RRAR’s Top Shows of 2016

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

Shirobako#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.

swr_keyart#3 – Snow White with the Red Hair

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.

my love#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.

amanchu#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.

h3And 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!

 

Extra: But it was the past so it’s ok…

rideback rinAs a writer, I have personally run into some really nasty arguments by fellow writers and readers trying to defend sexist texts and media. But probably one of the most common excuses is “historical accuracy.” This kind of response is given to defend all kinds of horrible writing, half baked “research”pieces and outright racism and sexism. But when it’s broken down, it’s an excuse that holds less water than a thimble.

As I mentioned briefly in my review of Joker Game, a very sexist comment by a lead character at the very end left a rather bad taste in my mouth. The line was the leader of the spy devision speaking to his subordinate after closing a case: “Do you know why we only hire men? Because women kill even when it isn’t necessary, for foolish reasons like love and hate.”

My issue with the above quote should be very obvious. However, this is where many would gleefully chime in with, “But it was in the past! During WWII and that’s how people viewed women so it’s accurate!”
That is a lazyass excuse for a sexist show.

You see, while there have been toxic opinions about women on and off for hundreds of years, this particular show was written in today’s world. On one side, they had no reason to have any character voice this viewpoint. It was unnecessary. It added nothing to the story besides making the main heroic mastermind a sexist jerk. And on the other end, if they felt they HAD to include a line that is clearly sexist by today’s standards, they should have shown through the female characters of the show that the statement wasn’t true and that the man who said such was blindly wrong (characters can be wrong, including heroic ones and I’m all for that). But that’s not what occurred. Once the line was spoken I mentally went over every female character in the show. There aren’t many. And, sadly, they are all lead completely by emotions. Not a single one puts their personal feelings aside for the sake of their country/mission. The men in the show, on the other hand, are shown to be capable of both. Many are led by emotion, but some do sacrifice all emotion and personal agenda for their country. And there in lies my big issue with this show (besides the fact that they couldn’t keep to one MC).

See, when your media takes place during an era where a group is discriminated against, you need to take care to make it clear that such sentiments are not true. Yes, women have been seen in a bad light by many throughout history and by many today. But it’s not true. Women are just as capable as men as soldiers, spies and formidable enemies not led by impulsive actions. And if this show had made that clear by having such female characters present, we could then write off the old windbag’s quote as his personal opinion and that such an opinion is trash. But by having all the women in the anime live up to such a sexist statement, this show, a modern creation, establishes that the statement is seen as truth as it is all that exists in that world. In other words, it makes this show sexist in nature.

Again, it’s ok to have incorrect viewpoints and assholes in your stories. But just be very clear in your writing, through other characters, world building or confrontations, that such views are incorrect. Otherwise you run the risk of appearing to justify those sexist agendas.

Taste test for Fall 2016

The new streaming season has fully set in! And as such I’ve tried a grand total of ten brand new shows! Not all will make it through the first pass, however…

moroseThe Morose Mononokean 
Story:
Hanae Ashiya makes a rather large error one day when he assists a youkai on the side of the road. An act of kindness it may have been, but it throws him into the world of exorcism.
Flavor:
Bland. This show doesn’t seem to offer anything anime fans haven’t already seen in shows like xxxHolic or Book of Friends. In fact, those shows might have done it better, although it might be too hasty to make such a call this soon. Regardless, the characters in this show aren’t offensive or annoying as of yet, but they don’t have much appeal either. I foresee this one being a very tame and tasteless ride if the first two episodes are anything to go on.
New episodes every Sunday morning

orange2b1Orange
Story:
High schooler Naho receives a letter from herself in the future instructing her to not make more than a few mistakes she will regret later…
Flavor:
Sweet but with an unpleasant aftertaste. I used to be a super shy kid. I used to never talk to anyone. It took years to overcome my mental hangups and sometimes I still struggle with them. The heroine of this anime is what I used to be times ten. She’s not just shy, she’s near crippling with it. Since I used to be this way, it makes it very frustrating to watch as I feel the anxiety levels I used to have returning to me just watching Naho make mistake after mistake. Honestly, she’s just too much like how I used to be and it makes watching this anime really confusing and uncomfortable for me. So while the story and characters aren’t all that bad yet or anything, this might be dropped if it continues to make my skin crawl this badly. It’s nothing against the creators. It’s just a clash with me personally.
New episodes every Sunday morning

sweetnessSweetness & Lightening
Story:
Kohei is a single father of a very energetic little girl who loves food. Unfortunately his own cooking skills aren’t the best. Enter one of his own students, Kotori, who offers to learn how to cook alongside him and his daughter.
Flavor:
Sweet. This show is almost too sugary, but due to the serious background of Kohei’s wife having recently passed away, the sweetness is not only balanced, but very welcome. The show, so far, hasn’t gotten too dark or serious and it fits considering how a preschooler is one of the leads. As someone who has worked with that age group on and off for years, I find this show pretty accurate and actually a pleasant experience overall. So long as no unnecessary drama pops up, this could be a good one.
New episodes every Monday morning

tabooTaboo Tattoo
Story:
When Seigi saves a seemingly homeless man from some street thugs, he gets a strange “tattoo” as a reward. Little does he realize that what is etched onto his hand unlocks incredible, and very dangerous, power.
Flavor:
Sour. And I don’t mean the good sour candy I can eat in one sitting, I mean that off brand stuff from the dollar store that looks sketchy as hell. This show has a very high violence level and more than a few indecent fanservice scenes in only the first two episodes. I have a bad feeling that, although the plot is getting some political intrigue that could shake things up nicely, this show might be either a drop or WZ-ed for the blood and sexual situations. A shame as, while the set up is dull enough, the world showed some promise.
New episodes every Monday morning

amanchuAmanchu!
Story:
Futaba Oki has just moved to a small seaside town and her timid nature makes it hard for her to make friends. Luckily she’s sitting right next to one of the town’s most outgoing girls, who also just so happens to be a scuba nerd.
Flavor:
Home cooked. This show, so far, doesn’t put anything new or strange on the table, but what’s there is cooked well. It’s nothing to rave about, the characters are pretty standard and the plot is mostly shy girl gains a friend, so there’s little going on. That said, it fulfills its goal as a show well and doesn’t seem to be trying to be what it isn’t. This is a slice-of-life that’s perfectly content remaining so.
New episodes every Friday morning

alderaminAlderamin on the Sky
Story:
Iwata Soroku is a lazy genius who hates war. Unfortunately for him, when a princess sneaks onto his ship everything gets far more complicated.
Flavor:
Spiced. This show was actually far better than I expected. At least, thus far. The world is fully built and the politics sound. The personalities are pretty believable as well. The real question will be if character progression will be constant or if it will dissolve into the usual button-masher like storylines common in these kinds of shows (see Arslan for what I mean).
New episodes every Friday morning

QualideaQualidea Code
Story:
When the world is attacked by Unknowns, children are kept in a cold sleep for a time in the future when things become stable. Years later they are awoken to find they now have powers to assist them in keeping their fragile world safe.
Flavor:
Decent, but not the freshest ingredients. While the music is pretty good in this show, as well as the animation, the characters themselves are pretty common stereotypes. In this show’s defense, at least the dialog flows well despite having such a routine cast. Even so, the entire idea is so overdone that this show is going to have a hard time making a name for itself. Especially when it resorts to getting all the girls in bikinis as soon as the second episode. That’s not a good sign for a show.
New episodes every Saturday morning

b-projectB-Project
Story:
Sumisora Tsubasa recently landed a job as a new A&R for a music studio. Her job may prove to be quite the effort as she is managing three different boy bands back-to-back.
Flavor:
Bland. This is a pretty stereotypical shoujo title. So far there’s little unique about this, although the setup makes that rather obvious, honestly. Especially as the heroine knows next to nothing about music. These kind of setups, where the heroine is a well-meaning, but clueless person, are obnoxious because they keep the “heroine” from being, well, a hero character. They’re never “good” at much of anything besides being positive. I find that demeaning. Girls can be super good at things. We can be better at them than guys. Please, anime creators, give me a heroine who is an expert in her field. PLEASE!
Well, yes, anyway, if I get too busy this will end up as a drop, but seeing as it’s just bland and not super offensive, it’ll stick around. For now.
New episodes every Saturday morning

AngeAnge Vierge
Story:
Magic girls good. Aliens bad.
Flavor:
Garbage. This show is so much crap. In addition to the first five minutes having more clichés and stereotypes than some shows have in their entire run, the rest of the episode is spent with the – entirely female – cast being BUTT FREAKIN’ NAKED. If this show doesn’t get tagged correctly (which it probably won’t since it’s on Crunchyroll), I might make a WZ for it just for anyone trying to look it up later. But, yeah, this show is garbage and it has been dropped and I may be a wee bit upset at the fact that this turd got funded and I’m still waiting on the next season of Yona of the Dawn.
Who cares when new episodes show up cause this show is craaaaaap 

hitorinoshitaHitorinoshita – The Outcast
Story:
Something about the dead rising again and people having supernatural abilities.
Flavor:
Slimy. While I can see that someone had some good ideas as to an intriguing story, they used a real mish-mash of ingredients and it makes for a rather gross taste. The story starts out convoluted as names and places are thrown around willy-nilly as if the audience should already know them. The dialog is stiff and awkward, as is the supposed “comic relief,” which just feels forced and out of place. Then there’s the animation. Good lord. At times it seems high quality, but the quality randomly drops to a very messy, incomplete level. I have a feeling time restraints, budget and a bad mix of very different animation studios is the culprit here. In some cases the frames don’t even match up. For example, in one scene the lead looks to one side, but there’s nothing there. A jump later and he’s looking at the opposite side where there’s a dead body. So, in other words, the close up cut made the eyes go the wrong way. Considering how bad just one episode was on all of this, I have no desire to see any more. This show has been soundly dropped.
New episodes every Saturday morning. Though it hardly matters as this is another drop.

So I started out with a solid ten shows and here we are, only one to two episodes in, and only eight shows are left on my list, with far fewer than that getting good marks. Time will tell how long they stick around…
What are y’all watching this season? Run into anything good thus far? What do you think of these shows?