually finished within a schedule that began looking ugly by the end of it.
But what are the best designs overall, regardless of context? The genuinely unfair overlap of two TV shows with Yusuke “Fugo” Matsuo designs very well deserves to take the cake; it showcases his consistent ideology across different visual styles, because at the end of the day what matters is how he approaches animation and what that enables in his teams, rather than the particular shapes he fancies on that day. But since I’ve already given Yama no Susume: Next Summit and Do It Yourself!! their dues in other categories, I’d rather dedicate this to one Kenichi Yoshida—most notoriously for his work in Mitsuo Iso’s The Orbital Children, though his work on the G-reco movies looks as appealing as ever.
Leading up to the release of The Orbital Children, Iso called Yoshida a dying breed, if not an already extinct one. To his eyes, most people approach that role as simply drawing design sheets rather than designing; they’re hired animators who happened to get the job, but they don’t think about the storytelling implications it has. In contrast to those, and on top of his already charming style, Yoshida is very conscious of how much he can say about the world, the tone, and of course the characters themselves through each and every choice he makes. Even if that proactive mindset gets you to clash heads when visions don’t perfectly align, that can also lead to the evolution of the work past the initial ideas. I may not have as pessimistic of a view as Iso does, but by looking at his work and how it interacts with the worlds it inhabits, I absolutely understand where that praise comes from. And it helps that, as I said, it looks so damn charming to boot!
Honorable mention: Another special shout out to Lycoris Recoil—cute, memorable designs, and most impressively, effective in their animation role despite those sheets being drawn by a mangaka like Imigimuru.
It just so happens that my favorite discoveries of the year share a name, while also being in very different circumstances. Throughout Bocchi The Rock’s very efficient animation effort, I’ve come to multiple realizations; how effective Tomoki Yoshikawa’s character articulation can be as a storytelling tool, the extent of Yusuke Kawakami’s versatility, or the fact that Kerorira isn’t human at all, to name a few. None of those were outright reveals to me, but rather confirmations of inklings I already had to different degrees. In contrast to that, though, the appearance of Sakura Watabe in this UmeP team across 2022 but especially in Bocchi was something that really took me by surprise. Similarly to her peers, her work is already a lot more articulate than you’d expect from a newbie, and it’s got a distinct flavor because of the mindful mentality you can see behind it. Watabe’s work is calculated, but not in an overly cold way; it feels as if she’s constantly winking at you as she shows a hint about the character you never noticed before, rather than beating you over the head with it. As her technical skill continues to improve, her detail-oriented style is one to look out for.
And if it’s potential we’re talking about, I’m really excited about what Sakura Yamazaki may bring to the table. Her is not a name you’ve likely to have seen in animation credits; by which I mean, she’s only officially worked in commercial animation once. That said, Yamazaki was a rather successful independent animation maker across all her student days, which even allowed her to hold a personal animation exhibit where she formulated her bold, intriguing goal: she wants to find ways to combine the greatest qualities of independent art—something appreciable in the wide variety of materials and textures in her personal work—with those of commercial animation, with its wider reach and the ability to tackle larger scale narratives. She has gone on to join a Kyoto Animation that’s in the midst of a process to rejuvenate the team, and although she’s very much a newbie, it does feel like they’ve already caught onto her skill; Yamazaki passed the key animation exam as still a trainee, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up becoming a director in record time as well. If her creative desires don’t clash too much with the rigid nature of commercial anime, we might have someone really special here.
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