The Best and Worst Anime of Spring 2016by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
Spring is wrapping up, which means it's time to poll our Daily Streaming Reviews team and find out which shows they loved the most, and which shows they'll try the hardest to forget! Once you're done perusing our critics' picks, head on over to the forums and give us YOUR top 2 (and your pick for the worst!). In the meantime, get ready for the Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide, beginning July 1 here on Anime News Network!
Best of the season: Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto
As a noted fan of fast-paced anime comedy, Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto was a blast to cover each week. Despite a relatively limited premise, the show started strong and very seldom let up. Although I was initially dubious as to whether or not this series would be able to retain its intense comic energy for an entire cour, I've been consistently impressed with its ability to do a lot with a little. The titular character—i.e., perfection personified—is the main draw, as his very presence drives the bulk of the humor. With virtually no effort, he's able to turn lemons into lemonade and use any bad situation to his advantage.
Although they're fairly one-note, the secondary characters are also amusing. From Kubota, Sakamoto's de facto best friend, to Sera, the plus-sized amateur fashion model, each of the show's bit players is able to elicit a few chuckles. Even toward the end of the series, virtually everything about Sakamoto's pre-high school existence remains shrouded in mystery—and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Anne-Happy is something of an oddity, in that it consistently straddles the line between subdued slice-of-life fare and surrealist comedy. In an effort to set itself apart from the standard “quirky high school girls hang out and shoot the breeze” series, this show features an interesting gimmick: each of the principal characters is profoundly unlucky—as is every other student in their school's “Happiness Class.” Main character Anne constantly attracts all manners of misfortune, bespectacled heiress Botan can't go more than a few seconds without incurring an injury, and audience POV Ruri is hopelessly smitten with the cartoon mascot who graces construction site safety signs. (All things considered, Ruri is more eccentric than outright unlucky.)
The bizarre though well-intentioned luck-building exercises the girls’ teacher puts them through every week are inventive and bring out the best in each character. Timothy, the Happiness Class's robotic rabbit mascot, is used just the right amount and manages to be funny without coming off as grating. While by no means an unappreciated masterpiece or a work of subversive genius, Anne-Happy represents a refreshing cut above the typical high school girl-helmed slice-of-life exercise.
Worst: Twin Star Exorcists
Twin Star Exorcists is a show I really wanted to be one cour. (Any chance it can switch episode counts with My Hero Academia?) Sure, it had a fluidly animated, nicely-presented premiere, but even at its highest point, this show was an exercise in style over substance, and it quickly lost what little style it had. Despite featuring the occasional funny moment and above-average fight sequence, Twin Star Exorcists is essentially a collection of the most overused shonen manga tropes. On the aesthetic front, the visuals and animation seem to get worse every week, and tonally, the show is all over the place. In recent weeks, the series has devolved into a tepid, uninspired romantic comedy with the action now seeming like an afterthought. Rokuro and Benio, the titular exorcists, are characters we've all seen in other better series—and feeling anything resembling empathy for either one of them is a tall order. Maybe some of my issues with the series will be resolved in the coming weeks (after all, this thing is sticking around for a full year), but if the first cour is any indication, I'm far from hopeful.
Best of the Season: Concrete Revolutio
Concrete Revolutio was in a league of its own this season. Contrasting its wild menagerie of characters against the social turmoil of the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was able to make grand points about the pursuit of a just society while also succeeding as a gripping personal drama. Some episodes here felt strange and otherworldly (the military police chasing a ghost whale across the walls of their city), others felt pressing and intimate (a father embracing his newfound superpowers because they're the only way to connect with his child). There were dramatic animation highlights and bitter political reflections, as history kept turning and characters were forced to reckon with their own ideals of justice. But perhaps most importantly, in spite of being a show too politically savvy to embrace simple answers, Concrete Revolutio was ultimately defined by hope. Depicting a world in turmoil, Concrete Revolutio refused to give in to cynicism, celebrating Jiro's belief in justice right up until the end. Brimming with compelling characters and creative ideas, sharpened by history's edge but lifted by an unerring idealism, Concrete Revolutio was a rare and thrilling show.
Runner-up: The Lost Village
And at perhaps the far opposite pole of anime enjoyment, The Lost Village turned out to be one of the most consistently enjoyable anime comedies I've ever watched. I'm not the biggest fan of classic B horror movies myself, but I could easily appreciate the love for the genre exhibited in The Lost Village's wild twists and turns. And the ways The Lost Village constantly played with viewer expectations, or riffed on the fundamental assumptions of storytelling, were something to behold. “Hey, it seems like there are monsters out there, maybe we should do something about that?” “Nah, let's bicker about our character names for ten minutes and then accuse someone of being a ghost.” The Lost Village's default state was a bunch of absurd characters forgetting the thread of their own narrative, and I wouldn't have it any other way. From its penguin-shaped psychological demons to its cat puns and That's So Lovepon moments, The Lost Village kept me laughing from start to finish.
Worst: Space Patrol Luluco
Honestly, Luluco wasn't even that bad of a show - but I was very ruthless in what I actually kept up with this season, and so Luluco gets the pick. Luluco initially seemed like a strong platform for Imaishi's talents; by tethering his visual energy and love of breathless comedy to an endearing premise like first love, it would hopefully keep him from getting totally lost in his own hyperactive headspace. The first few episodes largely validated this hope, aside from the show's lackluster, Inferno Cop-esque visual style - there were lots of fun gags, and Luluco was a very endearing protagonist. But a punishing cameo journey through Trigger's other shows pretty much sunk Luluco's momentum, and the comedy drying up has left Luluco with not much beyond some occasional visual setpieces. It's a shame all around.
Best of the Season: Re:Zero
Though I previewed almost everything, I only fully watched out eight series this season and multiple episodes of four others. (Of those, my Most Likely to Finish Eventually title is Flying Witch.). The one which far and away impressed me the most was Re:Zero.
If you had asked me at the beginning of the season to predict which series would be the best based on its first episode, I would have given this one long odds. After all, it did (and to some extent still does) give off a strong “generic light novel adaptation” vibe. Whereas some of its competitors remained firmly mired in that range, though, Re:Zero just gradually started getting better, episode after episode. It achieved its full potential with its powerful episode 7, and then maintained at a high level for most of the rest of the season. It did so through a combination of surprisingly strong character development and an intricate plot as much suspense and mystery-style puzzle-solving as anything else (though generally high technical merits and an expertly-used musical score certainly didn't hurt). Protagonist Subaru may be annoying with some of his long-winded prattle, but gradually even that behavior becomes endearing, and the interactions he has with some other characters is a delight. The viewer is also fully along for the ride as he tries to puzzle a survivable path out of one unexpectedly-deadly situation after another and find a path where he can not only survive but also thwart the machinations of whatever foe is opposing him. The writing's sense of timing on its revelations is spot-on, it also makes especially potent use of cliffhangers, and it even gets surprisingly emotional with the climax of its second arc. With another full season to go, it still shows a lot of promise.
Runner-up: My Hero Academia
Picking a runner-up series for the season is far, far harder, as a lot of series that I initially had high impressions of (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress in particular) have faded as the season wore on. I will go with My Hero Academia because even though it moves a bit slowly, it has a perfect understanding of the spirit which underlies the best shonen action series and uses that to its fullest advantage. It also has the best and boldest hook line of the season. (“Everything will be all right, because I am here.”)
Best of the Season: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable
Being a massive fan of Stardust Crusaders but woefully unfamiliar with the adventures of Jojo generations to follow Part III, I was stoked to finally discover what everyone loved so much about Part IV of the JJBA saga. Now thanks once again to david production's fantastic adaptive work, I'm already enjoying Diamond is Unbreakable even more than Stardust Crusaders!
Naokatsu Tsuda and his creative team only get more and more adept at finding ingenious new ways to translate the insanity of this classic manga into color and sound. JJBA's irreverent '80s aesthetic, always caught somewhere between pop and metal, macho and flamboyant, surreally artistic and childishly silly, is so completely unique from every other shonen out there that the content could stand on its own even if the anime adaptation was totally mediocre. The gags are hilarious, the concept is wildly inventive, the characters are lovable, and every week gives viewers something new and unexpected to applaud. But as welcoming as this series has been for newbies, longtime Jojo's fans have also rallied around Diamond is Unbreakable as one of the best anime adaptations of a beloved source ever made.
The passion of the director, the actors, and the composer bleeds out of every crazy, noisy, bizarre new adventure for Josuke and friends in Morioh City. It's terrific entertainment that never feels like it's running on autopilot for a second, and it's truly heartwarming to see creative staff working on material that they love and sharpening their skills with every new arc. (Oh, and Okuyasu is my favorite character. I'll always have a soft spot for the Polnareff types, and his episode with Tonio and Pearl Jam was amazing.)
Runner-up: Space Patrol Luluco
Speaking of creative staff spewing their passion all over the screen, I once saw Space Patrol Luluco described as "Studio Trigger's birthday present to itself," which explains its appeal way better than any other words I could use to try and describe it. While this exuberant little 7-minute weekly short doesn't technically require you to be a fan of Trigger as a studio to understand what even the hell is going on, its "tied together with silly string" plot is mostly made up of references to Trigger's creative universe, from planets based on Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia to a jarringly two-dimensional Chief Justice at the head of Space Patrol who was clearly ripped right out of Inferno Cop.
But Luluco succeeds where so many other studio-centric in-joke parades fall apart thanks to its sincere investment in all the emotions behind its creation. Luluco's simple quest to confess her first love feelings to the boy she likes are treated with ginger sympathy in one moment and manic disregard the next, syrupy-cute one second and then unbelievably crass, depending on the tone of each episode and the style of each animator. Above all else, Studio Trigger's work conveys an unflinching belief in its artists, even as they take ludicrous tonal risks or indulge their basest crude instincts. I think they want their audience to see the vulnerability behind all this experimental celebration and embrace it, choosing not to take themselves seriously in the hopes that fans will laugh along with them both when they succeed and when they falter. That's a sentiment I can definitely get behind, and I'm glad that Trigger's cult of personality is based on letting its artists go crazy in a climate where anime can often feel manufactured within an inch of its life.
Luluco also has one awesome thing in common with Jojo's: perfect credits music! Savage Garden and Bonjour Suzuki are classy choices that always lift my spirits at the end of an episode.
Worst: Super Lovers
On the one hand, I almost feel like a bully for sinking my fangs into a show so generally reviled or ignored by ANN's readerbase that it didn't even come close to qualifying for season review coverage. Hell, apart from my own horrible morbid curiosity, there was no reason for me to watch this at all, since I'm obviously not the target audience and I absolutely knew this was a snake when I picked it up.
On the other hand, this show exists to romanticize incest, "untamed child" grooming, and pederasty. So never mind, no mercy.
To some extent, the rise of fujoshi entertainment has marginalized this kind of bottom-shelf boys' love stuff to the point where it's nowhere near as relevant as it was in the mid-to-late 2000s. Pseudo-heteronormative yaoi with garbage animation and a disconcerting amount of misogyny and rape isn't the only option anymore for ladies who want to appreciate a little homoerotic entertainment without shame. The industry has even started producing movies like Doukyusei with lovely production values and a clear respect for their romantic leads as more than twisted fetish objects. But Super Lovers still exists, and it still sold better than Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto, Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, or Shōnen Maid this season in Japan. And it's getting a second season! I'm all for the continued equal-gender-opportunity expansion of the anime industry, but not if its face is going to be just as slimy as the one it replaced when otaku ruled the market.
Not to kinkshame anybody here, but if we're going to lambast the Prisma Ilya's of the anime world, Super Lovers isn't any better just because it normalizes toxic attitudes for the benefit of a slightly more marginalized consumer, (mostly) straight women, at the cost of denigrating an even less privileged group of people, queer men. We can do better than this, and the industry is putting out more female and LGBT positive media than ever before right now, but I still feel the need to stomp on these kinds of outdated snakes in the grass when they slither over.
Best of the Season: My Hero Academia
As the season has now wrapped up, I'm realizing my interest in My Hero Academia barely rests in it's position as a classic Shonen Jump property. I mean, it is that, it's about as thoroughly calculated as a Jump series can be, but I think I like it as AN Entertainment roller coaster in the vein of Attack on Titan a lot more. I'm so interested in the ways that action and adrenaline can be portrayed in fiction, and in the age where that stuff feels more like a trend than ever in anime, My Hero Academia is this year's offering of that experience.
Beyond the presentation high points (episodes 2 and 7, All Might vs. Nomu) the show has a very compassionate nature at its core, especially between its stars All Might and Midoriya. I never want to take for granted when a show tells its audience “do your best!” and means it.
Kiznaiver is the kind of show where the flaws just make it that much more endearing to me. It works less as an honest analysis of people and empathy, and more as a smorgasbord of fantasies cooked up by and for people who come up short in their earnest attempts to connect with others. So many of the conversations within the show are scarily familiar to me. Either they feel like they were lifted directly from things my friends and I have said, or from the rhetorical fantasies we might find ourselves stirring up in our heads from time to time.
I don't think Kiznaiver succeeds at having anything to actually teach its audience, but there's something I find so novel about the attempt. It's a blunt sci-fi hook that means so well, and tries it's best to emulate compassion. The end result was a show I anticipated eagerly each week. I just had so much fun trying to make connections between myself and the characters at every possible opportunity.
Worst: Ace Attorney
The Ace Attorney anime is an exercise in constantly asking, “who?” Not, “whodunnit?”, but rather, “who is this even for?” Like, can you imagine this being somebody's first exposure to the Phoenix Wright story, It's not impossible, but it's endlessly tragic. The fact that this is an adaptation of a game series that's so successful at finding fun in drama and suspense ends up being the show's biggest downfall. If it's unable to at least come close to matching that fun, then what's the point?
I can't recommend unacquainted audiences start here, because then it'll spoil the mystery-heavy games (which are essential works for anyone who owns a DS) and I can't recommend it to fans of the series because it's just a less interesting version of what they've already played. I'm a pretty forgiving guy when it comes to animation and direction, but cutting it some slack doesn't get it any closer to answering the question, “why bother?"
Best of the Season: Flying Witch
I'm not always the biggest fan of iyashikei (healing) anime. They can move a bit slowly, struggling to hold my interest when I have a long list of bombastic, fast-paced shows to watch on my list. Flying Witch had no difficulty keeping me interested. It's "slice of life" at its truest: the characters really do feel like real people, and their situations like a window into their everyday lives. Protagonist Makoto comes off like a real teenage girl, curious and clever instead of some bratty or cutesy stereotype. Chinatsu is like a real adorable little kid, in awe of her elders yet demanding of what she wants, and eager to absorb everything she can about the world. It's a good lesson to genre fiction writers that "realism" doesn't have to mean gritty and depressing. Like most iyashikei, Flying Witch remains happy and optimistic, keeping the stakes firmly ground in the everyday, and never getting dark.
All this "realness" comes in spite of the fact that, as per its title, Flying Witch is a fantasy series. The characters encounter everything from mandrakes to ghosts to giant flying whales throughout the series' 12 episodes. It's not even "magical realism," which usually implies small touches of the supernatural in an otherwise normal story. The episodic plots are firmly ground in the fantastical aspects of this world. Still, Flying Witch's writing and art style (more similar to other iyashikei than the boldness and sharp edges of, say, My Hero Academia) keep it feeling like this is "everyday" life in some magical version of our world. This series brought back memories of reading Harry Potter or watching Sailor Moon as a little kid, and wanting so badly to live in and have special powers in those worlds. It helps when you can really easily see yourself in it, as I could here because of the "realistic" atmosphere.
There's also a really "cinematic" feeling to Flying Witch, too, from the scoring to the robust character writing. (As well as the obvious similarities with Studio Ghibli films, particularly Kiki's Delivery Service.) It's just so obvious that so much care when into this show. That's nice to see with any "slice-of-life" show, which often get short shift in the budget department. Here, it was enough to make it my favorite out of an excellent season.
Runner-up: Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless started off every bit as sleepy as its main character. Luckily, it quickly picked up as it spread beyond the premise, and to a wider cast of fun characters. Tanaka's unusual levels of slackerdom attracted admirers and friends, from the hyper Miyano to conflicted popular-girl Shiraishi. Each episode focused on a different set of this colorful cast, and their relationships with Tanaka and his trusty best friend, Ohta. It felt a lot like Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, one of my favorite school comedies ever, if not quite as over-the-top, or as progressive in its portrayals of issues like gender roles.
In fact, the few places where Tanaka-kun stumbled were where it relied a little too much on the confines of its genre. One is with the relationship between Miyano and tough girl Echizen, which the show seems to confirm as romantic in nature. Unfortunately, a few episodes later it goes back on this, showing Echizen as flustered when she thinks Tanaka and/or Ohta might be into her, and dreaming about dating them. After that, it seems to forget all about the romance between the two girls for this heterosexual fantasy. The other awkward place is with Rino, Tanaka's younger sister, a stereotype imouto who sees Ohta as a "rival" for her brother's attention.
Still, there's so much to love here. Tanaka-kun was consistently hilarious, and made you really feel for its various characters. One of my favorite episodes revolved around the popular, fashionable Shiraishi. She's secretly a huge nerd, and in the rare moments where characters see her in her "true form," she's almost unrecognizable. It uses this to explore the complicated feelings girls have about social status in high school.
Whoever expected so much from a show all about a boy who can't stop sleeping? I just wanted it to be entertaining; it ended up being so much that it was one of my favorites of the season.
Many shows start off promising and then devolve into something hacky and (overly) familiar, but I've never seen one tank as hard as Kumamiko did. The show frontloaded its most unique features, starting with the whole premise (the talking bear) and continuing to the raunchy, but original sex jokes. None of the latter could be found in later episodes, where the only sex "jokes" involved sexual harassment. It was false advertising for a show that rarely traveled outside of the box, and when it did, only to disastrous consequences.
If you didn't stick with it, Kumamiko loves its cruel comedy clichés, constantly poking fun at its protagonist for her very real issues that cut close to home for many fans (social anxiety). It also reinforces lazy stereotypes about the differences between city and country dwellers, even while the characters complain about them. Throughout my reviews, I hoped that the show would be more original. Unfortunately, when it finally decided to do that, it was with an ending that felt like a middle finger to the show's fans. The main characters suddenly gave into the worst versions of themselves, and treated it like a happy ending. Skip this show with so little respect for not only its characters, but its audience as well. You can find better shows with talking animals or slice-of-rural-life—like my top pick!
Best of the Season: My Hero Academia
After this winter's dose of cynical hero life with One-Punch Man, I was craving something sweeter. The story of Midoriya as a defenseless misfit in a high-powered world fit the bill perfectly. This show is full of neat powers, but it's the characters that make it super.
Protagonist Midoriya is voiced by Daiki Yamashita, the same actor who portrays one of my favorite characters of all time, Onoda Sakamichi from Yowamushi Pedal. Like Onoda, he's a perceived weakling with hidden strength. Even though Midoriya isn't born with special powers like most people, his determined spirit makes you want to root for him.
Midoriya is flanked by a cast that really made me feel. I hated Bakugo when he was introduced, and I was impressed the character could impact me that strongly. I loved dorky Iida and charming Ochako and just plain unique Tsuyu. But my favorite was All Might, a perfect foil to Midoriya—instead of being weak with hidden strength, he's just the opposite. All Might's clear inspiration from American superhero comics also lends this show an eclectic feel. It's like if 1950s Superman showed up in a Japanese manga, and his perfect facade gave way to the angsty, personality-based storytelling of the genre.
There's such an excess of character in My Hero Academia. There are no throwaway character designs. Every time a student, a teacher, or another hero is introduced, I'm immediately engaged in trying to figure out their power based on their outrageous costume. After all, it's not the abilities that make this show so interesting—it's the people who use them.
Runner-up: Ushio and Tora
Who would have thought that a 1990s OVA could become a breakout show of the Spring 2016 season? Ushio & Tora was almost doomed to obscurity, until MAPPA picked up the decades old IP and dusted it off for a generation. The result—not especially flashy or modern—tested the original story and proved that it had enough heart to relate to a brand new generation of fans.
Ushio is a physically strong dude whose strength comes from his emotional capacity. Tora, a supernatural monster who looks like a tiger, is even stronger, but has a lot to learn in the feelings department. Their adversarial relationship turns into full blown friendship as Ushio continues to win anyone and everyone over to their cause, and Tora finally has to admit he made the right choice by helping Ushio instead of devouring him. Thanks to Ushio's big heart and Tora's prickly exterior (and secret softie interior), they both become easy favorites.
Ushio and Tora make up the good side, but the circle isn't complete without their sworn enemy, the Hakumen no Mono. An entity that feeds on human fear and speaks in a chilly, echoing voice, the Hakumen is not quite human and is completely immune to Ushio's charms. It's the perfect foil because most of the show's relationships are formed by Ushio winning people over with his easy affection for people in trouble and his determination to do the right thing. There is no redemption for the Hakumen, and to defeat it, Ushio will have to draw power from all of his prior friendships in order to gather the emotional strength he needs to survive this fight. And just like Ushio himself, the 39-episode show never forgets a character. Though the show's on the long side, this depth of continuity makes it fast-paced and totally worth it.
The final arc, which begins somewhere around episode 30, is the perfect culmination of all this buildup. A nostalgic 90's art style is the perfect vehicle for this emotional, action-packed show, which brings forth an older series that absolutely resonates today.
Worst: Ace Attorney
Picking a “worst show” is always tough. It needs to be good enough to keep my interest long enough that I can watch the whole thing through so I can see if it redeems itself. For me, this worst show—that wasn't too awful to watch in its entirety—was Ace Attorney.
I'm a huge fan of the Ace Attorney games, so I came in with high expectations. Because of the relative simplicity of the games, with storytelling told solely through pixelated sprites, chiptunes, and text, I was looking for an anime that would fill in the parts my imagination previously had. Instead of still backdrops, I wanted to see familiar spaces animated. I wanted to see what it would really look like to watch a witness crumble under Phoenix's adamant quest for the truth. However, those occasions were few. This series was barely animated, relying on still shots much like the games. Few moments elaborated on the existing canon with new information or visuals (the 13th episode, depicting Phoenix's childhood, was a rare example). Characters used the same looping physicals tics that they had when they were just sprites.
Overtime, I found a happy medium in this show by looking for moments that, if they were not better than the game, were simply about as good, with the same captivating music and memorable characters and courtroom drama. But without my firsthand participation (playing as Phoenix to find the contradiction), it was hard to stay quite as engaged.
There were worse shows this season, but none that I could stomach for that long. Ace Attorney was the perfect mediocre pick—not too awful to drop, but not good enough to recommend.
Best: Flying Witch
Flying Witch had my attention from its first episode, and it managed to keep me coming back for more every week. It feels odd to describe such a laid-back series as “compelling,” but its ability to balance normal slice of life stories with just a hint of the supernatural remained intriguing throughout the season. It's not every day that a show can have its characters wake up early to catch a ride on a flying whale, then send them back home for a perfectly ordinary breakfast without missing a beat.
That seemingly effortless blend of normal and bizarre works in part because of the way in which the show presents its more creative ideas. The characters gasp and marvel at the stranger parts of their world, but the show itself treats the magic as a perfectly normal occurrence. Visits from spirits are depicted with the same amount of fanfare as encounters with regular townspeople, and it's that willingness to see magic in ordinary things that makes the extraordinary feel natural. Flying Witch is quietly clever, creative, and always pleasant to watch.
Second Best: Assassination Classroom
What impresses me most about Assassination Classroom is how it's gradually improved over time. After plenty of false starts and small steps forward, the series has finally figured out how to tell serious, dramatic stories alongside its particular style of humor. Where the first season's attempts at emotionally compelling drama tended to fizzle out without leaving much of an impression, these last dozen or so episodes have found a way to really tug at the ‘ol heartstrings.
I give Assassination Classroom a lot of credit for steadily reducing its dependence on Koro Sensei, who started off as the only character capable of making an episode work. Rather than using him as a crutch, the series threw time and effort at developing the rest of the cast to a point where most of the major characters can stand on their own. The show's ideas about the role and importance of a good mentor have also helped drive the storytelling forward in this last season, and it feels like Assassination Classroom it the rare action comedy that actually has something interesting to say. It's always been an entertaining series, but it's also molded itself into a genuinely good one.
Worst: Three Leaves, Three Colors
Where Flying Witch shows what can happen when a slice of life series is willing to try something new, Three Leaves, Three Colors is an example of sticking too closely to the established formula. I have all the time in the world for slow-paced comedies, but everything in this series felt like it had already been done a dozen times before. After three episodes of uninspired characters and bland comedy, I walked away and never looked back. It's not so much objectively bad as it is lacking in any sort of purpose or appeal.
Best of the Season: Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
I was leery of Tanaka-kun when it first debuted; you may recall me making unkind comparisons between Tanaka himself and my thirteen-year-old three-legged cat in the preview guide. But as it turns out, being asked to cover it for daily streaming was one of the most fortuitous requests I've had. Even with an attention span that favors fast-pacing over lazy antics, I came to really love this show. It's gentle brand of comedy became a real highlight of my busy semester, and I definitely need an Ohta-kun in my life. (Maybe I can train my dog…?) On a less personal note, Tanaka-kun is Always Listless made the most of what it had. The plot of the overall show, that Tanaka-kun has the energy of a salted slug, isn't always suited to full-length episodes, so the series plays with the length of each plotline, sometimes cramming three into a single episode, other times using a single one for the whole half hour. This in itself combats the relative sameness of each plot, building slowly and subtly on the characters’ defining traits and personalities. It also allows for the series to poke gentle fun at the tropes of the high school comedy genre. Tanaka-kun is utterly unenthused for the school festival, prefers to do his own version of the deadman's float in the pool, and thinks a girlfriend is way too much trouble even as he appreciates a nice pair of breasts. Shiraishi opens the door to playing with romantic comedy tropes, Ohta and Tanaka's relationship can be seen as a satire of BL stories, and the list goes on. The only jab that doesn't quite work is Rino's bro-con little sister act; that really plays too close to type. Add to all of this that the story takes place in the most gorgeous school in the world with lush backgrounds and a soothing pastel palate, and the opening and ending themes are ridiculously catchy, and this show is just a well-put together piece from start to finish. It does have its issues (those long pauses never did work for me), but I fully repent my initial assessment of it…even if my elderly cat still does have more energy than Tanaka.
My other favorite of the season I did expect to enjoy: Re:Zero. I am a sucker for stories about people being transported to another world, but the unexpected bonus of Re:Zero, that hero Subaru can die and be revived to basically try to get it right again, really solidified my enjoyment of the show. It reminds me strongly of old Sierra graphic adventure games, most specifically King's Quest 6: in those games it was possible to die multiple times before completing a “chapter,” but it was also possible to beat the game without getting the best possible outcome. In other words, you could still screw up and let people die and just decide to keep going because it was too much trouble to go back. In episode seven, when Subaru technically beat the Roswaal Mansion chapter but realized that he did not get the best possible ending and so throws himself off a cliff to restart it, my fondness for the show was solidified. In part this is nostalgia for my favorite genre of video game, but it's also fascinating to watch Subaru, a contemporary gamer, try to figure out the logic of this older style. Not that this is strictly a trapped-in-a-game story; it's just that it runs on graphic adventure logic, which is both a nice change from the usual RPG fare and also has an element of puzzle solving to it. The show feels like a combination of fantasy and mystery without relying too strongly on either genre, and in a time when we're seeing a lot of strict genre pieces or deliberate parodies of the established genres, it's really nice to see a story take a different route. I also find myself liking the characters themselves, although I admit that most of Roswaal's appeal is Takehito Koyasu's voice. Subaru is self-aware and world-aware without being annoying about it, Emilia is nice without being sickly sweet, and even the maids, Rem and Ram, have real characters once we get beneath the surface. I also liked Felt when we briefly met her before and am looking forward to seeing how she changes things going forward. Mostly, however, I enjoy trying to solve the puzzles alongside Subaru (or ahead of him, as the case may be), making this a more engaging and immersive experience than a lot of other series. Bring on the next challenge, Re:Zero. Subaru and I are ready for it.
Worst: Super Lovers
Before you get too upset, let me be clear: it was the actual series itself, not the idea of it, that made me name Super Lovers as the worst of the Spring 2016 season. I was actually more creeped out by the manga ending of Bunny Drop than Super Lovers.
What damned this series for me was that it looked terrible. Miyuki Abe's character designs didn't transfer to animated format particularly well, especially Haru, who has a sort of delicate-yet-masculine look in the manga; here he just looks like Yaoi Seme #27B. Ren and the twins fare a little better, but they still look much stiffer than their originals. The animation itself is also no great shakes, with awkward movements and a lack of basic art skills – the scene towards the end of the series where Haru climbs over the back of the couch to sit with Aki and Shima is so poorly done as to make it look like he's just taking a normal step and somehow ending up in front of the couch. He's tall, but he's not so tall that a couch would be the equivalent of a book on the ground in terms of his gait. There also were issues with pacing the story, with everything happening so quickly so as to fit in ten episodes that I never really got a feel for Ren and Haru's relationship. There were two time skips early on in the series, further confusing things, and it really felt like that second one, the time Haru spent in Canada with Ren after they were older, must have been important, because somehow they were magically closer after that. Too bad we never saw it. Super Lovers treated major plot points breezily, from Ren and Haru's relationship to the fact that apparently Kiyoka is transgender. (Or was that a joke? Honestly, it was so poorly handled that I couldn't tell.) It made the whole thing feel jerky and remarkably incomplete. The only characters I came out of the series caring about were Aki and Shima, and that was mostly because I felt badly for them being in such an awkward situation. It's never a good sign when the side characters are the best developed and understood – I definitely felt like I had a better grasp of the twins’ relationship with Haru than Haru's and Ren's in terms of emotional investment. That's a fault in the writing right there.
There are few enough BL anime – not even one a season. It's a shame that this one was handled so cavalierly.
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