Overall, I consider 2017 an okay year in anime, it isn’t as solid as 2016, but the top 4 are absolute modern classics (well, 2 of them are sequels). 2017 is the year where we see the Hollywood embraces the medium by having 2 live-action remakes to classic anime Ghost in the Shell staring Scarlet Johansson and Death Note TV series to a devastating result. Fantasy-adventure anime had a typically strong year with the crowd-pleasing Little Witch Academia, Attack on Titan Second season, Made in Abyss, Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul and Kino’s Journey remake (which is considered more as Kino Journey‘s greatest hits). Romance has a pretty good showing as well, with the likes of tsuki ga kirei, Tsurezure Children, Just Because, Net-juu no Susume, Gamers and most notably the anti-romance Scums’ Wish. On the flip side we see the brief comeback of imouto subgenre (Eromanga sensei and A Sister is All You Need), which for me is absolute cancer. Kemono Friends, an adaptation of the then-dysfunction mobile game, becomes a breakthrough hit and that was something that I can’t comprehend even to this day. 2017 is also the first year of the Crunchyroll Anime Awards where they championed Made in Abyss.
Most Popular Show of 2017: My Hero Academia 2
The first season of My Hero Academia might air a year before in 2016 with modest success, but it’s this season that the show really explodes in anime fandom and becomes one of the most popular franchises of this decade. It embraces the shounen tropes with the right amount of heart and incredible animation, resulting in a predictable but always entertaining watch. This second season is an apt example of its success, and of why I never truly embrace the series. It poses some interesting questions about the grey moral of becoming a hero and points out flaws within the current hero’s system, but then it falls back on these in many occasions for a more light-hearted and straight forward action set piece. The result is a ton of sakuga sequences that is impressive in its own right, but it sacrifices all the thematic complexity in the process.
Most Ambitious Trainwreck: Seikai Suru Kado
I know most of us would never forgive Seikai Suru Kado’s third arc. The show introduces some of the most thought provoking ideas in recent years. It does a great task of providing a suspension without actual physical battle going on. Just imagine the advancement of technology the Alien gives us and how these potentially change the human race forever make it one of the most intriguing series in 2017. But then the show falls off the cliff with an unbelievable Deus ex Machina plot device and the antagonist betrays his own character traits and many plot threads get abandoned that it actually intrigues me to know more about what happened in the production committee room. Still, I can say that with all the disaster of the last 3,4 episodes I still find myself pondering around its themes from time to time. Certainly the one series that is hard to shake off.
Most Underrated Show: ID-0
Here comes one of the most under-appreciated anime of this 2017 year. ID-0 has many hassles that keeps viewers away from watching it: Netflix exclusive, full CG animation and a plot that is just plain weird and a bit incomprehensive at first view. I originally took it as nothing more than a fun spooky little-seen show until I realized that ID-0 is a well-crafted one. Both in terms of productions, world-building storytelling or characters’ development, they’re all above par. ID-0 also succeeds in introducing their main concepts that are not only plausible on the surface, it hints on deeper implications regarding those concepts and the show handles those issues competently. The cast’s overall chemistry is another highlight for me. They have easy chemistry and they bounce off each other extremely well. It helps that each of them has their own voices so when the show puts them altogether, their diverse voices are more than enough to shine through. The CG animation does feel stiff at times and it takes some time to familiarize with the animation, due to its “mecha robots floating on air” premise, but this is one of the few series that not only the CG animation is done right, it has its purpose.
Honorable Mention #1: Saga of Tanya the Evil
With the isekai boom comes a lot of insignificant offerings with bland and OP main lead (AKA loser) surrounded by the female cast, there are still some solid ones that justify the existence of this subgenre and Youjo Senki (or Saga of Tanya the Evil) stands amongst the cream of the crop. The reasons are many. First, it’s the titular character herself as she is far from your average lead. She’s cunning, calculated and what we witness is her journey to climb on top at all cost. It does help that she’s skillful and a strategist, which means she’s overpowered as heck but it’s justified since she’s up against God himself. Second, instead of a generic fantasy world we have alternative WWI settings which open for lots of comparison to our real history. Following this anti-hero accomplish her goals, climb up her ladders, fight the Communist and the likes and have an existential struggle against God are all I could ask for. Except for only the first episode (which I feel is a poor introduction to this franchise), the rest of them always keeps you on edge and engaging all the way through. It just barely misses the top 10 and it’s not usually the genre I am fond of, which certainly says a lot about the show’s lasting power.
Honorable Mention #2: Sakura Quest
I wasn’t that enthusiastic with Sakura Quest during its initial airing. But time has been kind to this show as I find myself much warmer to it now. SakuraQuest might look pale compared to its sister Shirobako, but in the end its strengths far outweigh its shortcomings. It has a novel base concept that is singular amongst the medium: a young girl works with the Tourism Board of a rural village to raise their profile. The show is surrounded by a charming female cast who have their own personality, motive and they have some sort of solid, easy-going chemistry together. It splits in several small arcs and while at first I feel they are inconsistent, the second half improves significantly and the ending sticks the landing. Even some of the minor characters outside of the main circle get spotlight in this show. P.A Works has embarked on an interesting direction in the later half of this decade as the studio focuses on original projects, with often muted results, still I consider Sakura Quest as part of the studio’s crowning achievement, just below Shirobako and The Eccentric Family.
Honorable Mention #3: Scums’ Wish
Scum’s Wish is an anti-romance series, a show that excels on portraying ugly aspects of romantic relationships and the line of true love versus physical love. I don’t blame you if you feel emotionally-drained watching this series. It was supposed to be that way and for all the dark sides the show evokes, Scum’s Wish always gives more thoughtful and honest treatments than most of other anime out there. The way the show handles the bright side of love though, it unfortunately doesn’t quite succeed. The best strength of Scum’s Wish is its ability to grab you and never let you go, but its impact is lessened greatly towards the end. The characters in the show are unfortunately a mixed-bag for me. While the female cast in this show is consistently great, the male cast unfortunately doesn’t develop fully enough. For all of its devastating and depressing details, at its peak Scum’s Wish manages to pull many raw and naked emotional punches that many other shows don’t dare to address. Scum’s Wish is ultimately a painful and uncomfortable experience, but that is what growing up is all about.
The Top 10
10. Little Witch Academia
While the show itself can’t quite capture the magic (pun very much intended) from its first two OVAs, Little Witch Academia the series still provides a lot of fun hijinks and some good character development from Akko and the cast. The overarching arc of Akko activating the magic words to turn back magic ties up well all the loose ends and gives a satisfying emotional closure, albeit at the expense of Croix and some hiccups in plot progression. I am admittedly not a fan of episodic character-focused approach, but for what it’s worth, LWA still provides heaps of fun times with some solid character growth, some tweaks on pop-culture references and a cartoonist exaggeration style. Studio Trigger sure aims this show for its Western fanbase in this regard. This show also has a bouncy and expressive animation with lots of energy and some truly stand-out sequences, production-wise. Ultimately, Little Witch Academia is a beautifully-crafted show that brings magic to a level that’s larger than life with its imaginative world, a diverse cast of characters and a simple, yet heartfelt central message and a passionate treatment from Studio Trigger – A believing heart is truly your magic.
9. Princess Principal
Princess Principal has emerged as a true sleeper hit for 2017 year. The first strength of this show lies in its intriguing world settings. I might have personal issues with Ichirou Okuochi as a whole, but even I don’t deny that he can create an interesting setting that triggers my curiosity. The steampunk setting, in particular, makes for an aesthetic pleasure and I would argue that it’s Princess Principal’s strongest characteristics. However, Princess Principal isn’t just merely an action show. The five girls have some interesting developments and each of them is given a solid backstory. Moreover, they have solid dynamics altogether that make the interactions between them a joy to watch. Another factor that adds to Princess Principal’s identity is its use of non-chronological order. This technique works for the show’s benefits most of the time because these episodes feel like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. The flow from one episode to another is present and moreover, this format helps us gaining context on certain themes, on certain character developments that otherwise would be insignificant in a linear way. Thus, Princess Principal is at its best in episode 5 (the introduction of Chise) where it focused on the exciting mission, while never forgetting to give our girls an extra depth. Princess Principal has “cool” elements written all over it.
ACCA is the most recent anime adaptation from mangaka Natsume Omo, which despite isn’t a household name, many of her works (6 titles of them) have been translated to English, a privilege that is rarely seen among this industry. Watching ACCA though, it’s easy to see her appeals: attractive and recognizable character designs, detailed world settings, complex yet laid-back themes and featuring characters that are always on the move. ACCA embodies all those traits with slow but confident pacing that have an ending that perfectly tied up all the plot threads- for me one of the best endings I have seen in years. Although I would’ve preferred more if the show has more time to focus on these 13 Districts and their ACCA’s representatives, the mere fact that they manage to make the plot points flows seamlessly, while still engage (or rather, enhance) viewers’ interest by each passing episode isn’t an easy feat at all. ACCA is masterclass at its storytelling and pacing. Even now when I’m looking back at the series, I don’t see any wasted segments, any meaningless conversations or any useless developments. Everything the show puts in, they are there for a reason, either to advance the plot, or to flesh out the characters, or give the show more identity. ACCA also is extremely well-grounded in terms of underlining characters’ chemistry. Although I would argue that those characters don’t change/grow much in terms of character’s development but the show delivers such natural chemistry between the cast, especially the trio Jean – Nino – Lotta that it’s such a nice time to see them hanging around together.
7. Girls’ Last Tour
Girls’ Last Tour falls within my favorite new trend that emerged in the anime medium over the last decade: dark moe anime. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the human race is almost extinct, our two girls wander around the world in their Kettenkrad looking for food and shelter. If it sounds a bit bleak and minimalist, rest assured that Girls’ Last Tour is at its heart a slice-of-life show about those girls having a relaxing time in that world. The show could be entertaining and soothing enough with just those factors, but it has more tricks up its sleeves. More often than not, Girls’ Last Tour ponders some basic philosophical questions about our own existence, our purpose in life and even what life is itself. Moreover, the anime adaptation enhances this show further with consistent audio-visual production and great attention to detail. Depressing and comforting at the same time, Girls’ Last Tour is a rare show that produces unique charms and distinctive tones, while always keeping its feet firmly on the ground.
6. The Eccentric Family 2
The second season maintains the spirits of the first, expanding a bit on the new set-pieces, and on many additional cast. The new characters fit in with the old cast like a glove and many of them even steal the spotlight from the old cast. What surprises me the most about this second season, however, is how the show successfully develops its romantic relationships, something that sorely lacked in the first season. For the cast this huge, it’s rather surprising that each of them has their own voice and their own significance to the story, and by the end, I have fond memories to almost all of them (except the twin, of course) – not a small feat to pull off at all. This is one of those shows that I’d be happy to watch anytime, I can never get tired of this colorful magical-realism Kyoto city and their adorable tanukis.
5. tsuki ga kirei
tsuki ga kirei is breathtakingly intimate in low-key narrative scope. The story that it tells – detailing the first love relationship of our young Kotarou and Akane – is decidedly simple and mundane, but honest enough that it feels more like a love story taken from your best friends’ lives. It has that “sincere” quality, something that the anime medium often fails to achieve with “moe” and other exaggerated character types cranked up to eleven. Tsuki ga Kirei has a great flair of visual storytelling, using a show-don’t-tell approach that often focuses on small moments and little gestures, rather than big emotional melodramatic payoffs. The characters are the most natural group of kids that feel exactly their age: naive, inexperienced and pure. This show ends up at the top of its genre as I consider it the most effective romance anime out there.
4. 3-gatsu no Lion 2
From this point onward all the shows are straight masterpieces, which inform you how strong this 2017 year is. This second season of 3-gatsu is just as great as the first, if not better. The bullying arc remains my favorite arc so far in 3-gatsu. Not only it brings the three sisters to the heart of its narrative and consequently we see how Rei himself copes with the situation, it’s where the show goes the darkest and produces many raw and powerful moments. The letters that Chiho sent to Hinata about “the first step is to making friends with the animals” still makes me weep, so does the powerful scene where Rei appears in front of Hinata in her school trip. Here’s the thing, 3-gatsu isn’t afraid to go to dark moments, but that is because it understands their pains. Not only that, this season gives a lot of attention to the shogi community as we witness the sparks of genius (and ultimately loneliness) of Souya and the weight that holds Yanagihara down. Rei is much more active this season and he still is an interesting protagonist worth following to. In the end, 3-gatsu is a show that isn’t afraid to tackle dark topics such as depression, bullying, not for the sake of it, but prominently because it respects both the characters and the audience by facing the topics head-on bathed in full range of human emotions.
3. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2
Genroku Rakugo is a prime example that mature, adult drama anime is far from withering, and to some extent this second season, which is told in its present day, has more emotional impact, much darker and is more elegantly told than the first. There are many time skips in this season, but through that we see the changing status of rakugo in Japan and the characters that grow and get old. We see how both Yotarou and Konatsu carry the torch of their passion with rakugo in different ways, with Yotarou finding his own style and Konatsu has her first gig (nonofficial) in front of the kids. But moreover this second season focuses on Yakumo’s conclusion, and what a ride that was. His character reaches the deep places that this medium rarely attempts to try, and not this elegant for certain. Genroku Rakugo has such a layered and well-constructed story that new little details can shed a new light and make a huge impact on the core characters, none of them (except one at the end) feels cheated or hinders the emotional core we already invested. The rakugo performance and the direction remain top-notch, in a way how its minimalist approach fits so well to the rakugo artform itself. Sometimes, a master storyteller uses nothing but their own voices and mannerism to successfully captivate the audiences.
2. Made in Abyss
Made in Abyss is a critical darling in the last few years and it’s easy to see why. It is in every sense a true adventure show, about the allure of the titular abyss, both full of wonder and life-threatening at the same time. The staff makes full use of its setting by utilizing the depth of the abyss with vertical motifs, which can be seen everywhere in the show’s rich background design. Add to that, Made in Abyss has fluid animation, a beautiful score, and a story that isn’t afraid to pull its punches, especially towards its characters. The show might be guilty of being cruel to its characters, but for me it works in the context of the settings and that cruelty wrings out some of the most gut-wrenching and raw moments in recent years. The result is often terrifying, visceral, yet powerful and irresistible, just like the abyss itself. In an era where fantasy anime is full of self-insert isekai tired tropes, it’s a treat to see an adventure story that feels lived-in, yet thrilling and emotionally resonant in equal measure.
1. Houseki No Kuni
Make no mistake, Houseki no Kuni is one the most ambitious anime projects of this decade. Not only because it’s one of the shining examples of a CG show done right, but also because its narrative scope is at once strange, grand and beautiful. This season feels more like an introduction to an epic story than anything else, but at its core Houseki serves as a coming of age story for our protagonist Phos, while exploring the insecurities of the other characters towards their own roles. Houseki the anime approaches the source in the best way it possibly can: by highlighting the unique appeal of its gemstone cast with striking visual metaphors and dynamic fight sequences. It both respects the core themes that make the manga stand out and maintains its own vibrant personality. Unique, strange, beautiful, devastating, ambiguous, and charming all at once, Houseki is an one-of-a-kind series, and I mean that in the best possible way.