2016 was not a blockbuster year for anime but it was still a potentially good year for anyone willing to look for small gems. I noticed two interesting and generally positive trends:
- “Retro” shows that looked back in some way to great anime or manga series from the 20th century.
- “Super-sequels” that followed up a decent enough first season with something on a higher level, significantly enhancing the entire series.
Outstanding Anime of 2015
Noragami Aragoto (Hulu) is a super-sequel that adds a good deal of depth to 2014’s Noragami.
Rin-ne (Crunchyroll) is a farce with an old-fashioned feel, but still hilarious. (Retro point: this is from Rumiko Takahashi, the grande dame of manga, proving that she still has what it takes.
Notable Anime of 2015
Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works] (Crunchyroll) (started Fall 2014) is a sequel to 2011’s Fate/Zero. Both are dark, stylish, violent, thrilling and a bit crazy. The combination of the two achieves a sort of epic grandeur (though still a bit crazy.)
Yona of the Dawn (Crunchyroll) (started Fall 2014) is a thoughtful and entertaining shoujo action-adventure series.
Death Parade (Hulu) offers a quirky but fascinating take on the afterlife. (As does Rin-ne, but Death Parade is definitely darker.)
Kamisama Kiss 2 (Hulu) is a super-sequel to the cute shoujo series from 2012 about a young goddess in training. It uses some of the same source material as Noragami but is not nearly as dark.
My Love Story (Crunchyroll) is an utterly charming shoujo romance which, unlike every other shoujo romance in history, features a male love interest who is not conventionally pretty.
The Heroic Legend of Arslan (Arslan Senki) (Hulu) is a historical action-adventure series set in an alternate-history version of the Persian empire. The writing and production values are excellent. The only reason I don’t give this an “Outstanding” rating, and indeed feel a bit reluctant to recommend it, is that it cries out for a full treatment that covers the whole story and I think there’s a pretty good chance that it won’t get one given the economics of late-night anime.
Retro points: this is based on a series of novels by Yoshiki Tanaka dating back to the 1980s and is a reboot of an anime series from the 1990s that was never completed.
I suspect that the novels provided part of the inspiration for Mizuho Kusanagi, the creator of Yona of the Dawn. The two shows are quite different in tone, style and details, but there are obvious similarities in the basic premise, as well as their interest in the question of whether the legitimate heir to the throne is really the right person to rule.
Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation (Crunchyroll) is a superbly-written detective series. It’s only flaw is that it is too short and feels like it ends in the middle of the overall story. This could be fixed with a sequel.
Some More Retro Shows
The following didn’t appeal to me all that much but they are pretty well done on their own terms and might be worth checking out.
Young Black Jack (Crunchyroll) is a prequel to a classic 1970s manga by Osamu Tezuka. The hero is a rule-breaking surgeon–sort of like Dirty Harry except he saves lives by operating on people instead of shooting them.
Mr. Osomatsu (Crunchyroll) is a sequel to a popular gag-anime series from the 1960s, showing the original characters grown up. The new series displays a twisted cynical sense of humor.
So Bad It’s Good
A special WTF award to Dance with Devils (Hulu.) I keep asking myself whether this is satire but given the production values it seems more plausible that Ed Wood has been reborn in Japan and is now making anime.