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 the great things we watched by the time the end of the year rolls around). So without further ado, our picks for the best of spring 2017 . . .
Best of the Best
The Eccentric Family 2 from P.A.Works Eccentric Family is certainly high on the list of series I didn’t expect to get a sequel to. This pleasant surprise delves back into the family dynamics of the Shimogamo clan, and adds in a new set of family complications when Master Akadama Tengu’s son arrives back in Kyoto. Throw in a good dose of mischief from Yasaburo, a jealous Benten, insight into tanuki society, and more supernatural forces at work, and you’ve got yourself a delightful follow-up.
While I don’t think The Eccentric Family 2 was as amazing as it predecessor, it still possessed a lot of what made the original funny, thoughtful, and clever, and it was a unique anime that always stood apart.
Kado: The Right Answer from Toei Animation Recommending anime can be tricky. If a friend, family member, or coworker asks for an anime to watch you can just throw them out there a title like Cowboy Bebop and Studio Ghibli films. Shows like this might not work for everyone but they appeal to such broad audience that you use them with a low amount of risk. Other shows like My Love Story!! or Master Keaton are great shows but titles that you would only recommend to certain people. That said these types of anime still have a good amount of general appeal. Then you have shows like Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Candy Candy which are masterpieces but you can’t just casually recommend them. They require a certain person in a certain mindset to watch them. If you give the shows to people in the correct strike zone they work perfectly but can easily turn off anyone else. Kado: The Right Answer is a show that is distinctly in that last category.
Who is Kado: The Right Answer for? I think it is for anyone looking for something different. It is a thoughtful piece of science fiction that transforms itself several times over the course of the narrative but in a natural fashion. This is not the abrupt schizophrenic zigzagging of Samurai Flamenco but a subtle and gentler shift of what the series is about. It starts off as a simple salary man story that transforms into a first contact story and then reveals its true nature at the end. It can be deliberately relaxed in a thoughtful way as it explores its concepts and lays little seeds for its later reveals. But that means you have to be in the mood to go on a journey at that very calculated and sedate pace. If you need action and suspense there are so many better titles to indulge in. What you have here is very carefully crafted.
Is it a perfect series? Certainly not. The weird mix of traditional animation and CG takes a bit to get used to and can feel cheap and stiff. The later plot points can come off as a shockingly sudden betrayal of expectations if you miss what they are laying down. I even think Koujirou Shindou comes off of a bit of a Gary Stu. But it feels so very different from other anime. If you need a break from great but formulaic action, sports, and romance shows this might be what you’re looking for.
Katalina Aliz from Granblue Fantasy The Animation It is a little easy to forget that women can wear armor that is neither skin-tight metal or chain-mail bikinis. This is hardly a crime that only anime commits but anime is also not the medium that goes out of its way to challenge this trope. Therefore any series that uses a more realistic armor design for its female character actually stands out. There is a place for the Brave Liz style cheesecake armor and I have enjoyed many a series with impractical armor. But its abundance in series that should otherwise have more realistic armor makes Katalina shine a little brighter.
Beyond that, she is just a great character that is a solid addition to Gran’s crew. Her combination of swordsmanship and magical ability make her a formidable and versatile warrior but her kindness and compassion make her a good friend and protector to Lyria. Her fighting ability makes her a very versatile front line combatant while her quiet dignity gives her a good rapport with the rest of the crew. It makes her a very appealing character without feeling pandering.
Also, I might have a documented affection for blond swordswomen.
Benten from The Eccentric Family 2 “The only thing more fearsome than the painting of Hell is Benten.” Enigmatic in the first series, I was on pins and needles waiting for her appearance in the second. She has such presence, she takes over every scene. Her unpredictability was heighten in this sequel as she exerted her position warring with Akadema’s son.
Attack on Titan from Wit Studio The only way to make a follow-up to a super successful debut harder to pull off is to wait a long time for the followup. People often have unreasonable expectations for sequels and second seasons to blockbuster hits as it is. A long delay can add a deadly mix of even crazier exceptions and bitter resentment that would make an otherwise eagerly received continuation an object of extreme criticism and nitpicking.
I mostly bring this up because despite the fact that Attack on Titan was arguably the last big mainstream hit anime it went on a decently long break at the height of its popularity. At first, there was a ravenous demand for more. Then there was a mild outrage that a new season had not been announced. After that came the worst reaction. People began to forget about the series. In a way that is the worst scenario because it often turns away the more forgiving passionate fans and only leaves the hardcore zealots and the bitter grumps. Both groups can be very persnickety in their own ways.
Overall I would say that the new season of Attack on Titan did a lot to avoid the pitfalls of coming back after such a long time. It took a bit of time for the story to be back up to steam (which can be dangerous) but one it was moving again it felt right. The new season did a fairly good balance of having action and world building while revealing the answers to enough old questions that the new questions remain a mystery worth perusing. Also some of the big reveals this season were rather shocking. The last episode threw down some major developments while still having some important hooks to keep you watching. Also, they announced the third season. It is far enough in the future that the Wit animators have some time to rest but reassure the viewer that they will not get such a long drought again.
I’m not sure that this season can fully capture the lightning in a bottle of the first season but it did an amazing job of resuscitating a franchise that looked like it might fade away. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya almost had a friend in anime fandom purgatory.
Best Show I Wanted to Watch But Apparently, Everyone Needs Their Own Streaming Platform Now
Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul from MAPPA Rage of Bahamut: Genesis had a fairly hefty deck stacked against it. Based on a mobile game seemed the same death sentence for an anime as being based on a fighting game. But the first episode proved that a bit of MAPPA magic could actually produce an insanely fun series out of what should have been a complete train-wreck. When the series ended I really looked forward to seeing the follow-up the teased. MAPPA did not run out and immediately announce a new season of Rage of Bahamut but when it was unveiled I was very excited.
Then came the disappointment. It was only going to be streaming on Anime Strike. While I might not have loved when shows got licensed by Funimation instead of Crunchyroll it still felt like Funimation was not too overpriced. The problem with Anime Strike is that it does not only have the price of the subscription fee to Anime Strike but you also need a far more expensive Amazon Prime account on top of that. If you could buy the Anime Strike membership on its own I would not be nearly as annoyed. But as it stands I just can’t bring myself to plunk down that much money a month just to watch Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul.
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
Kotarou Azumi and Akane Mizuno from Tsuki ga Kirei Kotaro pursues his dreams of being a writer while Akane decides to dedicate herself more fully to her track team. I loved watching these two get close and also starting looking to their futures past high school. They both took some missteps while trying to communicate their feelings, but they were open and honest.
Yaichiro Shimogamo and Gyokuran Nanzenji from The Eccentric Family 2 For a series whose stock in trade in almost exclusively lost loves, frustrated romance, and solitary longing it is nice to see a healthy couple in The Eccentric Family.
Yaichiro Shimogamo starts the series as rather weak-willed and much more pomp and circumstances than substance. After the events of the first season, he grows significantly to the point where he is much closer to the tanuki he portrays himself as. Yaichiro is not only more worthy to be someone to take the position of Trick Magister and his father’ legacy but someone much more capable of being in a healthy adult relationship.
While we only meet Gyokuran Nanzenji this season she set herself apart from her otherwise despicable family as being smart, kind, and strong-willed. You find yourself liking her when you first meet her and you only get a better impression of her as time goes by.
While Yaichirou and Gyokuran start with some distance between them they grow closer throughout the season and show how they both balance each other well. By the end, you can imagine them being with anyone else.
Best Ongoing Series
My Hero Academia from Bones My Hero Academia mixes the best of the American superhero comics with the strengths of the shonen fighting formula in an earnest and respectful manner that can only come from the creator loving both genres. The first season did a great job introducing a world of commonplace superpowers and Deku’s place in the systems that govern it. This season has done a lot more to show the rest of class Class 1-A Students beyond Deku’s two major friends. While it does dip into the standard tournament arc formula it does subvert the blueprint in some important ways. It really has me excited to see the whole class do a little field work in the next arc.
Kirakira☆Precure A La Mode from Toei Animation Delightful and charming characters, story, and desserts. We are nearly halfway through and we’re really getting to see how strong of a PerCure series we have from the way it handles monsters and recurring villains. We’ve had some really exciting recent developments and I can’t wait to see where the show goes next.
The Eccentric Family 2 “Nasugamama, Sawagumama” by milktub Design-wise this is a clear winner. Combining multiple styles including photography, this opening accentuates the eccentric nature of this story perfectly.
Granblue Fantasy the Animation “GO” by Bump of Chicken When Granblue Fantasy decides to go all out the Mobile Game Money™ really shows. The opening for Granblue Fantasy showcases what the best of the anime has to offer. The opening starts in a with a thick fog over various forests and ruins. As the sun rises all the crew of the Grandcypher slowly starting walking uphill from different points as the sun rises. Then Lyria’s tortured past flashes on the screen. As if urged on by this the characters all start to break into a run and more action scenes start mixing themselves into the animation. It all comes to a climax with the Grandcypher rising above the fog below into a pure blue sky.
The opening ramps up the viewer’s expectation for a classic D&D styled adventure. It actually reminds me a lot of a modern version of the Record Of Lodoss War openings. The Bump of Chicken opening ties it all together with a smooth upbeat song that captures the mood of the show wonderfully.
I have to say Bump of Chicken has really been knocking it out of the part with anime openings recently.
The Eccentric Family 2 “Moon River” by fhána Considering the fact that Benten and Yasaburo’s relationship is such a strong part of the narrative of this season it only makes sense that the ending would revolve around Benten with some important cameos from , Akadama, and Nidaime. While the first ending is a bit of a prequel story to the first season this second ending actually tells Benten’s story throughout the season without you realizing it until after it’s over. It wisely uses shots that don’t give away anything about the plot but are amazingly poignant after you have finished the show.
Granblue Fantasy the Animation “Sora no Parade” by HARUHI Both the opening and ending has the proper RPG feel, bookending each episode nicely. The opening is hopeful, like the sky opening up readying us for the journey, and the ending is a bit melancholy and nostalgic as if the characters are remembering the adventure many years after it happened.