My Ten Favourite Anime Episodes I Watched This Year
For the past few years now, I have written a list of my favourite songs of the year. However, this year I haven’t listened to enough new music to justify a new list. To be honest, I have found it very difficult to focus on reading or listening to anything new. One thing I have been able to consume and enjoy has been anime. The last anime I watched was the first seasons of One Punch Man and Attack on Titan a few years ago but other than that have never watched much of it in my adult life. It took a whole ass pandemic for me to find it again and I’ve watched more of it this year than the entire previous decade combined. So in lieu of a music list this year, instead I will be writing about my ten favourite anime episodes I watched this year.
Before we begin I must set some ground rules. The first rule being that the anime could have been released any year it only must be new to me. So the episode where Gohan ascends to Super Saiyan 2 against Cell is not valid for example. The second rule is only one episode per show to keep the list as diverse as possible. The last is that I can only choose one season or series finale on the list only because as someone who loves endings it would be easy to just talk about how each anime pays off. And as always, my definition of favourite varies and changes depending on the context, it could mean best, most important, or most resonate but as always if you’re thinking about it that hard you’re probably not having fun, and fun is the whole point of this list. Enjoy.
This is your spoiler warning.
10. Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (2018) — Season 1 Episode 3: “The World Without You.”
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai follows the relationship between second year high school student Sakuta Azugawa and his girlfriend and senpai Mai Sakurajimi as they navigate and learn more about the phenomenon that brought them together known as “Adolescence Syndrome.” Sakuta has a bad reputation at school for false rumours of him hospitalizing a group of boys in a fight and because of these rumours Sakuta keeps a low profile at school and passively moves through his day-to-day unwilling to fight against the school’s feelings towards him because what could he possibly do to fight something as powerful and vague as another person’s perceptions and preconceived notions. This changes upon seeing Mai Sakurajimi walking around the library in a bunny costume while nobody else notices her. Mai is a child actor who grows tired of the spotlight and soon realizes that no one in the world can even notice her presence. Sakuta and Mai try to figure out the cause of this before she is forgotten entirely.
A quick explanation of Adolescence Syndrome in one sentence: it takes the desires and wishes of an adolescence and makes them real but not in the way the person wants. In Mai’s case she wants a break from the spotlight so her adolescence syndrome makes it so everyone in the world that knows of her cannot perceive her. In other cases, later in the series, a girl who wants to be cooler so her syndrome manifests a clone of them that possesses all of the qualities she wishes she could express. In another a girl doesn’t know the best way to reject the unwanted advances of a boy whom her friend likes so she is stuck in a groundhog’s day style loop until she finds a way to resolve the situation without her friend finding out. Solving these cases is the core loop of the show.
In “The World Without You” Sakuta and Mai struggle against her adolescence syndrome as more and more people forget who Mai is. Sakuta and his friend Rio Futaba conclude that a combination of the school’s atmosphere, Mai’s existence cannot be acknowledged by people who refuse to do so, and sleep are the cause of people forgetting her. Sakuta, doing his best not to forget her as mid terms approach does his best to keep himself awake through the week and in case, he does fall asleep writes a note to himself urging him not to forget and that he must remember her. Mai realizing what he is trying to do helps him study as a slight of hand to slip sleeping pills into his drink. Sakuta tries his best to fight this as Mai comforts him and thanks him for all he has done for her and assures him that since she’s been alone for so long already that she will be okay. Sakuta wakes up the next morning and finds the note he had wrote for himself but cannot remember Mai nor the things that they did together. During the exam, a question about a certain kanji that Mai was teaching him about the previous night jogs his memory and he scolds himself for forgetting before rushing out of the exam room. Remembering what Rio had told him earlier in the episode about what it would be needed to overcome the atmosphere to break the syndrome Sakuta rushes outside of the school and proclaims his love for Mai so the entire school can hear. It works and Mai appears behind him and scolds him for forgetting her after promising her that he wouldn’t. To repay him Mai announces to the school that all the rumours about Sakuta are bogus and refuses to tell him that she loves him because how could she know it to be true under such wild circumstances. Sakuta tells her that then he won’t let her go until she tells him that she does.
My favourite moment of the episode is when Sakuta remembers Mai and runs outside of the school to proclaim his love not only because you root for the two of them but because of his inner monologue and growth as a character. He says, “From here on, I must face the atmosphere. The atmosphere that won’t move, even if I push, pull, or slap it around. The atmosphere surrounding the school. It’s easy to do “follow the leader” as a lifestyle. Deciding if everything is good or bad on your own uses a ton of calories, and to have a will of your own, it can hurt to be denied. To that point, you stay safe and sound being the same as everyone else. You don’t have to see what you don’t want to. You don’t have to think about what you don’t want to. You can leave everything to someone else. But there’s no reason to torment someone just because everyone else is doing it. Because everyone is doing it, because everyone says so that doesn’t make it true. Who’s this “everyone” anyway? She always treated me as the younger one and teased me. She blew up whenever I tried sexy talk, and her face would get completely red. She was so obstinate and put up a front, trying to hide those mistakes. Selfish, a queen, whimsical, and yet surprisingly naïve. A senpai one year older than me, I won’t let people ignore her anymore. I won’t let people look and pretend not to. I’ll engrave her into everyone’s memory so much they won’t be able to.”
There’s plenty of ships I would commit violence to protect on this list and Sakuta and Mai is one of them but unlike other relationships on this list it was nice that even if not verbally they were able to communicate their feelings for one and other so early in the series’ run.
9. Angel Beats! (2010) — Season 1 Episode 10: “Goodbye Days”
Angel Beats is a series that asks what if you had an unfulfilled childhood or adolescence and you had to discover that in high school but in limbo/purgatory before being able to pass on. Angel Beats follows Yuzuru Otonashi, a boy with amnesia as he finds himself in limbo. Here he discovers his classmates who form the Afterlife Battlefront co-founded by Yuri Nakamura and Hideki Hinata, Yuri leads this group against the injustices of the unseen God and the student council president who is believed to be God’s associate because of her seemingly supernatural powers, a girl named Angel. After regaining his memories Yuzuru, befriends Angel whose real name is Kanade Tachibana, and learns the true purpose of this afterlife and decides to help Kanade fulfill the wishes of the members of Battlefront so they can find peace and pass on.
The first person he decides to help is a girl named Yui, who we learn was bed ridden in her young life and feels guilty that her mother spent her life caring for her. She laments not being able to leave her room and run around and play like other kids. She tells Yuzuru that she wants to be able to do a German Suplex, score a goal in soccer by dribbling past five defenders like Maradona, and hit a home run over the fence. After countless core exercises and pain laid upon Yuzuru’s neck and head she is successful in performing one and bridging for a pin on him. Yuzuru enlists the help of 5 members of the Battlefront to challenge Yui, as Kanade takes care of the defenders from a distance to allow Yui to dribble past them and score a goal. And finally, Yui and Yuzuru practice for days on end trying to hit a home run but it is useless. Yuzuru tries to encourage Yui more but Yui lets that dream go and admits to being fulfilled. No matter how calloused her hands are and how sore her body is, she was able to play baseball for days on end and that was something she could only ever dream of when she was bedridden. Yuzuru wonders if that is enough and Yui admits she has one more wish and it is to get married. She asks Yuzuru if he would marry her which causes him to fumble his response before Hideki tells Yui that he’ll marry her. Up to this point Yui and Hideki have had a turbulent relationship to say the least, they sneak attack each other and he reprimands her for her childish behaviour while she finds his constant nagging annoying, but they care deeply for each other and it is proven in this moment. Yui tells him that they would never meet because she would never would’ve had the chance to be as active as he was. Hideki brushes this concern off by telling her that he would hit a baseball through her window and when he would go to the house to apologize, he would find her there. He would come back because he would want to get to know her and help alleviate the workload that Yui’s mother had. Hideki assures her that no matter in what life he would find her and fall in love with her over and over again. Yui moves on after this and disappears from afterlife. Yuzuru wonders if Hideki can also move on now and Hideki assures Yuzuru that he won’t be able to move until he helps Yuzuru with his mission.
Angel Beats was an interesting series to say the least, I didn’t expect it to be as heart wrenching as it was with the amount of action in the first few episodes and even after one person moves on in an earlier episode the narrative shifts a to a new character thus not allowing time to process what moving on in this world means. Angel Beats is about the journey, of what people are able to let go, whether its assumptions or preconceived notions about something or someone, or simply the idea of hitting a home run, in order to take the next step. We never know where that next step might take us but if we knew exactly where we were going at all times, well where’s the fun in that?
8. Hunter x Hunter (2011) — Season 4 Episode 6: “Strengthen x and x Threaten”
In order to keep this from being 15,000 words here’s a quick primer of what you need to know about Hunter x Hunter: the world is filled with impossible monsters and even more impossible people who can manipulate a life force called Nen in order to have impossible abilities. The story focuses on a 12 year old boy named Gon Freecss who leaves home in order to take the Hunter Exam and become a professional Hunter like his estranged father, Ging Freecss, who left Gon with his aunt, shout out Aunt Mito, when Gon was a baby. Gon meets his best friend, another 12 year old, whose heir to the world’s most esteemed and feared assassin family Killua Zoldyck at the exam. The series follows Gon and Killua as they make their way through this world becoming stronger as they find more clues about locating Ging. In Season Four they are in a real-life video game designed for Hunters and people who can use Nen that was created by Ging. Gon and Killua believe that if they can clear the game, they will find more clues to his whereabouts.
“Strengthen x and x Threaten” sees Gon and Killua training under a woman named Biscuit Kreuger aka Bisky the master of their first Nen master, to learn and develop different Nen techniques that are necessary to beat the game. In my opinion this one of Hunter x Hunter’s strengths as a story, while Nen abilities are wild and whacky and at the mercy of the creator’s imagination they are grounded in rules in of the story’s universe. The anime does an excellent job of showing while telling the audience about new things in the world. There’s a new Nen technique the boys must learn, Bisky doesn’t just tell them what it is she explains to them how these techniques translate in a fight and gives them exercises to practice.
I chose this episode out the hundreds of Hunter x Hunter episodes because seeing Gon and Killua discover new ways to use their powers and seeing them level up is the best thing about the show and I think exemplifies one of the core themes of the anime. Hunter x Hunter presents a world that is vast, wide, and incomprehensible, but Gon and Killua show us that you don’t need to figure it all out at once, that’s not important. What is important, is when presented with something new you are able to absorb it with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm as Gon does and you’re also able to interrogate and use it to how it best fits you like Killua. Bisky when observing the strengths and weaknesses of the duo makes the conclusion that the two of them are the perfect pair. When one is able to walk into the world with knowledge and understanding of self and an open heart what else is needed?
7. Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (2014)- Season 2 Episode 10: “Winter Days, A Long Way Home”
Here’s what you need to understand about the Fate and it’s central conflict the Holy Grail War: The Holy Grail represents the wishes of humanity and a price to pay when the winner makes a wish aka lots of death. Mages known as Masters fight in this war not only through their skills and knowledge but also with summoned historical heroes known as Servants. These heroic spirits have been left unfulfilled in their past lives and are still tied to the mortal plane through this as well as a weapon that is famous known as a Holy Phantasm for example Excalibur. When summoned a Servant is tied directly to the mana from their Masters, without their Masters they cannot remain however, to lose a Servant means almost certain death for their Master as heroic spirits are more than a match for any mortal.
The combatants left in the fight are protagonists Rin Tohsaka and her current servant Saber who was originally Shirou Emiya’s servant. Shirou Emiya does not have much interest in being a mage nor the Grail but holds steadfast in his ideals about justice and wishes to see the Grail destroyed so no one else will fall victim to its power. Rin is the heir of the Tohsaka lineage and wishes to win the Grail by any means necessary not because she has a wish but because she simply wants to win. Both have lost their servants, Shirou gave Saber up in order to save a life while Rin’s Archer acted on his own because it is revealed that Archer is an older Shirou Emiya who fulfilled Shirou’s ideal of being a hero of justice but became disllusioned with his journey when realizing that his path meant nothing but death and despair and now his only wish is to kill the Shirou of the present as a means to set himself free from that life. To save themselves Rin enters in a contract with Saber to fight Archer and allow Rin and Shirou to escape.
“Winter Days, A Long Way Home” finds our heroes on the eve of the final battle against the heroic spirit known as Gilgamesh who plans on using the Grail to eradicate humanity because he sees them as unworthy of their lives because he finds the the current state of the world disgusting. Gilgamesh is a heroic spirit who is seemingly war all unto himself without a Holy Phantasm to call upon, he can summon any weapon that he has come across making every fight tremendously unfair for any heroic spirit without the same power. Shirou Emiya’s heroic spirit also is without a Holy Phantasm but was killed by a sneak attack, spoiler alert not actually killed, from Gilgamesh who referred to him as a, “Faker.” You see, Shirou’s magical ability is creating constructs from whatever weapon that he touches, thus making him the natural enemy of Gilgamesh. As Rin, Shirou, and Saber strategize on the best way to defeat Gilgamesh, Rin turns in for the night to think of a strategy when Shirou tells her his desire to fight Gilgamesh. Rin praises Shirou for figuring out her plan and how his power could stand up against their enemy. Shirou admits that he didn’t figure that out but felt as if he had the best chance the only problem is he doesn’t have enough mana in order to stand toe to toe in a fight.
The next moment is what makes this my favourite episode of Fate/stay Night. It’s the quiet moments in between the awesome fight scenes and set pieces that breath life into any series. But beyond that Rin and Shirou are supposed to be enemies in this war and yet they are coming together to win, not for some prize but because it’s the right thing to do. Their relationship is the heartbeat to this story and while Shirou is earnest to a fault, Rin is more calculated and less forthcoming with her feelings. Even when she decides to pass on her magical crest to Shirou to give him enough mana for the battle ahead, Shirou can’t help himself but restate his love for her. He tells her that one of the reasons why he fell for her was because of her strong conviction. Rin admonishes him, even though her love for him is what prevented her from killing him on a whim at the beginning of the war, but adds that if he must unburden himself of his feelings she will listen. However, the truth of her feelings can’t stay hidden forever and during the trance she puts them under to transfer her magic crest to him, Shirou sees a glimpse of the day that Rin fell for him. And upon waking, Rin scolds Shirou for seeing her deepest secret before telling him to get enough rest for tomorrow.
Shirou finds Saber wandering around and Saber admits that her time together with both of them have been her favourite and admits that she is trying to remember as much as she can about it before she must disappear. Saber makes Shirou promise that no matter what happens that he and Rin will return safely together. To be honest, I really wanted to break my rule about only one series finale being on this list and choose “Epilogue” where Rin and Shirou have won the war, graduated high school, and moved to London to study at the Mage’s Academy and be well on their way to find their happily ever after. And yet, as happy as that episode makes me, “Winter Days, A Long Way Home” is the foundation of that happy feeling. It’s a moment to catch one’s breath before stepping into the void that has been waiting. Rin gives up the magical crest of her family to the man she loves yet won’t admit verbally on the eve of the biggest battle of her life. Shirou wants nothing but being a hero of justice and protect those he loves and that means going into a fight he’s not sure he’s ready for much less win. And Saber a Servant summoned by not only Shirou but Shirou’s adoptive father in the previous Holy Grail War wanting to fulfill her wish of destroying the Grail as a means to avenge her previous Master. Fate shows us different reasons why people choose to fight or not and doesn’t say if one choice is better than the other, only that a choice must be made.
6. Maid Sama (2010) — Season 1 Episode 26: “Too Cruel Ayuzama and Usui the Idiot”
Maid Sama centers around the strong-willed student council president of Seika High, Misaki Ayuzama who is doing her best to rehabilitate the school’s image by intimidating and striking fear through force upon the male population of the school. Misaki’s secret is that she works part time a Maid Café called Maid Latte and tries her best not to let anyone at school know to not ruin her image. Takumi Usui is the most popular boy at Seika who seems disinterested in most things and prefers to observe things from a distance to see how they’ll play out. From a far he seems to be perfect, he’s good looking, seems to be good at any and everything he tries. He is drawn to Misaki because of her strong will which makes her stand out from everyone else. Long story short, Usui falls for Misaki, is extremely possessive and does things to provoke Misaki to see her reactions and finds out where she works and thus must deal with each other’s antics.
Their relationship is admittedly a mess. They mix as well as fire and water and even by series end Misaki can’t admit that she loves him even after confessing that she’s been holding back from her feelings. To get to this point in the last episode the two of them find themselves killing time at a school festival where they promised to accompany their friend Sakura to see one of the bands perform. Misaki insists on going because we meet the band earlier in the series and the lead singer rejects Sakura to try and get with Misaki only to be denied by Usui and Misaki. They just wanted to make sure the singer did indeed have a change of heart. While they are separated, they enter a challenge across the school designed for couples, the couples that win get a special prize for the after party. The only general rule is that they must hold hands the entire time and if they let go, they’ll be disqualified. Usui teases Misaki throughout the challenges prompting Misaki to want to shut him up by winning the challenges herself. The challenges as such are: ten minutes to get to the first station from the starting point, one person eating a bowl of ramen, they complete this by Usui feeding Misaki because she can’t use her right hand, a speed card game which Misaki wins, ping pong which Misaki wins using her off hand. By the final challenge word has spread that a superhuman couple has been conquering these challenges and they have quite the audience. The last challenge is a simple one they must find a balloon in a pit that has a question in it and answer the question within the time limit. Misaki finds the balloon and Usui puts it between them before hugging Misaki close to pop it. Meanwhile, Sakura and Shizuko are waiting for the band to play and Shizuko scolds Sakura for making them wait for so long and doesn’t understand Sakura’s infatuation with the singer. Sakura explains to Shizuko, “You can ask me what I see in them, but I can’t explain it. Of course, they’re cool, and I respect them for following their dreams, so there’s that but that’s not all. Those sorts of things don’t come close. Liking someone comes from a different place than that. So, if someone objects, or even if you know it’s not right, once you’ve felt that feeling, you can’t stop it.” After the show Sakura and Shizuko don’t meet up with Usui and Misaki because the lead singer wants to walk around the festival with Sakura and after a quick interrogation by Misaki he tells her that she’s making Usui hold himself back because she isn’t honest with how she feels.
The afterparty prize is being dressed up as Romeo and Juliet to watch the fireworks. Usui finds an empty classroom for them to watch where Misaki asks him if he’s been holding back. Usui tells her he’ll answer that question if she’ll tell him why she cares about him so much. Misaki says she doesn’t know and wonders why he always teases her and provokes her and admits that if they didn’t do that challenge, she wouldn’t have had to admit that she always wanted to hold his hand. She wonders why it must be him to make her feel this way, why her heart beats faster when he’s around and why she gets lonely when they’re not together. She admits to hiding these feelings from herself. Usui admits that he teases her because he wants to see her reactions because normally, she’s the brash student council president but after he teases her, she’ll look cute, or surprised, or completely worked up for no reason. He tells her that he can’t tell her how many times he’s held back because he’s lost count. They finally kiss and Usui tells Misaki that he’s crazy about her but Misaki stays true to form and tells him that she hates him but they’re still holding hands.
I used my series finale pick on this not because I think it’s the best finale or that Maid Sama is my favourite ever or even that Misaki and Usui are my favourite couple though I adore them, but this anime makes you earn that kiss. From the moment Usui discovers Misaki’s secret to all their misadventures and times they’ve shown up for each other, Maid Sama shows that experience doesn’t make confronting certain truths any easier. And while for a lot of stories you wish you could dive into the page or the screen to just tell two people, they should just stop thinking about it be together we know that’s not how it always works. As frustrating as it can be sometimes there’s something to be said about making the audience wait, building anticipation up to the point of uncomfortableness, there’s something in that. Like, how most covers of D’Angelo’s “Untitled” cuts away three minutes from the original’s seven-minute time, most people shy away from it, but admitting and by extension putting out into the world that you love someone, isn’t that the most uncomfortable thing there is, doesn’t that deserve time to breath?
5. K-On! (2010) — Season 2 Episode 12: “Summer Festival”
K-On! is pure fluff and I loved every moment of it. You follow the adventures or should I say mostly lazy days of the Light Music Club Band: Afterschool Tea Time. There’s the aloof and kind hearted lead guitarist and vocalist Yui Hirasawa who is unfocused but picks things up very quickly, the cool and bashful bassist and songwriter Mio Akiyama who is the bands biggest music lover as well as most popular member, the brash and energetic self-proclaimed president of the Light Music Club and drummer Ritsu Tainaka who is always on the go and wants the best for the band, the gentle and warm hearted pianist Tsumugi Kotobuki who despite her family’s wealth is always interested and amazed by seemingly normal everyday things, and the final member of the club is the driven, sometimes no nonsense junior rhythm guitarist Azusa Nakano who joins the club because of the feeling she got watching them perform during her first year at the school festival.
In “Summer Festival” thanks to their club supervisor Sawako Yamanaka, they can attend Natsu Fest, a music festival in the mountains. True to form each member has different priorities for the festival. Mio wants to see every band she can so much so that she wonders why she can’t teleport or have more than one body to experience it all. Ritsu wants to help Mio experience all that she can. Azusa wonders if seeing so many great bands will inspire her senpais to want to practice more and take music more seriously. Meanwhile, Yui wants to have as much fun as she can and Mugi wants to eat yakisoba. Mugi never gets to eat yakisoba, Mio doesn’t get to watch all the bands she wants, and the group doesn’t find a new motivation to practice more however none of that matters because at the last night when the five of them are sitting on top a hill overlooking the festival and looking up at the sky they promise to each other that they’ll never stop playing together not because they’re the best band ever but because they understand that they wouldn’t have as much fun as playing with anyone else.
There’s something to be said about just having fun and not worrying if it’s deep or cool or even smart. The joy I get from K-On! is unlike any other show on this list. Yes, there’s poignant moments on this show and yes you care greatly for its characters, but man is it just fun to kick back and chill with these characters and not worry about any existential threat. I wish I could say more but I’m too busy smiling and having my heart strings pulled. After School Tea Time Forever.
4. Violet Evergarden (2018) — Season 1 Episode 10: “A Loved One Will Always Watch Over You”
Violet Evergarden follows the titular character as she returns from war and tries to find her purpose off the battlefield. She chooses to become an Auto Memory Doll who are women who ghost write letters for people. Violet chooses this profession because she wishes to understand the last words her guardian and mentor Major Gilbert told her which was, “I love you.”
By “A Loved One Will Always Watch Over You” Violet has become an accomplished Auto Memory Doll and sets off to the countryside to the mansion of a young girl named Anne to write letters for her sickly mother. Anne’s mother has hired Violet to stay seven days to write letters to an anonymous person and has ordered Violet not to tell Anne who the letters are for. Anne a curious and loving girl just wants to spend time with her mother and is wary of visitors as they take her mother’s attention and time away from her. While cautious around Violet, Anne is also bewildered by her as she believes that Violet is a real living doll first from her job title, and the way she dresses, and this idea is reinforced by seeing Violet’s prosthetic hands. Anne opens up more to Violet over the week and teaches her how to play house, gets Violet to read her stories, and play in the yard. While spying on one of their writing sessions Anne sees her mother collapse from coughing and rushes out to confront her, Anne knows that her mother isn’t getting any better and admits that Violet isn’t the one she wants to play house with or tie a ribbon in her hair or be read stories by and wonders why these letters are so important if it’s to someone Anne doesn’t even know because that means it’s not anyone who ever visits. What Anne does know is that these letters are taking what little time they have left together, and she runs off while Violet follows her. Violet reassures Anne that her mother’s illness is not because of anything Anne did and that she is a good and kindhearted person. The week comes to an end and Anne gives Violet a hug and a kiss on the cheek before discovering that she is in fact a real person and not a doll. Afterwards, it is revealed that Violet had written 50 letters that week, one for every birthday that Anne’s mother would miss after she had passed, Violet’s colleagues marvel at such a wonderful gift Anne’s mother left her but Violet breaks down in tears saying how all she wanted to do was cry the entire week and while the letters are wonderful Anne will still be left without a mother and she’ll be all alone in that big house but she finds comfort in the fact that every letter that’s written deserves to be delivered and that Anne can look forward to them every year.
The job of an Auto Memory Doll is to be able to convey a person’s true feelings in the form of a letter. What a simple and yet devastatingly powerful idea: words matter. One of the hardest things to do, as silly as it sounds is to write a good story about writing. Violet Evergarden not only manages it but does so in such a masterful way, on the right day could “A Loved One Will Always Watch Over You” could easily be number one but regardless of it’s rank on this list, like so many episodes of Violet Evergarden, it never fails to make me cry.
3. Your Lie in April (2014) — Season 1 Episode 18: “Hearts Come Together”
Kosei Arima is a piano prodigy who hasn’t played the piano since his mother passed away because the trauma around her death caused Kosei to not be able to hear the piano notes while he plays. His friends Tsubaki Sawabe and Ryota Watari do their best to keep his spirits up but don’t pressure him into playing again. It isn’t until Tsubaki’s classmate Kaori Miyazono befriends the group and demands that Kosei be her accompaniment for her violin competition. Kaori doesn’t care about playing music as it was written on the page but rather wants her music to echo and be remembered in people’s hearts. Kosei plays and falls back into the fear of not hearing the piano keys, but Kaori’s playing is a lifeline to help Kosei be able to hear the notes and play again. However, Kaori is sick and get hospitalized the day of a scheduled performance. After learning about Kaori’s condition she makes him promise that he’ll keep playing. Kosei begins to train under a friend of his mother’s and renowned pianist Hiroko Seto, as well as mentoring a junior high schooler under the guiance of Hiroko, Nagi Aiza. He decides to give Kaori some inspiration to not give up so that they may perform one more time. He and Nagi plan to play a duet at her school festival. Nagi has her own reasons to not only perform but to get close to Kosei. Nagi only started playing the piano because her older brother Takeshi does but after Kosei stopped playing, she noticed that Takeshi lost some of the exuberant energy he had when chasing Kosei. Nagi at first wanted to get close to Kosei partly to mess with him but also to see if he lived up to the hype her brother built up over the years. During the performance Kosei has Ryota play the performance through his phone for Kaori and changes the tempo of the piece on the fly as he gets more inspired wanting to reach Kaori. Nagi panics for a short moment before reprimanding him in her head before keeping up with him. Takeshi is confused and cannot believe that Nagi is playing a duet with his rival. Because Kosei changed the tempo and Nagi answered his challenge she is able to play the piece of her life. At the end Nagi cannot believe that she has found her wings. She thanks Kosei and Hiroki before Kosei is confronted by Takeshi and he swears to Kosei that he’ll beat him in the upcoming December competition. Nagi has her brother back and when Kosei visits Kaori after the performance she promises him she’ll do everything she can to get better so they can play one more time.
While Kosei is the protagonist of the show, “Hearts Come Together” is a spotlight on Nagi. During the performance Nagi admits that she doesn’t want to dedicate her life to music, she’s not ready to commit to going pro however that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people she wants to reach with her music. She wants to be on stage so she can use music to reach those she cares about, and she does wonder if it is selfish of her but realizes that wanting to reach those whom see loves is as good of a reason as any. Near the end of the performance, she wonders if it was good enough and if she faced the music with an open heart. After weeks of practice and digging up the depths of one’s soul, you’re left with something beautiful, standing on that stage in the bask of an applause that’s when music goes beyond words. As they take their bow Nagi realizes that she isn’t some phantom in her brother’s story, she is Christine who just made her debut at the opera house. So much of Your Lie in April is about not only what music means to an individual but how it connects us, how music can refuse to let us go, how they can be shared, and how they can help us move on. In a year where I found it hard to listen to new songs Your Lie in April helped remind me that old ones and favourite songs are just as good too because your favourites will always echo in your hearts.
2. Food Wars (2015) — Season 1 Episode 22: “The Competition of Blossoming Hearts”
If I could only watch one anime series for the rest of my life, I think I’d choose Food Wars. There’s something about this ridiculous show that refuses to let me go and yet feels light enough to jump back into for an episode or two without needing to finish an entire arc or makes me rethink my entire existence or makes me pick up pieces of my broken heart. Season 4 is my favourite but for this exercise I chose “The Competition of Blossoming Hearts” when Food Wars was focused on the Fall Selection instead of the fear of constant expulsion. Food Wars is about a fictional prodigious culinary school in Tokyo called Totsuki Academy where food prodigies challenge each other to discover new culinary frontiers. It’s students primarily are from its junior high school but the series focuses on the sole transfer student for the prospective 92nd graduating class Soma Yukihira and his classmates. The Fall Selection is a cooking competition which pits the top first year students against each other to see who is the best of the best.
As great as a protagonist Soma is my favourite character in the series is Megumi Tadokoro, the primary focus of “The Competition of Blossoming Hearts.” Megumi while talented and possesses a keen awareness of considering the needs of the diner has very low self confidence and was on the verge of expulsion before getting help from Soma and the rest of their dormmates. In “Blossoming Hearts” Megumi is the last to present her dish in the B Block preliminary round of the Fall Selection and needs an overall score of 88 to advance to the tournament round. Still unsure of her chances she sees that the fishermen from her hometown have come to the Selection to cheer her on. As she presents her dish, a monk fish curry dojuburo, which in the previous episode she broke down through suspended cutting, she reminisces about her time learning how to cook at her family’s inn, learning suspended cutting to help keep monk fish on the menu, as well as the conversation with her mother about going to Totsuki and how her mother wants her to see more of the world before coming back to help at the inn if that’s what she ultimately decides, to thinking about her failing grades and encouragement from her friends. The vegetables used in her dish were all the ones used in her hometown and she wanted the judges to be able to taste and smell where she was from because that was the type of curry she wanted to make. And with the final score cast it was time for Megumi to finally spread her wings, she scored an 88 breaking a previous three-way tie. Before the fishermen from her hometown break into a chant for her another student Miyoko Hojo, who is tied for 5th place looks one in amazement. Hojo is the heir of the best Chinese restaurant in Yokohama’s Chinatown dismisses Megumi in a previous episode when she believes Megumi to be too weak to survive in a real kitchen. Hojo comes to the realization that she was wrong about Megumi having nothing because it from her view it looked to her like Megumi has everything she will ever need to succeed.
Sometimes liking something is as simple being happy that good things happened for your favourites or in this case like so many others that you not only got to see their growth but that they also saw it for themselves. Soma is a great character but he never hesitates even if he might lose and that is a character trait that should be commended. That’s also something many people don’t possess. While with Megumi, she is someone who is extremely talented and is full of doubt, she’s the most self-conscious person on the show and is still is able to face her fears. That is bravery right there because like Ned Stark taught Bran, courage isn’t the absence of fear but the fact is the only time one can ever be brave is when they’re afraid. Megumi might carry tremendous amounts of self-doubt, but she never backed down and from this moment on it’s something that will never stop her.
1. Clannad (2007) — Volume 2 Episode 6: “Counter Measures”
Clannad was the first new anime I watched in quarantine after I had finished rewatching Neon Genesis Evangelion. Clannad follows the story of a third-year high school delinquent Tomoya Okazaki who refuses to deal with the trauma following the death of his mother when he was young and the strained relationship with father who Tomoya avoids after a fight which separated his shoulder causing him to be unable to lift it above his head thus preventing him from playing basketball. Despite being sarcastic and sharp he is someone who is kindhearted and has a knack for helping people with their problems. His life changes when walking to school and he runs into Nagisa Furukawa who is trying to muster up the courage to walk up the hill as she is embarrassed to be repeating her senior year because of a mysterious illness that caused her to miss too many days the previous year. Nagisa tells Tomoya that it’s her dream to restart the Drama Club and put on a play at the school festival. As Tomoya helps Nagisa they encounter other girls at their school and help them with their problems such as first year student Fuko Ibuki, class representatives and twins Kyou and Ryou Fujibayashi, school genius Kotomi Ichinose, and second year student council president hopeful Tomoyo Sakagami.
In “Counter Measures” Nagisa is absent because of her illness, while Tomoya is suspended for a fight caused by his friend Youhei Sunohara because Youhei wanted Tomoyo to beat up a gang of boys. Tomoya took the blame to protect Tomoyo’s reputation during her campaign for student council president. The Drama Club needs Tomoyo to win to overturn a rule that forbids a teacher serving as an advisor to more than one club. As Tomoya waits listlessly during his suspension days at Youehei’s dorm room wondering how Nagisa is doing he is visited by Kyou and Ryou. Ryou has a crush on Tomoya but is much more unsure of herself and shy compared to Kyou. Kyou uses this as an opportunity for Ryou and Tomoya to grow closer and forces them to get a fortune about their futures at an arcade and admonishes Tomoya for not selecting “lovers” when asked what their relationship is. She eventually leaves them at the bus stop where Ryou admits to Tomoya that she knows she sucks at fortune telling but that fact gives her comfort because if all fortunes were accurate then that would mean everything is predetermined and nothing could be done to change it however, if there’s a chance for them to be wrong then that means we still have choice. Side note: Kyou also has a crush on Tomoya but does not act on it because she doesn’t want to hurt her sister. The next morning Tomoyo stops by Tomoya’s to cook him breakfast as a way of thanking him for taking the blame for the fight. They are interrupted when Ryou and Kyou stop by with food since they believe there’s no one to cook for him only to get into an argument with Tomoyo about who has the right to provide for Tomoya. They are then interrupted by Kotomi who has had the same idea and also brought food. They all end up sitting down presenting Tomoya with the food they made hoping that he chooses theirs, in the end as an act not to hurt anyone’s feelings Tomoya eats everything. He returns to school the following day still sluggish from all the food he ate and learns that taking the blame for Tomoyo didn’t help rumours of her delinquent past from spreading. To combat this Tomoya comes up with a plan to showcase how awesome Tomoyo is by having her challenge different clubs to competitions, clubs happily accept with the condition if Tomoyo loses then she’ll have to join the club she loses to. She wins events and games such as swimming, track and field, and baseball. The last match she has is against the Tennis Club and by now Nagisa has felt healthy enough to return to school and thanks Tomoyo for working so hard to help with the drama club while she and Tomoya sit together during the match. Upon meeting Nagisa Tomoyo understands why Tomoya is so adamant about the Drama Club. She puts it out of her mind and continues with the tennis match when an errant ball strikes Nagisa in the leg. When Tomoyo’s opponent goes to help Nagisa his hand is smacked away on instinct by Tomoya. Kyou, Ryou, and Tomoyo all notice it, Kyou laments that it’s nothing surprising while Ryou thanks her through tears for helping her get closer to Tomoya which causes Kyou to also start crying. In the end Tomoyo’s efforts work and she becomes the new student council president, and the Drama Club has its advisor and members: Nagisa, Tomoya, Youhei, Kyou, Ryou, and Kotomi, making it an official club.
Clannad is a story about family, both the ones we are born into and the ones that we choose for ourselves. The blossoming relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa that was planted at the foot of a hill is the story’s center. Tomoya helps Nagisa develop more self-belief in herself while Nagisa shows Tomoya that he is worthy of love and being accepted by others. I think this is why “Counter Measures” is my favourite anime episode I watched this year because Tomoya and Nagisa found exactly what they needed on a random morning and it wasn’t until Tomoya slapped that hand away to help Nagisa that it was confirmed but not official that they loved each other. In a year that was so trying for so many people I hope that you were able to find some shred of something you needed as well.