Anime Was Pretty Alright In 2017

It feels like the anime industry has finally taken an Alkaseltzer and is sobering from its Oreimo-induced hangover, consistently turning out good shows again. While we're still getting some bonafide trash like Eromanga-Sensei, we're also seeing an influx of ambitious, interesting series that manage to keep me hooked or at least interested enough to stay tuned. Here are some of those.

Dragon Ball Super

Look, I know it started two years ago or whatever, but I'll be honest - I don't actually care. It's airing, so I'm talking about it.

This year, Dragon Ball Super continued to validate its existence in the wake of last year's stellar Future Trunks Saga with the Universe Survival arc. Still airing, this is a narrative thread that took everything I knew about dreaded tournament yarns in shonen anime and turned it on its head. It also introduced two things the show desperately needed - a new animation style and big, beefy Super Saiyan ladies. Super continues to honor the legacy of Z after its awful first 34 episodes, and I'm excited to see where it goes next year.

Little Witch Academia

Little Witch Academia is one of the greatest anime series ever made, a better story about wizards than JK Rowling could ever hope to write, and a fitting send-off to the prolific Michiru Shimada, who passed this month at age 57.

Following fledgling witch Akko and her two pals, the bookish Lotte and the fucking weird Sucy, Little Witch Academia is what happens when an anime studio worth a damn makes a shonen series aimed towards little girls instead of boys. It follows a relatively traditional shonen coming-of-age structure, but follows a diverse cast of endearing girls instead of boys. There are big fights, heated rivalries, hateable villains... everything you'd expect from that sort of show, but it's just driven by women. I know that sounds like a simplistic reason for liking something, but honestly, it's over half of why I think it's such a good fucking show. These sorts of stories shouldn't be a boy's club situation, and I love that Trigger has thrown the gauntlet in terms of what girls' anime can be.

It's the follow-up to Kill La Kill I wanted, and it's a personal all-time top ten for me.

Also, protect Jasminka, our snack princess, at all costs.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie 

This show is less about another romp around an MMO, and much more about the people behind the avatars. It's basically what would happen if you took Welcome to the NHK's MMO arc and stretched it to a full series, and made the protagonist a bit less sad than Tatusuhiro Satou.

Not that Moriko is a model citizen or anything - she's a former businesswoman who gave it all up due to agoraphobia and a seeming dissatisfaction with the direction her life was taking. With a new abundance of free time, she became addicted to an MMO and started to barely go outside. Cue a romantic comedy of errors about her branching out into a new peer group, befriending people she doesn't know she plays the game with, et cetera.

This was one of the best shows of last year, hands-down. It sports a great art style and a winning ensemble, plus isn't afraid to go into heavier territory - if only occasionally. Not only that, but it goes places that video game-inspired anime rarely do, in that it actually deals with the MMO in question (heavily inspired by Mabinogi, speaking as a former player) being an actual game. There's a fun bit about loot boxes, characters spam emotes, sprites clip into each other... most game-based anime wants to sell otaku on the fantasy of being lost inside of a virtual world, but this one is squarely rooted in reality. That alone makes it worth a recommedation, and the fact that it's held together by a really sweet, cute romance is just icing on the cake.

Atom The Beginning 

Osamu Tezuka adaptations have a pretty alright track record. I even dug the much-maligned 80's Astro Boy, honestly. But an adaptation of a prequel not made by Tezuka himself? Hm, I dunno, man, sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Turns out, it wasn't! Atom the Beginning is pretty freaking great, and does an admirable job of establishing how Ochanamizu and Tenma grew into the characters we saw in Astro Boy, as well as the prototype upon which Astro himself was based. There are some nice entry-level science fiction ideas baked into the narrative, as well as some memorable original characters that prevent the story from being lazy prequel rehashes.

Land of the Lustrous

3DCG anime is a hit or miss affair. Actually, nah, it's mostly miss. For every Appleseed, there's an Appleseed XIII, Knights of Sidonia, Ronia, or, in the extreme worst case, RWBY. Even Kemono Friends, an otherwise very good and kind show for good people, looks pretty bad outside of the charming character designs. So despite a cool concept, I slept on Land of the Lustrous until it finished airing. Which, granted, I do for most things, because watching stuff week to week generally isn't my bag. But I digress.

Land of the Lustrous is a stellar fantasy series that has one of the single most well-developed protagonists in anime history, right next to Shinji Ikari and Madoka Kaname. Its slow build and unraveling of its dense lore, inspired liberally by real-world geology, is a master class in storytelling. Plus, when not ruminating on the beauty of life's fragility, it's filling the screen with some of the most gorgeous animation in a series this year with its breakneck battle sequences - perfecting a blend of 2D and 3D in a way that I've never seen accomplished in the medium before. I'm intrigued at what Orange is doing next, and I absolutely hope it's more Lustrous - a unique and original gem that's as exciting as it is thematically rich.

Inuyashiki - Last Hero - 

Boy, Gantz was a meandering sexist heap of garbage, wasn't it? It'd be crazy if the author did that same concept again, but didn't fuck it up this time.

Amazingly, that's almost exactly what Inuyashiki is. The story follows two people who get killed at the same time - a 58 year-old man in exceptionally poor health and a conventionally attractive high schooler. The thing that kills them is a dimension-hopping alien vessel, and out of desperation, they rebuild the two people using war machine prototypes. When the two men come to, they have crazy superpowers, which is the initial set-up for Gantz. However, one of them uses his powers to bring people back to life and save the day, while the other begins the practice of entering random homes and murdering entire families with his powers. Inuyashiki is very concerned with the concept of a fierce moral dichotomy between two extremes capable of the same thing, and it explores that concept thoroughly and succinctly within eleven episodes with no need for any expansion.

Inuyashiki feels, in many ways, like the sort of exploration of the human psyche that Satoshi Kon would be making today, and like the actual maturation of  Hiroyu Oka as a creator. It's a great series that undercuts its bleakness with pure optimism, even if the production sort of falters halfway through, and is easily my second-favorite show of the year.

Oh, also, it has my favorite opening of the year. In case you cared.

No Game, No Life: Zero

No Game, No Life went from a "never watching this" to a "huh, this is one of the better things Madhouse has done in ages and I suddenly own two figures from it" for me this year. It had some problems, like occasional eleven year-old crotch shots that made me wretch, but its novel concept, cracker jack pacing and genuinely engaging characters were enough for me to stick through and love it as a whole.

Then Zero happened. A prequel film, it almost doesn't feel like something in the same franchise. Its protagonists, pacing, tone, and even setting (kind of) are totally different. Where NGNL is, at a base level, a nerd wet dream about gamers getting transported to a world where every problem is solved by games, Zero is a post-apocalyptic hellscape about the strength of human will against oppression. Fan service is almost non-existent, outside of the occasional B A D character design. Every major plot point is a fucking bummer. I was left in literal heaving sobs at three different points during the film. I'm resistant to give away too much plot detail, because it's worth watching at least once.

I genuinely think No Game, No Life: Zero is this year's Your Name - a master class in animation and storytelling that ranks right up there with some of the true classics. Not just a great anime film, but a great film in general - I saw it the same night I saw Blade Runner 2049, and it ran circles around that mess. And it is, quite honestly, it's a better film than No Game, No Life ever deserved.

The Ancient Magus' Bride 

Full disclosure - The Ancient Magus' Bride could go completely ass-up in its second cour. The potential is there, and frankly, I expected bad things from the show's incredibly creeptastic first episode.

Yet I can't deny that what this series is doing is nothing short of admirable in 2017. It's hearkening back to the grim, dark, grimdark series of the mid-aughts - the Fullmetal Alchemist, Moribito and Blood+'s of the world. While I don't necessarily think it's as good as any of those series, not by a country mile, it's admirable to see a contemporary fantasy anime attempt bleak mysticism instead of moe archetypes and harem bullshit. The tale of a young woman sold into the ownership of an ancient magician (again - very creeptastic in a way that people seem to not care to address) is compelling both its macabre tone and the care put into every little detail of its world.

Again, this is a show I could genuinely see turning into a (and I hate to use this word) edgy trash heap by its end, but what I've seen so far is different than anything else on the market.

That about does it! There are some other shows that I enjoyed okay (the new My Hero Academia, for example,) or that I'm enjoying but haven't watched enough to make a call on (Juni Tyson, Love Tyrant, Fate/Apocrypha,) but this list is what I've watched most of and enjoyed the most thoroughly, I would say.

The Winter anime season is already looking stellar, so honestly? Things are looking up for this industry, and I'm in love with the stuff again.


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