Despite the dearth in truly outstanding shows, there have been a lot of good romances and feel good moments for me to love this past year. A big focus has been awkward spazzes and the nerds who love them, so here’s a toast! Whether it’s playing shogi and make sure a bullied girl knows she’s not alone, taking a silent grouch on random photo shoots, or coming out of your shell to find out your best online friend makes a better boyfriend, we’ve had a lot of dorks out to steal our heart.
Eita and Ena- Just Because!
While it seems inevitable that Eita and Mio will be the true couple, there’s just no denying the well written scenes which frame the growing relationship between Eita and Ena. While initially the two seem like an example of opposites attract, you can really see a kindred spirit in their outlooks on life. They both have little connections. Eita, coming into town in the very last part of the year, initially has little to work for, but enjoys what he has. Ena in turn, is incredibly passionate, but has little attachments to what she has. She learns to really care for something by her growing link to Eita. If this was a normal romance show, I really don’t think this relationship would have worked as well as it did. For the most part, these kinds of shows use the strength of their heroines as a crutch to make the lead males proper audience proxies. Bucking that trend, Eita is well written as a character with his own motivations and, despite his quiet nature, a real care for the people around him. He’s quick to reconnect with Haruto despite their years apart, he grows closer to Mio from their budding attraction, and he spends more time with Ena because she’s a bright spark in a gloomy winter. No matter the final results, I’m glad Aqua gave me the boost to catch up on this show, as it’s become one of my all time favorite high school romances.
Most Disappointing Romance
Shouichi and Hikari- Seiren
The serial nature of Seiren means that inevitably not every romance portrayed is gonna be a home run, but the first story with Hikari feels like the first time an opportunity was completely wasted instead of just not being there to begin with. The two characters start the show with fantastic chemistry: They’re very comfortable with each other, but that starts to get strained the more they realize their feelings. Hikari doesn’t realize how much her playfulness and comfort around Shouichi is affecting him, but once it does she gets serious. Unfortunately, at the last second they decide to pull the plug on the whole thing out of nowhere. Sure, it may make sense for her character that she leave him for her dreams, but it was just such a waste after they built them up so well. The show also left Shouichi a bit too clueless in the end. In the original Amagami SS, Junpei could be a little dense, but he had his own aspirations and he usually pursued and affirmed his feelings as much as his heroines did. Here, Shouichi remains clueless even after she tackles him into the ocean for a kiss. Thankfully, the version that ends up with Kyouko fixes that flaw, but that matters little for what happened with Hikari.
The Inaugural #HATEWATCH for Biggest Load of Bull
Trying to make us take Itsuki seriously as a character- A Sister’s All You Need
#HATEWATCH is half a year old and already has seen two shows of increasingly terrible quality. I’m still not sure if my treatment of the show has been a positive outlet for Jel and I to vent at all of anime’s worst tendencies made manifest, or whether I’ve sent the two of us on a downward spiral from which there is no hope. Eromanga-Sensei seemed so perfectly terrible. Incest? Check. Pedophilia? Check. Sexual Assault? Check on multiple levels. And yet, I could never have realized this was going to feel tame compared to the base awfulness of Imosae. At the very least you could look at Eromanga-Sensei and say, they made a good looking piece of trash. They polished that turd real good. Imosae doesn’t even get that excuse. It’s ugly. It’s offensive. It’s completely misguided on what tone it wants, what it expects its audience to accept, and what one would consider basic human decency. Where Eromanga teases nudity occasionally, Imosae probably has more minutes of screentime with naked or half-naked characters than not. It’s the kind of sleaze that is so intense and honestly just ugly looking that I can’t possibly imagine anyone being turned by it.
The worst part, by far, was its sad attempt to try and make main character and serial sex offender Itsuki’s behavior somehow understandable and tragic. Instead it makes for a tonal dissonance so dramatic that it feels like an old comedy slapstick happened where two directors bringing their storyboards ran into each other mixing the two together, except one was writing an incest hentai and the other was writing a normal romantic drama. DON’T YOU GET IT GUYS, HIS MOM DIED!!!… Oh by the way, stare at this girl’s boobs who totally wants it so its okay as he writes a self-insert fanfic and demands women write nude drawings for him. The #HATEWATCH has to be over this time right? Right???
Most Mature Couple
Konatsu and Yotaro- Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
In a show whose first half is defined by its tragic, dysfunctional relationships the second season starts out giving us hope for the future. Where Kiku and Shin failed to be real men by failing to protect Konatsu as real fathers, Yotaro comes into her life saying he wants to do better for her. He learns Konatsu is pregnant? Well, we don’t know everything about his backstory, but knowing how most gangsters get their start Yotaro probably knows more than most how the lack of a father figure can hurt a child. He pursues his relationship with Konatsu accepting everything about her, her strong individuality, her occasional selfishness, and receives a tenderness she reserves for a select few. Konatsu, in exchange, comes to appreciate Yotaro for the genuinely positive roll he has brought not only to her life, but the life of her adopted father and son. What starts out as a marriage of convenience turns to love as she appreciates not only his kindness but also his devotion to their shared love, rakugo. When Konatsu eventually achieves her dream of performing, he supports her the whole way. That’s how a true marriage should be, each supporting the other, each willing the good of the other, and raising their children to know they are loved.
The Golden Sawako for Excellence in Not Making Out Already
Moriko and Sakurai- Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Out of all the romance stories this year, MMO Junkie was certainly the biggest surprise. What started out seeming like the gender-swapped version of every otaku’s wish fulfillment fantasy turned into a touching tale of the rigors of adult life and the struggle to regain one’s self-confidence in a world where making personal connections is made increasingly more difficult. Moriko starts out our story as a bit of a sad sap, but she never lets herself stay in that rut. She recognizes that while her virtual world is nice, she can’t hide in her room forever. Her growing confidence as she spends time with Sakurai gives her a light at the end of the tunnel. Sakurai starts out with a similar problem but coming from another angle. He’s never had much confidence in himself, and his childhood seemed happy but his lack of family in adulthood gave him no one to rely on. Thankfully, the both of them had Koiwai in their lives (more on him later) and were able to finally get the confidence to want something more for themselves. Eventually the dummies figure out that that ultimately means having each other, but I enjoyed their growth all the same.
The Most Dysfunctional Relationship
Miyokichi and Kiku- Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Broken people often perpetuate the circle of violence in their lives. It’s a tragedy that’s been played out in every race, religion, and nation, in wealthy families and poor families, and the all too human sin of selfishness is the most common culprit. Some people can’t help their selfishness, they’ve been conditioned to need it in order to get what they want. Others use it as a shield to keep distance and prevent the wounds of the past to ever happen again. This is where we find Miyokichi and Kiku in the post-war period of Japanese history. Miyokichi’s childhood is not given much light, but we know it was a cruel one. With no family, she is forced into prostitution at a young age. By the time she meets Kiku, she encounters a man who has also lost everything, and lives a life he never asked for nor wants but is forced to embrace. In each other, they initially find companionship, they are kindred spirits in a twisted way. However, they simply do not see eye to eye. Kiku initially cannot bond with anyone other than Shin, and he worries any relationship he has with Miyokichi will simply end in more tragedy. Unfortunately, by trying to avoid one fate, he unknowingly allows an even greater sadness, as she uses his own best friend’s weakness against him, and ultimately steals all he had left in this world. But, hope springs ever anew, and the child she created to tear out Kiku’s heart eventually ends up saving his soul.
The 5th Annual Dusk Maiden Award for Excellence in Being Simultaneously Cute and Smutty.
A.K.A. THE ERO-KAWAII AWARD
In recent years it’s been harder and harder to justify this award as I gravitate away from shows that put a lot of emphasis on eroticism. Thankfully, when I heard there was a spiritual successor to Amagami SS coming down the pipes I knew there’d be a show I’d at least enjoy, and one that could be flirtatious without being crass. Seiren was a lot of fun, even if it missed the highs of its predecessor it still gave us a lot of fun. One particular aspect was the early chemistry between Shouichi and Hikari. I’ve already talked above how this show also missed the mark, and the second heroine didn’t bring as much to the table, but there was also a lot of cute and sexy nonsense with Kyouko to round off the show. If a show is remembered half a year later by the GLORIO crew by the line “Deer are beasts of lust”, then you know we have a winner.
The Best OP/ED of 2017
Imawa no Shinigami- Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
There were a few great OP/EDs this year, but I think the mark of a truly great opening is how it encapsulates the story, being a primer for thought without spoiling what is yet to come. “Imawa no Shinigami” fits this to a T, packing all of the emotional impact of the first season finale into a dirge of longing and a loss of meaning. I don’t want to spoil anything more for this fantastic show, so I’ll just leave this here and let it speak for itself.
Bro of the Year A.K.A. The Iskandar
Homare Koiwai- Recovery of an MMO Junkie
Ignore the haters, Koiwai is a troll with a heart of gold, and by far one of my favorite parts of MMO Junkie. As the oldest of the already mature trio, he brings a certain wisdom to Sakurai and Moriko’s waffling and self confidence issues. Sure, sometimes he seems like a creep, but in the end he always does the right thing, and actions speak louder than words. My personal favorite moment is his date with Moriko. Coming of the heels of his successful on the fly attempt to get Moriko to ask Sakurai out, he gives her a much needed boost: Moriko might not see a lot of worth in herself, but it’s clearly a self-esteem issue. Both he and Sakurai not only recognize that she’s attractive, which is relatively inconsequential, but also that the more she’s interacted with them, the more she’s gained confidence and shown her real charm. She may be a nerd, but she still knows what she wants. She wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble before going out with if she didn’t want something more out of life. Koiwai seals his win with a last minute save to force the stubborn pair back together before this moment in their lives passes them by. As I’ve said before, true friendship is desiring the good of the other, and if what he did for both Sakurai and Moriko isn’t that Idno what is.
The Best Moment of 2017
Hina Did Nothing Wrong- March Comes In Like a Lion
Little has warmed my heart this year quite like Hina Kawamoto and her tenacity. What was already a great slice of life story delving into the depths of depression and coming to terms with a dysfunctional childhood went even deeper with its characters with the introduction of Hina’s struggles at school. It’s a no brainer why the Japanese government used the anime to start an anti-bullying campaign; its portrayal of its effect on young developing minds is hauntingly accurate, and its description of the intricacies which make bullying no small matter a crushing reality of modern life. When they come to bear on Hina, we see the main character Rei do something we’d never seen of him before: He did something for others. For the longest time Rei was damaged by his feelings of abandonment, and the Kawamotos had been his lifeline in a world that seemed indifferent to such problems. The only problem was that he felt he was taking advantage of their kindness, using them like he had used his foster family to stay alive. Now, he realizes he can have purpose. Paraphrasing what he says later after this moment, he wants to be needed, and while that may be a strong emotion, it’s a powerful reminder that he isn’t just a tragic bystander in the course of his life story, he can be an active participant to make those he cares for better. Hina’s strength is what gives him that push, and her continued willingness to withstand all manner of injustice for the sake of what’s right is an inspiration for all young people and those responsible for them.
It’s been a busier year than normal at the blog. I started #HATEWATCH not knowing how serious I’d get with that, and more shows have been keeping me busy this season than I was expecting. 2017 may have been a better year for video games than anime, but I still highly enjoyed those shows that were real standouts. As this year comes to a close, I’m happy to think on how much I’ve been able to grow, and been able to have experiences that change the way I see the world. While the death of my personal romantic life is looking surer and surer as I go along, I still dearly enjoy the genre. If anything, comparing this year to last has shown we’ve been abundantly blessed in that respect, and with March Comes Like a Lion continuing on next season, I have high hopes we’ll have plenty of moments to look back on next time around as well.