This December was… a challenge. Amidst the busy holiday month, my schedule got very busy and my backlog got larger and larger. However, in the end I did manage to keep up with five series (four of which which ended, and one which will continue onto the next season). These are the first series I have finished ever since the first season of Space Dandy, in Winter 2014. Two years, since my writer’s block started.
And really: all these five series are special. They have made this a very successful season, and even though I have my criticisms about them, when it comes down to it I consider them to be really good. These are what anime as a medium is capable of. They knew what they were good at, and they delivered, unhindered and without compromise. They’re all incredibly different from each other, all at least a bit weird, but I recommend them all for those with an open mind
As usual, these impressions are mine and mine alone. And beware of spoilers here and there.
#5: TO BE HERO (09-12)
Okaaaaay… that ending. I’m a bit speechless by what I saw there, but I think the creators actually did it: create a comedy without cheesing the ending. Or at least, that’s what it feels like right now. Even though some of the things they pull are like the things that immediately get you an F in writing 101.
Yet it all works because of how ridiculous the series is. On one hand the final episodes turn this show into an action series. And really good action by the way, the animation is surprisingly good, and while the series is a bit more serious, the jokes aren’t completely gone. The tone changes, but it stays very deliberately TO BE HERO. The main character’s love for his daughter keeps everything together, and even more after “the big reveal”. It’s just as trolly as you’d expect, and yet I admit that I felt sorry for the guy. He’s a horrible human being, and yet… it worked.
This was an emotional roller-coaster. It’s faaaar away from the series you’d usually associate with that term, but it fits so much, only the emotions you feel are a bit different. At any moment in this series, you either feel schadenfreude, disgusted, or the struggles of a failed father who despite everything loves his daughter deeply. It’s comedy at its blackest, and yet I’m glad to have finished this series.
#4: Yuri on Ice (09-12)
And the series of 2016 with the most annoying fanbase is… yeah. I mean I do not belittle anyone for their passions and likes. Everybody is different and everyone’s taste is unique, and it would be horrible if this wasn’t the case. However, when one of the main reasons to like a series boils down to “porn”, things get a little… awkward. Both for male and female fanservice.
Thankfully there are plenty of other reasons to love this series. The final two episodes of Yuri on Ice breezed through the world championships of figure skating, and in two episodes we got 12 performances with together made for a riveting finale where in total style, a ton of things happened and a lot of characters got to show off. However, because it was the finale, its disadvantage was that it got a little predictable. I mean, the ending… think of the single most likely scenario for the final results. And yeah, that’s it.
It was beautifully made though. And props to the creators for using actual French in their series. I really like how international this series is. There are many nationalities represented here, and the creators did justice to them: characters were portrayed as actual characters, and the creators resisted going for the cheap racial stereotypes, and that resulted into a really wild and colourful cast of characters.
With this success there is bound to be a second season. I’m not sure whether that’s the best idea, since these 12 episodes are perfect for just a standalone show, however the ending really was a bit of a cop-out with a “will they won’t they continue”-tactic. Be bold: either close things off or immediately plan for two seasons right from the beginning. Being wishy-washy more often than not makes things awkward. Like you’re at the end of a party and say goodbye, only to end up awkwardly standing in the same room for fifteen minutes without anyone leaving.
#3: Natsume Yuujinchou Go (09-11)
My favourite episode of the fifth season? Episode 10. My heart just completely melted, it was just so adorable. Season 5 was really the season of the side characters (where Season 1 was the introduction, season 2 about the setting, season 3 about the character-development, season 4 about Natsume himself), and this season was at its best when focusing on this. Not that the other episodes were bad or anything, but we’ve seen better.
Like expected, the sixth season has already been announced, and I really beg the creators: make this the conclusion! Make this the end of the series, and end it with a bang. Compare it to eating chocolate for example. A bit is delicious and amazing, especially if you’ve got the really good quality kind. However try to wolf down ten bars of the stuff and after a while you’ll be so full that it just tastes horribly. It’s up to the series to find that right balance between leaving the viewers hungry and over-stuffing them, and season six feels like exactly that balance, especially considering how season 5 wasted one of its episode for that stupid Nyanko-sensei sidestory.
Because episode 5 I would not consider that the best season. That goes to season 4. I’d also consider season 1 and 3 better, and season 2 worse. It was very clearly a building-up season, so I’ll forgive it for that. But I keep stressing this: brevity! Like it’s a good thing that I watched Legend of Galactic Heroes when I still was a student with no life, because brilliant as it might be: if I had to watch it today I’d simply refuse. There is no way I have that much time just lying around.
#2: Classicaloid (09-12)
This was the halfway climax for Classicaloid, and it was awesome. It’s a fitting climax by finally making everything around Bach come together and finally made him step outside of his shadow and gave him a character; it did not disappoint. However, my favourite episodes still are the ones that revolve around Kanae. I LOVE her character, she is one of the best straight man (or straight women in this case) in a comedy I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t just offer order to the chaos of the other characters, she offers responsibility to their idiocy, she’s being forced to deal with whatever ridiculous ideas the other characters come up with, and is basically being forced to raise this group of man-children. Also check out all of the effort she puts into keeping the mansion tidy. This might seem like an tiny detail, but it’s actually incredibly important from a storytelling perspective. It not only adds character to the mansion itself, but it also makes the setting so much more believable. It adds a very natural sort of tension to the series to keep the mansion clean. It makes the viewer feel much more part of the whole setting, compared to if the characters just lived somewhere.
Amazing stories and characters can be found in any medium. But what makes anime stand out, and the reason why I originally became a fan, is the way in which it combines everything: animation, music, storytelling, characters, themes, setting. How they all work together in creating one experience to the point where the whole is better than the sum of its parts. Obviously not every anime gets this (most don’t), but Classicaloid adheres very much to this philosophy. It very blatantly sacrifices making sense for a feast for all the senses (heck Musik is pretty much a Deus ex Machina with which the creators can do whatever they want). And it’s not just the way in which all Musik scenes are incredibly fun, with all their remixes of famous classical works and full of crazy ideas like giant penguins and mecha helicopters, but also look at the themes: Classicaloid is a series about music. And between all the lines of goofing off, it really is trying to explore what music is, what drives great music, the struggles that the composers face when creating it. We’re halfway through the series and it’s already quite fascinating what’s going on here.
This is why I like Classicaloid more than Natsume Yuujinchou: as much as I love Natsume, it could have been done in any other medium. I can see that work. Classicaloid can only work as an anime. Any other way to do it just won’t work, and it makes brilliant use of that.
#1: Fune wo Amu (08-11)
In its final month, Fune wo Amu has turned out to be incredibly motivational, much more than I expected. Just about everything that was thrown at the characters: they just ended up sucking it up and dealing it up, working diligently for fourteen years until finishing. And I love how well they did it: usually when a challenge is presented, the creators end up cheesing it with the solution: a convenient loophole is found, the problem doesn’t really matter that much in the end, a plothole shows up, or they just kind-of end up solving everything without really going into detail how. Fune wo Amu avoids all of this: the characters work hard and for every problem in their way, they come up with a solution to handle the incredible task of putting together a dictionary.
The time-skip was brilliant in this, and yet it didn’t gloss over how hard these characters worked in compiling every of the 240000 words to get there. There was only one commonly used trope: the death of the professor. But even that was handled very tastefully: very carefully built up for episodes, and it was swiftly presented as part of the path of life, rather than dragging it out for the sentimental value. I really shed a tear that final episode, it was that good.
And really, there is no contest that this was the best of the season. Of course I have not completed many series this year, but let me just say that there would be very surprised if there is a better series than this one in 2016. Fune wo Amu has been amazing, and exactly what I needed. As I struggled keeping up with the episodes, I found that I really WANTED to finish this series. That’s a first in years.
And if there is any series I’d like to be influential, it’s this one. And it’s not like I’m asking for more series about dictionaries, but it goes deeper than that: nearly every single series can learn something from Fune wo Amu. How to animate characters to breathe them to life without overdoing it. How to develop characters, how to adapt your source material by making everything fit within the time you’re given. You want romance? Treat it as this show does, rather than the annoying whining we normally get. Look at this series for a textbook example of how subtle acting should be done, how attention to detail should be done. I can name very few series where it’s all this obvious. The biggest flaw really is that building a dictionary limits audiences: it’s probably a bit too mundane for most audiences. But whoever manages to figure out how to apply the design principles and philosophies that lead to the creation of this series to a more mainstream title: you’re gonna hit pure gold!