Another year has come and gone, and even though the world is currently in toil, the anime train continues to chug along. Personally though, it’s been a pretty slow year on that front as thanks to the existence of a certain streaming service *cough*Anime Strike*cough*, I’m sad to say that there’s a pretty decent amount of offerings that I ended up missing out on, and probably won’t get to until they’re available elsewhere. As such, I almost don’t really feel confident in doing another one of these articles, but even with what I missed out on, there was certainly no shortage of anime this year with just enough good stuff to keep the bad from feeling a little too overwhelming. So without any further ado, let’s look at some of this year’s highlights in anime
This category goes to things that aren’t exactly show specific, but that I still wanted to give something of a shout out to. That includes theme songs, characters and stuff related to voice acting and dubs.
Best Opening- “Baton Road” by KANA-BOON (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations OP 1)
I’ll be honest in saying that this wasn’t a particularly good year for me when it came to what I’ve seen of anime openings. There’s definitely been plenty of strong songs, but the visuals have been pretty lacking and it’s given quite a few shows (looking at you Magus Bride) a lot less of an identity than they otherwise deserved. For what’s actually impressed me though, I actually have to give it up to The Son of Boruto’s Dad. It’s first opening is incredibly stylish, with a sense of flair that feels reminsicent of Bleach OP’s (though given Bleach’s director is helming the show, that’s basically a given) while also conveying how much of an ensemble show it is compared to it’s predecessor. The song itself mostly just works as a catchy shonen theme and there’s at least a couple of other openings that would beat it out in terms of music, but of all the anime openings I’ve listened to this year, this is the only that malways makes me think of the show it’s attached to, and there’s no stronger sign of a good opening than that.
Honorable Mentions: “Fighter” by KANA-BOON (Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans s2 OP 2), “Imawa no Shinigami” by Megumi Hayashibara (Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju OP), “Soredemo Boku wa Ikiteiru” by NormCore (Evil or Live OP)
Best Male Character- Shoto Todoroki (My Hero Academia s2)
In some ways this feels like cheating given that he was technically in season 1, but he only really comes a character in season 2 so I suppose that balances itself out. Todoroki is introduced to MHA’s story as a secondary rival to Deku, and one with a giant chip on his shoulder as he has more than his share of issues with his father. However as the show dives deeper and deeper into said issues, it’s hard not to sympathize with him, and his big fight with Deku is easily the biggest emotional highlight of the show as he realizes he’s more than just a product of his parents. Seeing him reach a stage where he can separate the valueof his dad’s work from the cruelty of the man himself is a level of emotional complexity that I generally don’t see much in shonen, and I’m all for getting more of it. There’s been a lot of fun characters this year, but the heart of Todoroki’s story is really in a league of it’s own.
Honorable Mentions: Sword (GARO: Vanishing Line), Elias (The Ancient Magus’ Bride), Mitsuki (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations)
Best Female Character- Moriko Moritsuka (Recovery of an MMO Junkie)
Adult protagonists are a rariety in anime and anime following adult women are even rarer, but MMO Junkie provides one of the few examples in the form of Moriko Morioka: a salarywoman turned NEET who just wants to spend time doing what she enjoys. There’s a lot of ways in which her character could have easily been used to either romanticize the NEET lifestyle or demonize it, but her story is thankfully a much more personal one, and focuses on her using her online social interactions to come back out of her shell. Moriko herself is a geek through and through, and the show does an excellent job of making her feel relatable without going overboard, and as someone who’s formed a few meaningful friendships online, a lot of her feelings on the subject really resonated with me. I still kind of wish we could get shows about adult geeks more often, but even if we don’t, I’m glad we got Moriko, and boy howdy does she look great in a hoodie.
Honorable Mentions: Atsuko “Akko” Kagari (Little Witch Academia), Chise Hattori (The Ancient Magus’ Bride), Sarada Uchiha (Boruto: Naruto Next Generations)
Best English Dub- Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
Your Lie in April managed to stand out as the strongest dub from last year, so it’s not much of a surprise that the same director managed to pump another winner. Even with that in mind though, it’s really hard to understate how well this turned out. The effects the loss of a loved one has on our lives can be tricky to convey, but the cast manage to convey that whirlwind of emotions beautifully with great performances from actors like Ray Chase and Erica Lindbeck, and a surprisingly energetic performance from Kaiji Tang as Poppo , who I’m far more used to hearing in less emotive roles. Even though the dub was my first time experiencing the show, there was never a moment where I couldn’t feel the heart of it’s story wasn’t shining through, and by the time I reached the finale, it was easy to understand why this had become such a beloved series. I’m sure praising Patrick Seitz’s directing abilities will get repetitive at some point, but when he continues to put out stuff that sounds this strong, it’s really hard not to.
Honorable Mentions: Fate/Apocrypha, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
Best English Voice Actor- David Matranga
While there’s been a lot of individual performances I’ve enjoyed from anime dubs this year, there weren’t too many actors who I felt like they were on a consistent high. Of the few that were though, I really have to say that David Matranga really impressed me this year. He’s had two really big roles this year in the form of Todoroki from My Hero Academia and Ushio from Ushio & Tora, and both turned out to be some of his finest work. As you can obviously tell by the fact he made my top male character spot for this year, Todoroki’s character arc stood out a lot to me, and David Matranga managed to get across all of the character’s inner turmoil without skipping a beat and it helped to make the climax of said arc one of the most satisfying moments of the year. Even more shocking to me though, was how well he managed to pull off Ushio, as while David Matranga wasn’t exactly who I had in mind for a brash shonen lead who wears his heart on his sleeve, he totally nailed it, and it turned out to be one of the most emotional performances I’ve seen from him a long time. That he was able to put out such great work twice within the same year is honestly incredible, and I really can’t recommend enough that you check both of them out.
Honorable Mentions: Erica Lindbeck, Ray Chase, Caitlin Glass
Best Japanese Voice Actor: Akira Ishida
I very nearly gave this to him last year for his work as Yakumo in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju but it was one really good role versus a few from Tasuku Hatanaka so I had to go for the latter. However over the course of Rakugo’s second season earlier this year, the depth of his performance became so apparent that not giving it the praise it’s due would be downright criminal. Voicing a character from their youth into their twilight years is something that frankly very few actors can really pull off believably, but he manages it without skipping a beat, and as Yakumo starts to crumble from the weight of the struggles that defined his earlier years in life, you can really feel the weary nature of his soul in Akira Ishida’s performance.
On top of handling all of that though, Akira Ishida has to also attempt to make all of Yakumo’s rakugo performances feel as authentic as possible, and the level of acting he has to do gets to the point where he has to make to make the characters in each rakugo story sound distinct while still making them feel like they could come from Yakumo, and the fact that he managed to pull all of that off while consistently keeping Yakumo in character is one of the most impressive feats of acting I’ve seen not just in anime, but acting in general. Akira Ishida has always been a great voice actor, but his work here is pretty much the absolute highlight of his career, and even if the subject matter might be a little slow for most audiences, it’s absolutely worth giving a listen to.
Honorable Mentions: Atsumi Tanezaki, Mamiko Noto
This category is centered around genre stuff. Unlike the best series which we’ll get to afterwards, this for things that stood out really well as a genre piece moreso than as an overall series. That said there’s still plenty of good stuff to be found here, so let’s take a look:
Best Comedy- Osomatsu-san s2
This has been the year of sequels as far as anime comedies go, and for better or worse I currently don’t have any stakes in the likes of Umaru-chan or Konosuba (though I probably should get around to the latter). Of the non-sequels/continuations this year, Magical Circle Guru-Guru really deserves some props for its lovely parodies of old RPG’s but it’s really hard to deny the magic of Osomatsu-san. Given that the first episode of season 1 was so riff with parodies that it actually ended up being banned, it was hard to imagine how another season could possibly top that, but s2’s opener somehow goes nuts with even stronger parodies and one of the most absurd 4th wall breaks I’ve ever seen in an anime. Sadly the rest of the season hasn’t quite lived up to that level of magic, but even at the middle of the road by it’s own standards, Osomatsu-san is one of the most consistently funny anime sitcoms out there, and there’s never been an episode that didn’t have at least a few jokes that made me burst out in laughter. I feel kind of bad giving this up to a sequel, and especially one that isn’t quite as strong as it’s first entry, but when you’re as funny as these six losers, it’s hard to sweat the details.
Honorable Mentions: Gintama, Magical Circle Guru-Guru
Best Action Series- Fate/Apocrypha
It’s been a good year to be a fan of action anime, whether you’re a hardcore anime fan or more on the casual side, odds are there’s been at least one or two shows this year with action sequences that left you floored. From the continuations of Attack on Titan and MHA, to some surprisingly strong cuts from The Son of Boruto’s Dad, there’s been a lot of stellar stuff, but when it comes to pure action shows, nothing stands out this year quite like Fate/Apocrypha. While previous Fate entries have been more on the philosophical side, and overly concerned with detailing their mechanics, Fate/Apocrypha slashes out 90% of the pretense, and instead puts all of it’s focus into how impossibly cool it can make its fights between legendary heroes look. The result is a rip-roaring good time of crazy fight scenes and spectacles that rarely fail to impress, and while the show may not have as much to ponder as it’s predecessors, it has just enough thematic weight and depth to it’s characters to avoid feeling completely shallow, and it’s easily the most digestible a Fate anime has ever been, even if it’s not exactly the best story. I can’t exactly say that this was one of my top shows from this year, but when it came to raw action, pretty much nothing else could compete
Honorable Mentions: GARO Vanishing Line, Attack on Titan s2, My Hero Academia s2
Best Romance- Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Romance anime has really flourished this year, and while I unfortunately haven’t been able to see all of these years entries, I feel pretty confident in believing nothing else can really compete with the charm of MMO Junkie. Like I said in Moriko’s best character entry, anime with adult protagonists, and adult geeks no less, are rare and the show does a great job of making both her and her romantic counterpart Sakurai, extremely likable in that regard. The way in which they have to struggle in deciding how close is too close when it comes to online relationships, is something a lot of people can relate to these days and seeing these two dorks sort out their feelings was just the right amount of sweet and hair-pulling for a rom-com. As people continue to become more and more engrossed in technology, the significance of our online relationships have gradually started to become as valuable as our real life ones, and it’s really refreshing to have a romance centered around the subject, and one that treats said subject as another aspect of life, rather than with caution like a lot stories about online social interactions do. I was really cautious about this show coming in, but I walked away with one of the cutest romantic comedies I’ve ever seen in anime, and one that I’d highly recommend.
Honorable Mentions: Tsuredure Children, World End: Are You Busy? Will You Save Us?
Best Drama- Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Again I’m kind of cheating here since I’m having the same show take this two years in a row, but gosh darn it, Rakugo is just that good. The majority of season 1 was a compelling extended backstory on our protagonist Yakumo and the tragedy that led to him deciding to take his art with him to the grave, but the second season shifts things to the present, and shifts to a story about Yakumo finding peace with himself as his craft is passed down to the next generation, however unwillingly that may be. It’s an incredibly beautiful tale, and one that’s told lovingly both through the show’s strong writing, and it’s equally outstanding vocal performances, as I like said before, Akira Ishida’s delivery is really something to behold. While the show does stumble slightly, in briefly teasing a possible scenario that would undercut most of what the show had established up to that point, it does so many things right that it’s hard to consider it anything less than a masterpiece, and one I’m glad I stuck with.
Honorable Mentions: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans s2, ACCA 13: Territory Inspection Department, Sakura Quest
Best Bad Anime- Evil or Live
So bad it’s good is a tricky area to traverse for anime. If it goes too far in being awful, then it’s just well…AWFUL, but if it tries to hard to be sincere or serious, it can quickly become boring. Somehow though we’ve manages to have several shows that managed to successfully walk that fine line this year. Of all these titles though, I really have to give props to the one that went the most unnoticed (likely due to the lack of a simuldub): Evil or Live. Whereas Neo Yokio was magnificently bad up until it’s last two episodes where it tried too hard to be sincere and lost some steam, and Hand Shakers was just a mismash of bad anime tropes underneath it’s garbage visuals, Evil or Live is a magical experience and one that hasn’t lost any of it’s luster (well aside from a random recap episode).
The show uses its premise of a world in which young people are too addicted to the net, and need to be sent to a special institution to be “rehabilitated” to execute a edgy thriller that’s wholly convinced its “social commentary” is the smartest thing on the planet, while being almost unbelievably dumb at every opportunity. From a host of unlikeable and silly characters, to its outright pretentious shot composition and use of letterboxing for every scene, every second of this show is practically begging it’s audience to ask how it got made, and even its slowest episodes never fail to entertain. Competing with the likes of Hand Shakers and Neo Yokio is no easy feat, but this scrappy underdog was easily the most magically bad experience of the year, and more people really need to bask in it’s absurdity.
Honorable Mentions: Neo Yokio, Hand Shakers
And now we’ve finally arrived at the best series for the year. You may notice that I have two series listed here instead of one, but that’s because I’ve picked the best based on two sub-categories: best adaption and best original work. While both adaptions and original projects both carry the intent to pick up an audience, they’re generally trying to accomplish different things as an adaption has to be a good piece of entertainment while maintaining the strengths of it’s source material where as an original work needs to stand completely on it’s own two feet and draw in a crowd on it’s own merits. As such I feel it’s only appropriate to bring up which two series did the best at tackling those things so without any further ado, here they are:
Best Anime Series (Adaption)- The Ancient Magus’s Bride
As I said when I was giving my first impressions on it, back at the start of the season, there was really very little chance I wasn’t going to like the show, and the real question what exactly how much it was going to impress me. The answer as it turns out, is quite a lot. While I initially expressed disappointment at its conservative visual direction, it managed to steadily improve with each passing episode, and has delivered on more than it’s fair share of impressive shots, grand use of color, and some rock solid art direction overall. Even more impressive is its music, which despite coming from a first time composer, has one of the most distinct anime soundtracks I’ve heard in recent memory, and it really helps to enhance the show’s sense of wonder and mystique.
Of course all the bells and whistles in the world can’t compensate for a weak story, but fortunately Magus Bride exceeds in that area too. The story of Chise’s struggle with her depression and learning to open herself back up to the world around her is incredibly compelling, and while it’s beauty and the beast style romance isn’t exactly the most original concept on the planet, the dynamic between her and Elias works just as effectively, and the bond that gradually forms between them is certainly touching, if not explicitly romantic. It helps that the world of Magus Bride feels magical in a way that frankly very few anime actually do, and it approaches its supernatural elements with a sense of awe and fear that can make some of the show’s moments feel as breathtaking as they are frightening. I certainly didn’t doubt this show would impress me, but even with how high my expectations were going in, I’ve been finding myself getting more and more engrossed in its atmosphere with each passing episode, and while it’s second half will continue into next season, what I’ve seen is more than enough to convince me that it’s one of the most worthwhile anime adaptions of the year
Honorable Mentions: Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
Best Anime Series (Original)- Little Witch Academia
I guess 2017 was a good year for magic shows, because somehow both of my favorites ended up being centered around it. Much like with Magus Bride, this was one of those things I was pretty certain I’d like going in (and it helped that the OVAs were a good time, even if their dubs were kind of lacking) and ended up getting pretty much exactly what I wanted and then some. Little Witch Academia’s world is full of charm, as it manages to successfully combine all the wonders of magic, with the energy of a classic Saturday morning cartoon, and rarely an episode goes by where the show isn’t fun. The visual style certainly helps with that aesthetic as the character designs themselves also manage to capture the feeling of a zany cartoon, and the animation is chockful of impressive cuts that can range anywhere from hilarious, to some of the coolest stuff I’ve seen in TV animation.
Much like with Magus Bride though, the real core of Little Witch Academia lies not in its visuals but in its heart. Akko’s story of learning the value of perseverance in achieving her dreams might be pretty simple, but it’s simple in all the best ways and has just enough weight behind it to be more than capable of charming both kids and adults alike. Some parts of the second half stumble in a few areas, but the show really hits home in its final act, and the overall experience makes for some of Studio Trigger’s finest work yet. It’s really rare to come across an example of a family friendly anime that isn’t asome pre-established franchise with little pull in the west (look no further than Glitter Fo-I mean Precure) ,but I’m glad this show managed to be one of the few exceptions because its one of the most downright fun experiences I’ve seen in anime in a good while, and something perfect for just about everyone.
Honorable Mentions: Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans s2, Sakura Quest, Anime-Gataris
And that’s it for me and 2017. While the divide between legal streaming services has been a thing with anime for a while now, this was probably the first year where said divide really impacted my perception overall, and just based on what I was actually able to get around to, it came off as pretty slow. As with every year though, there’s always at least a few good shows to keep me from writing off the year entirely, and just going off of the current announcements for the Winter season, and the stuff I already know is going to services like Netflix, the split is already looking to be a lot less painful than it was this year. Hard to say if I’ll still be so optimistic this time next year, but until then, stay animated.