I live blog! The last season of 2016 saw me watching the least amount of any season I can remember. Moving back to my once and future(?) adopted hometown of Pittsburgh has made 2016 a great year for me, even as the world outside lights itself on fire. And part of that has meant some less time for anime lately, and I fell below the amount of shows I’d like to keep up with this last season. That said, I don’t think there were any contenders for my Top 5 list in the winter season anyway. For me, this year was fairly front-loaded in terms of the shows I enjoyed the most. But a few others deserve mention too.
For the purposes of this ranking I’m counting shows that ended their runs this year, starting with Winter 2016 season.
I almost forgot to add this one each week back when Anime Power Rankings was running, due to it’s Netflix-like ‘here’s the whole season, have fun!’ release method. Watching anime this way was a bit unusual but I have to say I enjoyed it. Not having to wait week-to-week to see what would happen next was enjoyable for a show with a bit of a mystery gimmick to it. It was also prime shipping territory and my comrades in arms @Crazydave and @pzkpfwCrusader joined me for this outing. The basic premise of ReLIFE was interesting if not totally original at its core. But the show managed to talk about relevant themes for adults with an alternating mix of drama and humor. The teen-ized adult characters had the benefit of hindsight and experience to try and address some of the miscommunication at the heart of their peers’ drama but it also helped handle things in their own lives. Though it will remain to be seen how the show handles the big topic in the room: overwork-induced suicide. A topic that’s only grown larger in Japanese society since with the recent Dentsu controversy. Though so far I have hope that the show will actually make a bolder statement than most Japanese fiction on it, rather than suggest something that just reinforces the ‘do as you’re told’ culture that causes the problem.
4) KonoSuba (Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo)
Also known as It’s Always Sunny in Fantasydelphia, KonoSuba was by far my comedy of the year. Seeing the typical fantasy wish fulfillment world encountered by a group of complete dicks was exactly what I was looking for. Kazuma and Aqua are the worst of the lot but everyone in the main group is so wonderfully douchey or dysfunctional. A highlight for me was when they encounter the typical white knight savior of the world character, who’d otherwise be the protagonist of most shows in this setting, and the whole group’s response is to immediately hate his guts. Miscreants in a fantasy setting. Ah, it reminds me of long ago logging into Ultima Online, a game that let you do basically anything, and joining up with my friends to be griefers, thieves, and scoundrels to anyone we encountered. Everyone needs an outlet for these impulses. It’s healthy. And KonoSuba let me vicariously experience it.
It’s PA Works and mecha! It’s two of my favorite things combined into a wonderful package. It’s even got the dinky (compared to the ‘relics’) HUMANITY FUCK YEAH mecha that try their best and learn new tactics and weapons to bring down the alien baddies. Pilot-copilot configurations all around too, with a multinational team of ‘the world saving the world’, as the producer of one of my favorite movies, Pacific Rim, put it. What makes Kuromukuro stand out more is that it manages to walk that precarious Nadesico line of being able to smoothly transition from comedic and slice-of-life elements to action and drama, and then back again with little to no disruption to the audience’s experience. And the action is damn good, especially as the show goes on. The interactions between the co-pilots in the show adds another dimension to the fights and the characters’ development. I don’t think it will be a mecha for the ages because story-wise it’s not the most ambitious/original. But I had a damn good time watching it and it’s great to see PA Works trying a new genre and doing it with their usual style and beauty.
2) Concrete Revolutio
Conrevo ended during the first season of this year and thus I’m counting the whole show for 2016. It was one of my favorite shows in a long, long time. The ending was a little rushed in explanations but I can forgive that because it was such an interesting, badass, exciting, intriguing story packed full of complex characters. The timeskip format and bright, Pop Art colors threw some people off, I know. But for me, this is the sort of show I love. I crave. The kind of show that’s just as satisfying to think about as to watch.
Piecing together the alternate history timeline of Conrevo was half the fun, in my view. I even dissected and reorganized all the events of the first season in a blog post that was sadly lost to our blog reset. But it combined the familiar with divergent events caused by the presence of superheroes and all the other pop culture sci-fi beings in the show. It touched familiar themes like Japanese political scheming, Cold War conspiracies (real and imagined), and postwar angst but through a new lens and given to you in disjointed bits. Some assembly required. But like the kit-build car you put together in your garage or the computer you build from parts, it’s far more satisfying than buying something premade off the lot.
But beyond the pseudo-history lesson and rich vein of Showa Era displaced nostalgia, the show put together some great characters into an interesting setting and had fun with them. Jiro, my personal favorite, trying to do good in an increasingly pessimistic and brutal world, fighting, changing, and sometimes compromising along the way. I love the balance between Jiro keeping his ideals and having to turn outlaw and even fight or trick former comrades. He, and all the characters, had to navigate the complicated changes their world went through and find their own ways through (or didn’t and were crushed under the weight of it all.) I could go on forever about this show but I’ll just end here saying that Conrevo just ticked all the boxes for me.
1) Thunderbolt Fantasy
My favorite anime of 2016 wasn’t anime, exactly. But given where it aired, the staff behind it, and the obvious similarities, I figured that it counts. Thunderbolt Fantasy was perfect from start to finish. Every episode was great, and they all added together to produce an amazingly fun, exciting, and memorable show. There was so much influence from and homage to the old school wuxia martial arts stories and movies, but it also had Urobuchi Gen’s unique take on things. The fighting featured the classic footwork and exaggerated movements seen in wuxia and derived from the classical Peking Opera form, which was a treat in itself especially considering that they managed to do all this with puppets. But added onto that was Urobuchi’s style of dialogue (in his more upbeat form, rather than the darker, more cynical stuff in, say, Psycho Pass) and a sweet, guitar-heavy soundtrack by Sawano Hiroyuki (of Gundam Unicorn, Aldnoah.Zero, and Ao no Exorcist fame.)
Besides style, the show also had a traditional group quest storyline but with some genuine twists. Some characters seemed sure to betray or falter, but it didn’t always work out that way. And the best twist for me was the comeuppance of Rin Setsu A when Betsu Ten Gai was backed into a corner and things just got worse in his defeat. Shou always displayed a lot of kindness and understanding throughout the show, masked under a carefree attitude. But at the end the show took this to another level to drive home the point about not pushing even the bad guy too far. You still have to live with them, or their legacy, once the fight is over. That’s something that’s not often dealt with seriously in fiction and is vitally important in real life too. Thunderbolt Fantasy eschewed the simplistic narrative of vanquishing evil strictly through force or arms or trickery and guile and for that it went from being a very good show to a great show.
Honorable mentions and old shows watched this year
Bakuon deserves special mention here. It’s not one of the top five shows I saw this year, but something about it was just damn fun and memorable. Despite me not even being into motorcycles. The show explained them enough that it got me interested in a vague sense. I just don’t have the deathwish needed to want a bike. I blame growing up in a family of medical professionals who told me one too many stories of what bikers look like when they show up in the ER. But the show did capture the general spirit of driving and love of the machines, which I can understand as a car enthusiast. And the characters and jokes were surprisingly good. I came in expecting tons of fanservice with some bikes and…well that showed up sometimes, but for the most part it was just a curiously good show about motorsports backed up by solidly fun characters. And if I may quote at length, one of my favorite anime humor bits from 2016:
Sansha Sanyou also deserves mention for being a howling on the floor sort of comedy. When I tallied up my 2016 shows it came just below the cutoff at no. 6. Maybe not one for the ages but very good comedy. And Teru! Be still my masochistic, glasses-and-braids, class rep loving heart!
Grimgar is another one deserving of mention. Like KonoSuba it took the tired premise of the characters being stuck in a fantasy world and did something different with it. Two things stood out to me. One was the brutality of it. The goblins may as well have been other adventuring humans, and they were scared, fighting for their lives, and might have been in a similar situation as the humans for all we know (and I do suspect there’s some twist in here when/if the nature of the fantasy world is revealed.) The first kills against the goblins are messy, scream-filled affairs where the characters actually have to confront the idea of stabbing another sentient being to death.
The other area Grimgar excelled in is in how the characters deal with loss. It’s not simply a matter of mourning and using the dead character’s name as a battle cry. It seriously messes with people, and it did with both the main group and with Mary. Having not only the original characters deal with loss but also having to integrate Mary and Mary find a way to integrate herself added so much to the show.
Kiznaiver should get some props for that OP sequence, but not for anything else. I wanted to like you, Kiznaiver, I really did.
Probably my biggest disappointment of the year was Macross Delta. I love Macross and always want to like it. But wow, Delta was just one big waste of time. Never truly terrible, but never good either. I did like Mirage and Hayate and felt they deserved to be in better shows, but the rest of the cast kinda fell flat, the story didn’t do anything for me, and the action choreography was piss poor. The VFs rarely seemed to transform, and almost all the combat scenes were just two VFs chasing after each other in a helix spiral. It’s such a shame, because I love Macross to death, but I might have gotten more out of Macross 7 than Delta, which is really saying something.
This past year I also got through first time watches or rewatches of long ago series by catching a few episodes per week with @Roghek. I finally saw Higurashi no Naku Koro ni for the first time and got really intrigued by it. So I’m on my way to playing the games soon. A rewatch of Watamote was good fun. The comedy was still my ‘hurts so good’ cup of tea, but this time I noticed a lot more of the sweet and hopeful moments in the show too. The ones that just makes Tomoko’s tragedy all the greater because there are people around her like Yuu and the class rep who are trying to reach out to her.
We’ve also been going through two longer franchises: Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex and Genshiken. Both were shows I’d seen some of in the past but never finished. And they’ve both been amazing. Genshiken actually hits some of the very true to life notes about university and immediate post-university life that I prize in Honey & Clover. And those who knew me from THAT or on Twitter know that I’m really complimenting something when I compare it with H&C. GitS: SAC has also been a great one. Similar to Conrevo, it throws you into a different world that is still grounded in our own and lets you piece together how it works. I love that kind of indirect storytelling and world building, and the story that exists within it is always intriguing. I think I’m getting a lot more out of it now than when I was catching episodes here and there on Adult Swim way back in high school. The education and work experience I have now makes it feel a lot more real, and the characters’ choices more relatable.