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The Best Anime of 2017
Gabriella Ekens, Anne Lauenroth, Nick Creamer

We're publishing our bonus categories once per day. Today's installment is The Worst Anime of 2017!

Gabriella Ekens

5. Girls’ Last Tour

A show that I have written many words on already, Girls’ Last Tour is a standout “slice-of-life with a twist” anime in a year filled with examples of that subgenre. This time, our heroines are wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape on the back of a tankcycle (alright, the real word for it is “kettenkrad”) in pursuit of some ambiguous goal. In contrast to that heavy description, the show itself is actually quite poppy and optimistic. Their journey is framed as a post-societal equivalent to the globetrotting trips that young adults will sometimes take after completing their educations. Consequently, the show's main thematic preoccupation concerns how the possibility of joy survives even the bleakest of circumstances. Chii and Yuu have great chemistry, and their attempts to amuse themselves (whether through thought experiments or slapstick antics) sustain the majority of episodes. On top of that, the show is actually quite thoughtful. It delves into many of the existential issues that a person would likely encounter in this setting, from the nature of loss, to the futility of memory, to the inevitability of death. And somehow, Girls’ Last Tour broaches these topics while retaining the exuberance on display in its opening and ending sequences. An immersive masterpiece, Girls’ Last Tour makes a journey across a ruined earth into something filled with constant wonder. It also features what might well be anime's first recorded dab, so there's that.

4. Scum's Wish

Scum's Wish is an unusual anime in that it concerns itself directly with sex neither for the sake of titillating the audience or in pursuit of raunchy yuks. Rather, it's a much rarer type of story – a psychological portrait of its characters told from the perspective of their sex lives, depicting how these intertwine with deeper emotional dysfunction. Now we have gotten a few of these stories in recent years, notably Flowers of Evil as well as the acclaimed manga Goodnight Punpun. But while these works overwhelmingly concern themselves with a distinctly male sort of sexual angst, women's viewpoints on the matter have remained largely unaddressed. Don't let this representational injustice fool you – girls can be just as sad and horny as boys, if not more so. Fortunately, Scum's Wish arrived to rectify this void in perspective. It stars two teenagers, Hanabi and Mugi, as they enter into a shallow physical relationship in an attempt to dull the pain of their respective unrequited loves (both with teachers at their school). The resulting emotional cesspool drags in a number of their acquaintances, each exemplifying a different complex that a person can have over their sexuality. In its delicately sensitive and sensual portrayal of these characters, Scum's Wish reawakens themes that I haven't seen depicted in anime since Revolutionary Girl Utena, all regarding the intersection of sex, emotional pain, and gender. Immensely sympathetic as well as unsparing in its depiction of these kids and their neuroses, Scum's Wish is a great show if you're in the mood for staring into the chaotic tangle of a young adult's confused feelings.

3. Made in Abyss

There are three shows this year that seem like basically perfect first installments in promising stories that look like they're going to be running for a while. They're all equally good, but I need to make a ranked list, so one of them – The Ancient Magus's Bride – falls off for reasons that amount to personal preference. You'll find another one higher up on this list. But for now, this is my middle choice: summer's standout adventure show, Made in Abyss. The tale of two children climbing into a hole made out of pain, this show depicts a world that I can only compare to what an old adventure game's manual art would look like if that were made into a fully realized aesthetic. Equal parts wondrous and brutal, the show emphasizes nature's breadth and power to an extent that rival's Ghibli's output – which makes sense when you learn that it was made by some of that studio's alums. Beyond its stellar production values and art design, Made in Abyss also features some of the few moments in media to actually make me cry. (It involves a character named Mitty, and you'll know what I'm talking about if you've seen the show.) At this season's conclusion, our heroes have made it partway down the death pit, and we're assured that further torments await them (and maybe the occasional nice moment, who knows) as they continue their descent.

2. Land of the Lustrous

A triumph of CG animation and the first leg of what seems like an epic story, this unexpected hit made an impression early on in the fall season due to its unusual premise: sentient rock people and their antics on a post-human Earth. While this initially struck me as suspiciously close to a certain popular Cartoon Network show (whose title rhymes with Peeven Pooniverse), it turns out that Land of the Lustrous's original manga predates that – and beyond some superficial similarities, the two works are wildly different. So far, Land of the Lustrous seems like an entry in one of my favorite genres: Ursula K. LeGuin-esque explorations of the post-human or human-adjacent in worlds suited to their own physiological needs. The operations of the Lustrous's society are deeply tied into their biology (or should that be geology?) in clever ways that serve to reveal otherwise invisible aspects of our own human existence. However, that's not to say that this show's subject matter is entirely alien. The characters’ struggles with inadequacy, the search for purpose, and the nature of change, are entirely human, emphasized as more universal preoccupations that may adhere to sentient life as a whole. Phosphophyllite's story may have only just begun, but on its initial merits alone, I'm happy to call their debut one of my favorite shows of 2017.

1. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 

Alright, so this entry is a slight cheat in that it applies to the show as a whole rather than the second season in isolation. If I were doing that, it'd rank it somewhere around fifth place, since the second half – while still largely excellent –  was frankly less exciting than the first. Still, taken as a whole, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was an excellent heart-wrenching drama, a show that I'd easily call a modern masterpiece. I've written many words on it already, but if you're just hearing about it now, this show uses the story of a single man's life to recount Japan's social progress over the course of the Showa Era (which is roughly analogous to the 20th century). If that sounds boring to you, this guy's life is actually very interesting – he's a celebrated rakugo performer harboring serious unaddressed issues over his gender and sexuality. As he matures into an adult, this leads him into a tragic love triangle, which he proceeds to angst over for the rest of his life while making plans to commit a “lover's suicide” with his beloved (and his beloved's) art form. Unique within the medium of anime, the only thing I can really compare this to is Mad Men in its thematic breadth and naturalistic depiction of human emotion. This show is so good it made me tear up over issues regarding the preservation of an antiquated form of Japanese stand-up, for crying out loud. It's hard to believe that this is the first long-form story from its creator, mangaka Haruko Kumota. It contains a lifetime's worth of wisdom, and I suspect that it'll be a show I return to at various emotional points in my life.

Anne Lauenroth

5. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

Spot no. 5 was the hardest for me to decide on, with The Eccentric Family 2 being a very strong contender. But compared to season one, the Shimogamo family's return didn't fully manage to recreate the joys of its first 2013 season. Instead, I'm going with ACCA, a sweet and  slow-burning tale of a political coup that didn't happen. Even though the show's animation budget was exhausted before it reached the finale, Natsume Ono's wonderfully expressive characters and each world's unique design helped keep ACCA visually engaging and memorable. It also redefined stoicism in a main character. Thankfully, the colorful people around Jean were all too happy to project their own ambitions onto him, creating an interesting web of mutual human dependencies – the stuff I like most in my fiction.

 4. The Ancient Magus' Bride

This fall's The Ancient Magus' Bride is a great show with a masterful soundtrack, strong character writing, and an engrossing magical world that invites thematic contemplation. It's a treat to watch and write about, and the reason I don't put it higher up on this list is that it's a) not over, and b) too reluctant to exhaust the possibilities that come with telling its story in moving pictures as opposed to sequential ones. Even though it boasts beautiful backgrounds and expressive character designs, the show's framing and editing rarely reach for something beyond serviceable. Thankfully, everything else is so top-notch that it's still a really great show.

3. Natsume Yūjin-Chō Roku

The breeze of spring didn't just bring us the usual cherry blossom-themed high school beginnings, but also a new season of Natsume's Book of Friends. There can never be enough Natsume's Book of Friends to satisfy my need to cuddle up with a cup of tea and enjoy the cathartic tears of the show's bittersweet but hopeful melancholy. Everything that Natsume does right becomes all the more apparent when looking at a show that, while building its stories around a similar setting and themes, never quite managed to create similar emotional depth: Elegant Yokai Apartment Life.

2. Made in Abyss

If it wasn't for this list's no. 1 pushing every single button I have in my body, mind, and soul, Made in Abyss would be an easy choice for anime of the year. It achieves top marks in the worldbuilding and character departments, with both Mariya Ise and relative newcomer Miyu Tomita delivering terrific heart-wrenching performances. It doesn't hurt that the production values, usually not something I focus on, are rather sweet – for a story about the wonders and terrors of the unknown, a nice budget compared with great visual direction is certainly helpful to create and maintain the awe of our heroes' journey deep into the titular Abyss. It's a journey the show makes effortlessly, and there's really no way back after episode 10. These days, it's rare for a series to create a reaction so strong that I actually have to pause to catch my breath from all the sobbing, and Made in Abyss managed to achieve this twice. But Made in Abyss isn't outstanding for making me cry by torturing its characters. It's outstanding because it manages to find true beauty amidst all the suffering. In the end, Reg and Riku will move on – and we'll get to see them do so in a second season, apparently. For the foreseeable future, anime is saved.

1. Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū

If it wasn't for summer's Made in Abyss, 2017 would have left me with the feeling that anime truly peaked in winter. Which, despite how much I loved this list's no. 2, it still did. Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū was my no. 1 of 2016, and Descending Stories isn't just an awesome English title, but also provides more of the same gripping characterization and extraordinary blend of the subtle and theatrical; there never was any question about my anime of the year. If season one was Kikuhiko's tragedy, season two is Yakumo's catharsis, and as we look back on his legacy, it's not as gloomy and depressing as he might have pictured it. Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū now firmly sits in my all-time top 5 as one of those titles that feel like they're made just for you personally. I love everything about it from its maturity, to its emotional rawness underneath all the lies its characters live and tell each other, to its rakugo stories weaving a second layer of reality that often shines a light of honesty into the lives of people so busy pretending that real happiness has passed them by, until they eventually reconcile with each other and themselves. Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū is a masterpiece that will stay with me for years to come.

Nick Creamer

This has been an interesting year in anime, at least for me. Many of my favorites are shows I never expected to love, while many sure things turned out to be far less sure than I'd have guessed. I suppose it's ultimately a very good thing that this industry still possesses such an ability to surprise me; great shows can rise out of the humblest of origins, and seemingly simple genre pieces can turn out to be truly spectacular. My top five shows represent a strange sampling of this year, and though I'm not sure any of them will rise to stand among my all-time favorites, I certainly enjoyed the ride.

5. The Eccentric Family S2

The original Eccentric Family is one of my ten favorite shows of all time, so I understandably had some expectations going into season two. The show couldn't quite meet those expectations, I'm sorry to say - the narrative here is messier than in the first, and the show repeated far too many of the original's narrative beats. But even a lesser Eccentric Family is still a wondrous production. The show's mixture of mundane young adult drama and magical realism gives it a simultaneous sense of lived-in reality and evocative whimsy, and its vision of Kyoto is a delight to visit. From its stellar cast to its excellent art design and sublime dramatic highlights, The Eccentric Family is still a formidable show.

4. Owarimonogatari Season Two

By itself, Owarimonogatari's second season wouldn't necessarily be one of my top picks of the year. But as a culmination of the sprawling Monogatari franchise, this summer's Owarimonogatari felt like such a perfectly chosen ending that I couldn't help but be impressed. This installment threaded a thematic needle through close to a decade of circuitous psychological adventures, offering exactly the closure Araragi needed for his strange high school experience. While the franchise's strained chronology reminds us that things never truly end, this episode brought at least one chapter to a close with narrative grace and abundant empathy. I'll dearly miss Monogatari, but I'm happy it received the ending it deserves.

3. Made in Abyss

I feel like there are few shows as completely pure as Made in Abyss. The show wants to capture the joy of adventure - everything else extends out from that goal. Its gorgeous backgrounds make the titular abyss a source of constant wonder, each new episode offering beautiful new vistas and imposing challenges. Its edge of danger give its wanderings a sense of real consequence, a thrill that only bolsters its appeal. And its sumptuous animation bring its iconic cast to life, as well as breathing vitality and menace into its various horrible beasts. If “adventure” can be considered a tangible thing, Made in Abyss is adventure incarnate, a show that begs you to watch your step as you come along for the ride.

2. Kemono Friends

Look, I talked about “great shows in unlikely places” up in that intro as a general sort of thing, but I was really just thinking about Kemono Friends. An unassuming CG production made with a skeleton crew working with incredibly limited visual resources, Kemono Friends had every reason to be unexceptional, a clumsy tie-in for a phone game that had already gone dark. And yet, as a slice of life, as a comedy, and even as a dramatic scifi narrative, Kemono Friends is an impossibly unlikely triumph. The show's awkward visual look ultimately becomes a key part of its appeal, and that goofy aesthetic is put to work on a narrative that completely understands the fundamentals of great storytelling. I still think about Kemono Friends’ best jokes, best characters, best dramatic highlights. The show may be awkwardly adorable, but it also proves great storytelling can triumph in any package.

1. Land of the Lustrous

And I was so sure this year was going to end with Kemono Friends on top, too. Unfortunately, Land of the Lustrous just turned out to be too good: too packed with likable characters, too visually inspired, too dramatically ambitious and emotionally insightful. Some episodes of Land of the Lustrous succeed through the show's bracing emotional acuity, capturing the lived experience of guilt, depression, self-hatred, or projection with too much sharpness to bear. Some episodes are simply visual feasts, the show's energetic CG offering both stellar action scenes and gorgeous overall compositions. Some episodes are very funny until they're incredibly sad, or thrilling until they're somber and thoughtful, then uplifting once again. From the intriguing universe these gems occupy to the muddled-up thoughts in their heads, from the beauty of this world to the impact of its violence, Land of the Lustrous excels in nearly everything it attempts. I'm happy to crown it my top show of the year.

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