My favorite media of 2019
It's the start of a brand new year! And what better way to boldly step into 2020 than by talking about a bunch of stuff that happened in 2019.
Here I'll list my favorite movie, album, anime, manga, western TV show, and video game from 2019. Consider all of these strong recommendations.
Movie of the year: Ad Astra
Ad Astra is basically 2001 meets Apocalypse Now with a bit of Event Horizon thrown in, how could I not like it? Firstly, it's absolutely gorgeous to look at. From the oppressive architecture and lighting of the Mars base to the barren serenity of the Moon, Ad Astra is a sight to behold.
There are a few shots that are very unsubtle imitations of 2001, but they still fit into the distinct visual style here. The action scenes are also incredibly well done, they're all super tense and well designed.
Brad Pitt gives a great performance, and his character's personal connection kept me more engaged than the admittedly derivative surface-level plot. It also deals with some complex themes, including trying to live up to a distant father's expectations, and coping with the realization that there is no God, in a mature and thought-provoking way. I feel like the more I rewatch this the more I'll get out of it, and that's always a good sign.
Overall, Ad Astra is one of the best space movies in recent years, but goes beyond the typical sci-fi narrative to tell a new and interesting story.
Keep in mind there are a lot of 2019 films I haven't gotten a chance to see yet, so this is only my tentative rating. Honorable mention to runner-up Parasite.
Album of the year: Fishing for Fishies
I'll be the first to admit I'm not hugely knowledgeable about music. I didn't listen to a ton of new albums released in 2019. But I did like Australian psychedelic rock band King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard's new album, Fishing for Fishies.
King Gizzard is known for trying out new genres, and their discography includes a spoken word spaghetti western garage rock album, a set of four jazz-fusion acid-rock pieces, and a foray into heavy metal. Fishing for Fishies is their attempt at making a blues album, and includes elements of boogie rock and psychedelic rock.
As a complete novice in the world of music, it's kind of hard to explain why I like Fishing for Fishies so much. So for now I'll just say that I really like the way it sounds, and recommend you go listen to it as well.
Anime of the year: Mob Psycho 100 II
The second season of Mob Psycho 100 is a fun and funny adventure that aired last winter. This anime continues following the life of middle school-aged esper Shigeo Kageyama, nicknamed Mob. It manages to blend action, comedy, and heartwarming emotional moments in a way that few other shows can, making it a really enjoyable watch.
Studio Bones's excellent animation and ONE's simple yet expressive character designs bring the show to life. The action scenes are exciting and very dynamic. The sketchy art style and unique visual effects for allow the animators to do some wild stuff in the fight scenes.
As good as the action is, the characters are the best part. Mob is a great protagonist, charming, relatable, but full of insecurities and doubts. Watching him grow and mature over the course of the season was the main reason I kept coming back each week.
The supporting characters each get their own chance to shine, proving to be fun and complex in their own right. Reigen in particular is one of my favorite characters of any anime series.
Mob Psycho 100 season 2 was a ton of fun to watch, and I hope Bones continues the series in the future.
Manga of the year: Chainsaw Man
Tatsuki Fujimoto's most recent manga, Chainsaw Man ended up being my favorite of the last year. Following the life of a devil hunter named Denji who can transform into a chainsaw devil, Chainsaw Man is fast, messy, and a lot of fun.
Similar to Fujimoto's earlier work, Fire Punch (which is also excellent), Chainsaw Man's frantic pace almost makes it difficult to keep up with. The situation is always evolving, characters are being introduced or killed, a bigger threat is always being revealed, and chainsaws are nearly always ripping through flesh. There's never even a nanosecond of filler as Chainsaw Man is constantly racing towards some kind of escalation or conclusion.
It frequently changes direction completely. If the author gets bored of the current situation some new devil will appear to fight the protagonists, often killing most of them, to set the stage for some new crazy setup.
The result is a manga that can never get boring. From slicing a katana-wielding villain in half with a single kick to riding a giant shark devil to fight a woman who can make anything she touches explode, Chainsaw Man always has something crazy to show us.
Fujimoto's art style is a little messy, but he portrays motion really well, and has an eye for designing dynamic action scenes. Fights are big and bombastic, destroying scenery and body parts of everyone involved.
The best part is that Chainsaw Man is just getting started. If it turns out to be anything like Fire Punch we're still a long way from the conclusion.
Honorable mention goes to JoJolion, which has been ongoing since 2011 but really started to ramp up last year.
TV show of the year: Chernobyl
You didn't see graphite on the roof because it's not there
I didn't watch a lot of western TV shows last year, but I'm confident that this would still be at the top even if I had.
HBO's Chernobyl is a grounded and serious take on the worst nuclear disaster in history, portraying it excellently as a failure not only of people and engineering but of the entire Soviet system. Likewise, the true cost of Chernobyl was not just the cost of a nuclear disaster, it was the cost of lies. Excellent performances from Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgård and the oppressive atmospheric music and cinematography elevate it beyond your typical docudrama into something great.
In terms of historical accuracy, I learned more in ten minutes from reading the Wikipedia page, but at least they only bent the truth in minor ways. Chernobyl is a harrowing portrait of the worst accidental man-made disaster in history, and a must-watch.
Game of the year: Beat Saber
I've written before about how much I dislike Beat Saber's development process, but despite all that it's still a super fun game. Nothing else matches the simple joy of dual-wielding light sabers and chopping up hundreds of flying blocks per minute, or the elation of full comboing a difficult song after many hours of practice.
With its full release out of early access last year, I put more hours into Beat Saber than any other game that came out in 2019. It's a constant source of fun I can jump into for an hour after a long day.
It's that timeless rhythm-based gameplay mixed with the inherent coolness of cutting flying targets with laser swords that makes Beat Saber so fun. If you've never experienced VR games before the only way to know is to try it out for yourself. Maybe you'll be hooked like I was.