Read part 1 here:
Honorable mention 1: My Hero Academia
Bones - 13 episodes
Genre: Action, superhero, shonen
My Hero Academia was quite the surprise this season. I feel this show is quite similar to shows like Naruto and Bleach in terms of structure i.e. the show needs a substantive number of episodes to fully tackle the themes it deals with (not filler 500+ though). A show concerning budding heroes and their training under the best hero teachers while fighting crime side by side with their idols does make for an entertaining watch.
Honorable mention 2: Haven’t you heard? I’m Sakamoto!
DEEN - 12 episodes
Genre: Comedy, high school slice of life
The man, the myth, the legend. Who else but Sakamoto. A slice of life show like never before about a god on earth. Okay, I guess that’s a bit over the top. This is probably one of the only comedy shows I’ve ever seen and safe to say I enjoyed it to the fullest. If you’re a fan of over the top comedy which somehow still feels real, this show is definitely for you. Where else could you witness the coolest man in all of anime?
Honorable Mention 3: Joker Game
Production IG - 12 episodes
Genre: thriller, espionage, historical, seinen
Barely missing out on the top 5 is Joker Game. A show about a secret agency of spies formed under the wing of the Imperial Army in Japan headed by the master-spy Colonel Yuki. The show is set right around the World War II period. The series is mainly a set of standalone episodes. This show does a great job of capturing the many facets of governments and men in a period which is busy fanning the flames of war. The show breaks away from popular stereotypes and effectively depicts the challenges of espionage and counter-espionage in times of war. The eye for detail regarding the history is astounding in this show. Though it doesn’t delve into the uncomfortable incidents of history, it manages to catch an angle of the war never done before in anime. Plus it’s always a treat to see more novels (not light novels mind you) getting anime adaptations.
#5: Prince of Stride: Alternative
Madhouse - 12 episodes
Quite a surprise addition to the list I’d say (a dark horse, so to speak), Prince of Stride makes this list thanks to my affinity for sports shows. Prince of Stride also adds a bit of variety to the list. I can remember a single moment where the color palette of the show was dark. It was bright and eye catching all the time. Prince of Stride introduces a completely new sport called Stride which is a combination of relay race and parkour. The success of Prince of Stride relies on its simplicity (in terms of plot) and animation. The story does a great job of pushing its characters to their limit and pits them against the people they care for, in a sport they love. I’m sure Prince of Stride makes use of tropes quite common in other sports shows but the passion really felt genuine. A catchy, energetic soundtrack does wonders to enhance the experience.
#4: 91 Days
Shuka - 12 episodes
Genre: drama, historical, crime, seinen
2016 has been a great year for anime, especially for niche viewers who fancy shows that stand out from your regular/mainstream shows or the usual themes generally concerning an anime and I suppose there’s no greater testament to that than 91 Days. Dealing with the Mafia and its business during the Prohibition era, what starts off as a tale of revenge ends on a bittersweet note of friendship. The industrial setting, the Godfather homages, the opera, the echo of a solitary gunshot tearing the night’s silence; this show does everything to create the perfect setting. But this show doesn’t re-enact a story of old. The protagonist is a definite standout and one of my favorites in recent memory. Having lost a lot to begin with and losing even more while going forward with his plan, his commitment remains firm. His cold, fierce determination is what really impressed me. The deuteragonist and supportive cast are effectively fleshed out and this lingering feeling of suspense always prevalent in every episode holding your undivided attention at all times. All in all, a worthy contender for best anime of 2016. Oh and did I mention the opening song is by TK?
#3: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū
DEEN - 13 episodes
Genre: drama, historical, josei
Words simply fail to describe the beauty of this show. Either that or I can’t seem to find the right words to praise this show enough. The story follows the struggles of two orphaned would-be friends in the field of rakugo (a form of storytelling performance art) and how their destinies entwine while under the tutelage of their master. Even when the progression seems to stall the characters always manage to hold my attention with their mannerisms or interactions. This show is very much grounded in reality and doesn’t shy away from presenting the insecurities or deeply rooted beliefs of its characters. It also faithfully depicts the hardships of the people engaged in the rakugo business in particular and Japanese society in general both pre and post-war. This show is a delicacy in emotional intricacy. Special credit goes to the soundtrack as well. It’s quite apt in setting the ambience for the show. For a mature audience this show is a must
#2: ERASED – Boku Dake Ga Inai Machi
A-1 Pictures - 12 episodes
Genre: drama, crime, mystery, seinen
Watching Erased was akin to leisurely sipping that first cup of coffee on an especially chilly winter morning. It had been quite some time since an anime had made me feel so warm inside like Erased. Set in an interesting background with immediately likable characters and a theme not so unpopular, what struck me the most about the show was the mood (and the character interactions). No matter how bleak the situation might be there’s always this wave of positivity underneath, waiting to gush out. This show does a great job of swaying your emotions back and forth. The mystery, even though it starts strong, fails to appease the belly. The strength of the show clearly lies in its narrative and that is where it wins me over. Speaking of character interactions, the plot is successful in bringing out a beautiful relationship between the protagonist and his friends as well as the protagonist with his mother. Even moments of mere silence manages to convey a sense of understanding between the characters. Let's not forget the animation which is definitely a highlight of the show. The film reel presentation employed to highlight flashbacks from the protagonist’s life was surely a unique touch. Even for all its faults, this show easily grabs the penultimate spot for the beauty and power of its story alone.
#1: Ajin – Demi Human
Polygon Pictures - 26 episodes
Genre: action, thriller, supernatural
The final show to make my top 5 list is Ajin. This show is no doubt the most exciting show of the year. Boasting one of the best antagonists in all of anime, each and every moment keeps you on the edge of your seat. Dealing with people who come back to life even when killed (labeled as Ajin), the show focuses on the international threat of Ajin on the general populace and how corporations/governments ostracize and capture these Ajin to perform inhuman experiments on them. We see two facets of the Ajin mentality pitted against each other; one where these special humans prefer to live out their lives in silence and hiding and the other where they aspire to be recognized by the world and be granted their right to live without being hunted by the international community all over the globe. It is this conflict that pushes the second group into pursuing the path of terrorism to achieve their goals and boy does it get nasty.
Available on Netflix, this show is guaranteed to get your heart pumping. Don’t let the animation bother you because the story is a gem. Terrorism, modern-day setting, a villain who simply hates to lose and will pull the rug off your feet every step of the way, this show ticks all the boxes in terms of the perfect thriller.
Honorable mention 1: Joker Game
Production IG – 12 episodes
Genre: thriller, espionage, historical, seinen
Words cannot describe how sad I am I wasn’t able to put this one in my top ten. Joker Game was a terrific spy drama that was just oozing with style. Telling the story of a group of principled spies trying to find their way in a world of ever changing tactics and where loayalties are constantly challenged. Joker Game was the kind of sophisticated entertainment you don’t see much in anime. With a cast of rich and varied characters, wonderfully stylish visuals and a terrific soundtrack courtesy of anime legend Kenji Kawai. Not all of the stories were as engrossing though and ultimately I did feel the show did play it a bit too safe given it’s subject matter but what we did get was still was really damn good and as a fan of old school spy thrillers I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Honorable mention 2: Kiznaiver
Trigger – 12 episodes
Genre: drama, psychological, avant garde
One of the hardest challenges a person faces in life is communication. To truly understand your fellow human is incredibly hard and most people don’t even bother. And that is exactly what this show is all about. Filled with big ideas and deep philosophical themes, this series is about a group of people forced to connect with one another. Ostensibly a cast of stereotypes the show slowly dismantles what troubled individuals lie beneath these stereotypes and really makes you wonder just how much you actually know about your fellow man. The show wasn’t able to devote as much time to each character as I would’ve liked to see and at times wasn’t entirely sure what kind of show it even wanted to be. But as flawed as it was it was one of the most unique and moving series to have graced our screens this year. And for that alone it more than deserves a mention here.
#10: Ajin – Demi Human
Polygon Pictures – 26 episodes
Genre: action, thriller, supernatural
Kicking off the list in hearnest with one of my favourite shows, not just of this year but also in general. Telling the story of a high schooler who one day discovers he is an Ajin or demi human and subsequently gets hunted down by both federal forces and a rogue group of other Ajin. On the surface Ajin is a high octane action thriller but dig a little deeper and you find a show that actually has something to say about our present day society and our perceived notions of good and evil. It’s a non stop action thrill ride with awesome animation (yes it’s CG but it’s good CG) and a kick ass OST by Yugo Kanno (Psycho Pass). Ajin is one of the very few shows that stays not just consistenly good but consistently great. Ultimately though it’s not that deep or thought provoking. It’s primary purpose is to entertain rather than wax philosophical but as far as action thrillers go, you can’t get much better than this.
TMS Entertainment – 13 episodes
Genre: high school slice of life
If you still think slice of life shows can’t be complex and thought provoking than you really need to watch this show. ReLIFE spans a very complicated yarn about a group of high schoolers all struggling with their own issues and feelings whose lives become intertwined and explores the various ways in which they influence eachothers thoughts and emotions. A very lighthearted show most of the time ReLIFE certainly didn’t shy away from the more somber and heartbreaking moments either. It’s a charming, heartwarming show and if by the end you don’t care about all of the wonderful characters than well…you should watch it again. Just be prepared though…the ending is utterly brutal in how it really isn’t much of an ending at all.
JC Staff – 12 episodes
Genre: slice of life
From the people that gifted us Aria comes yet another beautiful and exquisite slice of life story that will doubtelessly pull the heartstrings of any viewer. This story is about Futaba Ooki aka “Teko” a socially inept and highly insecure high school girl who suffers from anxiety issues who has recently moved from Tokyo to a remote coastal town. There she meets Pikari a very excentric and upbeat high schooler who immediately ropes her into joining the diving club. It is through Pikari’s friendship that Teko finally begins to find joy in life and experience what’it’s like to have someone who cares about you. Exploring heavy themes such as loneliness and anxiety with absolute respectfulness and dignty yet still chockfull of genuinely funny comedy. This is a show that makes you laugh with the characters, not at them. It is a prime example of slice of life at its very best. And the fact it isn’t even in the top five just speaks volumes for just how great this year actually has been.
#7: Yuri on Ice
Mappa – 12 episodes
Genre: drama, comedy, sports
Sayo Yamamoto is one of my favourite directors and Mappa is currently my favourite animation studio so obviously this show was never gonna disappoint me but I hadn’t expected it to be this goddamn good. The tale of an insecure iceskater struggling with low self esteem who’s determined to better himself and suddenly finds himself being coached by his lifelong idol in order to win the grand prix final! Whether you watched this show for the gripping character drama, the brilliant comedy, the beautiful animation or the yaoi overtones Yuri on Ice was a show unlike any other and I pity any who weren’t there to witness it. We laughed, we cried and we cheered as the amazing characters of this show got closer and closer to realizing their goals. But for me though what really made this show stand was the love and passion that everyone involved put into it. And not least of all it gave us the best slogan of the year: “It’s..JJ Style!!!”
A-1 Pictures – 12 episodes
Genre: mystery, psychological, horror, sci fi, avant garde
I am a huge fan of the kind of show that is often refered to with the derogatory term of “mindfuck”. The kind of show that doesn’t spoonfeed the audience it’s story but rather requires them to think for themselves. In the past you had such great shows like Lain and Boogiepop Phantom but in recent years those kinds of series have been pretty much non-existent. So this show was a really welcome return to those kinds of series. Occultic;Nine is a thinking man’s anime but it’s also so much more than that. Brimming at the seams with style and flavor Occultic;Nine is wild, chaotic, counter cuture punk yet also extremely well structured and perfectly balanced. It blends real life people and actual science with supernatural elements and sci fi and perfectly balances out it’s over the top erratic nature with it’s bleak and nightmarish horror elements. Taking cues not just from shows like Lain but also several Cronenberg movies and classic Giallo cinema.
Occultic;Nine is a wild and uncompromising feast of style and imagination that’s far more intelligent and sophisticated than it at first seems. Like all great works of art it’s not for everyone but love it or hate it, it’s one of the most unique and wholly original shows of the last couple of years and in my opinion also one of the best.
#5: The Great Passage
Zexcs – 11 episodes
Words have power, that’s something most people at least subconsciously know and understand. Language is complex and hard to grasp but it can also bring people together in their mutual understanding of the words they utter. The Great Passage is a show about the beauty of language. Made with a real sense of passion and love for it’s subject material that’s evident in every frame, The Great Passage is a lush and vibrant series that’s not just a teriffic workplace drama but a great work of artistic fiction in its own right. The story is about a young and socially awkward salesman with a great love for literature who one day finds himself recruited to work on a new dictionary and suddenly finds himself not only doing something he’s actually good at but also in a place where truly belongs.
The Great Passage is a show about love and ambition but it’s also about being the forever outcast and persisting even in the face of insurmountable obstacles. Spread out over a period of thirteen years and riddles with punch the air moments of awesome and scenes that will melt the heart of even the most cynical viewer, The Great Passage is a testament to the power of language and those who devote their lives to it.
#4: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
A-1 Pictures – 12 episodes
Genre: drama, slice of life, psychological, fantasy
Without a doubt the most overlooked show of the year. Upon release half the people ignored it for thinking it to be an SAO rip off and the other half dropped it very early on because it’s not an action show , it’s a drama/slice of life show. And this is the greatest shame ever because if people had bothered to watch (more of) it they would’ve discovered one of the most thought provoking and moving anime in recent years. The premise may not sound very interesting: a group of youngsters wakes up in a medieval fantasy world with no memories and has to struggle to survive. But rather than some generic action show Grimgar becomes an incredible tale of loss and regret and trying to overcome crippling mental trauma.
Uncompromisingly bleak and at times utterly heartbreaking, Grimgar pulled no punches in its depiction of the devastating effect that violence can have on those afflicted by it. Tacklng its heavy subject matter in a mature and nuanced way Grimgar was a very personal tale that was dark, painful but also absolutely beautiful and ultimately very rewarding. It didn’t offer any easy solution nor did it go for cheap melodrama. And unlike other shows that try to bring something unique to an overused genre it didn’t try to intentionally subvert tropes or be some kind of deconstruction. Instead it had enough confidence in its own characters and story to carry it all the way through. And because of that it actually succeeded at offering a genuinely original story that I won’t likely forget.
#3: Alderamin on The Sky
Madhouse – 13 episodes
Genre: military fantasy, seinen
2016 seems to have been the year of revival for long dead anime genres. While Occultic;Nine brought back the mindfuck, Alderamin brought back a genre I haven’t seen since the late 90s. One difined by its sense of scale and depth. Both in its worlbuilding as well as the themes it explores. Alderamin is a slower paced fantasy series that focusses on politics and ethics rather than action. It’s about two warring nations, neither of which can claim any moral highground and the people forced to fight in this forever ongoing war. The main focal point in all this is Ikta Solork, one of the most fascinating and complex characters to have graced our sreens in quite a while. A young man who outright rejects the antiquated values of the empire he lives in and attempts to understand the world through science rather than religion. It is through his eyes that we see the horrors of war and the social injustice that so many of the residents of both kingdoms suffer.
If you like shows like Legend of the Galactic Heroes than this is a muct watch and even if not than I would still highly encourage you to watch this show. Because this is one of the very few anime that I would actually call…epic.
#2: Mobile Suit Gundam – Iron Blooded Orphans (season 1)
Sunrise – 25 episodes
Genre: military sci fi, seinen
This show came as a bit of a surprise to longtime fans of the franchise upon it’s release. When you watch a Gundam show you kind of know what you’re getting into, mechs, action and a little bit of social commentary. What I doubt anybody expected this show to be was hard sci fi. Developed by the same creative team that gifted us the amazing drama series Anohana, Iron Blooded Orphans is a show with tons of world building, social criticism, highly complex characters and moments of extreme graphic violence. Telling the story of a goup of child soldiers who after a bloody coup form their own military unit knows as Tekkadan (steel flower) and undertake a dangerous mission to help broker peace between earth and mars.
Iron Blooded Orphans gave us a very grounded take on interstellar war. One where battles aren’t fought by idealistic heroes but by soldiers who are perfectly fine slaughtering whole masses if their superiors order them to do so. One where people don’t shoot at eachother with flashy lasers but with real bullets that make very ugly holes in people you care about. One where good and bad really isn’t as clear cut and where people with the best intentions find their efforts all for naught while ruthless people capable of playing the political game and with the right connections are able to thrive. It gave us a huge and extremely detailed fictional universe with tons of different societies each with their own issues, norms and ruling structures and a lore dating back hunreds of years. It also gave us a huge cast of highly complex characters who each get enough screentime to develop tremendously throughout the series. And it explored a huge variety of different social and philosophical themes such as social and economic inequality, the cost of ambition, the worth of a human life, the search for redemption, the rise of corporate rule and many more. And the most astonishing part is…it did all that in merely 25 episodes! No show is ever perfect but Iron Blooded Orphans came closer than almost any show I have watched.
#1: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (season 1)
DEEN - 13 episodes
Genre: drama, historical, josei
Holy shit where do I even begin with this show? From its first frame to its last this show transported the viewer to an earlier time. A time with different values, different norms and…different forms of entertainment. Showa Rakugo tells the story of two Rakugo players, actors who perform an entire play all by themselves through the use of voice acting and mimickery. Two very different young men who’s initial rivalry turns into a close friendship which eventually turns into something very tragic.
Showa Rakugo is a masterful drama with a cast of flawed and deeply human characters, dialogues that crackle with every word, , extremely stylish and detailed visuals (who’d have thought that of studio Deen?) and a soundtrack that fits the show perfectly. Until now, whenever someone asked me what I think is the best anime series I wouldn’t know what to say. But there is a small chance that depending on how season 2 tunrs out, somewhere in the near future I will immediately be able to answer that question. And the best part is: that second season airs this winter! So if you haven’t seen this show yet, you should get on that and fast!
Sakuga City's Best Anime of 2016!!! (part 2)
Four prominent members of the community count down their favourite shows of the year and what made these shows stand out for them.
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