As this year closes with continuing technical issues (IT is now convinced my issues have to do with a space anomaly and I have no proof to the contrary), I’ve decided to look over this last year of reviews in an attempt to figure something out that’s been bugging me for months.
What the heck am I even looking for in anime anymore?
Last week Frog-kun posted a piece entitled My Tastes Have Changed and it mirrored many of my feelings on anime as of late. While I don’t share his fondness for Code Geass (lordy I gotta do a review, probably a WZ, for that one), I can completely understand how his feelings towards a show in his past are rooted in who he was in the past and thus how he would feel about it today would be wildly different. While I already mentioned my issues with Crystal, eventually I’ll need to tear into the first TV version of Sailor Moon, seeing as there’s no better picture for how my tastes have changed than my views on the first anime I ever watched.
Frog-kun also mentioned how he wasn’t sure what he was after in anime now, and I gotta say I can empathize. As I went over all the reviews I did for 2016, I noticed just how many I felt were mediocre. Or, more commonly, how many I enjoyed fine at the time, but I have no pull at all to see again. And that’s a big defining factor for me. Would I watch it again? It’s how I can tell the deference between a decent show/movie and a good one, at least for me. A great many shows I wouldn’t ever want to see again. Some I even regret having spent my time on at all. And when I was going over all my reviews I realized that these mediocre shows have a few very important things in common. One of the most glaring being lack of unique characterization and/or development. As a writer, I instinctively crave this element and it’s missing in a vast majority of shows I disliked this year. A great many also lacked the ability/desire, to break free of stereotypes, with not only the characters but also the plots and settings being such horribly bland tropes that the shows ended up blurring together. After a full year of reviews, only four shows stood out to me. And in the spirit of focusing on the good rather than the bad to close the year, as prescribed by Artemis’ Glorio blog post, I’m going to look over these four shows one last time before the year turns. Hey, how about we count down to the best of the year just for kicks while we’re at it?
RRAR’s Top Shows of 2016
#4 – Shirobako
While I had some vague notions of what went into anime production, this anime actually busted open the door for me to see just how hellish of a system it really was. I gotta say I commend the studio for having the guts to visually show how exhausting and demanding the industry is, especially considering how little the creators get in return.
That said, these facts alone weren’t what made this show really interesting to me. What really stuck were the characters. While they didn’t appear at first to be wildly different from many other shows, they had one major element that set them apart out of the gate and it was the one element that kept me watching early on before the flow of the show could hook me: the main characters were all adults struggling in their chosen field. That alone was enough to set this show apart from the vast majority of anime cranking out of Japan. They were adults questioning their life choices, their career paths and their art. These were real issues being addressed and I really connected with that, despite the often over-the-top comedy elements that pushed through here and there.
You also got legit character development, with the main lead progressing from someone who became overwhelmed easily to someone who could handle large groups and projects on her own, taking responsibility for her errors and putting her foot down when necessary to get the job done, a feat she couldn’t have done at the beginning.
We really don’t get enough healthy relationships in anime, especially not in fantasy settings. Which is what made this show stand out so much in a genre that is flooded with similar titles. The old trope of prince character falling for ordinary-positive girl is so overused it’d be painful to see if I hadn’t already become so numb to such things already. But this show managed to do something very few shows have been able to do: maintain the unique identities of both romantic leads outside of one another. In other words, both characters can be pulled apart and remain interesting and continue to development without the other being there. This right here is a sign of strong writing. While you could still nit-pick a few personality issues (Shirayuki is a very cliche character, the always positive, everyone can’t help but love me because I’m a hard worker type), I found myself really enjoying this show during its air time and even now I wouldn’t mind seeing a few episodes again simply because I’m a real sucker for romances where the leads really are supportive and caring friends first and and lovers second. Very few shows seem to be able to get that right.
#2 – My Love Story!
Considering how well the relationships in Snow were (above), I didn’t expect to see anything that good again for quite some time. Which is why this was yet another show that caught me off guard completely this year. In addition to showcasing a very unlikely male lead, this show also blind sided you with a female character who wasn’t the shy and pure stereotype she appears to be early on. I could probably make an entire post of that little tidbit there, but for now I’ll just leave that be. This show also focused on an interesting angle for an anime. Instead of a show where we see hours of pining and whining all lead up to a confession for the grand finale of the series, this show has the love interests together as a couple right away. So we get to see what happens after the confession. We see them go through dates, introducing them to each others’ friends, and navigating difficult family and friend emergencies as a couple. These are topics rarely ever seen in anime and I was pretty overjoyed to watch them play out for once.
Also, the main lead’s relationship with his childhood friend is amazing and doesn’t get pushed aside when or while he grows in his relationship with his girlfriend. In fact, the couple have more than a few discussions on their relationship with Takeo’s friend Makoto and how they should include and support him together. As someone who is often the forgotten single friend in many groups, these elements meant a lot to me. This is definitely one show I wouldn’t mind owning. And I don’t say that for many shows these days.
#1 – Amanchu!
Speaking of shows I wouldn’t mind shelling out cash for, this anime was a pretty big shock to me this year. You always hear about “sleeper” shows that sneak up on you and let me tell ya, this one is it for me. The first episode really didn’t impress me too much, but thankfully the bar on this show rose quickly after that.
The real kicker for me was the second main lead, Futaba Oki, who suffers from anxiety. It’s rare enough to see characters who accurately portray mental illnesses in anime, but this show took it a step further and focused on Futaba’s growing relationship with her very first real friend. As someone who also has anxiety, I not only heavily identified with all of Futaba’s hangups, but I also deeply felt for her concerning her experience with friendship itself. Very few people understand or even tolerate anxiety laden behavior and thus finding support can be extremely difficult. It took me years until I met the two close friends I have now who have kept me going through some of the roughest patches in my life. Before I met them I was always feeling disconnected from those around me. The so-called “friends” I had would often either ignore or mock me when I would have attacks. When I finally met the friends I have now it was like the entire world had shifted. I could breathe. The feelings of love and gratefulness I have for these close friends are feelings I can never put into words, no matter how many times I try. Seeing those feelings of joy reflected in an anime character was nearly overwhelming, but also liberating.
While I think most people would agree that friendship is important, trust me when I say that having support, real support and love, after forcing yourself to “just deal” with the opposite for so long is one of the most amazing and wonderful things ever. As corny as it sounds, friendship really is magic. And this was a great animated depiction of just that.
And that’s it for 2016 folks! This year sure has been a hell hole of a ride and 2017 doesn’t look like it’s going to pull much better. Even so, I was blessed to encounter the above shows this year and I do have high hopes for some of the stuff coming out next year. So come what may, here’s to the anime of 2017 and another year of reviews!