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Archive for the ‘2016’ Category

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Hahahahaha, 2016, oh wow. It sure has been a year! While it’s been crappy to exist in, it’s been pretty alright for escapist media! And from my perspective, there’s been a lot of good anime – enough that cutting down to 10 was actually difficult.

As always, I’m counting ‘2016 anime’ as series that ended in a 2016 season and films that I first had the opportunity to watch in 2016. So if it started in the autumn season of 2015 but finished at the end of the winter 2016 season, that would count; if it started in the autumn season of 2016 but won’t finish until the end of the 2017 winter season, it won’t. For split cours, I just go with my gut. In short, unless I’ve been able to put a score on it I won’t be considering it – prematurely enshrining how great something is when it isn’t even half over is a bad idea!

So with that out of the way, onto my top 10 anime of 2016! Ah, but first, a few series that didn’t quite make the cut…

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Flip Flappers

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A lot of hopes were pinned on Flip Flappers before it aired. Based on early art and trailers, it looked to have the same vibrant, intelligent and novel appeal of Kyousou Giga, a series that charmed the pants off many fans and is something of an under-appreciated gem. There simply aren’t enough shows out there that dare to be as daring, so anything even hinting in that direction is welcomed with open arms. This doesn’t always work out – Rolling Girls had a similar reception only reinforced by its earliest episodes, but ultimately disappointed in a major way. ‘Cautious optimism’ summarises most attitudes going into Flip Flappers; hopeful for its promise but aware of the potential for failure.

The first episode delivered in a big way. It was supremely energetic and sweet, fiercely imaginative and creative, and stunningly animated and presented – but so was Rolling Girls. Unlike Rolling Girls, Flip Flappers sustained this. It never ran out of ideas, never started dragging its heels, and never compromised on anything that made it stand out. Not content with that, it also displayed a great deal of depth and intelligence, and while that only emerged a few episodes in it quickly became apparent that it was hidden in plain sight from the beginning.

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Hibike! Euphonium 2

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Hibike! Euphonium 2 is more Hibike! Euphonium. And I mean this in the truest sense of the word – it is a direct continuation of the first season, and if you liked that I’m hard pressed to find reasons why you’ll dislike this.

Specifically, it’s more of the incredible second half of the first season – that is, loaded with intimacy, emotion and feeling. Much of the first season was devoted to Kumiko and Reina, with the two only connecting in the second half. This second season has the two as close friends throughout (as if they’re only friends…), so we get so many of those wonderful, quiet, close moments the two shared. And with that relationship thoroughly established, the show takes the opportunity to really dive into the supporting cast – Taki, Asuka and Reina are explored and fleshed out into much more depth, and with Kumiko being involved in everything we get a lot of growth and development out of her too. It’s a take on the Hibike! Euphonium cast only afforded by the familiarity already garnered, and the emotional payout we get from it is tremendous.

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Shirobako’s insider look at the animation industry, specifically the inner working of the animation studios, earned it widespread acclaim. It was a rare look at something most know little about, and combined with its delightful characters was an absolute joy to watch. Sure, it wasn’t shy about showing the difficulties you have to go through to complete a series, but it was still ultimately a love letter to the medium rooted in optimism and idealism.

In stomps Gi(a)rlish Number and laughs from the bottom of its cold, jaded, heart. It casts a cynical eye on the industry from the seiyuu’s perspective and does nothing to hide its sardonic attitude. Mockery of trashy, generic light novels, troubled production, garbage producers, the bullshit voice actresses are put through in the name of promotion, and more besides are commonplace and from no angle is the industry framed in a positive light.

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Occultic;Nine

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The Semi;Colon meta-franchise is back with Occultic;Nine, and this time it’s seemingly openly embracing the paranormal instead of going full-on science! The drama and conspiracies haven’t gone anywhere, mind you, and it’s far from a rejection of the pseudo-science that defines the meta-franchise.

256 corpses appear in a nearby lake; Yuuta Gamon, a high school student who runs a blog on the paranormal (with the aim of making a living off the ad revenue), sees it as a golden opportunity for his site. Unfortunately, he gets caught up in something far bigger and far more mysterious – along with 8 other individuals across all stripes.

In a first for the Semi;Colon ‘franchise’, Occultic;Nine started life as a light novel, not a visual novel. This, in tandem with a premise rooted in the supernatural and otherworldly, very clearly sets it apart from its predecessors. So how does it stack up?

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WWW.Working!!

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WWW.Working!!, an adaptation of Takatsu Karino’s webcomic, sits side-by-side with Working!! with the same premise but different characters – that is, it’s also a workplace comedy following the dysfunctional staff at a branch of the Wagnaria family restaurant chain. There’s no direct connection between the two series, but if you’ve seen Working!! then this will be comfortably familiar. The sense of humour remains the same, the characters are still anything but normal, and the romantic elements will sneak up and charm you all over again.

Yet it remains resolutely different. There are few characters that occupy the same functional role, and when they do they’re only minor characters, so you won’t be getting déjà vu anytime soon. This opens up a lot of new ground to explore in a setup that had already been covered extensively (or at least as much as you can get out of a workplace sitcom), ideally giving you more Working!! but from a fresh, new perspective! But different does not mean better, and WWW.Working!! is saddled with quite a few issues…

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The first WIXOSS series – the combination of Selector Infected WIXOSS and Selector Spread WIXOSS – really surprised me. It was far better than I expected, with heavy atmosphere, strong characterisation, and a genuine sense of dread. Expectations were low – it was essentially a Madoka-like trying to hawk a trading card game – but it surpassed them with ease.

It was a complete, self-contained story with a very specific concept closely connected with the premise of the card game itself. It didn’t leave room for natural and constructive expansion – so I was left wondering what Lostorage Incited WIXOSS would actually be accomplishing when it was announced. What direction would it go in? What would it try to do differently? Can it make itself stand out from its predecessor? Or, more likely, would it be stuck in Selector’s shadow, existing as an uninspired continuation of the TCG’s marketing? Mari Okada’s absence only raised concerns further, as her mark was all over Selector in a very positive way.

The good: it quickly made itself clear that it had few to zero links to the original beyond roughly the same premise. It was at least leaving the original alone, and trying to stand as its own thing. The bad? Well…

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Yuri!!! on Ice

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If the ‘fujoshi-friendly’ sports anime genre hasn’t reached its logical conclusion with Yuri!!! on Ice it is certainly working its way there. Kuroko no Basket, Free!, Haikyuu!! and many more all depict male relationships with heightened emotion, intimacy and intensity; the close trust and fierce rivalries in  sports provide a natural framework for this. And with those levels of emotion, intimacy and intensity, it becomes easy for fans to read romance and love into those relationships if they so choose – hence their large female and gay male fanbases. The attractive, athletic schoolboys certainly don’t hurt either!

But those romantic readings are still just fan readings. They’re no doubt at least somewhat intentionally cultivated, but there’s no real canonicity to it, and it’s far from a narrative focus. They hint and tease, but leave anything further to your imagination.

And then along comes Yuri!!! on Ice and blows the doors wide open by making every implicit allusion an explicit action, by putting a heavily and overtly romantic lens over the entire show, by dropping damn near every semblance of ambiguity and leaving only the most negligible semblance of plausible deniability (and grasping on to that requires a far greater reach than the alternative). And it does all this while being a damn good series about a washed-up figure skater working to become a world champion under the tutelage of his lifelong idol!

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I usually try to end 12 days of anime with a moment of personal importance, with reflection on the self and honesty. Ain’t got something like that this year! Not that there weren’t moments or series like that, but none I could really talk about in depth. So let’s do the next ‘me’ thing after that and gush over KyoAni.

Hibike! Euphonium 2 has been stellar. I keep notes over the year to remember key scenes or events I might want to talk about during these 12 days and I ended up with 4 for Hibike! Euphonium 2 alone. I probably could have justified adding a few more to that as well. And it hasn’t even finished yet – as of writing, there are still 2 episodes to go! The finale is going to pull out something, I know it, but even so there is a huge amount I could talk about.

(Oh yeah, MAJOR spoilers for Hibike! Euphonium 2 ahead)

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It’s Anime Secret Santa time again! This is the fifth year I’ve participated in the Reverse Thieves organised project, and it’s always a blast. I get to anonymously recommend three shows to someone, and likewise receive three anonymous recommendations, with the only string attached being that I have to watch at least one and have to write a post about it.

This year, in part thanks to receiving two movie recommendations (oh my god THANK YOU Santa!), I watched all of them! And thus have reviews for all of them as well! What recommendations did I receive? Well…

  • Adolescence of Utena
  • Colorful
  • Beck

A pretty exciting selection all around if you ask me. I had extremely vague plans to watch Colorful and Beck at some point, so this way I’m actually getting around to them which I’m really grateful for, and Adolescence of Utena is a film I didn’t plan on watching but was excited to see regardless because it’s related to the masterpiece that is Revolutionary Girl Utena, a series I loved (and incidentally received as a “not an official recommendation but you should watch it anyway” recommendation for Secret Santa back in 2014!). None of these necessarily came out of left field, but at the same time I wasn’t entering any of them with trepidation – so right off the bat it was a pretty great set of selections.

So let’s get on with the reviews!

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