By the numbers, I watched a lot less anime and read a lot more manga in 2016 than I ever have before. I could say a lot about the manga I read (Paradise Residence and Salty Road were amazing in some very unique ways), but with anime, you get a complete product in about 3 months or less. So here’s what I watched and really enjoyed.
-The manga was one of top 10 all-timers, so I was going to enjoy this no matter what. But it was made with a lot of TLC, a nice soundtrack and good snappy dialogue making it an extremely pleasant watch. And it cemented the main couple’s relationship at the end, which was an excellent anime bonus. Too bad this one season is likely the last we’ll ever see of it.
4. Non Non Biyori Repeat OVA
-I like Non Non Biyori as a franchise as a lot – it does things with its environment, really using it in ways that felt largely modeled after the delectable style that went out of fashion a generation ago. Its comedy, while taking up a lot of screentime has always seemed to be somewhat of a distant third behind the setting and Renge’s process of discovering the world in terms of what made the show stand out. The second season’s OVA didn’t really fundamentally change its comedic tone – 2 of its 4 chaptets were primarily gags. But the overall setup of the OVA, delivering short stories themed around a season, was just a very comforting use of the environment to tell the story, and the choice to end on a more crisp note with Autumn was appreciated.
3. Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 2nd Season
-This series personally resounded with me in a number of ways, and it handled some of the original’s best material with more than a little surgical edits that kept the core intact. Highlight for me was the final role-call scene. There, Koro-sensei comes across as almost too perfect of a teacher, having more or less fully disregarded himself (which is different from sacrificing) in order to make his students feel a little bit better about fulfilling the show’s main premise. After it all, it felt like the only way the show could end was the way it did. Obligitory shoutout to Kishi/Uezu blasting out another peerless product.
2. Gundam Thunderbolt: December Sky
-Without being an over-the-top splatterfest, it was a grim and pointed war movie that exceled in getting quiet shudders out of me as I watched. The choice to focus on loss of limbs, rather than loss of life, lent a uniqueness to it that made the losses feel more direct and personal. It’s easy to imagine death as quick and painless, but considering the loss of a limb is, in some ways, considerably more difficult. Other themes abounded, and the smooth jazz that battles were set to was outstanding, but that was my main takeaway from the year’s best sci-fi war movie.
1. Digimon Adventure tri: Kokuhaku
-I was behind the decision to reboot OG Digimon more or less from day 1, and the first two delivered plenty of nicely-animated/coordinated business mixed with revisited fan service (see above) that good franchise movies made by competent people tend to. The third part brought the series’ first arc to a climax, and in doing so forced the audience to watch 8 different varieties of what saying goodbye to your best friend looks like. Japanese cinema is full of melodramatic “this sick person with perfectly shiny skin and no visible defects has one year to live” stories that I avoid like the plague. This was not that. We watched all the partner digimon save one try their best to make memories with partners they would soon forget, and Tentomon make the decision not to try because Koushiro was busy trying his best at a last-ditch effort to prevent what was coming. The fact Tentomon ignored his chances to be with Koushiro made his struggle in the final moments particularly impactful. And in the aftermath of all of that, we got a line that echoed like a classic famous anime quote from the Harlock/Char/Joe men’s icon gallery; “It’s not about what you couldn’t do. It’s about what you will do.”