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 winter 2017 . . .
Best of the Best
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. by Madhouse ACCA is a political mystery and a grand tour-like exploration of each of its thirteen unique districts. It is a slow, character focused series that was intriguing from the get-go. Even the way things are revealed has a underplayed quality to it. Somehow ACCA is able to be both sensational and matter-of-fact in the same scene.
Jean is a character who looks aloof but seems knowing. How much does he know about the coup really? How much is he a pawn, and how much is he just pretending to be one? Jean kept me guessing the true nature of everything right until the very end.
ACCA was the series I wanted to watch first every week and it had me puzzling over all the little bits of information it gave me each time.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-blooded Orphans by Sunrise At first Mobile Suit Gundam AGE seemed to have some real potential but ultimate fell completely flat and Gundam Reconguista in G was a storm of Tomino insanity. But Gundam has always been a series with various ups and downs. I feel that Iron-blooded Orphans was a triumphant return to form that also tweaks the general Gundam formula in some interesting ways.
I have been trying to reduce the number of times I use the phrase “I feel” in my writing but in this case, it is very important because I have been seeing very mixed opinions of the show. While I don’t think it was even close to a perfect series I was fascinated by the fact that it is a bit hard to definitively say who won and lost in the series. On a simple binary, you can declare who won and lost but neither Tekkadan, Gjallarhorn, or any of the other factions really get what they want in any form that they wanted. The losers get lots of their goals and the victors win an extremely compromised victory. Many good people die and several scoundrels come out unscathed but some heroes are rewarded and some scumbags get their comeuppance. It feels like a more nuanced ending than the standard “the good guys win and the bad guys get blown up” ending. I saw several people complain that nothing happened or that is was an utter victory for evil. I feel it was more of the nuanced ending you tend to get in real life. The world of the Post Disaster universe is different after the Iron-blooded Orphans and I would argue it is a better place than when it started. It is still a world with corruption, exploitation, and inequality but some progress was made.
I’m going to throw out a controversial opinion here. If we look back on this post a decade from now then my bad. But I predict this will be the Turn A Gundam of this decade. It is a series that has gotten a good deal of gruff when it ended and lots of people are going to try to throw it on the failure pile when it comes to Gundam’s history but I feel after a decade passes this will be looked back as an innovate show that broke the mold in many good ways. It will not be remembered a perfect show but one that should be remembered for what it did so well.
Yukari “Cure Macaron” Kotozume from Kirakira☆Precure A La Mode With a few notable exceptions the protagonists of Precure series are Junior High school students so Cure Moonlight really stood out as a Cure that was in High School. Moonlight had a little depth of character from being older that made her a fan favorite. Since then they have sadly not really tried to add that dynamic again. That was until this season.
Yukari Kotozume and Akira Kenzou are almost definitely channeling a Michiru Kaiou and Haruka Tenou vibe. While nothing has hinted that these two are a couple like the iconic Sailor Moon pair the shipping has already started. One of them has a cat theme and the other has a dog theme. I would be shocked if they were not designed together.
Yukari Kotozume is constantly bored. She is a girl of privilege and genius so almost everything in her life has come easily to her. So when the challenge of being a Precure shakes her complacency so she jumps at the chance to actually accomplish something that is challenging. It is clear that she is not used to failure but is not easily discouraged when she encounters a setback.
It would be easy to make her a perfect Mary Sue but they give her a bit of aloof cat-styled coldness that makes her both magnetic but also abrasive. They wisely give her a warm charm that keeps her from feeling just like a spoiled brat. She is a very different sort of cool from the usual Precure archetypes.
I’m extremely curious to see how they develop her over the course of the show. Right now she clearly has built up a wall between herself and others so I want to see how she learns to let people into her life while keeping that graceful noble style.
Orga started the series by helping to get Tekkadan out from under the thumb of those who were exploiting them. He wanted to create a home the ragtag group of mercenaries, his family. He pursed that goal for the rest of the series. His success in finding Tekkadan a place in the universe was riddled with pitfalls. He led them through complicated political situations, brutal battles, and betrayals. He navigated these circumstances sometimes with success and sometimes with tragic consequences, but always with hope for a different future for his family.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-blooded Orphans by Sunrise The right ending is so important, it can make or break a series. Iron-blooded Orphan’s is incredible, and incredibly sad. The ending is as brutal and tragic as the series promises but it isn’t without hope, without some change. It is a small victory in the face of immense sacrifice which seemed to fit perfectly.
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. by Madhouse ACCA is a pretty low-key and chill show for all the coup d’états, assassinations, and covert ops going on. ACCA is not going to let revolution and Machiavellian politics get in the way sandwich bread, pies, cream puffs, and giant hamburgers. It just has scenes that constantly puts those two hands together. So when all of the backroom plotting comes to a climax it would be odd for the series to come to some crazy Iron-blooded Orphans styled ending. Thankfully ACCA realizes this and ends exactly as it should.
Now that said the climax is not a brief debate over eclairs and coffee. There is still a rebellion so there is action, tension, and intrigue without a doubt. It is just that overall it still has the vibe that show has always had. At the same time, there are some clever twists and turns. Jean does well to place the pieces on the board so that things fall out the way he wants without him seemingly do much of anything. Some other characters also have some great plays during the climax but I would rather not spoil that. Sufficed to say it is wonderful.
But don’t you worry. In the falling action, there is still cakes, snacks, and sandwich bread. This still is ACCA after all.
Most Delicious Food of the Anime Season
Pekorin Doughnut from Kirakira☆Precure A La Mode While there have been many delicious forms of food in the Precure series one of its most enduring staples has been delicious donuts. While no series has reached the heights of having the doughnut truck as the gang’s meeting place like in Fresh Pretty Cure! they have had many great donuts especially thanks to Cure Twinkle being a boss. So when A La Mode came around centered around deserts it would have been criminal for them not to have donuts in their repertoire.
As a doughnut aficionado, I have learned that animal donuts have been a popular trend in Japan for several years now. They are regular donuts with an extra bit of topping to look like animal faces. These Pekorin Doughnut are the slightly more elaborate form of animal donuts with healthy amounts of cream to form ears and tails for all the donuts as opposed to the more standard conservative amounts you would normally find in stores. While the Pekorin Doughnut would hardly be as portable as they are in the show they look scrumptious.
I really want fresh doughnuts now.
Sandwich bread from ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. This bread is so amazing that it serves as a major plot point. Characters covet this bread, talk about it endlessly, use it to ingrain themselves into other character’s lives, and even use the shop as a secret meeting place. State secrets are revealed over sandwich bread!
At this shop there are dozens of flavors and seemingly new ones daily. If anything deserves a pop-up store, this is it!
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
Rail and Lotta from ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. Lotta is a smart, peppy, unflustered woman who has her priorities straight: family and dessert. At first Rail is just an awkward cop who can’t stand Jean and can’t figure out how to approach Lotta. But later he finds a great icebreaker: putting his life on the line for her.
Rail is not the only guy in this series to fall for Lotta (but hey I think he’s got a shot!). To be fair I believe we were all in half-love with her, too.
Kobayashi and Tohru from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid One of the main themes of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is both women are generally successful but lonely. Neither of them seemed particularly bothered by this fact. They had acquaintances, family, and even a very small circle of friends but they had inadvertently set them apart from other people in an extremely casual manner. So their chance meeting throws them into a relationship almost by accident.
While Tohru is extremely enthusiastic about being Kobayashi’s maid and possible lover but Kobayashi mostly seems to take her newfound servant as an unexpected but not unwelcome convenience. But as the series goes on Kobayashi builds a little family unit with her, Tohru, and Kanna. By the time that Tohru’s father comes to take back his daughter Kobayashi is willing to stand up to an Ancient 41+ Hit Dice Red Dragon because Tohru has come to mean that much to her. Tohru slowly become someone who Kobayashi greatly cares for.
The final scenes of the season are Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna going to visit Kobayashi family. The two dragons have so become a part of Miss Kobayashi’s that it has just become unthinakle for her not to introduce them to her biological family. It is probably one of the best ways to end the series. They have officially become a family.
When I was picking which couple I was going to write about I was also thinking about Atra and Kudelia. They even have very similar circumstances where both pairs of women end up raising a child. While Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-blooded Orphans is the superior show I picked Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. The relationship is a very small part of the greater show in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-blooded Orphans but it is the soul of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid so I felt I could not give the award to anyone else.
Best Continuing Series
March Comes in Like a Lion by Shaft Last season I heaped so much praise on this show and March Comes in Like a Lion continues that quality into its second half. The introduction of Kai Shimada is a wonderful reveal as he initially comes off as a road bump opponent for Rei to the point where he is a faceless opponent until the critical moment where Rei suddenly realizes he is in over his head. From that point on he is a great addition to the cast that really makes the shogi part of the plot richer. He adds an important human connection and well as a professional colleague. His story is rich in its own right but it also expands Rei’s character and narrative.
The rest of the cast remains strong. I still find Kyouko a fascinating character as she is such a toxic person that is totally understandable but utterly unforgivable. The Kawamoto are still delightful and I’m much more on board the Hinata and Rei ship.
I also like that the focus on Rei’s depression is strong. We see that he is making slow progress. It is neither unnaturally stunted by the story or instantly incremental. It is the natural subtle shifting progress that feels natural but is still satisfying. The best part of the ending of the season is the acknowledgment of that fact.
My biggest criticism is that the ending mostly seems very arbitrary. It is neither a great nor terrible place to stop. It is probably why it did not win my Best Finale award. They have already announced the date for the next season so it makes the acceptable but unremarkable ending more of a whetting of the appetite than an unfortunate end to the meal.
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. “Shadow and Truth” by ONE III NOTES Look, ACCA could just do no wrong! The opening features great color and design, giant desserts, and a sweet beat. Plus, it is one of those openings that makes more sense after you know the whole story.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju “Imawa no Shinigami” by Megumi Hayashibara At first glance, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju’s opening for the second is just a well-produced opening that perfectly sets the mood for the second half of the series. It perfectly shows you how Yakumo has isolated himself while blanketing himself in the less than idyllic past as he slowly marches towards death. From the scenes of him falling as if engaging in a lover’s suicide to him rejecting all the hands extended to him from the cast on the record player there is a tone that is set for even the densest viewer. The candle from the Shinigami story going out at the end is the perfect conclusion to the opening.
But the real gem is the subtle changes made to the opening with key episodes. Everyone notices when Sukeroku appears with red eyes in the opening but little changes like when the pictures of Miyokichi chance when she comes back up are clearly there for those who are paying extra attention. They only add an extra layer of richness to an already nuanced opening.
Tying it all together is Megumi Hayashibara also doing the opening for this season. She not only fit the opening perfectly but she also reminds the viewer of how the specter of Miyokichi still haunts the cast despite her death.
It all culminates into an opening that tells you everything you need to know about the show and makes anticipate the oncoming tragedy in the best way possible.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid “Ishukan Communication” by Yūki Kuwahara, Maria Naganawa, Minami Takahashi, and Yūki Takada I’m partially just awarding this ending the prize because the opening for Dragon Maid lost to Rakugo. That opening is sort of magical.
Since the Dragons are the heart of the show it makes sense that they are the stars of the ending. It highlights the charm points of all the female dragons while also gives them little segments of their everyday lives. It really sends off the show with the overall feel good vibe that permeates the show.
Tiger Mask W “KING OF THE WILD” by Shounan no Kaze Everything about Tiger Mask is melodramatic including the ending. The stark shadows of the art add a great dramatic touch to the gravelly sounds of the instruments. This song just runs on an endless loop in my head.