So here’s the thing. Usually, my posts on here are directed towards people who already know what I’m talking about, those self-proclaimed “otaku” and anime junkies who keep up to date with the latest productions and headlines and just want to hear my opinions on them, no walkthrough necessary.
But writing with them in mind limits my audience, and for this 2016 recap, I want to be a little more inclusive. This article is for hardcore fans and anime newbies alike; those in the know can compare their year in anime to mine, while the casual watcher will be given an overview of everything I’ve seen from 2016 – one that, if I’m successful enough with this, will hopefully act as a guide to what I thought was and wasn’t worth watching.
I managed to finish just over 30 shows this year and give a shot to just shy of another 30 more. At a minimum, everything I watched at least one episode of has a name-drop below. Only the top 10 are properly ranked; the rest are categorized in groups sorted by how far I got through them (early drops, late drops, or completed/up to date), as well as what kind of impression they left on me. This will be a bit lengthy, so let’s just get right into it, starting at the very bottom with the immediately-dropped abominations and ending with the cream of the crop.
Sometimes anime is extremely bad. This year, two shows went beyond that. Surely, there is a special place in hell reserved for the people who enjoyed Big Order and Bloodivores, the former one of the grimdark-est, most nonsensical power fantasies I’ve ever come across, the latter a mess of mutant supervillainy, dystopian tropes, and excessive violence. Both look ugly and are even uglier in spirit, the kind of shows that even the most psychopathic, impressionable toddler would scoff at and turn off. They’re almost hilariously bad – but only almost, because sitting through one episode of each felt far closer to torture than a fulfilling hate-watch. May God have mercy on those who willingly subjected themselves to any more than a half-hour apiece of this steaming garbage.
IF THESE SHOWS HAD A FACE, I WOULD PUNCH IT IN THE BALLS
On the bright side, most bad anime aren’t physically painful to sit through, just mind-numbingly stupid. This next collection covers that territory; Kuma Miko’s questionable bestiality implication repulsed me away early, while police “thriller” Active Raid and schoolboy slice-of-life Handa-kun featured such incompetent storytelling they were immediately deprived of any chance to grow on me, the latter an especially crushing disappointment because it was a spin-off of one of my most beloved anime in recent years, Barakamon. Faring slightly better, Nanbaka at least had a plot, but it suffered from a reliance on unfunny “comedy” and looking like all its artists collectively spilled glitter and vomit all over their work desks. Rounding out this batch, Endride initially had me laughing at its main character’s obsessive love of crystals, but then it tried to be an adventure show, and it had absolutely no personality. That might’ve allowed it to make the next category if I were in a better mood, but alas, this is 2016 we’re talking about, so if it had a face, I’d still punch it. In the balls.
MY MIDDLE-SCHOOL LOCKER COMBINATION IS EASIER TO REMEMBER THAN THIS SHIT
And here’s a toast to the shows I apparently didn’t hate enough to remember the names of before combing through the charts to write this piece! Mathematically speaking, a majority of the anime released each season is mediocre fluff. It’s an inevitability in this industry, and the only real question we can ask is “how much of it will there be?”
In that regard, 2016 performed more or less on par with years past, about a third of the new entries each season failing to land. Of the forgettable stuff I still pointlessly took a stab at, there was – hopefully to no one’s surprise – a plethora of high school club series; Bakuon!! and High School Fleet were Cute Girls on Motorcycles and Naval Battleships respectively, Days was a soccer show completely devoid of identity, and This Art Club Has a Problem! actually succeeded at making me chuckle a few times, but it also looked like it’d ultimately be domineered by its more than copious amounts of trite anime humor. HaruChika was probably about a high school band, but its main character irritated me, and since Sound! Euphonium already exists, I had no reason to keep a poor-quality ripoff of it on my plate, and Tanaka-kun Is Always Listless certainly looked pretty enough, but it too featured an insufferable protagonist that no art could save. The Morose Mononokean, a story about a bland kid who can see monsters, lasted a little bit longer than the rest of these shows because it wasn’t doing anything catastrophically bad, but less than 3 weeks into its airing season, I straight-up forgot it existed. That’s almost always a sign that I won’t miss it if I formally drop it, and life is too short to watch something I’d have to struggle to even remember.
BUT THE MASSES WOULDN’T LET ME FORGET THESE
Dropping a show is a piece of cake when no one else seems to care about it, so all the shows up until this point were fairly easy to can. However, this year still had plenty of productions that seemingly everyone else loved but were lukewarm at best to me.
Drifters and Twin Star Exorcists were pretty much what they promised to be, middle of the road shounen action series that vaguely intrigued me but didn’t really command my attention. Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto quickly went from mildly funny to just plain mean-spirited, and its consistently subpar visuals made it as painful a watch on the eyes as it was on the soul. Keijo!!!!!!!! at least made me laugh a bit as one of the decade’s better attempts at basing an entire plot off of fan service (this time Ass Wrestling: Swimsuit Edition), and Girlish Number contained a bunch of silly faces and snappy one-liners about the anime industry which might’ve come together into a complete package by series end but sure as hell hadn’t yet by the time I dropped it a few weeks in.
Undoubtedly though, the most-followed anime I passed on this year was Re:Zero, which underwhelmed me throughout the first half of its double-length pilot episode and gave me no indication that it would ever be anything more than just another harem-based action/adventure with slightly above-average production values and a not particularly interesting “twist.” I know since I didn’t watch much of it, I can’t really give an in-depth critique for why I thought the show would be bad, and it looks like plenty of critics seemed to enjoy it, so maybe we can chalk this one up to just firmly being in “not for me” genre territory. Whatever the case, I wasn’t seeing anything special in it.
That does it for the shows I dropped within their first month of airing, but before moving on to the completed shows, there are still several series to address that I nearly reached the finish line with and likely would have, had receding interest or a loss of free time not unceremoniously intervened.
Ever stick with a speculative pick far too long, honestly believing it’ll eventually take off, only to ragequit when it becomes clear you’ve misplaced your optimism? That’s my explanation for Battery: The Animation and Myriad Colors Phantom World, two series I had plastered myself to because of their genre territory (BASEBALL) and studio (the ever-beautiful Kyoto Animation) respectively. The former was increasingly tonedeaf and made for a lackluster viewing experience, while the latter looked gorgeous (because duh, Kyo-Ani) but failed at telling an interesting story, characters marred in light novel clichés and stuck in a plot intent on going absolutely nowhere.
Early winter season highlight Dimension W started out with a decent enough sci-fi setup, but it underutilized the back-and-forth of its two protagonists, instead shoving in viewers’ faces a convoluted mess of mystery and battle arcs that left me doubtful the finale would reward my previous investment. It still took me about two months to jump ship there, but I wasn’t gonna make that mistake twice, so when Bungou Stray Dogs (season 1) sacrificed its lighthearted antics in lieu of a darker plot about 5 weeks in, I quietly dropped the series before the boredom really hit me. In a similar vein, when spin-off WWW.Working!! failed to create personalities even half as interesting as those in its main series predecessor, I promptly asked myself if the onslaught of repetitive gags was worth the hassle and came to a pretty decisive conclusion.
TIME IS A CRUEL
But those were all series which I dropped out of disappointment or a lack of interest. There were a few lingering ones which I felt forced to let go of as mitigating circumstances arose, such as Izetta: The Last Witch, which was a stupid alternate World War II fantasy, but a damn entertaining one! However, a hectic fall semester required I free up some space in my schedule, and with loads of better shows airing each weekend that season, it was easily the series I felt least guilty about letting go of. Earlier in the year, looking for summer work and then getting that work done flung the mech battler Kuromukuro and diving-centric slice-of-life Amanchu! from my watchlist, both of which were doing their thing well enough for a while but gave no indication that they’d build into anything noteworthy in a timely manner.
And while some would argue this isn’t even anime, what little of Gen Urobuchi’s puppet theatre masterpiece Thunderbolt Fantasy I saw was fantastic, but its campy adventure comedy was decidedly not something I found myself in the mood for while trying to unwind. Though I promised myself I’d get back around to it eventually, I never did, so for now, the Screaming Phoenix Killer and his comrades will have to be content with the starring in the least awful show I didn’t finish this year.
Everything listed from this point on is either something I’ve completed or something that’s still airing but I’m up to date on.
2016: THE “COMPLETE” COLLECTION:
OVAs and ONAs: IT’S NOT EASY BEING LEAN
Before getting to the proper full-length TV series though, this year did produce a few ONAs and OVAs (in layman’s terms, short un-aired one-offs and bonus material) that I enjoyed; Koyomimonogatari provided some extra scenes for the Monogatari franchise that were by no means essential, but nonetheless some nice additional content for anyone who’s already a fan. Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet’s tender tale of a post-apocalyptic survivor and a customer service robot briefly meeting in a ruined shopping center was surprisingly touching too, mainly let down by some uninspired visuals.
Jellyfish Restaurant first caught my eye over a year ago as a misplaced Anichart.net entry, and its coexistent abstract and down to earth vibes paired well with a tale about a runaway taken in by a stranger with a sci-fi twist up his sleeve. However, the best extra of the bunch has to be The Ancient Magus’ Bride, which released its first of 3 episodes in 2016 with the remaining 2 scheduled to come out in 2017. As someone who vaguely remembers enjoying a bit of its manga a while back, it was nice to see Studio Wit colorfully bring this fantasy story to life. Here’s to hoping it’ll get a full TV series at some point down the road.
FINISHED, BUT AT WHAT COST?
Moving on to the full series I completed, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and Dagashi Kashi stand as reminders that sometimes finishing a series for the sake of it just isn’t worth the time. Aside from Big Order and Bloodivores, Kabaneri was 2016’s epitome of grimdark, a steampunk zombie adventure with a poorly-characterized final antagonist and scene-to-scene flow that only kinda made sense if you didn’t think about it too hard. It had wide appeal and a lot of hype on its side at first, coming from some of the same crew that made Attack on Titan, but even at its best, the show couldn’t really settle on a path to take.
Dagashi Kashi, on the other hand, was niche as hell and knew exactly what it wanted to do: market obscure Japanese candies through the ranting of a hyperactive, slightly cuckoo teenage girl whose gratuitous fanservice filled the gaps between (and during) each sales pitch. Neither of these shows were absolutely awful, but they were certainly not something I’d recommend in retrospect, even as a filler watch. I could’ve…I dunno, made like 20 pizzas to feed to the homeless with the amount of time it took to watch this shit. Anime really is detrimental to society after all.
ANIME DU COUR: NOT BAD ENOUGH TO SEND BACK, BUT MORE WORK NEEDED
Moving on up from the “don’t watch this” titles to the “I mean, I guess you could” ones, there are usually anywhere from 10 to 25 shows a year which keep my focus and retain an intact narrative. About half of those aren’t ever highlights, but they nonetheless feel consistently engaging enough that dropping them once I’ve started seems out of the question. Two from this year which a lot of people seemed to enjoy more than I did were Yuri!!! on Ice and KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!.
In Yuri, a figure skater and his world-renowned coach develop homosexual feelings for each other as they pair up over the course of a tournament cycle, but with so much screentime spent on the competition, their relationship often felt underdeveloped and secondary. The series will still likely stand as a landmark for progressive representation in anime for years to come, and good on it, but as a show itself, it simply didn’t excel enough to feel like a highlight for me personally. On the opposite end of the spectrum, KonoSuba was one of the more noteworthy fantasy-world adventure harems in recent memory due to its snarky dialogue and superb comedic timing, but let’s be honest, “snarky fantasy adventure harem” anime can only go so far. Even at its funniest, it was inconsistent, with a lot of hit-or-miss dialogue and a cast I could only really love in an “I hate you, but I think the scriptwriter does too” sort of way.
Some of the seasonal filler was less ambitious but still well-rounded; New Game! was perhaps the year’s most lively “cute girls doing cute things” show, this time about a group of gaming developers, and Joker Game presented an episodic World War II-era spy syndicate story with loads of aesthetic tact but little ability to gain and capitalize on momentum. Unorthodoxically broadcasted all at once, ReLIFE tackled a depressed adult’s second chance at secondary school stardom with surprising modesty, even if it operated on a stupid narrative conceit and its art wasn’t particularly expressive. The following season, Poco’s Udon World was a slice-of-life I eagerly awaited each week more than anticipated; sure, it may have beat the viewer over the head with repetitive themes of community and closure, but it also starred this adorable kid…pet…thing. Hard to hate that. And rewinding all the way back to last winter, the anime adaptation of Durarara!! at long last concluded with Durarara!!x2 Ketsu, capping off the urban jungle mobster series’ anime adaptations in stereotypically Durarara (see also: “clusterfuck”) fashion. If only the direction and visuals had been a little less strained, it might’ve been a highlight, but the newly-formed Studio Shuka really bit off more than they could chew.
RUNNING UP FRONT ALL DAY THEN WRECKING LATE: A KASEY KAHNE STORY
“Biting off more than you can chew” sadly also seemed to be a recurring trend this year; by the midway point of their respective seasons, there were several shows which appeared to be competing for a spot in my year-end top 10 before disastrous late stumbles irreversibly ruined their hopes. Containing both some of the most resonant high points and some of the most embarrassing low points in anime this year, these shows were impossible to rank and deserve a category all their own.
At no point was this phenomenon more pronounced than ERASED, a time-traveling mystery thriller which incomprehensibly sucked at being a time-traveling mystery thriller but was fantastic during its quiet, reflective moments, questioning the past and offering deep glimpses into a nostalgic setting that was greyer than its protagonist remembered. ERASED was arguably the most talked about show of last winter, and for good reason; its individual scenes were brilliantly directed and its cast was immediately endearing and warm against a chillier undercurrent of abuse and distrust. In fact, the show’s effectiveness at creating atmosphere went virtually unmatched all year long. It just didn’t culminate in anything well-written, delivering a fatal blow to what at the time looked like it could be one of 2016’s crowning achievements. Occultic;Nine met a similar fate; this supernatural thriller was able to entice despite a steady flow of jargon with no real-world founding, and its direction was similarly imaginative and bold. Unfortunately, like most sci-fi that lean more on the “fi” than the “sci,” it too failed to end cohesively, its final episode feeling especially rushed, and that’s not even addressing its polarizing character work that turned most viewers away as early as episode 1.
Adopting those shows’ darker vibes, Magical Girl Raising Project wasn’t as innovative or sound as it thinks it was, but even I have to admit its ensemble cast was surprisingly endearing and made for a gripping watch for the first half of the fall season, before the inevitable killing sprees ramped up and offed a bunch of the series’ best characters. From that point on, Raising Project, led by its trolly Big Bad figure Fav, just became frustrating, and while the show’s aesthetics were never amazing, they notably nosedived in its closing stretch. But at least the visuals didn’t devolve as bad as Orange’s, which by season’s end utterly killed any tension the series once had in its “we have to save our friend from committing suicide” plot. At its peaks, Orange was one of the best anime dramas of the decade, a genuinely heart-wrenching experience that raised as many ethical questions as it tried to answer. But at its worst, it made that same show laughable and actively disengaging, which didn’t bode well for a series with themes that fragile. Kiznaiver had the opposite problem: its themes were tackled well and its visual direction was stunning, but about half its characters felt scrapped together and incomplete, making it hard to empathize with them. Kind of a deal-breaker in a show about empathy, doubly so considering the hefty suspension of disbelief needed to invest in its secretive “human experiment” shenanigans.
THE BEE MOVIE, BUT EVERY TIME SOMEONE GROANS AT THIS MEME, THERE’S AN HONORABLE MENTION
But praise whatever deity you subscribe to, there were still roughly 20 anime this year that accomplished their goals in a commendable fashion. Of the ones that juuust failed to make my top 10, Snow White with the Red Hair and Concrete Revolutio each had superb second seasons that improved on their predecessors in a variety of satisfying ways, including more comedic antics in the former and tighter-honed philosophical clashes about “GREAT JUSTICE” in the latter. Speaking of great things, The Great Passage did a heartwarming job depicting a team of dictionary editors persevere through years of grueling work to finally publish their finished product, and while it was adopted from a novel (which I haven’t read) that also spawned a live-action movie (which I have seen and might prefer over the anime), this adaptation nonetheless did a satisfactory job. And for an anime with loftier ambitions than its limited animation and rough artwork should’ve allowed, 91 Days still came home with a strong showing, one of the more tightly-constructed Prohibition-era mob dramas I’ve come across in anime yet, leaning into both campiness and serious tension equally well.
I’ve chosen to only include one novelty short series in my top 10, but all 3 I tuned into this year were fantastic; Space Patrol Luluco was effectively Hiroyuki Imaishi’s Wild Ride, the Studio Trigger director’s career in the making. Packed with references to his past work that neither felt out of place nor domineering, it was a fun rush through one of anime’s sillier minds, the background a story about a schoolgirl joining an intergalactic crime-fighting organization but only keeping her eyes on her first crush. It was surprisingly adorable, as was Gakuen Handsome, a yaoi parody that knew no bounds and looked like it was drawn and animated by a 10-year-old using MS Paint. Unlike Luluco, it may have received virtually no recognition, but true genius is never appreciated ahead of its time.
Meanwhile, hypetrain My Hero Academia stuck a little close to its manga in terms of design, but its endearing collective of kind-hearted high-school superheroes won me over as it improved episode by episode from start to finish. I’ll be very much looking forward to its second season, just as I’m already eager for each week’s March Comes in Like a Lion, which would easily be in my top 5 of 2016 if not for the fact that it’s still airing, and thus ineligible for ranking until my 2017 recap. If you haven’t checked out March… yet, you’re in for a real treat; as Studio SHAFT’s most sensitive and incisive new show in at least half a decade, it examines a child prodigy shogi player and the scars of his past that make his future something he’s hesitant to step into. It’s artsy but grounded, at times uncomfortably relatable, and insistent on displaying how our family – biological or adopted, forced or voluntary – can stunt or encourage our personal growth. So in other words, it’s exactly my kind of show, and also one I think a lot of people who appreciate strong character dramas would enjoy.
And that’s it for the build-up. All that’s left are my 10 favorite shows of the year. All info should be accurate as of this article’s publish date. Dub status refers to English-language dubs and licensing status refers to American licensing deals unless otherwise noted.
THE TOP 10
#10 – GRIMGAR OF FANTASY AND ASH
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Grimgar follows a group of strangers as they wake up with no memories in a fantasy world and slowly adapt to their new environment. Among them, six kids (including the primary protagonist/narrator Haruhiro) decide to create a party, spend their days learning how to fight, and try earning enough to survive and move up the ranks in society.
WHY I LIKED IT:
“Whisked off to a fantasy world” anime come a dime a dozen in this day and age, but unlike most of its competition, Grimgar doesn’t care about making our protagonists look badass beyond belief. Our heroes aren’t really “heroes” in the “crusade against evil and save the world” sense, they’re just scrapping together loose earnings grinding low-level goblins on the outskirts of town. They’re all fairly ordinary, a bit dysfunctional as a collective, and while their initial amnesia makes each character seem a little shallow, starting off with a personality but little personal motivations, their time together brings them closer and makes them easy to empathize with.
And good thing too, because an early death in the sextet completely redefines the show’s focus and leads the remaining five to seek closure with holes in their hearts, a missing link in their team, and a world that won’t give them any special treatment while they deal with their loss. By this point, whatever charm Grimgar had to them has become normalcy, and the rest of the show follows their attempt to come out the other side of the grief with their relationships intact. Grimgar doesn’t leap out of its way to humanize its cast, but its disinterest with extensive worldbuilding makes that happen anyway; because it spends so much time insulating these characters within the backdrop of their starting point town, Grimgar isn’t so much an adventure show as it is a slice-of-life one with some action sprinkled on top. That’s reflected in its art, which is simultaneously gorgeous, lush with watercolor backgrounds, yet natural, keeping the series’ fantasy aesthetic believable without over-exaggerating it. The simple beauty of the setting balances out the cast’s internal turmoil and makes the series an easy watch on the eyes, even when the drama spikes.
Tons, sadly. Simple fact of the matter is while Grimgar looks stunning, it’s also kind of a mess. While most of the show glosses over it, there are a few sketchy light novel clichés towards the start of the story, and even dismissing those, it takes a few episodes for Grimgar to hit a confident stride. Fans of action may be underwhelmed by the story’s alternate vision, and what little fight choreography we get is inconsistent, as are some of the character models later on. And then there’s the issue of how the group’s arrival in Grimgar and the mechanics behind that are never explained, much less hinted at. Most of the extra information we do get is explained by Haruhiro over montages, and while I think they’re surprisingly well-incorporated here, if that kind of storytelling frustrates you, it frustrates you, no way around it.
But it sure didn’t frustrate me! After its early stumbles, the show figured out what it really wanted to do and then put 100% of its passion into that, and make no mistake, Grimgar has a ton of heart in it if nothing else. That’s why although 2016 without a doubt gave us more consistent shows, I didn’t enjoy many of them nearly as much as I enjoyed Grimgar; its visual comfort and willingness to try something new with a stale premise worked surprisingly well, and it was a definite highlight of my year.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
After his wife’s death, schoolteacher Kouhei Inuzuka endeavors to spend more time with their young daughter Tsumugi, and realizes one way he can do that is by making home-cooked meals more often. He’s not a terrible chef, but the same spirit isn’t always there with just the two of them, so when a lonely student named Kotori invites the pair over to use her place’s restaurant-quality kitchen, Tsumugi is delighted to have the extra company, and the trio is even more excited to cook up some great dishes.
WHY I LIKED IT:
Well, I’m a sucker for heartwarming family shows, and despite my extremely restrictive list of allergies, I love me some food.
So yeah, Sweetness & Lightning is kind of a no-brainer hit in my book. Tsumugi herself is its clear star, a well-behaved, utterly adorable little 5-year-old one minute, a temper tantrum-throwing, grumpy menace the next. Rina Endou’s voice acting for her is superb, and the rest of the show’s fairly small cast does just as well in support. While the series is mostly upbeat, it contains this touching undercurrent of loss, indirectly portraying the ways the absence of Kouhei’s wife is continuously felt by the husband and daughter she left behind. The way Sweetness also quietly emphasizes just how hard it is for a highly-demanded working single parent like Kouhei to be there for his kid is phenomenal, and part of what makes their little excursions over to Kotori’s for each homely meal so touching. Even when Tsumugi misbehaves and Kouhei has to act more strictly, you can tell he’s sometimes at a loss with how to parent, and through his interactions with the supporting cast over the course of the series, he grows a little more confident in his abilities as a good father too.
The show’s episodes are incredibly similar to one another structurally, meaning that trying to marathon it might be a little tough and counterproductive to the series’ day-to-day pace. I think I could count on one hand the number of times Sweetness aspires to do something other than show a bit of pre-school drama with Tsumugi, have her and Kouhei ponder over some stuff, and then end up cooking some grub at Kotori’s house. It’s not problematic if you enjoy the set-up, but I could see how someone in search of a little more episodic diversity might walk away from this one disappointed.
Other than the episodic sameyness, I don’t really have anything negative to say about Sweetness & Lightning. If you fancy yourself a cute little show about familial connection every once and a while, there’s no reason this won’t be right up your alley.
Studio: J.C. Staff
Director: Yoshitomo Yonetani
Based on: Manga series by Yuuto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki
Licensing Status: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks
Dub Status: Not dubbed
Alternate Name(s): Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Food Wars is a battle show following full-of-himself underdog Souma Yukihira and his pals and rivals as they try ascending in status at Totsuki Academy, an elite culinary school which harshly weeds out its weakest students and encourages its stronger ones to throwdown in cookoffs with their pride on the line. The Second Plate is the series’ second season, comprising the freshman class’ Top 8 duking it out in a tournament arc and some extra material where a few of the characters intern at prestigious restaurants to fulfill service requirements.
WHY I LIKED IT:
With a huge, diverse set of characters and plenty of narrative momentum, Food Wars’ first season was a great time. Outside an over-exaggerated moment or two of fanservice, it was able to consistently walk the line between parody and drama, creating a unique identity that its subject matter of food left me even more partial to. It was a little lengthy, and some arcs definitely felt like time-wasters, but even at its most inconsequential moments, it set up and prominently featured a wacky ensemble cast who I loved tuning into.
The Second Plate continues where the first season left off, taking place over the end of the Autumn Elections, where Souma and his other first-year friends (and enemies) compete to claim the highest chairs of their class. Because nearly every character is already firmly established by this point, this sequel is able to let them bounce off one another with little to lose. 10 of its 13 episodes take place over the same arc (from the Elections’ quarterfinals to their end), yet each match remains enthralling due to every character’s zany quirks, their own personal stakes, and the show’s hysterically bloated sense of tension. The most minute detail in each plate’s preparation could make or blow a match for any given competitor, and between that intensity and J.C. Staff’s beautiful foodporn, The Second Plate was irresistible for two and a half months straight. The last three episodes are arguably filler, but they still make for a satisfying cool-down lap after the tournament’s high-octane thrills.
Well, obviously Food Wars’ first season is essential in order to have any clue what’s going on here, and it’s definitely a niche show to begin with, repulsing many critics with an especially fanservice-heavy pilot episode that doesn’t accurately indicate the franchise’s eventual (slightly) more restrained tone. The first season took its time to reach peak brilliance, and while that means The Second Plate rides high, getting there could be an issue that newcomers may understandably not deem worth the effort.
But fuck it, here we are, and it’s all because The Second Plate capitalized on all of Food Wars‘ strengths and discarded its weak points. Handily more refined and more consistently engaging than its predecessor, this season of Food Wars covers the best ground in the series to date and stands as my second-favorite anime sequel of 2016.
#7 – FLYING WITCH
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Makoto Kowata is a witch in the making from the big city, and to gain more experience outside an urban setting, she moves to live with her aunt, uncle, and their two kids in a rural area of Aomori. There, she reconnects with her distant relatives and makes new contacts as she gets used to her new daily life.
WHY I LIKED IT:
Flying Witch has been described as an “iyashikei” show, which more or less means its objective is to be “healing” or “therapeutic” in the way it depicts its events.
And it definitely succeeds there, as the series’ countryside scenery and humble cast make you feel right at home. Even beyond the show’s general rustic charm, its witchcraft isn’t ostentatious or flashy, and when we do get glimpses into Makoto and her peers’ experiments and magic, the results are almost always intentionally anticlimactic or down to earth. When Flying Witch does decide to show us something cool, it sticks out as awe-inspiring in its simplicity, as if that’s just the way the world works.
Makoto herself has a fairly optimistic and calm demeanor, and this is contrasted in various capacities with the show’s just as delightful recurring characters, including her young, star-struck cousin Chinatsu, her brazen older sister Akane, a completely fish-out-of-water friend or two, and a variety of spirits and lifeforms floating around minding their own business. For a show with virtually no danger and a deliberate underselling of comedic punchlines, it’s surprisingly gripping, and definitely pulls off its goal of being a feel-good watch.
This is another instance where the show is basically the most perfect version of itself it can be, and whether it’ll click with you or not comes almost entirely down to your genre preferences and mood. Want something with action, a grand overarching plot, and/or loud, in-your-face dynamics? You won’t be getting that here. I suppose the series’ first few episodes take a while to get used to if you’re not really familiar with this type of show, but even then, it will either appeal to you or it won’t – there’s not much of a gray area for stuff like this.
In a year with tons of gritty drama, it was nice to get a series that made me feel completely at peace. I’m always a fan of relaxing anime done right, and Flying Witch is one of the slice-of-life genre’s greatest productions from the last few years.
#6 – SEKKOU BOYS
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Miki Ishimoto is a recent art school graduate with an irrational disdain for marble busts. The Sekkou Boys are an idol group of…four marble busts. Guess who just got unwittingly hired as their new manager?
WHY I LIKED IT:
In case you didn’t catch that, this is a show about an angsty millennial managing a quartet of Greco-Roman statues with inflated egos. It’s absurd, to-the-point (each episode is roughly 7 minutes), and probably a critique on the pompous nature of idols, pop culture scandals, and the ever-changing entertainment industry. Is it serious? Is it self-aware? Only you can decide. All I’m saying is, if you think vaporwave hit its peak with Macintosh Plus’ Floral Shoppe, think again.
The entire show. Or none of it, depending on how funny you find snarky chiseled pieces of gypsum yelling back and forth at their chauffeur.
Don’t knock it ‘til ya try it. This isn’t a dishonest joke; I genuinely thought Sekkou Boys was one of anime’s most hilarious short series in recent memory, with superb comedic timing and a positively surreal sense of humor unlike any of its competition. It’s sort of like The Eric Andre Show of anime. Or like, the Boys go on The Eric Andre Show of anime, and this is their backstory. Something like that. Look, you can marathon the whole series in less than 90 minutes, just do it.
#5 – THE LOST VILLAGE
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
30 disgruntled strangers (with names like Soy Latte, Lion, and…Jack) embark on a bus ride to Nanaki Village, a place of urban legend tucked in the mountains, where they plan to start their own utopia sheltered from all their fears and obligations of society. When some of their numbers go missing though, their plan swiftly backfires and a witchhunt ensues.
WHY I LIKED IT:
Are you the kind of person who likes to laugh through poorly-made horror flicks? If so, this isn’t just an anime for you, this is an anime produced by people like you; The Lost Village was one of the most divisive shows of 2016, and there’s still no clear consensus as to whether its “so bad it’s good”-ness was intentional or not. Hell, many would claim it was just simply bad.
But I’m going to argue something else entirely: what if The Lost Village was a genuinely good show, and people just didn’t have any way to initially recognize what its endgame was? In other words, if I proposed that The Lost Village was intentionally a comedy from the start and just happened to be marketed as a mystery thriller, would you view it in a different light? For those of you who have seen it, try looking at it through that lens. For those of you who haven’t, try going into it looking for the hallmarks of both genres and see which one looks more integral to its design. You might be surprised with what you find.
All that meta analysis might seem like a stretch at first, but it’d all be for nought if The Lost Village wasn’t genuinely amusing, which it thankfully is. To take a step even further, the fact that it’s playing with such self-serious tropes makes its mishandling of them all the more effective. For example, when somebody goes missing, the gang’s rational(?!) decision is “let’s sit around this abandoned house and prioritize trying to remember the name of Catacomb Assbound Ketsu-kun.” When the show’s grand mystery reveal comes into play (I’m not going to spoil it, see for yourself), it shows up in the frame time and time again to actively undercut the dramatic tension. And through the midst of it all, the character with an expressed insatiable desire to execute people is regarded as perfectly sane. At series end, The Lost Village even has the gall to pile on a moral message, as if the entire show was an Aesop fable…and the scariest thing is…I think it pulled it off. This isn’t a high-schooler’s fan fiction, guys. This is the original work of a renowned writer and director. Its story is incompetent, but The Lost Village is a successful experiment in making incompetence competent by misdirection.
Well yeah, because The Lost Village isn’t concerned whatsoever for the welfare of its characters, it’s borderline impossible to empathize with its cast. But I mentioned earlier how effective an “I hate you, but I think the scriptwriter does too” attitude can be for connecting with terrible characters, and in an era obsessed with ironic love for mediocre things, The Lost Village is ironic love incarnate. If that brand of humor isn’t for you, it just isn’t for you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The actual mechanics of its mystery are kind of garbage too, but I think we’ve long-established that this isn’t actually a mystery show, so whatever.
I understand why The Lost Village will go down as one of the most widely-hated anime of 2016, but I’ll never stop trying to reverse that lack of appreciation. To my death, I will praise its effort to be ridiculous at face value and brilliant behind its audience’s back, and even should I pass sooner than expected, the wheels on the Seriously Unlucky HippopotaBus will keep on turning. Long live Memeyoiga.
#4 – MOB PSYCHO 100
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama is an average, rather unassuming middle-school boy with one big secret: he has extremely destructive psychic powers. Afraid of accidentally triggering them, he bunches all his emotions up inside, but when trouble comes looking for him, his family, and his con artist “spiritual guide” boss Reigen, his quest for a normal life gets repeatedly put on hold.
WHY I LIKED IT:
First and foremost, Mob Psycho 100’s visual direction is undeniably up there with the very best of the best this year, if not this decade. Its animation fluidity is incredible, its fight choreography is imaginative and wild, and its art is…
…well, it’s exactly what you’d expect from the original character designer ONE, who also drew and wrote last year’s breakout hit One-Punch Man. Don’t think Mob Psycho is the same ordeal though, because while its sometimes deadpan, sometimes loud humor is similar, the goals of ONE’s two stories vary considerably. One-Punch Man is preoccupied with parody and letting its overpowered superhero Saitama completely overshadow everyone else. That’s not to say it doesn’t have thematic threads of its own or an interesting side cast, but the fact that it was ONE’s side-project is clearly evident with even one glance at Mob Psycho, his primary work.
Mob Psycho 100 is easily my favorite of the two series, and considering how polished each one is, the choice mainly comes down to how Mob in general feels like a more humanizing story, re-adapting all of One-Punch Man’s bravado into something just as confident and showy, but less patronizing. Its side characters are empathetic and gifted with natural back-and-forth dialogue, Mob himself feels like a multifaceted, intriguing main character, and even the comic relief (primarily channeled via Reigen and the show’s mascot character Dimple) stands out as one of the show’s pluses.
I wholeheartedly enjoy Mob Psycho’s unique, cartoony character design, but I could see it being an issue for some people who are looking for something a little less…expressive. While the series also gets off to a fantastic start and ends with an absolutely amazing finale, there’s an arc in the show’s center that lacks the same energy. It’s not even “bad” per se, just a little less overtly amazing. Otherwise, Mob Psycho is a roarin’ good time for any action buff who doesn’t mind a bit of cheeky comedy and coming-of-age development on the side.
I rarely stumble across a good action show this well-rounded in its other objectives. Mob Psycho 100 is enjoyable for its visual craft, empathetic storytelling, and lively attitude, and we don’t get shows as well-produced as this too often anymore. On top of that, it’s also probably one of the year’s easiest anime for Western audiences to get into. Savor it.
#3 – FLIP FLAPPERS
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
oh anime gods, throw me a bone here
Cocona, a cautious, reserved middle-schooler, runs into a brave, eccentric girl named Papika who tells her they need to go to another dimension called Pure Illusion together. There, they’re supposed to collect mysterious amorphous shards for Papika’s organization FlipFlap, but they’re not the only ones after these shards or Pure Illusion as a whole.
WHY I LIKED IT:
Flip Flappers’ first half consists of artsy episodic adventures, one-offs into different realms of Pure Illusion each as unique and compelling as the last. Throughout these early journeys, the show sows hints of its overarching plot, and by the time the race to collect all the amorphous really kicks up, those clues have sprouted into a web of brilliant connections, revelations that’ll make your jaw drop and then just as effortlessly make you feel like an idiot for not seeing their meaning before then.
Or at least, that’s how I’d imagine the viewing experience would go if you were to marathon it. But I watch current anime on a week-by-week basis, and Flip Flappers successfully urged me to do something I rarely do: re-watch each episode before continuing forward. With this viewing method, I caught so much more of the thematically rich plot threads and easter eggs than I would’ve with just a one-time breeze-through, and it was humbling to see the production stay intact for the entirety of its run, culminating in…well, I won’t spoil it. Flip Flappers just gets the art of story-telling, and its message of encouraging yourself to grow even if it means taking uncomfortable risks was perfectly executed within its genre-bending approach to each piece of its plot.
Better yet, the show doesn’t just perform genre-bending for artistic license alone (though it does cover fantasy, sci-fi, horror, psychological thriller, and action ground all remarkably well); it uses this wide-sweeping array of influences to indicate hidden development about its cast. To elaborate further would be to give away the mechanics of how Pure Illusion operates as well as the story’s prior events which form the backbone of the show’s current timeline…and I really don’t want to do that. So rest assured that while the newly-formed, original work-centered Studio 3Hz breaks out with some of the most creative visual direction as well as what’s objectively some of the best animation quality you’ll get from any anime in 2016, their craftiness manages to go one step beyond polished, additionally reinforcing the themes of the show while in some cases staying ambiguous enough to allow the viewer to interpret the extra material any way they please.
The classic “this is kind of weird, and if you don’t care for weird stuff, you won’t jive with this” disclaimer rears its head yet again here, but I myself love a show that endeavors to break the mold and has the grace and talent to pull it off. And for those of you who – for whatever reason – see these characters and think “wow Yata, that’s really anime as fuck, I’m not sure that’s for me,” I insist, just give Flip Flappers an episode or two (or three, that Mad Max one seems to be the clincher for most people) to let its charms unravel. Otherwise, I suppose there are admittedly a few questions left unanswered at series end, but they’re not integral enough to Flip Flappers’ goals to detract from its accomplishments.
Flip Flappers covers the most genre territory of anything on this list, able to make you laugh one minute, scratch your head the next, and leave you genuinely amazed on a routine basis. It’s one of the year’s most well-put together productions, and while I’ve left my recap here rather vague about its specifics so as to not spoil all its “whoa” moments, I can almost guarantee you that if you show up for its arthouse sensibilities, it’ll convince you on its own to stay for its story. With any luck, you’ll find yourself just as enamored with it as I was.
Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama
Based on: Manga series by Haruko Kumota
Licensing Status: Licensed by Crunchyroll (Anime Limited in the UK and Ireland)
Dub Status: Not dubbed
Alternate Name(s): Descending Stories
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Breaking down its title, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is about rakugo (a Japanese art form that’s basically one-man theatrical storytelling), the Shouwa era (a period from 1926 to 1989 over which the series is primarily set), and death. This first season (its second will air starting later this week) is told almost entirely through flashback by an elderly rakugo professional, explaining to his new apprentice his entire life’s story – and that of the art form – through a period of dramatic changes in politics, technology, and entertainment.
WHY I LIKED IT:
Anime contains more diverse material than many people think, but it’s still rare to see an anime that adopts no “anime tropes” whatsoever in its evolution from an original work to a full-fledged adaptation. Rakugo has no hankering for inauthentic sales-boosting maneuvers like that, though; it’s a brooding, extremely grounded, and somewhat depressing piece of historical fiction, as much a character drama as it is a commentary on its titular art form and the inevitably of change. It’s not always an easy watch, and its motives and themes are expressed through muted art, dialogue-heavy scene-setting, and a clearly literary-influenced emphasis on dramatic tension.
Much like how I loathed trudging through novels for English class back in the day, Rakugo at first seemed to me like a soulless project, one too “objectively perfect” in its goals for me to feel like there was any humanity inside it. For full disclosure, in my first impressions for last winter season, I dropped it after its double-length, set-in-the-present first episode failed to draw me in. But then, much like I’ve come to appreciate those English texts for their thematic richness, a second chance at Rakugo paid huge dividends; the further I progressed into its backstory, the more resonant and poetic it became, filled with masterful foreshadowing, foiling, and dramatic irony. Through its protagonist’s narration (side note: the pros change formal titles a bunch, I’ll refer to him hereon as Kikuhiko), we get a glimpse inside a deeply broken individual filled with regrets of his past, guilt over how things have transpired since, and an overwhelming burden to continue a tradition he increasingly sees little appeal for in the modern age.
I was unaware Rakugo’s original manga had the stateside subtitle of “Descending Stories,” but that’s a perfect way to sum up the series for multiple reasons. Rakugo itself is the act of passing down a story from performer to audience, and within that, the performer adopts stories descending from his or her own elders and the practice’s classic writers. As Kikuhiko climbs the ladder in his profession, he actually descends further into despair, and by this first season’s end, he tells his new recruit of his own story of descent, and his friends and acquaintances who met their ends too soon along the way.
Revisiting the English class comparison, if you’re the kind of guy who can’t stand media that’s simultaneously a bit detached yet fiery with passion, you’re just not in Rakugo’s target audience. Furthermore, this series is clearly aimed at a domestic Japanese market, one that will immediately understand pieces of historical context and cultural expectations that foreign viewers like myself can at best infer while watching. Looking up a bit of extra information helped tremendously in giving some of its events weight, but I’d certainly understand if that’s too much to ask for considering anime for many people is entertainment above all else. And of course, I’m still not a big fan of the series’ lengthy first episode, which is sadly required viewing to understand the series’ later implications, even though it’s not that interesting on its own.
We rarely get anime this explicitly adult-oriented and analytically rich. It’s a slow build to get to its peaks, but the show clearly knows its priorities and delivers at its conclusion, so anyone who wants a taste of poignant, grounded historical drama should look no further. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is something special, without a doubt my favorite new anime of 2016, and I’m eagerly awaiting its continuation this winter.
#1 – SOUND! EUPHONIUM 2
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Sound! Euphonium is about a high-school concert band seeking to recover from a particularly disruptive prior year with the help of a new teacher. The series primarily follows a euphonium-playing first-year named Kumiko navigating her place in the club and the fallout from the previous year’s drama. The series aired its first season during the spring of 2015 and covered up to the point where the band qualified for a regional competition. This season continues from that point, through two more competitions and re-emerging drama, to the end of the school year.
WHY I LIKED IT:
Sound! Euphonium “gets” me. Both its first and second seasons are loaded with multifaceted, believable teenagers trying to piece together their place in the world, their obligations, and their own feelings. Those feelings can get messy. They can be, and often are, not entirely coherent or correct. But goddamnit, real people live with conflicting feelings, and Eupho‘s portrayal of this is just stunning to me. Now that I’m 20, I’d like to think that I’ve long since moved on from some of the more misguided thoughts I had in my youth, but the fact is, we’re all human, and we never run out of opportunities to grow and sort through ourselves. Eupho doesn’t just present one protagonist doing that, but all her friends, the relative strangers around her, her family, and even the band’s teacher. On the surface, this is another “cute girls doing cute things” show, but it’s written, directed, and animated with so much more heart than that, to the extent that I can see myself and my loved ones in this cast, from their sugary highs to their sobering lows. Shows can be good starring characters who are very clearly characters, but it’s rare that I come across a series with a cast that feels like it consists of actual people.
And while it’s not like it has a monopoly on that, Eupho does have one advantage constantly on display: Kyoto Animation. As long as they get good source material, the beauty of their artwork and the tightness of their visual narration are unmatched by any other modern anime studio specializing in television series. Anime is complicated to make and involves the hands of hundreds of animators, scene directors, producers, and other staff, so a series (let alone one with two seasons) having this consistent and effective use of body language, expression work, narrative lighting, and shot framing is pretty rare. That it happens to go hand in hand in this case with a series so deserving of that extra visual finesse and life is fantastic.
Oh, and the band’s performances are amazing too, but that’s a given ’cause, again, Kyoto Animation.
Sorry for putting a sequel as my favorite anime of 2016, but I’d be lying to myself if I tried to give the title to anything else. Obviously, you’d have to see the first season of Sound! Euphonium in order to understand this, and that season does have a fairly slow start. But if you don’t mind following a few teenage girls playing instruments, the series does become so much more than that, at least to me.
Also some critics have said this season suffers from “sequel syndrome,” that phenomenon where the self-contained plot of the original work branches into various threads from the first season which then don’t coalesce. Personally, I staunchly disagree with the term’s application here, as the concerns of each of Eupho 2‘s arcs echo one another in a variety of ways that still tie this season’s threads on competition, self-purpose, and maturity together.
Ever get that feeling when you finish a good book or movie or what have you where you’re left with this oddly satisfying void, like the thing in question being over makes you unsure of what to do with yourself? If I’m lucky, I’ll get that feeling from an anime two or three times per year. In 2016, I may have enjoyed all ten of these shows and many more, but only Sound! Euphonium 2 gave me that void. It’s hit me harder than it’s hit most people, it seems, but I still feel that anyone who enjoys a well-written character drama and stunning production work would find themselves a fan of Eupho. If you’ve got the time and a bit of patience, give it a try.
AND THAT’S IT!
That’s all I’ve got for 2016. With the winter 2017 shows already starting, I’m effectively behind now, and things are only going to get rougher as my spring semester approaches. But fuck it, this week I succeeded in getting this article, my Top 25 OPs of the year, and a rundown of my favorite 50 albums of 2016 out. I may be on vacation right now, but I sure find ways to stay busy, and with any luck, I’ll be right back here again next year doing the same.
What were your favorite anime of 2016? What are your thoughts on my top 10, or any of the shows listed here? Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, let me know!
Until next time, this has been Yata, writing way too many words about animation for great justice. See ya then.