The Wrap-Up: Winter 2016

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If you go about doing a season preview, it is only obvious you also close off on a season review. In The Wrap-Up, all of our contributors get to shine a spotlight on the show they thought to be the very best of the past few weeks, as well as reflect back on the preview to see which shows let us down the most. When you watch currently airing anime or tokusatsu, eventually the question will rise which of these shows can rank amongst the medium’s true classics. Regardless of who covered what, this is where we single out the cream of the crop, and decide which shows from the past season deserve to stand the test of time.

If it’s made in Japan and airs on TV, it’s eligible, but naturally, a show can only be called “the best” when it has been watched in full, so only shows that ended this season can be nominated as show of the season. That means Mr. Osomatsu and Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans finally get their time to shine, even if the latter will pick up again sometime later this year. Nevertheless, this season’s Wrap-Up is a mostly predictable affair, with two shoe-ins for anime of the year already. And it’s only April!

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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Mr. Osomatsu

I often say “dumb comedies with heart” are my favorite anime genre but I may love “dumb comedies with black, evil hearts” even more. Osomatsu leans more into that category, but calling it “dumb” is probably a too dismissive. Yes, there is plenty of juvenile, lowest common denominator humor, but it cuts to the bone with surgical precision when it comes to channeling the pain of becoming an adult. It’s a weird, colorful, and hilarious spectacle that picks just the right moments to be taken seriously, and for that it’s not only my favorite anime of the season, it will probably be a strong contender for anime of the year.

Honorable Mentions: ​This was a really good season and I wish I had time to watch more. Shout out to Sekko Boys for filling the weird Miss Monochrome shaped hole in my heart, Dagashi Kashi for it’s sweet, laid back vibe, and Konosuba for being a “trapped in a game” series that isn’t terrible. Erased would probably be here too if I can ever get around to finishing it.

Which show let you down the most?

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Nurse Witch Komugi R

As just stated, I love “dumb comedies with black, evil hearts” and that is what Nurse Witch Komugi has always kind of been since the OVAs 10 years ago. It handles its subversive elements very subtly though, in fact they are so subtle that most of the show is a bland idol/magical girl mash up that bored me to tears. It tries to have it both ways really, throwing barbs at anime and the idol industry while trying to make you cheer for the characters to be successful at both. I’d love the show if it would commit to full on satire, but sadly that did not happen. They should have let Komugi’s rapper friend be a magical girl, now that’s a show I’d watch.

Dishonorable Mentions: None, this season was good!

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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ERASED

One of the most masterfully controlled character dramas we’ve seen in quite some time, ERASED was an anime that excelled on every level. The characters were strongly written, compelling and empathic, while the story which surrounded them was a great combination of murder mystery and human drama. Unlike most anime, ERASED realised that its unorthodox premise was a means to an end rather than an end unto itself, and refused to waste time justifying or rationalising its time travel shenanigans. Instead, it showed us what such a framing device could do on a dramatic and emotional level, as we went through triumph and tragedy with Satoru in his attempts to absolve himself of his guilt and save the girl he feels he let die. Seamlessly moving between dark horror and moving friendship, it’s one of the best character pieces in years.

Honorable Mentions: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash proved it’s possible to make the whole ‘trapped in a videogame’ premise into a rather good show, provided that you basically ignore the premise and instead make a charming slice-of-life character piece with gorgeous art. I’m not as high on Mr. Osomatsu as a lot of the crew are, but it had its moments and those moments were so devastatingly funny it’d be hard to begrudge it a spot here.

Which show let you down the most?

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ERASED

For about three quarters of its run, ERASED was the soulful, serious and really rather fantastic character piece that I’ve described above, but once Hinazuki exits the picture the show stumbles badly and never really recovers. Having to kick its murder mystery side into higher gear, the show essentially forgets what made it special, jumping into a rushed, slightly absurd conclusion that is both silly and unsatisfying. That’s not to say the show becomes bad per se but it’s impossible not to feel crushing disappointment after how masterfully the show tugged both your heartstrings and your conspiracy theories. In the end, ERASED was a victim of its own success.

Dishonorable Mentions: DImension W had a chance to be a super flashy, super dumb thing but instead disintegrated into a shallow, offensive and utterly baffling piece of tripe. Shuriken Sentai Ninninger proved that no matter how basic the formula, there’s still a way to screw it up grandly.

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What was your favorite show of the season?

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Mr. Osomatsu

Would Osomatsu be so highly regarded if any of us had seen it coming? It appeared seemingly out of nowhere and started smashing everyone in the back of the head with a nail bat until everyone decided it was great. This makes it sound like I only grudgingly accept Osomatsu, but it actually is the best comedy in years. It knows when to smash with the nail bat, when to drop a giant cartoon bomb on our heads, and when to fire with pinpoint accuracy to achieve the proper effect. I’m hard pressed to think of another time when we had an anime of the year contender so early.

Honorable Mentions: BBK/BRNK, which would probably win this if I were allowed to pick it; Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, for exceeding all expectations; ERASED, for being a solid character drama. And I hope that Animal Sentai Zyuohger stays good for the long haul; we’re gonna need something to keep our spirits up.

Which show let you down the most?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

Iron-Blooded Orphans is wasted potential, repeatedly stepping up to the line of competence, putting one foot over, and running back to the comfort of dull conversations, dramatic stares, and tangential subplots. Ultimately, this makes it even more disappointing than a merely bad show, because I felt as though I were repeatedly being swindled into watching more of it.

Dishonorable Mentions: ERASED, for its hokey ending and third act pacing issues; Dimension W for starting strong and then jumping off the deep end; Durarara!! for dragging its goddamn feet through anime hell. I’m super happy that we’re finally done with Shuriken Sentai Ninninger, but alas, we’re still stuck with Kamen Rider Ghost.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

Grimgar is effortless. This is a show about the kind of overall plot progression that most fantasy stories would get over with in three or four episodes, let alone a whole season. But Grimgar wasn’t about the fantasy. Sure, it was the driving element of our characters actions, but at its core Grimgar was always about its characters. I have never seen a show do so much with so little, where even the quiet moments of downtime that would feel like padding in a normal show drip with subtext and introspection. Most importantly, it did what we’ve been hoping would happen for years: it took a boilerplate trapped-in-a-game light novel and changed it into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Honorable Mentions: Mr. Osomatsu may still overtake Grimgar in my mind for the long run. There’s no denying that Mr. Osomatsu was the show for a lot of people. What other show could take six characters who literally have the same face and make them instantly distinguishable by the end of its run? Its mass appeal despite its frank and relentless nature is a testament to good writing and fantastic comedic timing. Its ability to go from episode-long setups to instant gags shows the real power of anime as a comedic artform. What was best about it was its merciless dissection of coming into adulthood in the 21st Century. For every great butt gag, there was an ESP-Kitty or Jyushimatsu in Love that showed off the writers chops. The Jyushimatsu festival showed just how quickly they were able to latch on to what was working and still made some enjoyable content to ride that popularity. Between two shows with amazing execution and fantastic endings, this was probably the most difficult Wrap-up decision I’ve had to make.

Which show let you down the most?
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Durarara!! x2

Oh Durarara!!, you were the show that convinced me to get a Crunchyroll subscription. You were the show that convinced me that subbed anime could be just as enjoyable as dubbed. Now look at yourself. You’re a mess. Your pacing is all over the place. You’re bursting at the seams with unnecessary characters and overbearing dialogue. Now, we can finally put you to rest, but that doesn’t mean our questions are answered. Why would Shinra need to cut off Celty’s head if she was just putting on an act as a full Dullahan? Why is Kida so quick to forgive the fact that Mikado fucking shot him? Why is it that no important characters can die, even the one Narita and everyone else knows should have died from day one? We were brought into Durarara!! and captivated by its infinite possibility and fantastic take on urban fantasy. Turns out the problem with infinite possibility is that at least a few of those possibilities have to be bad right? Nothing can save its reputation now, not even reflection on its stellar first season. For now, I’ll just have to take solace in the fact that at least Issac and Miria are still unintentionally spreading happiness everywhere.

Dishonorable Mentions: Usually a sub-par fanservice light novel show wouldn’t be something that could disappoint, but when it’s being made by KyoAni, you can usually hold onto some hope of quality and decency. I suppose you could say the quality was as it’s always been, but Myriad Colors: Phantom World used it to the most disgusting extent, with every female body part contorting and bouncing at all times and in all situations. How KyoAni thought this would be good for them is beyond me.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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ERASED

ERASED is the Twin Peaks of anime. Not necessarily because it is a timeless, genre-defying masterpiece — let’s be honest, it’s not quite that — but because it’s a character piece disguised as a murder mystery that completely falls apart in the most interesting way once it realizes it’s actually gonna have to solve that mystery. But like Twin Peaks, when ERASED is good, it is phenomenal. Around its middle point, when ERASED is mostly around Satoru’s interactions with Kayo and desperate attempts to save her from both a viciously abusive mother and a serial killer on the loose, it is some of the best anime I have ever seen; a tightly directed, poignantly scored, expertly paced marvel that is heart-melting and nerve-wracking in equal measure. ERASED is a show in which children act like children, parents act like parents and a 28-year-old man befriending a 10-year-old girl isn’t somehow made ultra-creepy at any given time, which for an anime, is an achievement in and of itself. It is the perfect antidote for a medium where thinly-veiled pedophilia, manufactured drama and hokey characterization are par for the course, bringing it to stellar heights it hasn’t seen in an long, long time. I couldn’t care less about its anticlimactic resolution.

Honorable Mentions: While Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash provided a beautiful, grounded and surprisingly mature take on a tired trope, BBK/BRNK is its polar opposite, a high-octane, hyperkinetic kaleidoscope of adorable bullshit and action setpieces that would make Bayonetta blush. And then there’s Sekko Boys, which is a… thing.

Which show let you down the most?

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Dimension W

In all fairness, we should have seen it coming. Dimension W started out with a wonky premise speeding towards a cliff from the get-go, and it only got worse from there. Hideously compressed arcs leading to all but incomprehensible developments and questions the show itself is to dense to even acknowledge are second nature to Dimension W, a show matched in its nuclear-powered ludicrosity only by its own pathetic attempts to be the next big thing. It has it all: a generic grizzled samurai-Wolverine hero with a permanent ‘attitude’ (read: an abusive thug), an easily applicable premise so easily applicable it is left with no distinguishable or consistent traits whatsoever and a dour smugness that ruins any potential train wreck value this try-hard joke of a show could have with a permanent desire to be as unfun as humanly possible. Plucky robot sidekick Mira is likely the only thing in this entire show you’ll care about; too bad Dimension W treats her almost as badly as it does you.

Dishonorable Mentions: Remember that show Kyoto Animation did this season? You know, the one where everyone was like “Holy crap, KyoAni, you’re better than this light novel dross”, laughed at the boob lingo scene for like a week and then never talked about ever again? Yeah, that one. Also, shout out to Shuriken Sentai Ninninger, that botched abortion of a Super Sentai that we somehow ended up watching all the way through if only because we secretly wished it would end with Takaharu getting fired up in the centre of a fucking volcano.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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ERASED

ERASED is my surprise of the season and one I’m glad I spent my extremely limited free time watching. It’s a great reminder how powerful and moving a self-contained personal narrative can be. It’s not the fate of the world at stake, but the lives of a few people who are very dear to our protagonist. ERASED does a stellar job of making you care about those people, and in turn makes you care about the mystery at hand. Honestly it’s a better character piece than it is a murder mystery, but its strong emotional core keeps it going to the very end. Also come on man, that Asian Kung Fu Generation OP.

Honorable Mentions: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash keeps the surprise train rolling with an emotionally satisfying take on one of the most stale anime premises around. While I wasn’t as hot on it as most of the guys here and Jyushimatsu is overrated, Mr. Osomatsu is still a damn fine comedy when it’s at its best.

Which show let you down the most?

I AM ANGRY. ANGRY LIKE THE ANGRY ROBOT MAN.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans

I’ve already written a ton about Iron Blooded Orphans so I’ll try and keep it short here. It isn’t necessarily a bad show. Considering it shares its namesake with such luminaries as Gundam SEED and Gundam AGE, things could be a lot worse. What makes it so disappointing is that it has all the ingredients of a great show, clinically blended into a bland pulp that can’t decide what it wants to be. It’s a damn shame too, Iron Blooded Orphans has some fantastic individual elements, from its top notch robot design to its evocative soundtrack. It makes it all the more disappointing that it fails to capitalise on any of its potential greatness. Overall, it’s a mediocre package that basically fails at everything it sets out to do.

Dishonorable Mentions: I’ve been too busy to watch much else, so I get to devote all my disappointment at Iron Blooded Orphans. Man that show is such a drag.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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ERASED

ERASED is the show I was looking forward to every week. It’s the show I almost missed a train for, just so I could catch the finale before being away for four days. It’s no masterpiece, but damn does it pull you in. The characters feel real enough for you to care about them, and the premise is far-fetched but somehow believable. You pick sides and root for Satoru even though what he does isn’t super interesting, and you ponder the identity of the killer even though you’re 99% sure you know who it is. But what if…? I would have loved to have seen more of Airi, but I hear the manga is a good place to get that. Despite a few stumbles, no other show this season came close to being as exciting as this one, and I’d be more than happy if we had just one show as interesting as this each season.

Honorable Mentions: I must say that Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger has been far more enjoyable than I expected. It’s no Kyoryuger, but it’s a good time nonetheless. So far.

Which show let you down the most?

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans

First of all, it’s not like this show is horrendously bad or anything. Iron Blooded Orphans suffers mostly because it gets so damn close to being that new, different take on Gundam we’ve been waiting for. It’s disappointing that it just couldn’t help but fall back on the usual Gundam tropes, such as the mysterious masked figure whose allegiances are murky, and the lack of subtlety when building up to character deaths. IBO paints a fascinating picture of a ragtag group of child soldiers slowly morphing into a terrorist group not unlike those we see in the real world, fixated on nothing but the mission at hand and the act of revenge. There’s an interesting story to tell here, but instead we see the same old ground retrodden, and that’s a shame.

Dishonorable Mentions: I dropped all of the nightmare bad shows that I covered as First Looks, so there’s not much to say here really. I’m enjoying Kamen Rider Ghost but it’s definitely a bad show. Dragon Ball Super is still technically in my ‘currently watching’ list but I haven’t touched that in months, though I feel safe in mentioning it here anyway.

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What was your favourite show of the season?

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

This is a difficult show for me to write about, at least in part because it’s one of the most un-anime anime titles I’ve ever seen. From the story itself to the cinematography, it’s a series that tends to stand out not for its flashiness or flamboyance but rather for just the opposite – Rakugo Shinjuu, despite technically being a drama, generally steers clear of loud dramatics and instead goes for the kind of restraint that at times I’d be tempted to call minimalist. At the same time, it’s extremely powerful in terms of presentation, since while the artwork and animation aren’t anything particularly showy, the actual camerawork is nothing short of stunning. Every little detail, from the shifting of a character’s feet to the amount of negative space taking up a shot, gain a huge amount of importance, which is in turn underscored by the subtle choices of music (or lack thereof) and some absolutely superb voice acting. Just for the record, I’m totally okay watching anime purely for fun, and I also don’t think ‘good’ anime necessitates being deep or profound, but at the risk of coming across as pretentious anyway – this is the kind of thing that elevates the medium from entertainment to art.

Honorable Mentions: Yes, most of that second half was nowhere near as tightly focused as the first, and yes, it also often lacked the same kind of emotional punch. That said, ERASED remained one of my most anticipated watches of the week every single episode, and certainly no other new series this season (other than Rakugo of course) came close to matching it. It’s not by any means a perfect show, but I think the positives still managed to outweigh the negatives in the end.

Which show let you down the most?

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Dimension W

I wouldn’t have cared one way or the other if Dimension W had been bad from the get-go, but I’m disappointed because it made me like it first. I liked the dance OP. I liked the two main characters as individuals (even if the dynamic between them left a lot to be desired). I liked the overall setting despite the details making no sense, and I liked the general style of its presentation. And then it all fell apart after the first three episodes, and all I was left with was a completely incoherent story and a bunch of skeevy fanservice that felt like it was trying desperately to be seen as legitimate characterisation. I would have been just fine had this continued to be nothing more than a mildly entertaining popcorn show, but instead it became progressively less enjoyable (and proportionally more distasteful) as time went on. In the end I got so fed up that I quit right in the middle of episode 8, with only four episodes left to go. Needless to say, I have no intention of ever going back to finish off.

Dishonorable Mentions: Why does a Gundam show always have to fall apart in the second half? I suppose that in all fairness, I liked what I saw at first because apart from its stellar opening episode, Iron-Blooded Orphans didn’t initially feel that much like a Gundam show at all – and since I’m not a Gundam or even a mecha fan, I was very okay with that. Then in the second half the writing took a nosedive and suddenly I was watching exactly the kind of show you’d expect from the title. Seriously, nearly every single thing that makes Gundam what it is (at least to my mind) started happening around the show’s latter half. “Oh well,” I’d be thinking to myself “as long as they’re not telegraphing the inevitable character deaths- oh wait. But hey, it’s not as if there’s some guy in a mask- aw crap. Well then, at the very least I can say that even the weirder hair styles in this thing aren’t all that- oh for the love of god.” And that was basically my running inner monologue for the rest of the series.

Check out this trailer for a cool student film project based on ERASED! … Oh wait, it’s an actual major theatrical feature. Well, that is embarrassing. Anyway, that was an obvious sweep if I’ve ever seen one. The message is clear, folks: if you like well-considered character dramas, we wholeheartedly recommend ERASED, while fans of comedies will find all they ever wanted in Mr. Osomatsu. Hey, one award for drama and one for comedy is fair, that’s how the ancient Greeks did it as well! If adults behaving like kids isn’t your thing, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash may be– wait, no, never mind, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu may be more up your alley. On the other hand, Gundam fans will be sad to hear that Iron-Blooded Orphans does not live up to the franchise’s strong reputation, while copious amounts of Funimation funding couldn’t stop Dimension W from being an incomprehensible, frustrating mess. In any case, we were quite satisfied with 2016’s first haul of anime. Let’s see if shows like My Hero Academia, Kiznaiver and Macross ∆ can keep up the pace.

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3 thoughts on “The Wrap-Up: Winter 2016

  1. I agree with most of your opinions, especially about shows like Grimgar, Dimension W and Iron Blooded Orphans, but I was hoping you’d be simpatico with my extreme disappointment at Erased. Like everyone else, I thought the first two or three episodes were sublime, but unlike most, from that point on I felt the show went into the crapper. Even setting aside the ludicrous final act, the whole middle section just struck me as an over-directed, unseemly melodramatic mess. We could start with the divorce-causing chocolate bar, but rather, I think it’s more important to point out that, actually, the kids DON’T talk like kids. I mean, seriously, does Kenya seem like a “real” kid to you? Because to me he seems like a plot device to unflinchingly support even the craziest of the protagonist’s suggestions.

    I guess I’m alone in feeling this way, but to me, Erased fails as both a thriller and as a character piece, and finally, even as a piece of camp – mustache-twirling villain and all. Partway in, I didn’t look forward to it at all anymore, in fact, I started dreading the heavy-handedness of its cinematic flourishes, like the film strip framing. Everything about it kept reminding me that I was watching inexcusably poor artifice dressed up and designed to have mass appeal.

    I guess it worked, though, so what do I know?!

    • Honestly, I stopped doing full coverage on it because I was starting to feel underwhelmed by the whole thing. I’ll be writing a bit about that soon.

  2. Consensus: Erased best show, IBO is a drag. That trailer for the live action, jeez. REVIVAL!!!

    Really enjoyed Boku dake as well, but yes after the first 3 eps it did experience a downturn. And Kenya was just way to grown up for that age. Dude can read your soul. Regardless the show dragged me in.

    But I would second Artemis’ selection and boldly state that Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is easily the most under appreciated and best show of winter 2015/16. That was character driven as well. The direction and animation were fantastic. And the window into the era was revealing. We all thought the “flashback” was taking it’s time, but in reality it was very well executed.

    Dimension W. buffff what garbage .

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