Anime Trending Anime of the Year 2021 Staff Picks

In celebration of the upcoming 8th Anime Trending Awards ceremony, some of our staff members have shared their favorite anime from 2021 and the moments that mattered to them most. The following staff picks are merely personal opinions and have no effect on the outcome or winners of the Anime Trending Awards’ voting ballots. The winners of the Anime Trending Awards, including Anime of the Year, are entirely decided by the public voting process.

Alexis: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation

Image Source: Official Mushoku Tensei Twitter

Mushoku Tensei is a product of the isekai boom in the early 2010s, when today’s tired tropes weren’t yet tropes and when each isekai story was unique. Through its anime adaptation, Mushoku Tensei showed the world what its vision was: that perhaps isekais weren’t always meant to be self-insert power fantasies with a sea of girls and no repercussions for the protagonist’s actions, but stories of self-betterment, discovery, and wonder.

Rudeus Greyrat isn’t a good person, and the story never justifies or excuses his actions. It only explains how he became a disturbing NEET who’d given up on everything, and I appreciate that Mushoku Tensei doesn’t sugarcoat it. The way Rudeus takes his second chance at life and strives to become better is commendable, even if, unfortunately, old messed up habits don’t magically disappear, but neither do his fears. At the end of the day, he’s human and, no matter how uncomfortable or even borderline criminal some of his actions are, Rudeus still goes on a journey of self-redemption and believing in people again that is nothing short of brilliant.

Mushoku Tensei’s world is equal parts breathtakingly beautiful and unfairly cruel. The audience experiences both alongside Rudeus as he overcomes his trauma and faults in this meticulously crafted setting that the staff and voice actors brought to life with superb art, vivid animation, and even the incorporation of imaginary foreign languages. The passion I felt behind the design of Mushoku Tensei is at a level few other anime can compare to.

Crystal: Horimiya

Image Source: Funimation

Horimiya isn’t exactly a mind-blowing anime. It was never meant to be. But the couple’s dynamics, the quality of the adaptation, and the art style captivated me. The anime artfully blends light-hearted friendship moments with puberty and relationships struggles to make the story of these high schoolers all too relatable.

Hori and Miyamura have a genuinely healthy relationship, and they actually communicate, enjoy mundane days, and don’t shy away from intimate or serious topics. To top it off, they can even do things together while hanging out with other friends too. Oh, have I mentioned how much I appreciate guys who don’t mind playing with a tiny child? Because that does a lot for me.

The adaptation was executed well enough that even when the anime rearranged the manga’s scenes, the story made sense and had decent pacing. The anime may have a deceptively simple art style, but that simplicity highlights that these are normal high school kids. Sometimes, normal is all you need. And that’s precisely what Horimiya offers.


Image Source: Crunchyroll

Once more I bang the ancient drum. I will shoehorn it into every podcast episode. I will shout from the rooftops and wear the shirt like a flag on my body. ODDTAXI is the greatest anime of 2021. While there are certainly other good shows this past year, I cannot think of one that has so enamored me the way ODDTAXI has. The music, voice acting, and pacing create a deep sense of immersion that I haven’t felt in a long time. Artists PUNPEE, VaVa, and OMSB have written a soundtrack every bit as diverse as the city at night evoking with total mastery the menace of the dark; the bustle of a restless downtown; and the loneliness that settles in when the rest of the world has gone to sleep. I was first drawn to the series by Riho Iida’s soft-spoken but confident Shirakawa, and I stuck around for rapper METEOR’s lyrical gangster Yano, who balances amusing quirkiness with ruthless, calculating professionalism. The story is a masterpiece of writing, with all the different plot threads tying themselves up in a neat little bow that turns Oddtaxi into a beautifully wrapped mystery gift box for anyone curious enough to give it a try.

Lucas: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation

Image Source: Funimation

Mushoku Tensei is a story about a regular guy, who was dealt a bad hand in his former life, being given a genuine second chance. Not only does he get sent to a world that lets him thrive more than modern-day Japan, but being reborn as Rudeus Greyrat gives him the opportunity to be raised by a loving family and undo the traumas that doomed his past life.

But that’s not to say his new friends and family are perfect. His charismatic and loving father Paul Greyrat, for instance, has a bit of a womanizing problem. Despite his antics and thick-headed personality, he genuinely cares for Rudeus and uses his own life experience to raise his son the best he can. It is through the genuine affection of others that Rudeus is able to open up and give back to those around him. Every person who teaches Rudeus an important life lesson has their life enriched by Rudeus in return. His magic tutor Roxy helps him confront his anxiety, despite her own feelings of inadequacy. Through his sincere gratitude for her teachings and his ability to see the best in others, he is able to guide Roxy into acknowledging some of her own merit as a teacher and mage. 

The characters in Mushoku Tensei, especially Rudeus, are flawed. But that doesn’t stop them from lifting each other up and bringing something unique into each other’s lives. I appreciate that the show doesn’t just sterilize each character’s negative traits until they’re squeaky clean but instead fosters the growth needed for the characters to achieve a better version of themselves.

Melvyn: Sonny Boy & The Heike Story

There’s a lot in Shingo Natsume’s original creation that I enjoyed. I greatly appreciated the creativity imbued in the show, as seen through the unusual worlds it brings us to, abilities like Mizuho’s Nyamazon cat delivery power, the episode about the twins who are actually the same person, or the mysterious character War. The character designs seem simple yet distinctive, and there are bursts of impressive animation. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is sparse but makes great use of catchy and surprisingly evocative rock tunes. 

However, I also struggled with the show at times. While I wasn’t expecting an anime about students lost in mysterious worlds to be simple, I did wish that the writing had been sanded down to make the experience less dense and obtuse, even if that denseness is admittedly part of the charm. It’s really thanks to the final episode that I ultimately decided that Sonny Boy deserved its spot here. The bittersweet ending where Nagara finally finds the strength to push forward on his own hits hard, while the mid-episode interdimensional sprint with toe’s “Sonny Boy Rhapsody” in the background is nothing short of breathtaking. With that finale, Sonny Boy went from being a show I liked with caveats to an experience I loved. 

I also want to give a shout-out to The Heike Story, which was supposed to be the main focus of my entry until I realized I had a harder time writing about it than Sonny Boy. The Naoko Yamada-helmed adaptation of The Tale of the Heike depicts the Heian period through a striking painterly aesthetic, with dashes of camera-emulating effects and surreal sequences adding further visual flavor. There are also a lot of eye-catching shots, with episodes 1, 3, 9, and 10 being the standouts in my view. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Episode 9 was storyboarded and directed by the director of, well, Eromanga Sensei

The story suffers a bit from the scope of the historical Genpei War, which results in a lot of names to remember and some dry exposition. Thankfully, there’s enough character focus to convey the tragedy of the Heike clan’s downfall, of which protagonist Biwa can foresee with her special sight but cannot stop.

William: The Aquatope On White Sand

Image Source: Crunchyroll

Let me throw a curveball and tell you why The Aquatope on White Sand is my Anime of The Year. It’s the perfect anime to watch in these crazy times and has had the most impact on myself. It’s an engaging, grounded story that hits close to home for anyone trying to make it in life.  

Aquatope is an exceptional slice-of-life drama that just gets better with every episode. It focuses on Kukuru and Fuuka — two young adults trying to advance their careers at an aquarium while balancing their relationships with friends and work colleagues. What I really love about this show is the way it shows its characters are not bound to accomplishing their original goals. Working hard to achieve a dream is a trope anime likes to focus on a lot. Aquatope recognizes that that isn’t always the case and sometimes your original life plans may need to be adjusted. Kukuru accepts the reality of her failed goals, pivots her focus, and adapts accordingly. 

You really get to know everyone in the cast and see how they evolve throughout the series. Moreover, your initial impressions of a character gradually change as their complex layers, personalities, and motivations are revealed. For example, there’s one moment where Kukuru has to work with an abrasive co-worker who denigrates her for being an inexperienced kid who doesn’t know how an aquarium works. The anime could’ve easily made her the obvious villain, but gradually makes us care for her when she’s revealed to be a single mom dealing with her own issues. 

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