The Best and Worst of the Winter 2021 Anime Season

Some surprises, both good and bad.

The first anime season of 2021 has drawn to a close so now it’s time to catalog the best and the worst. While I didn’t get to everything that aired this winter, I did catch about a dozen shows and that seems like a fair sample, especially since it’s a personal record for how many series I kept up with at once.

So, what impressed me, and what disappointed?

Best of the season (pleasant surprise): Wonder Egg Priority

I went into Wonder Egg Priority blind and came out thoroughly impressed. It’s beautifully animated, hard hitting, and skillfully made considering the staff is relative newbies. This is Shin Wakabayashi’s first time helming a series and despite the rough production problems that plagued its run, he crafted something special with Wonder Egg.

Wonder Egg Priority is filled with surrealism; not surprising given the setting. A world of dreams allows for a lot of thematic flexibility. But if there’s one concrete thing about it, it’s that it doesn’t pull its punches. It’s a classic case of the “Madokas.” Don’t let the cutesy imagery about a few girls saving the world mislead you. WEP is filled with themes (and images/allusions) of bullying, suicide, self harm, rape, and grooming in a laundry list of triggers. That’s really the one thing holding me back from recommending it so casually.

However if you’re willing and able to look past that, you’ll find a deeply heartfelt, emotional story about a group of girls trying to save their friends, and do it by facing their traumas in gorgeous action scenes to boot. You might think a story about bullying would be boring but it’s not. Yes, it’s a bit thematically stuffed and there’s still one more special episode left to conclude the story but ultimately nothing was more raw, powerful, in your face, and stunning as WEP. Regardless of how it ends, there’s no doubt it has the potential to end up in a lot of yearly best of lists, including mine.

Runner-up: Attack on Titan The Final Season

If there’s one thing that’s been consistent about Attack on Titan, it’s its ability to dazzle audiences through each season. From the gargantuanly popular first season in 2013 to the new season from Winter 2021, for almost 8 years it’s remained a powerful force of seasonal anime. It’s not difficult to see why. The Final season has (so far) been a gripping thriller in every sense of the world.

The story’s politics are an inevitable elephant in the room whenever this series enters the anime discourse but others have written about them at great length and my space for this is limited, so I won’t talk about it much here. I’ll reiterate what I said in my impressions piece a few weeks ago. I don’t think Isayama is a fascist nor that he supports fascist ideology. I do think he made some sloppy writing choices with the WW2 symbolism, and if you remove that then the allegories become a lot less problematic because they can be more broadly applied. If anything the series is headed toward a “both sides are bad but still have good people” kind of message, which is its own can of worms, but again, limited space.

Despite all that, though, I cannot deny Attack on Titan has had me at the edge of my seat since the beginning, and all the twists and turns in the plot and spectacle and action and voice acting and music, and I could go on, really put it high regard in my personal favorites list. This season was no different. Reiner’s backstory was masterful, and the brutal depictions of war and chaos during the strike on Marley gave me chills. The drama back on Paradis had me glued to my screen. It was so engrossing that it even enticed my dad to go back and catch up himself! No other series has had me quite so invested in waiting for a next season like Titan has over the years, and if not for Wonder Egg, it would be number 1 by a mile and a half.

Biggest disappointment: The Promised Neverland season 2

Unfortunately I’m not a sadist like some of my other anime watching friends and opted to skip the alleged train wreck that is Crunchyroll’s EX-ARM. You are free to assume that’s the true worst of the season if you want but I need to go by my own watch list

Now, let me be clear in that for the most part, I enjoyed The Promised Neverland season 2 until the end. It’s true it didn’t grab me the same way season 1 did but I thought the story was moving in an appropriate direction. I’m not a manga reader so I’m not sure what story arcs got skipped over but I’m a firm believer that an adaptation shouldn’t need to exactly follow the source material if it can do better in visualizing its ideas. That’s not what we got with season 2.

What we got was a rushed product. I thought 2015’s Charlotte’s last episode was jam packed but the last episode The Promised Neverland put damn near half a manga into a minute-long slideshow, literally! The kicker is how sad and frustrating it is because season 1 is so fantastic and still one of the most thrilling examples of a modern anime. The direction, musical chills, the big twist and cast of characters all blended so beautifully in the first season and I even thought the season 1 ending worked just fine as a definitive finale.

Much of the atmosphere that made season 1 so great just isn’t here, and what we’re left with is a rushed, watered down version of what could have been. It really is sad to see TPN end this way. If there is a reboot down the road, I’d be all for the series being able to redeem itself. Until then, It’ll just be forgotten.

Disappointing runner-up: Horimiya

Another disclaimer: I don’t think Horimiya is particularly bad, and in fact it ended up being a lot better than some of the other things I saw this season. So why did I include it? Ultimately the quality of the show started high and then continued to slide as the runtime went on.

I think if Horimiya ended with episode 7 it would have been much better. Horimiya had an interesting premise about how we all lead double lives, one in public and one at home. The love and chemistry Hori and Miyamura had with each other was great and it serves broadly as a “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson.

However, as the series progressed, Miyamura cut his hair and turned pretty boy which I feel robbed the story and Hori of what made Miyamura unique in the first place. It’s great for characters to change but I can’t help but think something like that is better saved for a later time. We also drifted away from the initial premise as we moved into more dramatic character arcs, which were too plentiful given the series runtime to be truly impactful. There’s also the issue of Hori’s increasingly toxic and slightly homophobic (?) possessive nature (seriously what is with that line of it being fine if another girl took him away but not another guy?) and her odd masochism fetish. It was like the reason I tuned every week just wasn’t there anymore.

This might be a case of a 5 minute short format actually working better. At least there’s a somewhat clear ending, but I won’t get too excited about another season.

Now how about some opening and ending favorites?! There’s a lot to choose from during any given season so this was really difficult as any anime fan can attest. But here are my personal picks of labor!

Best OP: Dr. Stone: Stone Wars opening — Paradise by Fujifabric

Mostly for the song. What a banger.

TVアニメ 「Dr.STONE」 第2期OP<楽園>ノンクレジット映像【毎週木曜日 好評放送&配信中!】 — YouTube

Best OP runner-up: Horimiya OP — Color Perfume by Yoh Kamiyama

While the song is good, what really sold this one to me was the unique visuals and artistic direction.

Horimiya | OP | “Color Perfume” by Yoh Kamiyama — ดูฟรีที่ POPS — YouTube

Best ED: Kemono Jihen ED — Shirushi by Sayaka Sasaki

It’s fairly rare to get a good rock tune as an ending like this. I actively looked forward to this ED every week.

Kemono Jihen Ending Theme — Shirushi by Sayaka Sasaki — YouTube

Best ED runner-up: Dr. Stone: Stone Wars ED — Voice? by Hatena

Dr. Stone really had some bangers to be included twice here. The song AND visuals are both good here and the only reason it’s not the winner is because Shirushi is just such an absolute banger.

TVアニメ 「Dr.STONE」 第2期ED<声?>ノンクレジット映像【毎週木曜日 好評放送&配信中!】 — YouTube

I have lots of projects in the works, I promise this blog isn’t just a seasonal discussion space now. I’ll be back again for spring impressions, but you can catch me over on The Fandom Post where I’ll be doing weekly reviews!

If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting my work here along with my other patrons Michael Potin-O’Brien and Anarka Akaza

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