I feel like I have to say this every year but…No, 2016 was not a terrible year for anime. You have to keep Sturgeon’s Law in mind: “90% of everything is crap.”
When fans look back on 2016 in the future, they won’t be remembering the 90%. It’s the other 10% that determines how successful a year is. So based on the 10%, 2016 wasn’t the best year ever, but it wasn’t all that bad.
Outstanding Anime of 2016
ERASED (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi) (Crunchyroll) is a superbly executed fantasy thriller with crisp plotting, edge-of-your-seat tension and a fine ending.
Last year I called Rin-ne (Crunchyroll) an “Outstanding” comedy. With the second season we’re at 48 episodes and if anything it’s funnier than ever. It’s incredibly hard for a comedy to keep up the pace for this long. (Consider the enormous drop-off in quality between the first and second seasons of Squid Girl, one of the few anime series to reach comparable levels of hilarity.) Kudos to the legendary talents of manga giant Rumiko Takahashi.
Notable Anime of 2016
The year’s best iyashikei anime was Flying Witch (Crunchyroll), a charming story about a young witch who goes to live with her cousins in a small rural town.
I see only one example of a good traditional shoujo series: Orange (Crunchyroll.) Aside from the fantasy premise, this is a smart and fairly realistic story about the difficulties involved in preventing teen suicide.
I’m not giving Natsume Yujin-cho 5 (Natsume Yuujinchou Go) (Crunchyroll) an “Outstanding” award because its the fifth season of a long-running series which doesn’t break any new ground. Still this series about a boy and his encounters with the spirit world remains consistently good.
Charming/poignant story with a cute kid #1: Sweetness & Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma) (Crunchyroll.) A young widower wants to learn to cook for his daughter and gets help from a lonely high school student.
Charming/poignant story with a cute kid #2: Poco’s Udon World (Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari) (Crunchyroll.) A lonely bachelor begins to come to terms with his past when he takes in a lost little boy (who is actually a shape-shifting tanuki.)
At last! Girlish Number (Crunchyroll) finally gives the anime industry the treatment it deserves!
Was this the year that the isekai genre finally wore out its welcome? We had a brutal deconstruction in Grimgar (Crunchyroll). Konosuba (Crunchyroll) was a trashy parody of the genre. And of course Girlish Number told us a little too much about the people responsible for foisting this stuff on us.
However Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- (Crunchyroll) goes a long way toward redeeming the genre by giving it a Groundhog Day twist. The nebbish hero doesn’t somehow become heroic when transported to a fantasy world. He acts like an immature teenage otaku, the results are horrid, and he actually learns from his mistakes.
Special “Eat Your Vegetables” Award
What do you get when some talented people get together to make an anime series that is inspiring, educational and morally uplifting? Something like The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu.) Really I don’t have anything bad to say about this series about the hard work and sacrifice that goes into creating a new dictionary. It’s totally admirable. It just doesn’t excite me much.
You may be surprised that I didn’t give an “Outstanding” award to Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (Crunchyroll.) It’s been excellent so far (my take here and here) but it’s really a 2-cour series in which only the first cour aired in 2016. By my rules judgment must be withheld until 2017.
March Comes In Like a Lion (Sangatsu no Lion) (Crunchyroll) has also been excellent so far, but a lot will depend on the second half. Our talented but emotionally-scarred young Shoji player really needs to grow up and get a grip. (He’s had some terrible breaks but he’s also lucky in some ways and he doesn’t fully appreciate that.)