Zubat’s Top Anime of 2016

This post may be two months late has been in the works for the past two months, and now it’s finally time to share it with you all! Please remember that these are all my personal opinions, and that it’s perfectly ok to disagree with my ranking decisions or omissions – I watched well over 50 airing shows last year and there were many great shows I had to leave off of my list. I’ll keep this rest of this introduction short and save the words for my thoughts below – please enjoy my list of personal favorites from this past year of anime!

Best Film:

Girls und Panzer der Film – It’s hard to believe that I only chose to watch this film on a whim. Taking a chance on the whole franchise after I found out about a showtime near where I live, der Film is undeniably the most fun I’ve ever had watching anime. Its characters range from lovable goofs to hilarious military parodies (never change, Katyusha); and its story, while ridiculous, is still heartfelt and satisfying. But let’s be real, Garupan is all about tanks, and it has those in spades. There are almost too many amazing moments to name: the Finnish dance, the roller coaster (I’m a lifelong coaster enthusiast and I got really excited at that part), every scene with the “only charge” tanks, every scene with Katyusha but most especially a certain overly dramatic scene, and so on. der Film is a celebration of everything that makes Girls und Panzer.. well, Girls und Panzer; and the result is 2 hours of pure, ridiculous, fist-pumping fun.

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Honorable Mentions:

Koyomimonogatari – “This is like Monogatari, but not really.” That was the main thought I remember having throughout each of Koyomimonogatari‘s 12 11-minute episodes. Filled entirely with the dialogue and wordiness that the series is famous for, Koyomi takes us on a trip down memory lane as it rewinds to the very beginning of the series and slowly works its way back to the present. Though the stakes felt significantly lower than the show proper for much of this series, Koyomimonogatari is still same entrancing Monogatari fun and it’s left me excited and thrilled for the coming conclusion to the Owarimonogatari arcs.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar / Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash – Grimgar’s relatively quieter take on life in another world often felt like a breath of fresh air. Though the setting was clearly still fantasy, there was a sense of realism in both the physical and emotional trials faced by the main cast. The weight created by those things made Grimgar’s story feel meaningful; and although it undercut itself often through unnecessary fanservice and Ranta’s often unpleasant personality, Grimgar successfully captured an essence of calm and melancholy that felt unique for what it was.

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10. Bungou Stray Dogs (Season 2)

Stylish, thrilling, and incredibly fun, Bungou Stray Dogs‘s second season finally lived up to my personal hype for the premise. The three-way conflict between the Agency, Port Mafia, and Guild was a natural extension of the turf war of the first season, with push and pull between the factions that felt neither arbitrary nor forced. On a more personal level, the addition of American authors allowed me to better understand some of the literary references made by the show, and Atsushi’s orphanage backstory felt like it was used more effectively here than nearly anywhere in the first season. The one major weakness for me was the 4-episode backstory of Odasaku and Dazai that, while well-excecuted, didn’t quite grab me in the same way as the rest of the story did. But despite that setback, Bungou Stray Dogs finally found its stride in its second cour, and its ordered chaos made for one last great ride in 2016.

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9. Flying Witch

Quiet stillness matched with curious wonder – Flying Witch was a wonderful escape to the magic of the mundane every single week. It took delight in every moment shared by the cast, whether it was an adventure (or misadventure) in magic or everyday life in the Japanese countryside. The calm, still nature of the show was always warm and inviting, a major positive considering the relative lack of “progress” in the show’s plot. I see that point as a major positive – with the show focusing so much on the magic and wonder we can find in our everyday lives, it feels more natural and engaging to focus on moments as they occur (quite literally slices of life) rather than to establish Makoto’s growth as a witch as a critical part of the show. Iyashikei shows may not be my go-to anime, but Flying Witch overflowed with a quiet optimism that I couldn’t help but love.

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8. Flip Flappers

“Pure, undeniable fun” – my impression of Flip Flappers never changed from the start of the show all the way to the end. Filled with myriad dreamscapes and visual delights, Flip Flappers ran wild through stories and worlds and genres, rarely ever losing its footing along the way. Those settings being established well is impressive on its own; but many of those dreams also managed to be exceptional explorations of genre and story, an incredible feat. The horror setting of episode 5 remains a standout on its own – a fantastic tale that absolutely nailed the tense, dramatic setting it was aiming for. Flip Flappers did start slowing down for me near the end, as the overall plot wasn’t quite as interesting as the dreamlike worlds that preceded it. But that isn’t unsurprising, nor disappointing – and with an overall plot that was still well-put together, the conclusion of Cocona and Papika’s adventures felt satisfying and complete. Flip Flappers never lost sight of the fun contained in each of its adventures, and the joy springing from its worlds made it an absolute blast to watch.

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7. Anne Happy

No comedy this past year managed to nail its jokes for me as well as Anne Happy did. The nonsensical concept of the show’s “misfortunes” were often hilarious bits of slapstick, but never to the point where the main cast had to suffer for it. Each character had a distinct personality that, while lacking some depth, fit well with their own backstories and misfortunes and meshed well with those of the other characters. The latter point is key to what made the show work so well: the close relationships of the main cast meant that the show could easily shift away from slapstick comedy into heartwarming slice of life. Nearly every episode of the show had at least one stellar comedic scene (many had multiple), but those that didn’t usually filled in the gap with quiet joys and strong character moments. Anne Happy may have slipped under the radar for many this past spring, but its solid execution on a zany premise cement it as one of my favorite comedies of the year.

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6. Love Live! Sunshine!!

My first experience with the Love Live phenomenon was with Love Live! Sunshine!!, and boy was it a great one. The antics of the 9 members of Aquors were over-the-top, overdramatic, and campy – which of course meant that the show was frequently hilarious, with standout moments like Stewshine and the beach episode, or Riko’s fear of dogs, or nearly any time Zuramaru was on screen, and many more. There’s not a single cast member I didn’t like out of the main 9: each had their own traits and quirks that made them uniquely great. And having such a stellar cast helped immensely as the show moved into material with more dramatic weight – even though not every point of drama was executed well, the cast was easily endearing enough to make those moments feel emotional and heartfelt. Love Live! Sunshine!! was easily the biggest surprise for me this year, a gem of a show that has finally sold me on what Love Live is really all about.

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5. Kiznaiver

It’s hard for me to understand the entirety of how I feel about Kiznaiver. Months before the show aired, I thought in my mind that it might be possible that the show wasn’t going to be about physical pain, but emotional hurts and our connections with others. When it turned out the show was actually about those things, I was thrilled to see the story I imagined told on screen. I loved that the show dove into the relationships between these characters, into their different personalities and how each character faced the situations confronting them differently. I honestly loved that “forced drama” was literally a plot point of the show – it made sense with the Kiznaiver system itself, with what the characters would need to experience for the show’s drama and character growth to occur in the first place. Even if that forced drama wasn’t always established well outside of “hey we’re putting you guys in this situation”, there were many cases where in my opinion it was used exceptionally well to create intense and powerful emotional moments. And yet despite all of that, it still felt like the show might have been missing something to lift it from a great show into an incredible one. Part of that was the length of the show at only 13 episodes – with more time to establish its characters and its plot, the show could have done much more in its climactic moments that would have allowed the emotions carried by the show to really hit home. It’s a disappointing point to reflect on, but even still Kiznaiver remains one of my favorite shows from the past year, for the drama and the characters and the emotions that it did share over 13 episodes. It is a show I loved dearly, but one I do feel could have been so much more.

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4. Planetarian

For an extended version of my thoughts on Planetarian, please see my post on the show from this past December. Planetarian was a quiet show with a simple plot and characters, but beneath the surface was a show with strong emotional and thematic depth. Its 5-episode runtime was a wonderful experience, one that I can cherish long after grander shows have come and gone.

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3. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu‘s tale about rakugo in the 1930s and 40s was easily one of the most compelling, well-written, and well-directed stories of the year. Kikuhiko, Sukeroku, and Miyokichi were each multifaceted, flawed, unique characters bound together in hope and in tragedy. The show’s masterfully done rakugo performances often reflected on the performer sharing each story, giving a deep, unnerving insight into their thoughts, actions, and mindset. Though the story itself was well written around that intricate and developed cast, I didn’t feel that Rakugo Shinjuu left any lasting emotional impressions on me – the characters never felt like more than performers on a stage and the story didn’t create much in terms of empathy for their plight (that lack of empathy is a notably rare occurrence for me). That “stage performer” concept might be clever and subtle, but it has weakened my impression of the show as time has gone on – the story simply has not stayed with me as well as many other shows from this year. But regardless of that failing, Rakugo Shinjuu is still a masterful tale and a highly gripping historical tragedy on the very Japanese art of rakugo. It was intense and enrapturing, and there may never be another show quite like it.

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2. New Game!

For an extended version of my thoughts on New Game!, please see my post on this show from this past December. New Game! might be the best SoL-comedy I’ve ever seen. With relatable work-life moments and lovable characters (Hifumiiiiiiii) New Game consistently nailed moments of office mayhem and quiet reflections on life as a new hire. As someone who started work only a few months before the series began, I don’t think New Game! could’ve aired at a better time in my life than when it did last summer, and I am still immensely grateful for a show that so frequently encouraged me in my everyday life.

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1. Hibike! Euphonium 2

“That morning at band camp, you were playing by yourself, weren’t you? When I heard you play that piece, I thought to myself that I loved your sound. […] I love that piece! It’s so warm, and it’s strangely kind. I want to listen to it forever.”

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There was a point around the fourth episode of Hibike! Euphonium 2 where everything seemed to click into place in my mind. Even if the drama of the second-years arc was much lower stakes compared to the rest of the series, there was something that felt so right about it, something in my head that said “this isn’t just a good conflict but one that’s realistic and believable and oh so similar to some that I’ve seen around me in my life”. I could talk about how nearly the entire show was filled with similarly understandable drama – from meeting parental expectations, to the struggle to connect with siblings who have experienced family life so differently than we have. Or I could talk about Eupho’s brilliant direction and animation and storyboarding and how that’s used to add additional depth to the characters we’ve grown to know and love (wait, I’ve already done that). And still yet I could talk about how the series is full of subtle details and characterization not just in what Eupho shows but in what it doesn’t. The point is, Hibike! Euphonium 2 resonated with me in a way no other show did this year – it took the drama of the concert band and fit it with stellar directing, animation, and voice acting to create something incredible. Even as it lacked the polish of the first season, Eupho2 felt more personal, more vibrant, and more alive in its stories of love, of life, and of friendship. I’ll never forget how warm it sounds.

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