I know we’re in the second month of 2019 already, but that won’t stop me from gushing about the anime I’d enjoyed last year. If you didn’t know by now, I’m always looking for new anime to watch every year, and occasionally enjoy some re-watches of old faves. You can read my favorites of 2016 here, and 2017 faves here. I’ve been an avid fan for over twenty years, but only just got into keeping up with the seasonal releases in the last few years. All three of these were released in their respective seasons last year.
3. Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens
Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is a character-driven, action-packed story about a group of killers. In the city of Hakata, 1/3 of its citizens are either professional assassins or hitmen, and involved in things such as drugs, modern slave trade, etc. Even though there is plenty of action, blood, violence, and a good plot, the characters are the real stars. They are nothing like what you’d expect from a group of killers thriving in the city and that’s what makes it refreshing and unique. The main man, Banba Zenji, is probably the most laid back assassin you’d ever witness. He likes beer and festivals, is passionate about the game of baseball and uses his baseball knowledge to help during his “jobs.” Hardly a thing fazes him and he targets men and organizations more corrupt than he is.
Then there’s Lin, the beautiful, young Chinese assassin on a path of revenge; the badass who cross-dresses as a woman not to protect his identity, but because he feels more comfortable in women’s clothing. Lin is definitely violent in both action and words, and he is the most interesting character of the show.
Some of the other characters include a flamboyant, gay hairstylist with a knack for fixing up corpses to make them appear like someone else; a cool, composed doctor with sadistic tendencies; a young, disowned hacker; a goody-two shoes who wants to be a professional hitman but can’t seem to protect himself from attempts at his life; and a big bruiser of a man who is also gay.
A serious plus is the implied relationships and/or feelings between some of the male characters, such as Banba and Lin. And I loved it that after every tense and action-packed story concluded, the men would gather together to play baseball and argue, keeping it light and fun, not just dark and gory. I loved this show so much and think all anime fans should give this a shot.
2. Anonymous Noise
Anonymous Noise might be categorized as romance and shojo, but it’s more than that. It’s not like your typical romance love triangle. There’s awesome music, melodrama, humor, unrequited love, and plenty of personal character growth.
Nino, the heroine, isn’t like your typical shojo heroine. She’s pretty, but plain-looking, and wears a mask all the time. She’s loud, but quiet, quirky, doesn’t listen to others, and is just plain weird, but she’s definitely one of my favorite and most memorable heroines. She’s not good with her emotions and so her outlet, when things get too emotional, is to sing it all out loud and raw, which is so much fun to watch, especially when it first happens. It definitely caught me by surprise.
Yuzu is not your typical love interest either. He’s short, too pretty with too long lashes, and he is constantly picked on by his peers. But Yuzu will completely steal your heart with his love and consideration for Nino (or Alice, as he and only he calls her). Due to an illness that affected his singing ability, Yuzu, as a child, would often go to the beach and draw music notes in the sand, hoping to someday find someone to sing his songs. He meets a young Nino, hearing her raw, pain-filled voice and he falls for her. When the two separate for six years and meet again, his feelings have not changed.
Momo (whose name means “peach” in Japanese) is Nino’s first childhood friend and crush. He’s tall, handsome, smart, and seems cool as a cucumber, though he’s also a little nerdy with his love of making puns. But behind his cool facade, Momo is a tortured soul. He’s a music producer writing songs for all the wrong reasons. When Nino reappears in Momo’s life, he’s frazzled and will do everything possible to prevent a reunion with her, afraid of what the pure-hearted girl would think if she saw him now, amongst other reasons.
Anonymous Noise is a great anime. It was a joy watching these characters grow into their music careers and juggle their feelings and decisions.
1. Banana Fish
Drugs. Gangs. Rape. Violence. Pedophilia. PTSD. Corruption.
These are just some of the issues tackled in this crime-noir, thrilling anime. I have to admit, Banana Fish had me so emotionally invested. Each episode just got better and better. And it was so sad, just fair warning.
The story revolves around 17-year-old Ash Lynx, a former child runaway who was picked up off the streets of New York by none other than Dino Golzine–the head of the Corsican mafia–and forced into child pornography and as Dino’s personal sex toy before being groomed to become Dino’s heir. Ash, now leader of his own gang, becomes entangled when he gets his hand on a drug that’s linked to his brother’s current state and is desperately wanted back by Dino. Chaos ensues when Ash refuses to give the drug back.
Ash will wholly break your heart through the show. He’s suffered so much loss and abuse throughout his young life, yet he’s still so sassy, smart, and confident in his ability to get back at his abusers and free himself. Not only is his IQ high, but he has more knowledge of life on the streets than he should have, and is able to use both his book and street smarts to get himself out of dangerous situations.
19-year-old Eiji Okumura is the polar opposite of Ash. A native of Japan, Eiji is timid and naive, lovable and wholly unaccustomed to the world of gangs and the mafia, and yet he follows his mentor, Shinichi, to America–to the dangerous New York streets–to write an article on gangs in America. There he meets Ash, and his world is forever changed when he gets dragged into Ash’s war.
Banana Fish is fast-paced, jammed with action, filled with remarkable plot twists, a diverse cast, heart-wrenching, with an often accurate portrayal of gang life in the States and corruption in the government and military. The villains, you will absolutely despise and be disgusted by; and the heroes, you will love, pray over, cry with, and have empathy for. Even with all of this greatness, the real gem of Banana Fish for me is the relationship between Ash and Eiji.
Without giving too much away–because if you’re reading this, you should watch this!–but because of everything Ash has gone through, he does not trust easy, and definitely doesn’t open up to anyone. However, Ash sees something different with Eiji. Eiji is genuine. His concern and his feelings where Ash is concerned are genuine. He wants to help and protect Ash, and literally wants nothing in return. Soon enough, we get to see a side of Ash that he can only be with Eiji. He gets to let his guard down, laugh, smile, and dream of circumstances different from his own. He gets to be his age, not the jaded, hardened street criminal he’s been forced to be. Their relationship and their feelings for one another was really beautiful to watch. Banana Fish should definitely be Anime of the Year.
So those are my top anime picks of last year. If any of my reviews seem interesting, I highly advise you to watch them if you’re a fan or if you’re just looking for something different. Are there any anime that stood out to you in 2018? Any that you’re looking forward to in the Winter 2019 season? Leave a comment below and tell me about it! I love discovering hidden gems to watch next. Hope you all have a good weekend!
Until next time,