Catche’s Fall 2016 Final Thoughts and Top 10 for the Year

So, 2016 has ended, and with its ending we have a chance to look back and examine all of the anime that came out this year. Now, 2016 actually ended a couple weeks ago, so I’ve decided to make it up to all you faithful readers out there by analyzing this year in the best possible way: By sorting my favorites into an numbered list, as well as having a quick look back at the Fall season.

“Why only the Fall season?” I hear you ask. Well, because I only wrote for this blog during that season.

So, without further ado…

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Fall 2016 Wrap-up Part 1: Maximum Droppage

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It turns out that Izetta: the Last Witch was pretty much exactly what I thought it was back in the beginning of the fall season: painfully generic. It seems that, by this point, pretty much everyone has come around to sharing this opinion, so I’m gonna keep this pretty brief: don’t waste your time, there are better things in life than forcing yourself to watch milquetoast crap you can get most anywhere.

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I ended up dropping Tiger Mask W after I found that there is still no defined episode count. The series would have been fun for a more limited run of 13 episodes or so, but I feel it would start to become tiresome at a more indefinite length. It is also worth noting that as the series went on, it started seemingly relying more and more on references to the original Tiger Mask anime from the 1960s. Having not seen any of that show, and lacking enough investment to go back and watch the originals, I had already found my interest starting to waver before I made my decision.

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And then we come to Drifters, one of the most popular shows this season. Now, Drifters has moments where I’d say that it is, in fact, great. When the action really picks up and particularly when we get to see the Drifters and the Ends clash directly, I found the show to be extremely entertaining. However, the rest of the time, Drifters is… just really boring. In between the series’ big action beats, there’s a lot of sitting around and talking about the world, its politics, and military strategy. I don’t think that exposition is inherently bad, but a fantasy world where humans are racist and elves and dwarves don’t get along isn’t exactly breaking new ground. Even then, a cliché setting can be propped up by good characters, but Drifters is lacking there as well. Of the three main characters, Oda Nobunaga remains the only strong character. Even so, I stuck through nine episodes of this show because of how good its high points were, but eventually I had to call it quits.

Fall 2016 Wrap-up Part 2: “And All the Rest”

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Bungou Stray Dogs Season 2 started off really strong with a four episode flashback arc which was, by far, the best thing the show has done. Sakunosuke’s fall from grace was relatively straightforward as a story arc, but still very well told and managed to get me truly invested in the series for the first time. The main plot of this season, though still an improvement over the inconsistencies of the first, struggled to keep up the level of quality exhibited in that first arc, mostly due to distinct pacing issues. The Guild Arc felt truncated, giving me the impression that the manga version of this arc may have been cut down for time here. The series also struggles with trying to manage the two antagonistic factions, The Guild and the Port Mafia, resulting in the Guild looking slightly incompetent and its leader, F. Scott Fitzgerald, feeling a bit half-baked as a villain. Overall, it was still a decently entertaining ride but, outside of those first four episodes, not one that’s particularly memorable.

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One of the things which I most admired about Sound! Euphonium’s first season is that it felt kind of honest. A lot of the major struggles of its characters faced are the kind of struggles that one often comes across felt like the kind of shit you deal with when you’re in a performance-based club in high school. So, imagine my reaction when the fourth episode of Season 2 rolls around and I find that the reason for the conflict of the first arc is contrivance. I was disappointed and a fair bit of the season would keep me that way. Beyond the largely inconsequential first arc, Reina’s plotline is pretty awful and helps to weaken her previously strong characterization and while the bond be Kumiko and Asuka is nice, it feels a bit weird for it to suddenly be central too much of the show. The stuff with Kumiko and her sister is great, though, more of that please. While still an enjoyable watch, Sound! Euphonium 2 cannot quite reach the heights of its predecessor.

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Girlish Number was fine, not more, not less. The series lacked a bit when it came to overall plot, but it was more focused on characters anyway. However, here the series is hit-or-miss. While much of the cast is pretty well characterized, some like Yae and Kuzu-P come out feeling a bit weak. This is particularly harmful in the case of Kuzu-P, to whom the series tries to give an arc in the later episodes. It is also worth noting that despite all the talk of how cynical Girlish Number is, the series (much like creator Wataru Watari’s other big series, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU) is more so about being cynical and what might drive one toward cynicism. Though it’s not as effective in delivering on these themes as it wants to be, the series is enjoyable enough.

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Occultic;Nine was a bit a mess. A manic, enjoyable mess, but not one which ever comes together. I can tell that this series was cut down from a more fitting length, due to how in certain, exposition heavy scenes, the dialogue moves at a lightning fast pace, making it near impossible to keep up with both visuals and subtitles. It’s a shame, really, because the series has some genuinely good moments buried under its convoluted exterior. However, I can’t deny that a mess is a mess. Better luck next time, semicolon series.

The Big Dogs: My Top 10 Anime of 2016

#10 – Yuri!!! on Ice

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Yuri!!! on Ice, despite its popularity, is a flawed show. As seems to be a common narrative with anime I watched this year, I feel like Yuri could have benefited from a bit more time to flesh out some of its points and character arcs.

In particular, the arc of the series’ main protagonist Yuri Katsuki feels a bit clumsily executed. The thing is, the idea for Yuri’s character arc is pretty good: after failing horribly at the Grand Prix Final, he falls into an existential depression, losing a passion for what he once loved and struggling to find some meaning for himself, as his skating beforehand had been largely defined only by his admiration of Victor. The resultant idea is that Yuri must find his own identity as a skater, which he does through his relationship with Victor. This is why Yuri is kind of shallow as a character at the start, because he lacks much of a personal identity and motivation. I could go on at greater length to discuss more specifics of this character arc, but to keep it brief, due to the brevity of the series along with a lack of focus on Yuri, it doesn’t wrap up as well as it needs to.

Despite this, there’s still a whole lot to love in this series. Much of the supporting cast is pretty great, helping to make the competition in the last few episodes feel even more intense and its conclusion feel oh so satisfying (Yurio is the best Yuri, as if there was ever any doubt.) There’s also the matter of the gay relationship between Yuri and Victor, and while it doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on the quality of the show, having prominent representation like that is always good to see.

I found Yuri!!! on Ice to be an extremely uplifting experience. The sense of optimism and admiration for the series’ subject matter which really holds the show together throughout its run drew me in, and I couldn’t help but smile as the series came to a close.

#9 – Flying Witch

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If any of you happened to know my personal tastes in anime, you’d probably be saying “But Catche, you think iyashikei shows are boring!” and you’d be right. However, it is a testament to the quality of Flying Witch that I still found it engaging as it still adhered closely to the traditional understanding of an iyashikei series. It is through the skillful balancing of strong comedy, whimsical fantasy, and a relaxed slice of life tone that this series manages to achieve a level of entertainment that I seldom see with the genre.

One of the biggest surprises that came out of watching Flying Witch was how strong its comedy was. This is not a series that’s trying to make you laugh the whole time, having only one or two big gags in each episode, but when the humor does come around, Flying Witch displays a strong aptitude for comedic timing.

It is worth noting that it is still an iyashikei series and if you are really annoyed by this genre and all its trappings, then you still might not enjoy this series. However, Flying Witch still stands out as an example of how good iyashikei can be.

#8 – 91 Days

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The fact that this series ended up on my Top 10 list shouldn’t be too surprising seeing as I happen to really enjoy mafia films, and what’s really impressive about 91 Days is its ability to not only present a narrative based on mafia films, but to also to capture the feel of one. Really, 91 Days often doesn’t feel like an anime, as it takes so many cues from Western, live-action productions.

91 Days is also one of the most densely plotted shows of the year, constantly moving its plot forward. This decision really helps keep the tension up throughout the entire season, though it works better over a binge viewing, rather than watching on a weekly basis where you give the show too much breathing space to capitalize on its narrative structure. However, this fast pace does have a major drawback in that it doesn’t present room for a lot of character exploration. The protagonist Angelo Lagusa is well built up, if a bit simple, but Nero Vanetti (a character of comparable importance) feels underdeveloped in the second half, as does much of the cast.

Despite a few misgivings about the series’ pacing, it does eventually come together for one hell of a finale, and its last few minutes made for one of my favorite endings to a series this year.

#7 – KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!

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KonoSuba is another example of a show coming out surprisingly well, despite being from a genre that I generally do not like, this time coming from the “isekai” sub-genre. However, unlike Flying Witch (which stood out by simply being a well put together example of its genre) KonoSuba stands out by performing a rather skillful parody of its peers.

KonoSuba’s comedic sensibilities actually border on dark, being focused around a set of relatively unlikable characters as they bungle their way through a series of RPG-esque quests. However, the series carries itself with such an upbeat attitude that it never feels like a black comedy. In this manner, KonoSuba can have a kind of mean spirited take on the isekai story and never have its audience come out deflated.

If I have any complaints about the series, they revolve around its occasional tendency to play the narrative a bit too straight, playing off its characters more like lovable misfits than bumbling idiots. This is a difficult balance to maintain, keeping a cast entertaining while also remaining an acceptable subject of ridicule, but it is the key to allowing the series’ comedic sensibilities to really hit home, and I do worry whether or not the series will be able to continue to pull it off in the second season.

Regardless, taking this first season as a whole, it is a very enjoyable and relatively short comedy that, for the most part, really knows how to make its humor work.

#6 – The Lost Village

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Throughout the spring season, a couple of series managed to generate a fair bit of controversy. However, one of the most misunderstood of these was The Lost Village, an excellent horror-comedy from Diomedéa. And I’m going to put an end to the “Is The Lost Village a comedy?” debate right here. There is a breast implant monster. It is a comedy.

The entire cast is made up of individuals who are clearly all a bit off, based in the school of “weird people you meet online,” and to see them attempt to deal with the bizarre events that await them is consistently funny. Even the elements of the series which feel a bit strange upon watching all help to feed into either a joke or to the series’ constant ability to build up and then subvert viewer expectation.

I do, however, feel that the very last episode of the series falls a bit flat, quickly tying up many loose threads and then coming to its conclusion rather abruptly. It’s serviceable, but seeing as how great the series had been doing up to that point, the whole thing felt like a bit of a letdown.

Beyond that, at least as viewed as the horror-comedy that it so clearly aims for, The Lost Village was one of my biggest surprises this year.

#5 – My Hero Academia

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When I first began writing this Top 10 list, My Hero Academia began around the #8 position and from there it bounced around for a long while before finally ending up here, smack dab in the middle of my list. For a long time, I wondered how highly one could fairly praise a show that is so heavily tied to the traditions of Shounen Jump action series. Eventually it became pretty clear that My Hero Academia deserves a fair bit.

The key to why My Hero Academia works so well is through its feeling of sincerity. Often, when a series walks well-tread ground it often feels like a cynical repetition of clichés, but Academia plays out with such an upbeat sensibility, which creates a sense of excitement despite the fact that this is well-worn territory. Another important reason for the series’ success is the dynamic between Deku and All Might as they both parallel each other in developing as heroes (at the beginning and end of the journey, respectively.) It is, again, a common narrative for these sorts of stories, but the execution really sells it as its own narrative.

If you aren’t a fan of this sort of Shounen Jump action series, this certainly won’t be for you, but if you are, then this series is more than deserving of your attention.

#4 – Mob Psycho 100

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I really, really like Mob Psycho 100. Its characters are great, its animation is fantastic, and it has what is probably my favorite finale of the year. It is a very, very satisfying watch.

So, why is it #4 on my list? Well, despite being fantastic most of the time, Mob Psycho has one arc toward its middle which is very densely plotted and drops some of the series’ most likable characters, making the whole thing feel like a bit of an ordeal. After a bit, I started thinking to myself “When the shit is this going to end?” Though it is a very short arc, lasting only two episodes, the whole thing really kills the pacing for a bit. The series picks right back up again after this, but it’s such a weird spot that I didn’t feel I could place the series much higher.

However, there is still so much to love here. Mob and his mentor Reigen are great characters on their own, but the relationship between the two of them manages to be even more endearing. Though initially Reigen comes off as a selfish con man, the greater depth of his character is revealed over the course of the series, eventually revealing him to be the series’ real heart, and Mob is perhaps the most likable protagonist of the year.

Mob Psycho 100 is a fantastic anime and I’d say that it actually surpasses ONE’s other popular series, One Punch Man. I’m both shocked and disappointed that it hasn’t broken out more than it has. It’s a series with both a big beating heart and an impressive eye for action.

#3 – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable

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After JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, particularly its first half, turned to be a bit of a dud for me, I was rather concerned about how I’d feel about JoJo going forward, considering that Part 3 is often held in such high regard by the JoJo community. I had to wonder, is this the best the series gets from here on?

Luckily, it turns out that I had no reason to worry as Diamond is Unbreakable was the best season of the series thus far. In fact, it’s the most fun I had with an anime this year. I’m still not sure if it beats out Battle Tendency, but it’s most certainly up there with it in the realms of great JoJo parts.

One of the ways in which this part stands out is in its characters. Diamond is Unbreakable feels far more like an ensemble piece than previous parts, with Koichi, Okuyasu, Rohan, and the returning Jotaro getting far more chances to shine than the supporting casts of the past. Jotaro stands out in particular, feeling much more suited to his role here as a calm, reserved mentor than being an edgy delinquent in Stardust Crusaders.

Of course, this part’s JoJo is also pretty great. Josuke isn’t quite as good as Joseph in Battle Tendency, but his affable demeanor along with the bits of cleverness that once helped his father shine as a character really help him along the way.

And then there’s Yoshikage Kira, the best villain that the series has delivered thus far (sorry, DIO.) Despite being a smaller scale villain than we’ve seen in previous parts, he pulls off the balance of awful, creepy, and interesting that makes for such an entertaining antagonist.

I haven’t even gotten to the fantastic Stand battles that occur in this part, taking the more interesting and tactical angle seen in battles toward the end of Stardust Crusaders and continuing to take some of the new stand powers into truly bizarre directions. If JoJo’s not your thing, then you probably just don’t care, but if you do, you’ve probably only got one question in mind:

Part 5 when?

#2 – Flip Flappers

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Flip Flappers was a series that I had little in the way of expectations for when I first checked it out. I had seen the PV and said “Oh hey, this looks like it’s gonna have some really good animation, might as well give it a look.”

Well, I was right with that bit about the animation, but what I wasn’t expecting was the series’ skill at strong but subtle storytelling. Flip Flappers takes on one of those narratives which you see all over the place (and that’s because it’s usually a good one): the coming-of-age story. In it, we follow Cocona, a withdrawn school girl, as she grows and comes to understand herself as she travels to various magical worlds with her partner Papika. As is rather clear here, the basic non-spoiler summary of the series feels very basic, but it is so much more, and any sort of half-hearted analysis I could do in this little blurb would not do it justice. Just take my word for it, the storytelling here will probably sneak up on you and it is surprisingly good.

Flip Flappers is also surprisingly good at pulling off a variety of genres within its weird fantasy worlds. From the bombastic action in the third episode (which really sold me on the show) to the horror elements that show up when Cocona and Papika arrive at a creepy school, it’s all pulled off with a deftness which I was not expecting at first.

This is probably the most underrated series released in 2016 and I kind of understand why. Flip Flappers is a rather niche series, with storytelling that relies on the viewer to put in some work analyzing the series before they will really see its value. However, when you do, there is so much to love about this series.

#1 – Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

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Yes, I am a pretentious anime hipster, and as a pretentious anime hipster I must fulfill my eternal obligation to condescendingly explain why this critically acclaimed series is, in fact, the best series of 2016.

Rakugo takes the consistent pacing and no-filler attitude which helped 91 Days, but fills it with a great deal more depth, both in its characters and in its themes. Yakumo (more often referred to during the series as Kikuhiko) may not be a particularly likable or relatable, but he is the most well-realized protagonist to appear this year.  This extends into his relationship with friend and rival Sukeroku, their bond and conflict serving as a thematic doubling with the relationship between new and old rakugo.

The series doesn’t have the amazing sakuga-type moments which other entries on this list have had, but it does use its animation to the fullest extent that it can, really highlighting subtle character moments during rakugo performances which assist one who is not so familiar with rakugo, like myself, to understand what constitutes good and bad rakugo, and the affect which it has on both the performer and the audience.

There are still some faults in the series, however. The framing device which makes up the first and last episodes results in the series feeling as though it really needs a sequel to feel like we’ve achieved true closure with these characters and aren’t quite as interesting as episodes two through twelve. However, what we get in those eleven episodes is so good that I couldn’t give this spot to anything else, and it basically works as its own self-contained narrative.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is without a doubt the best series that I watched this year, and I’m very excited to see where the series goes next in its second season which has just started airing.

…And that’s a wrap! Though even now I’ve yet to watch many of the series being released in Winter 2017. However, since it seems to mostly be a complete shitshow, it was good to go back and look at some of the year’s highlights. I’m reasonably excited to continue on into 2017, hopefully my first full year writing on For Great Justice.

Liked this post? Think I’m a degenerate? Let us know in the comments, and if all goes well, we’ll be back in a few weeks with some thoughts on the new Winter 2017 Anime. In the meantime, you can follow my newly-created Twitter here.

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One comment

  1. Yes, another Flip Flappers true believer! It was also nice to see Eupho get recognition. Despite being one of Kyo-Ani’s best productions so far, Eupho seems to be one of their least popular shows among the anime audience at large.

    Like

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