Personally, I hold 2016 year dear to my heart, given it was the year that I started blogging anime. So, from watching 3-4 shows per season in previous years I would watch around 14-15 shows (now, I retain a healthy meal course of around 10 shows per season) and probably watched more trash shows than necessary for the blog but you know what, I love every minute of it. Compared to my original top 10 list back in 2016, you can see that while the shows remain unchanged (just the #10 was replaced), the order has been shuffled around, futher reflect how ranking and criticism are not… you know… exact science. Anime films are absolute beasts in 2016, with the release of these following: Your Name, A Silent Voice, In this Corner of the World, Kizumonogatari and Doukyuusei. The success of Your Name and Yuri on Ice in particular are welcoming signs as they are passionate projects from one of the most talented anime directors working in the field right now.
Most Popular Show of 2016: Re:Zero
Re:Zero is now seen as one of the crowning example of isekai subgenre and I can see why. Although it follows the tropes of the genre with a main character who “happens” to have special abilities in another world, it goes beyond that and showing the real curse of having the ability. There’s a lot of suffering for Subaru as he dies and dies again and repeats the circle. And while it’s true that he can advance to the next stage once he clears the hurdles, the psychological effects of these horrible events clearly affect him. Hence, Re:Zero is at its best when it doesn’t offer an easy way out for Subaru. He’s in a bind and we can clearly feel his struggle. The show suffers, then, when sometimes he clears the stage a bit too convenient, and when it relies on tropes and anime humor. It’s still entertaining enough for me that I m looking for the second season nonetheless
Most Underrated Show: Alderamin on the Sky
Alderamin on the Sky surprises me in a big way. It’s a light novel adaptation, but I was thoroughly enjoyed its world-building that blend between military and magical world. The former raises many interesting themes like how incompetent from the leaders can cost the battle and many moral themes regarding the war. It also boasts some engaging warfare tactics lead by our main character Ikta. The cast is fine with the main group consist of characters with different personality traits and work at different department in the army. While some never raise above their supporting status, the main chemistry between Ikta and Yatori is so special that the implication that they could be enemy at some point in the future leaves an impact. You can argue that Madhouse has passed its glory stage but they are still pretty much reliable when it comes to respecting the spirits of the source material they adapt.
Honorable Mention #1: ERASED
I just feel that the hype (and eventually the disappointment) regarding ERASED during its air kind of overwhelmed the quality of the show itself. Its murder mystery plot leaves a lot to be desired, and it cuts some of the side characters’ development in the manga which hurt the show, but ERASED is also a personal story about regrets and the ability to move on from the past. Its key strengths here lie in the solid chemistry from Satoru to the cast – all the girls/women that shape his life, as well as Satoru’s own trauma. So in terms of character drama piece, ERASED shines through with many powerful emotions and some gripping moments. ERASED is far from a masterpiece. The story is predictable and despite a good amount of characterization, certain characters can be easily forgettable. However, it’s still a thrilling series mostly with how it keeps the audience at their seat, at least during the first half. The relationship dynamics remains one of the most prominent concepts of the series and it easily brings the story to life.
Honorable Mention #2: Saiki Kusuo no Ψ-nan
Saiki Kusuo is in the running of one of the finest comedy shows of this decade. It’s a gag show, and it benefits from its short skits that deliver and end at the right time. They include some magnificent sight gags, rapid-fire dialogues and narration, glorious random chaos, and a lot of fourth-wall-breaking. The central joke is simple enough: Saiki is OP psychic but wants a normal uneventful life, but weirdos keep attracted by him anyways. And it helps that all other members of the cast are weirdos, they are all hilarious and awesome in their own way and more often than not they bring Saiki into one mishap after another. Saiki Kusuo is a very original and hilarious comedy, full of lovable characters that will make you laugh from beginning to end.
Honorable Mention #3: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Grimgar isn’t a perfect show. Far from it. The pacing is slow and it features some irritating characters. But for those strengths that the show delivers, it delivers with so much grace. Beneath its isekai gimmick, Grimgar is a deeply personal story about grief and adjusting your life to a new environment from the very bottom. The slice of life aspect, which is unusual for its RPG root, breathes life to its world settings. Moreover, the water-color background makes the world vivid and surprisingly detailed. But the best thing about this show was how the killing and the death does matter. It’s one of those rare shows that understand the grieving process and we can feel that pain lingers for the majority of its run. Grimgar is by no means a great show but I didn’t expect it to be that personal, and personal storytelling is always fine by my book.
The Top 10
10. 91 Days
91 Days is a taut thriller sets in the prohibition era that might remind us of Baccano, but instead 91 Days takes a big inspiration from Hollywood mafia crime films (The Godfather saga and Martin Scorsese’s films in particular) and it functions more like a live-action revenge drama and less like an anime. What I appreciate 91 Days the most is how the show never looks down to the audience and doesn’t leave an easy way out for the characters. The pacing is tight, the plot progresses solidly with unexpected but rewarding twists, and through their action we understand about the characters much more than they let on. While sometimes I feel that the show can’t escape the established tropes of both mafia crime films (it starts at the daughter’s mafia wedding, ring a bell?) and anime (just slightly, but it does), it’s rather remarkable that the show really nails it on the American setting of the prohibition era. In addition, the characters stand out at the end because they have well-established motivation and their own wits and hence the cast’s complex chemistry is highlighted by multiple layers of trust and double-cross. 91 Days remains a mature, gritty and confident tale of revenge with masterfully executed atmosphere and tone. Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold.
9. Flying witch
flying witch is one of the best slice-of-life shows in recent years, bar none. The show takes a slow and deliberate pacing with a strong sense of atmosphere into a mundane countryside world. For a show about a witch adapting to her new hometown, the amount of actual magic is surprisingly low in numbers but when it happens, everything glows with a sense of wonder. The cast is endearing and they have one of the most natural chemistry together this year. More impressively, the show does all that effortlessly to the point of perfection, but look underneath and you can see many little tiny details that keep adding up and make that world so rich and inviting. In this laid-back world, sometimes we follow a cat for his daily routine, making a hamburger or eating cake in a witch’s café, or even taking a lazy afternoon nap. But whatever activities they throw at us, flying witch is ultimately a celebration of the joy of everyday life, with a little touch of magic to create a sense of wonder that life and nature bring to us.
8. Yuri on Ice!!
To the surprise of everyone before the show aired, Yuri on Ice hits the jackpot with both its remarkable ice skating routines and the romance of our main leads. No, I’m aware the show’s writing isn’t its forte, as it focuses entirely on the performances of all the figure skaters that it has too little time to do anything else. Instead, the show makes full use of its performances to flesh out the performers, giving them characteristics and even their own little arcs to develop. Yuri and Victor deserve special attention for portraying a very positive homosexual relationship; and the routines, although repetitive, never failed to be spectacular. This show’s also a statement from one of the best working anime directors right now, Sayo Yamamoto, as this one was a passion project that somehow managed to become a big hit.
7. Fune wo Amu
noitaminA block has been very shaky lately, but Fune wo Amu is a return to form and demonstrates that there’s still a market for adult drama anime. The process of making a dictionary doesn’t sound much interesting, but the show succeeds in following an everyman spending years to make something worthwhile. It’s also a show about connection, about people with different personalities can work together for the same passion projects. Furthermore, both the show and the dictionary (the Great Passage) is one of a way to connect the gap between what we want to express and what we actually communicate, between one person to another. It’s a delight to see a show as dry and mature as this pop up every now and then – the show that trips out all the spectacular over-the-top visuals to instead tell a story that it wants to tell.
6. Psycho Mob 100
Contrary to the popular opinions here, I actually find Mob Psycho 100 a better adaptation out of ONE’s works. The animation actually makes a great use of rough and simple character designs (which many regard as the manga’s weakest aspect) to showcase one of the most stunning pieces of animation in years. But for me what surprises me the most is its neat writing that consistently draws out the insecurity of Mob and gives him the necessary triggers to develop. The cast likewise all are very well-constructed and each of them adds their own roles to the overall story arcs. Mob Psycho 100 is one of the most creative products I’ve seen in 2016, backed up by the strong development of the cast and surprisingly lots of hearts. I honestly couldn’t ask for more.
5. Thunderbolt Fantasy
“WHAT?? WHAT IS THIS PUPPETRY SHOW DOING HERE IN THIS TOP TEN?? THIS IS AN ANIME BLOGGG” You ask? But of course, I say. If anything, Thunderbolt Fantasy is a product that break the boundary on how anime should be and even what anime is. I must admit that I’m not really a fan of Gen Urobuchi, the way that I more respect him than actually love his works, but the world that he created for this little gem is a wonder. The characters all have their own unique mannerisms and are way over-the-top so it’s fun to see how their egos clash with each other through campy dialogues and equally hilarious plot twists. Many have their own elegant gestures, unique costume designs and those static puppetry faces that weirdly fit the show like a glove. Those practical effects that you can only see in puppetry and stop motion are put into good use. Thunderbolt Fantasy remains the most ridiculous and entertaining piece of anime that you will encounter this year, or any given year. Long live the anime!
4. Sound Euphonium 2
The only sequel on my top 10 list but it more than earns this spot as nothing can beat Sound! Euphonium 2 in terms of ambition and its production value. The second season serves as a different kind of beast than the first one, focuses more on several separated character’s arcs and many of the show’s highlights could very well be the high points of the whole year. That 10-minutes musical performance in its entirety from episode 5 is phenomenal, as are the two main girls Kumiko and Asuka’s own developments. This show is layered with smart visual motifs and sensitive direction that underscore little gestures and facial expressions more than outright dramatic moments. Everything is handled with top-notch care and frankly that obsessive amount of attention to get everything right is something that we might never witness again in other studios.
3. Sangatsu no Lion
Sangatsu no Lion is, simply put, one of the best character pieces this medium has to offer. The show can be dark and depressing at times, but it’s also a compassionate show, in the sense that it’s concerned about the characters’ struggles and loves them because of it, because it understands that insecurities and flaws make up who they are. The love for its characters spreads out not only to the core cast, but to all the supporting characters, some of them from the shogi world, and others from Kei’s personal life. Shaft’s direction also heightens the dramatic sequences with sharp visual symbolism, although that style doesn’t lend itself well to the comedic bits. Sangatsu no Lion is a statement that unhappiness is OK. Being depressed, unsatisfied or stressed does not make you weak – it makes you human. More than any other show in this top 10, Sangatsu is one of those shows that will stay with me for years to come.
2. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
At number 2 is Rakugo, as this is storytelling at its simplest, most elegant and most mature that this medium doesn’t get very often. This show, at its essence, is the story about the art of storytelling, and everything in the show is constructed like a rakugo play itself, from the tragic outcomes to the epic feeling as these characters go through their lives in the changing society of Japan. That is why Rakugo goes through multiple time shifts and through the ups and downs of the rakugo artform. The depth in the direction can be seen clearly through how the staff handles the rakugo performances, which are oftentimes vivid and mesmerizing. Every subtle change in gestures, vocal delivery, shot angle and lighting can inform the shift in characters’ inner feelings. The characters from the show fall amongst one of the most complex characters this decade had to offer. All the characters feel multi-dimensional, with all their flaws and motivations fully conveyed and explored. Essentially, this story is one worth telling, and even more so, worth listening to.
1. Flip Flappers
Flip Flappers is a show that succeeded in bringing originality and visual motifs to create its own world and run on its own logic. On the surface, the show is an adventure that hops from one genre to another, at the same time overwhelms us with its heavy symbolism, stunning visual storytelling, vibrant imagery and a plot that didn’t even attempt to make sense. On second look, all those elements actually underline the coming-of age themes such as self-identity, duality and self-worth. The show at times can be frightening, but it’s a legitimate fear of growing up and becoming an adult filled with responsibility and burden. Flip Flappers loses strength in the second half as it tries to craft a proper narrative arc, and comes out as less significant and conventional. In fact, It’s the freedom to break the rules and pick whatever content and styles they see fit in the earlier parts that makes Flip Flappers so refreshing and unpredictable. Flip Flappers is anime in its purest form: as in a product that can only work well in the medium of animation.