At long last, it’s here! To be completely honest, I found myself a bit wearied at the prospect of embarking on the great voyage that creating these posts always is, but once I actually got to the writing of it I found myself swept away by the sheer fun of remembering how much I like each of the shows I talk about. That, my friends, is a sign of a good list.
To see how things shook out during the year, check out my final rankings posts for each season.
And with that, let’s get to it! As per our tradition (three years strong now!) here’s the Best Girl of 2016 to kick things off!
- New Game!
- Mob Psycho 100
- Sansha Sanyou
It’s always fun to look back at the honorable mentions from the year, as they’re typically repositories of great memories. For example, New Game! reactivated some existential angst that had been settled for a while in me, it’s idealized portrayal of a video game company reminding me how desperately I want to work in a creative field. Fun! Mob Psycho 100 was an incredible visual ride with a delightful emotional core, while Sansha Sanyou was just good solid moe comedy fun. Kuromukuro‘s probably the show amongst the honorable mentions that’s closest to making it into the top ten, but I sadly haven’t finished the second half yet, and Mayoiga was, if nothing else, a thrill for its novelty and the intellectual puzzles around craft it presented. And, finally, Konosuba rounds out this segment because no matter how much I love Aqua I refuse to excuse it for how gross it can get and put it in my top 10.
But that’s enough of that! On to my favorite shows of the year! As is my custom, I’ve included links to other bits of writing on these show—most are by me, but here and there you’ll find a piece by someone else that I found particularly worthwhile.
#10. Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars
2D animated robots are things to be treasured, to the point of getting me to upload them to sakugabooru of my own volition. And yet, it’s not just the hand-drawn mecha (although, believe me, the robot fights in this show are Good and Important) that get us Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars leading off this list. Although dogged with production problems so bad they causes the show to take a full month off the air before beginning its broadcast over again from the first episode, I think it’s rather obvious that Regalia is a labor of love. A non-Gundam robot anime with a commitment to keeping its mecha hand-drawn with characters that are all loli-like designs, Regalia feels like a show from an older era with a distinctly modern touch. It’s a curious effect, but one that’s quite appealing.
What Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars gets right is its commitment to its two central elements: robots and a warm emotional core. Despite weakly written villains, Regalia succeeds because its mecha fights are good and its main characters are deeply likable. From the sweet and steady princess, Yui, to the melancholic (and smokey-voiced) Rena to the cheerful duet of Sara and Tia, Regalia adeptly mingles these easy-to-watch characters into its bombastic battles, adding in a dose of “mecha-as-legendary-beings” for good measure. While its somewhat lackluster plotting keeps it from rising higher on this list, Regalia‘s main goals couldn’t be clearer—and since I happen to enjoy both of its most prominent components, it was basically impossible for me not to like it.
#9. Bungo Stray Dogs S2
Bungo Stray Dogs‘s second season is a tale of two shows. The first, a flashback arc with little relevance to the immediate present of the main story, is a tale of revenge, loss, and fate. It’s bittersweet in the best of ways, a cocktail that crushes your heart and makes it swell all at the same time. It’s also beautifully shot, featuring some of Takuya Igarashi’s best directing since I don’t know when, bringing its written and visual elements together in a sweeping, memorable short story. Although Odasaku never wrote the story he wanted to write, the story of his life is magnificent on its own—one good enough to recommend all on its own for its poignancy.
The second show that makes up Bungo Stray Dogs S2 is substantially less awe-inspiring, but it takes the best parts of Bungo‘s first season and improves upon them while leaving the lesser parts alone. The addition of the Guild to the ongoing rivalry between the Armed Detective Agency and the Port Mafia allows Bungo to really stretch its shounen wings, constructing a delightfully involving three-way war with pockets of interesting or moving character work (like the evolving dynamic between Atsushi and Akutagawa in the finale episodes or Kyouka’s arc). In the end I suspect I’ll remember the former of this show’s two halves the longest, but I’m not one to sneeze at a fun shounen romp when it comes my way—especially when it’s as pretty as Bungo Stray Dogs is.
#8. Scorching Ping Pong Girls
Most anime are rather difficult to sum up in a single word, but Scorching Ping Pong Girls presents no such difficult since “joy” is the obviously dominant characteristic. I’ve long wanted a sports anime featuring female characters that actually engaged the competitive and adrenaline-inducing aspects of sport, and it was with joy that I found out that Scorching Ping Pong Girls was exactly that. In fact, Scorching Ping Pong Girls was probably even more excited about well… the excitement of sports than I was, with racing hearts being one of its ongoing themes. I was happy to be along for the ride.
To add on to this, as all the best sports anime do, Scorching Ping Pong Girls took the time to invest in its characters—their lives, their reasons for playing, and the way those reasons played out through their matches. Whether it was Agari’s insecurities, Koyori’s adoration of playing for fun, Kururi’s love for Zakuro or another player’s feelings, Scorching Ping Pong Girls brought them all together and infused the ping pong itself with their feelings. That joy, to return to the show’s basic nature, spills over as you watch it, and doing so thus becomes a joy in itself.
- “Aniwords – Competition Motivation in Scorching Ping Pong Girls & Yuri!!! on ICE“
-  -scorching ping pong girls: heartbeat-
#7. Konobi (This Art Club Has a Problem!)
Konobi is, without competition, my pet show for the year. In a year with plenty of solid anime comedies, Konobi stands out for pairing clever elongated set-ups and punchlines with a distinct feeling of warmth. I watched a lot of stuff I enjoyed or that I found comfy this year, but I don’t think there was any anime that gave me quite the same sort of pocket-like feeling that Konobi did. There was just something about this show, about its characters, its color, its music… okay, about its everything… that just made it nice to watch. Describing it is difficult because its virtues are so intangible; the overall effect washes over you without needing to be consciously apprehended or engaged.
That description is plenty nice on its own, but it doesn’t quite recommend Konobi to this spot on the list as well as it should. If I were to sum that up, I’d say it’s that Konobi set a new standard for the school club romcom genre for me. While calling it the pinnacle of what this particular brand of sub-subgenre is capable of might be a little much, it’s thrilling to think about how cleverly and effectively this little show operates within the recognizable confines of being what it is. While it’s got its blemishes here and there (most notably its rare drifts into pandering fanservice), it nonetheless appears to me as a sort of masterpiece of execution. Konobi being Konobi, I don’t know if it was possible for this show to be any better than it was—and I mean that in the best way possible.
- “The Magic of Kononbi‘s Anime Adaptation”
- “Aniwords – The Art of Good Anime Crushes“
-  -konobi: friendship-
#6. Macross ∆
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat disappointed to find Macross Delta so early in the list, but the fact is that no matter how good Walküre’s music is, it wasn’t enough to buoy up a show that had three episodes of misplaced downtime right before the final and never really managed to grasp what music’s role was. For a Macross shows, those are obvious and (honestly) strange flaws, and although I suspect my opinion of the show will improve upon a marathoned rewatch, the fact remains that Delta never fully extended the thrill of its initial episodes consistently through the rest of the show.
Even so, Macross Delta is still Macross, and nothing anyone says will take that away from it. Above all else, the barometer of any show in the franchise is the existence of what I term “Macross moments,” and even if Delta didn’t always chain them together well, scenes like Freyja’s birthday, Mikumo exploding the Protoculture ruins, break dancing robots, the “Silent Hacker” infiltration, and the mobage-style Walküre mission are peppered throughout Delta. The show’s also got one of the most thoroughly likable casts in the franchise and, as already mentioned, succeeds admirably in the unenviable task of following Frontier‘s stock of Yoko Kanno-composed idol music. Delta isn’t everything I wanted it to be, but it still earns its stripes as a Macross series.
- “Idol Incubation: The Circumstances of Fledging Idols in Macross“
- “The inner strength of Mirage Farina Jenius“
#5. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime S2
The sad truth is that Akagami no Shirayuki-hime would likely have reclaimed its position from last year had it not been afflicted with the pirate arc that largely turned away from the show’s core strengths. The wonder is that, even so, it remains one of the most best shows of the entire year. Masahiro Ando is a great action director; we all know this. But in his expert hands, Shirayuki-hime finds a quiet dignity belied by the fluffiness of its exterior. There is a deep maturity that resides at the core of this show (part of the reason the more shounen-esque pirate arc feels mismatched), and it pulses calmly throughout.
And what more is there to say about a show that does nothing exceptional, merely excels at the small and simple things? That the ongoing visual motif of windows grants a sort of cohesion to the show that could be easily missed if you aren’t looking for it? That Michiru Oshima’s divine soundtrack is incorporated so gracefully into individual scenes that it’s only after the chills have started running down your spine that you realize what’s happening? That Saori Hayami’s (as far as I’m concerned) seminal role is only the first in a line of excellent voice performances? The praises this show deserves are many—and yet none of them can truly capture just how sublime Akagami no Shirayuki-hime‘s best moments are. That’s a grace reserved for the show itself.
#4. Fune wo Amu
An anime about making dictionaries is esoteric enough by itself to qualify it as an automatic prestige entry, but Fune wo Amu, as it happens, is more than that. Lofty ideals like creating better understanding between people through dictionaries pervade the explicit text of the show, but (perhaps ironically) it’s in the subtext of the show that its themes of interpersonal understanding, individual growth, and dedication truly flourish. Around the axel of the dictionary revolve the characters of Fune wo Amu, working, learning, and, ultimately, living. Ends and beginnings weave in and out of each other, and yet the steady lighthouse of their shared commitment shines through it all.
I think my favorite episode of Fune wo Amu is actually its fourth, in which the Dictionary Editorial Department hastily tries the save the dictionary project from impending doom due to budget cuts. Cinematographically, it’s perhaps the most delicate and flowing of all the episodes, but it’s also arguably the most proficient at using multiple scenes and situations to reinforces the show’s core themes. With Nishioka leveraging his substantial talents to make the contacts that will save the dictionary standing on one end of the episode, we see the budding connection between Majime and Kaguya on the other, ending with a fantastic conversation in ferris wheel about the sustaining force of a quiet passion. That same soft enthusiasm runs through Fune wo Amu as a whole, and it makes it a joy.
#3. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Ah, tragedy! Ah, theater! Ah, performance! Thus goes the tale of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, and thus goes my love of it. Period dramas can be a bit hit or miss for me, but to call Rakugo just a period drama does disservice to a show that is clearly in love with its own subject matter (the storytelling art of rakugo) to the degree that it cannot help but allow rakugo itself to become an essential channel for its characters. Lives and loves are funneled through rakugo as the stage and life become inextricably intertwined. The performer in me exalts at the pure truth of performance that Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju puts on display for all to see.
In some ways, the story of Rakugo is but half-told in this season, but at the same time it is complete. And while it is tragic and sad, the depth of humanity—angry, betrayed, joyful, needy, sad—it embodies recommends itself. If I were to put it poetically, I would say that Rakugo desires to make beautiful the dark hearts of humans. In this way I find the artificiality of the show’s play-like presentation essential; the framing of the lives of Sukeroku, Miyokichi, and Yakumo is such that even amidst loss the shaded beauty of humanity cannot be missed.
- “The Universality of Particularity in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju“
- “Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju and the Humanity of the Stage“
orange was an anime that was a long time coming for me, a manga that I’d all but given up hope of seeing animated after its live-action version was announced. But sometimes miracles do happen in this industry—and in the case of orange it was a miracle that was always destined to lead to something good thanks to the strength of the source material. I first read the orange manga on Crunchyroll a couple of years ago and quickly recognized it for the gentle, warm, empathetic story it was, but as I’ve learned more about caregiving for people going through hard times, I’ve grown more and more impressed with the tale’s understanding of empathy, friendship, and hope.
While I think I’ll continue to prefer the original manga as the best version of orange, the anime itself succeeds through production struggles, ill-advised digressions about the technicalities of time travel, and occasionally odd directorial choices simply because of how clearly its message of love rings out above everything else. I’ve seen far too many shows collapse on top of similarly important messages to say that orange could have succeeded as an anime no matter what, but the facts are that it didn’t have to—it was as good as it needed to be, even great at times, and that was enough for us to hear orange tell us that everyone is worthy of love, and worthy of hearing so.
#1. Concrete Revolutio: The Last Song
While there’s a part of me that feels a bit odd about giving the number one spot to the same anime two years in a row, I firmly believe Concrete Revolutio: The Last Song deserves to be here. The vast majority of my favorite anime are deeply and personally embedded in individual characters, but what makes Conrevo so special is that it takes that same sort of fundamental dynamic and applies it to human society, politics, and big concepts like truth and justice. In other words, the well of universality that Conrevo draws from is inherently different than the one character-driven shows use. Rather than finding its point of connection in the commonality of our emotional and relational experiences of the world, it pulls back to a broader view, one that affirms and condemns the virtues and vices of humanity as a whole without the mediation of representative characters.
To clarify, because it’s not as if Concrete Revolutio doesn’t have relatable characters. Instead, the point is that the characters in Conrevo are actors for the show’s ideas, rather than the sources of them. It’s a different way of doing things, but Conrevo succeeds because those ideas gradually feed back into the characters, until the final moments of the final episode, where the show’s realist, hopeful ideology spills out through Jiro. It was beautiful. It was moving. It was powerful, relevant, and important. Shows like this don’t come along often, and when they do we gosh darn better remember them.