Anime of the Year 2017

2017 is probably my favorite year in anime for as long as I’ve been watching it seasonally. I can easily see how it would have little to offer those not interested in certain genres and franchises but it easily beat 2016 for me and I thought 2016 was quite good. To put it into context, I gave 5 TV anime a 9 or above last year. 10 TV anime are getting a 9 or above this year. This good of a year doesn’t come often so I want to celebrate it.

Before I dive into my top 10, I need to give out some honorable mentions. First, we’ll start with movies. Movies generally don’t make my top 10 list, not because of their quality but merely because I limit my list to series. That said, this year I got to see more new anime movies than ever before. I enjoyed watching all of the movies I’m about to display and some would have ended up in my top 10 if I were including them. Let’s take a look at them.

I’ve also got another 10 honorable mentions among TV anime. Like I said, this year far outpaced any other I’ve seen while watching shows weekly. Had it been 2016, all of these would’ve had a shot at landing on my top 10 list. As it stands, there are better shows but I want to highlight these anyway.

Now let’s get into my actual top 10. As always with my rankings, these are imprecise. I’m not separating them into categories because that would be silly. The exact placement of these shows can easily change based on my mood. Suffice it to say, I love all of these a lot and don’t generally compare them in most situations. That said, this is a roughly accurate sample of which shows I like the most this year. Let’s get into it.

Number 10 is Kemono Friends. Kemono Friends was obviously the dark horse of this year, becoming a beloved show for me and many others without any forewarning. It was easy to dismiss a mediocre-looking CG show at the beginning of the season but I was quick to hop back onto the bus as soon as Japan started raving about it.

The reason I love Kemono Friends so much comes down to a pretty simple reason: it’s fun. I’ve written extensively about why I want some shows to just try and be fun. Depth is cool and many of my favorite shows are in that position because of the many cool things they explore. But shows like Kemono Friends are great too. Its focus on the importance of friendship and the fact that everyone has their own talents might sound like something out of a kids’ show. But who cares? It’s a good message and it’s a show which is just enjoyable to watch.

Of course, some people will never be able to get past the visuals. With time, however, I believe they come to the show’s benefit. Basically, looking the way it does adds charm. In a less goofy series it would really be harmful but in a show like this it works out.

Lastly, I think it’s important to note that Kemono Friends really lives and dies on the strength of its characters. They’re all very fun, much like the show itself, and getting invested in them is the key to enjoying the series. This is especially true for the final episodes, which rely on your interest in Kaban and Serval. The Kadokawa kerfuffle is a real shame because I was excited to see more. At the very least, what we have is a great, fun show which I’ll appreciate for a long time.

Number 9 is Girls’ Last Tour. As I said in my recent video on the subject, post-apocalyptic slice-of-life is a genre I’m quite fond of. Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is possibly my favorite manga of all time and Girls’ Last Tour easily fits within its legacy.

Something that sort of makes Girls’ Last Tour unique is its focus on only two characters. Many shows along these lines have larger casts. Because of that, we really get to see how Chito and Yuuri react to various situations. I don’t know that I’d call them particularly deep characters but they do a great job at reflecting their surroundings. Their personalities are well suited to this kind of show since it’s fun to watch them interact.

The show really deserves credit for its OST though. Sound is pretty important to iyashikei anime, so it’s a good thing that Girls’ Last Tour manages to totally nail it. This show is a musical marvel from the opening scene and sections like episode 5 would totally fail without the great soundtrack.

The way the show grapples with the slow, passing death of humanity is something that a lot of works have done well this year. Kemono Friends also did a good job with a sort of post-apocalyptic setting and I’ve got a show further down the list that did the same thing. Even outside of anime we had the wonderful Nier: Automata. Theoretically, this could lead to feelings of stagnation and boredom but fortunately, Girls’ Last Tour manages to lend a unique take to it. This show isn’t my favorite post-apocalyptic slice-of-life but it’s up there.

Number 8 is Princess Principal. This show succeeds on many fronts. Its art direction is absolutely brilliant, with an absurd number of wonderful outfits for our characters alongside great background art that really sells the size and poverty that characterizes industrial London. The music is also quite good, being composed by Yuki Kajiura and at times coming across as her least generic soundtrack in years, fitting the tone and time rather than copying her work on Madoka or SAO.

The characters are great as well. While I can understand some people’s disappointment that this wasn’t a plot-driven show, I’m personally more fond of character-driven works, something you can probably tell from this list. I’m obviously quite fond of Ange and Charlotte because of the yuri, though I also think they’re fun characters even when their interactions don’t revolve around each other. I love seeing the various personas Ange puts on and it’s even better to see her true self, rare as that is. Dorothy, Beatrice, and Chise are also quite likable and their episodes do a great job at adding to the show.

Once again, this show isn’t that deep and I mostly enjoy it because it’s fun and has cool characters but there are a few thematic aspects that I really like. Unlike a lot of steampunk media, which kind of glosses over the oppression that industrial capitalism created, Princess Principal deals with it head-on. One of our main characters might be a royal, but the show is distinctly anti-monarchy. This is quite refreshing, as I’m not used to actually seeing political stances in the anime I watch, even in shows where politics are pretty important like this one. That said, it really is the fun that makes me rank this show so highly. A fun action show with yuri, great characters, and a cool setting is something I don’t get often enough so I’m thankful that 2017 gave it to me.

Number 7 is Pokemon Sun & Moon. This show started in late 2016 but I didn’t start watching it until this year so I’m going to include it. I feel like I’m just repeating myself at this point because the reason I like this show is that it’s fun. As I talked about in my video on kids’ anime, optimistic and enjoyable shows are great and something that I frequently find missing from late-night offerings.

That said, Pokemon Sun & Moon has more than fun to offer me. First, it gives me a massive dose of nostalgia. The Pokemon anime was absolutely never this good when I was a kid but that doesn’t erase the fact that it allows me to tap into that childhood joy that’s so frequently missing from my life today. Just being able to watch an episode of this every week and get to see cool Pokemon, fun battles, and silly adventures is wonderful. It reminds me of a time where I had a lot less to worry about, where I could just watch Pokemon for hours with a little bit of homework being the only thing on my plate.

I also have to praise the absurdly good animation. Seriously, this show consistently delivers animation highlights. The new character designs enable fluid motion at all times. In the past, the show would contort itself to avoid showing motion wherever it could. Now, it simply allows itself to have stuff going on in the background, or for characters to move even when they’re just talking. This is pretty important in terms of actually making it fun to watch every minute of the show without looking away. I never know when I might miss an excellent cut or Pikachu doing something funny so I have to pay attention at all times.

When you factor in the fun cast and the excellent character arc that Lillie and Gladion go through, this is easily a show which ends up on this list. I’d honestly put this higher if I knew what direction it planned on going in the future. Pokemon Sun & Moon is good enough to have a chance at ending up on my top anime of all time, which is quite an accomplishment for a kids’ show that I once believed I had outgrown.

Number 6 is Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. Unlike many of the others on this list, it’s not something I’d call fun. Funnily enough, even though I had Rakugo as number 3 on my list last year, I actually like this season a lot more. Its weaker placing just goes to show how good this year was to me.

Season 2 of Rakugo took everything season 1 had; the interpersonal drama, the excellent cinematography, Ishida Akira’s one-of-a-kind voice acting, and so on. More importantly, though, it delved into themes which I find much more interesting. In season 1, rakugo was, while in decline, still a pretty popular art form. That narrative was a lot more focused on love and revenge. Season 2, on the other hand, is about how an art form can change to evolve with the times.

The best demonstration of this is Konatsu becoming a performer herself. The way the show deals with Kiku’s hesitance to accept change while clearly having him understand that change is necessary for rakugo to survive is excellent. Without Konatsu as the example of that change the show wouldn’t be as impactful. Art is something which is really powerful and important to me, so works which focus on the subject have a real chance at becoming favorites of mine.

Not only that, but it managed to tie those themes surrounding art into the character drama that had already been built up in the first season. The theme of passing on the torch was really strong here and it was great to see the next generation of rakugo performers rise. Of course, many moments stand out as particularly good, such as Konatsu’s performance of Jugemu or the penultimate episode in the afterlife but the whole thing is really just a masterpiece. It doesn’t connect with me as deeply as some other shows, so it’s only number 6, but in terms of pure craft, I think it’s unrivaled.

Number 5 is Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon. KyoAni has been my favorite studio for almost as long as I’ve been interested in the anime industry. That said, while it’s easily my favorite studio for its work conditions and absurdly consistent level of excellent character animation, they have not always made my favorite shows. Before 2017, the last show of theirs that I truly loved was Hyouka. Fortunately, Maid Dragon was the exact kind of show I needed.

It was easy to be hesitant about Maid Dragon early on, but my fears were quickly dashed. The yuri wasn’t just there as some fetishistic gimmick — it tied into the show’s themes and quickly became very important to the lives of Tohru and Kobayashi, not to mention Kanna and Saikawa. While fanservice was certainly present, it was far less exploitative than it could have been, focusing much more strongly on the importance of creating a family for yourself. It also offered Kobayashi, perhaps one of the most relatable characters of all time and, while funny, managed to deliver great drama and seriously touching moments.

When you combine that with the excellent production you get a truly masterful work. Some people see great animation or direction as similar to fanservice. To them, it’s something nice to have, but the writing is what’s really important. I won’t disagree that great animation can’t save a bad show but it obviously elevates works which are already good. The subtle character acting that KyoAni is so well known for is necessary in order to convey the many idiosyncrasies of the cast. Kobayashi’s discomfort with physical interaction, Tohru’s anxiety around her father, Kanna actually acting like a kid, all of these elements work because the animation is so excellent.

Once again, I really need to reiterate how good of a year this was. Last year I would’ve had this as my second favorite anime. I might not always love the writing in KyoAni shows but Maid Dragon demonstrates that their fundamentals are so solid that if one of their works clicks with me, it’ll click really well.

Number 4 is March Comes in Like a Lion. This would’ve made my list last year but I left it off since only one cour had aired and the first season wasn’t even done yet. In retrospect, I’m kind of happy I did that because everything after that point has only been better.

3-gatsu is a show which is focused on Rei’s depression. Or at least, it was. Rei is still somewhat depressed but he’s no longer in as bad of a place as he was at the start of the series. This has allowed the show to branch out starting in the second cour of the first season. It really began with Shimada but its the stuff in the second season which really shines the best. I’ve already written about the first episode of the Hina arc but the entire arc is amazing and more than deserving of the praise it gets. When you factor in characters like Nikaidou and Junkei, you get an absolutely outstanding season of anime which is looking like it might get a 10/10 from me.

It feels like the show’s production has improved as well. It never looked awful but the first season was kind of just a generic looking SHAFT anime. The second season feels like its using significantly more inventive techniques, calling to mind the Zetsubou and Hidamari era SHAFT. As with Maid Dragon, production isn’t everything, but it is vital in taking a show with an already strong source and making it a good anime. Adaptations of good material don’t automatically end up as good shows and it takes strong production and direction in at least one area to really make a classic. I’d go even farther and say that most the problems with the anime are due to its sticking too close to the manga, especially in pacing. That said, the pacing issue is minor at best and I’m fairly confident in saying that this anime is going to end up as a cult classic.

Number 3 is New Game. K-On has been a favorite of mine since I first watched it over 4 years ago and for a while, I assumed no other cute girls doing cute things show could ever come close. New Game was fun in its first season but it didn’t do anything to elevate it above other works in the genre and it was comfortably below both K-On and Hidamari Sketch for me.

For that reason, it came as quite a surprise that the second season managed to make me fall in love with it to such a great extent. I initially had somewhat lowered hopes, as Doga Kobo had seen a loss in many of their best animators over the year between seasons but the show, while a tamer production, managed to do everything I wanted with the writing.

Season 1 set up the characters and made them fun but it rarely dove into the weeds with them. Season 2 went full character drama, really dealing with the challenges that working in the game industry brings while giving significantly increased time to many members of the cast. Aoi’s struggle to learn her job in Season 1 was fun but her attempts to beat Kou and prove herself a talented artist are just so much more compelling. We get to see real failure and progression here, something I love in slice-of-life even if it’s not what I’m there for.

Because of this greater focus on drama, the characters are made to feel more like real people which makes the non-drama parts work better. The comedy might be a bit more muted than in the first season but it lands even stronger because I care more about the characters and their quirks now. I could complain that Hifumi and Yun don’t get quite as much attention as I’d like but overall I’m incredibly pleased with this season. It’s basically the perfect direct sequel, building on the setup from the first season to deliver progression in all aspects, from the characters, to the themes, to the relationships. It’s not a show I’ll forget anytime soon and I’m quite happy calling it the best Kirara adaptation since K-On.

Number 2 is Owarimonogatari 2. I love Monogatari but it doesn’t always end up on my lists. Koyomi was nowhere near consistent enough to make 2016’s and I’m outright not a fan of Tsuki. But when Monogatari is firing on all cylinders it’s an absolute blast and that’s the case here.

Owari might not be the ending of Monogatari but it is quite a good conclusion to the arc that’s dominated it for the last 8 years. It wrapped up the themes, answered most of the lingering questions, and managed to deliver some really great catharsis. I’ve said before that Hitagi Rendezvous is my favorite arc in this season and that’s true but I love all of them so much. Mayoi Hell is such a fantastic reintroduction to a favorite character of mine and the way it used its visuals to explore Koyomi’s past and feelings of regret was wonderful. This arc did for Koyomi what has been necessary for a long time; it validates his heroism while putting down his lack of self-care.

Hitagi Rendezvous was good setup but more importantly, it was the episode that Koyomi and Hitagi’s relationship needed. It managed to show how much they really had progressed since Bake and how important they are to one another. It’s easy to forget how much they love each other when they’re rarely speaking but this arc delivered it perfectly while ending with a fantastic scene of them finally calling each other by their given names.

And Ougi Dark finally wrapped up the Ougi subplot and brought Koyomi’s high school arc to completion. Having him accept Ougi for who she is, by proxy accepting all parts of himself as Tsubasa once did, he finally manages to become a fully fledged person, escaping from the rut we saw him in at the beginning of Kizu. His readiness in reforging his bond with Shinobu shows just how much their relationship has changed.

I’m incredibly excited for when we get more Monogatari. I love this world and these characters and I can’t wait to spend more time with them. But if the anime adaptation were to end here, I wouldn’t be too upset. It’s such a fantastic conclusion to one of my favorite shows, ending everything on a perfect note without truly ending the chance of more. I adore it.

And lastly, number 1 is Land of the Lustrous. I am legitimately shocked that a show managed to beat out Owari but this show has managed to do it. As I said in my earlier video on the show, it’s really just outstanding in every field. The visuals are amazing and have totally flipped my opinion on what CG anime can do, even if 2D elements are still quite common in the show. The world itself is deeply interesting from a worldbuilding perspective, offering a lot of room for theorizing.

What’s most interesting to me though is the characters and the plot progression. Phos, while annoying to some, is a character who’s easy to relate to. Their anxiety over feeling useless is genuine and the way they hide it by pretending to be bubbly is an interesting approach. Their slow descent into self-hatred is even more interesting, if not necessarily enjoyable. By the end of the show, their willingness to break themself in order to get better shows both a sort of beauty and depravity. It’s true that breaking or being broken doesn’t make you worse but Phos almost tries to break themself, something which shows a deeper self-hatred.

Of course, the other characters aren’t far behind. Cinnabar might not be as prevalent as you would expect but their own self-hatred parallels Phos’ and makes their arc even sadder. Dia and Bort’s strained but ultimately caring relationship is interesting to see. Really, all of the gems are outstanding characters who I’m going to miss greatly now that the show is over.

The plot progression is also interesting. It’s really great that Phos is, in some ways, an unreliable narrator. We see the show from their perspective in many ways, so we only get information when they do as well, such as Sensei’s suspiciousness. It manages to do this without being annoying because it treats the viewers respectfully. We could all tell there was something up with Sensei well before the Shiro situation and so, rather than dwell on that reveal, we dwell on Phos’ reaction to it.

Really, this is just a show which could easily go in the history books for great execution. I said Rakugo wins in a purely technical sense but this comes damn close. The difference is that I’m significantly more invested in this show, both emotionally and intellectually, and that’s why it’s my anime of the year.

As I said earlier, this was a great year and I hope that this has demonstrated that. I have my doubts as to whether 2018 can be this good — years this great only come once or twice a decade — but I’m happy that this year has convinced me that anime is still in an excellent place in regards to making new shows. Obviously, I couldn’t fit everything on here and my taste is quite a bit different from others so I encourage you to tell me what you would have put on your list. Hopefully, you’ve been able to enjoy mine!

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