The Best Anime Of The Winter 2023 Season: From Death Match Soccer To Assassin Dads

The Best Anime Of The Winter 2023 Season: From Death Match Soccer To Assassin Dads

(Welcome to I Didn't Know What Seasonal Anime to Watch, So I Asked /Film for Help and They Gave Me a List, a regular column dedicated to helping choose what anime shows to watch each season.)

After a gangbuster fall season full of spectacular anime (many of which made it to our list of best shows of the year overall), 2023 is starting with a bit of a quiet winter season. We had some big premieres from acclaimed animators and exciting new original anime, but many were plagued by production issues that killed all momentum.

Still, there were some leftover fall shows that shone bright, a highly-anticipated returning anime that delivered a stellar season, some surprising anime-related drops, and some funny new comedies that made an otherwise lackluster season still rather entertaining.

With so many new shows airing every season, it is harder than ever to spot the good ones, but that is where we come in. Let /Film be your guide to the best anime of the winter 2023 season.

Trigun Stampede

"Trigun Stampede" has divided viewers since its January release. On one hand, it returns to the beloved "Trigun" universe by adapting material from the source comic the original anime never touched. On the other hand, it's unafraid to make big changes to that source material. The hero Vash has a different haircut. Beloved characters like Milly are nowhere to be seen, replaced by original creations like journalist Roberto de Niro. Plot points that were played as big reveals in the first series, like the story's science fiction setting, are introduced from the very first episode of "Stampede." 

Not everybody is happy with these changes. Speaking personally, though, I think the heart of the show's staff is in the right place. According to interviews, they had no interest in simply transposing the comic to the screen. They believed that a story like "Trigun" deserved a complete reinvention.

The results speak for themselves. "Trigun Stampede" is a spectacle, even compared to last fall's heavy hitters like "Chainsaw Man" and "Mob Psycho 100." Its character animation is fluid, funny, and believable. The science fiction world of No Man's Land is stunning and varied, setting western pastiche, religious iconography, and the likes of "Star Wars" side-by-side. Action sequences are choreographed on a tremendous scale and feature camera work that would be impossible in 2D. Studio Orange took every lesson they've learned from their fan-favorite back catalog of CG productions and applied them to this project. The scripting isn't always elegant, but then the strength of "Trigun" is bombast, not nuance. "Stampede" will jump from the ranting of an evil child in the past to his hooded present self noodling on a giant devil-mounted organ. Director Kenji Muto trusts the audience will follow, and they do. (Adam Wescott)

BLUELOCK

There are dozens upon dozens of sports anime out there, with a show for every single sport you can think of, meaning it can be hard for one to stand out from the crowd. In 2022 we got several sports anime centered on soccer — World Cup fever was real — but none were as unique as "Bluelock."

This is essentially a sports anime combined with a death game show à la "Squid Game." In it, the Japanese National Team decides to trust an unhinged guy who traps 300 high schoolers in an undisclosed location where they play soccer to the death (not really, but it feels that way) for the chance to join the national team at the World Cup.

The goal is to find the most egocentric striker who can take Japan to the world stage, in what is basically a "Battle Royale" for anime villains, with our protagonist being not some wide-eyed prodigy but an individual who wants to "devour" his opponents.

The death game competitions are thrilling, full of backstabbing and betrayals, but also follow the tropes of camaraderie and teamwork fans expect from sports anime. Likewise, even if the CG is a bit rough at times, the show has a very strong sense of iconography, using keyframes to convey the emotion of the action without the need to show every movement — while also employing visual metaphors to heighten the reality of the situation. (Rafael Motamayor)

Vinland Saga

"Vinland Saga" is finally back after four years, and it is better than ever. Where the first season was a fascinating and gory exploration of vengeance and religion told through an exhilarating action show with some stunning fight scenes, this season could not be more different.

Season 2 leaves the battlefield behind in favor of the most exciting place in the 11th century: A farm! We catch up with Thorfinn, who is now older, more tired and defeated, and also an enslaved person working at the aforementioned farm. He is joined by Einar, who is newly enslaved, and the two are offered a deal: Clear out a field and work it until it starts turning in a profit, at which point they'll be able to buy their freedom.

A change in studios from Wit to MAPPA thankfully doesn't really change anything in the visuals or the storytelling, as virtually the entire crew returns for the second season, which looks just as gorgeous as ever even when we don't get beheadings and sword clashes every week. And just like the first season, the show is still offering fascinating explorations of violence and how it influenced many aspects of life in the 11th century, interrogating what we think we know about Viking culture, such as portraying Valhalla as a hellish place where zombie-like warriors just fight for all eternity — or, well, the entire plot about slavery.

If you want a show that effortlessly blends historical fact and fiction, offers fantastic fight scenes, and is also a quiet, meditative, and profound story on the price of vengeance and violence, look no further than "Vinland Saga" season 2. (Rafael Motamayor)

TOHO Animation Music Films

When folks talk about anime, they are often referring to television series or movies. But some of the best anime of recent years are in fact short films or music videos. From Khara's prestigious Animator Expo project, to Rie Matsumoto's spellbinding "Pokémon" celebration, shorts allow for animators to satisfy their creative instincts without the limitations of longform commercial projects. They're also a great opportunity to promote music singles, as we've seen from EVE's past collaborations with indie animators. So it goes that TOHO animation produced five short films for its 10th anniversary, connecting talented acts like BUMP OF CHICKEN and Hiroyuki Sawano with young and talented animators.

Of these five shorts, the biggest names are lined up on "COLORs," which features "Death Note" director Tetsuro Araki and illustrator Mai Yoneyama. The video tells the story of a high school girl's multi-colored crush on her beautiful classmate, ending with an unexpected shift into disaster movie territory. It's a bit silly, but Yoneyama's designs are gorgeous as always, and Araki's a stylish if tone-deaf director. Another video, BUMP OF CHICKEN's "Tentai Kansoku," features delicate environments and lighting headed by "Summer Ghost" creator loundraw. I'm mixed on the inclusion of dialogue, but it at least makes the film accessible to folks looking for a story-driven experience. My personal favorite, though, is "Detarame na Sekai no Melodrama." Directed by China, it pays homage to "Utena" and its successors but tells a smaller, oblique story of hidden love. All five of these videos are great, but "Detarame" was the one I was thinking of days later. (Adam Wescott)

Buddy Daddies

Stop me if you've heard this one before — two skilled assassins are forced to spend time together pretending to be a family while taking care of a hilarious and precocious toddler. No, this is not "Spy x Family," but the new comedy/action anime, "Buddy Daddies."

Though at first there is little that distinguishes "Buddy Daddies" from the juggernaut that is "Spy x Family," this anime manages to carve a little corner for itself thanks to a focus on the dynamic between the two hitmen dads. The balance between action and comedy is not always even, as the anime spends more time as a slice-of-life comedy than an action show, but it works. Also, it helps that P.A. Works fires off all cylinders when it comes to the animation, with fluid imagery and a knack for hilarious body language and facial expressions during the smaller comedic scenes. (Rafael Motamayor)

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