Anime of the Year: Josh Dunham’s Top 10 Anime of 2016

For me, the phrase, ‘Anime of the Year’ is shorthand for defining the definitive animated experience of an era, as well as yourself. No elective process can be completely objective, but I don’t believe it should be completely subjective either. One should look outside of themselves for confirmation (perhaps a better word would be justification) of personal bias, judging by logic and reasoning with emotion. In my mind, questions like ‘What was my favorite show?’ should be married with ‘What did it contribute to the medium?’ and then added/ranked according to the answer. It’s an extremely personal process that defines the list maker as much as it does the year.

I found 2016 to be one of the best years in anime I have ever seen. It was a record breaking year from a production standpoint alone. When stretched out over the course of the year, there was more than 1 new series every other day, close to 20 new shows a month, and over 2000 hours of anime – about three months solid of programming. Fall 2016 was the season was the largest of all time in terms of shows airing. There was so much shit that it was hard to do with anything less than 10 favorites.


JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4 Diamond is Unbreakable

I praised JoJo’s earlier in the year as being akin to Yu Yu Hakusho in terms of quality, but looking back, it falls just short of that. However, Diamond is Unbreakable turned out to be the definitive shonen manga adaptation of 2016, and the best addition to Horihiko Araki’s animated grand narrative to date. Characters are extremely likable, the battles are fun and witty, and the villain is one that should go down in the annals of history for being so goddamned cool. What was most surprising was the level of cinematic competency that I found lacking in prior iterations of the series. The ‘editing’ in this show is superb and visually interesting, which can be a lot to ask of a show in this genre and production, even in the year 2016. The music alone has stuck with me long after the final episode, and the fact that I keep listening to it to recall moments from the show tells me that an emotional connection was made.


Haikyuu!! (both seasons)

Emotionally rewarding: Haikyuu!! season 2 and the shorter third cour Shiratorizawa have literally brought tears to my eyes with me whispering the words, “This is why I watch anime.” In one word, the show is driven; it is the triumph of the human spirit. The realistic and grounded (and extremely well animated) manner it perfectly embodies the process of overcoming adversity is extremely charismatic. It is empathetic without being overly melodramatic, fiery without being obnoxious, and cool without being gimmicky. When Hinata jumps, you jump – both emotionally and physically as you clench your fist and yell for that last point to take the game.


Kizumonogatari (Tekketsu & Nekketsu)

I cannot get enough of these films. In a word: they are fucking gorgeous. Kizumonogatari part I & II are aesthetically layered in a marvelous way that invites viewer engagement, and is far more visceral than anything else I saw in 2016 – I’d compare it to a religious experience. By far and away, this was the best anime of 2016. Tatsuya Oishi has created a noir masterpiece that stands head and shoulders above the best of the year, Nekketsu in particular. I knew the moment I walked out of the theater onto Ponce de Leon avenue and inhaled the chilled Atlanta night air that I had seen a canonical work from the body of anime. The film(s) are imbued with an extreme level of detail and love of the craft. Kizumonogatari enthralls the primordial Eros, yet entertains a modern mode of Logos, striking a pristine balance on a razor’s edge that excites the psyche with an archetypal force.


Lupin III Part IV

Lupin III has always been the safe way to live dangerously. The fourth installment installment feels comfortable, like driving in your favorite car – you know the feel of the steering wheel in your hands, the right amount of pressure to put on the break, the optimal time to shift… Except that car has a fresh coat of slick blue paint and a new engine, going over 100mph down the scenic route. The Lupin series as a whole is a provocative push and pull alternating between ‘Lupin will definitely get away!’ and ‘Just how will he do it?’ with a tight knit cast with iconic personalities. But with each color jacket, things change just a little, a new engine and a fresh coat of paint is applied. Yuji Ohno’s music feels familiar, as he is the definitive Lupin sound, but at the same time his return to the series feels refreshing. Part IV takes advantage of it’s Italian locale to interject imagery akin to Castle of Cagliostro but also to add sense of romanticism which is reflected in Ohno’s score. The addition of new characters Agent Nyx and Lupin’s wife, Rebecca Rossellini, add both a hardboiled and fantastic element while preserving the roles of the original cast – something more modern incarnations of the series have struggled with.


Mob Psycho 100

In my mind, there is not a show that pushed the visual heights of televised anime more this year than Mob Psycho 100. At no point did Mob Psycho sacrifice artistic integrity, even within it’s trappings as an adaptation. The show had no issue with exposing a broad audience to spectacles of webgen animation, or throwing the unorthodox technique of paint-on-glass into the forefront of discussion; that alone places it in the 2016 pantheon. There’s Space Dandy, One Punch Man, and then there’s Mob Psycho: every year we seem to get that one show that opens the Pandora’s box of what we think is possible in the sometimes bland landscape of commercial anime.  Mob was an oasis where the water was sweet and the shade rejuvenating, without a doubt the best animated show of this year.


Gundam Thunderbolt

Gundam Thunderbolt is best compared to a mixed drink: the bourbon backdrop of the Universal Century with a splash of sakuga spirit, served up, shaken not stirred. And it’s misanthropic nature (although inspired) burns all the way down. Plot points are syncopathic, and accent everything but the scattered rays of humanity; indeed you could say there’s a rain cloud hanging over Thunderbolt‘s head. But for those who like the rain, and savor the taste of strong alcohol, this show is a treasure. I’ve already said a lot about this show, but I truly feel that the combination of spectacular effects and mecha animation and foreboding theme builds itself a home in the Gundam franchise.


Space Patrol Luluco

Perhaps the most endearing I’ve seen from TRIGGER, and really, the most profound. Luluco‘s addresses messages of love and the nature of art in a quirky comedic manner that is indicative of Imaishi, and does so without being overly obnoxious. The series feels reflective, but that pensive demeanor does not compromise its homage driven aesthetic edge.  Luluco is stylistically divine with designs and backgrounds that feel honest in a way that is evocative of an unspoken rapport with the artist. This candor breathes life into the thematic elements, which are then accented by Imaishi’s TRIGGER zangyness. That zangyness is what what lends the series a reflective atmosphere; as Luluco visits other TRIGGER works and becomes whole. Compound this with the fact that Luluco may have been penned in response to failed company decisions, and there is no way that you cannont consider this show in the running for being the most heartfelt production of 2016.


Osomatsu-san

Finally, an anime comedy that is actually pretty damn funny. Yoichi Fujita has orchestrated comedy gold before with Gintama, but here he really shines. Unrestricted by the trappings of a long-running, continuous series, Osomatsu-san is a capricious, churlish comedic romp that’s not to be missed. Studio Pierrot was the perfect nesting ground for the series, with some of the most diverse animation ion terms of style and technique, some of that due to freelance animator and friend of Pierrot, Ken’ichi Fujisawa, who’s worked on everything from Space Dandy and Mob Psycho, to Naruto and One Piece. This strong visual identity defines the characters’ personalities, and with so much of the comedy being driven by the six brothers’ interaction, the visuals become the keystone that holds the whole show up. The show is genuinely funny, and makes funny looks good.


Grimgar

Grimgar is the hidden gem that everyone should have watched, but seemingly no one did. The fandom failed to realize the series’ true nature as a borderline iyashikei drama that uses the fantasy trappings as a springboard, and instead wrote it off as another A-1 Pictures to the bargain bin’trapped in the game world’ show. What it feels like to kill for the first time, the loss of a friend, rebuilding relationships and motivating others – these are some of the emotions that Grimgar explores and it does so brilliantly. Air-tight character animation, exciting fights, and easily the best backgrounds I have seen all year, Grimgar is the show I found most artistically unique.


To Be Hero

I’ve done a lot of work with this show, trying to stick it in front of everyone I know. Hell, even made friends with the remarkable hands behind the show! Let me state this: everyone I have shown To Be Hero to has been amazed. It empirical logic, but one that I put my faith in – WATCH TO BE HERO, YOU WILL ENJOY IT! The show is nonstop amazing animation, pushing the boundaries that rival Mob Psycho‘s genius, animated primary by one man (don’t get me wrong, other were involved, but it was LAN that drove that project – nearly all the cuts on Sakugabooru are his). It is a show that is animated purely to be animated, no restrictions, just love and passion for the craft. An because of that it is pure. The show is not a hollow shell either, and ends with the realist human experience from any anime this year. But… it doesn’t meet the definition of anime – it is completely written, drawn, and produced by Chinese studio Haoliners. It’s only connection to the anime industry is Shinichi Watanabe editing for Japanese television. But despite all this, it is still more fucking anime than Thunderbolt Fantasy!

6 Comments

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  1. A nice list that’s very you, although I’ll note your perception of the fandom’s response to Grimgar is probably inaccurately shaded due to the fact that you didn’t watch it when it was airing. Last winter, pretty much everyone who was watching the show (and this really was a pretty substantial group, including on /r/anime, where it was up there with Konosuba at the time) at any sort of critical level was praising it for its take on familiar genre elements—even if some, like me, would have been more fond of it with a little less sideboob during key emotional climaxes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What’s a climax without sideboob?

      Liked by 3 people

    • I found the fanservicey bits to be few enough that it didn’t color the work for me. You are right about not watching it while it was airing though, and I may be further removed from things since I didn’t touch the circles it was popular in – but I still feel like despite all that it warranted being more popular than it was. I don’t feel Grimgar achived the same reach as any of the other shows on this list (save To Be Hero) when it really should have in my opinion.

      But thanks for the comment, Bless! I feel odly validated knowing you read my stuff lol

      Like

  2. It’s always nice to see Grimgar get treated with the care and respect it deserves. Given the stigma around its genre, it’s far too easy for viewers to write the title off without even clocking thirty minutes into it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting list, like all the other year’s best list y’all provided, very thematically consistent even if it’s objectively wrong because it’s not my list.

    But at least we share Grimgar, which indeed is one of the more underrated and overlooked series of 2016. I think it got two strikes against it from the start. The first was the fanservice, combined with the presence of Ranta, who is the sort of toxic asshole who many of us will have encountered online already. Grimgar did its best to subvert the notion of typical anime fanservice, but especially in the first two or so episodes it was pretty in your face and I can understand people getting the wrong impression. The second was the pacing, which I liked, where short, intense battles were followed by long, languid slice of life pieces following the crew in their everyday life, going out to buy underwear frex. A fair few people complained about it at the time.

    Combine that with the much more easier to get into (and equally good) KonoSuba airing the same season & getting a second season, followed by Re:Zero the next and it’s no wonder Grimgar got lost in the shuffle once it stopped airing.

    It’s perhaps a measure for how strong 2016 as an anime year was that there were three “trapped in fantasyland” series that all did something different, interesting and new.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Rip in Peace, Flip Flappers, the forgotten masterpiece 😥

    Like

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