The Best and Worst Anime of Summer 2017by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
The public pool sits empty, theme parks are closed during the week, and school is back in session, which means the summer is officially over! So it's time to decide: which shows were the best - and the worst - from this summer's anime? We asked our critics to pick their favorite, their runner-up choice, and their least favorite - and once you're done perusing their choices, we need to hear from you! Head on over to our forums and let us know your picks for the best and worst anime of the summer, and get ready to start all over again when The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide begins October 1st on Anime News Network!
Best of the Season: Princess Principal Even as I've happily enjoyed it week after week, I still find myself asking, where the hell did this show come from? Summer 2017 wasn't exactly a packed season, so any above-average series was liable to stand out, but how did this end up being the one? Admittedly, Ichiro Okouchi is hardly an amateur, but this steampunk cute-girl spy series still felt like the little show no one saw coming. Maybe that surprise is part of the appeal, which is appropriate given that shocking turns are the foundation of an entertaining espionage escapade.
So then what does work about Princess Principal? Its alternate-history setting and episodic spy story setups have been done to death everywhere else, and even its out-of-order storyline gimmick is nothing new. But a show doesn't need to be totally unique to succeed; it can be a winner simply by being a blast. What's impressive about Princess Principal is how it takes all the basic building blocks of an anime like this and just gets them right. The setting is an attractive steampunk-dressed period that doesn't go overboard on its aesthetic. The characters are standard spy-show stereotypes that nonetheless endear themselves to you by being likable and interesting. The story is mostly episodic outings that are all engaging despite hopping genres and tones multiple times, and the plot-important elements are doled out in a way that's easy to follow despite being out of order. It's exciting, and just looks and sounds cool (with definitely one of the best opening themes of the year). A show like Made in Abyss is technically the stronger, more accomplished piece of work, and it will definitely stand the test of time better, but I found myself racing to watch Princess Principal as soon as it came out every week.
Runner-Up: Made in Abyss How about that Made in Abyss though? This was another one where I really didn't know what to expect (I was unfamiliar with the infamous source manga), but from the first moments of the first episode, this one captivated me as it has so many others. The design and setting are like nothing I've seen in anime in a long while, looking more like some early PS1 JRPG than anything else. The sheer level of thought and detail put into its world sells the story even as it's barely established in that first episode. Instead of overt background infodumps, Made in Abyss has no problem letting the design of the world and the characters' natural interactions speak for themselves. This extends to the pure tone of the series, with details like Riko's refurbished-torture-room quarters laying out the darkness at the setting's edges without trying so hard to skirt conspicuously around them like other ‘dark fantasy’ series might.
Instead, what impressed me most about Made in Abyss was its willingness to just stop and admire its hellish wonderland so often. In an adaptation that was only (for the moment) lasting thirteen episodes, there could be a sense of wasting too much time on world-building and atmosphere instead of getting to the big important parts of the story. But as curious as I was about what awaited at the bottom of Abyss, I was never too concerned about how quickly we would get there, since even detours like the forest training episode or the extended stay at Nanachi's place were packed with resonating character work and harrowing ideas. Maybe that's the other reason, though I do hope it gets a second season, that I'm not too worried about reaching the bottom by the series' end. Made in Abyss has done a fantastic job of making you terrified of what awaits at the next level.
Worst: In Another World With My Smartphone I once played a tabletop RPG campaign that included a friend of mine who dedicated himself to simply acquiring as many things throughout the game as he possibly could: high-end armor, superfluous organization rank, tools, treasures, his own spaceship, his own personalized rival character, a beneficial demon pact, and literally more guns than he could physically carry. Contribution to the story or quest progression was secondary to simply getting things he thought it would be cool for his character to have, and he hardly used most of these things within the game, content simply to have them listed on his sheet. This is also the driving force behind In Another World With My Smartphone's so-called story.
Isekai shows and wish-fulfillment go hand-in-hand, but never has it seemed so naked as in Smartphone. Our hero Touya has almost no personality, being so benign that he accepts getting prematurely killed and deposited in an alternate fantasy world with little protest and no thought to the life he left behind. What follows is astonishing in its meager attempts at storytelling. The episodes mostly just follow Touya milling about with ciphers of characters and attaining things just to have them. Some, like his unlimited magic affinity, are just used to progress the plot with as little effort as possible. Others, like his direct phone-line to God himself, appear once or twice for gags then are swiftly forgotten. Whole new characters like Leen and Cesca are introduced just to drop new abilities and acquisitions in his lap, and every girl in his swiftly-obsolete party invariably falls in love with him. The script attempts to stretch Touya's hilariously overblown RPG character sheet into a full TV series, and the result is an anime that isn't notably offensive, annoying, or nonsensical; it's simply a failure of entertainment.
Best of the Season: New Game!! This was an odd season for me. I ended up dropping several series partway through the season, and ultimately enjoyed my two streaming review shows more than any of the ones that I followed just for fun. That left the second season of New Game!! as the cream of the crop, at least among the titles that I watched from beginning to end. What impressed me most about this sequel was the way it built on the groundwork of the first season to create something that was a good show by any measure, rather than just being good by the standards of its genre.
The big highlight here was New Game!!'s loftier narrative ambitions. Where the series had previously been content to let its cast coast through lightweight slice of life adventures, this second season brought some genuine drama into the mix. There was a constant sense that the main characters were growing as people, and several episodes really hit it out of the park by delivering strong emotional high points. An excellent final episode sealed the deal for me, and what started out as a moe workplace comedy now feels like a series that I can recommend to a wide audience.
Runner-Up: Gamers! Before this season started, Gamers! wasn't even on my radar. With an overly familiar “video game club” premise and a relatively untested studio and staff at the helm, there didn't seem to be any reason to get excited about this series. Then the first episode aired, and suddenly it seemed like there might be some life in this show after all. By the mid-season mark, Gamers! had grown into a sharply written, well directed, and remarkably funny comedy. An old adage about not judging books by covers might be appropriate here.
Two distinct traits made Gamers! noteworthy for me. First, and perhaps most importantly, it distinguished itself as a nerdy comedy that actually knew what it was talking about. Where most otaku-themed shows tend to settle for a handful of cultural references and some generic platitudes, this one actually had some worthwhile insights to share. Chief among these was the acknowledgement that not everyone shares the same motivation for playing video games, and any group of enthusiasts will probably fight and argue more often than they get along. The other point in Gamers!' favor was a simple one: it was damn funny, and was particularly good at drawing humor out of carefully orchestrated chaos. Not even shaky animation quality and uneven pacing could keep this show from being a blast to watch.
Worst: Clean Freak! Aoyama kun Compared to the “been there, done that” premise of Gamers!, Clean Freak Aoyama-kun came into the season with a promising comedic setup. With a quirky, enigmatic protagonist who prompted comparisons to the titular heroes of Handa-kun and Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto, it seemed like this show was poised to deliver laughs by the truckload. Instead, it wandered aimlessly from one idea to the next without ever really hitting the mark. Clean Freak Aoyama-kun seemed uncertain of what kind of series it wanted to be, and that indecision caused me to lose interest around halfway through the season. Chalk this one up as a case of unrealized potential.
Best of the Season: A Centaur's Life I've always had a soft spot for slice-of-life shows, but I'm still surprised I wound up liking this show so much. True, it's not purely slice-of-life because everyone in this world is a humanoid animal or otherworldly creature, but it has a lot of moments that wouldn't be so out of place in our own world. You almost forget you're watching a girl with both a horse and human torso and her goat-, bat-, and snake-ish friends. There isn't a huge overarching plot, other than perhaps an examination of prejudices and acceptance of differences—but there's rarely much conflict to impede that theme. Admittedly, its tone is all over the place; there's everything from the infamous vagina scene (which, if I squint the right way, sort of has a health class feel to it) to an entire episode devoted to a Holocaust allegory that's pretty effectively emotional. All that yo-yoing doesn't usually make for great storytelling, but Centaur Girl's whiplash tone, though jarring, is part of its odd appeal. There certainly weren't any boring episodes, even when the main characters were doing nothing more than the mundane. It may not have proven among the best of what anime has to offer, but A Centaur's Life was certainly a standout this season.
Runner-Up: Clean Freak! Aoyama kun I don't usually adore sports anime, but this series focused more on one school's collection of eccentric personalities than the game itself. While Aoyama's compulsive need for cleanliness clashes with his love for a sport played in the dirt and mud, the lengths he'll go to ensure his clothes remain in pristine condition are part of the joke. Thankfully, it's not a one-joke series, either. Both Aoyama's teammates and various “guest” characters from around the school bring something comedic to the table, whether it's the unskilled and easily angered pampered rich boy, Kaoru Zaizen, or the student who's secretly a mangaka who tries to create a hated villain in his manga based on Aoyama but instead manages to create the most popular character in his series ever. The “love interest,” usually a supportive girl in typical sports manga, is sort of turned on its head in this series, as the “default” choice, soccer club manager and wielder of a spiked baseball bat, Moka Gotou, never really draws Aoyama's eye but attracts a suitor of her own. Aoyama, albeit briefly, just might be interested in another girl, if he ever figures out what the fact that he doesn't mind shaking her hand and her hand alone might mean. While some episodes are definitely better than others, for the most part, Clean Freak! Aoyama-kun is a solid comedic anime from start to finish.
Worst: Elegant Yokai Apartment Life Although the colorful character designs intrigued me before its debut, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life proved a disappointment this cour—and unfortunately, it's one of the few shows still continuing into the new season. In the first cour alone, it's almost seemed like two seasons, as the show focus shifts, starting with high schooler Yushi Inaba searching for somewhere to belong, finding it in the (not as crazy as advertised) yokai apartment complex, moving out when the school dorm he's been waiting for reopens after reconstruction, and then realizing he left where he was happiest behind. Then the show quickly starts to focus on Inaba having a magical book literally dumped into his lap and then learning to master the different tarot cards in the book in new situations, à la Card Captor Sakura. There are moments that stand out, like the backstory of little ghost kid, Kuri, and his dog, Shiro, but for the most part, the show switches from one track to another without ever spending enough time with secondary characters to make you care much about the cast as a whole.
Best of the Season: Made in Abyss The competition was pretty thin this summer, making my choice of a “best” show feel almost predetermined. But even in a far stronger season, Made in Abyss would easily have been a highlight. Many great shows teach you something new about yourself, or introduce you to characters you feel like you've known all your life. Made in Abyss offers something very different: the pure exhilaration of exploring a rich fantasy world. Its compelling premise compacts the heart of adventure into two contrasting forces: fragile, ever-optimistic humans and the yawning, endless abyss.
Episode after episode, that abyss continues to offer new wonders, the show's leads descending through terrors and wonders on their journey to the bottom. For some other production, the simple thrill of exploring a great, foreboding wilderness might not be enough of a hook; but fortunately, Made in Abyss also happens to be one of the most beautiful and smartly executed shows of the year. It's lifted by evocative backgrounds, excellent monster animation, and a consistently inspiring soundtrack, along with a strong cast and a firm sense of narrative consequence. Made in Abyss embodies the heart of adventure, and is easily my favorite show of the season.
Runner-Up: Tsuredure Children Following right on Made in Abyss's heels, my runner-up of the season lies somewhere on the far end of the anime spectrum: the charming, consistently hilarious Tsuredure Children. Offering a wide array of couples just on the edge of a relationship, Tsuredure Children essentially synthesized the base appeal of romantic comedies into a highly concentrated and dangerously addictive drug. From its terrific grasp of comedic timing to its consistently well-observed and character-illuminating dialogue, Tsuredure Children was a continuous illustration of romantic comedy done right, a twelve-minute dash of warm fuzzies every Tuesday afternoon. The show didn't really end so much as it ran out of episodes, but I'm happy to know there's still more material for a potential season two. I care about all of this show's wacky couples, and I really hope we see them again soon.
Worst: Classroom of the Elite As usual, my “worst” of the season comes with some qualifiers. Having watched basically every show premiere for the season preview, I could easily choose something I only watched one episode of (which in this case would probably be Fox Spirit Matchmaker or Angel's 3Piece!). But picking a worst show based on one episode feels a little unfair, so of the shows I actually got significantly far into, Classroom of the Elite is definitely my pick. Classroom started off with some tantalizing reflections on class conflict and the social order, but its interest in any meaningful thematic point seemed to fade by the third or fourth episode. After that, it was pretty much all clumsily constructed student conflicts and plentiful fanservice, making for a watchable but generally unexciting experience. From its flat visual execution to its awkwardly plotted conflicts and consistently underwritten characters, Classroom generally embodied mediocrity in all respects. Classroom of the Elite isn't a truly terrible show, but it's definitely the worst show I fought through this season.
This was a season where I found myself almost unable to choose between a first place and a runner-up. That's probably because I enjoyed both of my top choices equally but in totally different ways – one consistently made me laugh while being totally relatable while the other always gave me something to think about, albeit nothing too high-brow. In the end I chose the order I did because when I really thought about it, I can see myself remembering one series longer, even if only because of one or two episodes.
Best of the Season: Elegant Yokai Apartment Life I'll freely admit that I have a major soft spot for the supernatural, especially if there's a mythological or folkloric component to the story. But what keeps me coming back every week for this show is the heart at its center. While Elegant Yokai Apartment Life is superficially about the vaguely wacky adventures of ordinary high school student Yushi Inaba, when he ends up at a boarding house for both ghostly beings and those who work with them, it's really about is forming connections with those around you. Yushi comes to the Yokai Apartments after three years of living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin following the deaths of his parents. While his adult relatives don't appear to go out of their way to make him feel unwelcome, his cousin absolutely does, and Yushi never really feels like he belongs. Still mourning his parents, he sets out to go to a high school with a dorm, only to find himself homeless when that dormitory burns down. Following the recommendation of a child ghost, Yushi ends up at the Yokai Apartments, where not only is his mind blown of a regular basis by his new housemates, but he also begins to come to terms with both his past and the rest of his life.
For the most part, this is done in single-episode stories, and the one that really sold me on the series was episode three. Pretty much from the moment when toddler ghost Kuri and his phantom dog show up, you know they've got a terribly tragic backstory – and boy, do they ever. But what's remarkable about this particular episode isn't so much that it does show us their sorrowful past without turning into torture porn, but how Yushi reacts to learning their story: by seeing himself in Kuri. While it may not seem similar on the surface – after all, Yushi wasn't murdered by his mother – his strong relation to Kuri's feelings speaks to both his empathy and his need for the sort of family he feels he will never have again. After helping Kuri and Shiro, we see him with the little boy and dog much more often in a subtle demonstration of how he is beginning to create the life and family he needs to thrive as a person. Allowing his best friend Hase to finally visit him at the Yokai Apartments is another step in this direction, albeit a much less subtle one, and little by little, we see Yushi not only begin to find his way in the world, but to become a happier person as well. It may not be strictly kosher to pick this series, as it ongoing. But even if the second cour tanks hard, the emotional core of this first one will still resonate with me.
Runner-Up: Gamers! On the opposite end of the scale, we have Gamers! Unlike Elegant Yokai Apartment Life, this series keeps me coming back for the sheer absurdity and total inability of the characters to communicate like coherent human beings. From Karen's fall from school glamour girl to hapless loony panting after an oblivious nerd to the weird ongoing miscommunications between supposed happy couple Tasuku and Aguri, there's just a delightful mania to this show that makes it funny without being cruel to its characters. (Although I suppose there's some wiggle room there with Karen and Keita's early interactions.) Equally important are the different types of Gamers! that the story reflects – from hardcore Gamers! to casuals to adult game aficionados, pretty much the whole scale is covered, and part of the journey for the characters is to understand those differences. Not that the show ever really gets that serious – most of it is about ridiculous misunderstandings, ludicrous miscommunications, and the occasional shining moment when things actually work out right for a change. It's funny, not mean, and full of silly little game references, and I looked forward to it at the end of my week because it always gave me the laugh that I needed.
Worst: Welcome to the Ballroom This is more like “most disappointing,” because man, this did not live up to what I was hoping for. Perhaps that's my mistake, but I still maintain that it wasn't so much to ask for a series about dancesport, an legitimate performing art with a rich history, to actually respect the activity it's based on. Not that there's active disrespect – no one's breakdancing in a competition or anything – it may be more a case of the series' producers not trusting its audience to appreciate its subject matter. The most obvious case of this is that the first eleven episodes of the show use minimal ballroom music for their dance scenes, which actively gets in the way of the audience understanding what's being performed. Likewise, there's a serious emphasis on “tell” over “show,” so if you don't have a background in ballroom (waltz, tango, foxtrot, and quickstep, specifically), you just get characters spouting a lot of jargon instead of getting to see the dancing. Of course, most dancing was shown in stills anyway, which is another issue – I don't need to see entire routines animated (nice as that would be), but Welcome to the Ballroom doesn't do quite enough to show the real dynamism of the dance, leaving its audience cold. Add to this the fact that the characters, particularly the girls, didn't translate from the manga particularly well, giving us unhealthy dynamics on the floor, and overall I've got a disappointment on my hands. It isn't just that the show doesn't adapt its source material well, it's that it doesn't seem to respect that story's basics. To be fair, episode twelve showed some big improvements, so maybe the next cour will be a more rewarding experience. But overall, I feel like this show hasn't welcomed me to the ballroom – it's sent me slinking towards the door.
Best of the Season: Princess Principal I didn't have high expectations for this season going in, but series as delightfully entertaining as Gamers! and Tsuredure Children not being able to crack my top three is a sign of how good the season actually ended up being for me. Of the three that did make it, Re:CREATORS gets relegated to third because a strong finish and a great recap episode weren't enough against two new series that more consistently performed at a high level and didn't take weeks off. Picking a winner between these two was a tough call, but I'll give Princess Principal the slight edge. Right from the start, it looked like it would be an entertaining steampunk-flavored romp about cute/sexy female spies, but what I didn't expect was a remarkably strong run of character-centered episodes, which focused on one girl or another while still executing spy missions in the background. Telling the story in the order that best suited its character development rather than chronological order was also a neat trick, complemented by some sharp action scenes, deft twists, and little touches of humor that not only didn't distract from the story but also didn't feel incongruous against some occasionally harsh elements The finale wasn't its strongest effort, but it was good enough sealed the deal. It also features probably the season's best opening theme.
Runner-Up: Made in Abyss Like Princess Principal, this one was kinda-sorta on my radar coming into the season, but it immediately bowled me over with its spectacular technical merits, wonderful world-building, and eminently likable characters despite a character design style that I normally wouldn't be fond of. These elements powered the series throughout the season, with the late addition of bunny girl Nanachi to central duo Riko and Reg also giving the series a great boost. A few interesting twists and the occasional incredibly intense scene also helped. Ultimately, I had to narrowly relegate it to the #2 spot because its slower pacing did the series more harm than good, and because Princess Principal had a greater handle on its balance of tone. Even so, it's still a strong contender for my Top 5 of the year, and I'd absolutely play a fantasy RPG set in this world.
Worst: In Another World With My Smartphone This one was my most difficult pick by far. Do I go with the series that I finished which was the biggest disappointment (Love and Lies), the one that I gave up on two-thirds of the way through the season because I finally had enough of the main character (Knights and Magic), or the one that I rated lowest in the Preview Guide and could only stand to watch a couple episodes of? Ultimately, I took the final option, because there were at least a few things that I liked about the other two, while Smartphone failed in almost every respect: technical merits, storytelling, even ruining a decent concept.
Best of the Season: New Game!! It's rare for a sequel to outshine its predecessor, but that's exactly what happened with New Game!! The story of Eagle Jump, a miraculously all-female video game production company, has graduated from adorable but insubstantial fluff to a driven storyline wrought with interpersonal drama, self-examination, and the most rewarding aspects of creative work.
Last season, we were only just getting to know Aoba and company. This season, we watched them thrive as the rookie went head to head with her former idol, Yagami Ko, and both of them had unexpected feelings about it. Everyone expanded their skills and motivation this time around, which tested their characters in new and interesting ways. I loved seeing timid Hifumi step up to the managerial plate, and watching flaky Hajime pull herself together in order to start tackling game design. More than anyone, Nene won me over this season with her determination and spunk—she overcame her childishness in order to devote herself to coding a game from scratch.
More than anything, I loved the warmth and positivity of this season. At Eagle Jump, there are no toxic colleagues in sight: instead, everyone brings out the best in everyone else. Whether through competition, support, or even true love, these characters are a family and the ties that bind are palpable, culminating in an emotional conclusion. I really hope we get a third season of New Game!!, because I'm not ready to say goodbye to these characters yet.
Runner-Up: Sakura Quest Sakura Quest first caught my eye in spring with its unusual rural setting and mixed-ages cast, but it really came into its own during the second cour. During the latter half of the show, we transitioned from a mild workplace drama/comedy to a storyline with real heart. I think the difference is that this summer, the town of Manoyama itself became a main character with its own backstory, development, and emotional pull.
Yoshino tries really hard, but our protagonist is not the most compelling character; unlike the other girls, she doesn't seem to have particular passions or skills to set her apart. So when the second half of the show began focusing way less on Yoshino and more on the town's more interesting denizens—mercurial teen Rika, struggling actress Maki, the illustrious Mr. Sandal, and the surprising backstory shared by Ushimatsu and Chitose—the pace picked up. Additionally, as the treasures of Manoyama are quite literally unearthed, the town and its stories, traditions, and secrets become the most irresistible part of the show. By the time we got to the finale, I found myself getting emotional over a show that I would have told you was just so-so last season. Paired with good music and lovely background art, it's an enlightening take on a rural way of life and why it's worth preserving.
Worst: Clean Freak! Aoyama kun I'm lucky that I didn't end up watching anything offensive to my senses this season. But with Clean Freak! Aoyama kun, I realized that the worst crime a show can commit is to be bland—not overwhelmingly good or bad, but average and uninteresting. While it frequently parodied better shows like Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto!, these comparisons only served to remind me that I could have better spent my time watching those shows instead.
This series never quite found its footing. It wasn't quite a sports anime, nor a classroom drama, and even though the cast of characters was always relentlessly expanding, I never quite latched on to any one person. They only ever fit one-dimensional roles like The Rich Boy or The Yandere. Most interesting was Aoyama himself, whose compulsive germ phobia was treated with surprising sensitivity, but one soft-spoken main character wasn't enough to carry the show. In twelve episodes, the show experimented with plots surrounding MMORPGs, cooking contests, and detective work, and it explored settings like a high tech training camp, a haunted house, and the zoo, but it never quite felt at home in any of it. It felt like any of these characters or any of these storylines could have taken place in other shows with minimal adjustment. In the end, this series lacked something unique to keep it from being dull and forgettable.
Best of the Season: A Centaur's Life I don't actually watch that many anime series week-to-week, so while I've really wanted to check out more of Made in Abyss and some others, I just haven't had time. (Instead, I spent my weekend binge watching the modern classic Neo Yokio several times in a row.) Keeping that in mind, I'll had to go with A Centaur's Life as my favorite thing I watched this season. While it's far from a great show, this slice-of-life Monster Girl anime has always been enjoyable and frequently quite memorable, if only for its sheer weirdness. For as down-to-earth as its subject matter can be, A Centaur's Life has been a tonal rollercoaster without equal in my history with anime. Some weeks, we'll get normal-ass anime plots about high school dating or whatever. In others, we'll watch babies learn about shapes. And other times, we'll get stories about communist snake people infiltrating human religion with kaiju, girls looking up each other's vaginas like that's a normal thing to do, and even the freaking Holocaust. None of this was bad, by the way – it was always at least a little fun (barring the freaking Holocaust) but what show would contain all of this without a cohesive thread or even much in the way of transitions? It feels like a collection of all of the author's fixations arranged without rhyme or reason. I can't imagine how jarring it is in the manga, where stuff like the Holocaust vignette and the school life stuff are arranged back-to-back.
Well, at least they were interesting fixations. Plus, while previous monster girl shows have been very heterosexual, A Centaur's Life is super queer, with a strong emphasis on lady-love. Its pro-tolerance themes are also nice, if somewhat muddled in the beginning. As far as slice-of-life goes, A Centaur's Life stands out as a particularly raw depiction of female adolescence. It's very "#relatable", with plenty of accurate observations on life that I hadn't seen before in other media. Watching this show felt like scrolling through the Tumblr feed of a particularly cool internet acquaintance – a stream-of-consciousness trail of their opinions, fixations, and fetishes, but still a fascinating look into another person's mind.
Runner-Up: Classroom of the Elite So this choice is complicated. I'd hesitate to call Classroom of the Elite a good show at this point. It's average to just-plain-lacking on many fronts, from the visuals to the characters to the obnoxious in-your-face fanservice. Still, it's one of the few shows this season that I bothered to keep up with, and I even looked forward to watching it week-to-week. This was mostly due to curiosity. I've been reading about Enlightenment philosophy lately (aka the stuff Europeans wrote right after the Renaissance, when they all realized that science exists and began pondering the nature of existence on terms other than just “God did it”). Right away, Classroom of the Elite signaled that it's engaging with these ideas to some degree, particularly the ones about how to best organize society. I ended up writing an entire editorial on this topic, which you can read here.
I wouldn't say that I like Classroom of the Elite, although I do find it entertaining. To me, the judgment relies entirely on where it ends up landing thematically. There are plenty of warning signs that its attempts to broach some pretty controversial ideas will go tits-up. If by some miracle it doesturn out all right, I will be immensely pleased, of course. I'm just not counting on it. In the meantime, I still very much enjoy the act of watching and thinking about the show, which is more than I can say about a lot of its competition.
Also, this is silly, but I kind of ship Ayanokouji and Horikita. These two are only slightly off from the “perfect underappreciated problem solver who saves all the ladies” and “his tsundere love interest who is just slightly his intellectual/emotional inferior” archetypes that I hate, but there's enough difference from the usual to make them seem like believable humans, considering the situation that they're in. It's to the show's credit that nothing explicitly romantic has been implied between them so far, although they've been gradually warming up to the idea of human contact in general. Alright, maybe I do like this show, but don't judge me too hard if it flames out by the end.
Worst: Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul I didn't watch any of the really rank stuff I've heard people talking about this season (Vatican Miracle Examiner, Love and Lies, Aho Girl) so I'll have to default to this. Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul tanked pretty hard in its final quarter, which doubled down hard on its absolute failure of a plausible love story. Charioce is a bafflingly terrible character – he becomes an entirely different person when he's around Nina, and the show doesn't even attempt to justify this. The plot has completely fallen apart to the point where it's just killing off important characters at random. At the time of this writing, there's still one episode left, and I have no idea how it could end without leaving everyone sad, broken, and depressed (if they haven't already been unceremoniously murdered). This show started out as a Disney Princess take on a Dungeons and Dragons adventure, and somehow it ended up here. I don't even like the eminently lovable Nina by the end of this anymore. Blegh.
Best of the Season: Made in Abyss Made in Abyss is the closest thing to a perfect anime I've seen in years. The first episode is easily the one of the most impressive and effective openers to a series I've ever watched, and even the episodes that don't manage to reach the same magical heights of that premiere manage to hit notes that are equal parts captivating, mysterious, and even traumatizing. Watching two young children spelunk their way into a literal pit of otherworldly monstrosities doesn't necessarily sound like the most entertaining time, but Riko and Reg are heartbreakingly empathetic heroes, and the titular Abyss already ranks among the all-time great fantasy settings I've encountered. It manages to evoke a grounded sense of place, while simultaneously filling the screen with haunting phantasmagoric imagery. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention Kevin Penkin's work on the soundtrack. His haunting, ethereal music perfectly complements the show's imagery, making its way onto my shortlist of Best OSTs of All Time.
What makes the series so especially effective is the delicate balance it strikes between depicting the raw horrors of the Abyss while maintaining a perspective rooted in the beauty of optimism and discovery. Even though Made in Abyss' 10th episode has become somewhat notorious for its stomach-churning levels of violence and despair, the show still managed to remain the most compelling and enjoyable of the season for me. The only real flaw in MiA's otherwise pristine track record is its admittedly discomforting fixation on the anatomy of its prepubescent cast. While it remains clinical enough with Riko and Reg's frequent nudity to avoid feeling too lascivious, I wouldn't blame anyone for being put off by just how often the story digresses into its more fetishistic tendencies.
This is an unfortunate barrier to entry, because Made in Abyss is otherwise a high watermark for fantasy anime. The show is definitely an emotional rollercoaster, and I couldn't in good conscience recommend it to anyone with a low tolerance for emotional and physical suffering. Still, what Kinema Citrus has done with Akihito Tsukushi's source material is nothing short of magical. As of this writing, the show still has a double-length finale left to air, but even if it somehow managed to drop the ball with its last episode, Made in Abyss would remain this season's singular artistic achievement.
Runner-Up: Princess Principal Full disclosure: I'm not completely caught up with Princess Principal, but its spot as my runner-up is still firmly secure. This is partly because Summer 2017 was one of the most anemic seasons of anime for me in a long time; pickings were slim, to say the least. Still, I don't want to undersell just how fun and entertaining Princess Principal ended up. While Made in Abyss is a beautiful but harrowing journey of two children into hell, Princess Principal is a gloriously realized tribute to its steampunk aesthetic starring cute anime girls as ridiculously effective spies. It's bubblegum action wrapped up in an pseudo-Victorian package, and I am more than okay with that. Ichirō Ōkouchi isn't necessarily known for his consistency as a writer, but Princess Principal has so far managed to weave an effective web of intrigue that holds up well, even with a cast of preposterously small anime girls running around and causing havoc.
What I love most about the show isn't just its propensity for gravity-defying set pieces, or the surprisingly satisfying plotting of its individual episodes. What really makes Princess Principal Work is its vital cast of characters. Ange, Dorothy, Chise, Beatrice, and the titular Princess are all cut from a familiar cloth, but the story manages to make them all into a compelling and likable ensemble. Nearly every girl got a moment to shine, and the relationships we see developing between them feel earnest and sweet enough to keep me going, even when the twists and turns of the plot threaten to get a little too complicated. Princess Principal isn't the most artful or gripping series of the season, but it's the one I can most easily sit down and enjoy with no strings attached, and that alone earns it a spot on this list.
Worst: Vatican Miracle Examiner No two ways about it, this show is just awful. Anime as a medium already has a checkered history regarding its treatment of Catholicism, but Vatican Miracle Examiner manages to be the worst show involving the clergy I've ever encountered. There have been other anime that were less concerned with accuracy (hey there Hellsing), and plenty of series have been made as little more than an excuse to peddle nun-themed pornography, but Vatican Miracle Examiner contains some of the most insane, nonsensical, and incomprehensible storytelling I've encountered in all my time watching anime. Worst of all, the show is mostly just excruciatingly boring.
Early on in the season, Vatican Miracle Examiner gained something of a reputation for its initial four-episode arc that found its two protagonists, Fathers Hiraga and Roberto, investigating the mysterious happenings of a South American Catholic school. What started as a predictably hackneyed procedural involving faked possessions and missing priests eventually devolved into a fever dream of ridiculous madness that eventually led to our Priests encountering a secret Nazi sex cult that worshiped the secret spawn of Hitler, who was also apparently possessed by the ancient Roman God Janus. This arc also involved a brainwashed army of zombie Catholic boys, and by the time the arc reached its explosive conclusion, many felt they had found the second-coming of the ironically enjoyable hate-watch.
Alas, it was not to be, and as the weeks passed, VME was never able to live up to that ludicrously enjoyable first arc. Instead, it descended into stories that were either too stupid, too ignorant, or too plodding and slow to be any fun. The series' animation was never better than mediocre, and it was frequently much worse than that. To make matters worse, the two titular Miracle Examiners are total black holes of personality. If you really want to see something impressively terrible, give the first four episodes of Vatican Miracle Examiner a shot. After that, abandon all hope and abandon the show. It was my worst viewing experience of the season by far.
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