The year that was 2016

Something New

Due to cultural factors, I think anime tends to be highly derivative. Watching it as long as I have, I'm okay with that obviously. I admit it's a miracle I haven't burned out on it yet. This year I found the diversity in titles a refreshing change. At the moment that's a bigger deal to me than the actual quality, something I realized when I noticed I had a very positive view on the year, but looking at my ratings weren't actually all that high. Perhaps there's a sense of hope there too. It seems like anime may break free of the rut that is the same formula / high school romantic comedy stuff and be a bit more daring.

That's something else I've noticed, even the surprisingly fluffy shows can take a very dark turn, even if only in brief parts. I was drawn to anime many years ago for a variety of reasons, but I think it was the dark shows that really hooked me before they went out of style. I think this resurgence in dark content is something I'm liking too. Not in the utra-gore, or dystopian stuff more common in the 1980s/90s, but a more balanced view showing the bad to contrast with the good.

Years ago I picked up one of my favorite games of all time Valkyra Chronicles, and I was blown away by the 3D character rendering that looked better than a lot of anime. For some reason that never came to pass the way I figured, because while cars and oddball things are rendered this way, it rarely seems to work with anime characters for some reason. Arpeggio of Blue Steel is likely the first title I had no problems with, yet it still seems like an outlier. This year I picked up Berzerk, because everyone says it's awesome. And yes it's awesome. I may need to dig up previous releases because I liked it so much, but this latest release uses 3D techniques which really didn't work well in my opinion. Something tells me this is yet another show which seems to have just enough interest in it to keep making shows about it, but not enough interest to justify a budget to do it properly. Initial-D and Crest of the Stars seem doomed to this fate as well. I think this is a good development though, because if they can make reasonably watchable shows cheaply, some of those lesser popular titles will be worth the risk of producing as anime. Do I wish Berzerk turned out better? Yes, but more so I'm glad it got the chance to be made.

RPG Anime

Having said all that, my gripe this year is the Role Playing Game Anime genre which is getting long in the tooth and was perhaps a mildly novel idea back in the 1990s. I can see how it's an easy platform to launch a story premise, but inevitably most of these shows quickly run out of steam.

Mixing the ideas of "freshness" with the staleness of "RPG Anime" gave me shows I ended up liking despite the many tired aspects in them. I guess as long as the story and characters are good enough, that goes a long way.

Surprise of the year: Aokana

This will require explaining, because Aokana isn't especially good nor bad. I had my doubts at the very beginning when I saw the dreaded studio logo. Oh no. It's ... GONZO! Long past are the days when Gonzo had some good releases, I don't pay much mind to studios, but noticed shows which were a grind to get through all had that damn Gonzo logo. Then came Strike Witches and I decided Gonzo needed to go die in a fire. In fact I said as much in last year's Year End Review

Then comes Aokana, an visual novel to be made into an anime. And the budget isn't especially high either. Surely this will be a catastrophe.

Aokana has a normal character setup combined with an imaginative environment with potential, where technology allows people to fly with special shoes. But what is most surprising about this show is the studio which could pump out volumes of terrible crap, taking a visual novel with a so-so concept and navigating through so many of the pitfalls which could have crippled this anime. In fact I'd expect as much from just about any studio. De-emphasizing the male lead, and nearly removing the "romance" leaves a well done focused sports anime. Even though the budget isn't super high, it's well utilized and attractive for what it is. There may be hope for Gonzo yet.

Favorite: Konosuba

This was a hard choice this year. While there wasn't any stand out amazing show I knew I'd pick for this, there were many shows I liked a lot. In the end I decided Konosuba was my favorite, not something I expected when picking this up. Especially as yet another RPG anime.

There isn't much new in Konosuba, it's simply a matter of being a fun anime done right. More than anything, I found it sincerely funny all the way through, and never grew tired in 12 episodes. That might seem like a low bar to entry, but it always seems like shows putter out even by the 12 episode mark these days. The characters are a goofy lot which works well for comedy, but none are annoying. I especially liked the protagonist Sato. He's realistic about how awesome it is being incarnated in a fantasy world, but also realistic about how it's a huge pain in the ass sometimes. It's that mix which keeps him from being a downer in the show, but funny in his actions and reactions.

Love / Hate: Re Zero

Not exactly a RPG Anime, but sharing main traits with one this one took a little while to win me over.

Disappointment: Erased

Erased was an anime everyone was talking about, so I thought I'd give it a go. I can see why it got so much buzz generated. This is anime had a strangle hold on my attention in a way that few do, and for a variety of reasons. Inevitable that it should be one of the best shows this year, if not THE best. Anime often has a concept backing any show, but it's hard to describe how utterly gripping the situation becomes when combined with the characters. How... How could this be messed up?

But before I get into that, I'd like to emphasize that 3/4 of this anime is quite amazing. Still worth the watch despite the last 1/4.

I'm sure Erased was written with a good idea on how the plot would go, but it's like it got most of the way through, then the author got to a point in the story where things had kind of gone wrong. But it's already out and you can't back up from where you ended up, so...

Worst Anime: Lost Village

Why nominate Lost Village the worst anime when I rated Cerberus lower? Cerberus was doomed from the onset with low budget, and based off a generic mobile game RPG. It had little to work with, thus little was expected of it.

Lost Village on the other hand is a travesty of missed potential, almost like taking a decent concept and screwing it up as much as possible. In any survival show, the key factor in making it work is empathy with the characters. Lost Village curiously has a cast where I hated everyone. Yes, everyone. Wating, and hoping for people to die, yet they don't die. So many characters that are pointless, but the anime feels like it needs to give them time anyway, so every time the group gathers the ALL have to get a turn speaking - typically contributing nothing. Backstories vary in quality, but many of them take a turn for the stupid too.

Why didn't I rate it lower? I'm not sure why, but for some reason I didn't hate it at the time. But every time I thought back about it, my opinion on it plummeted. I guess there must have been something there for me to think it wasn't the unholy crap-fest I think of it now, so I left the rating alone.

Character of the Year Sachiko Fujinuma

Character of the year: Sachiko (erased)

2016 Verdict: Good

Anime I Reviewed This Year:

44 reviews in 2016

Our Home's Fox Diety (meh) Gingitsune (okay)
Beautiful Bones (okay) Magical Warfare (weak)
Anti-Magic Academy (sucks) Girlfriend Beta (meh)
Southern Cross (okay) Soni-Ani (meh)
Konosuba (good) Goshogun: Time Etranger (weak)
Good Luck Ninomiya-kun (weak) Myriad Colors Phantom World (meh)
Active Raid (weak) To Love Ru (weak)
Please Tell Me Galko-chan (okay) Aokana (okay)
Dagashi Kashi (meh) My Hime (weak)
Welcome to NHK (good) Gundress (sucks)
Erased (okay) Re: Zero (good)
Hundred (weak) Lost Village (weak)
Dual (meh) No-Rin (meh)
Haven't you Heard? I'm Sakamoto (okay) Cerberus (sucks)
Gate (okay) Future Diary (okay)
Nisekoi (meh) Tenchi Muyo GXP (sucks)
Big Order (weak) Flying Witch (good)
Love Live (meh) Hybrid x Heart (meh)
Orange (excellent) Najica Blitz Tactics (meh)
Relife (okay) World is Still Beautiful (okay)
Qualidea Code (meh) Alderamin on the Sky (good)
Hitori no Shita (meh) Keijo (okay)