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 fall 2017 . . .
Best New Show
Recovery of an MMO Junkie by Signal. MD Moriko quits her job and looks for solace from her harsh experience by losing herself playing a male avatar in an online fantasy game. There she makes friends, joins a guild, and starts to heal. She also becomes close to another player named Lily who begins to open Moriko’s heart. In the real world, she has a fateful run-in with a young man named Sakurai who becomes curious about her. This romance unfolds at a wonderful, simple pace over the course of ten episodes. It is fanciful and sweet to watch these two shy people get closer.
Moriko’s struggle with the idea of reconnecting to the real world is done in a thoughtful way. Sometimes her desire to stay immersed online hits a little too close to home. Coming to understand her and watch her move forward was really rewarding.
This show stood out for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I didn’t expect to like it. It was a long shot on our first episode review list. And now it’s here as my favorite show of the season; what a good surprise.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride by Wit Studio Somewhere between heavily alignment based spell casters and the down and dirty practical sorcery of gritty fantasy worlds lies a more traditional style of old world classical fairy tale magic. In worlds like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings magic is dictated by its wielder. People may have a spectrum of morality but the magic itself tends to fit nicely on a nine square alignment chart depending on how it’s used. In more down and dirty fantasy worlds like Game of Thrones magic is more of a tool. It is a dangerous and mysterious tool but a tool none the less. But classical fairy tale magic is the mixture of those and uniquely its own thing. Magic is the force that can be tapped by humans but is always separate from them. It is alien and beyond good and evil. Wondrously beautiful and alluring while also dangerous and impossible to fully understand. I feel like one of the appeals of Neil Gaiman is that his works tap into this and The Ancient Magus’ Bride does this as well.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride really hits it out of the park because it really creates the perfect atmosphere to live in the world of classic legends. Everything else pours out from that. In the world of The Ancient Magus’ Bride magic lurks behind the facade of the modern world. It is a world of the fantastic that far too powerful for the average person. They could not handle the wonder or the terror. The brilliant use of art, music, and mood makes this apparently in every scene. The stories of Chise and Elias then just naturally exist within with framework. While they are wonderful characters in a vacuum they feel a naturalistic part of this world. The stories that they experience just make sense and feel consistent pieces of their journey through life.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride fills an important fantasy niche that I have not seen for a while in anime. While I have enjoyed several great fantasy series recently this scratches an itch in the way that other recent titles have not. I love Restaurant to Another World, Magical Circle Guru Guru, and Fate/Apocrypha but they are very different kinds of shows. Some yokai series have come close but this gets a different vibe thanks to the more western fairytale setting. If you want a fantastic mixture of glamour and horror then you have to watch The Ancient Magus’ Bride.
Hinata Kawamoto from March Comes in like a Lion Hinata is really the character who stands out in the first half of this season. She was a lovely character from the first season but she never took center stage in the story the way that Akari did. She was a fun character with many memorable scenes but most of the time she added to another character’s storyline more than anything else. Her continuing plot with bullying moves her right to the forefront and transforms her from a charming character to an unforgettable one. But most of all her mixture of strength and vulnerability draw a complex character who gains levels you would have never imagined. It is also worth mentioning that the whole storyline deals with the complex web of problems with bullying in a brilliantly nuanced manner.
Ruth from The Ancient Magus’ Bride Ulysse begins the series prowling a graveyard as a church grim. He doesn’t realize he is a dog and dearly hopes to reunite with his sister. His sweet and somber history is coaxed out by Chise who helps him to realize the truth. His bond with Chise is cemented in a beautiful ceremony when he asks to become her familiar and she renames him Ruth. He is smart, loyal, and protective of Chise like a big brother.
I had not one but two dog characters to choose from this season. What are the odds of that happening again?
Recovery of an MMO Junkie by Signal. MD I really appreciated the ending of this show which was romantic and hopeful but not overdramatic. The reveal of their online personas was particularly satisfying.
MAGICAL CIRCLE GURU-GURU by Production I.G Magical Circle Guru Guru is a fun goodadoof adventure that ended with the right sort of excitement, heart, and poop jokes. The show needed all three of these elements for it to succeed and thankfully it was able to accomplish the trifecta. While it might seem that you could have dropped any of these things and succeeded any ending without one of them would have felt hollow.
First and foremost this is a series based on Dragon Quest style RPGs. Therefore you need some razzle dazzle during the last fight. While combat has never been the focus of the show this is the last boss. So you need some fancy swordplay from Nike and some powerful magic from Kukuri to show they are up against the greatest evil in the land. Too much would make it seem like the show suddenly decided it was Record Of Lodoss War but just enough to remind you this is the last battle.
You also need that romance element. For all the gathering of elemental swords and spell circles as moved forward the plot, the real engine of growth of Kukuri and Nike has been their feelings for each other. Therefore what ultimately seals away Lord Giri has to be the love between Kukuri and Nike.
Last but not least there have to be some jokes. The action is cool and the romance is essential but the real meat of the series is silliness. Despite the stakes, this can never disappear. The fact that the King of Nothingness Fairies and a poop joke is what saves the day finishes the trifecta perfectly.
Magical Circle Guru Guru is hardly the greatest anime ever made but it is a wonderful journey filled with excitement, young love, and whimsical buffoonery that always entertains.
Worst Fantasy World to Live In
Country of Radio Waves from Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- the Animated Series There are so many bad places to live in the world of Kino’s Journey but the Country of Radio Waves stand out as a special sort of hell because it feels a little different from some of the other stories in a unique way. Most of the countries in Kino’s Journey take an aspect of human nature and exaggerate it as the key feature of the country to the point of hyperbole. The best episodes make you think about human nature in a way that only the strongest speculative fiction can. The Country of Radio Waves is different because it merely takes a real phenomenon as looks at it in isolation. There is no need for exaggeration. By just spotlighting the need for humans to create scapegoats when they can’t figure out how to deal with complex social problems.
In the Country of Radio Waves, the people of the nation blame old radio stations they used to control slaves with for any major social disturbance. By the end of the episode Shizu, Riku, and Ti discover that radio stations have been inoperable for years and then barely escape with their lives when they try to shake free the citizens of their delusion. Given the current political climate, most people could easily find half a dozen comparisons in the United States. The brilliance of the episode, in my opinion, is that almost any self-aware citizen can find an analog in their own home if they are willing, to be honest with themselves. Individuals can come to hard conclusions but mobs tend to enjoy picking scapegoats.
The true hell of the Country of Radio Waves is the revelation that you already live there.
Best Couple (Real or Imagined)
Akira Kenjou and Yukari Kotozume from Kirakira Precure A La Mode A lot of the time trying to convince people that they might actually want to check out certain Precure series is akin to trying to convince someone who they should actually give Girlish Number a chance because it is actually really smart and slightly savage. People see Precure either as pandering fluff or kiddy claptrap. But much like Sailor Moon, it is a series that while mostly being light magical girl entertainment actually has rich depths. (Well much like Gundam this is true more for certain iterations than others.) I think the relationship between Akira Kenjou and Yukari Kotozume has started making new segments of fandom realize this might be the case.
Most of the time I feel any lesbian subtext in Precure is mostly just in the realm of shippers. Most of the time it is people seeing what they want to see. This time around they seem to be deliberately channeling Haruka Tenoh and Michiru Kaioh with their relationship. I feel that Cure Chocolat and Cure Macaron is far more than subtext but just below being outright stated (unless they are waiting for a Legend of Korra ending.)
I think it is still a fairly bold choice even if they have not fully pulled the trigger. It is a very positive and cute relationship that has made some people actually give Precure and chance they might not have otherwise given it. While we have given the show several awards in the past I wanted to give it some props before it wraps up at the end of the month for one special angle of the show that should not go overlooked.
Best Ongoing Show
March Comes in like a Lion by Shaft As I mentioned the last time March Comes in like a Lion came up for awards I could easily throw most of the accolades at the show with no regret. That would be sort of boring and this season has been rather strong so it would be a disservice to the other Fall shows that have been doing great things. So I will just concentrate most of my praise here.
The first season of March Comes in like a Lion was a strong blend of touching, amusing, and profound. The second season carefully builds on all of that. Every character who was rich only gets greater depth. Some of the supporting characters rise to the forefront and stand behind the principal characters in amazing ways. It deftly continues the momentum of the first season in an impressive fashion.
Rei’s growth has been subtle and complex. He is still an awkward depressed young man who is haunted by his past and unsure of his future but he is a very different awkwardly depressed young man who is haunted by his past and unsure of his future. He has definitely grown and his depression is far less than it was at the start of the series. He is still healthier even if he has gained some news quirks and anxieties in the process. This two steps forwards and one step back progress should be familiar to anyone watching the show in a way that still inspires hope.
March Comes in like a Lion continues to be the one show I rush to watch every week. It is a compelling mix of drama and comedy that inspires and move with power that comes from the unique writing of Chica Umino.
Kirakira Precure A La Mode by Toei Animation How many times do I have to say this? This series is delightful! Now the question is whether it will elevate itself ever so slightly when they confront the final boss.
“Saturday Night Question” by Megumi Nakajima from Recovery of an MMO Junkie This opening is emotionally revealing, making it a perfect introduction to the show especially because the series doesn’t delve too deeply into the specifics of Moriko’s past.
“Flag wo Tatero” by YUKI from March Comes in like a Lion I had to save one last bit of praise for the opening of March Comes in like a Lion. If you watched the Honey and Clover anime the openings to that show stick out as much as the excellent content they intrude. Part of that is the musical styling of YUKI. (The visuals hold their own but that is beside the point.) It only makes sense to bring her back to do openings for Chica Umino’s new series. It is like YUKI’s presence makes this officially a Chica Umino anime adaptation.
But beyond that, the visuals set the tone of this season perfectly. The brighter pallet of the opening shows that Rei has grown so much from where he initially started but the darker tones used at certain key moments remind the viewer he is still very haunted. The fact that while Rei chases the butterfly of happiness representing the Kawamoto family it says volumes that he is unable to ever grasp it during the opening. It shows that while Rei has improved he still has far to go. Better but hardly perfect.
I was also glad to see more of the Kawamoto family in the opening as well. They are the most important influence on the story as Rei. While they are not part of the shogi world they influence Rei’s game as much as any of his rivals. They needed some time to shine on the opening as more than just secondary characters.
The cheerful opening has just enough darkness to remind you exactly what sort of show you’re watching.
“Magical Circle” by TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN-FUND featuring Shoko Nakagawa from Magical Circle Guru Guru Magical Circle Guru Guru is a show where a band of goofadoofs tries to save the world from a generic RPG villain. It is a fun adventure more concerned with skewering the tropes of Dragon Quest games and the awkwardness of young love than anything else. Therefore its ending invokes that pastel feel-good nature of the show. You get an overview of the jokers from the second half of the adventure with a healthy deference to Nike and Kukuri since they are the stars of the series which only makes sense.
Don’t worry the make sure the sexy grandpas of G Fantasy are in the ending. They know what the people want.