Honorable Mention #3: Mahoutsukai no Yome (The Ancient Magus’ Bride)
Studio: Wit Studio
Episode Count: 12 (so far)
Tags: Magic, Fantasy
Watch this if you like: Flights of fantasy, told with a slight hint of darkness.
Right off the bat, you’re told about the problematic nature of this set-up: rich, terrifying beast purchases vulnerable, young girl at an auction to make her his apprentice and bride. It should have been enough to put anyone off, especially since the plot alone already reflects a romantic trope that’s been tried and debunked long ago.
But stick with it a little longer and you’ll soon find other elements to latch onto, like the magical universe it’s set in and the other characters that make up this mystical world. Give it some time and you might even find yourself falling a little in love with it – which is also kind of what’s happening with both Chise and Elias here. Even better: the controversial marriage is an issue that isn't hidden or swept under the rug. Although the first episodes have a disjointed, “monster of the week” vibe to them, more details about lead girl Chise are uncovered – until the show’s climax, where her relationship with Elias slowly eases into the spotlight. Once this happens, the show confronts any questions and doubts you might have had head-on. Chise's character arc is already engaging on its own, that her development alongside Elias should make for good viewing in the incoming second season.
Honorable Mention #2: Onihei
Episode Count: 13
Tags: Historical, Seinen
Watch this if you like: Traditional crime-solving, thief-slicing samurai.
Pulpy like your favorite 70’s cop film and just as violent as your standard samurai picture, Onihei will have you wondering why it’s still only the first police procedural series set in feudal Japan. If you thought there was no other way to revitalize those dusty samurai-type anime, then you best start thinking again.
The show shares its name with one of the coolest figures of justice to have ever graced the annals of Japanese history. Considering each case is told in an Aesop-like format, the audience becomes witness to some of the more memorable stories of Onihei’s career. This means that a lot of the stories are told through him and not because of him. Meanwhile, discussions of crime and its gray nature are held, where we find out that even if the idea of good will always prevail in the end, neither side of the justice coin won’t be without its questionable motives. At the same time, this also means Onihei doesn’t get much development and remains stagnant throughout the series’ run. It’s a noble sacrifice to make, although it might leave some fans wanting for more as soon as it ends.
Honorable Mention #1: Kuzu no Honkai (Scum’s Wish)
Episode Count: 12
Tags: Drama, Romance, Seinen
Watch this if you like: Painful love stories and harem deconstructions.
If you're a real person with real feelings, then there's no real reason to exclude this from the top anime of 2017. A majority of broken hearts that wept in the new year might have been touched by the pain that’s become this series’ trademark, so if you haven’t had your fair share yet, it isn’t too late to hop aboard the feels train.
Here’s a different kind of harem for you, where everyone’s involved with everyone else – but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s happy about the situation. The characters don’t have to work hard to make you like them; they all go through such visceral changes, that by the end, they’re no longer the same people they were before. If you aren't drawn in by the familiarity of their romantic angst, then you’ll at least be intrigued by their motives. It’s a lot of motives for a lot of characters, but watching all the threads get all tangled up makes for some delightful morbid viewing.
5. Tsuki Ga Kirei (As the Moon, So Beautiful)
Episode Count: 12
Tags: Romance, School, Slice of Life
Watch this if you like: Feel-good love stories and LINE.
It’s the happier, younger cousin of Kuzu no Honkai, differing only in the lack of sex, even if the romantic drama’s here in spades. Everything about this show is gentle and soft, each trait made to match the delicate blossoming of first love. Tsuki Ga Kirei is awkward in all the good, innocent ways, and it’s able to effectively capture familiar feelings you may have had in your youth. I’ll be honest: the reason this gets a higher rating than Kuzu no Honkai is because it made me feel so good in the end. This series also gets points for having younger characters, because they’re all able to highlight the simple, yet complicated, feelings of entering a relationship.
Like other good series, Tsuki Ga Kirei has well-developed characters, where everyone’s granted a realistic storyline and a believable set of personality traits. Although it’s a romance, the characters grow independent of and alongside each other, so that by the time we see their arc conclusions, we've already become deeply invested in their journeys.
Like first love, Tsuki Ga Kirei is something that has to grow on you before you begin to truly appreciate its worth. Combine this with some light-hearted animation (barring the horrible CGI extras) and a soothing soundtrack, and you’ll end up with something that’ll hopefully last way beyond the first pinings of puppy love.
4. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.
Episode Count: 12
Tags: Mystery, Police, Seinen
Watch this if you like: Cool mysteries and sharp-dressed men (and ladies!).
Political intrigue and conspiracy never looked more stylish. Armed with a funky and distinct art style, some stand-out character designs, and the most unskippable opening song of the year (sorry, Osomatsu-san), ACCA: 13 was definitely one of the more unique series this side of 2017.
In a world where everyone’s hard-selling the idea of peace until it breaks, you know something more sinister has got to be simmering under the surface. Even the very idea of order is a conflicted one, where everyone’s itching to grab their own piece of that order pie (order bread?) and do things their way. A slow burner of a series, ACCA: 13 features a wide cast of players, each of them playing their own versions of chess, checkers, and even snakes and ladders. The mystery that makes up the series’ core is unraveled carefully and deliberately, and it’s a real pleasure to watch it all unfold piece by piece. Accompanying the subtle reveals are tours to the thirteen districts that make up the universe, each with something different to offer the viewer.
In the middle of it all is Jean Otus, your unflappable, chain-smoking main character – cool, calm, and confident, even when he no longer knows which way is up. He’s the guy who’s tying all the plot threads together – even when he isn’t meaning to – and it’s his steady, laidback presence that balances the more frantic elements of the mystery. In the end, ACCA: 13 is a great series to get into, especially if you like your coup d’états spiced up with a little jazz and pizzazz.
3. Osomatsu-san Season 2
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Episode Count: 13 (so far)
Tags: Comedy, Parody
Watch this if you like: Tales of brotherly love and jokes that’ll make your grandma blush.
Water is wet, the world is often unfair, and it seems like I’m the only one here watching the Osomatsu-san series. Thankfully, nothing much has changed in the Matsuno household, which means newcomers can step right in and not feel completely out of place. After a traditional off-the-rails first episode, Season Two shows that the Matsuno Brothers are all still unemployed virgins, and still just as desperate to escape their unfortunate lots in life. Where the first season liked to revel in their unlucky status, this second season now finds them actively trying to make a move up the social ladder.
But because their stark differences are united by an overwhelming desire to continue their bum ways of life, these attempts don’t always go their way. It’s the same for the show’s audiences, as its unpredictable nature is one thing that’s thankfully remained intact after two years. Although old fans will have a fair sense of what to expect, it’d be a mistake to assume that the show will do the safe thing by sticking to standards. The punchlines will still throw you for a loop, so that even if some of the jokes are lazy enough to rely on callbacks to the first season, it’s great to see that Osomatsu-san still hasn't lost its charm – or its balls. No matter the gag, Osomatsu-san stays true to its original and distinct flavor, where the six main characters bounce off each other with a chemistry that’s tough to match.
There’s a reason this show’s taken over the Japanese late-night showtime block – although it looks like okay viewing for schoolchildren, a lot of the material here is enough to make any working adult forget about the dreariness of life for a moment and just kick back in laughter. That’s Osomatsu-san for you, saving society one dirty skit at a time, thus lending truth to the age-old belief that butt jokes and the occasional explosion are just the things to fix your poor, sorry health.
2. Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou (Girls’ Last Tour)
Studio: White Fox
Episode Count: 12
Tags: Adventure, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life
Watch this if you like: Post-apocalyptic musings on life and cute girls who can shoot.
Reddit’s labeled this the animated version of Waiting for Godot, and it’s the most accurate description I’ve seen for it yet. In this version of the apocalypse, it turns out that today's simple, everyday things have become foreign concepts and ideas. At times, it feels like the author made up the setting as an excuse to dissect these things and ramble on about some pretentious level of deepness, but by the time you’ve finished an episode, you’ll start seeing things in a new light. Contemplative conversations about mundane topics, like potatoes, religion, music, and even the meaning of life take center stage here, as both Chito and Yuuri chug around in their Kettenkrad until they find something to do.
The way your lead characters are drawn only emphasizes their innocence, set against a lingering sense of dread and foreboding in the atmosphere. Despite that, nothing dangerous really happens to the girls – but maybe that’s because the more dangerous thing is to keep on living in such a desolate and barren wasteland.
Regardless, the show encourages you to keep your chin up, even if this means embracing the hopelessness around you. Rather than telling you to beat the darkness, the show tells you to work within it instead, and to make the most out of your stay here. Philosophical, heady, fatalistic stuff for something that looks like it won’t amount to anything more than fun female adventures in the post-apocalypse.
1. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Shouwa and Genroku Era Lover’s Suicide Through Rakugo: Descending Stories)
Studio: Studio Deen
Tags: Drama, Historical, Josei
Watch this if you like: Art-centered discussions and complex character pieces.
How even to begin describing this grand trip of a show? Telling the story of rakugo performers – rakugo, or one-man plays that must have been the more refined ancestors of stand-up comedy – Rakugo has been one of the most mature stories to grace the screens in a while. Even more impressive is how it’s managed to do so without explicit showings of sex or violence. What you have instead is a cool combination of discussions spanning several topics: the state of art, the artistic process, art’s impact on the performer and the viewer, and observations of the human condition. You don’t even need to be a fan of rakugo before diving into the series – thanks to masterful direction, the characters’ facial expressions and body language are more than enough to get you invested in the performances.
Everything about the series is top-notch, from the art to the voice acting. It’s this last crucial component that gives so much life to the performances, that despite the five-minute-long – even ten-minute-long – monologues, you’re never once bored by the events. As we watch supremely well-developed characters become consumed and defined by rakugo, everything we know about art is thrown into sharp focus.
I didn’t think there was any topping the first season, but here we are. Although it would seem indecent to separate both parts of Yakumo Yurakutei’s story, this second season stands out, because of the added presence of plucky apprentice Yotarou and the spirited Konatsu. While Rakugo’s first season was known for its tragic backstory and an ending we all saw coming, its second outing is more defined by its energy and unpredictable story. This new season has managed to adapt to a newer audience while still retaining its defining characteristics. It's this freshness that makes it a welcome change from the bedtime story vibes Season One gave us.
Rakugo has immersed me in its world completely and fully, to the point that I even forgot I was watching anime. Now that it’s over, there’s an emptiness inside me that I know can’t be filled by just any other series. Rakugo has done the impossible by elevating the medium, while casting new light on an old art form at the same time. Save for the soap opera-like tendencies of Descending Stories, the fact that we got another chance to witness more Rakugo already makes this my top anime of 2017.
Tonto-banchou's Best Anime of 2017
Several of our most prominent members look back at the year and the anime that made it into what it was for them. Capping off: Tonto-banchou
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