Kuro’s favorite things in 2021

2021, also known as 2020 part 2. Could’ve been a better year, but there were still plenty of things to salvage it. This list goes into my favorite finds. Sadly a category that’s woefully underrepresented this year is videogames, and that’s due to the hand pain I’ve had. Hopefully this year I get better and can get back to playing.

  1. Games
  2. Manga
  3. Anime
  4. Movies
  5. TV shows
  6. Music
  7. Podcasts

Games:

Yugo Puzzle (2021) – qrostar

Personal score: 10/10

If you love puzzle games then you’ve most likely heard the name Jelly No Puzzle. It’s a brilliant puzzle game released by Qrostar in 2013. Yugo Puzzle is Qrostar’s newest game, and the first game that he’s releasing commercially. Being a long time puzzle lover I was stoked for this.

Qrostar has a bit of a hardcore style of puzzle game design where they will not give you throwaway levels just to ease you into the mechanics. No, you are thrown right into the deep end. You look at a level and think no, this is clearly impossible. I mean, there are like 2 simple mechanics going on, but there’s no way to do it. It’s impossible. And you sit there in disbelief, tinkering with it, until finally it hits you like a ton of bricks. It’s beautiful.

A puzzle game masterpiece.

[Honorable mention] Omori (2020) – OMOCAT

Personal score: 8/10

As a whole Omori is a game that has too many flaws to be a proper favorite for me, but it does so many cool things that I think it’s a must play.

I’ll just run down the list: First up, the art is awesome. It uses this really interesting low-fi look that feels like someone doodled the art in the corners of a notebook, scanned it intentionally poorly, and added a bunch of filters to it and turned it into animations. You’d never think this would look good, but it looks incredible, and the way it ties into the game design and UI is muah, chef’s kiss.

Then, the music. Holy shit this soundtrack. Almost the whole thing is made up of bangers. It’s like some Toby Fox level jams. I especially love the track Push & Shove.

And then the gameplay. Heavily influenced by Earthbound, Omori adds some neat twists to the formula. One of them is its elemental system which is based on emotions. Instead of using spells of different elemental types, you’re using abilities that affect emotions of your allies and your enemies strategically. It’s really cool.

I won’t spoil any more. Just give this game a shot. It’s super cool.

Manga:

Sweat and Soap (2018) – Kintetsu Yamada

Personal score: 9/10

Sweat and Soap is the story of this shy lady with a sweating complex who works at a soap company, and the relationship that forms with the product developer lead who’s infatuated with her scent. It sounds really simplistic and kind of trashy on paper, but it turns out it’s a crazy good manga!

On top of stellar writing overall, one thing that’s especially remarkable to me is how mature the relationship is in this story. It’s well known that communication is the key to a good relationship, but it’s very hard to see it in reality, and virtually nonexistent in fiction; The easiest trick in the book to generate conflict and drama is to have lack of communication. Characters will misconstrue or misunderstand events, or get in their head and not be vocal about their feelings, and let things fester until conflict happens, and rarely ever does this kind of stuff get cleared up. This story takes the complete opposite approach, and it’s so much better for it. It never goes more than a chapter or two before clearing the air, and the characters come across as more caring and relatable as a result. It’s a super sweet and mature romance.

I loved this.

Anime:

There were some gems in anime this year, but the biggest ones for me were from old shows that had been sitting in my to-watch list for a long time.

Odd Taxi (2021)

Personal score: 8/10

I don’t know what it is about shows with anthropomorphic characters but they tend to be really good. The newest one is Odd Taxi, the story of various goings on that our taxi driver protagonist comes in contact with in his drives. It’s well written, well animated, very stylish, and just a great, smooth watch.

The last third or so gets a bit too confusing, but overall still a great show. Also, one of the best OPs of the year.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun (2021)

Personal score: 7/10

Tomozaki-kun is by all accounts the least good show on the list, but the things it does well I think are so cool that I couldn’t help but love it.

It’s the story of this guy who’s a top fighting game player, ranked #1 in Japan, who one day meets the ranked #2 player, and whereas he’s a socially awkward nerd IRL, she’s a social champ, and one thing leads to another, and the girl ends up coaching him on how to grow his social skills. The show becomes about sciencing out social interactions and how to “level up at the game of life.” It has very Welcome To The NHK vibes, which I love. It’s surprisingly genuine and has lots of great bits throughout that manage to shine even through the jank.

It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. Just make sure you watch until at least episode 2.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! (2012)

Personal score: 8.5/10

Speaking of awkward nerds, this is a show about being awkward nerds and transitioning into adulthood. It manages to be way more sweet and emotional and profound than you might expect from a show about cringy teens, which speaks to the great script and animation done by Kyoto Animation. It’s also a really good romance story, with some super lovable characters. I don’t think I have a lot more interesting to say, but it’s a really good, special show.

Hyouka (2012)

Personal score: 9/10

This is a really interesting gem of a show. It’s a detective story, but there’s no murders. Often they don’t even start as being mysteries, but rather small quirks or odd events that end up building up more and more until they culminate in these full blown stories. My description of this really won’t do it justice, but this think is super cool.

Also from Kyoto Animation, they brought the full pedigree here. It’s crazy pretty, and the script is top tier. They do something that I don’t know if I’ve seen another studio do this level, where they make the script so sophisticated to a point where you kinda wish it wasn’t quite so sophisticated. They have this romance brewing that is just screaming to culminate into some fanservice, but they refuse to take the easy way out. Instead, we get something much more nuanced and bittersweet.

My favorite show of the year.

SHIROBAKO (2014)

Personal score: 8.5/10

Shirobako is the story of a girl at her first year being a project assistant at an anime studio. I’ve been watching anime for a very long time and I thought I had a decent idea of how production worked, but watching this has made me realize how much I didn’t know. These are very complex projects that go through many stages, and coordinating them turns out to make for a fun story in itself.

Add to that some well written characters and genuinely charming plots, and you have a very fun slice-of-life drama!

Movies:

I’ve been holding movie nights for a few years now and it’s gotten to a point where finding new things to watch that seem decent is getting hard, so I explored more into foreign movies and other picks I normally would’ve dismissed. Thankfully, I found a bunch of gems!

Mommy (2014)

Personal score: 8/10

Mommy is the story of a widowed mother trying to take care of her teenage son who has ADHD and violent tendencies, as avenues for support run out and things go increasingly off the rails. This movie deals strongly with grey areas; These are people who are in difficult situations trying to do good deeds, but they keep going wrong and hurting themselves and others around them. It’s intense and raw, and I liked it a lot.

A Separation (2011)

Personal score: 10/10

Far and away my favorite movie this year, A Separation is the story of a married couple divorcing due to complicated circumstances, and their daughter who’s caught in the middle. The writing is really damn good and hits like a truck, and the acting is muah! Going into my favorite movies of all time.

Soul (2020)

Personal score: 9/10

This is my new favorite Pixar movie. I know the character designs kinda look like ugly potato heads, but in motion it’s actually quite pretty, and everything is top notch. The story is the most mature Pixar has done, and while it still has some typical kids movie antics, it’s played in a way that feels fully aimed at adults and not children. Anyway, it’s just really good.

Hereditary (2018)

Personal score: 9/10

I’d been avoiding this movie for years. I saw the trailers and it just looked like another trashy horror movie. It’s so hard to finding good horror movies. But at some point we were like screw it, let’s try it. And holy shit! It’s so good.

The whole thing is amazing. Top tier script that circumvents all the big horror tropes, super cool editing, and awesome acting. It might just be my new favorite proper horror movie.

The Father (2020)

Personal score: 9/10

You look at the plot for this and it’s like ah geez, a story about an old guy with Alzheimer’s? That sounds so lame and depressing. Well, it’s not! This is a cool movie that is actually pretty modern and neat. There’s lots of cool editing tricks and things that make it a very entertaining watch. And the script is excellent. I’d say more but it’d be spoilers. Just watch it, it’s great.

ps: I like how we have Mommy and The Father on the same list.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Personal score: 8/10

Yes, I know, I hadn’t seen Eternal Sunshine until 2021. I’m sorry. And I was not prepared for how good it is. Having Jim Carrey in it is almost a fake out. You think it’s gonna be like his other goofy roles or at least make him unfitting for telling a serious story, but that’s not at all the case. This is a heavy, dramatic story with a very dreamlike quality, and Jim Carrey plays into it amazingly. It’s the movie of a couple going through a breakup with some

The movie gets points detracted for me because of its side plot not pulling its weight as much compared to the main plot. It still manages to make itself meaningful, but overall dilutes the strength of the story a little.

An actual great classic.

TV shows:

The Crown (2016)

Personal score: 8/10

I am the furthest thing from a history buff, and had next to no expectations for The Crown – a show about the Queen of England and her family of all things – so it was with great surprise that I found myself loving this show. They manage to weave tons of really interesting stories around real events, and they back it up with a top tier production. It’s way more interesting than you think it’s gonna be.

Sadly, because of its ties to real events, some threads end up not having the most satisfying conclusions, and that’s my only real negative point for this series. Otherwise it’s excellent.

13 Commandments (2018)

Personal score: 8/10

Europe continues to come out with great crime shows, and this is my favorite gem of the year. It’s unassuming, but sports amazing writing, surprising twists, and great production. Highly recommended.

[Horonable mention] The Chestnut Man (2021)

Personal score: 7/10

Not as solid as 13 Commandments, but still a great European procedural from Denmark. It’s really good.

Music:

I listened to a metric ton of new music this year and if I could honestly fill a whole article with them. To keep it more concise, I decided to crop it down to the biggest ear worms. The albums I kept replaying over and over throughout the year. These were my favorite releases:

Andrés – Heroes, Villains, and all that Jazz (2018)

Andres has become a permanent fixture around the post-hardcore scene as of recently, and for good reason. This boy has the voice of an angel, and a knack for creating ear worms. This album is not the most recent of his, but it’s my favorite.

Origami Button – No Parking (2021)

Their second release and first proper album, it’s even more of a banger than the debut EP. One of my very favorite bands making music at the moment. Swancore gold.

Bowling Shoes – Larry (2019) & Doomscroller (2021)

Seemingly every week I’m on Cheem’s twitter page checking for news on new music, and I found out one of their members is also on this band, Bowling Shoes. Self described “easy cheesy bop music”, their music has been highly infectious for me, and I couldn’t decide between which of these albums to put on here, so I put both. I’m not sure exactly what it is about it, but I can’t stop replaying this. Send help.

Spiritbox – Eternal Blue (2021)

The heaviest release on the list, Spiritbox has become somewhat of a sensation for its amazing vocalist Courtney Laplante and her ability to do clean singing as well as an unbelievably good screaming. This one took a few listens to warm up to me, but I can’t stop now. It’s too good. Check out the songs in the samples.

Don Broco – Technology (2018)

The Cheem-like pick of this year, it also feels like a cross breed between metal with pop and boy band-like elements, with some Brittish accents for good measure. Instantly catchy for me, and all their albums are great, but I am particularly infatuated with this one from 2018.

[Honorable mention] The Most – Of What We Have (2020)

You know that one track in your favorite metal album where they put a cool sax solo at the end of it and it sounded amazing? What if the whole album was a sax solo, and there were a bunch of cool unusual rhythms and stuff? That’s kind of this album, and it’s awesome. The reason it’s only an honorable mention is the first half of the album is decidedly better than the second, which feels a bit too much like unfocused jazz freestyle to my liking. Still, super cool.

Podcasts:

Good Job, Brain!

GJB had been on an indefinite hiatus since 2018, until they suddenly came back this year! And it’s just as fun as ever. A fun cast with fun trivia. It’s funny and informative and a consistent delight of my week. If you haven’t heard it yet then check them out! :>

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