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To call Kemono Friends the ‘dark horse’ series of 2017 is to undersell it to the point of wilful misrepresentation; it’s one of the most absurd, bizarre, and triumphant success stories in the medium ever. The scale of its reception has led to a wide influence and a deep interest, and thanks to that I couldn’t pick just one ‘moment’ from this year to talk about – in the interest of giving even a moderately fair representation of its saga, I’ve had to go with three!

First, we need to start at the beginning: the collective international realisation of “wtf, Kemono Friends is actually good”. Even now the series is a hard sell, so imagine what it was like seeing that on the spring lineup. Here we had a CG anime based on a failed mobile game about animal girls (so a cheap cash-in on a cheap Kantai Collection bandwagoner), with a premise that suggested nothing of note was happening. Digging deeper revealed that the team working on it were tiny and not known for anything, and one of the two main characters would be voiced by a newbie. The only slightly promising thing about it was that the character designs were done by the same person who designed Sgt. Frog, but that wasn’t exactly widely known (or, for that matter, cared about). To be honest, most people – myself included – just skipped it as soon as we saw it was going to be CG, because rarely has that resulted in anything visually appealing. So it went ignored.

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Undoubtedly the weirdest anime related thing to ever happen to me occurred this year. It’s not even a case of ‘small world’, just a bizarre series of coincidences; the intersection of the super-niche with the extraordinarily unlikely that leaves me – and potentially only me – in a position to truly appreciate just how fucking dumb it is.

A couple of years ago a new barbershop opened up near my office. In need of a haircut, and it being closer than where I had been going (and with never being satisfied with their cuts I had nothing to lose) I decided to give this new place a shot. Far from the personality-less barbershops I was used to, this was a small place hidden down a little alley and below a tattoo parlour decorated with records and Pokémon cards across the walls, owned and solely run by a trendy 19 year old married gay trust fund baby with Asperger’s and Tourette’s (or so he says).

In short, a hipster barber.

And damn did he give me one heck of a haircut. In an epic one-and-a-half hour session (that was supposed to be 10 minutes during my lunchbreak) he lopped off inches of my head and gave me something radically different. And, thanks to his incessant pressure over the next year-and-a-half, he got me to actually care about my hair. I wake up earlier now to sort it out! I’ve used a variety of products and have opinions. I actually feel good about how it looks for the first time ever! You have no idea how big of a change this has been for my self-image and self-esteem, and I owe him so much for getting me to this place.

I swear the anime part of this story comes in soon

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God DAMN I’ve been loving Kirakira☆Precure À La Mode. It’s been so much fun, with endless energy, fantastic characters, compelling villains and a lot of tremendously heartfelt episodes. Each one has been a delight and has given me too many great moments to list. It was a hard choice, but I’m going to use this opportunity to highlight one of the absolute greatest Precure transformation sequences that I’ve seen: Cure Gelato’s.

How can you not love that? Aoi’s attitude just pours out of every moment. Her rockstar delivery of “cure à la mode decoration!”, her mischievous grin with a hint of rebellion, the absolutely badass jacket tug (god that jacket tug is divinely stylish characterisation), an assertive sock pull for awesome asymmetry, head movements to simulate a lion’s roar, and of course throwing the horns before pulling off a punk-rock guitar shredding, everything she does tells you so much about who she is and what she’s like, and it’s all incorporated so elegantly into the transformation.

And then you have the amazing animation! Dynamic camera work makes for an exciting, ambitious watch, the weighty body movement gives it subtle impact that demonstrates the tremendous care put into it, and it’s all tied together through a smoothness befitting the finest ice creams. I wish I knew more about animation to gush over this with technical accuracy, but at the very least I know that this is some fantastic work. I have rewatched it so many times and I simply cannot get bored of it and it perfectly exemplifies just what I love about the magical girl genre.

Nazis have been worryingly prominent this year, and anime does not escape this depressing reality! Fortunately it’s less ‘white supremacists consolidating power while the establishment fails to challenge them’ and more ‘thoroughly bizarre scenes that leave you wondering what the writers were drinking’. While these two examples are not exactly what I’d call good, they are at least a damn sight more entertaining than the rise of neo-fascism.

First up, we have Centaur no Nayami. While no stranger to left-field episode concepts, it is in the end still a school slice-of-life – even if the main character is a centaur – so even the weirder vignettes have a tonal grounding. Sure, an authoritarian government exists in the background, and another main character is a snake girl from a remarkably fleshed out and utterly alien society, but all that is mere world-building detail while the girls talk about crushes or what have you. No matter what happens, it all comes back to this group of friends navigating their day-to-day life as high school students.

And then the show says “fuck everything” and spends half an episode – with absolutely no lead in or contextualisation – depicting the fucking Third Reich (with centaurs!).

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Rare is it that anime allows provide any novel or interesting insight about something I have particular knowledge in. My hobbies are watching anime and playing games and my job is programming – in short, I’m exactly half of fucking twitter, and most of them can talk about this stuff 10 times better than I. But New Game!! finally gave me an opportunity! For once, I could present and discuss a perspective that might be unfamiliar to others! For you see, I’m not simply a programmer – I’m a software engineer. In practice that means I’m basically a programmer, except 90% of my day job is a load of bullshit that gets in the way of coding. But the important thing to note is that it is important bullshit, and THIS is where New Game!! comes in.

Episode 11. The programming intern Naru is blazing through her assignments and flaunts Umiko’s praise for her speed in front of Nene. Nene and Naru don’t exactly see eye to eye, for many reasons I won’t get into right now, but what you need to know is that Nene is stuck doing debugging for the crunch, even though she’d much rather be getting more programming practice in – Naru, knowing this, takes the opportunity to rub it in and make herself look better.

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It wouldn’t be 12 Days of Anime at swabulous dot wordpress dot com without highlighting the most loathsome moment I saw this year! And  this timethat dubious honour goes to Attack on Titan S2 for not one, but two moments of gratuitous, mean-spirited, empty torture porn. I covered this before in my review, but I think the problems bare repeating.

As a reminder, in the first instance we have a heroic dude reduced to a terrified, quivering mess before being slowly and painfully eaten alive and torn to bits, with the camera lingering over the violence all the while. He had of course been given the prerequisite episode or two of characterisation to make us care about him as the show vainly attempts to shock us with yet another unexpected death (zzz, we’ve seen it all before at this point). Now failing to elicit any semblance of surprise, the show resorts to elongating his agony and making his fear as explicit as possible as he babbles “I don’t want to die!” over and over while his arms get bitten off. In the second instance, we have a heroic gal, reduced to etc. etc. etc. It’s more or less exactly the same, except we get a last minute insight into some prior child abuse as she screams “daddy, I won’t do it again!” while she goes crazy from the pain and terror. Lovely!

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It’s 12 Days of Anime! That time of the year where a bunch of anibloggers – myself included, if I can really justify calling myself that anymore – post once a day leading up to Christmas. Posts can be about anything anime related – memorable moments from things you watched this year, a con meetup, just some vague thoughts, really anything!

And in that spirit, I wanted to highlight a wonderful scene from the first episode of a series that I ended up dropping – Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka? AKA WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? AKA SukaSuka because come the heck on.

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