The Best Anime of 2016
Nick Creamer, Lauren Orsini, and Anne Lauenroth
This year we're publishing our individual categories each day - click here for the Best Characters of 2016!
5. Mob Psycho 100
As it turns out, my number five pick for this year ended up being the next show by the director of last year's number five pick. Death Parade's Yuzuru Tachikawa is a singular talent, and the passion and creativity expressed in his latest show has to be seen to be believed. In addition to being a visual wonder, Mob Psycho was also a very well-constructed character story, and directly interrogated the concepts of heroism and society that creator ONE's One Punch Man also gestured towards. Though the humor can be a little rough around the edges, everything else about Mob Psycho 100 impressed me from start to finish. It's a great watch and an easy recommendation.
4. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
From the first episode, it's easy to tell Rakugo is going to be a special show. Centered on a niche art form that was falling out of favor even during the show's mid-century time period, Rakugo brings a fundamentally inaccessible performance style to life through vivid scene-setting, stunning performance setpieces, and rich characters. Rakugo itself feels like a kind of heightened performance; from its ostentatiously beautiful shot framing to its melodramatic narrative, it consistently demands the audience be drawn into its unique world. I'm very happy we'll be enjoying its sequel soon.
3. Sound! Euphonium 2
Sound! Euphonium dropped a spot from its predecessor's position, but that's not surprising - not only was this year in anime just generally stronger than 2015, but Euphonium's sequel is less tightly constructed than its first season. But even though this season is at times forced to deal with less sharply written material, its execution of that material is beyond compare. Euphonium 2 is easily the best directed and animated show I watched this year, bringing its low-key character conflicts to life through vivid framing and well-observed character acting. If you're a fan of character dramas, Euphonium is still best in class.
2. Concrete Revolutio: The Last Song
Concrete Revolutio's first season ended in fiery mayhem, as student protesters flooded the streets to rail against Japan's martial post-war leanings and complicity in the United States’ colonial ambitions. That protest proved to be the death of a certain kind of social consciousness in Concrete Revolutio's world, and in its aftermath, all of Revolutio's characters are forced to pick up the pieces and deal with what happens when you fight the law and the law wins. The Last Song is an anthemic, eulogic, and bitingly smart reflection on culture, heroism, and the pursuit of a just future. It offers no clear answers, but is exactly the kind of culturally and thematically charged story that might inspire us to find our own.
1. Flip Flappers
Based on its director Kiyotaka Oshiyama's Space Dandy episode, I'd initially expected Flip Flappers to be mostly a whimsical visual showcase, delighting in adventure without having much more to say. I'd have been happy enough with that, but the ultimate show ended up being so much more. From its first joyous adventures onward, Flip Flappers consistently builds a sturdy and poignant story of identity, family, and human connection, with protagonist Cocona learning to express and love herself all along the way. All of that would already make Flip Flappers exactly my kind of show, but Flip Flappers’ true genius is how much of its storytelling and character writing goes completely unsaid. Nearly everything that is critical to Flip Flappers’ story is revealed not through dialogue, but through subtext and thoughtful visual storytelling. By conveying even its narrative fundamentals through backgrounds, art design, and animation, Flip Flappers is able articulate its story gracefully in a way that makes its narrative not just consciously understood, but truly felt in an aesthetic sense. Flip Flappers shines as both character story and adventure serial, but it also stands as a confident, imaginative, and consistently beautiful example of visual storytelling done right.
Everything's scarier when you're a kid. So when Satoru finds himself on the hunt for a serial killer while stuck in his childhood body, the stakes are already raised. On the surface level, Erased is an engaging thriller that keeps you on your toes wondering whodunnit. Beneath that, it's a sweet story about love, friendship, and impermanence. Satoru's fierce love for his mom, his friends, and his troubled classmate Kayo makes this story's time travel component more than just a gimmick. Instead of getting caught up in the gee whiz science fiction parts, I was heavily invested in the heart of this story, which is really about people. Though I had an inkling of the culprit's identity, I never saw emotional end of this story coming. Great music and heartwarming moments punctuated by moments of intense terror made this one of my picks.
4. My Hero Academia
Beautiful animation, powerful worldbuilding and one adorable main character make My Hero Academia a must-watch for me. In a world where heroes are commonplace and regular people are scarce; Midoriya, AKA Deku, lacks the “quirk” he requires to stand out, but he already has everything it takes to be heroic. Deku is so thoughtful and brave that he quickly wins over even the most powerful hero, All Might, who turns out to have a secret weakness. From there, the story gives way to a host of interesting, flawed, and ultimately likeable characters who strut their stuff in intense action scenes that make this world feel so engaging and real. From the opening power ballad to the final episode, I was captivated all the while.
3. Mob Psycho 100
From an intro song that feels like a panic attack to a sketchy, oddball art style, the mood of Mob Psycho 100 is pure anxiety. Mob may have advanced supernatural abilities, but there's nothing more mundane and relatable than his coming-of-age story. Told in everything from oil painting on glass to psychedelic sequences reminiscent of the ‘60s, this animation keep you on your toes and shows a visual of the shifting, uncertain allegiances in Mob's mind—in a world where everyone is out to use him, fight him, or worse, the question on everyone's mind is, “Mob, what do you want?” and will this precious, deserving middle schooler ever get it? Contrasted with his abilities, Mob's everyday worries will keep you rooting for him. Combined with art and music designed to keep you on edge, there wasn't a more gripping half hour this year.
2. Yuri!!! on Ice
To not put Yuri!!! On Ice in my top five would mean I have a heart as cold as an ice rink. This is a love story set in the already-theatrical world of professional ice skating, adding increased drama and urgency to the story of Yuri Katsuki's first romance. It's an anime that shows the difficulty behind a graceful sport while removing none of its glamour. Yuri is the perfect character to induct us into this world—as he wavers between an unconfident bundle of anxiety and a beautiful pork cutlet bowl, he is both the hero and the villain of his own story. And with each episode, Victor brings out a little more of Yuri's best qualities (and vice versa) in a blossoming romance that will make you want to hug your favorite person and tell them you love them. From ambitious animation to a beautiful story, this anime made history.
1. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
That's right, my favorite show of the year is about the ancient Japanese art of solitary storytelling, Rakugo, which I didn't even know existed before 2016. Thanks to an hour-long first episode, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is able to work quickly, not just defining the art but making viewers care about it and its practitioners right off the bat. Set against the high drama of rakugo tales, every moment is staged like a scene in a play. It's all theater but there's nothing artificial about it, because this multigenerational story is full of friendship, rivalry, romantic love, and family ties that imbue every moment with deeper meaning. The backdrops, costume design, and music help ensure total escapism in this Showa-era period drama, but the characters’ powerful emotional connections make the story just as resonant for modern viewers.
5. March Comes in Like a Lion
I don't consider March Comes in Like a Lion to be one of the 5 best anime to come out in 2016. It just happens to be among the ones that speak to me the most this season, on several levels: the pacing, the color palette, the imagery of depression, the way humorous scenes feel like seen through Rei's lens of half enchanted, half confounded bewilderment, punching through his numbness with a glaring stridency. While I'm not fond of the series' use of voice-over commentary frequently employed to re-enforce what the images alone transport just fine, March Comes in Like a Lion continues to be something I look forward to every week.
4. Yuri!! on Ice
Combining artistic expression with the thrill of competition, the sport of figure skating lends itself to excellent drama. Yuri!! on Ice knew how to make its audience root for a cast of characters so likable every episode felt like being around friends. Bursting with passion just like its skaters, YoI was my weekly dosage of warm fuzzies in a cold winter. The finale had me cheering for everyone indiscriminately while trying to gulp back tears listening to the opening song and Yuri on Ice theme for the last time. In the end, the show delivered on its theme of drawing inspiration for artistic expression from the love of (and for) others while not quite achieving the level of history making it could have reached.
3. Thunderbolt Fantasy
My number 3 Japanese cartoon of 2016 and first real favorite is a Taiwanese puppet show. Embracing the camp that comes with its medium, Thunderbolt Fantasy was a larger than life fantasy adventure that had me cheering in front of the screen at its unapologetic, theatrical epicness. Finally there was a show where Hiroyuki Sawano's score couldn't sound TOO! BIG! for the accompanying visuals. The expressiveness of the puppets, brought to life by Pili's extraordinary artistry, was a feast to watch, but this swashbuckling adventure came to us courtesy of Gen Urobuchi, and while he clearly had a blast writing this, he wouldn't have missed the chance to use the stylization required by the art of puppetry to play with tropes and archetypes, tongue and mystical weapons in cheek. Thunderbolt Fantasy provided a different, much more conciliatory take on heroism according to Urobuchi, and as a fan of kabuki and firm believer in the truths found in stylization, Thunderbolt Fantasy was my kind of camp.
2. your name.
I had the great pleasure of seeing and reviewing Makoto Shinkai's international smash hit at this year's Sitges Film Festival, where it, unsurprisingly, won the award for Best Animated Film. I've long been a casual fan of Shinkai's work, but never before has he managed to employ his recurring themes of individual loss and adolescent melancholy to create a story that managed to tap into the universal feeling of bereavement experienced by an entire nation. your name. was profound without being melodramatic, and I cannot wait to see it again.
1. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
I've seen and enjoyed many good pieces of fiction this year. But if I had to choose one title out of everything I've read or seen, there's no question as to what it would be. To say I loved Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju would be an understatement. Not only does it sit at the top of my 2016 list, it's probably going to be among my top 5 anime for years to come. Not since 1997's Berserk do I remember characterization in anime being so gripping, and a main trio of characters dooming each other and themselves so beautifully by lying about what and who they truly want in a hostile world. I've been a theater geek long before I watched my first anime, and as someone suffering from an unhealthy obsession with tragedies, Rakugo's first season – a tragedy dedicated to finding truth on stage in a world full of lies – is one of those invaluable examples of fiction I want to arrogantly claim as being made for me. I've written more than 16,000 words about this show before even joining ANN, and I'm beyond grateful this mature, sensitive, wonderful show is getting a second season to conclude its story.
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