No-one is going to look back at 2021 and say it was uneventful, but no-one will look back and say much happened, either. That’s perhaps the way things are during a pandemic, when suddenly the world is on hold. As a result of current events, the animation industry has seen all kinds of delays and postponements. It’s frustrating for all involved, from creators to fans, but despite all that’s been going on, it has still, if you’re into anime, had some thrilling highlights too.

Looking on the bright side, you might even say all the extra time indoors has been an anime opportunity: a rare chance to revisit old favourites, take in new hits, and explore some new avenues that you don’t usually have time to really delve into.

There’s so much anime to watch, that you sometimes feel you don’t have time to take it all in. As a genre, it’s overwhelming and endless, so here are three highlights of 2021: a showreel to remember fondly, or get round to watching as soon as possible.

Vlad Love

Filmmaker, director and writer Mamoru Oshii is a legendary figure in the world of animated entertainment, propelled to such deservedly revered status by his 1995 feature length classic, Ghost in the Shell. A relentlessly dazzling landmark of the cyberpunk genre, it also helped put Japanese anime in the global consciousness, taking the baton from the groundbreaking 1988 release, Akira.

This year, Oshii is back with a hit series, created with co-director Junji Nishimura, called Vlad Love. The series’ release was pushed back several times, but it was worth the wait. Be aware though, this is far removed from Ghost in the Shell.

Unlike the nineties classic, which was dark, violent and philosophical, Vlad Love is comical, playful and charming. At times the humour is bizarre, and sometimes enters into the realm of straight-up slapstick.

The episodes are, at heart, very silly, but that’s good, because being silly can be a lot of fun. Vlad Love feels like a show for which the creators just let go of pretensions and ran with whatever ideas they liked.

As for the story, it centres around a high school girl who, curiously, is really into donating blood, and who meets while doing so, appropriately enough, a mysterious girl who turns out to be a vampire. This is enough of a set-up to derive a great deal of entertainment from, but what you might also find enjoyable is spotting all Oshii’s carefully placed references to his previous work.

Pui Pui Molcar

Surreal, cute, hilarious, offbeat, lovable… yes, these words could be applied to a lot of anime, but none more so than the endearingly named Pui Pui Molcar.

It uses stop motion, and features fluffy, cuddly cars driving around a city. Except the cars have faces and ears, and appear to be guinea pigs at the same time as being automotives. The Japanese word for guinea pig, by the way, is morumotto, and don’t forget the English letters R and L are interchangeable when transcribing Japanese, so, morumotto + cars = molcars.

This is a kids show, and each episode runs to just around eight minutes, but put together they become strangely addictive, and you’ll likely find yourself watching several at a time. One thing for sure is that no matter what the plot of the episode you just watched, you’ll have no clue as to what the theme of the next one will be.

A highly creative, totally original production, this is definitely one to sample when you want to break up the usual routine. And if you’ve got small children, then it will keep them endlessly enthralled, and give them some unique future memories of childhood TV.

Jujutsu Kaisen

An instant hit series, Jujutsu Kaisen premiered towards the end of 2020, and continued strongly into 2021. As with so many animated shows, it started life in comic book form, serialized in the massively popular Weekly Shonen Jump, a long-running and iconic manga magazine.

It’s a show that, although new, will feel distinctly familiar to fans of what’s known as shonen anime. That word, shonen, simply means boy, or juvenile. Applied to manga and anime, it refers to works aimed primarily at a young, male audience, which tend to revolve around action, and particular tropes.

And Jujutsu Kaisen does exactly that, featuring horror, fantasy, and plenty of brawls, battles, and fast-paced sequences. It is, in many ways, a typical hit series, hitting all the right buttons, driven and well-paced, and with an appealing swagger.

There’s a little more to it than just well-worked formulas though. Characters are subtle and carefully crafted, and there’s an intriguing depth to their psychological make up. There are twists to the set pieces, playing with your expectations, and while proven themes are adhered to, it’s done so knowingly, and with a sense of awareness.

You’ll be entertained, but Jujutsu Kaisen differentiates itself from the competition. Pleasingly substantial, it’s a production that artfully moves its genre forward without tearing up the playbook.