Half-baked - The Anime of 2016

So here we are again, finally. What a year 2016 was. But I won't bore you by adding my disgruntled voice to the millions already bemoaning it as the worst year ever. Instead I'll bore you by talking about a lot of anime.

You may or may not have seen my post about the Anime Awards, but it certainly helped jog my memory about the various winners and losers that the year provided. As before I'll try to give a brief, helpful synopsis of each along with my salient thoughts and slot it into one of the 5 tiers: God, great, good, OK, bad.

It was probably my first full year of paid Crunchyroll membership, so we'll see if that has had any impact on my viewing habits. Heck, I even tried FunimationNOW for a bit. Crazy year. Let's dive right in...

*FUTURE MIKE INTERJECTION*: It turns out that these things take a lot of time and effort to write. As such it would be March at the earliest before I'd be able to put a finished version of this post out there, and if anyone ever cared about my thoughts on last year's anime that time will have long passed. So given that myself and Ben covered off the majority of these shows and more on our FIRST EVER PODCAST and I posted that handy Anime Awards roundup I thought I'd just release this half-baked for the fun of it. Once you get past Gate 2 all you get is my unabridged stream-of-consciousness notes for each series, so enjoy that!

91 days
A classic tale of good, old-fashioned mafia-induced revenge set against the backdrop of prohibition in an anime-fied Illinois. Our protagonist ingratiates himself with the mob responsible for the murder of his family in an attempt to root out and kill the men who did the deed. Hilarity ensues.

It took me a little while to properly engage with this one, though it did get its hooks in me eventually. They have really nailed the setting here, for those who like that sort of thing, and it felt quite different to anything else I've seen in the anime world for a while. However both the overarching plot and the twists and turns along the way are things you will have likely seen a thousand times before, making the whole thing rather predictable. And yet it was still enjoyable to watch the tragedy unfold each week, at least up until the unsatisfactory ending after all that build-up. Very well done opening sequence as well, for what it's worth.

Verdict: Definitely great for fans of the genre. Seemed like a good tier at the time, but looking back probably just OK for me.

Alderamin on the Sky (or Nejimaki Seirei Senki: Tenkyou no Alderamin apparently?)
Here comes MAL with the synopsis!:
"The world is thrown into chaos when the Katjvarna empire takes arms against the Republic of Kioka. Our hero, Ikta, detests war but ultimately has no choice but to become a High Grade Military Officer to defend his land. No one could have ever imagined that this lazy womanizer would eventually become the hero everyone needed."

That says it all really, by which I mean it's very obviously a light novel adaptation. But significantly more palatable than your standard fare, again offering something a little bit different - in this case a warzone scenario that is both vibrant and utterly depressing, with some random fantasy elements thrown in for some reason. In fact I would have actually liked to learn more about the reality we find ourselves in, but the world-building is disappointingly light. Speaking of disappointing, the characters are definitely straight out of a light novel (especially our reluctant-yet-unrealistically-talented-and-popular protagonist) and quite hard to root for at times.

On the other hand there are some really satisfying action sequences that hold it all together, and a kickass Kishida Kyoudan opening. Though I will say that the ending must have been a total non-event as I can't remember there being any kind of conclusion despite definitely watching all of the episodes - I assume they must have been setting up for another season.

Verdict: Sadly another case of seeming good at the time but with hindsight just OK. Maybe I'm just in a harsh mood today?

Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu
In a shocking turn of events following the adventures of the first season, King Andragoras (Arslan's father) escapes from prison and rendezvous with the Parsian army to once again assume control. As if this wasn't enough, he effectively banishes Arslan and his companions with the impossible task of recruiting tens of thousands of soldiers to their cause!

Oh Arslan, how I love you. A decent continuation of the events of the previous series, with pretty much everything that was enjoyable about it making a triumphant return - from the amazing Daryun moments to the wild speculation about Arslan's parentage. However as we're now back down to a ragtag group of Arslan and his mates we lose the grand scale that we were previously operating on. The comparison I'd make about this particular chapter of the story is that of a Naruto movie alongside the main plot: a standalone romp against a forgettable minor villain that you could probably skip over. I could be proved wrong as the story develops of course, and I still greatly enjoyed the characters, the action, the music and everything else that makes Arslan stand out from the crowd. The real blow was that this series was only 8 episodes long! But I'm happy for Arslan little and often, just so long as it's often.

Verdict: Good tier, not as great as the first season.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi / Erased
Our protagonist has the rather convenient (and confusing) ability to travel back in time when tragedy is about to strike in order to set things right. When he is wrongly arrested for murdering his own mother he is sent spiraling back almost 20 years to his elementary school life, where he realises there may be a connection between his mother and a spate of child abductions that occurred back then. Time to fix things.

I spoke a reasonable amount about this one in the Anime Awards post. It started out incredibly well, even putting aside my bias for time-travelling murder mystery plots - suspenseful with some real nasty cliffhangers - but it let itself down with a terrible ending that I'm not going to spoil. Definitely worth a watch but falls short of godliness.

Verdict: Great tier. Almost relegated to good tier on the basis of the last couple of episodes alone, but it deserves the 'great' title as when it's good it's very good.

Boku no Hero Academia / My Hero Academia
In a world where almost everyone has a superpower, or "quirk", it's only natural that a culture of heroes and villains emerges. And it's even more natural that those without quirks have an awful school life. Our protagonist is one of these unlucky few, and yet still wants to be a hero more than anything - lucky for him he catches the eye of the world's favourite hero, whose quirk can conveniently be passed on.

So this is a fairly standard shounen romp. Whiny kid gets powers, goes to academy for people to train their powers, fights against and alongside rivals, villains appear etc. What is interesting here is the world - lots of parallels to be drawn with Tiger & Bunny, what with the Western superhero style and the same sort of glorified hero ranking system - and seeing some of the ridiculous powers that people have. In fact, in a similar way to One Punch Man, the colourful cast of side characters with their bizarre quirks are probably the most interesting thing about the show. But unlike One Punch Man they simply aren't given enough screentime, whilst the focus is very much on the most boring characters of all: whiny protagonist with his Superman quirk and his one-dimensional angry childhood friend. Personally I want to see more of the guy who is inexplicably a bird, or the guy who can replicate body parts on the end of his weird arm/wing things.

Though the story and the characters would leave one labeling the series as unremarkable, glimpses of brilliance can be caught in the action sequences. These are very well done, with great animation, great music and a great sense of tension. It's just a shame that the bits between the action are rather dull and cliche. The problem here is definitely the pacing - if there was less space between the "meaty bits", and scenes/arcs that could have been fantastic weren't dragged out too long then this would be a very strong package. As it is, still worth a watch but don't expect to be blown away.

Verdict: Good tier. Could have been great but let down by pacing and falling into all the shounen tropes.

Cheer Danshi / Cheer Boys
Having sustained a shoulder injury and tired of living in his successful sister's shadow, our protagonist decides to give up judo. His best friend is on hand to then sweep him up into the magical world of all-male cheerleading. Despite being rank amateurs, they set about establishing a university team and gathering a bunch of eccentric members in order to perform.

"Cheerleading" wasn't really a sports anime I saw coming, but I guess it was only a matter of time. This was actually surprisingly enjoyable for me. The characters were all ridiculous caricatures that played off each other in genuinely amusing ways, and the cheerleading sequences were enjoyable to watch. As with most sports anime though, there wasn't as much of the actual sport going on as I would have liked. Drama and story certainly aren't Cheer Danshi's strengths, but it throws its all into them regardless. They seem to have picked some cliche emotional plot threads straight out of a TV drama and tried to apply them to cheerleading, and it just doesn't quite mesh. E.g. the guy who has sworn never to cheerlead again because he dropped his teammate one time and she broke her leg, or the guy who just wanted to form his own cheerleading team so he could cheerlead for his grandmother to snap her out of her state of unresponsiveness/amnesia/something. But the outright silliness of those threads provides some entertainment in itself I suppose. There is sadly a fair amount of whining as well. Solid finale though!

Verdict: Good tier. Enough funny moments and endearing characters to keep you invested until the end, but marred by nonsense character drama and cheerleading sequences being few and far between.

Diamond no Ace Second Season
Following on from Seidou's heartbreaking defeat at the end of the last season, the team must now start working towards their next tournament by building a new team without the retired third years. Sawamura has to deal with "the yips" after blaming the team's loss on his own pitching, rendering his characteristically aggressive style and pitches unusable.

If you read last year's roundup, or just know me in any capacity, then you probably don't need to hear me talk about this again. I love this show with a fiery passion. So much so that it easily earned my personal vote for Anime of the Year 2016. At the risk of repeating myself: phenomenal characters, phenomenal music, phenomenal drama, phenomenal animation, the list goes on. It has no right to be this good. Any given episode likely has me laughing, crying and at the edge of my seat with baseball-fueled tension. Especially if you have sat through the first season, you're emotionally invested in the characters and all the hard work they put in, and join them on their rollercoaster ride to success. It's more realistic than many other sports anime, both in the depiction of the sport (and the lack of superpowers) and the level of coverage it gets in the world. I do have to say that the bits near the start of the season when Sawamura was just a useless wreck were just painful to watch, but they belong there and the payoff is all the sweeter when he works through it. It also took me a while to warm up to the new first years, mainly because they weren't the third years, but now I love them too.

Verdict: God tier. Just watch it. Though watch the first season first.

Just like this show har har
Dimension W
A new source of infinite energy has been discovered and devices called "coils" which channel this energy are now everywhere. And....uh....I know there's a robot....and some fighting....

If I had to sum it up in two word: completely unmemorable. Literally. I'm surprised I managed to make it all the way through to be honest as I zoned out of pretty much every episode - must have been a slow season. The little bit of background they provide at the start of each episode for the universe and the energy is kind of interesting, but they never really explore it or how it works. As I recall the "big overarching narrative" seemed to appear out of nowhere a few episodes from the end, and clearly I can't tell you anything about it. Some funky action sequences and environments though I think.

Verdict: Bad tier. One of the rare Ono Daisuke disappointments.

Durarara!!x2 Ketsu (whatever that means)
Ryuugamine is basically tearing down everything he has built while his friends worry about him, Izaya's schemes are possibly finally coming into play and something is probably happening to do with Celty's head. It's the final series of Durarara.

SPEAKING OF RARE ONO DAISUKE DISAPPOINTMENTS. Man. I love the original series of Durarara so much - one of my "perfect 10" anime for sure. Then the next couple of cours came around last year and I was left a bit disappointed but still hopeful. And now this. The same criticisms as last year definitely still apply: continually adding new characters to confuse things and dilute everyone's screentime, especially when they are nowhere near as endearing as the originals, is not a good approach to take. There was an odd focus throughout this season on seemingly minor characters who I just couldn't care less about, and sadly whenever the big players did get a look-in their characters had gone a bit one-dimensional (I'm looking at you Shinra). Ryuugamine is a mere shadow of his former self and all of his behaviour is utterly frustrating to watch.

I think the biggest issue is that I, even as a particularly astute observer, had completely lost track of everything that was happening. Who is that? Why are they doing this? What relation does that have to what was going on before? All these questions and more were often on my mind throughout, and it makes the show difficult to enjoy. The final nail in the coffin was the finale - as the culmination of the whole of the series, it was an incredibly unsatisfying ending. Needless to say I was lost with regard to most of the different threads playing out, and even who the bad guys were anymore, but then it just sort of stops. Some of my favourite players suddenly act completely out of character to create some last-minute drama, which is then immediately resolved in a wishy-washy fashion, and life seemingly goes on? Not the masterstroke of a climax that I was hoping for.

Verdict: OK tier. Possibly a bit harsh as it still has some of the Durarara charm, but it's a reflection on how the x2 series has been such a let-down.

Flying Witch
A witch (who is still a bit rough around the edges when it comes to witchcraft) moves out to a rural area to become the local witch and complete her training. Heartwarming hijinks ensue.

So initially I wasn't going to watch this one because the promo art made it look like a harem or something, but how glad I was that Twitter switched me on to it. À la Non Non Biyori (a personal favourite), it's just a relaxing slice of life show set in the country featuring some amusing antics. Plus magic. Which seems like a weird addition to the formula, but it's incredibly well done. It's not going for a laugh a minute though by any means - in fact the comedy is fairly light touch. Rather, the show prefers to leisurely walk us through what the everyday life of a witch might be like and the reactions of those around her. It's a prime example of iyashikei, or "healing" anime; a term that's being bandied about more and more as of late. It's guaranteed to put a smile on your face, and leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy every week.

Verdict: Great tier. Funny, heartwarming, intriguing. It does what it sets out to do with competent grace.

Gakuen Handsome
Boy transfers into all-boys school full of "hot" boys. Hijinks ensue.

This show. Clearly just here to poke fun at anime tropes and be generally ridiculous. Succeeds. Good for a laugh and each episode is only a few minutes long.

Verdict: Good tier, based on the chins alone.

That's a dark elf with an RPG being eaten by a dragon
Gate 2
Continued antics of the Japanese SDF in the "special region" beyond the eponymous Gate. This time our protagonist and his mates must deal with a fire dragon and, perhaps even more dangerously, politicians.

Still a very entertaining show. It's very similar to other shows in a lot of ways, especially with regards to fantasy world and fantasy harem tropes, and yet still feels very different - there just aren't enough heroes out there who can bring tanks and fighter jets to bear against armies who have just about mastered the spear. It's almost like a game of Civ.

There was a bit of a tonal rollercoaster in this season, as the show shifts between weird political machinations, killing dragons with rocket launchers and stealthily infiltrating castles without pausing for breath. And if we're talking about crazy clashes in tone, what was with that bunny girl rape scene towards the start? That said all of its different elements are enjoyable in their own right (except perhaps the bunny girl rape), and despite it still bordering on fanservicey anime from time to time I'm definitely still invested. Season 3 when?

Verdict: Good tier. Could have done with a bit more of the SDF and a little less of everyone else, but hey, still good fun.

Haikyuu season 2

(faces, formulaic, unrealistic high school (everyone staying behind, melodrama), training camp too long and depressing, no characters I care about, metaphors, pointless matches) mediocre.

Haikyuu season 3

Lucky us, getting two seasons of Haikyuu within one year. I must say my opinion of Haikyuu has been a bit erratic to say the least over the course of the 3 seasons: season 1 I rated as "decent enough" but not as good as other sports anime, season 2 I clearly couldn't stand and, lo and behold,

Much much much better. Actual tension, constantly, not marred by awful dialogue and characters I don't care for. Some actual character development as well? Still can't stand the metaphors. Still lots of melodrama at the end and loads of characters crying completely nonsensically out of character.

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar
Really, really, really pretty. Not your average MMO style otherworld RPG thing. Thought it was going for the emotions too early, which it sort of was, but then it started hitting home. Invested in characters and world, even if no big goal or much of a picture of the world. Unnecessarily fanservicey at times?

Incredibly silly fun. End of all jokes very predictable, but still a good laugh and some insane scenarios and even if punchline predictable still somehow funny every time (though maybe would run out of steam given more episodes?). Supposedly related to Barakamon, but aside from character names and appearances absolutely nothing to do with it. Even debatable whether or not Handa is the main character. Nice ending though where Handa realises he's not hated.

Heavy Object
Torn on this one. Hate the fanservice with a passion, art nothing special, someone really messed up the sound design. Much enjoy the ridiculous premise, and (perhaps mostly due to the subtitling) the fantastic "banter" between the two protagonists. Also lots of explosions and rooting for the underdog feel. Best names ever.

Hibike Euphonium Season 2
Infinitely more enjoyable and memorable (maybe) than last season. Even Midori was charming rather than annoying. Finally got under the skin of Asuka. Penultimate episode felt like finale - lots of bits of closure and emotional moments. Didn't even get to hear them play in final. Hammers home that the result isn't really the important thing. Last episode half recapy non-event, but great music, then a bit of a touching moment with Asuka and see how their relationship has developed - makes you wonder why they crammed it into a small segment at the end though.

Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko
Very different to all the other entries here. Makoto Shinkai so nice art. Weird cat-perspective view on someone's fairly depressing life. Good way to kill a little time. not phenomenal.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri (or something)
Screams mediocrity. No original ideas. WIT Studio trying to replicate the success of Attack on Titan. Even the action scenes were often lacklustre. No likeable characters, stupid unbelievable story with no resolution - they're all going to die. Reasonable Sawano soundtrack only entertaining factor really.

P.A.Works mecha show?!? Surprisingly enjoyable to be honest. Big fan of the whole "samurai in another time thing" - those jokes don't seem to get old for me. Interesting mix of comedy, action, romance and all sorts. Ended then had another couple of episodes before ending again, debatably happily. Good fun.

Magi: Sinbad no Bouken
First bit repeat of OVA. Other bits very Magi in feel. Some of the comedy misses the mark for me. Interesting world building and seeing how sinbad got his start/how tales originated. No particularly interesting fights/not much animation in them? More about the talking? Came back to it after a long break and got into it a bit more.

Man what a show. Think it was supposed to fall in the psychological horror genre, but not quite sure. Tried to fit in as many horror tropes as possible. Tons of characters who you don't care about. Completely inexplicable and incoherent and inconsistent events, ridiculous story, non-event of an ending.

Solid shoujo. Saw someone describe as good blend of sci-fi and high school romance - not true, only sci fi in initial premise which barely plays an active role - she doesn't even read ahead, how unrealistic. Also does the classic shoujo thing of the main couple being stupidly oblivious to one another's feelings, even when letters from the future are involved. Still enjoyable as a standard shoujo though, plus the group of friends is one of the most realistic friendship groups I've seen portrayed in anime. Creepy when a bunch of people collectively meddling in a guy's life to change his future, particularly when it comes to love. Can't believe they actually told him about the letters in the end, and more to the point that he doesn't question it (or their actions to that point) in any way.

Planetarian: Chiisani Hoshi no yume
Decent short series. Like the setting, but definitely needed a bit more world building. Relationship between human and robot. Man reminded of times before what they are now. Glad to be with someone optimistic, or even anyone at all. Lots of questions though, and a little unsure of the message. Last episode incredibly jerking tonal shift with jumping back into action and then a massively prolonged robot death scene.

Surprisingly good. Interesting premise to draw you in, but didn't really do much with it - it really could have just been any other high school drama with the main guy as a normal transfer student. Similarly the "twist" at the end was so obvious it doesn't really count as a twist. Whole point of the programme was to make him change/more sociable or something, but he didn't seem to change at all, he was just himself in a new/old environment. But despite gripes, good humour, fun characters, glad I watched. And liked the whole "released all at once" thing.

Really mixed feelings about this one, though mostly positive overall. Didn't know much going in, but massively pleasantly surprised by the first few episodes - thought it was going to be the dark horse of the season. I like a good time travel/reset to solve problems mechanic. Like how they didn't bother delving into why Subaru was taken to another world, and it was actually used in the story/humour so not completely throwaway either. But as time went on over the course of the show, as more and more tragedies befell him, Subaru's character became more and more unbearable - it was painful and cringey to watch, and that's no fun. He recovered a bit towards the end, but there was certainly a dip in the mid-section. All that said, there were a lot of genuinely funny moments (mostly in the earlier part of the series), good characters and some interesting plot and action as well. I hope there is a second season as a lot of the big questions/set-ups were not addressed at all, and there was a bit of a cop-out ending.

Sakamoto desu ga?
Phenomenally hilarious. Completely off-the-wall humour, and often original. Pretty repetetive (but great) soundtrack and top class opening. Some bits not as funny as others, and some obviously lost in translation/culture, but otherwise great.

Sekko Boys
What a premise. Sold from the get go. Some of the humour a bit hit and miss, but basically any reference to how stupid the fact they're idol statues (and there are a lot) remains funny without really getting old. Think they tried to throw a plot in there but who cares. Catchy tune.

Not a conventional entry on the list. Short film (basically a music video) released on Crunchyroll, youtube etc. Not as "deep" as many people were saying, but very very pretty and effective storytelling in a short space of time that doesn't spoon feed so you can piece it together yourself. Great song too.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Really great, not outstanding. Very different offering to pretty much anything else you'll have seen, with full length rakugo stories with minimal action. Refreshing to have something not appealing to people with no attention span. Also good drama, though story perhaps a little cliche at points. Interesting insight into another world.

Shuumatsu no Izetta
Alternate/parallel reality World War II scenario with magic. Subtle names like Germania and United States of Atlanta. Heavy Valkyria chronicles vibes. Disappointing fanservice early on, though thankfully dies out. Really interesting (pretty?) action sequences with the witches, and good contrast with the relatively powerless foot soldiers. Bizarre character motivations - backstories touched on but doesn't really warrant behaviours. Very weird ending, with "all magic and witches being sucked from the world" by one person - who then miraculously survives for a happy ending when they were guaranteed to die.

Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge
Much better than I thought it would be. Not as tired as your average slice of life comedy, pardon the pun. Like a lazy Sunday. Some great characters (Ohta). Consistently funny and relaxing, and some really cool environments strangely.

Thunderbolt Fantasy
Not actually an anime, just to confuse things - can't even add it to MyAnimeList! Bizarre collaboration between Nitroplus, Good Smile and a Taiwanese puppetry company, and to top it off created and written by anime legend Gen Urobuchi. All the elements combined basically make this show seem as if it was created specifically for me. Phenomenal intricate puppets, but movement reminiscent of Thunderbirds era, ridiculous over the top special effects and move names, stupidly grandiose and epic Sawano soundtrack, top class voice cast, crazy ancient chinese mystical heroic tale type thing (including amazing chinese elder voice overs on the japanese version). Great characters.

Uchuu Patrol Luluco
Trigger back on form, all their typical craziness and style condensed into short 7-minute episodes. Bit of a dip around the midpoint when they decided to do weird crossover/self-referential episodes, but otherwise consistently funny and mind-blowing.

Uta no Prince Sama Season 4
Quartet night rightly relegated to obscurity. Comically predictable and ridiculous. Another version of duet project with Heavens. Most of Heavens complete jerks. Really creepy thing with Ittoki, who randomly gets 2 more episodes than everyone else. Good amount of shining saotome and raging otori towards the end. Obvious result, with some good songs. Back to the offputting 3DCG. And of course more on the way. 

Your name
New Shinkai offering, saw it twice in the cinema. Heralded as the new Miyazaki, earned a ton of global acclaim. Was a very good film - sort of unoriginal premise with body swapping, but handles it a bit differently to previous stories. Funny, emotional, and of course very very pretty. For me doesn't quite reach 5cm/s, but comes closest out of shinkai's other works. Dub wasn't even too bad. Great music by RADWIMPS. Interesting setting.

Yuri!!! on Ice
Rain on everyone's "cannon" parade. Animation captivating and dazzling, even though not that great a lot of the time (blobby, distorted faces etc) and lots of reuse. Great soundtrack and OP and ED. Fun characters and nice mix of settings. Nice touch of celebrity with instagram etc, even if a bit too in your face at points. Find yourself rooting for basically every character and one point or another. Even Yurio who I started off hating (Exact opposite of my kind of character) massively grew on me. Really felt for the previously obnoxious JJ when he stumbled. The relationships are really nice to watch play out on screen, with some nice sentiments, but show was terrible at initiating them/establishing why they exist (Yuri and victor, yurio and otabek?) and also doesn't go into that much depth in terms of feelings and motivations. But liked how a lot of the background was told quite subtly, e.g. JJ's change of coaches. Sign of a good "sports anime" is to get me hooked despite complete disinterest in the sport. Random last minute drama came out of nowhere from Yuri, though most of his moods were pretty inexplicable. Also screw the fanservice. Pretty clear from the way it was presented that Yuri wasn't going to win, especially when it was announced/leaked that there would be a second season. They should have kissed at the end. Like how they introduced so many characters that they went into a respectable level of detail with before effectively dropping them. In other sports shows they would have barely got a look in.

Zutto mae kara suki deshita / I've always loved you
When I heard there was going to be a HoneyWorks movie I was pretty hyped. Didn't even really know what genre it was going to be. Really wasn't disappointed. I'm actually quite a big fan of shoujo/romance shows, and whilst I thought I was liking Orange this blows shows like that out of the water and no mistake. Tells more of a story and feel like we learn more about the characters and still a plethora of funny and endearing moments, but crammed into an hour-long movie rather than stretched thin over a 13 episode series. Obviously great music too.

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