We’re highlighting each anime season with a mini-version of our end of the year awards. We hope this helps cap-off the season with a splash (and helps us remember all of great things by the time the end of the year rolls around). So without further ado, our picks for the best of spring 2016 . . .
Best of the Best
Joker Game ended up being reminiscent of weekly spy serials. Set during WWII on the Japanese-side, each episode was a different spy on a different mission. Vaguely connected through the mysterious D-agency and its (way more badass than you think) spymaster Yuki, it wasn’t so much about the individuality of the spies but more about what the mission (and the mysteries and twists that came along with it) would be.
Since the motivations of the chief spymaster are never truly addressed, the series created an ambiguous atmosphere. And it was just enough to assume that Yuki wasn’t on board with Japan’s grand scheme in the war. Between that, D-agency’s rivalries with other spy organizations within the military, and D-agency “don’t die, don’t kill” policy, the group stays gray and never becomes sympathetic nor monstrous.
Joker Game thrilled and fascinated me in turns; I kind of never wanted it to end?
Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto by Studio Deen I have always found it interesting when a title can take a very simple premise and turn it into a full-fledged series without running the idea into the ground. I think the fact that One Punch Man was able to take an idea that seemly would be boring within 2 volumes of manga and turn it into one of the most popular series of the last few years is quite a feat. In a similar vein Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto has a premise that in a lesser skilled hand might easily wear out its welcome very quickly but instead finds new and interesting ways to tell the same joke that feels new and fresh.
The premise of Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is very simple. Sakamoto is he coolest guy in his school to an almost supernatural level. The universe throws a curve ball at Sakamoto but he remains suave in his own unique way. That is it. But my making Sakamoto a REALLY weird guy it prevents the series from falling into the two major traps that would sink the series. Since the ways that Sakamoto triumphs are so very odd your are sucked in to seeing how he deflects whatever obstacle is coming at him because it almost always happens in a way that subverts your expectations. Also since Sakamoto is such a selfless weirdo it is hard to see him as lame self insert character. In fact I think if you don’t like Sakamoto it might say more about you than the character himself. Hikaru Midorikawa’s performance is the exact right mixture of dorky and cool to bring that character together.
But the shows greatest strength is the fact that it plays its premise completely straight. It is very clear that the manga knows its core is extremely silly but it execution can only work if everyone in the series’ universe acts as if everything is 100% normal. That commitment to never breaking away to wink at the camera makes sure the series is so wonderfully hysterical.
Just like One Punch Man I’m sure there is going to be a minority of people who think the series wears out its welcome after episode two but a majority of people will easily coast to the conclusion at the end. With twelve episodes the series puts forward its best material and then politely exists stage left before it wears out its welcome. It is destined to be one of those comedy series that people recommend for years to come.
Chinatsu Kuramoto from Flying Witch When Chinatsu learns that her cousin is actually an honest to goodness spell casting witch she is understandably more than a little shocked. When she then learns being a witch means flying around on brooms, making potions, and having familiars she wants to be her cousin’s apprentice. I feel like if I were in her shoes that would be the only decision a rational human being could make.
Past that point much of the series is Makoto teaching Chinatsu about the world of magic while also learning to be a proper witch herself. Chinatsu is a curious young lady who throws herself into the magical world mostly with enthusiasm but also with a healthy slice of caution. She adds a proper sense of wonder to the magical aspects of the show while still keeping it grounded in the mundane aspects that give the show its earnest charm.
I think I’m also just amused that one of her life goals as a witch is to make a fantastical gingerbread house to lure wicked children to their doom. She immediately says she is kidding but we know the truth. That is the sign of a woman on a proper life path to greatness.
My Hero Academia by Bones One of the major problems with turning a long running shonen manga ton an anime in the modern age is picking the right spot to end a season. When such series used to be made they would just run throughout the year and use filler whenever they needed to take a break for more manga chapters to come out. Recently a variety of factors have made it that these shows are much more likely to wrap up a season and then just go on break until they have enough material to start-up again. While this avoids some terrible filler episodes it does make it a bit of an art of figuring out exactly where to end a season. It can be hard to pick a place to end that simultaneously feels satisfying to end on while still leaving the audience wanting more. If anything I think one of the best parts of the Attack on Titan anime, and one of the reasons the delay for the new season has engendered so much bitterness, is the fact that the struck that balance so well with the end of the first season. I think that My Hero Academia does the same thing.
Firstly, My Hero Academia does well to end on a big battle that really lets everyone shine. We have seen a little bit of everyone in class 1-A’s powers before this point but this is a chance for most of them to get a dangerous situation in which to shine. Secondly, it lets All Might show off his true power level in a crisis before he is permanently incapable of reaching those heights again by having him face a foe only he can defeat. More importantly it reinforces the idea of Izuku as All Might’s successor with his moments of leadership and bravery throughout the incident. All the themes of the series get to be on display in full force. This fight also lets Bakugou have a bit of a heroic beat otherwise he would utterly come off as a complete asshole for the entire season. And last but not least it introduces the major villain group and its membership in a way that feels complete but also sets up many more future conflicts and mysteries.
If you are going to end the season that is the way to do it.
Best DJ in Shibuya
AMAKALA Satomi Amana and Shiori Karasawa have the unique gimmick of being a DJ tag team that lets them blend two very distinctive sounds into one complementary set list. Their yin and yang groves give them a unique vibe that fits the image of Shibuya to a T.
Plus, the fact that they are both very attractive does not hurt.
Dong Myeong He is probably the most mainstream and popular DJ in the show but he is a down-to-earth, stand-up, all around good guy. He even cries at the club because Agetaro’s use of a traditional Korean song reminds him of his mom.
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
General Manager of Over Justice and Secretary from Space Patrol Luluco You know something is going on with these two behind the scenes. It is the classic tale. The Secretary drawn to the power of a hot-blooded justice-loving heart. The officer bewitched by his aide’s cold beauty. Fire and Ice are drawn to each other by the gravity of fate. Their relationship was inevitable even if they have to keep it a secret.
Also the Secretary seems very adept at using Over Justice as a shot-gun.
Best Continuing Series
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable by David Production I was a little worried that this was going to be the part of Jojo’s that killed the larger fandom that the first three season had built up. I already saw that people were growing tired of the pacing of Stardust Crusaders so I was worried that the relaxed pace of Diamond Is Unbreakable would alienate them even further. Despite my worries it seems that Josuke and the gang have actually reinvigorated the fandom more than anything else.
I had only read the extremely mediocre fans subs of Diamond Is Unbreakable which gave the gist of everything but I am extremely grateful to have a professional translation with the anime. I did my time with the Duwang translation but I happy to have the real thing. Also the little tweaks like introducing certain characters in subtle ways and smoothing out of the Araki retcons helps make a lot of the plot feel a bit tighter. It really rewards the old fans as much as it entertains everyone else who is just jumping in.
The arc is just so much fun. Josuke is a refreshing change as a Jojo after the stone faced Jotaro while still feeling different from the goofiness of Joseph. Also I think people have really enjoyed discovering how much of a main character Kouichi is despite the fact that you originally assume he would not even be a Speedwagon level sidekick. The return of some familiar faces from previous parts alongside a whole slew of new quirky additions to the Jojo’s universe makes the arc very memorable.
But the new est feature that has been winning people over is the Twin Peaks/Persona 4 vibe of the story. While Jojo’s has dabbled with the idea of horror in the past this arc really dives deep into the idea of the subtle dread of small town life in a way that is always in the background but ready to build into a terrifying crescendo when the need arises. It really makes the series feel fresh and unexpected while still containing the bizarre humor, earnest friendships, and smart fights that characterized the series before this point.
This is undoubtedly the arc that will ensure the fandom stays vibrant.
Macross ∆ Delta by Satelite I have been middle of the road about certain parts of this series but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been enjoying it. The mid-season endpoint was pretty exciting, added a lot of interesting questions to the show, and made me curious how this will reconcile itself.
Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto OP1 “Coolest” by CustomiZ It can be a bit hard to exactly articulate the sense of humor contained within Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto. Even with my description for why it was Best of the Best this season my write-up only sort of touches on why the show works. You get the general idea but you need a visual aspect to fully understand the mixture of the utterly dry straight-laced nature of the humor in contrast to the more surreal parts of the execution. Thankfully the opening to the show lays out all of the so very succinctly. When you see Sakamoto play chess with traffic cones or giving his jacket to an anatomical dummy with the debonair of James Bond mixed with Cary Grant and James Dean you totally understand what the show is going for.
The music reinforces it with its dramatic classical crescendo in the middle alongside the Cool, Cooler, Coolest lyrics. After the opening you understand Sakamoto and what his adventures are going to be like without him having to say a word.
Flying Witch ED1 “The Magic of Everyday Life” by Minami Shinoda & Eri Suzuki Despite being about sorceresses, magic, and discovery the overall mood of Flying Witch is extremely clam and relaxing. It is about exploring the gentle wonder and magic of everyday life alongside the more relaxing parts of the world of the spirits and the occult. The ending fully captures that healing tone with a simple trip back from the store.
As Makoto and Chinatsu walk back in the rain the ending captures the simple beauty of the countryside as they seem to have a magnificent time doing a mundane chore. But as the clouds break and sun reveals the grandeur of the sky the both take off on the broom and completely changes the tone of the ending. Now we get a completely magical view of the amazing scenery below from an angle only magic could give these characters while still be very grounded in the natural beauty of the area. Despite all of that it is still just them coming back from a trip to get some groceries.
If that does not capture the essence of Flying Witch I’m not sure what does.