The Best of Winter 2016!
I kind of took most of the season off from the internet, so more or less watched stuff in a vacuum – which is an interesting experience, but think I’ll be back to my usual habits for the Spring season.
Okay then, so Winter 2016 ended up being a pretty decent season! I ended up watching sixteen shows to completion – more that I had really planned on (and there were a few I probably should have dropped). It was pretty easy to pick a top 10 since my #1 pick was pretty much locked into place since episode 1! So lets have a quick look at my personal picks of the season before starting on the Spring stuff.
10. Prince of Stride – Alternative
Prince of Stride is complete fluff – there is absolutely no denying that. It’s a fujoshi targeted sports series and doesn’t really try to be anything else, which doesn’t really do it any favours in the long run. Focusing on a made-up sport with no real conviction, and failing to provide any meaningful character arcs or romance; Prince of Stride sort of just meanders about looking pretty – and that was fine by me, as it was easy watching after a long day at work!
The main selling point of the show is the stylised look to everything – there is real effort put into the typography and cool factor of the Stride sport if nothing else. It is a shame the animation is so very bleached out looking though – no idea if that was the fault of the streaming encodes or the Studio.
9. Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash
I originally dropped Grimgar at episode 1 after the weirdly ill-fitting fanservice put me off, but I am glad I decided to give it another go. Grimgar ended up being a very slow paced show focused on themes of grief and culture-shock. It was a pretty nice twist on the usual ‘dropped into a video game world’ type of anime that have saturated the market recently, as our central cast of characters really struggle to survive in their new surroundings. I really liked how nothing came easy to them, how their prey targets were depicted as having their own unique society and how the fights were unglamorous and uncomfortable for everyone. And when the characters lost one of their own, the grief they experienced wasn’t brushed over and forgotten within a couple of episodes, but had a real impact on everyone and continued to have an impact on them right up until the final episode.
Still the show does have glaring faults. The awkward fanservice never went away reminding me constantly of the shows LN roots. The pace was incredibly slow, none of the characters were particularly likeable and the death was telegraphed so loudly it might have been painted in florescent pink all over the target’s chest…all of which takes you out of the quiet, contemplative mood the anime tries to create. Still the show does try to deliver something different, and the background art is absolutely gorgeous so I’m glad I watched Grimgar even if I didn’t love it.
8. Norn9 – Norn+Nonet
My opinion of Norn9 tended to change from episode to episode, but over all I did enjoy it. It’s otome game roots are plain to see from a glimpse at the character designs and the fact that the romance takes centre stage, but it’s the world of Norn9 that is properly interesting and I really wish the show had of explored it a bit more. Most of the characters are pretty one dimensional (particularly our central character, Koharu), but there are hints of more interesting back stories among the wider cast that we never get into……I’m actually considering trying to get my hands on the game.
But yes, on the whole Norn9 is pretty light viewing, which I enjoyed mainly because it was pretty.
It is a real shame that the lack of legal streaming and the full CG animation basically hamstringed Ajin’s chances of success before it even got out the gate, because it really is a great series, and this is still a great anime once you get past the uncanny valley faces. Ajin has a pretty fantastic soundtrack and great voice acting, which goes some way towards getting past the disappointment the choice to animate in full CG garnered – yes the character animation would have been much more emotive in traditional animation, but the CG here is hardly terrible and shouldn’t put you off. I’d probably still recommend the manga over this adaptation, but the anime isn’t a disaster and should be given a fair chance.
Another show that I initially dropped and then went back to – and I’m so glad I did because Konosuba is hilarious. I loved how all the characters are utterly inept, selfish and completely flawed individuals – there are absolutely no heroes in this cast and it makes for highly enjoyable viewing. Even the incredibly derpy, uneven animation was endearing and added to the charm of this comedy – there aren’t many shows that can get away with having their characters be so off-model it’s hard to tell what on-model is meant to look like! Super pleased that a second season has been greenlit – definitely up to spending more time with these losers.
5. Assassination Classroom S2
I’ve been really enjoying this second season of Assassination Classroom, there is a great balance of slapstick comedy and more serious character driven drama. It’s a fun show and I’m pretty pleased to have it continue into the Spring season.
4. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2
I’ve warmed to Akagami no Shirayuki-hime a lot as a show during this second season, mainly because I now really like the characters. I could have done without the incredibly contrived kidnapping storyline though – when I expressed a desire to see things actually happen in the show I didn’t mean this tired old shoujo trope. Did like the upswing in Obi screentime though, Obi’s great.
So Shirayuki-hime continues to be perfectly pleasant in every way, and that was just fine. A splash of pure fluffy romance is nice now and then.
3. Durarara!! x2 Ketsu
If this Durarara!! sequel has taught me anything it’s that I should be careful what I wish for. When Drrr!! ended its original run I was chomping at the bit for a continuation – Drrr!! S2 was at the top of my wishlist for years, so when it finally got announced I was delighted. However this sequel hasn’t really delivered and I’m left fairly disappointed over all. There have been flashes of the old brilliance here and there, mostly when just enjoying the madness the insane residents of Ikebukuro leave in their wake, but it was buried under an avalanche of new and unnecessary characters & subplots. In general Durarara!! x2 was just a messy tangle of ideas and great characters which never really successfully came together in a meaningful way. I’ve had a lot of fun with the show and I truly love a lot of the characters and plot threads, but I am pretty glad to see it end at the same time.
2. Erased – Boku Dake ga Inai Machi
So I ended up being a bit all over the place on my opinion of Erased. The first arc covering Kayo was great, but it was pretty much a nosedive from there to a very unsatisfying finale. There are some really great moments and characters in this series, but the direction the show takes when it reveals its killer mostly killed any real investment I had in the show. Everything was just much too obvious – there is absolutely no subtlety in this show, to the extent that I thought it was all a deliberate red-herring and the big reveal was yet to happen. Imagine my disappointment when nothing of the sort transpired.
Erased was still a gripping watch, even if it failed to cash in on its interesting premise, with a great OP & ED and some excellent characters (well mainly Satoru’s Mum, but she was really great).
1. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Nothing else could touch Rakugo Shinjuu this season. This show was in a class entirely of its own and I fell head over heels for it. I fecking loved this series and it has been quite a while since I’ve felt so strongly about an anime – I can not tell you how happy I am that we are getting a sequel, faith in humanity restored!
If ever you wanted an example of a strongly character driven drama, this is it. We follow Kikuhiko/Yakumo from childhood, get right into his head and track his intense, complicated relationship with Sukeroku, Miyokichi and rakugo itself, all the way to old age and the breath of fresh air that is his eager new apprentice Yotaro. It does dip into soap opera territory occasionally, but it is easy to forgive this since the show is just so beautifully written & directed. This is Studio DEEN showing what they are capable of with the right source material – Rakugo Shinjuu is just gorgeous on so many levels.
The attention to detail regarding the period setting, the use of theatrical lighting and framing, and the subtle nuances of the character’s body language – it has all been wonderfully captured here. Erased could have learned a lot about subtle and masterful direction from Rakugo Shinjuu. But where the show really shines is in its presentation of the actual rakugo performances – so much could have been lost in translation if it wasn’t for the attention to detail in the character’s body language and the truly spectacular voice performances, but the show does an exemplary job of presenting this dying art in a easily digestible way.
Really, I can’t praise this show enough. If you haven’t given Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu a chance I really must urge you to remedy that immediately – anime of this quality are incredibly rare.
So that’s my top picks of Winter 2016 – as you can see Rakugo Shinjuu kind of ran away with my heart and nothing else really stood a chance in hell of beating it!
I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the Spring shows now, should have the first of my impressions posts up tomorrow!