We’ve finally reached the end of what is probably one of the weirdest and most unexpected anime seasons to date. So what are the top 5 anime of winter 2016.
Despite the almost unanimous, apathetic cries of “no hype” echoing across the community due to the lack of hugely anticipated titles, there were actually quite a few great shows, and many of them came from entirely unexpected sources. Two of the best titles were about being trapped in a fantasy world with video game mechanics, two were Studio Deen anime, and one was both of those things, while the single anime that everyone rallied around turned out to be fairly average and not really worth much attention at all; so apparently we’ve spent the entire last three months in Opposite Land.
In any event, now that the dust has finally settled, it’s time to count down the best anime from the Winter 2016 season.
Studio Deen making a “trapped in a video game world” anime should have been the biggest bomb of the season. KonoSuba could have tanked horrendously and no one would have batted an eye, and yet it turned out to be the best comedy of the season. As I mentioned in my review, this series comes prepared to parody and ridicule all those dumb tropes we’ve seen develop in this subgenre lately, and it rarely lets the joke end at the first punchline, causing a chain of never-ending hilarity across the entire season. While it is notably lacking in any sort of character development, it isn’t all that necessary for it to focus on that, as its comedy is so strong that you can blaze through the entire series in no time at all. The animation, while not great, has a certain charm to it in how its rough and disjointed design seems to reflect the reversal of expectations that come with the parody elements. I almost didn’t pick this one up this season because I’d had it up to here with being trapped in a video game world, but KonoSuba definitely won me over, and I can’t wait til the next season airs.
Available on: Crunchyroll
4. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Continuing on with RPG-style fantasy world anime that are actually good, we have a more serious take on this subgenre that, to me, blows its A-1 Pictures counterpart Sword Art Online out of the water. Rather than have one main character that’s super talented at everything with a bunch of women clinging to his coattails, Grimgar focuses on a party of weaker players that really, really suck at killing monsters, and watching them slowly grow over the course of the series was one of the most gratifying arcs I’ve watched all year. On top of having to get stronger individually, they’re also forced to confront their huge weakness of lacking teamwork and communication within their party. There is a ton of awkward tension between everyone at the start and you really do wonder whether they’ll even be able to stay together for the entire series. It’s made very obvious that if they don’t get their act together, they will be killed eventually, and some of them actually do. Death has a real consequence in this world and it casts a massive shadow over the entire series, but watching these characters grow in spite of that fear makes this series very captivating. The animation, unfortunately, is very hit-and-miss despite its unique watercolor backgrounds, and the soundtrack is one of the few that I have significant problems with on the whole. Even so, the story is more than enough to keep your attention as the fight for survival pushes onward.
Available on: FUNimation
3. Snow White with the Red Hair*
Image provided by kotaku.com
The shoujo demographic appears to be in the midst of a notable revival in quality and popularity that hasn’t been seen since the Fruits Basket and Ouran days, and Snow White is one of the titles leading the pack. From its strong and lovable lead character Shirayuki, to the troubled but dependable Prince Zen, to the stalwart knights that accompany both of them, the true magic of this series shines through in its characters. It’s also a perfect example of how to write characters involved in a romance plotline, in that the romance is not the be-all end-all event in their lives. Shirayuki and Zen have duties and interests that lie outside of their romantic interests, making them much more interesting and likable characters once they do start to show feelings for each other. That being said, the romance itself is still very satisfying and overflowing with bubbly romantic dialogue that will definitely warm your heart. While some may find the story rather slow and boring because “not much happens,” it’s in the relationships between all the different characters that we find some truly engrossing and captivating dialogue and development. Coupled with absolutely stellar animation from Studio Bones and a swelling soundtrack of soothing strings to accompany the mood, Snow White with the Red Hair is an absolute must-watch for romance fans.
Available on: FUNimation
*Note: Snow White was planned as a split-cour series from the start, so while its first season aired in 2015, I am still counting it as ending in the Winter season because this was its intended stopping point.
2. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Though I don’t have much experience as a Gundam fan yet, IBO has shown to be a fantastic way for new fans to jump into this massive franchise, which appears to be in line with Sunrise’s plan to show it on every major streaming network imaginable. From adrenaline-fueled actions sequences to heartbreaking character drama, this series covers the entire emotional spectrum through its well-executed mech combat and its focus on themes of bonds and family amidst a cruel and unforgiving world. The dual protagonists Orga and Mikazuki are incredibly captivating, with Orga trying to manage his role as a leader and feeling responsible for everyone’s livelihood, and Mikazuki’s cold, yet not compassionless, demeanor that pushes him far beyond the bounds of the typical main Gundam pilot. The supporting cast is filled with dozens of likable and memorable characters, and the world that they interact in feels real and exciting in its political and social strife. While there are a few problems with draw distance on facial expressions, the animation on the whole is incredibly solid, especially when it comes to combat and mechanical design, and the accompanying soundtrack by rising star Masaru Yokoyama adds the perfect tone to each scene. If you’ve been dragging your feet on jumping into Gundam because you’re not sure of a good starting point, Iron-Blooded Orphans is your perfect guide to help you on your journey into one of anime’s oldest franchises.
1. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
A Studio Deen drama anime aimed at the josei demographic focusing on a form of traditional Japanese storytelling; how in the name of Haruhi Suzumiya did this anime turn out so amazing? As mentioned in my review, this truly was the overlooked miracle of the season, combining a living, breathing world of art and performance with deep and complex characters that feel almost as real as the people you meet every day. Kikuhiko’s struggle to find purpose in his performance contrasted against Sukeroku’s laid back manner conflicting with rakugo formalities made these two some of the best characters to be given screen time this season. Practically shunning all of the stereotypical anime nonsense that you’re used to, this show takes its story and characters very seriously, thus allowing us to get truly invested in their struggles and hardships. Despite my initial fears that I wouldn’t be able to understand the art of rakugo itself, the show laid out the basics very clearly through engagement in the performance itself, rather than exposition dumps, and I grew to appreciate the many subtleties of each actor’s different performance styles. The animation is very solid and grounded in reality, while the soundtrack blends big band and Japanese traditionalism in a culture clash fitting for the time setting. Shouwa Genroku is definitely my pick for Anime of the Season for telling its dramatic and heartfelt story almost perfectly, and it should definitely be on your watch list if it isn’t there already.
Available on: Crunchyroll
While many of the titles from this season were fairly disappointing (I actually dropped over half of the shows that I picked up this season), there are clearly still a few standout titles that deserve your attention.
Now that the new Spring season is underway, however, we can finally start digging into the real meat of what this year of anime has to offer.