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 summer 2016 . . .
Best of the Best
Thunderbolt Fantasy from Pili International Multimedia Classic action fantasy plus Gen Urobuchi plus puppets; talk about an underdog! People are still arguing whether this is or isn’t anime. Let us at least agree that it was magnificent.
From Lin Setsu A’s web of manipulations to Shang’s true nature, from the well-choreographed battles to the special effects, the series was full of delights. Witty banter is not something I’ve come to expect from anime, so the verbal jousting that goes on in Thunderbolt Fantasy was my favorite surprise of the show.
91 Days from Studio Shuka “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” It is a quote that easily sums up the story of 91 Days. Avilio comes back to his hometown to systematically destroy the lives of the Vanetti family who killed his family. It then becomes a mixture of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Godfather. He slowly turns the various members of the organized crime organizations against the Vanettis for an external threat while also setting the members of the family against each other at the same time.
It is a slow burn Avilio makes himself invaluable to the Vanetti family while his every action is actually pushing them all towards destruction. He strikes up an earnest friendship with Nero Vanetti which is a double-edged sword. It makes his plans easier in most respects but it also makes certain things emotionally complicated. It is clear as the series goes on the more successful Avilio’s revenge the more the is killing him as well.
91 Days is fascinating because in many ways the end of the series is telegraphed from the beginning. I always felt like the plot moved like the end of the Yeats’ the Second Coming. “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” The story slowly moves towards it grizzly and almost inevitable ending. But before it gets there the story contains some shocking twists, clever deceptions, gory massacres, bitter betrayals, Machiavellian plots, and grand sacrifices. It is not a question of what the end will be but how the story gets there. That is what makes 91 Days more than a slow slog to the finale.
91 Days has easily earned itself a place in our next New Anime for Older Fans panel next year. It is a compelling crime drama for mature fans that has legs to be one of those series that people recommend as a starter anime. Being set in Prohibition America gives it a grounded Western feel that works well for someone who is curious about anime but can’t wrap their head around the more Japanese aspects of the standard entry points. Plus the 12 episode run makes it more accessible than Monster which was often my go-to recommendation in this regard.
It is a great series for anyone who likes crime dramas, revenge tales, or just strong stories for older fans that are grounded in reality.
Kotori Iida from Sweetness and Lightning If you have read the blog long enough you will notice I love to make analogies but on top of that I really like to make two sorts of specific comparisons. I love to use food based and relationship-centered analogies. Therefore a character who is based around being a gourmand and her crush, and the combination of those two, would naturally appeal to me.
I think I can relate a lot to Kotori. He awkward nature that makes her inclined towards introversion. Her joy and sadness with her loneliness. Her love of cooking, eating and sharing food. Her fear of knives. Her blatant blundering when it comes to romantic relationships. We are hardly siblings from different parents but I formed a distinct bond of empathy for her very quickly.
Also, her love of food just makes her adorable. There are so many scenes where her love of cooking and eating food is immediately apparent. It is not a snooty foodie attitude where she only wants to eat the fanciest dishes with the most exotic ingredients. Kotori instead has a love for all sorts of food from greasy street treats to high-end gourmet masterpieces. She will lovingly prepare and consume a warm dish of comforting curry and appreciate it the same way she savors a complex sushi cake made from the expensive ingredients. He delight is infectious which makes it a dangerous series to watch while you’re hungry.
I feel her growth and she comes to realize her love of cooking, her affection for Tsumugi and Kouhei, and the overall need for direction in her life is inspiring. She even makes some progress involving her major phobia surrounding knives. She is a kind and dedicated girl who in quietly inspiring.
Rohan Kishibe from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable I have been waiting for him to show up, his reputation as a jerk-face precedes him. The fact that he is sort of creator Araki’s self-insert character makes his attitude doubly amusing
His introduction as a disconnected and snobbish Artisté with a seemingly overpowered Stand is memorable. But I think my favorite moment so far was his dedication to beating that 11-year-old at rock, paper, scissors.
Avilio’s forethought would make him an incredible villain in another show. In the morally deprived world of Lawless, he is no less a monster than those around him as we watch his humanity slip further and further from his grasp.
Orange from TMS Entertainment Much like 91 Days the overall arc of Orange is not that hard to figure out. How the critical day for Kakeru turns out is up in the air but that is not the point. The real journey was seeing how Kakeru get to the point where he was so depressed, isolated, and hopeless that he felt suicide was the only answer in his original timeline. Equally important is what actions his friends take with the knowledge contained within Naho’s letter from the future. Which of their actions help Kakeru, which change things in unexpected ways, and which change things for the worse. It is all the little decisions and oversights that are what is compelling.
The penultimate episode from the point of view of Kakeru from the original timeline shows the real darkness and sadness of his situation that was only hinted at before that point. It utterly heightens the difficulty of saving Kakeru and healing his broken psyche. It adds to the tension and drama of the final episode.
When the last episode comes all but the most stoic soul is wearing their heart of their sleeves as the critical night comes to an emotional climax. Orange builds the dramatic tension and then pays it off wonderfully. There will not be a dry eye in the house. As it should be.
Toshikazu Hazamada’s Mannequin Oh, poor Mannequin we hardly knew ye. This poor mannequin was Toshikazu Hazamada’s only friend. Toshikazu Hazamada’s Stand Surface turns the mannequin into a copy of anyone the Toshikazu has met. It even lets him control the person it is copying when he is in range. The Mannequin tried to beat Josuke for his master but is destroyed after Josuke destroyed it when his master was unconscious after a beating he got from some bikers. It was a loyal piece of wood who sadly was tied to a petty owner.
The Enigmatic Gale (Lin Setsu A) from Thunderbolt Fantasy Smug white-haired bastard is a delight from beginning to end. The reveal of his motivations is so perfectly on-point and yet unexpected all the same.
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
Makina Nakajima and Reina Prowler from Macross Delta These two are clearly a couple. I’m a little unclear if they merely heavily implied to be together and the show just never shows them say kissing or if they just don’t feel it necessary to just have an exposition scene to spell it out. I think it is fairly clear they are more than just really close friends. Either way, they make a cute couple.
I think the most interesting thing is they have a bit of the standard “initially they hate each other but then they fall in love” aspect of their relationship. If anything they are the Misa Hayase and Hikaru Ichijyo of this iteration of the series. They start off mixing like oil and water but as Walküre comes together so do they as they realize they actually have a lot in common.
Best Continuing Series
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable by David Production While I highlighted Diamond is Unbreakable last season I still think it is worth bringing up as a prime example of a continuing series. Last season I was very surprised at how David Productions was able to sell the anime fandom on Part 4 of Jojo’s but I am even more impressed at how they have been able to hold people’s attention.
In the first three parts of Jojo’s, there is a very clear structure to the series. The series has a very standard shonen fighting formula with its introduction of the main cast, villains, and allies. If anything the major complaint about Stardust Crusaders is it embraced the formula a little too closely for some fans liking. It never fully got into the Bleach or Samurai Deeper Kyo level of shonen bloat but I felt like it rubbed a vocal minority more than I expected considering how Stardust Crusaders was always considered the favorite arc before this point.
Diamond is Unbreakable came in like a revitalizing wind. It has a much more relaxed air that feels very different from the previous three arcs while still having many of the strengths of what came before it. But I was still worried that the novelty of arc would wear out quickly as Diamond is Unbreakable takes a while to introduce its main plot and then often meanders in between major plot points. It seemed like a recipe for a backlash.
David Productions has done an excellent job of pacing Diamond is Unbreakable in a way that gives the viewer just enough plot that the story can take odd little tangents and flights of fancy without feeling like it is wasting the time of the viewer. Despite the fact that it takes 21 episodes to formally introduce its main villain and the real plot but it does a good job of keeping the audience interested in the town until that point. It is able to juggle old heroes, new villains, and strange scenarios while remaining true to this new slice of life feel in a Deadly Premonition styled town.
It would be very easy to cut out all the comedy bits, strange tangents, and titular bizarre adventures in Diamond is Unbreakable to streamline this section of the series. Thankfully David Productions has realized those are just as essentially as the big fights and majorly story episodes. It has taken a bit of smart editing, good presentation, and clever additional material but it has kept the story as interesting and sometimes even more compelling than the original manga.
Plus I think everyone appreciates the introduction of Rohan Kishibe. You have to admire Araki for making his self-insert character so delightfully dickish in a way that is hardly flattering.
Now that the first part of the battle against Kira is over hopefully the next part can maintain this same level of both intensity and frivolity.
DAYS by MAPPA This feel good soccer story was (and remains) a pleasure each week. Tsukamoto is another great addition to the new faces of shonen sports. His enjoyment of soccer always comes through as he works harder than anyone on the team, even when all that work just makes him good enough and not a star. The paralleling of Kazuma rediscovering his love of soccer and sport is also deeply resonant.
The end of the first arc was emotionally gripping, even if it was somewhat expected. We’ve only just gotten to know these guys but I want to see them go far.
Sweetness & Lightning OP “Harebare Fanfare” (Bright Fanfare) by Mimi Meme MIMI The opening to Sweetness & Lightning has to accomplish for very important tasks to be successful.
1. Show the energetic lightening of Tsumugi.
2. The sweetness in the bond between Tsumugi and Kouhei.
3. Kotori’s growing friendship with Tsumugi and Kouhei.
4. The love of food, cooking and eating.
Harebare Fanfare is able to accomplish all of this while capturing the energy and brightness that characterizes the series.
The intro wisely focuses on Tsumugi as she has the energy to carry an opening like no one else in the series. It does a great job of highlighting her school life, home life with her father, cooking time with Kotori, and rich imagination a single opening. It also shows so much about what the series is besides a slice of life cooking series while still highlighting the food and the joy in making and eating it.
It is another opening that really telling the viewer exactly what the show is about without ever having to say a word.
Macross Delta ED2 “Hametsu no Junjō” (Ruin of Pure Heart) by Walküre The Macross series is famous for three things: Music, Mecha, and Romance. In that regard, it would be very strange for the opening and closing of a Macross series not to be strong. This opening is no exception with a strong ending that uses all the members of the in-universe idol group. It is a strong ensemble song with a good mixture of the core elements of Macross all highlighted. There are a lot of reasons oddly enough none of those are the reasons I picked this as my favorite ending this season. They are all valid reasons to pick this ending but they are not the one I wanted to focus on.
I picked this one because of a single resonant lyric. “Choose the future even if it’s the inferior option.” There is something about the rejection of wallowing in the past and nostalgia that the line embodies really resonated with me. The idea that since the future is inevitable it is better to bravely march forward and grasp it rather than hide in your memories.
It a single line but no other line from an ending was as powerful so the song wins in this category without hesitation.