Happy New Year! We finally made it! My first year watching anime and I think I’m ready to group up and unpack my favorites of the year. As someone who watches seasonal anime so adamantly as myself, this year has brought a lot of fresh, fascinating surprises, as well as some truly mind-bending moments. With over 50 shows watched (that’s finished, not counting the 50+ shows I dropped), I have gathered my picks for Top 10, and here they are:
10. Little Witch Academia
Studio Trigger have gained somewhat of a blip on their otherwise spotless repertoire of shows, never quite rising to the breadth, impact and raw power that 2014’s Kill la Kill garnered. With 2015 bringing us the fantastic, but otherwise short burst Space Patrol Luluco, and also the highly controversial and breathtakingly animated Kiznaiver, Trigger have taken back the reigns of their creativity this year and delivered on a full, 25 episode, long-promised series with years of buildup to capitalize on. Their 2013 and 2015 LWA projects pulled in lots of attention to the studio, and they took the gamble and created one of 2017’s most visually striking shows, taking the talent of lots of young animators, the look of an early-90s OVA and the lightheartedness and sincereness of a family friendly, Saturday Morning Cartoon show. While the movie and OVA that inspired the series hold up quite well, feeling tighter paced, the show definitely doesn’t wane in quality, featuring a friendly, early Harry Potter-esque tone and with unyielding charisma and vivid character movement. Even if there are some moments of meandering politics and confusing narrative decisions, expect episodes consisting of blood-pumping buildup, heartwarming friendship, inventive situations and unmitigated catharsis. If Trigger strike gold on something, it’s definitely that last bit.
Final Score: 7.5/10
9. Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryouko)
Continuing with the curious trend of “potato-faced” girls in recent anime, Girls’ Last Tour strikes a pretty damn solid balance between contemplative, bleak, and relaxing. Studio White Fox can definitely craft sturdy-looking shows, from the detailed and chaotic piping and jagged architecture of the post-apocalyptic world, to the blob-y and bouncy hijinks of Fall’s SoL sweethearts, Yuu and Chi-chan. Episodes are pretty calm and tip-toed, but there’s a constant tingle in the back of the spine, cautious as to what survival-related problem these cute girls could run into at any moment. The musical score is eerie and very broad, borrowing from drone music to electronic and even orchestral. Lots of the dialogue also subtly deconstructs modern lifestyles and priorities, commenting on the fleeting importance of property, religion, animal ethics and more. An informed, calculated show that doesn’t show its colors casually. There’s no Made in Abyss-esque horror, though, so viewers don’t need a pillow in the vicinity to shield against possible cute girl gore.
Final Score: 7.8/10
What’s this? You don’t remember this hidden gem? You probably dropped it one episode in, you sucker. But I stayed the whole way. And it’s fantastic.
With rough, Masaaki Yuasa-esque background art, a blindingly sweet pastel art palette, off-kilter and difficult dialogue, and rattling themes of artistic expression and integrity, URAHARA is Amika Kubo’s directorial debut, one filled to the brim with creative ideas, clever symbolism and tons of style experimentation. It’s definitely not for everyone, as the character artwork (barring the awesome designs) is rather flabby, and the pacing can be very strenuous, but the moments of thematic realization that come with this show are very satisfying and blend masterfully with the setting and aesthetic. The way it integrates elements of fantasy and sci-fi into its contemporary setting is very interesting and done with care, as it flawlessly matches the events happening with the overarching theme of artistic purity. It even bends and melts its own tone to enhance certain emotional scenes. During the midpoint it manages to twist its tone so drastically as to be disturbing, all while retaining its bubbly and colorful look. It truly has vision and can display it confidently on screen. It’s one of those shows where every scene has purpose, and where the themes permeate the show and infect every single aspect of it. When a show can pull something like that off, you know its doing something right. If I had a complaint, it would be that sometimes it very blatantly states it’s themes and that the animation is not quite up to the quality standards of say, a Madhouse or even like Lerche or White Fox; the character can look very wonky at times as pans/tilts and shortcuts are often used, but coming from a newbie staff with a totally fresh director, this project is still very impressive. I’m highly excited to see what comes from these guys in the future.
Final Score: 8/10
7. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Descending Stories
2016’s paced and old-school Rakugo Shinjuu caused quite a bit of a stir in the anime community when it came out. A slow, patient drama about rakugo, love, death, and the people around it, it managed to tell a compelling and gripping tale of admiration, purpose, and regret. With Descending Stories, Studio Deen continues the stories of the characters we met in the first and subsequently last episode of the first season, the new, younger rakugo performers, but with much more scope. It covers possibly entire decades, and it extends its reach to the next generation. It’s a story that travels throughout the breadth of the 20th century, yet feels constantly private and familial. With dreamlike, striking sequences and some intense philosophical deconstruction, Descending Stories feels heavier, deadlier and bleaker than its predecessor, dancing with the blackness of the void like never before.
Final Score: 8/10
6. Tsuki ga Kirei (as the moon, so beautiful)
Our first surprise on the list, Tsuki ga Kirei suddenly landed one day on the Spring charts and made almost no splash. In a season dominated by fat, action-heavy shounen giants like Attack on Titan and Boku no Hero Academia, how could a quaint, original show about middle school romance by a tiny studio (Studio feel.) ever rise up the ranks and become something? It did so by displaying genuine effort and painful relatability. It painted a picture of young, nervous, uncontrollable love perfectly, bringing back memories even for people like me, who remember doing the things these character did a mere three years ago. The amateurish but detailed character animation and subtle expressions added to the hyperrealistic feel of the setting and story, and the non-melodramatic tone it adopts turns what could’ve been a painfully bloated tear-jerker into a trip filled with nostalgic and whimsical bliss. If you’re a sucker for anime romance, this 12 episode trip is like hot cocoa in a Winter morning.
Final Score: 8.1/10
5. Princess Principal
Studio 3Hz already made one hell of an impression with 2016’s arthouse journey Flip Flappers, a show dripping with visual style and torrential creativity. So when the first episode of Princess Principal dropped in Summer, it already promised a slightly different experience than with everything else on the charts. Classy, sleek designs on the backdrop of a steampunk-ed London. Mystery and action expected. Writer Ichiro Okouchi (of Code Geass, Valvrave and Planetes fame) was helming the script. The interest was rising, to say the least. And I’m happy to report that it is one of the years best crafted action experiences. Taking influence from lots of badass spy thrillers, mixed with a cast of beautiful, diverse girls, spine-tingling costume and world design, episodic plots filled with intrigue, punchy and engaging actions scenes, and a cool tone that rivals that of Lupin III. If you’re looking for pure hardcore fun, this is the show to check out.
Final Score: 8.2/10
4. Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon (Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon)
This year didn’t see many ambitious, grandiose shows by any of the big, recognizable studios. Madhouse, Sunrise, Production I.G., none of them truly packing the big guns and delivering us a beefy, complete show (unless for some reason you count the lame, unimpressive and rather sexist Welcome to the Ballroom). Kyoto Animation is one of those studios, but this year it struck it big with a show that was very subtle about its greatness. Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon sounds like a cheap, fanservice driven romp through and through, but manages to both be that style of gut-busting comedy, and also pull out some moments of legitimate sentimentality and development. Kobayashi and Tooru’s quirky, skewed relationship, the parallels between dragon culture and our own, and some truly heart-wrenching loneliness and introspection litter this poppy, bright and colorful meme-fest. It’s definitely a little racy, but do not skimp on this excellently animated, slice of life encounter.
Final Score: 8.3/10
3. Houseki no Kuni (Land of the Lustrous)
Yeah, it’s actually that good. No exaggeration, no hyperbole, no bullshit. Studio Orange‘s fully 3D delve into existentialism, body horror and pathos is quite possibly this years most successful experiment in anime. Completely stealing the hearts off its fans and causing a total ruckus in the sphere, this smartly framed and beautifully written character drama defied all odds and will probably be remembered well into the future. With tons of unique personalities, a main character that feels real and human (despite being a gem), and a soaring, breathtaking musical score. There’s already a fully fledged fanbase around it. It has this timeless, contemplative nature that balances between lighthearted and terrifying with ease, not to mention its twisting, agile action scenes. The 3D techniques have turned lots of people over from 3D skeptics to apologists, as the show uses the advantages of the style and look of anime to make the 3D look striking and bold instead of wobbly and cheap. Congrats on that. But fuck you for teasing me like that at the end of the season. Can’t wait for the second one.
Final Score: 8.4/10
2. Mahoujin Guru Guru (Magical Circle Guru Guru)
The experience of watching Mahoujin Guru Guru is akin to that of boxing. The throttling, non-stop barrage of gut-busters and jaw-droppers is already too much to handle, but when the occasional inspiring, genuinely emotional moment comes in, only to be interrupted by another stupidly punchy joke timed perfectly, has got to be one of the most entertaining rides of the entire year. Genius, frantic comedy that strikes gold every single time, with constant dips into absurdism, parody, and subversion. Adorable and memorable aesthetic, godly OPs and EDs, and an unbreakable vibe of fun and adventure. Almost flawless, only rarely bent by taste-based disagreements. Reminded me a lot of watching Cardcaptor Sakura for the first time, so if you like that show, this is a total winner.
Kukuri LOTY 2017.
Final Score: 9.4/10
1. Sangatsu no Lion (March comes in like a Lion)
Man, this show is in my Top 10 favorites list. Of all time.
This first half of the first season aired in 2016, but the entire second half as well as the first half of the second season all aired in 2017, so I’m counting it here.
When its not causing my eyes to water from pure pleasantness, its crushing my soul with black sadness. It’s able to balance between tragic and endearing so perfectly that it feels like real life, that I’m watching real, fully fledged people and not cartoons on my screen. The way its stories happen around each other, how the structure is organic and free-flowing, how it can deliver all the emotional punch of a moment with a single, perfectly written line. How it can both warp and melt the world and screen to show you pain and despair, but also how it can blow all your worries and doubts away with bright splashes of comfy and warm orange; the show carries itself visually with no struggle. A show that exemplifies everything I love about storytelling, and how all of the different aspects of a show can blend together to enhance the narrative. If you want emotion done well in anime, this is the pinnacle.
Final Score: 9.6/10
Overall, 2017 was a fantastic year to be introduced into anime. I see many people complaining and discussing the prominence of isekai-style shows, or the continual bastardization of light novel adaptations, or the decades-old perpetration of bad business decisions causing ripples that extend into relevancy, but frankly, this is a rock solid list of shows. Lots of table-turning surprises, underground rises and tons of creative experimentation. 2018 is already looking like a powerhouse of a year, but this one put up a fighting chance too.