Jacquie’s 2016 Year in Review – Anime

As I sat down to contemplate the series that I felt were the best of 2016, at first I thought I might be looking at a 3-way tie, maybe even 5-way. Only after checking my scoring on MyAnimeList did it become apparent that one series received a higher grade than everything else. The other shows settled in behind it then. The top shows were really close, though; and it doesn’t help that they were all so different in terms of setting, genre, tone, and subject matter.

In the end, the top 4 were basically my highest ranking picks from each season. I’m not actually going to rave about these series again right now; please follow the links if you wish to see the previous write-ups.

☆ Top 10 Anime:

#1. 91 Days (12 episodes)
91-days-wallpaper
Aired Summer 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#2. Yuri!!! on ICE (12 episodes)
yuri-on-ice-06
Aired Autumn 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#3. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (13 episodes)
shouwa-genroku-rakugo-shinjuu
Aired Winter 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#4. ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) SECOND/FINAL SEASON (25 episodes)
Assassination Classroom
Aired Winter 2016 and Spring 2016
(First season of 22 episodes aired Winter 2015 and Spring 2015)
(streaming: FUNimation)

#5. AJIN (26 episodes)
ajin-season-2
Aired Winter 2016 and Autumn 2016
(streaming: NETFLIX)

#6. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan) (24 full-length episodes)
saiki-k
Aired Summer 2016 and Autumn 2016
(streaming: FUNimation and DAISUKI)

#7. KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS (Koutetsujou no Kabaneri) (12 episodes)
Kabaneri - Mumei
Aired Spring 2016

#8. Thunderbolt Fantasy (13 episodes)
Thunderbolt Fantasy - Lin Xue Ya
Aired Summer 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#9. ERASED (Boku dake ga Inai Machi) (12 episodes)
ERASED
Aired Winter 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll and DAISUKI)

#10. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE! (Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! LOVE!) (12 episodes)
cute-high-earth-defense-club-love-love
Aired Summer 2016
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

☆ Favourite Guilty Pleasure Anime:

Scar-red Rider XechS (12 episodes)
scared-rider-xechs
Aired Summer 2016

I watch most of my anime with my sister. Scar-red Rider XechS was bad or boring enough after 3 episodes that she dropped it. I persevered however; and before long, I found myself looking forward to each new episode with an enthusiasm that was out of proportion with my generally low opinion of the production’s quality.

One of the reasons was that I started to love the characters. Yosuke and Takt (more on him later) in particular were well-written and well-acted, but the rest of the cast were also entertaining and endearing in weird ways.

The other reason was my gradual belief that the absurd plot developments and dialogue were intended to be comedy, and weren’t just bad writing. Just as how The Lost Village didn’t make it clear to its audience if the plot was supposed to be funny or not, SRX sometimes presented a similar predicament. Well, I like my personal interpretation of these shows; after all, I seem to have found a lot more enjoyment from both of them than most viewers did!

Anyway, I will always remember the “western-style restaurant” conversation of ep. 5. It literally had me giggling for days, maybe weeks, afterward whenever it came to mind.
(streaming: FUNimation and DAISUKI)

☆ Sequels that significantly outperformed their predecessors:

Active Raid 2nd – With all the goofing around they did in the first cour, and much of the second too, who would have imagined that Active Raid was in actuality laying down the groundwork for a serious, even thought-provoking, storyline all along? But that was what we got! The payoff was a whole lot better than I expected, infinitely better, since I don’t think I ever considered that a show like this would arrive at such a coherent, meaningful outcome.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

BUNGO STRAY DOGS 2 – Even those of us who were not won over by the meandering first cour of BUNGO STRAY DOGS had to sit up and take notice when this second season started. Suddenly we had a brand new protagonist and a mature, plot-heavy flashback tale. I, for one, was in no hurry to return to the present timeline. When we did, it was predictably a bit of a disappointment, but by then the show had secured my interest and my goodwill.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

☆ Biggest Regrets:

Dimension W and KIZNAIVER. These shows had some potential, but managed to squander it completely and go in the opposite direction. I ended up hating them.

BATTERY the Animation similarly went completely off the rails and turned into a huge disappointment. However, it didn’t incite the contempt that those two shows did.

Other shows that were simply a waste of time: GARO: CRIMSON MOON, Bloodivores, Utawarerumono: The False Faces, OZMAFIA!!, and Sekkou Boys. It was my own damn fault for continuing to watch most of them, though.

☆ Favourite Characters:

srx-05-takt
#1. Kirisawa Takt (cv. Miyano Mamoru), Scar-red Rider XechS

Obviously, the leader of LAG’s 6th combat unit and frontman of Odd I’s is pretty and has a nice voice. And it’s easy to sympathize with him as the straight man in a show full of eccentrics.

Beyond that, I like him partially because I can relate to him on a personal level. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often for me, but as a fellow skinny, height-challenged, long-haired idealist with a discerning taste for rock music and a preference for black platform boots as everyday footwear, I guess this anime character and I have a few things in common! Naturally, I also share Takt’s opinion on the topic of shiitake mushrooms as an ingredient for food preparation.

bungo-stray-dogs-odasaku
#2. Oda Sakunosuke (cv. Suwabe Junichi), BUNGO STRAY DOGS 2

He was only in 4 episodes, but those 4 episodes, which told a dark, tragic prequel story, were so good! I loved Odasaku in the lead role; he was badass, principled, and extremely sympathetic.

As mentioned, that early segment of season 2 totally blew me away and changed my opinion of the whole series up till that point.

days-kimishita
#3. Kimishita Atsushi (cv. Ono Daisuke), DAYS

Abrasively bossy characters with a habit of pointing out other people’s faults because they themselves are so smart and/or skilled are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I seem to have a soft spot for these types, though. MACROSS DELTA’s Messer had this kind of personality as well, albeit with less anger than Kimishita, and I liked him a lot too.

There are the rare occasions where Kimishita reveals that he is actually a nice guy. However, those moments of kindness could also be interpreted as a backhanded way of expressing his impatience at others’ incompetence, whereas normally he is just way more upfront about it.

It is entirely thanks to Kimishita and the other senpai, especially Ooshiba and Mizuki (ie., not the main characters), that I made it through all of DAYS and ultimately gave the show a somewhat decent score. I even intend to return for the sequel.

☆ Best (Funniest) Single Episode:

Osomatsu-san 16 Osomatsu-san 16a
Osomatsu-san episode 16: “Matsuno Matsunan / The Ichimatsu Incident.” As if the “Mad Max” parody featuring F6 wasn’t gratuitously over-the-top enough, it was then followed up by an incest sketch!
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

☆ Best Finale:

TSUKIUTA. THE ANIMATION – I can’t actually recommend most of this idol anime. But if you’re inclined to watch, make sure you continue to the end, because the last part of that concert-themed final episode was the most stunning and feel-good finish of any series that I watched in 2016.
(streaming: FUNimation and DAISUKI)

As far as shows I do recommend go, I applaud ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM for its emotional yet heartwarming and hopeful ending.

I was also very satisfied with 91 Days’ ending, including the way it left some things open to interpretation.

☆ Best OP/ED Sequence (music & visuals):

BUNGO STRAY DOGS season 2 OP: “Reason Living” by SCREEN mode, version 2, which appeared in the middle of the third episode (or overall ep. 15). It occurred once only, but we may have watched it more times than we do most regularly occurring OPs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a link to share here; if you’re interested, you can find it at 11:52 to 13:22 of ep. 15.

Honourable mentions: Yuri!!! on ICE ED “You Only Live Once” by Hatano Wataru, and 91 Days OP “Signal” by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure.

☆ Anime Songs Top 20 Countdown:

As with last year, this is a list of the best anime songs of 2016 according to me. The songs are evaluated primarily on the music, not the accompanying visuals of the shows they’re associated with. And it’s the full songs, not the TV-size versions, that are being considered.

20. old revelation, by Mutsuki Hijiri (cv.KENN) (Scar-red Rider XechS ED)

19. RUSH, by GALAXY STANDARD (cv: Miyano Mamoru, Toyonaga Toshiyuki, Hirakawa Daisuke, Eguchi Takuya, Suzuki Tatsuhisa, Ono Yuuki) (PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE insert song)

18. Shounen no Hate, by GRANRODEO (Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS 2 ED)

17. The Experience, by OLDCODEX (Kuroko’s Basketball Winter Cup Soushuu-hen: Namida no Saki e Main Theme)

16. Kaze wa Yokoku Naku Fuku, by WALKURE (MACROSS Δ ED8)

15. Reason Living, by SCREEN mode (BUNGO STRAY DOGS 2 OP)

14. Be My Steady, by GALAXY STANDARD (PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE ED)

13. Kokoro no Arika, by Heshikiri Hasebe(cv:Shingaki Tarusuke), Souza Samonji(cv:Tai Yuuki) & Yagen Toushirou(cv:Yamashita Seiichirou) (Touken Ranbu -Hanamaru- ED2)

12. ninelie, by Aimer with chelly(EGOIST) (KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS ED)

11. You’re My Courage, by GALAXY STANDARD (PRINCE OF STRIDE: ALTERNATIVE insert song)

10. Through My Blood <AM>, by Aimer (KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS insert song)

09. Scribble, and Beyond, by OLDCODEX (Kuroko’s Basketball Winter Cup Highlights -Shadow and Light- Main Theme)

08. Yoru Ha Nemurerukai?, by flumpool (AJIN OP1)

07. Ao to Aka no Forzato, by Komae Christoph Yosuke (cv.Suzuki Tatsuhisa), Kirisawa Takt (cv.Miyano Mamoru) (Scar-red Rider XechS OP)

06. HOW CLOSE YOU ARE, by Miyano Mamoru (AJIN ED1)

05. The Birth, by Miyano Mamoru (AJIN: Shougeki Main Theme)

04. Signal, by TK from Ling Tosite Sigure (91 Days OP)

03. Hikari aru Basho e, by May’n (Izetta, The Last Witch ED)

02. Warcry, by Sawano Hiroyuki feat. mpi (KABANERI OF THE IRON FORTRESS insert song)

01. Deal with, by OLDCODEX (SERVAMP OP)

☆ In closing, some Notable Quotes:

“If you look even half-decent, you’re considered hot.” – Choromatsu, considering the voice acting profession, in Osomatsu-san ep. 20.

“Your stupidity can’t be cured even by your death. So you might as well live.” – Julieta to suicidal Iok, in Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS ep. 37.

“Well don’t lose heart. Girls are as plentiful as stars in the night sky… and just as unreachable for you.”
– Saiki to freshly rejected Toritsuka, in The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. spec. ep. 50, or full ep. 10.

“There’s only one carbonara!” – Yosuke to dumbfounded Takt, in Scar-red Rider XechS ep. 5.

Batman: Assault on Arkham

batman-assault-on-arkham

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2014

Batman’s name is in the title and he has top billing, but he is not actually the main character in this movie. The Suicide Squad, a group of baddies forced to work together, is the primary focus of the show. Their task is to break into Arkham Asylum to recover stolen information. The Caped Crusader is on a different mission, mostly in the background, but it all intersects neatly eventually.

Assault on Arkham features some really great characterization and clear agency for most of the squad members. I actually loved the frequent in-fighting between them. Generally, when teammates start bickering or throwing fists in the middle of a mission, I find it ridiculous that they would be childish enough to lose focus so easily and at such an inopportune moment. Here though, it happened so naturally as a result of their personalities that it was believable, and also very fun to watch!

Viewing this kind of made me nostalgic for the days when I used to watch Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond on the TV back in the 90s. (Kevin Conroy reprises the role of Batman in this film.)

Assault on Arkham showcases excellent narrative direction and its action scenes are beautifully animated. The content is more mature and dark compared to the old TV programs, including some coarse language, implied sex and nudity, and of course plenty of violence and murder, so this one’s definitely not for the kiddies.

Mid-Spring 2015 Anime Ranking


01. THE HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN (Arslan Senki) (ep. 1-10) – The Kingdom of Pars falls to Lusitania’s attack during Prince Arslan’s first sortie on the battlefield. Arslan is left to marshal his limited resources and find a way to save his nation and his people.

It’s not only about the good guys vs the bad guys, though. Time and again, I’m impressed at how well the show conveys the motivations of each of the players. We see the merits of their beliefs as well as the failings. Even people who are supposed to be allies might have differing opinions from each other.

There are a lot of little ongoing mysteries, including the cold way both the King and Queen seem to regard their son. It’s also not clear at this point who is really pulling the strings in this conflict.

To be honest, I’m not crazy about the character designs, but this is an action-adventure anime that I can appreciate cerebrally.
(streaming at FUNimation)


02. Seraph of the End: VAMPIRE REIGN (Owari no Seraph) (ep. 1-11) – There’s a kind of shocking, practically systemic, outward lack of respect for comrades and superiors at all levels of this Japanese Imperial Demon Army organization. It almost takes me out of the show. Almost. It’s actually well-written enough that I’m firmly onboard still. Part of what makes the nastiness amusing, as opposed to annoying, is that the characters do manage to work together when it counts and there’s no question that they are all on the same side.

On the other hand, I really like Mika, too. You know I’m a sucker for these cool, silently suffering types. Not only does he inhabit a different world from these other goons, it’s practically like he’s from an entirely different show altogether.

I guess I should mention that there was a very noticeable drop in production quality in ep. 10. I’m usually pretty forgiving of animation shortcuts. As long as the storytelling flows well, they don’t really bother me. That first battle scene, though, was too egregious to ignore. It looked more like coloured storyboarding with voiceover than anything resembling finished animation. No music, even. It was a big fight, but there was no tension at all. Also, Yuu and Shinoa’s services were needed at two different battle grounds. They shouldn’t have been taking their sweet time!

All right, after having seen ep. 11 as well, I can confirm that it doesn’t look quite as bad as last week. However, it is pretty clear by now that action sequences are not Seraph of the End’s forte. Conversely, what is impressive is how even minor characters seem to have personality (and attitude) to spare. I totally wouldn’t mind if they dispensed with the physical fights going forward, and just have everyone wield their tongues instead of their swords!

Finally, a positive note about the music: Seraph’s OP “X.U.” and ED “scaPEGoat” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk] are easily two of the best theme songs this season. They have recently been released together as a double A-side single, and it’s so good! The instrumental versions are included, and even without the vocal tracks, both of them sound like complete songs. It’s almost a shame to cover them up with singing. This is real music, folks, not the generic pop that’s commonly used for anime music or heard on mainstream radio. (I’m not biased at all no way.)
(streaming at FUNimation)


03. KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA: Battle for Planet Nine (Sidonia no Kishi: Daikyuu Wakusei Seneki) (ep. 1-9) – There were already a slew of mysteries remaining from season one. SIDONIA 2 hit the ground running with a number of shocking new developments and even more unanswered questions. This stuff works for me and I’m definitely intrigued to know what’s going on.

The reason SIDONIA 2 is not number one on my list is that I feel it is wasting too much time on harem antics and fanservice, and that has got to be my least favourite aspect of the series. During the first season, the fanservice was certainly there as well, but it accounted for very minimal screen time. The rest of the production was so exceptional that I could easily overlook such indiscretions.

After watching ep. 8, I have to say I’m unimpressed. I suppose a lot of viewers are amused at the way these otherwise intelligent girls are trying to get close to our harem lead, but to me, it’s just ugh. The first season was so much more subtle with the romance! Tanikaze and Hoshijiro never openly acknowledged the romantic nature of their relationship, but when he kept going to see “her”, it strongly implied how connected to her he felt. What passes for romance this season is so clumsy by comparison, partly because it is all about what the girls want, with not enough input from the main character, which is typical of harem setups. It’s just, I don’t come to SIDONIA expecting some cheap harem anime! Can we get back to the Gauna please?

Anyway, to clarify, my quarrel is only with the sexual fanservice in the show. I have no problem whatsoever with the rice ball fanservice.
(to stream on NETFLIX starting July)


04. Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works] (ep. 13-22) – Ah, I was happy when Illya agreed to have a chat with Shirou and Rin. But alas.

It’s so hard to rank this one. When it’s good, it is really good. Take episodes 17 and 18, for instance, when our protagonists went to take on Caster. We found ourselves instinctively hitting replay for parts or all of those episodes.

But sometimes, it’s just not good. Like the subsequent showdown between Archer and Shirou. They have now spent several episodes talking and saying the same things over and over again; and both of them are stubbornly determined to follow the paths they’ve chosen. Um, there is an obvious middle ground here, isn’t there? Meanwhile, Rin is in danger and Saber is doing a whole lot of nothing!
(streaming at DAISUKI and Crunchyroll)


05. MY love STORY!! (ORE MONOGATARI!!) (ep. 1-9) – The shoujo romance with a male lead. But what really makes this refreshing is how likeable all the main characters are. Too many shoujo romances rely on mean people (or “good” people who behave in a mean way) to produce manufactured drama. When the setup and characters are interesting enough, as they are here, the show is naturally funny and entertaining without the usual gimmicks.

At this point, the relationship between the best friends is more compelling than the romance, though. Yamato is maybe a little too perfect.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

06. ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu) (ep. 12-21) – The 3-E class have worked hard for their accomplishments. Now it’s time for them to put their skills to the test as they stage an elaborate attempt on their teacher’s life and also work together to save their fellow classmates.

AssClass features a great ensemble cast and it’s easy to root for these kids’ success. At the same time, I wish Koro-sensei wouldn’t have to die! Is it just me, or does it seem like Karasuma-sensei isn’t really all that into the assassination either?
(streaming at FUNimation)

07. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: STARDUST CRUSADERS Egypt Arc (ep. 38-46) – The clock is ticking as the Joestar party approaches their goal. There’s still been plenty of stupidity and hilarity along the way. I especially loved the ending to the T. T. D’Arby arc.

Things are getting more serious now, though, as it’s time for the final showdown with DIO.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

08. Ace of Diamond (Diamond no Ace) SECOND SEASON (ep. 1-9) – This effectively got off to a late start due to the airing of 3 recap episodes at the beginning of the season. Since then, the anime has resumed its usual riveting gameplay, with a current emphasis on personal growth through competition for Sawamura and Furuya, and others.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


09. Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches (Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo) (ep. 1-8) – This supernatural high school comedy features lots of equal-opportunity kissing and likeable characters. I really appreciate that it routinely manages to avoid the most obvious types of rom-com tropes and fanservice that are common for the genre.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

10. BLOOD BLOCKADE BATTLEFRONT (Kekkai Sensen) (ep. 1-10) – BLOOD BLOCKADE is packed with over-the-top, larger than life characters. I’m particularly amused by Zapp and Klaus and I enjoy the dynamic they share with Leonardo. The overarching plot is harder for me to get a grasp on; though we’re probably not expected to understand a lot of the story yet.

It’s unfortunate I’m a busy girl, and I have lots of other anime to watch, so I can’t commit to multiple viewings of this one show. Because I do believe it warrants repeat viewings. There is A LOT going on visually in every scene, and especially since I also have to be preoccupied with reading subtitles, it’s very easy to miss a lot of details.

That is exactly what is so great and not so great about this series. If you have the inclination to give it your full attention and then some, I think it can be a really rich experience. The flip side is that it sometimes feels like work to watch it; it’s not something you can simply sit back and enjoy when you just want to relax.
(streaming at FUNimation)

11. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO! (Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Zoku) (ep. 1-9) – I was never in love with this pretentious series and even considered skipping this sequel. So I watch with a fair amount of cynicism. However, I’m actually enjoying it more than I expected to. Even though there is still that much-ado-about-nothing issue with the plot, I find I am able to appreciate some of the characters and the humour regardless.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


12. Food Wars! Shokugeki no Souma (ep. 1-10) – Frequently amusing, although there is not that much plot. Souma and the other students don’t seem to do that much actual learning at this elite school that they go to. Shokugeki no Souma is always reliable for its food porn. Quite literally, in this case, foodgasms and all.

Totally didn’t expect that JoJo’s reference in ep. 10, complete with voice narration and onscreen sound effects! Awesome. It was especially perfect because the 2 programs air on the same day and we happened to watch JoJo’s immediately prior. “You thought you were getting a cooking anime, but it was me, Dio!”
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13. Baby Steps 2 (ep. 1-9) – Eiichirou’s path to pro tennis continues in this second installment of the series. First is a 2-week session at a Florida academy. Then he returns home to train and play some more, with his future riding on his performance at the All-Japan Junior Tournament.

This is a well-written show, and very realistic. The reason I’m not more excited to watch it each week is that it’s maybe too realistic. Ei-chan has to work very hard for his successes, and we feel it – it’s not always fun to watch. Also, the slightly cross-eyed character designs have not gotten any more attractive since the first season, despite improvements in animation quality otherwise.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

14. Kuroko’s Basketball S3 (ep. 63-72) – It’s Seiren vs Rakuzan for the Winter Cup. But first, there was a 3-week delay at the start of the cour while the show did a flashback to Kuroko and Akashi’s time with the Generation of Miracles. So this sports anime took a while to get going as well.

I’m still not fond of Akashi. The more screen time he has, the less I tend to enjoy the show. The best thing this cour has going for it right now is a strong pair of OP and ED themes by regular contributors GRANRODEO and OLDCODEX, respectively. Animation-wise, I also don’t recall any previous opening sequence looking quite as good as this one does. Granted, it could be that I didn’t really watch them all because the music wasn’t good…
(streaming at DAISUKI and Crunchyroll)

15. Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – ALTERNATIVE ARCHITECTURE (ep. 1-10, complete) – Mostly a cut-for-TV rebroadcast of the ARISE OVA movies. If you have already seen the OVAs, there’s apparently no need to watch the first 8 episodes of this series. I still think it’s curious that they decided to start with part 4, though, before going back to the beginning. It seems like a questionable choice since that was probably also the weakest part.

The remaining 2-episode arc is new content; and it’s okay, kind of more of the same. Predictably, loose ends are not tied up, since there’s still a movie sequel to follow.

The movement animation and camera-work look great in this series. I can’t say the same for the character designs. That’s one ugly pixie cut the Major’s sporting; and seriously, they couldn’t do something about Togusa’s mullet? The best characters were the Logicomas; they were adorable.
(EVS streaming at FUNimation)


16. Uta no Prince-sama Magi LOVE Revolutions (ep. 1-9) – Episode 7 put the spotlight on Kurosaki Ranmaru, who I think of as prick #2 of QUARTET NIGHT. He’s all angsty because he decided to give up his “love for rock” (even though no one asked him to) in order to concentrate on his current boy band career. I mean, that’s just wrong on so many levels.

Fortunately, none of this third season has been as lame as the episode that started it, but overall, it just hasn’t been as much fun as season two.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. Sound! Euphonium (Hibike! Euphonium) (ep. 1-9) – KyoAni’s high school band anime. As expected, the art and animation are beautifully rendered, and okay, it’s a “better” show than UtaPri. But for me, Sound! Euphonium is too realistic and solemn most of the time. I even took music in high school, so I can relate to this stuff; but being more of a quitter than a band geek, I have little interest in it now. At least Baby Steps has some humour; this just bores me.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Jacquie’s 2014 Year in Review – Top 10 Anime

When I started thinking about the anime that I enjoyed the most this past year, I realized it would be challenging to make a realistic year-end best list. A vast majority of my favourite shows remain officially unfinished, either being ongoing, or with a continuation announced around the airing time of the season finale episode.

Usually, I only consider series which finish airing in the given year, without the immediate promise of a sequel. This time, any shows I watched in entirety that came to a clear season end in 2014, will be eligible. (Ongoing and designated split-cour series will be considered for next year.)

Below are my top picks of 2014, chosen from about 55 eligible titles. The top five were easy to decide; those were the series that received an 8 or 9 rating from me at MyAnimeList. The next five had to be selected from the nearly 20 shows which scored a 7, and it was no simple task.


#1. KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA (Sidonia no Kishi) (Season 1, 12 episodes)
There’s not much I can add that I haven’t already said in the mid-spring writeup.

I’m not much of a fan of computer-generated animation normally, but this show really made the most of it. With its engrossing sci-fi story and great world-building, KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA was smartly written and very exciting to watch.

Definitely looking forward to season 2 come springtime!
(NETFLIX)


#2. Free! Eternal Summer (Season 2, 13 episodes, complete)
In season one, the boys grew together as a swim team and as friends, while coming to terms with their past experiences. Eternal Summer, on the other hand, focused more on their personal development, especially as Haru, Makoto, and Rin needed to start thinking about their futures.

I had high expectations of Free! from the very beginning, and also confidence that the creators knew what they were doing and where they were going with the series. I felt that my faith was rewarded throughout, but particularly in this second season, including the satisfying finale.

The ending was conclusive enough that it seems fairly certain there will not ever be a season 3, never mind a season 10. Which is too bad, because I will miss having this series to look forward to. The animation was gorgeous, the music was evocative, and I came to care about the characters as if they were real people.
(Crunchyroll, FUNimation)


#3. YowaPeda (Yowamushi Pedal) (Season 1, 38 episodes)
This entertaining cycling anime was in my top 3 practically every week that it aired. Even though the storyline was quite simple and focused entirely on bike racing and training, it was always fun to watch. I liked how we gradually got to know each character in the huge cast as it came time for them to play their part for their team. It helped me empathize with their goals and it gave context to their successes and failures.

Well, season one officially ended in June and the sequel, GRANDE ROAD, started in September with a renewed numbering system, but there was really no ending to season one, as it stopped right smack dab in the midst of the gruelling Inter-high race.
(Crunchyroll)


#4. GUGURE! KOKKURI-SAN (12 episodes, complete)
When I first heard of this, I thought it was just yet another fox spirit anime; there seem to be so many of them! But one glimpse of the female protagonist and I was convinced it was not going to be just one of those shows.

I didn’t love everything about the series. Inugami and Tama, for instance, were not especially funny to me. But Kokkuri and Kohina, and even Shigaraki, were loveable enough to make up for it.

Overall, I enjoyed the absurd, irreverent humour a lot; and the balance of drama and comedy added some surprising depth to the material.
(Crunchyroll)


#5. ALDNOAH.ZERO (Season 1, 12 episodes)
The second of 3 mecha series on this list, ALDNOAH.ZERO had a strong start, featuring a war of worlds storyline, inventive plot developments, and an atypical lead character in soft-spoken, inexpressive Inaho.

The Martian Kataphrakt-of-the-week format of the middle section reduced the appeal of the show somewhat, however. It also didn’t help that Inaho always seemed to dispense with his enemies a little too effortlessly.

Regardless, the detailed animation, powerful soundtrack, and strong early episodes were enough to get me hooked and looking forward to the new season, which has just started.
(DAISUKI, Crunchyroll)


#6. NOBUNAGUN (13 episodes, complete)
For most of its run, this was a middling series for me. I really liked awkward, tomboyish Sio as the lead protagonist, and I enjoyed the episodes where her group, the Second Platoon, was featured in the plot. But it was considerably less fun whenever the focus was on other characters.

What raised my opinion of NOBUNAGUN was the final story arc, in which Sio got to display her character development and a truly inspired twist regarding the identity of one of the E-Gene Holders was revealed.

I’ve said before that it’s fairly uncommon for an anime to have a great ending, so I really appreciate it when it happens. NOBUNAGUN resolved not only its battle storyline, but its romantic subplot as well, even though the love triangle was mostly imaginary and played for laughs up till that point. This is more than can be said for most shows with romance as the theme!

There is still room for a sequel, but the series ended in a satisfying way.
(Crunchyroll)


#7. Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai) (99 episodes, complete)
An all-ages-appropriate, realistic portrayal of what it’s like to apply for the space program and the process for becoming an astronaut.

Self-deprecating Mutta made for a sympathetic hero; and the underlying story of brothers with a shared passion was touching.

The first half of the series definitely had the better material, climaxing with Hibito’s moon mission arc. The remaining episodes were more slow-paced and less riveting. But overall, I still give the show a strong recommendation. It’s well-informed and well-written, and it’s entertaining too.
(Crunchyroll)


#8. Shirogane no Ishi ARGEVOLLEN (24 episodes, complete)
This mecha/war anime suffered a weak start full of tropes: predictably hotheaded protagonist and grossly out-of-place fanservice, just to name a couple of the problems.

But along the way, the characters, including the lead, grew and became fleshed out and believable. Fanservice fell by the wayside. It was a joy to see the military strategy play out, as well as the interactions between the cast. All in all, it was not a predictable show at all; and it’s a shame that many viewers probably dropped it, for understandable reasons, before it got good.
(Crunchyroll)


#9. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: STARDUST CRUSADERS (Season 2, 24 episodes)
The third part in the JoJo timeline, once again featuring a huge time skip from the previous arc. Happily, Joseph is still around, and although he’s a grandfather now, he’s still as much of a redneck a-hole as ever. This time, it’s all about special powers called stands and it’s a race against time to reach Dio and stop him from destroying the Joestar family.

Basically, Jotaro and company are trying to make it from Japan to Egypt in one piece, but at every step, Dio’s followers are there to thwart their progress. This results in a stand-of-the-week horror story format most of the time. But that’s okay, because it’s so much fun just watching these lovably flawed characters interacting with each other. You can’t help but laugh at the crazy situations they find themselves in.
(Crunchyroll)


#10. Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji): Book of Circus (Season 3, 10 episodes, complete)
I never actually finished season one, and I didn’t watch any of the second season, but I checked out this third installment of Kuroshitsuji anyway. And I liked it!

Who is a victim and who is a villain in a world that isn’t black and white? Book of Circus was pretty dark and explored some of the same themes as Tokyo Ghoul (which also aired in the summer) clumsily attempted to, but executed on them so much better, in my opinion.
(FUNimation, DAISUKI)

Mid-Spring 2014 Anime Ranking


01. KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA (Sidonia no Kishi) (ep. 1-8) – Really loving this show! Far and away my favourite of the season so far. This frequently brutal and thrilling space opera, about humanity’s struggle for survival thousands of years after aliens, called Gauna, destroyed the Earth, had me hooked by the 3rd episode.

One of the biggest initial challenges was that everyone kind of looks the same. I’m sure it’s completely intentional given the amount of genetic engineering that has occurred, but man, did it ever make it hard to keep track of who’s who, especially in the beginning. The monochromatic colour palette was no help either.

I’m normally not a fan of computer animation, but I have to say it actually works pretty well here. The movements do look a bit stiff occasionally, but really, the narrative is so immersive that none of that bothers me; there’s just no opportunity to dwell on it. I’m really glad I didn’t dismiss this one just because of the CGI.

Anime storylines featuring a boy who shows up and mysteriously has the ability to operate a special mecha are a dime a dozen (eg. Captain Earth, DAIMIDALER, and Dai-Shogun from just this season alone). This show had maybe the most plausible explanation I’ve ever seen – Nagate was raised apart from the population but he practised extensively on a VR simulator all his life. It’s looking like there might be more to it than that, too.

At the close of ep. 8, a Gauna sample has been brought onto Sidonia. I would have done the same thing. Not just because of its familiar appearance, but also because it’s important to study the enemy if you ever hope to understand or defeat them. On the other hand, after all their efforts to keep the Gauna from making physical contact with Sidonia ever again, they now have one on board…

Incidentally, SIDONIA also gets my vote for best OP/ED of the season with its closer “掌 -show-” by Kitamura Eri.
Edit: (streaming on Netflix starting in July)


02. YowaPeda (Yowamushi Pedal) (ep. 26-33) – Onoda has spent the series training and learning about cycling from his peers and his sempai. It’s finally come full circle in ep. 33, as Onoda gets a chance to help Tadokoro by showing him his own special riding technique – and we finally get to hear the Hime Hime song in its entirety!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


03. Ace of Diamond (ep. 26-34) – In the current arc, Seido is facing off against Yakushi, a formidable opponent, and it’s coming down to a battle of wits between Miyuki and Yakushi’s coach. Furuya, too, is called upon to rise to the challenge. Episode 34 had no shortage of awesome plays. We actually went back and watched several of the scenes over again so we could appreciate them fully!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


04. Blade & Soul (ep. 1-9) – This show seems to be under the radar for most viewers. Is anyone else watching this?

All the powerful characters in this action-fantasy, be they gang leaders, village chiefs, bosses, good guys or bad, are all female. And why not? Sure, they are all busty and barely dressed, but that doesn’t matter to me, because they are shown to be genuinely strong.

I have nothing against shows with predominantly male characters – check out all the sausagefests in the rest of the top 6 right here – that’s just the way fiction comes. But there’s no denying how refreshing it is to see something with this many strong females in it. Ironically, this program was not made by women, for women. If anything, I think it might be the opposite. Regardless, the creators’ respect for women is very evident in the production.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why this show struggles to find an audience, though. Female viewers see the revealing outfits and assume it’s a show for guys. Meanwhile, many guys have little interest in a show full of warrior women with not even one male for them to fawn over.

Blade & Soul is perhaps also not well-suited for viewers who expect major characters to be overtly expressive. Alka, the lead, is like a killing machine and shows no emotion. As someone who has previously sympathized with strong, silent types in anime, I can personally tolerate Alka just fine; and I’m enjoying the series so far.

Actually, if there’s one thing I could really do without, that would be Karen’s dancing, in the show and in the appalling ED sequence. Now that is some really horrid-looking CGI.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

05. Haikyuu!! (ep. 1-9) – I seem to be enjoying quite a few sports anime recently. This one’s about volleyball. It took a while for me to warm up to the 2 main guys. Good thing their sempai were so likeable from the start. Especially Tanaka; he’s the best.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


06. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (ep. 1-9) – Between the elder and the younger JoJo, it’s hard to tell who is the bigger asshole. One is kind of a racist, the other is quite the misogynist, and yet, incredibly, they both manage to come across as funny and endearing!

I never had much interest in the fight sequences (that’s just the way I’m hardwired), so the best part for me is how these creatively over-the–top characters interact with each other. And that’s enough to keep me looking forward to JoJo’s week after week.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

07. Chaika – The Coffin Princess (Hitsugi no Chaika) (ep. 1-8) – I was really impressed with the first 2 episodes. It seemed like a lot of thought went into the action and the fights. Plus, there was that exploding unicorn, which is definitely not something you see every day, even in anime!

After that, the show has settled into more of a routine action fantasy thing. The execution is still above average, but I find the characters, especially Toru, to be a bit wanting in the personality department.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


08. The World is Still Beautiful (Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii) (ep. 1-8) – Princess Nike of the Principality of Rain moves to the Sun Kingdom for an arranged marriage to young King Livius. Naturally the two butt heads in the beginning, but soon find a common understanding.

I thought the recent episodes involving romantic rivals were a bit tiresome; fortunately they moved on from that fairly quickly.

The series has been a generally pleasant experience, with a couple of notable exceptions. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks Nike’s rain-summoning song is horrendously cringe-worthy. And I don’t even remember what the ED sounds like because we skip the sequence every time. It’s too awkward to ogle images of the boy king sleeping in the buff. That just feels wrong.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

09. Baby Steps (ep 1-9) – The tennis anime. Eiichirou is new to the sport and he approaches it in a highly technical and mathematical manner. It’s rewarding to see his gradual progress.

The drawback: the character designs are ugly. The way Ei-chan’s hair sticks out like a mohawk in the middle of his bangs is really weird. And “pretty girl” Natsu’s super wide eyes sometimes look empty and crazed. It’s kind of scary.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


10. NO GAME NO LIFE (ep. 1-8) – Legendary brother and sister gamers Sora and Shiro try to take over an alternate world in order to save humanity. This wildly colourful show has its share of pandering and overpowered protagonists, but it frequently succeeds at being imaginative and fun.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Captain Earth (ep. 1-9) – Insofar as being another anime about a young man and giant mecha, this one is fairly competently made, though far from engaging.

I’d say it’s not in the same league as Star Driver or Eureka Seven, although it is definitely a cut above last season’s Buddy Complex.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


12. The irregular at magic high school (Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei) (ep. 1-9) – I enjoy reading other people’s (disparaging) post-episode commentaries of this terrible anime so much that there’s no way I’m going to drop it.

It was recently put to me that I followed GUILTY CROWN to the end for the same reason; and that’s a pretty apt comparison, actually. In both cases, the art, character designs, and other superficial aspects are attractive. However, both have unappealing protagonists who expound questionable, rather off-putting social messages. And both series can be entertaining if you’re watching for the unintentional laughs, but otherwise, are quite painful if taken seriously.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13. riddle story of devil (Akuma no Riddle) (ep. 1-8) – Unlike last season, in which many series took a while to hit their stride, several shows this time around hit the ground running. Riddle story is one example of a show that started out much better than expected.

However, it has since devolved into a fight of the week scenario. The ending is always the same, too, with the loser just conveniently disappearing. And unfortunately, that seems to be the trend this season, where series might start out strong but then utterly fail to keep up the momentum.

I suppose there will be some big reveal at the end after all the fights are over, but getting there could be a bit tedious. At least the main character is likeable; she’s also of the strong, silent variety, which I apparently admire.
(streaming at FUNimation)


14. ONE WEEK FRIENDS (Isshuukan Friends.) (ep. 1-9) – Hase is determined to be friends with his classmate Fujimiya even though she suffers from a memory disorder. It’s sweet and touching and the kids are cute. I think this anime deserves the praise that it frequently gets; it’s just that I personally find it to be a tiny bit dull. It’s the kind of show that I might forget to watch if I didn’t have it written down on my list.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. NOBUNAGA THE FOOL (ep. 13-21) – Well, if you enjoyed the first half, this cour continues to deliver more of the same. Da Vinci is still playing with his Tarot cards, Mitsuhide still gets an opportunity to flick his hair in practically every episode, and Jeanne continues to be useless and needlessly sexualized.

The OP and ED themes are decidedly not as good this time around, though.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. La corda d’oro -Blue Sky- (Kiniro no Corda: Blue Sky) (ep. 1-9) – Not sure why I’m watching this show. I didn’t even watch the first series. All I can say is it’s harmless and inoffensive. I find it somewhat amusing that they are music students taking part in a musical competition, but they use terminology usually heard in sports anime or war stories. Oh yeah: the best part is the Yokohama scenery.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


17. BLACK BULLET (ep. 1-9) – This has been pretty consistently mediocre. The visuals are nice, but the pointless monologues and out-of-place boob jokes betray the show’s lack of substance.

The showdown between Rentaro and Tina in ep. 7 was actually thrilling and well-animated. Too bad the resolution was so hokey. Well, it was obvious that Tina would eventually switch allegiances, but still. At one point Rentaro even thanked her for “saving” Enju’s life. Um, she shot her full of bullets and stopped just short of killing her; “spared” her life, I could see, but “saved” is preposterously generous. So in the end, Rentaro, Kisara and Enju, all of them targets of Tina’s prior assassination attempts, welcomed her with open arms. Meanwhile, Tina acted like she was completely guiltless; not even a, “I’m sorry I tried to kill you. It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I guess this is what you can get away with if you’re cute enough. Oh, anime.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

18. BRYNHILDR IN THE DARKNESS (Gokukoku no Brynhildr) (ep. 1-9) – The initial premise sounded interesting, but when I realized that all the secondary characters were girls, I thought it might be bad. So going in, I expected this show to be haremy and fanservicey. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that the first 2 episodes were fairly restrained and respectably plot-driven.

However, it’s just gone down from there, to the point where it seemed like 50% of ep 5 was juvenile, unfunny sexual pandering. And that, regrettably, seems to be the pattern that the show has settled into since then.

On the plus side, the other 50% is still decent, which is why I haven’t dropped it yet. And the anime boasts a surprisingly classy intrumental OP. I can’t recommend this show to anyone, though. Some of those icky parts actually make me cringe.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


19. The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior (Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou) (ep. 1-9) – I came close to dropping this head-scratchingly-titled anime several times. Pretty much nothing happens in it. There are a few funny moments here and there, but I could easily stop watching and not miss it at all, I think.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Notable Drop:

MEKAKUCITY ACTORS (ep. 1-4) – Clearly I am not the target audience for this series. I have virtually no prior familiarity with the Kagerou Project’s Niconico music videos. On top of that, I frequently have a very negative visceral reaction to SHAFT aesthetics and animation style.

If I wasn’t watching with my sister, who has a passing interest in Kagerou Project, I would never have made it through 4 whole episodes! I just couldn’t take it anymore after that.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

A Separation

A Separation.jpg

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2011

The interesting thing about this Oscar winner (for Best Foreign Language Film) is that it  draws the viewer into the lives of several interlinked people who end up at odds with each other, but manages to keep of all of the characters relatable and fundamentally decent.

The acting is so natural that it feels like a documentary.  I don’t usually like a lot of handheld camera, but in this case it helps with the realism and also, as the camera navigates the tight corridors of the apartment where most of the action takes place, gives a sense of the claustrophobia of these people trying to get along together in tight quarters and difficult circumstances.

There is also an interesting depiction of how family/civil court operates in Iran.  I’m not sure how realistic it is, but it inadvertently shows why, in the west, we have chosen a much stricter standard for admissible evidence even though it comes at considerably higher court costs.

The only thing keeping this film from a 3.5 star rating is that the early sections establishing the household’s routines go on too long.

First Position

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2011

This documentary chronicles the lives of several adolescents (aged 10-17) as they prepare for the World Grand Prix, a prestigious ballet competition with awards that include scholarships to international schools and job offers.

I would have no interest in actually watching a full ballet production, but I have to admit, it was riveting to watch these talented young people.  I actually had to rewatch some of their performances, they were so good.  Maybe the short snippets are more compelling than a full production – it’s more like watching ice skating, which I do like.  Also, seeing the effort that goes into the art and seeing how young some of them are adds to the sense of wonder.

Somewhere Between

3.25 stars (out of 4)

Released 2011

This documentary profiles the lives of 4 American teenagers, all of whom are girls who were adopted from China.  The filmmaker was inspired to make this film after adopting her own daughter from China, and wondering how her daughter will fare in her new life.

The girls discuss some profound issues, like identity and their sense of abandonment, with moving candour.  All 4 girls are quite articulate and thoughtful and come from diverse adoptive families.  The filmmaker also follows two of the girls as they go back to China to search for their birth parents.

Highly recommended – and get your tissues ready.

Fish Tank

2 stars (out of 4)

Released 2009

This independent film, set in a housing project on the outskirts of London, is a portrait of a troubled 15-year old named Mia and shows how she is affected by the arrival of her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor (played by Michael Fassbender).

Because of the film’s slow and deliberate pace, we watch Mia’s ill-advised actions (picking fights, trying to steal a horse, breaking and entering) with the expectation that she has some grander plan that we don’t yet know.

Unfortunately, it seems the movie’s only purpose is a character study of a not-too-bright teen and the disadvantaged circumstances that she is all-too-predictably unable to rise above.

Young Victoria

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2009

After being impressed with Emily Blunt’s performance in The Jane Austen Book Club, I followed Netflix’s suggestion that I try this movie.

This film focuses on the few years around Queen Victoria’s coronation, including how she chooses her husband and how she learns to hold on to power.  The story is at times told from the perspective of her suitor, Prince Albert, who faces pressure from his uncle, the king of Belgium, to win Victoria over.

Although it’s a fairly straightforward story, I was impressed by the ability of the two lead actors to convince us of their genuine attraction, despite the unromantic fact that their match was strategically convenient.  (And after some Wikipedia surfing, it seems the story is fairly historically accurate.)