The best N anime that I saw in 2016
Normally I write my 'best N' yearly entries relatively soon after the end of the year, although 2015's slipped into February. This time around things have been extensively delayed, and while part of that is because I got lazy after I initially missed my usual window, part of that is because I've felt genuinely conflicted and confused about my views this time around. This delay matters to me because the more I delay, the more my feelings can fade and the more perspective I can wind up with, so I like to write these entries while my feelings are relatively hot (I can always look back at them later).
As usual for these retrospectives, this is what I consider to be to be the best or most enjoyable things that I saw in calendar 2016 (regardless of when they were made or released, although this year most of what I saw was actually from this year). As is now standard, my general rule is that only shows that have actually ended count because you never know what eye-rolling things a show may finish up with. This year, this excludes March comes in like a Lion, which would otherwise rank highly (cf).
- Flip Flappers: I will summarize it this way; I have come to think
that Flip Flappers is ultimately about joy. Underlying all of its
events is a celebration of coming to enjoy life, of going from a grey
existence to a colourful one. In many ways it's not a deep show that
tackles complex subjects with delicate characterization, but I don't
care. Celebrating joy is as worthwhile as deep drama, when done well,
and Flip Flappers did it well (cf,
and). Flip Flappers is also
structured and written in ways that appeal to me; I'm always going
to have a soft spot for a smartly written show that plays with the
structure of the story, is confident enough to start things in media
res (and makes that work), and so on.
One thing worth special mention is that Flip Flappers, like Kyousougiga before it, is a show that could only have been done as anime. It would not work in any other media in anything like its current form; it absolutely requires and takes advantage of the particular strengths of anime. Even the contrast between realistic animation and how animation typically looks is something the show takes advantage of for story purposes in the last episode.
- Thunderbolt Fantasy: This is a show that delivered perfectly on what
it was aiming for, and as it happens I quite like its genre. It was
smartly written, well executed, and completely nailed some moments. I wrote more on the power of TF
fully embracing its genre to
explain its appeal to me. If you want the capsule version, it is
that Thunderbolt Fantasy had terrific execution on a story and
in a genre that I quite like.
- Flying Witch: This is another quiet show about joy and pleasant experiences. It is full of fun moments and run through with bits of awe, where the world unfolds in beauty in front of us and the characters, and it doesn't hurt that it is more or less in one of the genres that I like (broadly 'fantasy mixed with ordinary life'). But ultimately Flying Witch has also shown me the limits of trying to analyze something; beyond everything else, I loved it. And that's good enough for me.
Special mixed feelings award:
- Concrete Revolutio: Oh how the great wound up falling. At the
end of 2015 I expected CR to rate quite highly
when it finished, and I still stand by my very high views of its
first half. Unfortunately its second half was frustratingly mixed.
Some episodes were great (episode 14 is a special standout for me),
but others dragged even if (and when) they turned out to be
thematically important. And in the end the show got sloppy and left me with very mixed
feelings, and this was always a show where the ending was going
to be quite important for its overall impact. Still, the show
did some excellent work with the overall plot even in the second
half (I especially liked how the ultimate villain nicely made
sense in retrospect).
In the end I have wound up feeling that Concrete Revolutio ultimately bit off more than it could chew. It did very good work some of the time and the first season remains impressive but the overall result is not something that I can put into my 'best shows of the year' ranking, although there's part of me that wishes I could love it as much as some other people do.
(This impression has only grown on me since the show ended, as my ability to remember details about what happened in the second season and when has faded. That fading is not a good sign for a show's ultimate impact on me.)
Things I consider good but not necessarily memorable over the long term:
- Sound! Euphonium second season: I want to love this more than
I do, but in the end nothing in it seems as important or as driving
as the first season did. I at least saw an interesting and powerful
overall theme in the first season (one that was executed very well),
and I just don't see that in the second season; to me it came across
more as filling in side stories. Still, the second season has its
own beautiful and touching moments, some spectacular character work,
and funny bits (and a genuine surprise).
See more words in my fall retrospective.
My view of the second season is unquestionably brought down by how the show treats Reina's stupid crush on Taki-sensei in a relatively favorable light.
- Girls und Panzer der Film: This is a great film that takes
everything that made Girls und Panzer such a good sports action show and turned it up to movie quality
and movie length. I enjoyed it whole-heartedly.
- BBK/BRNK: The show was a well executed fun ride with more smarts
in its writing and characters than I would have expected. It had
moments of quiet beauty and affecting character turns and in
general it was straight up enjoyable. Yes, I'm waving my hands.
- Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: This wasn't flawless but it was both
solidly consistent and good to excellent throughout. It had powerful
and affecting stories to tell and it told them well, and in the end
its flaws are sufficiently small for my memories to smooth them over
in a way that I can't for other shows.
(Bobduh wrote a good summary of Grimgar in his top shows of 2016.)
A short great show wrapped in a disappointing one:
- ERASED aka Boku Dake ga Inai Machi: At its best the show was beautiful and affecting, and it was at its best for quite a while. But outside of those episodes, it often rapidly descended into an unexciting, cliched thriller. In the end I cannot ignore the bad bits and focus only on the good ones, no more than I could for Concrete Revolutio, and so the overall show ranks no higher than here.
- Akagami no Shirayukihime: Taken as a whole (since I excluded
the first season from my 2015 views), this was a solid
show that remained reasonably appealing through its run. I enjoyed
the first season more than the second season, but the second season
delivered its own beautiful moments.
- Kiznaiver: If I was going to write an unkind summary of the show,
I would say that the show got the mood right but the plot wrong.
For the most part the show was about the characters interacting with
each other, and that part was great; the bits that didn't entirely
work were mostly at the end, where the plot heaved itself to the
surface. But I enjoyed the whole thing enough to forgive the show
those not so great portions and I look back on it reasonably fondly.
- Gakusen Toshi Asterisk: I didn't like the second season as much
as I liked the first season, but the whole show remains a great example
of a very well done popcorn show. Very well done popcorn shows are
unfortunately rarer than they should be; all too often the middling
quality of their source material also leads to middling execution
or worse. Asterisk stands for the premise that you can make an
unambitious but excellent show from such material (and not just by
throwing fight animation firepower at it).
- Long Riders: It's not often that I run into a show that might as well be aimed straight at one of my soft spots, but Long Riders is one and I'll probably always remember it affectionately for that. LR is the best bicycling-focused show that I've watched and I'm not sure there ever will be a better one, because I'm not really interested in bicycle racing (which is the obvious thing to build a bicycling show around, cf Yowamushi Pedal).
Special 'flawed but manic' award:
- Space Patrol Luluco: There was definitely something here, but it was hidden under a slather of Trigger callbacks and references and it didn't really speak to me in any case. See my spring retrospective for more.
My notes say that I finished 29 shows, OVAs, and movies in 2016, which is down significantly from 2015 but up slightly from 2014. A fair number of them were not memorable or good enough to make this year's list, although some hovered on the edge (the closest is probably Dimension W).
(I also dropped a significant number of shows, some of them otherwise well regarded like Macross Delta and Kuromukuro. Twin Star Exorcists was also a pretty good show until it stumbled with a timeskip and lost me.)
I'm not sure how the highs of 2016 compare to previous years. Probably nothing equals Shirobako from 2015, but then that is a very high bar. I'm likely to remember Thunderbolt Fantasy for quite some time, but partly that's because of how exceptional it is in both genre and style (I'm not going to forget the puppets any time soon, and Shang's character speaks to me). Will Flip Flappers stick in my memories as much as Kyousougiga has? Ask me in five years.