A Very GLORIO 2016: Gee’s Hot Takes of Excellence

2016_gee

2016 is already over? Crazy! What a shitshow huh? In all seriousness, 2016 was a trying year for me in a lot of ways. It’s been a busy year and for better or worse, I didn’t have a whole lot of free time. What little I did, I’m glad I spent it on the few shows I actually watched. 2016 was a solid year for anime (if not for literally anything else) and my awards are my chance to give a shoutout to their various accomplishments and qualities. Some of these awards are old standards, others are just my gut reactions to things I liked in 2016. Whatever, let’s go!

Best OP/ED

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Crazy Noisy BIzarre Town by The DU maybe isn’t the best JoJo OP, or even the best Part 4 OP, but it laid down the extremely good first impression of what to expect from Josuke Higashikata and the small town of Morioh.

Into the Sky by Sawano Hiroyuki feat. Tielle might be cheating since Mobile Suit Unicorn RE 0096 is just the OVA chopped up into TV-sized chunks, but the OP is technically new and I love Sawano’s tunes and the female singers he gets for them.

Pipo Password by Teddyloid feat. Bonjour Suzuki represents the EDs in our group of nominees. This is no insult to Space Patrol Luluco, but this song was the reason I looked forward to the ending of every episode. I can only hope there’s a Teddyloid/Bonjour Suzuki collaboration album on the horizon.

99 by Mob Choir, like the OP for its sibling show, One Punch Man, expertly combines imagery and audio to give you a pitch perfect introduction to its unique brand of oddity.

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Despite being a big fan of One Punch Man, I was far less familiar with Mob Psycho 100. I had my reservations about it, but 99 does a fantastic job of introducing you to its kooky world. It’s pure visual spectacle at its finest, supported by some excellent surreal comedic imagery. 99 itself is also a rocking tune that gets you hyped for whatever mundane thing threatens the sanity of our boy Mob every week. Overall, in a year of good OP/EDs, Mob Psycho 100’s stands above them all.

Best OST

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Gundam Thunderbolt’s soundtrack did an amazing job of bringing the original manga’s world to life, giving us the kind of raucous jazz and crooning tunes that represented two men and their desperate desire to kill each other. Sorry Io but I have to disagree, I think Daryl’s taste in music is quite good.

Already a fan of Yuki Hayashi’s work on Gundam Build Fighters, the My Hero Academia soundtrack had the leitmotifs and musical swells to perfectly accompany its subject matter. The heroic moments feel properly heroic thanks to it.

I’ve written about it before, but the Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans has a soundtrack far better than the show it belongs to. Passionate guitar, moody melodies, and a respect for pacing mark the soundtrack as one of the best in a mecha show in years. If you listened to only the soundtrack without ever watching the show, I couldn’t blame you for assuming Iron Blooded Orphans was one of the most compelling and entertaining Gundams of all time. Alas.

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My Hero Academia was already one of my favorite shows of the year. This was immensely helped by its amazing soundtrack. Scenes I had read in the manga were vastly enhanced in emotional scope by Yuki Hayashi’s excellent work. Certain scenes throughout the show nearly had me tearing up in response to just how well the tracks complemented the visuals. The My Hero Academia soundtrack perfectly encapsulates true heroism in its 35 tracks.

Best Looking Anime

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Mob Psycho 100 was a stylistic tour de force of ambitious animation and some truly striking visuals. While One Punch Man traded in spectacle, Mob Psycho 100 achieves in pure style.

Gundam Thunderbolt takes a spot here for the sheer technical quality it achieves in its four-episode run. Perhaps some of the absolute best robot animation I’ve seen in years.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash surprised in more ways than one. While its animation was nowhere near the levels of the other two nominees, it’s charming watercolor art direction evoked the kind of fantasy aesthetic that I couldn’t help but be drawn to.

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In terms of pure aesthetics, scale, and ambition, nothing came close to what Mob Psycho 100 set out to do. Striking imagery, unique aesthetics, and even a little spectacle went a long way to making it the most visually appealing anime of 2016.

Best Surprise

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ERASED came out of nowhere, at least for me. Hearing the premise didn’t exactly raise my expectations, but what I got was undeniably one of the most riveting narratives I have ever watched in anime.

Yuri!!! on Ice was another nebulous premise for me. Ice skating isn’t exactly the kind of sport to get my blood pumping, but the show’s dedication to its love for the sport and its athletes won me over in the end.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash definitely wins for, “Worst anime premise of 2016,” and it’s exactly why I was so caught off guard by the grounded melancholy story I got.

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A bunch of kids get stuck in the world of a video game. A seemingly milquetoast male protagonist is surrounded by cute girls. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is not as good of a show as ERASED or Yuri!!!, but neither had as much disparity between my initial expectations and what I actually got. Survival, grief, relationships; Grimgar dealt in it all in a believable way that no one would rightfully expect from an Isekai adaptation. An anime that could make you genuinely happy that its main characters had enough money to finally afford new underwear is a very special anime indeed.

Best Gundam

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Gundam: The Origin is an interesting biography of the man who would become The Red Comet. Less like memoirs and more like the documentation of a legitimate psychopath, The Origin has some interesting designs, moments, and some fantastic character animation.

Gundam Thunderbolt is one of the better entries in the franchise to explore the ultimate futility of war and the toll it asks of its combatants.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans is here because in some ways, the second season is making some genuine improves over its predecessor. Throw in some genuinely interesting subversions of your bog standard Gundam designs, and you have something that’s almost passable. That doesn’t excuse the numerous mistakes it makes and the issues it has, but hey, it’s still better than the Gundam Build Fighters Try OVA.

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Featuring some cool new takes on old designs, the absolute best robot animation in years, and an immersive soundtrack, Gundam Thunderbolt is the Gundam to watch in 2016. Thunderbolt shows you can balance robot spectacle and a tragic war story to create an enjoyable new experience.

Best Mom

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Sachiko Fujinuma from Erased was a compelling combination of maternal compassion, strong moral compass, and dedication to justice. Regardless of which timeline she appeared in, she established herself as an unyielding force of good.

Inko Midoriya from My Hero Academia is just a really good mom, period. Supportive, kind, and a little goofy, you can see where Deku gets so much of his charm from.

Frankly, Space Pirate Empress Lalaco Godspeed from Space Patrol Luluco could just as easily qualify as a nominee for “Worst anime mom of 2016.” Still in the end, when things really counted, Luluco had a fierce ally in the form of her…rambunctious mother.

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A part of me would not have even minded that much of Sachiko Fujinuma had been the main character instead of Satoru. Sachiko’s compassion and drive to help others was one of the most powerful emotional cores of what made ERASED such an engaging anime. Not only was she a good mom, but a genuinely interesting character and one who took an active part in resolving the mysteries that plagued Satoru’s childhood. Sachiko Fujinuma is a perfect example of why anime needs more diversity in the age range of its characters. A character as interesting as her can only exist in anime that are willing to go beyond the comfort zone of the high school years.

Best Moment

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Space Patrol Luluco Episode 7: “Planet KLK-X” was the episode where Trigger revealed their hand, cluing its unsuspecting audience on exactly what kind of show it was going to be. Who could have possibly predicted where the show finally ended up? It all started here.

My Hero Academia Episode 2: “You can become a hero” contains the moment that codifies the core of what made the WSJ adaptation so appealing.

Mob Psycho 100 Episode 12: “Reigen vs. CLAW” presents an absolutely vicious smackdown of the persecuted chuuni mindset delivered by the closest thing the show has to a responsible adult figure. Throw in some visual spectacle and it was vastly entertaining to watch.

Gundam Thunderbolt Episode 4: “The final fight”  contains what is potentially the single most exciting robot fight in years. The fight between Io’s Full Armor Gundam and Daryl’s Psycho Zaku is a riveting conflict with some stunning animation that perfectly encapsulates both Thunderbolt’s visual spectacle and its nihilistic depiction of war.

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There are more exciting moments in My Hero Academia. There are greater spectacles and flashier moments, but All-Might telling Deku that he too, can become a hero, is the moment that establishes the emotional core of My Hero Academia. An unironic glorification of heroism, My Hero Academia even surpasses some Western comic books in its depiction of the importance of altruism in heroics. Complemented by Yuki Hayashi’s swelling score, it’s a genuinely strong emotional moment that goes beyond its Shounen trappings.

Best Overall Anime

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What can I say, despite a slightly rough ending, ERASED gave us some of the most compelling fiction I had seen all year. Touching, heartbreaking, and tense in equal measures, ERASED at its very best was completely unsurpassed by anything else this year. It’s a perfect example of why scale rarely matters in good storytelling. A good story will make the events and struggles of its characters feel monumentally important, regardless of how personal or wide reaching it is. ERASED did a marvelous job of making us empathize with its intensely personal conflict. Every week, I was anxious to find out how Satoru would combat the forces that conspired against him. And so despite its flaws, I got to give credit where it’s due and call ERASED my favorite anime of 2016.

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