2023 is done and dusted, but let’s as ever, take one last look back with the LiA “Oscars”. And the winners are:
This ended up being a pretty strong category, with no slam-dunk winner like 2022. I have to give the nod to this gorgeous piano piece from Pluto’s first episode. Not only is it a wonderful piece of music, it’s absolutely plot-critical. Insert songs do win this category sometimes but they have to be pretty exceptional to do so, and this one is (just like the series it appears in). The fact that it was originally composed by the mangaka just adds to the story.
Honorable Mention: “Shayou” by Yorushika (Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu OP), “River” by Anonymouz (Vinland Saga Season 2 OP1)
This is kind of an out of nowhere win, but the music for this season was truly wonderful (again piano-driven), and beautifully layered into the story. That included the BGM too, not just the insert songs (of which there were several).
Honorable Mention: Vinland Saga Season 2, Migi to Dari
This is always the weaker writing category in anime, but 2023 was the first time I remember all ten of the top 10 being manga adaptations. Two very good originals do stand out, however, and for me it was very close. I’m giving the nod to Sekine Ayumi based on the stunning 9th episode set in Touhoku. Sekine is not a name I associated with strong writing before this show, so this win is a delightful surprise. Still, credit to Urobuchi Gen for arguably his most cohesive (and complete) series with Revenger.
Honorable Mention: Revenger
This is always a tough category, both because of the volume of choices and the matter of what criteria to use. I’m going with Pluto here because a lot of material had to be cut to fit it into eight hour-long episodes, and you’d never know it from the results. Every ep plays like a self-contained movie, and the whole feels connected and cohesive despite the cuts. No single writer has been credited with series composition on Pluto as far as I know, but they all deserve credit.
Honorable Mention: Migi to Dari, Vinland Saga Season 2
Once more an extremely strong category with some killer competition, especially from Undead Girl Murder Farce. But I have to give it to Tengoku Daimakyou, truly one of the most beautiful series in anime history. Kaneko is a legend in the industry for good reason, and his work in depicting a post-apocalyptic Japan here elevates an already striking manga to new heights of atmospheric splendor.
Honorable Mention: Undead Girl Murder Farce, Pluto
Can there possibly be any doubt? Heavenly Delusion somehow managed to get a perfect adaptation, and the top-shelf animation from Production I.G. had a lot to do with that. I’m not sure why this modestly popular manga got what was clearly a lavish budget – both in terms of money and schedule – but I’m certainly glad it did.
Honorable Mention: Undead Girl Murder Farce, Tsurune: Tsunagari no Issha
Getting a big-name mangaka like Shimura to do character designs for an original anime is something of coup. Perhaps she and director Aoki Ei had a good working relationship after Hourou Musuko – in any event, the characters here bear her signature style but suit the material perfectly.
Honorable Mention: Tengoku Daimakyou, Undead Girl Murder Farce, Pluto
I love everything about Sally Amaki’s performance as Carol in Tomo-chan wa Onnanoko, itself a series I wound up liking much more than I expected to. Carol was the funniest gaijin girl since Sketch Book Kate, but in addition to big laughs Amaki got some emotional standout moments too. Fluent in English, the half-Japanese seiyuu also played Carol in the English dub (and it’s very interesting to compare the nuances in her performances).
Honorable Mention: Komatsu Mikaku as Fujimiya Sumika (Isekai Ojisan), Paku Romi as Ichijou Reiko (Migi to Dari)
Gesicht is right on the borderline between a lead and supporting role, admittedly. But I think it qualifies here, because the spotlight in Pluto is constantly shifting from character to character. I’ve loved Fuji in a couple of recent roles (he was fantastic in Nami yo Kitte Kure). And while it’s hard to zone in on any one performance in Pluto with so many good ones, he provides the emotional backbone for much of the series.
Honorable Mention: Tsuda Eizou as Dr. Tenma (Pluto), Mugihito as Sverkel (Vinland Saga Season 2)
A Rie wins for the second year in a row. Actors in comedies tend not to get enough credit (including by me), but Takahashi Rie nailed this performance. It’s a really funny one, obviously, but this was a deceptively difficult role with a fair bit of emotional range. If any series in 2023 belonged to the cast, it was this one – they really carried the ball in many ways.
Honorable Mention: Yomiya Hina as Yamada Anna (Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu), Kohara Konomi as Nishimura Akane (Jijou wo Shiranai Tenkousei ga Guigui Kuru.)
For me this was not a year with a lot of obvious virtuoso acting performances, as strong a year as it was on the whole. And Thorfinn is not a role with the sizzle of Askeladd (which brought home this statue for Uchida Naoya). But Thorfinn emerged as the true protagonist of this saga in season 2, and Uemura had to carry a huge weight without the luxury of histrionics. There’s so much subtlety in this quiet man’s personal journey, and Uemura brought that home in sterling fashion.
Honorable Mention: Horie Shun as Ichikawa Kyoutarou (Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu), Yashiro Taku as Shin’uchi Tsugaru (Undead Girl Murder Farce)
In those other Oscars this category foreshadows Best Picture most of the time. And to be sure that would have been a fine choice here. But for me there’s no 2023 series which relied more on the brilliance of its director for its success. Undead Girl Murder Farce, terrific as it is, stands as memorable because it’s an auteur work by one of anime’s most stylish and creative directors. And the finale alone is one of the finest pieces of directing I’ve seen in animation this decade.
Honorable Mention: Yabuta Shuuhei (Vinland Saga Season 2), Hongo Mitsuru (Yuzuki-san Chi no Yonkyoudai.), Mori Hirotaka (Tengoku Daimakyou), Kawaguchi Toshio (Pluto)
For me 2023 was, without much doubt, one of the strongest romcom years anime has ever had. And Spring 2023 likely the best romcom season ever. But even against that level of competition, BokuYaba is the clear standout – and Akagi Hiroaki captures this category for the second year running. The truth is, where the Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu manga is going – and the anime likely following – we might not even have to specify a year for this designation. The series really is that good.
Honorable Mention: Kimi wa Houkago Insomnia, Jijou Tenkousei wa Guigui Kuru., Tomo-chan wa Onnanoko!, Suki na Ko ga Megane wo Wasureta
If I did a “Most Underrated” category, The Clueless Transfer Student is Assertive would probably win it for 2023. Underrated both in terms of how much attention it got, and how deep it really was (and still is in manga form). It’s a romcom with the accent on “com”, as it should be given the elementary school setting. But it handles the tricky subject of bullying with grace and subtlety.
Honoroable Mention: Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu, Tomo-chan wa Onnanoko!
As ever a very strong category, even if comedy and romance had their strongest year of the decade so far, by far. I thought long and hard about this pick, but in the end it came down to this – Vinland Saga and Pluto are both dramas, and if VS was the #1 anime of the year, it’s the #1 drama. It’s just that simple. But as with that other decision, it was basically a tossup as far as I’m concerned.
Honorable Mention: Pluto, AI no Idenshi
See above. What a pleasure it was to have two true masterpieces to choose from this year – and two more series good enough to merit serious consideration most years.
Honorable Mention: Pluto, Tengoku Daimakyou, Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu
I don’t consider How Do You Live to be among Miyazaki Hayao’s elite. But that’s an incredibly high bar, and it’s easily the most notable theatrical anime of 2023 in my view. A stunning explosion of imagination brought to life in glorious animation, a heady mix of introspection in turns compelling and baffling – this is one of Miyazaki’s most difficult films. It’s also his greatest commercial success internationally (it will likely be nominated for that B-class Oscar too, and may win), which is somewhat surprising. Perhaps the notion that it’s the Master’s final film is driving some of that, but of course we’ve heard that song before. I, for one, hope Miyazaki keeps making feature films for as long as he can, because there’s no one else like him.
Honorable Mention: Gridman Universe
This was a year with both depth and greatness at the top, and these awards reflect that. Pluto and Vinland Saga Season 2 both had a massive haul, garnering three statues, but Pluto actually pips top honors with six honorable mentions to Vinland’s five. Other multiple winners were Tengoku Daimakyou, Overtake! and Tomo-chan wa Onnanoko! with two wins each (especially impressive for the two series that missed the top ten). BokuYaba collared five honorable mentions in addition to one win, and Undead Girl Murder Farce four honorable mentions and a statue. The fact that there were three top ten series which failed to garner even an honorable mention is yet more evidence of how many really good series there were in 2023.
One more time, let me thank everyone for supporting LiA in 2023 by reading, commenting, and subscribing to the YouTube site. And obviously to those of you who stepped up financially a very special thank you – I’m humbled by your generosity and will do my best to repay it. The fight for financial survival goes on – it’s never-ending – but LiA is still here thanks to you.
Stay frosty, and have a wonderful 2024!