Sometimes you write things because you have something insightful or meaningful to say. But sometimes you write something that you know everyone else always writes and that you know people are still going to click on for the sole purpose of hoping you reinforce their own opinions. And you feel a little shame at selling out so. But you write it anyway because it’s fun to write and sometimes you just have to write something for you, goddammit.
This one’s a post about my favorite (and least favorite) anime of 2016 and you can bet your ass I’m writing it to satisfy me and me alone.
There were a few really good shows this year I want to give their due but I couldn’t include in my top 10, so I’ll divide them into a few categories.
Stuff That Got Snubbed Because I Didn’t Watch It
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
Mob Psycho 100
March Comes in Like a Lion
Sound Euphonium 2
Fune wo Ame
To Be Hero
Should I have watched this stuff? Yeah, maybe. But for whatever reason they just didn’t appeal to me or I fell behind on them (or in Fune wo Ame’s case, I just didn’t pick it up, which I really, really intend to change). So don’t complain that these aren’t on the list.
Stuff I Can’t Consider for a Top 10 But Thought Was Worth Watching Anyway
Bubuki/Buranki – CG usually doesn’t transition into an anime style very well. You know how jarring RWBY looks when they try to have the characters do “anime stuff” but can’t figure out how? BBK/BRNK managed to actually pull that off. On top of that, it had a bunch of fun characters and weapons with really cool designs that made it worth watching for me. A shame that the second season got really serious instead of staying fun because the actual plot was kind of hard to follow and not particularly good. Oh well.
Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou – This was a silly, fun little short. It wasn’t particularly well-animated (most shorts aren’t), but it had a lot of heart and great musical flair. One I definitely always had fun with, even if it didn’t live up to its competitors.
Bernard-jou – Another short. This one’s all about dumb book nerds being dumb nerds about books. The real heart of the show is the dynamic between Sawako, who wants to be seen as a literary geek despite not doing a lot of reading, and Kanbayashi, who gets way too passionate about reading once the subject is broached. The target demographic for this show is small, but I fall squarely in it.
Shokomeza – Or Girls Beyond the Wasteland, or Shoujo-tachi, or whichever you want to call it. I’m not going to pretend that this was a good anime by any means, but seeing the creation of something like a visual novel being taken seriously in an anime was a breath of fresh air. And they nailed what it’s like to work on a collaborative project where people don’t share the same vision or can’t be relied on, creating tension and drama. I don’t care what you say, Shokomeza nailed what it was trying to do and that alone kept me coming back.
Thunderbolt Fantasy – Look. I love Gen Urobuchi as a writer. Even if Thunderbolt Fantasy was pretty straightforward and was one of the least Urobuchi things he’s written (I mean, utilitarianism wasn’t even remotely touched on), I still loved the characters and found the dialogue great. And it had some wonderful fight scenes, of course. It just doesn’t count because despite it being anime as fuck, there’s the whole technicality of a show done entirely with puppets not actually being anime. Oops. I can still include it here.
The Real Honorable Mentions
Drifters – Sometimes you just want a little mindless ultraviolence, and Drifters knew how to deliver on that. This is a show that lets you know that it’s okay to turn your brain off for a while. Because really, who doesn’t want to see something like Oda Nobunaga rallying a bunch of elves to battle or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shooting up Joan of Arc? It’s crude, it’s violent, and it’s awesome. That’s all it needed to be, and that’s all it was.
Alderamin on the Sky – Yes, I liked this enough to call it an official honorable mention. Military fantasy light novels usually aren’t my thing, but this was more of a cynical take on the military that actually took itself seriously rather than pandering to the masses. The characters had real struggles and had legitimate chemistry with each other, and the tactical focus and blossoming technology made it an interesting watch. More than anything else this year, it’s the show I’m hoping gets a second season, because I want to know where the story goes. Oh, yeah, and it had some of the strongest female characters (both in terms of being competent and being competently written) I’ve seen in anime in a while.
Tell us, Galko-chan! – I never thought “high school girls talk about gross and lewd shit” would make for such a charming, lovable show, but this show had solid characters with very good chemistry. Give me more of it, please.
Yuri on Ice – Probably my biggest snub. I didn’t think YoI was bad by any means, it just didn’t quite grab me like the other stuff I put on this list. It was good, and there was clearly a lot of heart put into it, but I didn’t find anything about it particularly mindblowing. Go talk to one of its many, many fans if you want an earful on why it was so good. My opinions are mostly just”I’m happy it made such an impact on everyone else.”
And with that, on to my top 10.
Top 10 Anime of the Year (Based Solely on Buggy’s Opinions (Which Are Right))
10. My Hero Academia
My Hero Academia is the story of Izuku “Deku” Midoriya, a young boy who admires the superheroes that populate his world more than anything else. Unfortunately, he is one of the few people who was born without any sort of supernatural power, so he slowly loses hope in becoming a hero–until All Might, who he idolizes above all others, recognizes his potential and passes his power on to him.
I don’t often find manga before reading an anime, but my cohost, bestie, and similar-taste-haver Chris badgered me into reading it. The anime managed to deliver on it beautifully, with great fight animation and a fantastic soundtrack. Full color shows just how much damage Deku does to himself using his full power, making every usage feel that much more powerful. I love it.
This one maybe wouldn’t have made my list were it not for the fact that I know where it’s headed and am looking forward to seeing it. It’s a pretty generic shonen, at least on paper. It’s just a very good generic shonen that managed to strike all the right chords. In addition, these first episodes were paced pretty slowly so that they could end the 12-episode run on something semi-climactic…and even then, it wasn’t exactly a super-thrilling end. Hero Academia is good through this story arc, but it doesn’t get good until Hero Killer Stain enters the scene next arc. Still, the show’s got a lot of heart, so I’ve got a lot of love for it.
Keijo is really, really dumb, which is why it’s so easy to write it off. But just because something doesn’t take itself seriously doesn’t mean that it’s not good. It’s about girls who engage in sumo matches atop floating platforms where they can only attack each other using their boobs and butts. It takes this idea and runs with it as hard as it can.
That said, it actually had some of the best female characters in anime this year. The cast is almost entirely female, and many of them have actual goals and inspirations. I love it for the same reasons I love JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: it takes the most ridiculous ideas and presents them in as over-the-top a manner as possible, all while presenting it as entirely normal. One of the most inspiring and moving scenes is a girl successfully swinging her hips quickly enough to yank a radish out of the ground. A climactic battle is won when a girl uses her nipple to judo throw someone.
Keijo is inanity, and it’s such loving insanity. It’s a shame so many people wrote it off as “fanservice trash.”
8. Flying Witch
I don’t like most slice-of-life anime, but when one clicks with me, I love it. That’s probably because the ones that click all have legitimately good characters instead of archetypes and can effectively build up an atmosphere. It should be obvious by its placement here that Flying Witch successfully did both those things for me. The characters and character dynamics were all fantastic, and their interactions with each other and the world led to great subdued humor.
I loved these people. I loved the world and the magical realism in it. It wasn’t the most exciting show and it doesn’t quite leave me longing for more, but it’s one I have nothing good opinions of.
Re:Zero was a mess, sure. It did a lot of things poorly and is deserving of all that criticism. And the second half of the show felt like a prolonged detour that detracted from the plot. But. All that said, I still loved it. And it wasn’t like I was willing to love it! For the first few episodes, I was constantly on the brink of dropping it, but the show worked so hard to do what it was doing that I really have to respect it. It actively won me over. The characters are a big part of how it did so. So many of them seem generic at first glance, but the varied dynamics they have with each other and the insane amount of development they end up getting made them all lovable. I love Subaru. I love Puck. I love Emilia (sorry, I had to). I love Reinhard. And yes, I’m one of the people who was taken in by Rem. I mean, how could I not be?
I could go on and on about Re:Zero. I’ve wrote a blog post about it as it was airing. I went on a podcast about it after it finished. And I still feel like I have more to say about it. It’s not necessarily a good show, which is why it’s down at 7 instead of closer to the top. But it’s a show that sparked a ton of conversation and gave people something to talk about, and I think that on its own was valuable.
6. 91 Days
91 Days is a heartbreaking and tragic revenge tale set in prohibition-era America that nailed everything it was trying to do once it got going, leading up to what I think may have been the most poignant and well-executed finale of the year. The whole show had an almost Shakespearean feel to it, and I loved the slow build-up to the inevitable tragic ending. It’s a shame how it only ended up gathering a cult status, but I think it has enough staying power that the few people who watched it will be recommending it for years to come.
There are people who would claim Orange is completely undeserving of a spot this high, and they’d have an argument. It has all the misunderstandings and characters being dense we’ve come to expect from romance, and the explanation of how the show’s premise could even work (dropping letters into the Bermuda Triangle? Really?) was stupid to the point of actively harming the show. That said, it had a fantastic cast that really felt like a group of friends, and I think it deserves placement this high just due to the subject matter it covers. Depression and suicide are not fun topics, and Orange handled them wonderfully. This might not be a good anime. But it’s an incredibly important one, and I think that alone makes it worth watching.
I don’t think anyone saw Osomatsu-san coming. A revival of a 60’s series being one of the best anime of both last year and this one? And yet, here we are. Osomatsu-san was consistently funny and still managed to throw an emotional curveball here and there. I loved those stupid, awful NEETs and all their friends. It easily had the funniest cast I’ve seen in years, and was probably the funniest show I’ve seen in years as well.
Also, Ichimatsu and Jyushimatsu are the best matsus. Choromatsu as worst. Fight me.
3. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable
I actually didn’t like Diamond is Unbreakable that much for the first part of the series, but it could quite possibly be my favorite part now (anime-wise, as I haven’t read the manga), thanks to the introduction of Yoshikage Kira, one of the best and most interesting villains I’ve ever seen. Watching his game of cat and mouse (or perhaps cat-plant and rat) with Josuke and the supporting cast was consistently engaging. JoJo was as fun as it’s ever been, and it was fun with enough flair to bring it all the way up to the top 3 this year.
2. Space Patrol Luluco
I’m a fan of Imaishi’s works and their spastic, fast-paced delivery. Luluco is of course no exception. Where do you even begin describing Luluco? It’s the story of a normal girl forced to work for the space police to save her frozen father, only she falls in love with her alien coworker, and then they cross over with all of Trigger’s previous original works. It’s like everything that the Trigger/former Gainax staff has done, wrapped up and condensed into a short-form anime. And it works so damn well. Luluco has proved to me that shorts aren’t just throw-away series that are quick enough to enjoy. They can excel on their own. There’s so much love packed into Luluco, and it’s one I definitely feel I can keep coming back to and revisiting occasionally.
1. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
I was not expecting to like this series at all. A period piece by Studio Deen seemed like the last thing that would appeal to me. Still, I knew it would become one of my all-time favorites before the series was even over. It’s rare I watch something and know instantly that it’s going to stick with me for years to come. Rakugo did just that, so there was never any doubt in my mind that it would likely be my anime of the year, even before it finished airing.
I love storytelling, and Rakugo is all about that. Not entirely about it, of course. It’s also about the struggle of a medium to survive as the times change and technology evolves, bringing in new, competing mediums. It’s about the strong friendship between two men, and the circumstances that tear them apart. It’s a romance. It’s so very, very much, and it’s exactly my sort of thing. The second season is airing as I write this up, and I can’t wait to see how it concludes.