Top Five Anime 2016

danton

ME AT THE END OF 2018

2016 was a… hmm. Well, it was both a solid year and also a lopsided year, insofar as anime was concerned, as the good stuff was definitely focused in the final quarter of the year. That isn’t to say there’s nothing of worth from any of the other portions of the calendar, but worthwhile things were pretty thin on the ground for much of the year. So, I hesitate to call it a solid year, and now you know why.

Nearly hitting the high-water mark of 2015, I managed to polish off twenty-three currently airing shows (2014 and 2013 were fourteen and nine, respectively). These shows were, in no exact order, Kiznaiver, Big Order, Gakuen Handsome, Girlish Number, Haikyuu!! S2, Haikyuu!! S3, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Macross Delta, Keijo!!!!!!!!, The Lost Village, Sailor Moon Crystal III, Pan de Peace!, Schwarzesmarken, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, Space Patrol Luluco, Tell Me! Galko-chan, Sekkou Boys, This Boy is a Professional Wizard, Tabi Machi Late Show, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Love Live! Sunshine, Yuri!! on Ice, and Izetta, the Last Witch. I liked most of them, a testament to the goodness of not forcing oneself to watch things one is not enjoying.

Nevertheless, while I enjoyed most of what I watched, my top list is only five shows this year instead of the ten from last year. I prefer to have my lists be of such a length that it does involve some genuine effort on my part to pick which ones make the cut, and had I kept it to ten, the list would’ve ended up with chaff picks in the eight to ten slots. What’s the point of a top list if it isn’t really made up of top picks, after all?

I’ll be saying a little bit about all the other shows, as well as the worst shows of the year, in another post, so, for now, enjoy or spit acid over what made the cut for me:

keijo-10

5. Keijo!!!!!!!!

Calling this a fanservice show feels like a disservice to it, as while it is undeniably such, unlike its scads of brethren it is also a clever and oft-funny effort. Keijo could’ve been a pretty lazy sports story and still have likely garnered attention given its ridiculous premise, but the original author clearly didn’t think that was enough. Instead, we get a show with a fictitious sport which has been completely thought out, from the basic rules to matters of competitive style, with a training regimen that makes sense with the sport being performed. This was a show that took a premise I found wholly repellent and showed me that my first sentiment was wrong. While it did drag occasionally during the more slice-of-life moments, on the whole this was a well-executed and engrossing sports show. I really hope we get a second season.

grimgar-7b

4. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash  

This deeply-flawed show was at times difficult to not ragequit, as red-haired Ranta was far and away one of the worst characters I encountered this year, and the random moments of fanservice were  downright disorienting. But it proved to be one of the most compelling things I watched in 2016. Yet another entry in the bonanza of “trapped in another world” shows we’ve had of late, it went in a completely different direction, delivering a show that actually examined the ramifications of loss for those left behind. Death isn’t uncommon in anime, but its usually a thing shorn of its true impact, and I found Grimgar’s intimate portrait of grief very affecting.

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3. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu  

If not for the rocky pacing of the first episode, a double-length affair that condensed the OAV material, this would’ve finished a bit higher. But even with a massive hiccup at the start, this was easily one of the best of the year, an excellent historical show for an adult audience. A tale of three people who can’t quite manage to overcome the strictures of their social circumstances, and who, whether by trying to adhere to the rules or trying to outsmart them, end up unable to find true contentment. You know how it must end from the get-go, and its frequently painful to watch things unfold, but it hurt because I had been fully absorbed by it’s world.

haikyuu-s3-10f

2. Haikyuu!! S3  

That this was going to cover only one match in it’s ten episodes made me pretty wary going in, especially since the second season had been marred by some rather boring stretches. My fears, though, were completely unfounded; this proved to be Haikyuu at it’s height, so much of its character work and earlier plotting paying off. But it, too, worked in great characterization for the boys of Shiratorizawa, especially impressive given the small amount of time they had for it (Tendo was a brilliant antagonist). Honestly, this was nearly a perfect show, and the bits that held it back from that are fairly niggling things. One of my issues with sports shows over the years has been that I often have found myself wondering why I didn’t just watch an actual sporting match instead, but Haikyuu had me on the edge of my seat as the tension ratcheted up and the end loomed. What a great show.

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1. Yuri!! on Ice

Where to even begin? A lovely show that made me very, very happy. Also a show that blew apart the hetero-masculine atmosphere that professional male figure skating has been aggressively cultivating over the past fifteen years or so in a bid to toss off the idea of the sport as queer (I do really wish there’d been some time for them to do some of the same for the similar grotesqueries of “ladies” figure skating). Of relation to that, one of the things I really, really appreciated about YoI was just that, as I used to love the sport but had ultimately tossed it aside when the genuinely appalling treatment of Johnny Weir made it impossible for me to keep engaged with it. While there was clearly not quite enough time to fully realize the ambition of so many fully-animated skating routines, watching them immediately brought back that feeling watching (and participating in) the sport used to give me. And you know what other feeling this brought back to me? That feeling that I got as a twelve year old who had yet to figure out I was queer when I finally got to see Haruka and Michiru in Sailor Moon S. This was clearly a much more nuanced take on a same-sex relationship, but it was similarly as cutting edge as they were.

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12 Responses to Top Five Anime 2016

  1. Artemis says:

    Yuri On Ice easily made my no.1 spot of the year as well, and Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu my no. 2. After that… hmm, probably Erased, Grimgar, and Tanaka-kun.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Good taste! (I can’t really comment on Erased or Tanaka-kun, though, as I didn’t see much of either – I may go back to try more of the latter.)

  2. samui says:

    I see the other way around as far as Rakugo is concerned. That double length OVA nicely set the atmosphere of the show and also gave us more to look forward in S2. I can’t imagine taking Konatsu and Yotaro seriously if they didn’t have that level of exposure in the first episode.

    Hmm… It’s a given Rakugo will be my #1. Yuri on Ice was fun… but I could wish less of the freakin’ narration whenever they perform, especially in the mid portions. I began to genuinely enjoy the show from episode 7 onwards.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Eh, the pacing in it felt choppy to me because they had to slice out stuff from the OAV it was condensed from – it definitely set the stage (…no pun intended?!), but I was feeling uneasy coming out of that episode about how things would go. Granted, I’m not sure how that could’ve really be handled differently without then creating difficulty with the rest of the season’s pacing.

  3. Pham Thang says:

    Love Yuri on Ice when they just relax after hard work and have fun time and the show gives glimpses into the life and relationships of the characters.
    Love ep 10 to death, warm Christmas day hang-out full of social media and that Ending.
    The skating sequences are kinda hit and miss, mainly because of internal monologs of minor characters.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      With the minor characters, I felt like some of the ones from mid-season who we got monologuing from weren’t strongly characterized enough overall to make it worthwhile (like the Czech guy or Guang Hong). More generally for the skating routines… I am just *really* looking forward to seeing the ones that have been polished and finalized for the DVD/BR release, since as much as I appreciated the ambition of their efforts, some of them did have very rough portions.

  4. DerekL says:

    Grimgar didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved… Too many people jumped ship when they encountered the “trapped in another world” trope.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      And I think, too, that a lot of folks who found the “trapped in another world” thing a draw then ended up being impatient with the pacing and with what the focus of the story ended up being. I’m seeing it show up on some folks’ ended of year lists, though, so here’s hoping that it ends up being one of those shows which people go back to try or to give another chance.

  5. +1 for Grimgar. As you say, it was uneven but it really delivered in a lot of ways. And importantly, a lot of new/rare ways, like taking an old premise and making it far more interesting than usual. And the way loss was handled. I also enjoyed that it focused a lot of the group having to come together when they didn’t know each other at the start AND integrate a new member once the original group had organized itself. I really hope we’ll get some more of it, and some closure/reveals on the nature of its world.

    • DerekL says:

      Most shows, the death in the penultimate or the final ep… There’s no time to work out the ramifications.

      • A Day Without Me says:

        And it isn’t necessarily bad to have a death toward the end, but when 90% of the time that’s how it’s done, it is an issue.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I liked, too, that the death didn’t suddenly glue everyone together; it’s often assumed that a death will pull a group tightly together, but of course if anything it’s likely to blow folks apart even if they were close beforehand. That it not only exposed the superficiality of their bonds to that point, and had (some of) it’s characters recognize that fact and that they had to breathe deep and not scream away at others was, well, something I really appreciated. Mary could’ve easily been a garden variety stand-offish young woman, but instead the willingness of the show to carefully flesh out the inter-group relations and context made her a believable portrait of someone struggling to handle a catastrophic loss.

      (The musical choices for the show were still basically the worst I’ve encountered in YEARS.)

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