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 fall 2016 . . .
Best of the Best
Yuri!!! On Ice by MAPPA Life and love. And competitive figure skating. Understanding, discovery, and embracing of the competitive spirit is a big part of this series. As is the incredible mental game that solo sports require. What makes this incredible to watch is that every character is at the same event, seeing the same things, and yet each and every one great and small reacts different to the circumstances before them. No two characters go through the strains and hardships, or the victories, in the same way.
And then there is the romance between Yuri and Victor which is not subtext, or a nice tease of fan-service, but a pursued relationship. It is romantic and awkward and unexpected and lovely.
March Comes in like a Lion by Shaft March Comes in like a Lion is a very good show. I think most critics would agree with that statement. How much you love it or respect it might vary wildly but it is fairly easy to argue it is a solid show. But it is a show that directly speaks to me which is why it won this award. While the show is ostensibly about shogi it is really a series about depression. Rei is very clearly a troubled young man. Not in an exaggerated dramatic way. He is not Osamu Dazai from Bungo Stray Dogs. He has a far more realistic gloom that taints his life in 1,000 different ways. It is a story that resonates with me on a fundamental level.
I think the reason March Comes in like a Lion stands out is because it has empathy for Rei’s depression and not sympathy. It always feels like the show wants to understand Rei more than feel bad for him. You are asked to examine why he is the way he is as opposed to just pity him for his sad life. When you walk in his shoes for a while you understand the power of his small triumphs, the sadness of when he continues in his normal habits of behavior, and dread when Kyoko goes out of her way to drag him back down.
If you have ever dealt with a deep depression Rei’s journey will speak to you in way that I think other anime might not. It always feels like a storyteller that wordlessly says, “I understand you” while they tell an unrelated story to your personal troubles but is helpful none the less.
It is more than that. There are the shogi matchs, the makeshift family with the Kawamotos, Rei poisonous family relationships with the Koudas, Rei’s frenemy rivalry with Nikaidou, and Rei’s struggle with loss in general. There is the comedy, soft heartwarming moments, and triumph and inspiration. It is a multifaceted show that does many things very well but it’s one exceptional aspect catapulted it to the top.
Chidori from Ninja Girl & Samurai Master It would be very easy to either make Chidori the female reincarnation of Otomono Hosohito or the Beverly Hills Ninja. She could either be a hyper-competent shinobi god or an utterly useless nincompoop. As Ninja Girl & Samurai Master is a comedy you might expect her to tend towards the latter. But the series makes Chidori something different.
She is an amazing ninja. Her skills with infiltration, assassination, reconnaissance, and swordsmanship are all top-notch. At the same time, she definitely has a goofadoof personality which can make her job harder (and more comedic) than it normally would be. It makes her highly skilled but still a very comedic character. You never question why the ruthless Nobunaga would continue to have her in his service.
While Ninja Girl & Samurai Master is a delightful comedic show Chidori gives it an extra level of heart which makes it special.
Yuri Pilsetsky from Yuri!!! On Ice The other Yuri. Sometimes ya just gotta be angry! Yuri is really good at being angry. He also has a magnificent character arc, maybe the biggest one in the series, which doesn’t result in an evaporation of his anger. We see as him transform his energy, make leaps, and still have a road stretched out before him.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable by David Productions I was enjoying JoJo’s all the way through, but I wasn’t expecting the ending to satisfy me as much as it did. I should have because at this point we know that creator Araki can really nail an ending. Part 4 wraps up things in ways I was not expecting and even brings a conclusion for characters I didn’t think would have their moments. Of course, it had some of that signature “this is not how you thought it would go”-style, too. And the absolute final moment of the series? It’s a laugh and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Girlish Number by Diomedea Chitose Karasuma is a miserable person, a mediocre actress, and fair-weather friend. Despite that, you find yourself rooting for her. So when she hits a major crisis of confidence you are actually invested in how she deals with it. The parallels between Gojou’s burn out and her own are very clear. They question is how does the girl with far less work ethic overcome the same slump that her more talented brother never recovered from.
In many ways, it would be very easy for Chitose to just buckle down or learn a very special lesson in a very special episode of Blossom. But that sort of growth would feel insanely out of character. Instead, they have Chitose grow in a way that is true to her twisted nature while still having her grow positively as a human being. It is just the right sort of change for her.
At the same time, Kazuha and Momoka’s growing friendship was one of my favorite parts of the show. They go from two people who have a cold but comfortable working relationship to actual friends who support each other and enjoy each other’s company. I actually did not make them my couple of the year mostly because they are not romantically compatible but work perfectly as allies and confidants.
I said on the podcast this is a show that all comes down to its ending. It can be mean-spirited and dark as well as insightful and charming but the conclusion needs to keep both sides in balance or it ruins the whole balancing act. I think it kept all its plates spinning quite admirably despite looking like everything might come crashing down at points and was able to end the performance with the audience giving it honest applause.
Best Show I Wanted to Watch this Season But Couldn’t
Because There Was So Much Stuff On
Keijo!!!!!!!! by Xebec At this point I just might have to watch this show to see if this is just an extremely elaborate No soap radio gag perpetrated by anitwitter or the ultimate case of “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
When this series first was announced Keijo immediately garnered attention with its premise of girls fighting basically using the Butt Battle system from Dead or Alive Xtreme 2. It seemed like the ultimate mega dumb fanservice show that would make The Qwaser of Stigmata and Manyuu Hikenchou blush. In fact, there was a rush of people who rushed to watch the show just to see HOW terrible it was. Then the reports started coming back. People actually liked it.
Make no mistake. It is a fan service show where girls battle with their boobs and butts. But the odd thing is they take the premise and treats it like it was a traditional sports show. It has the legitimate structure that a good sports show would take. They use T&A as a weapon in this strangely way that is simultaneously serious like Ring Ni Kakero while also being just as ridiculous.
It is not a smart show or a classy show. But it takes what should have been an utterly deplorable premise and actually makes something worth watching. Or so I have been told. I’m still a bit wary. I guess the only way to know the true is to dive in and hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
Reina Kousaka and Kumiko Oumae from Sound! Euphonium HA! You thought I was going to pick Yuri!!! On Ice for this, didn’t you? I’ve had an up and down relationship with this series, but these two together have been a consistent high point.
Rei Kiriyama and Akari Kawamoto from March Comes in like a Lion I would call this couple imagined mostly because at this point in the series Rei Kiriyama is not really in the position to be in a healthy relationship with anyone. He needs to work on himself before he can really connect to another person. Plus his toxic relationship with Kyouko Kouda is currently blocking him from being with anyone else even if that were not the case.
Overall Rei is distinctly a broken bird and Akari is someone who loves to takes in strays. If Rei had a greater commitment to starting to heal his emotional wounds instead of fostering them he would really benefit from a relationship with someone like Akari. They definitely get along well and Rei has shown that he can let his guard down around her. Akari lives in a world of fake love and artifice as a hostess so someone as genuine as Rei would clearly be refreshing.
I have a feeling that the series is pushing a Rei and Hinata relationship. I don’t have a major problem with that. They also make a cute couple. The core problems are still there but I wonder if Hinata’s youth and inexperience make her a little incabale deal with someone like Rei but that is neither here nor there. I prefer Akari and Rei but I would be happy with Rei and Hinata.
Best Continuing Series
March Comes in like a Lion by Shaft I think I have praised this show quite a bit already in these awards. I was tempted to give it an award for its opening or ending but that just seemed excessive. Plus there were some stellar shows that deserved some more love from me.
I am fascinated by Rei’s growth as a shogi professional as well as a human being. I also want to see more of the amazing Kawamotos, the broken Koudas, and the various people in the world of shogi. There is more story to tell in Rei’s journey out of his personal darkness and I am curious to see where that leads.
Tiger Mask W by Toei Animation The show is fake fake wrestling made real. Tiger Mask and Tiger the Dark are both looking to avenge their former mentor who was mercilessly injured by Yellow Devil. It pokes fun at the WWE with its Global Wrestling Monopoly villains. There are still mysteries to be revealed about Tiger’s Den. What’s not to love?
Yuri!!! On Ice “History Maker” by Dean Fujioka Demonstrating the beautiful movement and fluidity of figure skating this opening is impressive to see. The song that goes along with it feels different for an anime opening, it has almost a musical theater feeling to it and captures the emotions of the series.
Drifters “Gospel of the Throttle (Kyouhon REMIX ver.)” by Minutes Til Midnight Drifters is hardly a perfect show. The humor and action clashes as often as it blends. The characters can be just as stereotypical as they are fun. It plays very fast and loose with its historical figures. But in the end, it makes up for so much of its faults with Style™.
The opening really tells you what you’re in for with the rest of the show. They have samples of both the normal animation and the silly loose sketches used for the comedy scenes. Also whenever any of the Drifters are introduced for the first time they get these fancy manga cover styled splashes that herald their arrival nicely.
I think my favorite part of the opening is when the various soldiers will stop fighting, turn to the camera, and the start singing with the song’s chorus. It is a remarkably good moment that sells both the violence and irreverence that are the show’s hallmarks.
Tiger Mask W “KING OF THE WILD” by Shonan no Kaze Tiger Mask W is a show so overflowing with testosterone and energy that its ending song is as powerful as most shows openings. It perfectly captures the spirit of a world where kayfabe is real while also invoking that persona of a timeless character like Tiger Mask. It fits in with the delightfully over the top world that the anime creates. In a universe where wrestlers regularly try to mutilate each other in the ring with no consequences, where there are legitimate assassination organizations behind bad guy groups, and where justice can only be delivered by a man in a mask in a wrestling ring. In this world, King of the Wild would be someone’s entrance theme.
King of the Wild is also is just a powerful earworm. I always find myself humming “King of the wild wild wild” thought the day whenever I finish an episode. The song works in an almost insidious Do Not Forsake Me, O’ My Postman manner.
Haikyu!! S3 “Mashi Mashi” by NICO Touches the Walls Attempt to watch this opening without bobbing your head or getting the song stuck on loop in your brain. The style of the character drawings has a nice bite to go along with it.