Monday, January 23, 2017

My Favorite Anime of 2016

In the final installment of my 2016 entertainment round-up, let's cover my favorite TV anime of 2016. Since I ended up watching quite a bit, I decided to remove any sequels (since people generally don't jump in the middle) as well as restrict the list to my Top 10.

Unless mentioned otherwise, all series completed their runs in 2016. Anime listed are not ranked, but presented in the order I watched them.

Erased

Erased has a killer premise. Satoru has the uncontrollable ability to go back in time (in his own body) to correct the past before someone is hurt or killed, but when his mother is murdered he's sent back a shocking 18 years in time to when he's a 10-year-old kid. He thinks by saving the life of a classmate who was murdered he'll be able to save the life of his mother in the future. If the ending had lived up to the first half this would have made my top 3 of the year, but it couldn't quite pull it off.

Prince of Stride: Alternative

This is apparently based off an otome game, but I actually watched it for the sport (and there is surprisingly no romance in the show either, so it's either the pretty boys or their athletics). Stride is a fictional sport that works like a cross between an obstacle course and a relay race. Honan High School used to have the best stride team, but has fallen on hard times until our intrepid first year students manage to fill up the remaining team slots and revive the dream of winning the End of Summer championship. I don't watch much sports anime so I can't compare to others of its genre, but as someone who ran track and field in high school this rang true for me.

Schwarzesmarken

I never watched Muv-Luv so I can't speak for Schwarzesmarken's place in that universe, but the spin-off is fairly stand alone and I didn't feel the need to watch the parent series. In an alternate 1983 aliens have landed and are slowly wiping humanity off the planet in a grueling land battle. It's a mecha series and despite all the political shenanigans, it never forgets it is a mecha series, with a pivotal battle every episode that never feels like filler. Every round of combat has a purpose and moves the story forward, resulting in a lot of plot and character development that other series wouldn't be able to fit in a similar amount of time.

Joker Game

Joker Game follows a group of spies affiliated with D-Agency, a fictional Japanese spy unit from World War II. Unlike most of the Japanese army at the time, they aren't staunch nationalists, blind to anything but the success of war. Taking an anthology format, each episode or two-parter revolves around a particular character who either belongs to or comes into contact with an agent of D-Agency. It's a dicey topic depicting Japanese spies during World War II, but is made palatable by the fact that D-Agency's rules forbid killing and the spies are more interested in protecting Japan than attacking other countries.

Knights of Sidonia

The two seasons of Knights of Sidonia ran in 2014 and 2015 respectively. It's a far future hard science fiction story about the remnants of humanity fleeing into the depths of space in search of a new home after the mysterious alien Gauna destroyed Earth. Centuries later the Gauna catch up with the generation ship Sidonia and a new war begins. Unlike most mecha series, Knights of Sidonia injects a heavy dose of realism, ranging from how pilots can relieve themselves in a sanitary manner while stuck in a mecha for hours on end, to the effect on people's bodies when a vehicle as large as a generation ship has to sudden change course. The series is great for people who like science in their sf, and narrowly misses being in my top 3 of the year.

Orange *

Orange is instantly relatable for anyone who was a shy and awkward teenager. Teenage Naho receives a letter from herself ten years into the future, telling her to watch for a new student, Kakeru, who will become very important to her. The letter is full of future Naho's regrets and how she would have done things differently if given the chance, but the crux of the matter is that it's easy for adult Naho to say such things, and considerably more difficult for teenage Naho to act on them. I won't spoil the real dilemma of the series, but it's not hard to find with a little searching. Orange does falter around the final third of the series, but its feelings and treatment of isolation and depression are expertly handled and make for a beautiful ending.

Psycho-Pass *

The other older series I watched this year, Psycho-Pass, originally ran in 2012-2013 (and I have not yet watched the sequel) and after I finished I just could not get it out of my mind. Taking place in a dystopian future, Psycho-Pass follows the members of Division 1 from the Criminal Investigative Department (i.e. the police). The interesting thing is that they are law enforcement in an authoritarian police state, and yet they are essentially good people, who are doing their best to work with an oppressive system that in many ways works against them. The worldbuilding is fantastic and brings up excellent questions that the series both notes and addresses. Things get technical, but I never felt lost, and the series is self-contained without any need for future material, even though it exists. It's dark and a tad on the violent side, but soooooo good.

91 Days

I have a weakness for no-doubt romanticized period pieces about the mafia, and 91 Days stands with the best of them. Though made by people an ocean away, it's clearly a love letter to mafia media featuring mafiosos who are fully capable of being caring friends and family while ordering a hit without breaking a sweat. Angelo Lagusa is a bit of a cipher as a protagonist, but even if the audience isn't privy to his inner thoughts, the motivation for his single-minded quest for revenge is understandable. This is a show where how the protagonist does something is more interesting than whether the audience would have done the same. Reactions to the ending might be a bit mixed, but considering where the show is coming from, it's clear that there would never have been a happy ending.

ReLIFE

I dithered on including this or Ushio and Tora and ReLIFE edged out in that the cast is the more relatable of the two. I wasn't sure how well the manga would transition to anime considering that it's essentially a series of short scenes, but it holds together remarkable well, pulling itself together into a solid episode format. I know people who are or have been in exactly Arata Kaizaki's position, being intelligent people who graduated from a university but can't seem to land a full time job. I'm not sure they would have taken the opportunity to be de-aged ten years and sent back to high school, but the premise is the charm of the series, with Arata coming off as strange or weird to other high schoolers due to his actual age and the actual teenagers behaving more like actual teenagers.

Yuri on Ice *

It may be too soon to truly rank Yuri on Ice as one of my top 3 of the year, seeing as this just wrapped up in December, but I'm a huge figure skating fan, and combining realistic figure skating with an amazing cast of characters, is just like catnip. You can see how much effort went into recreating the sport in the animation, the details of what it's like to compete, and even cameos by former Olympic skaters. That this is one of the most gay positive portrayals in anime is icing on the cake. It's refreshing to see a show where the characters are comfortably attracted to each other and it's given the same respect as a heterosexual romance rather than being fetishized for the straight female audience.

And this concludes my Top 10 anime viewed during 2016. The three series I tagged with an asterisk (*) were my favorites of the year, where I found myself looking forward to every new episode or binge watching in Psycho-Pass's case.

Though not an anime I'd also like to give a thumbs up to Voltron: Legendary Defender for capturing what was good about the anime original while still updating it for present day audiences.