It’s the end of the year again. The time where we all look back to the past four seasons and think “Wait, did that really air this year?” and “Was that really it?”. So let’s take a look at the high- and lowlights of 2016.
Only shows I actually finished appear in the final ranking, so the shows I dropped prematurely missed out. Some of them weren’t even bad!
Girlish Number (9 eps)
Watching a shitty person get shit on by the shitty world of anime production was entertaining for a while, but as the show dragged on the gimmick started to get old. It didn’t have enough of a bite to it, and most of the other characters were kind of boring. The few moments where it tried to get you to feel sorry for Chitose fell flat because it’s all her own fault and she never actually learned anything.
Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge (7 eps)
Started out as a decent comedy with a few core characters that work well together, and then continued to add new characters that didn’t work so well. Since it doesn’t take much for an anime comedy to fall below the water line for me, off it went.
Boku no Hero Academia (6 eps)
There was nothing particularly wrong with Boku no Hero Academia. There were just other shows I was more interested in and it fell by the wayside. If I really wanted more I would just read the manga instead, since the pacing was quite slow.
Dimension W (6 eps)
A show with a vaguely interesting setting that kept wasting my time with dumb story arcs, so I figured the main plot would also be dumb.
Kiznaiver (5 eps)
A bunch of teenagers share each other’s pain. Then nothing is done with that concept other than some jokes and introducing an annoying creepy masochist character. Everything else happens only because the girl in charge basically forces the plot along. Apparently it didn’t get much better either.
Flying Witch (4 eps)
A perfectly fine show that I could watch or not watch and not feel any different about. So I ended up not watching it.
Joker Game (4 eps)
A series of poorly written episodic stories about characters we were never properly introduced to. The serious, realistic tone was constantly at odds with the convoluted and hyperbolic writing.
Konosuba (3 eps)
Given my general distaste for anime comedy and how tired RPG parodies are by now, I was surprisingly okay with Konosuba at first. I liked that Aqua was a piece of shit, and it was occasionally funny. Then it introduced a bunch of lame new characters and I gave up.
Fune wo Amu / The Great Passage (3 eps)
I really wanted to give this a chance. Shows with adult characters and adult themes are a rarity, and I’m generally interested in stories that tell you about a subject I know little about, even if it’s something as seemingly dull as making a dictionary. But the main character was just too awkward for me. We got an entire episode about his inability to talk to a woman and his coworker mistakenly thinking that he’s in love with her and trying to set them up and ughhhh. If I wanted that kind of shit I’d just watch a harem comedy.
Mob Psycho 100 (3 eps)
I was looking forward to this since I liked One Punch Man a lot, but I couldn’t get into it at all.
3-gatsu no Lion / March Comes In Like A Lion (2 eps)
I couldn’t get used to the mix of relatively subtle, realistic drama and wacky humor. Dead parents and talking cats. I dunno, I found it very jarring.
Yuri on Ice!!! (2 eps)
Another show I dropped despite being pretty decent. Just not my thing.
Ok, a lot of the shows on this list weren’t exactly winners. But at least I made it to the end, so that has to count for something. I managed to finish a total of 13 shows this year, so a top 13 it is.
Both this and Mayoiga were shows I watched in the “so bad it’s good” category. Unfortunately, Mahoiku ultimately crossed that boundary into straight bad. I already wrote a whole post about why the main character sucks, but it’s not like anything else is good either.
“Magical girls but DARK” is practically a cliche by now, and it wasn’t even good when Madoka did it. It’s only a matter of time before we get a series of parodies of that same concept until these also become a cliche and we can start running something else into the ground.
Anyway, it’s lame. The action scenes are often confusing and boring, not in the least because characters fight each other for hardly any reason. You know who’s going to die because they just showed you their trite backstory, and there’s ultimately no point to anything. Apparently there are 9 more volumes of this shit. I can’t wait for seasons 2, 3, and 4.
Mayoiga had all the elements I’d want in a bad show: insane characters, bizarre plot, and twists you couldn’t have seen coming because they’re total nonsense. It didn’t always deliver, but it had just enough craziness to keep me going.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think to write this piece right after watching it instead of half a year later, so everything turned into a jumbled mess in my memory. I’m still not sure what they were going for with this show. I get that the characters were intentionally crazy, but that doesn’t mean their actions don’t have to make sense. One moment a group of characters is trying to stop mysterious girl from being stabbed to death for being a ghost (I guess if you’re crazy you assume ghosts are stabbable), the next moment the protagonist has shown up to do the same thing and the previous group has suddenly turned against him for no reason, and do want to kill her.
Even more jarring was the decision to give the craziest characters the most brutally realistic backstories. I guess it’s supposed to be meaningful that the gun-crazy catgirl got bullied horribly in the past, but instead it gave me a tonal whiplash. On top of that, the whole ending was some sort of melodramatic bullshit about feelings and sad girls being incredibly sad, wrapping it all up with “the main characters sorted everything out, so we’re done here. Oh, all the other crazies? Well they’re also fine now. Because reasons.”
Once upon a time Key, the masters of melodrama, made a story that wasn’t 500 hours long, didn’t involve high school, and didn’t have a large cast of helpless wide-faced girls (it only had one of those).
I read the Planetarian VN back in the day and thought it was okay, which is high praise coming from me. They must’ve slipped further down the uguu slope since then, because I also watched the first episode of Rewrite and it was mind-blowingly dumb. So I went into the Planetarian anime adaptation with a very mild sense of optimism. And it was… okay… -ish? You get the same saccharine Key brand innocent girl character and the same sappy story even if the setting is more interesting than usual, and even at six episodes it really feels its length.
A new Berserk anime? And it’s new material, starting after the eclipse? Awesome! I can’t wait! Oh… it’s 3D CG? Well… maybe they can make it work? Let’s just wait and see.
Oh, a PV came out. And it looks like shit. Ohh noooo…
Where to even start? It blows my mind that after waiting 20 years for a new adaptation of a super popular series, this is what we got. The CG is ugly, but that’s only half the story. They tried to emulate the detailed hatching style of the manga by putting a scribbly filter over all the shadows and it looks terrible. The direction was also crap. Haphazard cuts and headache-inducing camerawork made fight scenes confusing even for someone who knows what’s supposed to be happening. Even the music was horribly out of place. Yeah, the one Susumu Hirasawa track was great, but they used it all the damn time.
Don’t let Berserk’s placement in the ranking fool you. The only reason it wasn’t one of the worst shows of the year is because the underlying story is still good. But everything the adaptation added was to its detriment.
Kabaneri had one of the better opening episodes of the year. It looked good, the main character was doing things, and Japanese steampunk zombie apocalypse is a pretty novel setting. It all seemed to have a lot of potential.
So where did it all go so wrong? Most people seem to blame Biba, who shows up halfway through to take away the spotlight with his dumb revenge plot. But the signs were there from the beginning, and by the third episode I was already starting to have a nagging feeling that this wasn’t going to be as good as I was hoping. Characters always seemed to be acting in whatever way was most convenient to the plot. The zombies were no exception to that either. When they’re meant to be threatening, they storm in by the hundreds, and can jump 20m into the air to latch onto a moving train. But when they’re fighting a main character, they patiently take turns attacking one by one and pose no threat whatsoever.
The plot was also pretty thin. Mumei’s development as a character ran off the rails as soon they started focusing on Biba, and the rest of the story is mostly about him. Biba himself is an annoying puppet master character and everyone just happens to do the stupid things that are required for his plans to work.
It’s a shame, because this is a show I wanted to be good. But even with Biba out of the way, I don’t have high hopes for the second season. There were too many fundamental issues, and he was just the most visible of them.
I’m not sure what to even say about Luluco. A frantic show that did in 10 minute episodes what most shows do in 20. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. At its core it was a simple love story, but that’s what made it all fit together in the end. JUSTICE IS OVER.
I generally hate Japanese humor, so the few comedy shows I do like tend to be the ones that don’t do the whole “overreact at everything and explain the joke” thing. Sakamoto was pretty funny, and gets the most out of its simple premise by putting him in a wide variety of situations. The joke definitely started to wear thin past the halfway point though, and I would probably have liked it less the longer it had continued.
Taking two groups of historical characters and having them fight is a pretty flimsy premise, and not particularly original, but Drifters executes it pretty well. Even though they’re given a goal, the characters basically choose to do their own thing, and the way it portrays Nobunaga in particular is pretty interesting. But still, beyond the basics, it still always felt like something was missing. The great elements in the show never came together to make a great show, and I’m not even entirely sure why.
One of the issues might be the difficulty adapting the source material. I haven’t read Drifters myself, but Hirano is an excellent artist whose work is very hard to do justice in animation (something that also plagued the Hellsing (re-)adaptation). There were plenty of shots where I could immediately tell that they came straight from the manga, but they didn’t work as well in action.
More importantly, the comedy got even worse than it already was in Hellsing. The super-deformed joke scenes constantly take me out of the story, and they’re not funny, and there are a LOT of them.
The show could’ve still ended higher if it had a satisfying resolution, but it didn’t have that either. It’s a partial adaptation of an unfinished manga, and it felt like it. The final episode was good, but it wasn’t much of an ending.
For a while, it looked like Flip Flappers was going to be a serious contender for anime of the year. The impressive visuals, the clever storytelling and just the sheer amount of creativity displayed easily set it apart from the rest of the pack. There were some misses, and not everything worked for me, but when it did work it was very good. To pick a particular example, the episode about the painter girl’s backstory told a very simple story in a very effective way. The use of color for mood and just the general way it was presented gave it the kind of impact it would’ve never had if it were told straight.
So it was very disappointing to see everything start falling apart towards the end. I don’t know exactly what happened, and I heard there were production issues, but it’s a real shame. The last few episodes seemed to do away with any subtlety. We get a flashback scene about Cocona’s mother that was exactly the kind of thing I said they were avoiding before: A bland, straightforward series of events. Things are spelled out so blatantly it was almost painful. “Once Cocona is born, I want her to choose her own path”, says her mother in a flashback that seemed to be aimed more at the audience than at the characters. It’s not like the ending was awful by any means, but this was a show where a great ending could’ve pushed it over the top. Instead, it was just a letdown. But I can still appreciate it for what it did, because unlike most shows it at least tried to do something creative, even if it failed. And it’d rather than people keep trying than settle for what’s easy to churn out.
The first season of Euphonium was just long enough ago that I can’t remember exactly how good it was, and how season 2 compares, so I’ll just have to judge it on its own merits. And by that standard, it was… quite good? It’s a perfect example of what Kyoani is capable of as a studio when they have the right source material to work with. It’s nice to have a set of characters that feel like people and not like checkmarks on a list of anime tropes.
But while the overall progression of the season was fine, and everything was wrapped up nicely, there were some plot arcs that I just didn’t really care about. The regionals/nationals and the preparation for them were the backbone of the show and they were perfectly fine, but a lot of the drama came from other sources. The issues between oboe autist and generic popular girl didn’t interest me at all, and felt awkward because both characters were more or less new. Reina’s crush on the teacher was obviously not going to go anywhere but heartbreak, but we didn’t even get that. Instead the only real development was Reina finding out about something that wasn’t even a secret. Out of the characters that got most attention this season, Asuka was the only one I actually cared about.
Either way, these are just points that take Euphonium S2 down from a potential “great” to “good”. And there’s no shame in being good.
A solid drama revolving around an art form I didn’t really know anything about. I’m having another case of “oh shit I watched this too long ago” syndrome here, but anyway, it was pretty good. It’s a shame I don’t know Japanese, because you definitely don’t get as close a connection to the rakugo performances when you get it filtered through subtitles. I wouldn’t say that the show has given me a real appreciation for rakugo, but the way it was interwoven with the story and relevant to the characters’ development made it work for me regardless.
That said, I started losing interest for a while during the middle part (there’s only so many times I want to watch Sukeroku acting irresponsibly before I need it to go somewhere), and the “lover’s suicide” that we knew was coming turned out to be… kind of silly. But that was the only iffy moment in the whole series, so I can forgive it for that.
Last year’s adaptation of Stardust Crusaders was a little disappointing. Not because it was a poor adaptation (just like Diamond is Unbreakable, it did a great job capturing the feel of Jojo). Not because of the anime’s slow pacing, even though that didn’t help. It’s just that half of the show was fighting stands-of-the-week in battles that often weren’t even that memorable, and even though there was a general story progression (getting to Egypt), it all was kind of distant, and you could cut most of these episodes without even noticing the difference.
In that sense, Diamond is Unbreakable felt more tightly knit. Everything takes place in a single town, and characters from past episodes regularly reappear. The cast also has a bit more personality to them than the Stardust Crusaders crew did, and it helps that people have their own lives and motivations. Josuke is more likable than Jotaro was as a main character, and Jotaro himself works better as a side character.
That said, Stardust Crusaders pulled itself together at the end and the Dio fight was very good. Diamond is Unbreakable, on the other hand, kind of faltered when it came to the showdown with Kira. Kira pulls several new powers out of his ass, characters you think died come back more than once, and half the cast is standing a few streets away doing nothing the whole time. Overall, it just didn’t have the same level of tension and excitement, even though Kira is a great villain.
I’m starting to feel that Jojo is just not cut out for anime adaptations. The style is there and I liked the weird Araki-style color palettes and all the little touches they occasionally put in things like scene transitions. But at the end of the day the manga consists of crazy action panels with a lot of dialogue, and when you have to read out the dialogue in real time everything just feels very slow. I certainly enjoyed it, but I think it only works because I’ve read the manga and so it’s more about seeing it animated than following the story.
Despite 91 Days taking the top spot, I don’t actually have anything exciting to say about it. It was just a good show from start to finish, and I guess it just screwed up less often than everything else I watched. I like crime/mafia stories to begin with, and I enjoyed seeing a more down-to-earth anime take on them, even though the result is a show that I’ll probably forget about in a year or two.
As we got closer to the end, I did start getting a little anxious. Avilio started going further and further in his quest for revenge, and at some point you start wondering whether he’s crossed a line and you can no longer say he’s justified in what he’s doing. But I wasn’t sure if the show was really acknowledging this question, or if it did and was just saying “nah, it’s fine”. At that moment, I was expecting the ending to be either pointlessly nihilistic, or to have some sort of dumb twist. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was actually a bit more thoughtful than that. Sure, realizing that revenge doesn’t solve anything is hardly going to blow anyone’s minds, but it probably still ended in the best way that it could have. It wasn’t the greatest ending, but it was good enough, and with anime that’s usually the best you can ask for.