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2016 Anime of the Year Pt. 1: Writer's Corner

Our writers select the best anime in 3 different categories - visuals, music, writing - as we take a look back at the year in anime.

by MAL_editing_team
Dec 28, 2016 1:20 AM | 51,293 views

Selection criteria: Any anime which ended in 2016 is eligible. This includes OVAs and ONAs. Movies will not be included due to the difficulty of watching them abroad, otherwise you can assume Your Name and A Silent Voice probably would have won far more awards.

Score/ranking data as of December 18th, 2016

Best Visuals: Nominations

The anime from this year that looked the best. Not just on a technical animation quality level, but through artistic direction and distinct style as well.

Scamp: Mob Psycho 100

MAL Score: 8.55 | Popularity Ranking: #224

Mob Psycho 100
Mob Psycho was definitely the most ambitious and wild when it came to what it attempted with its visuals. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best, as there are times when scenes don’t quite work, but by pushing the boundaries of what anime can achieve visually it pulled off some of the most spectacular sequences. What the show did with shading and hard lines whenever Mob lost his cool were some of the most jaw-dropped scenes in anime this year. When you push animators to their creative limits, they can produce extraordinary things.

Honourable mentions: Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

HoyvinGlavin64: Yuri on Ice

MAL Score: 8.61 | Popularity Ranking: #503

Yuri on Ice
Even in its rougher state (the streaming release, which has to be ready in advance for subtitling, isn’t quite as polished as the Japanese TV airing, which one presumes will be polished up further for Blu-Ray), it’s incredible just how graceful and realistic Yuri on Ice’s animation is. Each episode contains multiple unique fully-animated figure skating routines that regularly amaze. The character designs are attractive and believably expressive. Bonus points for the absolutely stunning opening animation, one of the few OPs I’ve never skipped.

Honorable mentions: Lupin III Part IV, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, Mob Psycho 100

Littoface: Drifters

MAL Score: 7.94 | Popularity Ranking: #516

Drifters definitely stands out for its unique visuals. Its gritty, thick-lined animation is reminiscent of old Japanese paintings, and is about what you'd expect from the legendary creator of Hellsing. The style doesn't mesh quite as well during the gags and jokes but for every other purpose it's a fresh departure from the "anime style" norm.

Honorable mentions: Yuri on Ice, Nanbaka

Jankenpopp: Sakamoto desu ga

MAL Score: 7.67| Popularity Ranking: #279

Sakamoto desu ga
High school comedies live and die by their art direction. Everyday settings need their own flavor to stand out, and Sakamoto desu ga picks straight-faced lunacy. The exaggerated character design and expressions bring to mind the grotesquerie of last year’s Prison School, bouncing from slick and stylish to viscerally ugly exactly as needed. Watch without audio and Sakamoto still skates through a loud, jealous world unscathed.

Honorable mentions: Sekkou Boys, Kotetsujou no Kabaneri

Guardian Enzo: Mob Psycho 100

MAL Score: 8.55 | Popularity Ranking: #224

I can’t possibly go against Mob Psycho here. Between Bones usual glorious 2D animation and director Tachikawa Yuzuru’s unique personal style, this adaptation did a masterful job of bringing ONE’s... unique... vision to life. It’s beautiful and whimsical stuff.

Honorable Mentions: Boku no Hero Academia, Boku Dake ga Inai Machi

Final Deliberations

Scamp: The final winner isn’t necessarily the winner of the popular vote, in this case Mob Psycho 100, as people can flag their issues with the frontrunner here if they really think it shouldn’t win. Since the closest second place here would be Yuri on Ice, I want to say that I actually had some big issues with its visuals. I felt the ambition of what they tried to portray in the skating sequences didn’t match their actual animation leading to some real derp faces and a difficulty at portraying the emotion the performances were supposed to present. That said, I’ve only seen the streaming versions and maybe they dramatically improve elsewhere?

HoyvinGlavin64: This article gives comparisons between the streaming and TV broadcasts of Yuri on Ice. My pick of Yuri over Mob comes down mainly to design aesthetics in the end; I prefer Yuri’s designs, so that combined with the breathtaking ambition and the many great moments each episode where that ambition succeeds placed it above Mob for me even though it has its occasional lows. I guess I’m a sucker for this stuff; I also loved Attack on Titan’s animation flaws and all because the combination of great design and action unlike any anime I’d seen before makes the occasional compositing error or off model moment forgivable.

Guardian Enzo: I’m with Scamp on this one. I enjoy YoI, but there are serious inconsistencies with the animation which would prevent me from ever nominating it in this category, much less saying it should win. At times it’s beautiful, no question - but there are also times when the strain on the animators really shows through. MP100, by contrast, is consistent start to finish. It’s also visually inventive and at its best (featuring some of the most legendary A.D.s in anime history) it’s spectacular.

Jankenpopp: Perhaps I’ve been desensitized to supernatural weirdness, but there’s not a lot in MP100 I haven’t seen elsewhere. Yes, both it and One-Punch Man are from the same artist, but two different studios seem to have ended up in more or less the same place in terms of animation. It’s kind of a loud and derivative place. Perhaps MP100 just suffers from having to share space this year with fare like Space Patrol Luluco and Phantom World.

Littoface: Honestly I just don't find MP100's visuals appealing. If I wanted a Western show, I'd watch one -- I enjoy anime visuals when they're at their most.. well, anime. Drifters caught my eye because it managed to blend the two styles into one that is still decidedly Eastern. If I had to pick a winner, though, the popular Yuri is simply beautiful.

Winner: Mob Psycho 100

Mob Psycho 100 Aragaki
While no entry had universal popularity, Mob Psycho 100 manages to win with 2 nominations and 1 runner-up placement.

Best Music: Nominations

The anime with the best musical score (and not just the opening and ending themes, although they can be taken into consideration)

Scamp: Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt:

MAL Score: 8.00 | Popularity Ranking: #2505

Gundam Thunderbolt 2
What an eclectic mashup of music this shorter Gundam OVA had. It was a mix of freeform jazz, operatic numbers, and 1950’s lounge music. The type that would be sung by a lady in a dark bar on a stage in a long red dress to a room full of men wearing fedoras, clutching glasses of whiskey on the rocks, and wondering why they’re so miserable all the time. It’s kind of incredible how they mesh this soundtrack with what’s going on too. Jazz used for when people are losing their minds, lounge for when they’re depressed, and opera for when they’ve made their minds up. It’s incredibly well done all around.

Honourable mentions: Haikyuu!!: Karasuno Koukou VS Shiratorizawa Gakuen Koukou, Drifters

HoyvinGlavin64: Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt

MAL Score: 8.00 | Popularity Ranking: #2505

What Scamp said. Anyone who’s been waiting for the second coming of Cowboy Bebop’s score should be super-pleased by just how goddamn cool Thunderbolt’s music was.

Honorable mentions: Lupin III Part IV, Thunderbolt Fantasy (not technically anime but still totally anime and that soundtrack rules)

Littoface: ClassicaLoids

MAL Score: 5.82 | Popularity Ranking: #2798

I'm a classical music fan so I may be biased when I say the music of ClassicaLoids is fantastic. The anime exposes viewers to classical music with a popular twist and sometimes even adds lyrics to famous (and not-so-famous) classical music pieces… in the most absurd way possible. As an anime whose entire premise is to highlight the power of music (or at least "Musique"), the musical parts are done right. The OP is also unskippable for the modernization of yet another piece you might recognize, and for the ridiculous images that it complements.

Jankenpopp: Kotetsujou no Kabaneri

MAL Score: 7.38 | Popularity Ranking: #142

Kotetsujou no Kabaneri
If Wit Studio made chocolate bars, you’d bite into a delicious caramel confection and realize halfway through that they’d made the interior out of wax. Yet still I find myself queuing up the bombastic score of Kabaneri when I need to get motivated. The primary strength of Wit’s Attack on Titan was in its orchestra-backed action beats, and that holds true for their otherwise faltering Walking Dead/Snowpiercer hybrid.

Honorable Mention: Kiznaiver

Guardian Enzo: 91 Days

MAL Score: 7.93 | Popularity Ranking: #364

91 Days
91 Days did a remarkable job of creating an atmosphere that was authentic to the genre it was paying homage to - the American gangster film. And a big part of that was Kaida Shogo’s soundtrack, which echoed the likes of Sergio Leone while still feeling fresh and contemporary. There are a lot of reasons to love this series, and the music is one of the biggest.

Honorable Mention: Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge, Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari

Final Deliberations

Scamp: Just in case you haven’t seen Thunderbolt, as it was a rather underwatched OVA series that was easy to miss, here is an example of the music. Hopefully I can convince you non-believers with this...

HoyvinGlavin64: You don’t even need to be a Gundam fan! I mean, it helps, but Thunderbolt is fun and accessible in a way where Gundam shows can often be slow and convoluted.

Guardian Enzo: I’ve watched part of Thunderbolt and I confess, I didn’t find the music all that notable. But there’s clearly a strong consensus on this one.

Jankenpopp: I’m a sucker for electronica-tinged orchestra, so any time Hiroyuki Sawano scores something I’ll be listening to it for months after the show ends. Though speaking of Gundam, looks like he did Unicorn...I may have to look into that.

Littoface: I am just… not a Gundam fan. Sorry to disappoint, guys. Music is usually background noise and I tend to block out anything but the OP and ED so I'm just not the most qualified judge for this one. Can I just go with the flow and say Gundam anyway? I hear the music is awesome, or something.

Winner: Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt

Gundam Thunderbolt 1
The flow gets it. Gundam wins!

Best Writing: Nominations

This is how good the script is. How well-written the dialogue is, how snappy the jokes are, how well articulated the characters are able to be with their emotions, and everything else in between.

Scamp: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

MAL Score: 8.59 | Popularity Ranking: #829

Showa Genroku
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is able to convey so much about the characters’ emotions with so few lines of dialogue, it’s quite incredible. There’s an elegance to how perfectly they’re able to encapsulate their feelings with their relatively brief speeches. It’s such an incredible accomplishment how they are able to bring across such complex layers of emotions with its dialogue without characters necessarily saying outright how they are feeling.

Honourable mentions: 91 Days, Girlish Number

HoyvinGlavin64: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

MAL Score: 8.59 | Popularity Ranking: #829

Scamp and I are agreeing on a lot, it seems. On top of what he said, it should be noted that the show’s already building on a wealth of pre-existing literary tradition through all the rakugo stories the characters perform over the course of the series. In that sense there’s also an aspect of careful curation to the screenplay, showcasing some of Japan’s best traditional storytelling while using those stories as building blocks for crafting an original narrative.

Honorable mentions: Yuri on Ice, Joker Game

Littoface: Sakamoto desu ga

MAL Score: 7.67| Popularity Ranking: #279

Sakamoto desu ga
When we think of "great writing" we usually think of things that make you feel things, or inspiring dialogue. But there's an art to creating amazing jokes as well, and Sakamoto absolutely nails it. The gags and jokes here always hit the mark, and the punchline never fails to surprise. Much of the humor is visual, and combined with a few well-placed lines of dialogue, you get one anime that keeps viewers laughing out loud throughout. Not many anime can do that.

Honorable mentions: Occultic;Nine, 91 Days

Jankenpopp: Boku dake ga Inai Machi

MAL Score: 8.65 | Popularity Ranking #52

An everyman protagonist generally works best as a foil for the rest of the cast, but Satoru Fujinuma hooks you from the start once he finds an injustice worth dying to correct. His is a story of feeling trapped and finding a higher purpose, a theme made all the stronger for being shared by the antagonist. Fair warning: this show uses cliffhangers the way The Lion King’s Scar did to Mufasa.

Honorable mentions: Yuri on Ice, Big Order

Guardian Enzo: 91 Days

MAL Score: 7.93 | Popularity Ranking: #364

91 days
”Best Writing” is a tough category, because original and adapted series require a very different standard of assessment. So when I give this nod to 91 Days, that’s not an endorsement as the best series of the year. But it is an acknowledgement that Kishimoto Taku has a larger role in its success than any writer of one of the year’s best series, because he constructed the entire exquisite story from scratch. It’s a tough call, because in many ways adaptation can actually be more difficult.

Honorable Mention: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge

Final Deliberations

Scamp: You are a scholar and a gentleman Hoyvin and I will follow you into battle! There is a lot of love here for 91 Days too though and I’ll say I was a pretty big fan of the writing there too. It never really made any missteps and was well-paced and delivered throughout. Consider that a second endorsement over Erased in case Rakugo gets vetoed.

HoyvinGlavin64: I haven’t watched 91 Days yet but I’ve been meaning to for a while. I will say Erased definitely would be up here if the ending was just a bit less eh.

Guardian Enzo: Kishimoto Taku had a great year - he adapted Boku Dake as well as writing 91 Days. I still contend these should be separate categories, but if we’re going to lump them together I’ll fight for 91 Days. Taku had to do all the heavy lifting here - the story is a beautiful construction, a modern tragedy, and he built it from the ground up.

Jankenpopp: I am told that the Erased manga tells a stronger story, but I don’t generally seek out the manga unless I find the anime lacking. Tokyo Ghoul’s second season did that to me in a way that Erased did not, because I happened to appreciate the way Satoru’s story wrapped up. On a different but related subject, his mother is my favorite character from any anime this year.

Littoface: I've heard that about Erased as well, but I don't generally read manga, so I don't have that bias. As I suspected, these picks lean to the serious and dramatic writing. Is there no love for perfection in comedy?

Winner: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Showa Genroku
With no veto, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu takes it, though much praise is also given to 91 Days as a close runner-up.

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