The Best and Worst Anime of Winter 2017

by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,

The Winter 2017 anime season is winding to a close, and that means it's time to pick our favorites – and least favorites! Below, our Daily Streaming Reviews team has assembled their choices for the best anime of the last 3 months, along with a runner-up choice and their pick for the worst show of the season. Once you're done perusing their picks, head on over to our forums and tell us yours!

Next season looks to be one of the biggest in anime history, so be sure to check out the Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide tomorrow on ANN, where we'll be running down three of the most anticipated new shows right away! With no further ado, let's get to our staff superlatives!

Lauren Orsini

Best of the Season: Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

When this show's precursor came out in Winter 2016, it was my pick for best of the year. Its sequel, which doubles down on the former's intensity and depth, only confirms it.

I found Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju extremely educational about a Japanese art I knew little about, but it is nothing like a lecture. Lectures don't make you cry, while this show ensured that I was fully invested in the life of its main character, (who goes by many names but let's call him Yakumo), which is no less dramatic than any one of the rakugo stories he performs. While the first season focused on Yakumo's early life from his own point of view, the second season focuses on his apprentice. Yotaro is the happy ending this family needed in the unlikely package of a former yakuza. While there's a lot of heavy stuff bubbling under the surface—and emerging at the slightest prompting—Yota's joyful approach to rakugo, his immense love for Yakumo and Konatsu, and his quickness to laughter and tears, sets the season's tone.

There are two time-jumps this season, but very few changes. The beauty of the four seasons, the telltale shamisen music that precedes a rakugo performance, and of course, the rakugo stories themselves, all persist. Nobody remains untouched by the ravages of time, but there's always a sliver of hope as this odd little family continues to grow. It's a story that keeps its focus on the small, quiet moments of life that we hardly notice until they're gone.

Runner-up: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid

Chu Chu Yeah! From the first note of the opening song, this show has been nothing but a delight. Combining some of anime's wackiest tropes with genuinely moving character acting, Dragon Maid is a silly slice of life that occasionally hits you with emotions.

While this would be a hard sell to anyone who's not already well-versed in anime, (“You see they're dragons and also girls,”) it's a surprisingly relatable portrayal of daily life. Tohru may be a dragon-turned-maid, but she's still a girl who fights with her parents and worries about the woman she loves. The dragon part just adds a magical realism gloss on top. The contrast between these two parts of each character—human and fantasy—is what makes the show special. All of the squabbles and alliances between the dragons are the same as you'd see in any family, only turned up to 11. Their super strength turns the simplest plotline, like putting on a Christmas play for the elderly, into something that's as wild as it is cute.

This show hasn't technically wrapped up yet, so I don't know if a knockout final episode would have turned it into my top pick. But I do know that there wasn't a stranger or sweeter slice of life airing this winter season.

Worst: Masamune-kun's Revenge

I'm glad I watched this show to the end so it could let me down one last time. At the beginning, the appeal of this show was the same as it is when I watch a reality show—following a bunch of awful, vapid people as they pursue terrible goals. The worst of the bunch is the titular Masamune-kun, who transforms himself into a smart, popular, attractive high schooler, not for the sake of self improvement, but to convince his equally reprehensible childhood friend to fall in love with him—so he can utterly crush her feelings in the same way she did to him! Aki, of course, is no better than Masamune, and public humiliation is her weapon of choice. They're joined by a group of “friends” with their own problems, who are either outright unlikable or merely not developed as characters enough to eventually find unlikable.

I thought the story was picking up with the introduction of Gasou, a chubby guy who doesn't resort to mind games and passive aggression in order to win Aki's heart. Masamune is shocked that somebody less physically perfect can be so much better at life than he is, but I'm not. I was hoping it'd be a wake-up call for our shallow hero. Cue my disappointment when it turned out Gasou was just as bad as everyone else, posing as Aki's friend for a get-rich scheme. There's not really an ending to this show so much as a stop, but nobody here deserves any closure anyway. Let it be a lesson to me for even bothering with this garbage.

Amy McNulty

Best of the Season: Gintama.

Although far from my favorite season of Gintama., the standout title this winter for me was nonetheless the return of Gintoki, Kagura, Shinpachi, et al. Compared to earlier seasons, jokes are few and far between, although thankfully, not entirely absent. The action, however, is among the best the series has ever showcased. With the Kiheitai joining forces with the Joi Rebels, the Kaientai, and Odd Jobs at last, it's hard not to get pumped seeing the Four Heavenly Kings fighting side-by-side once more. Plus, Kagura gets some time in the spotlight as the final few episodes of the cour reveal her family's history. The final Kamui/Umibozu showdown that evolves into the Odd Jobs Trio trying to bring him to his senses as a team makes for an epic end to a jam-packed arc. There's also plenty revealed about the enigmatic Utsuro, helping set the stage for the grand finale—whenever that gets animated.

Runner-up: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid

Despite its plethora of dragons, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is a far cry from an adventure-filled fantasy. Still, there's something charming about this slice-of-life series flavored by the presence of a humanoid dragon maid and her otherworldly cohorts. The relationship between Kobayashi and Tohru at the core of the series is endearing instead of obnoxious like many a (usually clingy) relationship of this type in similar shows. While it's true that the scenarios don't often take advantage of the fact that there are magical, shape-shifting creatures rounding out most of the cast, there are virtually no dull moments, even when characters are engaging in something as seemingly banal as shopping. I do think the show might have benefited from a bit more comedy, but at the very least, even its recurring jokes never outwear their welcome. (I also would never want to eat her dragon tail meat.)

Worst: Nyanko Days

True, Nyanko Days consists of episodes with extremely short runtimes and shouldn't be held to the same standard as the typical twenty-minute show. Still, Nyanko Days manages to make even three minutes seem overlong and boring. The concept—a world in which cats talk to their owners and resemble little humans with cat ears—grabbed me, but the show has little to offer. Too often, episodes focus on Yuuko (the owner of the main trio of cats) and her school friends instead of the owner and the cats themselves. From time to time, the cats do something cute, acting like the felines they're supposed to be, but the show just doesn't take the concept far enough. The cat-girls definitely seem more girl than cat, making the idea of keeping tiny moe humans as pets more disturbing than the series intends.

Jacob Chapman

Best of the Season: Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū

I think I called this season "weak" at its start, but here at its end, that didn't turn out to be true at all. For the first time in a long time, I had a ton of trouble picking a top two between three shows that I loved about equally. That's not even counting Little Witch Academia, which isn't available yet, but all the tidbits I've heard about the series give me the impression that I'm at least going to like if not love it. (Time's a wasting, Netflix! Spring's gonna be absolutely slammed, but I still wanna make room for the Trigger party!) In fairness, the rest of the season was largely lame-to-terrible, but the highs were so high.

Anyway, I feel comfortable wasting that first paragraph with all this hemming and hawing, because what more is there to say about Rakugo Shinjuu that hasn't already been said? I'd still consider my best list this season a three-way tie, but Rakugo inches by into number one on the virtue of riding the strong feelings built up by 24 episodes instead of just 12. I'm sure it'll come up on at least a couple other lists in this article with good reason, as an unexpected generation-spanning, award-winning masterpiece that is literally being credited with revitalizing the art of rakugo in real life. (When I was in Japan last week, we couldn't get into a certain bar because it had been booked for a rakugoka performance. Some local friends remarked that rakugo was indeed making a comeback for unknown reasons, so I was quick to offer Rakugo Shinjuu's success as a possible explanation.) And this powerful story was created by a self-taught artist whose only prior works were stacks upon stacks of boys-love doujin. The story behind the story is incredible all by itself!

Of course, there's also the elephant in the room, an eleventh-hour twist that threw many viewers for a loop in recontextualizing this decade-spanning epic, and not necessarily in a good way. I have a lot of complicated feelings on the giant speedbump at the end of what was otherwise a shockingly consistent character drama, but as Rakugo Shinjuu perhaps warned us, "There's nothing sexy about perfection." If anything, it allowed me a peek behind the curtain at the personal preoccupations of its creator, a real human being whose ultimate performance was the result of many rehearsals and revisions. I still love Rakugo Shinjuu, warts and all, and I really can't wait to see what Haruko Kumota comes up with next, considering this was her first big project.

Runner-up: Scum's Wish

So if Scum's Wish is second place, what was my third favorite anime this season, and what split the difference? It was Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, and while I dearly adore this bawdy yet heartfelt monster girl show with all my heart, easily my favorite of Kyoto Animation's productions, the difference just barely came down to narrative ambition. When both shows are excellent, I'm afraid that cute and soul-warming, even peak cute and soul-warming, just has to pass the bouquet to an anime with some real cojones.

It takes real courage and strength to write a story with this dark of a premise but keep the focus so consistently on empathy and forgiveness from start to finish. As these teens and adults tear into both each other and themselves like starving animals desperate for warmth and validation, using sex as a salve to distract from a wide variety of issues that will definitely take years in therapy for them to work out, it would have been so easy for Scum's Wish to find someone to blame for its main heroine's pain, to throw someone under the bus for the sake of her happy ending like so many shojo have before. (Even Fruits Basket, one of the most empathetic manga about forgiveness I've ever read, relies on some irredeemable villainy by its end.) But in the end, this "love story about hating yourself" refused to judge or abandon anyone in its perfect-size cast, forcing them to live with their burdens while lightening those burdens just enough to give the audience faith in their future.

Sorry if that's all a bit vague, but I wrote thousands of words about each episode every week (which you can read here!) so needless to say, I may be running dry! I would easily place Scum's Wish alongside Fruits Basket (the manga) as one of the rare teen romances that abandons romanticism to find true beauty in the painful realities of love. It's not for everyone, and it's not an easy sit even for those who adore it, but Scum's Wish turned what could have been a salacious exercise in mean-spirited nihilism into a gentle embrace of broken hearts, and it will definitely stick with me for years to come.

Worst: Hand Shakers

I can't think of a single thing that this show did right.

I don't know how much more damning I can be, but basically everyone knows how terrible Hand Shakers is by now, so why should I waste my breath? The visuals are terrible. The music is terrible. The action choreography is terrible. The writing is terrible. It came in dead last every single week in our user ratings this season, a first for ANN, even in a season that wasn't remotely short on hot garbage that just couldn't quite reach Hand Shakers's indomitable level of badness. And yes, it also bombed devastatingly in Japan, selling only 300 units in its first week of release. (That's "I think only the production staff who didn't get a free copy is buying it" numbers.) When I was in Japan last week, I saw absolutely no promotion for it, even in Animate stores, the main sponsor for the show and entire reason for its existence as a 30th anniversary project. It has easily found its way onto my shortlist of worst anime series I have ever seen. I will even be so arrogant as to say that the only reason it isn't on most lists in this article is that other reviewers had the good sense not to watch it at all. So only one question remains: is it hate-watchable?

Eh, yes and no. I would absolutely recommend checking out the first episode alone for those purposes, because it's irony-watch gold, every new moment a treasure trove of "W H Y", but Hand Shakers mostly recycles its tricks after that and becomes boring very quickly. From there, I'd skip straight to episodes 5 and 6 for the best distillation of what makes this show so terrible in a nice little conclusive package. So there you go! Watch episodes 1, 5, and 6 for the optimal Hand Shakers experience. Then never speak of it again.

James Beckett

Best of the Season: Scum's Wish

Winter 2017 was definitely light on standout content, but that doesn't make Scum's Wish any less strong a candidate for Best Anime of the Season. I've already written an article detailing why I think this series is a bona fide work of art, so I'll keep it simple this time. Scum's Wish is absolutely fantastic, and anyone with an interest in romantic drama should at least give it a shot. It can be a little heavy for some, dare I say even melodramatic, but it earns all of those emotions in spades, as far as I'm concerned. Scum's Wish is up there with Evangelion and Flowers of Evil as one of the all-time great high school character studies, hands down.

What makes this series work so well is the empathy and understanding it has for its main characters. Hana, Mugi, and the rest of the show's cast all do terrible things in the name of love and sexual frustration (they are the titular “scum” of the series, after all), but in spite of that, all of them are in some way or another made relatable as the series goes on, precisely because of their own failings. It's expert character writing, and even when you take into account the heightened drama, the script alone would make Scum's Wish worth watching. When you couple the show's passionate scripting with some wonderful performances and extremely confident direction, you have far and away the best show I've seen this season.

Runner-up: Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga

While Scum's Wish was easily the most artful show I got to see this season, Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga was absolutely the most fun I had with an anime all winter. This long-awaited follow-up to the original 2013 adaptation of Kazue Katō's hit shonen manga ditches the anime-only arc that filled up the back half of that first season and picks right up with the manga storyline the series never got around to: the resurrection of the Impure King. Picking up from the middle of a four-year-old series as if no time passed at all was a fairly bold decision for the show to make, but it turned out to be the right one. From beginning to end, the 12-episode second season of Blue Exorcist was top quality shonen entertainment.

The relationship dynamics between Rin Okumura and his human allies took center stage in this season, and while the battle against the Impure King was certainly one to behold, it was the endearing chemistry shared by the series' ensemble cast that kept me coming back each week. Whether it was the ditzy Shiemi finally making friends with her fellow Exwires, or the monks of the Kyoto temple learning to come to peace with Rin's demonic origins, every episode was able to frame the action of the story within the stakes of well-wrought character development. There's no word yet on whether or not we'll be getting a third season, but I damn well hope we do. A world without more Blue Exorcist to watch would be a sadder one indeed.

Worst: Hand Shakers

What can I even say at this point? I've been chronicling Hand Shakers' journey to the peak of Terrible Anime Mountain since January, and each week the show has managed to maintain the velocity of its ascent with a signature combination of awful characters, nonsensical writing, and some of the worst visual direction I have ever seen, period. This is the anime that managed to give a number of our preview guide writers actual motion-sickness with its nauseating camera movements and obnoxious color palette. I can confirm that one of the episodes gave me enough of a headache that I audibly yelled at it in a vain effort to make it stop.

This is the kind of anime that will have you literally begging for mercy. It's one of the rare shows where absolutely nothing it does works week after week, beyond even the awful visuals. Tazuna, our protagonist, is a black hole of charisma and charm, and his almost entirely mute partner Koyori is infantilized to the point of being completely useless for at least ten of the show's twelve episodes. The show revels in its tired premise of kids with magic powers duking it out to compete for the power of God, and it even tosses in some casual incest and attempted child murder just to keep things feeling light. Any bright spots in this show have been entirely relative to the very low bar it has set for itself, which is to say that even the best episode of Hand Shakers is worse than anything else airing right now. This isn't just the absolute nadir of the season—it might very well be one of the worst anime of the past decade.

Nick Creamer

Best of the Season: Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū

I get the feeling this answer is going to come up enough to feel a little boring, but it's just hard to compete with Rakugo. Like the first season, Descending Stories turned out to be a beautiful, confidently composed drama, one that offered a far grander scope of personal conflict than most anime dramas. Though limited by its inconsistent animation, its performance scenes were still able to impress through careful framing and well-chosen expression work. Yotaro and Konatsu's relationship built on the foundation established in that first two-parter into a charming partnership and goofy love affair, while Bon's alternate fascination with and terror of death gave the series a chilling, urgent center. And all of these personal stories were echoed in the strange, shifting fortunes of their beloved art form, articulated through the many things rakugo meant to them. This season had a shallow bench but a sturdy top tier, and Rakugo was the clear centerpiece.

Runner-up: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid

I was tempted to celebrate one of the shows that surprised me here - Saga of Tanya the Evil - for turning out to be a consistently funny and pretty pointed war critique, or Kemono Friends for its general bizarre charm. But ultimately, the show I was actually looking forward to most every week was Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. While I'd call Rakugo the “best” show of the season, Dragon Maid was easily the most enjoyable for me - offering a consistent slice of solid comedy and endearing family moments, it managed to find a warm universality in a family of two dragons and a programmer. Kobayashi and Tohru's “daughter” Kanna got many of this season's best moments, coming across as a very real and endearing child in spite of having to occasionally be plugged into an electric socket. Equal parts absurd comedy and tender character moments, Dragon Maid was this season's twenty-minute oasis.

Worst: Seiren

Honestly, Seiren isn't all that bad - it's mostly just, well, there. But I dropped all the shows I found actually terrible this season, so Seiren ended up on the bottom of the heap. Ostensibly offering a varied collection of short romances, Seiren's fundamental issues were numerous - a totally uninspired visual production, an equally milquetoast protagonist, and an inability to pull together a meaningful dramatic structure all helped drag down its appeal. At its best, the show embraced a realism of conversation that made it feel at least quirky, though not necessarily great - and there were certainly some very bizarre one-liners here and there. But the show's highest aspiration was “kind of strange” and its usual mode was “mostly boring,” making it my worst show of the season.

Theron Martin

Best of the Season: Saga of Tanya the Evil

The final episode of this series has not aired as I write this, but for me this has been the series to beat all season, so even a calamitous finale probably couldn't sink it out of my top spot at this point. It's one of the best productions of the season in technical senses, with quality artistry and animation (which left fledgling Studio NuT struggling to keep it on schedule), a solid soundtrack, outstanding lead vocal work, and easily my favorite opening theme of the season, but the show's appeal transcends that. The series is practically an ode to military enthusiasts while also smoothly mixing magic into the strategic picture in interesting ways, features well-choreographed and sometimes spectacular action scenes, and it's equally capable of both a quirky sense of humor in moments and intense drama, but the appeal goes beyond that too. No, what hooked me the hardest is how the story passed up the traditional anime avenues for having the heroine be a 10-year-old girl in a military uniform and instead made her a reincarnated office worker deep in an existential struggle against a being who wants to force him to acknowledge the divine. In other words, the entity that the protagonist calls Being X wants to make the protagonist a believer, and he's willing to resort to underhanded tactics to do so. That Tanya's actual goal is to secure a safe and stable life without having to rely on God gives the series a totally different angle than most military series and thus more meat in its relatively straightforward plot than expected. That combined with the other aforementioned factors consistently made this my most-anticipated title of any given week.

Runner-up: KONOSUBA 2

While my top pick was locked in all season, the runner-up pick was a tough choice, as four series stand at about equal level on the next tier down. KONOSUBA 2, Scum's Wish, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, and Interview with Monster Girls all deserve to be here, and any of them could be my top pick in a weaker season. Dragon Maid has heart to go with its great humor, but I wasn't as much of a fan of the art style and was frankly creeped out by Kanna's friend. Scum's Wish is a withering exercise in self-examination and emotional turmoil that goes in directions most anime romances wouldn't dare, but at times it seemed a bit too astute, which started to wear on me late in the season. It was my clear #2 at the halfway point, but it has faded some since then. Of the two that remain, I thoroughly adored Monster Girls for its thoughtful, low-key examination of monster girls, well-reasoned mechanics, and likable cast; the screwy but personable vampire Hikari beats out even Tanya as my favorite character of the season and maybe the whole year. However, KONOSUBA 2 gets the hair's-breadth edge because it was just too brilliantly, savagely funny too often to be denied. It also featured probably the best male vocal work of the season.

Worst: Forest Fairy Five

I'm sure that Hand Shakers will be the popular pick here, but I didn't have as low an opinion of what little I saw of it as many others did; to me it was merely mediocre, as were other much-panned series like Spiritpact. No, the absolute worst thing I saw was this 11-minute short series, which features some of the cheapest CG animation you'll see anywhere and the most mind-rottingly boring content that I've had the displeasure to witness in quite some time from an anime. Really, it's better for your health if you never check this one out.

Paul Jensen

Best of the Season: Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū

The second half of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju came into the season with a simple task, if not necessarily an easy one. The first part of the series really impressed me last year, so all this follow-up needed to do was carry that momentum through another dozen episodes. It did exactly that by maintaining a high standard of storytelling and character development. This show is good on a very fundamental level: the writing is clever, the direction is skillful, and the visuals are easy on the eyes. I can question a couple of plot points here and there, but the production as a whole is strong enough to absorb those minor criticisms.

Rakugo Shinju also does what any successful period piece needs to do; it immerses the audience in the time and place it depicts. It's not every day that a series can move from one time period to another while retaining that feeling of being right there with the characters. For all its thoughts and musings on the creative process and the art of performance, it's also a very accessible story. The characters are charismatic yet believably flawed, and that sense of humanity makes it an easy series to get wrapped up in. Even if you think its style and subject material won't be your cup of tea, give it a try. It's worth branching out a little for something this special.

Runner-up: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid

When I watched the first episode of Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid for the preview guide, I didn't think it'd end up near the top of my list by the end of the season. It was funny and charming from the beginning, but it took a while for this series to lay all of its cards on the table. There's more substance to this story than meets the eye, and it'll tug on your heartstrings when you least expect it. It reminds me of the equally charming My Love Story!! in some ways; for all the comedy it draws out of its goofy main character, its real appeal lies in its warm and welcoming atmosphere. It's the kind of show that makes me want to drop whatever I'm doing to watch each new episode as soon as it comes out.

There's also a brain to go along with that big heart, and Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid gets a lot of mileage out of its theme of accepting others as they are. Whether they're a fire breathing dragon or simply a noisy neighbor, all of the characters get the space they need to be themselves. There's room for difference and even weirdness here, and that allows the series to assemble a lovable cast of oddballs, many of whom could carry a separate story of their own. (Seriously, where's my Fafnir spinoff?) The premise of otherworldly roommates is nothing new, but it's rarely presented this well.

Worst: Fuuka

There were some really awful shows this season, but most of them at least had the courtesy to state their intentions early on. Trainwrecks like Hand Shakers are easy enough to identify and avoid, but other shows take a little longer to put the red flags up. Fuuka started off tolerable but bland, and I stuck with it for a few weeks in the hopes that it would find a way to distinguish itself. It didn't. All it did was sleepwalk its way through the motions of a standard-issue teenage romance, with no surprises or cleverness to be found. I bailed before the halfway point of the season, but I still feel like I wasted too much time on it.

Rebecca Silverman

Best of the Season: Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid

I had a busy winter, so as it turned out, I only really watched shows that I actively liked. That makes this a particularly difficult write up for me, at least in terms of my runners-up – fortunately one show still stood out as my ultimate favorite, and that would have to be Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. (That it was my most anticipated show was a nice bonus!)

There are a lot of reasons why this series made me so happy – it's funny, it looks amazing, it builds on the source manga without ever feeling truly unfaithful – but ultimately what makes it my favorite is the huge, warm heart at its center. While the premise of the show – dragon Tohru moves in with working woman Kobayashi as her maid and professes monster-girl love for her – is fairly basic apart from its yuri twist, the story develops far beyond the central joke of a dragon maid in love with her mistress. As the series goes on, we see Kobayashi, a perpetual loner, begin to open up, forming a bond with Tohru that can be read as anything from romantic love to a platonic partnership, changing the dour Kobayashi into someone who can enjoy her life. When child dragon Kanna comes to live with them, Kobayashi finds herself in a parental position she never expected (or wanted), but she finds that she likes that as well, and the three form a family unit that's truly heartwarming. While Kobayashi still catches herself wondering what's happened to her life (and does she really look old enough to be Kanna's mother?), she's also able to admit that she's growing as a person and enjoys what her life has become. It's an unexpectedly delightful story about a family being what (and who) you make it, interspersed with the always-funny Fafnir and Kanna's slightly bizarre school adventures, to say nothing of Tohru's dogged love for Kobayashi. It could do without Lucoa and some of the loli fanservice, but taken as a whole, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid is a charming combination of silly and sweet, just the thing for those cold winter Wednesdays.

Runner-up: Koro-sensei Quest!

Actually, most of what I watched this season fell into the “silly” category, and while KONOSUBA's second season and the ongoing insanity of ClassicaLoid are major contenders for my runner-up, I think I'll ultimately have to go with Koro Quest. This Assassination Classroom short spinoff puts the cast in a Dungeons and Dragons world, where Koro-sensei is the Demon Lord (or the Big Bad) and E Class has to learn to hone their swords and sorcery skills to take him out. All of the monsters are Kunudon, the anthropomorphic acorn, and character traits are played up in the laziest way possible that still works, like an utterly confident Karma getting washtubs dropped on his head or Isogai in the front half of a suit of armor because he can't afford the back. There's not necessarily a point to this except to give us more time with our favorite tentacle monster and his students, but that doesn't stop it from being a lot of fun, the perfect ten-minute break when you need a laugh.

Worst: One Room

Sadly, there were a lot of possibilities for worst this season, but I didn't end up watching any of them all the way through. (Except Super Lovers 2, which has some sort of evil grip on me, but I have nothing new to say that I didn't before when I named the first season my worst of last spring.) So instead I will go with the show that actively made me the most uncomfortable this winter: One Room. I fully recognize that I'm not the target audience for this creepy little first-person piece, but there was just something so unsettling about the unseen protagonist interacting with the girls, his/our gaze lingering where it oughtn't and the characters onscreen seeming unaware of it. It felt like an uncomfortable fantasy given life, and it unsettled me for days after I saw it. I admit that I'm just as nervous about the female-oriented version that's coming, because it's just a style of storytelling that feels uncomfortable to me. But as the only preview guide entry that was still discomfiting me after it was long over, I'm going say it deserves my “worst.”

Rose Bridges

Best of the Season: Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju continues to be a masterpiece, one of the strongest anime in recent years. The second season beautifully ties together the story of Yakumo's long, sad life with the promise of future generations carrying on his art and his legacy. It wasn't as robust as what came before it; the plot about Yotaro "finding his own rakugo" didn't always work, and it finished with a twist that threatened to derail the whole series. Despite these missteps, the second season was still exactly what we needed after the first's exquisite tragedy. It showed that Yakumo could find peace and hope in the happiness of the people he cared about, along with his art.

I think what really impressed me about the show is that it was always honest. (Except, of course, for that last-minute twist.) The character relationships and dynamics always felt realistic and consistent. They came off like real people you might know from your own life, not the exaggerated caricatures that anime tends to prefer. That's not to say there's anything wrong with anime's usual sensationalism and idealism. It's a nice place to escape to when the real world gets you down. It's all the more refreshing when a great anime comes along that bucks that pattern, though. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is a show bursting with strong, real human emotions, as well as the masks that people put on to hide those from the real world. It's all about the art of performance—both on the stage and in everyday social interactions.

I liked that this second season explored that so deftly while remaining somewhat optimistic. It shows that even when the world seems bleak, life keeps going, the world keeps turning, and new generations bring with them the promise of a new beginning. Art is always there to help us make sense of the ups and downs of life, and no one—not even the Eighth Generation Yakumo—can take it away with them. It was the message I needed through this bleak winter, and that's why it's my favorite anime of the season.

Runner-up: ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

ACCA was a show I wanted to like from the beginning. I loved Natsume Ono's stylish, yet slightly awkward character designs, and I loved the glamorous world the show built. It was full of glittering cityscapes, lavish palaces and most of all, delicious-looking food, thanks to Lotta's love of pastries. The plot took a while to grab me though, so ACCA was all atmosphere—but that was rich enough on its own to keep me going. Then around episode 7, it tied its coup plot into the main characters, finally earning my emotional investment. The rest of the story was completely engrossing, constantly building on its suspense and keeping me on the edge of my seat. It's nice when an anime both starts and ends strong, but if it can only do one, I'd much prefer the latter. Reward viewers for sticking with your show through the long haul. ACCA did all that and more, which combined with its rich visuals and music for a delightful, fulfilling feast of a show. Its rocky beginning makes it far from perfect, but in this weaksauce season, that's enough to get it in my second place. Studio MADHOUSE needs to direct all Natsume Ono adaptations from now on. They've got the style down pat.

Worst: Nanbaka

I only watched a few minutes of Hand Shakers (that was all I could stand), so I can't go with it or any of this season's other trainwrecks. Instead, I have to pick something that merely bored and frustrated me: Nanbaka, appearing for the second time on my list. I complained about its unevenness last cour, but I'd take that any day over this one's dull mediocrity. If an anime is going to be bad, I'd rather it really go for broke, go for an F rather than a mere C+. At least if something is awful, it gives you something to talk about—truly terrible shows can be surprisingly good at provoking discussion. Nanbaka was just a snooze in the same ways week after week, straining my reviewing powers. It capped that off with a total non-ending, the worst attempt I've ever seen to "conclude" a series based on ongoing source material. Plus, it felt like a betrayal of fan expectations; after making it through its slowest stretch of story yet, don't we at least deserve some consolation prize? Nanbaka doesn't think so, beyond dangling a possible future season. I suspect many viewers would prefer to get off the ride, rather than stick with this unrewarding bore of a show.

Gabriella Ekens

Best of the Season: Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū

I've written some 15k words on Rakugo's Goodness already, so I'll say it one more time: it's really damn good. Barring an awkward thematic hiccup at the very end, the show is a flat out masterpiece, an instant classic, and all of those other exalting clichés. If you haven't seen the show already, get the rundown from someone else's list – I'm sure it'll be on half of them. I've spent a year talking about it already. Just go watch it!

Runner-up: Scum's Wish

The other show I really enjoyed this season, Scum's Wish, is unique amongst animated sexual coming-of-age stories in that it's by and about a woman. We've gotten a few of these in the past – anything Shūzō Oshimi and Inio Asano put out, for example – but this is the first one I've seen to address the peculiarities of female adolescence. The work as a whole serves as an intimate portrait of various types of sexual dysfunction, the likes of which I've seen presented more obliquely in works like Revolutionary Girl Utena. The main character Hanabi in particular is written with such raw emotional immediacy that she's likely rooted in the author's own experiences. Overall, this cast of scum and their various hangups reveal the dark side to societal expectations regarding sexuality, especially how they impact women or are filtered through prisms of gender.

Worst: Hand Shakers

I usually feel bad about giving this to shows that I never finished, but not this time! I'll just leave you all with this.


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