I hadn’t originally planned on writing a retrospective of 2016 however between the somewhat dry Winter season and the recent Crunchyroll award results, I thought I’d draft up my own list of shows worth mentioning. In doing so, I realized that my list would probably read more unconventionally than most and so I decided to go ahead and show some love for a few of the titles I didn’t see cropping up elsewhere. While I haven’t seen nearly all of the shows from this past year, in my opinion, these are the best anime of 2016.
10. Amaama to Inazuma (Sweetness and Lightning)
Starting things off, Amaama to Inazuma is exactly how it appears. Its a laid back, slice of life which revolves around the single parent relationship of Inuzuka, his daughter Tsumugi, and how they strengthen their bond with one another through cooking. The most lackluster element of the show is its repetitive, formulaic nature in that each episode concludes with a cooking sequence of varying length. However this predictability doesn’t nearly offset the genuinely heartwarming and well-written relationship of the characters. Tsumugi is one of the better child characters I’ve seen in a very long time and her personality and day to day life really liven up the show. It’s likely the best familial show I’ve seen and as a whole was a very pleasant experience.
9. Uchuu Patrol Luluco (Space Patrol Luluco)
Moving right along, Uchuu Patral Luluco is about as unhinged as they come. It’s a rapid-fire action-comedy that unfolds over the course of 13 short 7-minute episodes. The show was utterly ridiculous and truly a great distillation of the kind of style director Imaishi Hiroyuki has cultivated for himself and studio Trigger. What at first is a ludicrous story about a young girl who desperately desires to be normal in a world that is anything but, quickly transforms into a full-throttle romp through many of studio Trigger’s other works. Its myriad of references aside, the show is so chaotic and irrational that it’s hard not to laugh and be thoroughly entertained by the proceedings. Though the only short anime-series to make this list, Luluco was definitely one of the best comedies of 2016.
On the topic of erratic and crazy anime, Occultic;Nine seems an appropriate choice to succeed Luluco on this list. Whereas Luluco was outlandish and hilarious, Occultic;Nine was deranged and sinister in its eccentricity. At its core, it was a supernatural, science-mystery story revolving around a cast of strange characters though the premise doesn’t do much to embody the show itself. What impressed me most about Occultic;Nine was its bizarre visual presentation. By themselves, the story and characters wouldn’t hold much value however the manner in which each episode unfolds provides them with a profound sense of belonging. Each frenetic element of Occultic;Nine supports the others and the resulting show is a fast-paced, tumultuous, adventure that was surprisingly entertaining in its crazed cohesion. As a whole, this is likely one of the most divisive shows to make the list however I found its visual design and method of storytelling engaging enough to call it one of the best shows of the year.
7. 91 Days
Reining things back in with this next show, 91 Days played out as one, giant, homage to American gangster film. The show’s success can largely be attributed to its authentic cast of characters and wonderful period setting however above all else, 91 Days makes this list because of its charismatic presentation. From its dull and muted visual style to its dramatic soundtrack, every aspect of 91 Days emanates gangster drama. Its brooding revenge story taking place in the prohibition era was full of all of the twists and turns you might expect from the genre. Though some of its narrative aspects were rather mundane, it was the skillful and atmospheric way in which the story was told which made 91 Days so good.
There is no better word to describe Flip Flappers than ‘imaginative’. From the very beginning I became hooked on this show because of its brilliant animation, vivid color palettes, and most of all – its layered subtext. More than just a fun and entertaining adventure through surreal settings and landscapes, Flip Flappers was inventive and seemed to possess an incredibly unique vision all throughout its narrative. Its excellent animation was backed terrifically by a profound sense of meaning and symbolism which gave the show a kind of interpretative nature. Though not all of the show’s themes manifest in full and the concluding elements of the story give Flip Flappers a comparatively lackluster ending, it remains one of my favorite shows of the year and an absolute joy to watch. I likely couldn’t have asked for a show more in-line with my personal taste.
5. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! (God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!)
Coming in at #5, we have another comedy show. What I find remarkable about KonoSuba is that, while from a design perspective it sets out to poke fun at its own genre, its characters and comedy are hilarious in their own right, divorced from the overarching agenda of the show. For the greater part, the core cast of characters are all idiots and to see this dysfunctional band of adventurers wander about from one comedic event to the next was refreshingly funny. Their myriad of missteps and failures could only ever be attributed to each other and their own horrific decision making and yet simultaneously, the cast possessed such a genuine sense of hilarious comradery that it was hard not to love them as laughably terrible as they were. Additionally, the voice cast of the show was phenomenal and the enthusiasm and personality they each brought to their characters was highly entertaining.
4. Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-)
The second isekai show to make the list after KonoSuba, Re:Zero makes its claim through dramatic subversions of the genre in place of KonoSuba’s outright parody and silliness. While still fundamentally an isekai show, Re:Zero handles itself differently than its predecessors by means of its engaging character study of its protagonist, fantasy world-building, and detailed production. While almost certainly the most divisive show of the entire year and not nearly as incredible or abhorrent as some circulating perspectives deem it to be, Re:Zero was genuinely entertaining and creative in what it wanted to narratively accomplish. Thematic subtext coupled with a gripping and sinister fantasy story made for quite a compelling show and it will certainly be remembered as one of the most emblematic anime of 2016.
3. 3-gatsu no Lion (March Comes in like a Lion)
The only ongoing show to make the list, 3-gatsu no Lion has already secured itself as one of the best shows of the year despite its modest episode count and unfinished run. What sets 3-gatsu apart is its endearing and well-written characters as well as its emotionally-charged visuals. While reflective of studio Shaft’s typical avant-garde style, the visual design of the show does bring something new to the table. Within its visuals exists a striking loneliness and warmth that juxtapose and accentuate each other. These qualities support the characterization and themes present in the story and gives the presentation a sense of purpose despite its occasional reliance on classic Shaft-isms. 3-gatsu has a wonderful reverence for its characters and subject matter and each of these elements coalesce to create one of the most captivating stories of the year.
Undoubtedly the best showcase of animation from this past year, Mob Psycho 100 is my runner up for the best show of 2016. What starts out as a humorous distillation of ONE’s style of comedy steadily ramps up into one of the most impressive action shows I’ve seen in seasons. Mob Psycho presents all of the visual excitement and ingenuity of One Punch Man yet backs its presentation with surprisingly compelling characters. Whereas One Punch Man conducted itself as an outright satire first and foremost, Mob Psycho’s characters present real depth and individual value. The whole show was an incredible powerhouse of expressive and lively animation and were it not for the next show on this list, its endearing characters and story would have surely cemented it as the best show of the year.
Finally, my pick for Anime of the Year is Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. From beginning to end, it was a spectacularly written drama full of incredible characters, excellent visuals, and ubiquitous themes that enriched the story being told. Themes of inheritance and culture alongside commentaries on tradition and art weave an intensely engaging subtext that reinforces the personalities of the show’s characters. The rakugo performances were entrancing – delivered through a detailed visual approach and with what was likely the best voice acting of the year. Rakugo Shinjuu was an outstanding historical drama and between its fantastic writing and complex characters, it definitely deserves the recognition of being the best anime of 2016.
Boku no Hero Academia (My Hero Academia)
Boku dake ga Inai Machi (Erased)
Having never compared the catalog of an entire year of anime before, I’m unsure of whether 2016 yielded more great shows than usual or fewer. Having watched roughly 50 airing shows in 2016, these were the 10 that stood out to me. Rakugo Shinjuu and Mob Psycho are truly incredible and 3-gatsu, once it finishes this season, is setup to rise to a similar level of greatness. Re:Zero, KonoSuba, and, Flip Flappers were quite strong but each possessed their own handful of flaws and the rest of the shows appearing on this list, though good, I feel look most attractive within the context of this year. I suppose only time will tell whether these shows will remain relevant or not.
I considered doing a more categorical breakdown of what shows were great this year, but I’d be lying if the top 3 anime wouldn’t just sweep every category and because of that, I didn’t think it would be all that compelling to read. Perhaps I’ll look forward to a similar post a year from now when I can once again crown Rakugo Shinjuu as the anime of the year.
What was your favorite show from this past year? What shows did I miss out on?