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Mar 31

Sean’s Top 10 Anime of 2017

2017 out of 10

These never get easier. The time has come to reflect on another year of great shows, lament about those I never got around to catching up with, and rank the ten best series and movies from the year that was 2017.

198! That was the number of first episodes you can read impressions of from across the four seasons. But only 21 passed the test this time around, maybe proving I really am getting tougher to please. Still, it ensured a high bar for most of those I kept up with, so without further ado, here’s the best of the best from 2017.

Administration the anime! No wait come back it’s good I swear. In the kingdom of Dowa there are 13 distinct districts, and admin for all of them is run by ACCA, with our lead guy Jean Otus travelling across the land to inspect the various state forces, while all around him unfolds a plot to hold a coup, throw out the current monarch and replace them with a long lost brother to the royal bloodline.

Aside from seeing the various different aesthetics of each area, from clothes to environments to food (this show loves showing food), we also got to see Jean dance in the palms of his many superiors, from Director General Mauve to the five Chief Officers to mysterious outsiders like lifelong friend Niino, who all seem to have their own plans and ideas. Watching the players collide and trying to unravel the mysteries for yourself before the show did reveals was a good half of the fun with this series.

That being said, the show did lose itself at times, trying to tell so many stories it was hard to tell which ones were worth caring about, and Jean’s eternally relaxed demeanour and sense that he always knew what was happening dampened any drama the show tried to conjure. The other side effect of that was some characters were given time but never had any impact whatsoever on the overall story. Still a solid show, but one that with more work could’ve been way higher on this list.

I’m not usually one for the more arthouse end of the spectrum that Masaaki Yuasa represents, as my disinterest in Devilman Crybaby proved, but Night is Short Walk on Girl has this mad Pied Piper charm to it, as it leads you deeper and deeper in its mad world with a whole host of interconnected characters and events you won’t even realise were foreshadowing until it’s happening in the here and now.

At the centre of the whirlwind is the raven-haired girl following her thread of fate for one night out, and the lovesick senpai who is constantly chasing waiting for an opportunity for love’s blossom. They meet the many denizens of the night as they drink, browse books, take in a play and battle the God of Colds, where nothing and everything makes sense.

The artstyle has more in common with OVAs than movies, with plenty of exaggerated gulps and struts, though it works well once you adapt, and lemme tell you this show makes alcohol love divine. Add some great musicals and monologues and musical monologues, and a cast of characters you can’t help but be cheerful to see time and time again, and you’ve got a cool, but weird, production that wormed its way into my heart and this list.

What a long way SAO has come. I originally gave the first season my -1st award in 2012 because the show had a great idea with which it proceeded to do everything in its power to ignore, before spawning an entire sodding genre of far less imaginative clones in a way .hack wishes it had. But now in 2017 here’s an SAO movie that remembers how to craft an interesting narrative that builds upon everything the original could have been.

There’s survivor’s guilt, the old fear of death and a look at AR vs VR. There’s cameos and appearances from the cast of the previous arcs, but used in a smart way that lets them contribute to and progress the movie’s narrative. And yes, that does mean this isn’t the Kirito show featuring his loyal harem just being there, as Asuna, Shinon and the rest get to strut their stuff in combat while the lead kid is still trying to find his way outside of his VR comfort zone.

Speaking of combat, the action scenes here are nothing short of glorious, showing all the cast ripping through various monsters both old and new, as well as some great human vs human fights too. But even when the fights fade, the film still enthralls with some strong visuals and a fascinating story at the heart of it all about a boy who survived SAO and a girl who did not. I couldn’t say how good this film would be if you’ve not seen the original, but for those who have, this is everything that series should’ve been and more, and very much worth the watch.

I have a soft spot for romantic melodrama done well, with Orange sitting in this position last year, and now Just Because takes the seventh place mantle. While this doesn’t have the same themes of time travel and depression that were in that series, it does have a stronger overall cast and is better at weaving many narratives into one show.

Will Eita and Mio, reunited after years apart, finally be able to confess their feelings for one another or let teenage misery and stubbornness get in the way? Will Ena, the amazing motorcycle riding photograph taking best girl be able to achieve her dreams both professionally and romantically? Even the support cast of Haruto and Hazuki have a great up and story throughout the season, as a declined confession blossoms into something much more complex.

It made for great viewing where you couldn’t help but root for, well, everyone, and pull your hair out each time a sure thing development disintegrated because… well, teenagers. Even some production problems from the inexperienced studio Pine Jam could never really hold back the charm of the show and the radiance of its characters, ensuring it earned a place on this list.

On the other end of the kids and romance spectrum however, we have Kuzu no Honkai, aka Scum’s Wish. This is less melodrama and more full on melancholy, with unrequited love galore and the use of intimacy to bury your real feelings away.

With a web of love triangles, squares and other shapes science has yet to name, we got to see the evolving relationship of Hanabi and Mugi, who had crushes on a couple of their teachers, and originally became a couple to escape their crushing loneliness, but overtime would develop a wider set of feelings both for each other and those they loved, becoming sort of different people by the end of the show. Not to mention the ever-changing motivations and feelings of the rest of the cast, including those the two leads have affections for.

It made for a very different kind of romance show to the typical fair, both unafraid to show intimacy and “emotionally charged” scenes, as well as some interesting directorial touches like the scene in scene shots. Everybody is complex and is trying to live their lives in their own way, and their collisions and revelations made for great viewing back in Winter. I wish for more shows like this.

You know how long it’s been since I’ve seen a show do out of order episodes? Not since Haruhi. You’ve gotta be bold to follow in that series’ footsteps, but Princess Principal lived up to the task. What could so easily have been another cutesy girls do x show, with the theme being London spies, was determined to never be just another series.

From the first episode where the lead girl calmly assassinates her target at the end with a resounding gunshot spelling out this was something different, to the complicated backstory between Ange and Princess Charlotte revealed at just the right pace with the out of order narrative to allow for some big shocks in the second half that literally left me agape, to a solid support cast who all get plenty of time in the spotlight, and a whole bunch of cool action and espionage only amplified by the magical gravity defying ball Ange wields.

Prehaps most impressive is even with characters changing costumes and voices and episodes out of order, everything still makes perfect sense, to the extent it’s weird to imagine watching this chronologically. And in a year with plenty of shows that we expected great things from, this lil’ series came out of nowhere to stand alongside them. Oh, and I did manage the opening and ending are freaking great? Had them on loop far too many times…

Probably the best CG anime ever created (sorry Berserk movies), this series won the hearts of many, then proceeded to shatter them over and over. What starts off fairly straight forward with the lead girl who wants to make the difference but lacks the ability to do so starts to turn a different shade as the series progresses.

See, all the characters, including lead Phosphophyllite are gem warriors, fighting a never-ending battle against the Lunarians, who want to keep them because… well, shiny things are pretty. And once a gem’s shattered, they lose all memories stored within that part of their body. And as one of the very weakest, Phos gets shattered. A lot.

So begins an examination of the self as she changes personality and appearance over the course of the series, evolving more than any other character in the entire year. Throw in an amazing cast to stand alongside her, from the perfect yet flawed Dia, to the demanding yet caring Bort, to the isolated nighttime gem Cinnabar, to their mysterious Sensei, and even other races who live around the island, telling stories of a past all but forgotten. They all play off well with Phos, who carries this show with her plight and determination. And those CG visuals fit the theme of crystal fighters perfectly, and allow for some great scenes, including one ominous bit which reminded me so much of Shadow of the Colossus it was eerie.

Heck, the only frustrating part was that the show just ends, with a finalé that makes it all come full circle but leaves many questions unanswered. So we’d better get a second season, ya hear me! I need to know more about this world.

Not 1st!? I know. The most beloved show of the year takes the bronze medal on my list, but don’t let a “mere” 3rd place fool you, Made in Abyss is bloody brilliant. What starts off as a seemingly innocent enough tale of orphan explorers wanting to dive to the depths of the Abyss to discover what awaits them at the bottom, be it family, origins or riches, slowly but surely transforms into the beast you were warned about all along. But it’s too late to go back now, the only way is deeper.

The uncomfortable factor creeps up throughout the show, with even friendly faces like Ozen having dubious morality, but our lead kids of Riko, daughter to the most famous explorer of them all, and Reg, a lifelike robokid, keep on going… until that episode. Holy shit, that episode.

While a few pacing issues can make some sections too long and others surprisingly brief, the rest of the narrative is top notch, with sacrifices having to be made at every layer, and some fascinating designs and mechanics to each new area and creature. There’s plenty of backstory to be mined too as the lead duo learn more about themselves, such as Riko being abyss-born and Reg’s true capabilities, and the fascinating past merges well with the terrifying present to make a great series that took the world by storm, with compilation movies and a second series well into production as a result of the show’s success.

Just missing out on the gold it’s Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, or Girls’ Last Tour. The numerous tales of two girls exploring the post-apocalyptic remains of society could have so easily been just another series, but superb writing and the endless chemistry between lead sisters Chi and Yuu led to one of the best shows to watch week in week out all year.

As the girls drove around on their lil’ tank, exploring and learning about a world that they barely had time to get to grips with before the end of days, the show had a knack for making everything an adventure. From playing on a plane, to crafting a makeshift bath, to learning about the weird religion that seems to be across the city, to all too brief encounters with other survivors, before a staggering conclusion shows them the world that was and the world that now is, it didn’t matter whether an episode was one long tale or three shorter ones, each new experience built on the last and made you want to know where Chi and Yuu would go or do next.

Throw in some brilliant environments, from starscapes and endless snow to ominous mechanical interiors and bizarre robots running on auto-pilot, to a great flair for little touches like water drips or bouncing screws, and some nice songs including an orchestra of rain, and the whole production shone from start to finish in every way. There may have been no long-term narrative or happy ending, but the show didn’t need it, as it was always about the two girl’s journey, and this was a journey like no other, giving my AotY a run for its money right up until the end.

Proof that even the very best writers in the industry can have bad days, the most recent Godzilla movie with screenplay by legendary Gen Urobuchi, who’s penned the breakout magical girl show of the decade Madoka Magica, previous anime of the year winner Psycho-Pass, superb toku series Kamen Rider Ex-Aid and a bunch more besides… well, it sucked. Badly.

There’s some neat ideas in there, such as alien races trying to work together and failing to conquer Godzilla, massive time leaps of 20000 years affecting the Earth, and that maybe the hulking beast is divine judgement sent to those species who stretch too far into God’s realm, but none of that is explored. Instead a bunch of one-dimensional characters shout at each other a lot and a lead who reeeeaaaally wants to kill Godzilla fights and slays the beast. Except that was a lil babby and not the true threat who chased humanity from the planet see you in the sequel yeah no thanks.

Throw in some awful CG that makes Godzilla look like the rock equivalent of a wart and fails to show any emotion on characters or convey what’s happening (we’re luring Godzilla into a trap they say, as you never see him take a step in the entire sodding film), monster designs that are similarly uninspired, and bland and boring writing that shows none of the nuance or exploration of past Butch Gen works, and you’ve got a real stinker on your hands. But hey, there’s two more films to come. So here’s hoping they learned something from making this film. Or anything.

Some people thought the original season of Rakugo was last year’s best. I ranked it 6th, but appreciated the hell out of it, lamenting that it never focused on the future like the first episode promised. Well, this second and final season was every bit the cross-generational performance I wanted, and ensured it remained my #1 show all year long.

You had the old guard in Yakumo, for whom the bell tolls as he chases ghosts and his desire for demise. You had the current generation in Yotaro, ever trying to both hone his craft and save the dying art of rakugo, as well as hold down his relationship with Konatsu, who herself was struggling with the burdens of being a mother and whether or not she should try and become the first ever female rakugo performer. And said son, representing the future, Shinnosuke, bringing childlike innocent and malice as well as adapting to a world of old men sitting on cushions telling stories.

Watching them all try to save their passion as the years ticked by was nothing short of mesmerising, with plenty of great rakugo plays and performances from across the entire cast, and a bunch of drama away from the stage too, such as figuring out Shinnosuke’s father, bringing people back to rakugo, and trying to save Yakumo from his never-ending demons, culminating in a very emotional closing episode tying the past, present and future together and bringing the curtain down on this story of rakugo performers.

This show won’t be winning animation awards, but it does excel in subtle touches of facial expression and body posture, which is essential when that’s all you have to convey countless stories from a cushion. Similarly, the soundtrack isn’t something to listen to over and over, but does well as background noise to amplify the experience. Everything is there to hone the act of storytelling, and the story of those who tell them, and damn good stories is why I got into the whole animation thing in the first place. Now, to see if Netflix has any rakugo I could watch…

Well there we go, another year done. As always there’s stuff I lament not watching, from March Comes In Like A Lion’s second season to the cute Tsurezure Children to shounen darling My Hero Academia (yes, Academia fans, you win, I’m going to watch that show this year). But before that comes the Spring 2018 season, so I’ll see you in a week for the start of those good old impressions posts.

Hm? I forgot something? One more Movie March article? Naaaaah, you must be imaging things…