2016 Anime: A Retrospective

For the first post of 2017, let’s ask ourselves if 2016’s anime selection was as bad as I made it out to be.

I know there are a few people that have given up on anime this year, along with some of the ones who didn’t saying that there were no good anime in 2016. Can’t speak for them, but there is one thing I will point out: you guys noticed when I made my worst list that Masou Gakuen HxH didn’t make it on? Or Heavy Bullshit? The other light novel adaptations like Hundred and stuff were too bland to even bother giving attention, but those two light novel adaptations were horrendous even for their genre, and yet they lost out to Re:Zero and Occultic;Nine on my worst list. So yeah, 2016 was pretty crap in that aspect, and when you factor in horrible shows I didn’t finish like the new Berserk, Dimension W, and Battery, I stand by my opinion that 2016 was a little worse than usual.

However, most of the big anime this year were good like Rakugo, Osomatsu-san, Yuri on Ice, Boku no Hero Academia, Sweetness and Lightning (well, maybe not that one), a bunch of this year’s films, and such. They just happen to belong to genres I’m not interested in, and even if I was, some of them had some more “noticeable than usual” contingencies to them. While this probably isn’t a problem for One-Punch Man fans given how that’s pretty much what the beginning episodes were, I’m not gonna forget that Mob Psycho 100 could have let me like it a bit faster, and that’s a show I kinda liked in the end. Everyone’s already gone over how Yuri on Ice’s skating scenes weren’t the most consistent. And then there’s getting into how even for a Shonen Jump anime, Academia’s second half just plain sucked. If I had to pick between the stupidity of Bieber in Kabaneri or the mediocrity of…no one whose name I remember in Academia, I’d pick Bieber in a heartbeat. At least he’d make something unusual happen.

Having said that, my main problem with a lot of 2016’s output was that the goals they set for themselves, or ended up accomplishing, were bottom-of-the-barrel. Pretty much everything in my disappointing list with the exception of the Project Itoh films were put there because they wanted to stay in a comfort zone that stopped being safe years ago, and a lot of the worst anime list fell into that category as well with the only difference being that very little of the plot actually focused on said goal (ex. Rewrite’s and Big Order’s ultimate story was about whether humanity should continue to live despite their crimes against the world or not, but not only did it not go into any detail about it, very little of the screen time was actually focused on that question because we have maid scenes to shoot). Obviously one look at my best list will indicate that I’m not expecting some sort of P.H.D. thesis from a cartoon, because next we’ll be asking Pixar for some grand term paper on the human condition, but you have to give a level of education that a normal sixteen-year old would be satisfied with.

Even a comedy anime like Osomatsu-san achieves that level of education by basically doing its own thing away from the original source material whilst still paying tribute to it with Mario Kart and all that, even if some of the actual jokes (well, mainly the penis ones) are probably more for the edgy thirteen-year old crowd. By contrast, the new Lupin III may have been just as well-executed in terms of aesthetic updates, but it tried to survive by sticking to a formula that got stale long ago – with the arbitrary changes it made being a huge step down from the Lupin show from 2012 – and suffered massively for it. I don’t want to stay in a comfort zone, and I’ll never understand why people like Bless seem to think this is acceptable behavior for an anime fan. Disney’s animated division haven’t survived this long without taking chances y’know, even if said chances ended up producing Chicken Little.

That’s why I don’t like franchise movies like that new Garo: Divine Flame film, as well as why I would never have been positive to the Girls Und Panzer movie even if I did like the show. It’s also why I’m not a fan of any particular genre, as well as why I refused to put sequels amongst my favorites of the year. Like it or not, a large part of enjoyment comes down to that initial jolt of excitement we see in a new product. One look at how Shelter blew up in popularity because it was something people have never seen before, combined with my indifference to it because I have seen it before should be enough proof of that. And if it isn’t, you can always look at the reaction to Thunderbolt Fantasy and how the people who actually have seen wuxia/puppet series in the past find it to be lacking by comparison.

Once that jolt is discovered, it will never happen with the same thing ever again unless you can just conveniently erase your memory. The most you can do is make a new jolt through changes, which as I’ve said before don’t need to be that drastic, but they do have to happen, and have to be more than arbitrary stuff like taking place in a different setting and whatnot. I mean does anyone even remember Macross Delta as anything but a worse version of the previous Macross series? And on the flip-side, Yuri on Ice’s overall goals are pretty much the same as Free’s, but there’s a reason the former is better received. I’m not really at liberty to discuss what create a distinguishable identity to a product, but let me tell you right now that it’s not just one thing in particular. No amount of good animation can save a bad story, but there’s no reason to watch animation if all you care about is the text either. You just got to find that middle ground, and let me tell you right now, Kiznaiver swings really far into the “no amount of good animation can save a bad story” territory.

That’s part of the reason why I respect 2016’s anime movie selection so much, even if I’m not particular about half of them, and the other half I haven’t been able to see yet. I mean at least they’re making their mark without rehashing anything in particular, and given how some of them are big names with reputations for sticking to tradition, that’s saying a lot. And since they’re movies, that means they’re generally pretty to look at to boot. We’ve got Makoto Shinkai making his biggest hit by making a more traditional love story heavy on mood. We’ve got KyoAni doing something similar and getting slightly overshadowed by Your Name in the process. We’ve got that Miss Hokusai thing that was basically really cult, but good for that cult audience. And while I obviously can’t speak for that MAPPA film by the Black Lagoon/Mai Mai Miracle guy, the fact that the source material is really obscure shows that at least there’s a vision regarding it. In a sense, it’s kind of ironic that The Boy and the Beast was the only one of these films to get a release that was eligible for my top list given how it took the least risks. But then again, I don’t think anyone watches Hosada for grand narrative vision anyways.

Speaking of big names, I know everyone has their own way of enjoying anime and there are so many shows that come out each season to the point that we have to put some kind of filter on what to look at, but I can’t say I’m a fan of how so many people rely on said filters to see if something is worth a look. Now I already said that 2015 was the year where I was forced to realize that good anime could come from the most unlikely sources, but 2016 had the opposite end of that spectrum come in full force to the point that I’m pretty much a hermit in the anisphere now. You had the usual suspects like the KyoAni diehards, the SciAdv fans who only really worship Steins;Gate, the new up and coming talent, the Future Diary guys making Big Order, people only watching Active Raid because Taniguchi was head director, and such. But what really clinched it was The Lost Village, a show that I found really boring and ugly at the start, but people found funny because of how anticlimactic it was, which didn’t make sense to me until someone informed me it was the guys who made Another behind that show. I didn’t bother looking that up because it was being produced by Diomedea, and their production policies suck talent away. But it seemed everyone else did, and they were having fun with a show that most likely would have gotten a different reception if the staff list had been replaced by the Taboo Tattoo guys.

Obviously I can’t convince people to just ignore staff entirely like I do these days, especially given how some fans work in the industry, but I think when preconceptions warp your judgment that much, something has gone horribly wrong. And I know the number of people who actually let that happen to them are pretty small in the grand scheme of things. Most people who didn’t like One-Punch Man like I did were all but willing to give Mob Psycho 100 a chance because the premise looked more appealing to us, and we all ended up liking Mob a lot more than Saitama. Still, that number isn’t small enough to the point that I can actually ignore this practice, and while you can worship Kekkai Sensen all you want, I’m going to roll my eyes if you worship the woman behind its visual direction.

Finally, I want to end this retrospective by talking about Danganronpa, my true favorite anime thing of the year to the point that my new avatar is the main villain of the franchise. Danganronpa 3 itself was only decent, but it did motivate me to get into the larger franchise so I could actually understand what was going on in the series, and now said franchise is one of my all-time favorites. One aspect that didn’t quite translate well back when I saw the first anime adaptation three years ago was that the entire series is basically a parody/deconstruction of anime tropes, but it’s different from the usual Family Guy-style ones that I hate in that it’s just pointing out how lame they are and calling it a day, as well as the Guilty Crown/Metal Gear Solid kind that I enjoy where it treats the stupidest shit like it’s completely natural in order to make a point. Make no mistake, the series is very “anime”, but said anime nature defines the character flaws and a large number of the stronger themes like whether talent decides your future for you and whatnot, right down to people getting accepted at a prestigious school because they embody a certain trait really well, as well as most of the murders happening because a stereotype can’t overcome his or her problems. And these murders aren’t child’s play. When people die, they actually die.

Similar to when Batman’s best stories deconstruct the superhero, I like anime stories that point out the inherent flaws of being fetish fuel for the nerds to drool over like the idol girl having to do things she wasn’t proud of to get to where she is and the Jojo/Fist of the North Star stereotypes getting done in by their own bravado. While only the most important characters get an insight into the trope they’re parodying beyond the murder games, it’s just cool to see all this craziness being conveyed to us through an actual story that’s different from most visual novels whilst simultaneously using a few of its cliches. Most of what I chose for the best list use playing with tropes as a storytelling method to an extent, but Danganronpa is one of the few I’ve seen where it’s a vital part of the storytelling. More than that however, it’s the only one I’ve seen that’s managed to do it whilst being blatantly self-aware about its anime nature thanks to its unique brand of black humor.

It’s stuff like this that breaks the norm of what I expect that I favor above all else. I have plenty of biases regarding this hobby and will call anime out for indulging in them to usually overlong degrees, but one of the things I look for the most in regards to anime, or anime games, is having those biases turned around. And Danganronpa’s ability to turn what I expect from visual novels and meta-humor really makes it a true gem. Obviously I don’t expect anybody to follow in its footsteps because then you run into that whole “you can only have one moment of discovery” problem I wrote about a few paragraphs ago. At the same time though, I will reward anime stuff that can accomplish things in a similar manner. Or at least acknowledge them in Osomatsu-san’s case.

And that pretty much sums up what I thought of this year in general. Yes it’s true that the stuff I actually loved were video games that have been around for years (including Final Fantasy VII. Man, why did it take me so long to play that game given how many spinoffs I’ve actually experienced?). Actual anime-wise, I didn’t find anything more than decent. However the ones that got to that level played with the expected to give us something I didn’t quite know I wanted. And some of the ones that didn’t impress me, I can at least recognize the appeal of. So overall, anime didn’t escape from 2016’s overall shittiness, but it wasn’t a mediocre year either. At least when you see it through my low standards and not the standards of some unpleasable bastard who needs five good shows a season before he’s satisfied.

Minor Quips

  • Yes I’m fully aware that Taboo Tattoo has also been considered “so bad it’s good”.
  • Are people really not aware of what the fuck went on in Occultic;Nine? Yeah the plot was kind of impenetrable, but the gist of what went on should have been clear…and said gist was pretty shit.
  • So when is Danganronpa V3 coming to the States anyways?

2 responses to “2016 Anime: A Retrospective

  1. Personally for me, when I was judging the preview of the anime lineup of each season that were coming, it got less interesting as the year went on. Winter 2017 looks to continue that trend for me and I probably won’t watch anything until the 2nd season of AoT comes out in April. But that’s not a proper indication of season quality of course.

    If I had unlimited free time, I would try out as many shows as I can but that’s not the case so I have to be selective of what grabs my attention.

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