Well its that time again. The Winter 2017 season has finally (mostly) wrapped up. As anime seasons go it was pretty middle of the road. Not as bad as some people predicted, but generally just pretty ok. I ended up finishing eight shows, which is about what I normally shoot for. So what did I think? well, read on to find out!
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who Makes a Lot of Friends
Kemono Friends is, perhaps, the most unlikely anime success story in history. Its honestly hard to believe that its sitting here at the top of this list. Few shows truly “come out of nowhere”. Someone anticipates them. Someone sees the key visuals, or the PV and thinks “yes, this is the show for me”. Its hard to imagine anyone doing that for Kemono Friends. Even the pre-existing fanbase seemed an unlikely source of support. The game was so unpopular it shut down in December of last year.
But here we are. As I type, the director has just released on his own Youtube and NicoNico channels a two and a half minute long “Episode 12.1“. The first volume of the BD release has sold out at least three entire production runs. All this for a show made by 10 people over the course of 500 days. Its hard to think of any show that has had this level of success coming from such incredibly adverse circumstances. Perhaps there is one, I’m not sure. But I’m happy so many people have been touched by this show. But why? What was it about this show? Well, lets briefly look at the final arc.
Many shows try to be shocking in their final arc, killing or seeming to kill a main character. Many shows try to bring the whole cast back for the final battle. Often they fail. The deaths seem forced or meaningless, the characters who show up for the final battle are long forgotten. Kemono Friends, this silly looking show about animal people who live in run-down ruins of human civilization, pulled it off. Amazingly so. The final moments of episode 11 are truly shocking. The Friends coming together in the beginning of episode 12 to save Kaban is earned, the cheesiness of the Owls’ dialog and everyone posing in front of the name of the show. Lucky Beast sacrificing itself to destroy the Colossal Cerulean. The party at the amusement park. There are shows that have tried to do all of those things, with a hundred times the art and animation, but couldn’t pull it off.
Because, of course; The True Kemono Friends Were the Friends We Made Along the Way.
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who Found a Family
Kobayashi-san Chi no MaiDragon
If Kemono Friends was the most surprising show of the season, in terms of how much I enjoyed it, MaiDragon is almost certainly the opposite. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but I went in expecting it to be stellar and to love it and it was and I did. The only real surprise is that it isn’t at the top of this list. Though in fairness, Kemono Friends and MaiDragon are really tied for first. Anyway. This goddamn show.
I don’t need to tell you its excellently produced, go read kViN’s production notes over on Sakuga Blog if you want more details on how good it was as a production. Suffice to say, its the best looking show of the season, and in the top 5 for the last year, easily. What I want to talk about is how utterly flawless it is as a story about a family. MaiDragon is generally billed as a “Yuri comedy about a dragon who falls in love with a programmer and becomes her maid”, which is basically correct. But its so much more. MaiDragon is really, truly, about a family.
Honestly the “yuri” aspect is surprisingly downplayed. Its not hidden or anything it just…ceases to be important. Yes, Kobayashi and Tohru are both women. Yes Tohru loves Kobayashi (sexually) and yes Kobayashi is a lesbian. However that is not what is put in center focus. Its really the trio, Kobayashi, Tohru her Maid/Wife and Kanna, their daughter. Kanna is what brings everything together. Without Kanna this would be a much lesser story. Still enjoyable, but it wouldn’t reach the heights it does. So this goes out to the tiny dragon child, and hoping that she can find a relationship as fulfilling as the one her mothers share.
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who is Polyamorous
Its hard to know what to say about Urara. I could just link you to Something’s end of season write-up, and say “read that”, but that’s a cop-out. (but do read it!) Urara is….Urara is one of the most unabashedly intimate shows I’ve watched in a long time. Not in a purely sexual way, though that is most certainly one aspect of it, but in a way that lowers the boundaries people build between each other.
The four girls of Natsume-ya aren’t “family”, and they aren’t “lovers” but they have aspects of both. Over the course of the series they develop bonds that hold them tight, but also strengthen and support. None of them could have passed the 9th Rank exam alone. Only together were they able to overcome the obstacles and grow, as Urara and in their relationships with each other.
Perhaps its appropriate that it rounds out my top three for the season. Blending the Friendship and Family themes of Kemono Friends and MaiDragon together into something distinctly its own. All three shows are about accepting others, about learning to trust and rely on the people around you.
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who is Bad at Their Job
Gabriel Dropout really shouldn’t have been as fun as it was. Its basic concept is solid, “What if Angels and Devils were friends and also very bad at their ostensible jobs”, but it really doesn’t seem like a premise that could hold a full length show for an entire 12 episodes. Yet, somehow, it worked. And its not because it really ever went away from that concept. The show has four main characters, each of whom pretty much has precisely one joke.
The reason it works is that all four of the girls (even Raphi) are actually very charming and likable. Sure, Gab is a lazy slob who’d rather play games than do anything, but she’s not actually a bad person. Vigne may be perhaps the nicest person on three different planes of existence, but she still gets frustrated and upset. Satania may have delusions of grandeur, but she’s also forthright and honest. Raphi may be somewhat predatory and take delight in watching her friends suffer, but she also knows when she’s about to go a little too far.
Putting these four together led to numerous different scenarios, each of which remained fresh, even if the same basic jokes were at work each time. Consistently funny and with a surprising amount of heart.
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who is Very Short
While definitely the inferior show about girls with cat ears this season, Nyanko Days knew what it wanted to do and was very good at doing it. The premise is pretty thin and falls apart if you look at it too hard, but it made for a fun 2 minutes every week. I could watch this show basically forever.
While of course the main point of the show was watching the adorable Nyankos be adorable, it managed, in its very brief run time, to also set up a very cute romance between the protagonist Yuuko and the rich girl in her class, Azumi. With any luck we’ll get more Nyankos someday!
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who Wants to Pass the Audition
Unlike the other shows on this list, BanG Dream hasn’t finished airing, having started late and then skipping a week on top of that, so its only at episode 10. But Its still part of Winter Season so deserves to be discussed here. Anyway. BanG Dream really really wants to be Love Live. Its not Love Live. However that doesn’t mean its not good.
So, the basic pitch of BanG Dream boils down to “what if Love Live but instead of Idols they are all girl pop-rock bands?”, which honestly is a pretty good pitch. How does it work out? Well, pretty good, all in all. But…its still not Love Live. What holds BanG Dream back from its aspirations is almost that its too well written. Love Live, especially the original two seasons, exists in a sort of almost-magic reality where things work out despite there being absolutely no way they ever possibly could. Sunshine is much closer to BanG Dream, in both the characters find themselves far more constrained by little things like, well “reality”. Though BanG Dream goes much further than even Sunshine.
I don’t know if its because of the Series Composition by Ayana Yuniko (whom you might remember is the person who helped create the concept of a certain show) or if its just a happy accident, but BanG Dream most certainly does not take place in a world where the protagonist can yell the rain away and summon a musical number to clear the snow to their venue. Kasumi, to put it frankly, is annoying. She’s also overconfident and hyperactive and not nearly as talented as she thinks. All of these come together to make her one of the most interesting protagonists of the season. But that will be a discussion for a later time…
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who is Good at War Crimes
This show should not have been good. Everything about it made it look like the worst sort of jingoistic propaganda hiding behind a pseudo-historical setting. Its premise was ridiculous. A Japanese Salaryman dies and is cursed by god to be reincarnated as a little girl in an alternate version of Europe circa World War I. Where they then become a military genius at age 10 and lead the Not-German Empire to victory.
Yet, somehow, the show was amazing. The subtitle/English title for the show “The Saga of Tanya the Evil” actually ends up being remarkably accurate. Tanya is evil, by most standards. She commits several clear War Crimes and is entirely motivated by her own desires. In her previous life she was a bad person who was murdered by someone who’s life they had destroyed without a single extra thought. They end up as Tanya because they spouted libertarian nonsense at God. Truly, Tanya earns our scorn.
Yet by the end you end up, if not rooting for her, then wanting to see where she goes. Despite her ridiculous appearance and distinctly Aoi Yuuki voice, she has an intense amount of charisma. Its easy to see why the soldiers in her battalion follow her. And why after an unhinged rant against God, they would still follow her into an almost certainly hopeless battle. Tanya may be evil, but she’s incredibly fun to watch.
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who Enjoys Biking
Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu
Just go watch Long Riders.
…ok fine. Minakama wasn’t a bad show by any means. It was in fact generally quite pleasant to watch. It just…doesn’t have much staying power. Even now barely a week after it ended I struggle to find things to say about it other than “it was ok”. I can think of worse shows to watch from this season, but I can also think of many much better ones. And if you just restrict yourself to shows about girls on bicycles, last season’s Long Riders was a much more solid show (if not nearly as nice looking most of the time).
Minakama is perhaps most notable as being effectively an advertisement for Kamakura, and on that note it succeeds. I certainly would like to go see Kamakura if I ever go to Japan. Though this is hardly the first show to prominently feature several well known Kamakura tourist spots. Ultimately, Minakama is a fine show that doesn’t do anything other shows haven’t done just as well, if not better. If it hadn’t aired right after the far superior in everything but art Long Riders, I’d probably have a better view of it.
Perhaps You Are a Friend Who Could Have Put In More Effort
Schoolgirl Strikers is the most generic anime ever created. It at times feels more like a fake anime inside another anime, something so utterly anime that it only serves as a representative of anime as a concept. The show has no new ideas, no interesting concepts and nothing visually unique. It is simply an anime.
I finished the show two days ago as I write this and I can already barely remember details about it. Its just such a nothing show. It had flashes of good humor. A few episodes around the middle were quite funny and leaned into the quirkiness of the characters, but ultimately it builds to a climax that feels unearned and without any actual tension or stakes. Tsubame, the ostensible lead, is almost completely devoid of character. She just exists in the show, I don’t think I could name one distinct personality trait she has. The rest of the cast is similarly vapid. There are a few clever designs (the Kugimiya Rie twins were good) and the Io/Mana ship is nice, but I doubt I’ll remember any of them by the end of year.
All in all the show is completely forgettable on every level, and the best you can say about it is that its not actually bad or offensive in any way. It just…exists. Barely. Go watch Ange Vierge instead.
Perhaps You Are Friends Who Weren’t Worth Finishing
Little Witch Academia
Dropped because it honestly wasn’t very fun or engaging. Not to mention that it wanted me to care about Akko’s feelings for The Least Interesting Man In the World. Trigger is bad, actually.
Demi-chan wa Kataritai
Someone give the Vampire her own show without the teacher.
No seriously just watch Aikatsu.