2017, despite being something of a garbage fire of a year, ended up being pretty good for anime. Between some original standouts, old franchises returning to form, and some excellent adaptations, anime is as fresh as it’s ever been, even in the face of some truly offensive offerings. As my life gets busier, I find I end up watching less than I’d like, but nonetheless, here’s my arbitrary list of awards that give me an excuse to talk about some of that anime.
Step Up Love by DAOKO and Yasuyuki Okamura is a match made in heaven and despite facing the impossibly high expectations set by Blood Blockade Battlefront’s first season’s ED, still managed to impress. It’s a pitch perfect translation of the wild energy of Nightow’s urban fantasy action romp.
Invisible Wings by Ōhara is bar none, one of the most beautifully animated things made in 2017. Don’t be fooled by its simple style or the accompanying song’s gentle tone. Individual stills don’t do it justice. It is the stone cold killer diss track of animation; a proud boast by Trigger that if you give them the resources and time, they can animate better than anyone else in the game.
My Hero by MAN WITH A MISSION follows the precedent set by Arpeggio of Blue Steel all the way back in 2013 of being an OP sequence so impressive on both visual and audio merits that it ascends beyond the extremely mediocre show it features in.
Was it too obvious? Garo: Vanishing Line is far and away one of my favorite anime of 2017 and the only thing stopping me from letting it sweep every category is that it hasn’t ended yet. EMG is yet another fantastic Jam Project joint with all the bluster and attitude to be the perfecting opening act for Vanishing Line’s bombastic take on the Garo formula. Vanishing Line steps into a new era (at least for the anime) and with it a whole new style. And yet, just like Garo The Animation’s other OPs, it’s got a surprisingly artistic visual flourish that both contrasts and compliments Jam Project’s straightforward musical approach.
Wait nevermind I just rewatched the second Little Witch Academia ED. Have you seen this shit? God it’s beautiful.
What a surprise, My Hero Academia’s soundtrack continues to contribute to its status as one of the best battle shounen we’ve seen in years. I know, a Yuki Hayashi soundtrack that awes and ignites, crazy right? As the show grows, so does its sound while never losing the inspiring heroic core that defined it.
Kevin Penkin’s soundtrack for Made in Abyss is maybe one of the most truly unique of 2017. Very rarely can you say that an anime’s soundtrack has its own distinct voice, but Made in Abyss manages to pull it off. Just like the show itself, its gentleness and its darkness intertwine with each other in a beautifully seamless way. It’s elegant, it’s adventurous, and oftentimes it’s brutal, but it’s always a perfect fit.
Like the first season’s soundtrack, Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond’s soundtrack continues to use its elegant blend of urban jazz and hip hop to encapsulate the spirit of living in the big city, with supernatural monsters or not. It’s the soundtrack of smooth late night driving.
This was maybe one of the hardest choices I had to make for this post, but in the end I have to give the edge to Taisei Iwasaki’s excellent work for Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond’s soundtrack. I want to recognize the really wonderful things the Made in Abyss soundtrack does, but everything about BBB&B’s style is everything I love about stories that take place in busy cities. It’s the music that remind you of taking the train late at night, grabbing a coffee at your favorite diner, or just dealing with the interesting odds and ends you find everyday in the big city. Iwasaki’s work on the first season was already a standout of its respective year and in many ways, the successor only expands and improves on that.
Favorite Looking Anime
Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond carries on with the same style and energy of its first season, even despite the departure of Rie Matsumoto.
Made in Abyss managed to be visually stunning in nearly every scene, from its expansive landscapes to its most intimate moments.
Little Witch Academia was faced with the impossible task of living up to the visual heights its preceding OVAs achieved and while it never quite reached that level, it still brought a lot of beautiful animation to the table. At its best, it is a fine showcase of Trigger’s talents.
When it was bright, it was beautiful. When it was dark, it was beautiful. When it was massive, it was beautiful. When it was intimate, it was beautiful. Like nearly every other aspect of the show that made it the tremendous thing it was, the visuals of Made in Abyss soared and impressed regardless of what it was tasked to portray. Between some truly gorgeous backgrounds, an excellent eye for composition and scale, and a charming artstyle that both complemented and belied its harshness, Made in Abyss was the anime you couldn’t take your eyes off if in 2017.
The Gundam: Reconguista in G Memorial Award for Most Ambiguously Confounding Garbage Fire Gundam
Gundam Build Fighters: GM’s Counterattack was a nice return to some old characters from the beloved toy commercial spinoff. And yet, less than a few months after watching it, I struggle to remember any particularly striking fight scenes. In many ways, the original GBF was a special moment in time that no other entry in the sub-franchise has ever managed to emulate, and this OVA was a bittersweet reminder.
Gundam Thunderbolt did the impossible of making the Acguy a genuinely cool mobile suit. It also proceeded to introduce one of the weirdest plots I’ve ever seen in the UC. Militant newtype Buddhists, female characters getting brainwashed, and the introduction of some really cool robot designs make Thunderbolt’s second arc a much more uneven act than its first.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans is here because…I don’t even know. I wanted to write a final thoughts post about it but perhaps even more than G-Reco, IBO eluded me in ways I still struggle to understand.
Truly deserving of the, “award,” Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans is maybe one of the most confusing and troubling things I’ve ever watched. Everything about it seemed to be shaping up into another mediocre entry in the franchise. The plot was moving at a dreadfully meandering pace that seemed to hint at its conclusion dozens of episodes in advance. Yet at the same time, it introduced bizarre new concepts and then removed them in the span of single episodes. And then in that quagmire of cliches and predictable plot twists, it did things I never expected a Gundam to do. In many ways, these actual plot twists confounded and pleased me, but taken within the context of what the show had been up to that point, I had no clue how to actually react to them. Make no mistake, IBO is not a good anime. Despite that, I walk away from it with more positive feelings than I know what to do with when taken from a show that was so uneven. It truly is the best Gundam garbage fire of 2017.
2017’s Anime That Isn’t Bad But I Really Wish Had Been Better
Welcome to the Ballroom simply fails to live up to the artistic standard set by the manga it adapts. This is a shame because Welcome to the Ballroom also contained perhaps one of my favorite single episodes of any sports anime ever created. I often dream of what it could have been if it had received the resources and time it deserved.
Little Witch Academia is another anime that you really couldn’t call bad, but was burdened by impossible expectations and a plot that lost its steam far too early in its run, forcing it to add in some unnecessary drama that is only barely saved by its impressive finale.
Isekai Restaurant also wasn’t bad, but also wasn’t very interesting either. It didn’t need to be much more, but the few times it did try and introduce some semblance of drama was so clumsy that I actively wished it had gone back to the staid recipe of the week formula. Also mostly naked lizard dude.
Little Witch Academia is not my favorite anime of the year, but I wish it was. As a longtime fan of Trigger and Gainax, I know what LWA could be and what it could achieve under the right circumstances. The original OVAs showcased a world so full of imagination that the LWA TV series was up against some truly impossible odds. Despite its unevenness at times, LWA TV also gave me some of my favorite moments in anime of 2017. The broom race, the giant robot, the journey in to Sucy’s mind, there are so many wonderful little moments that could never justify the time and resources of an OVA. The series allowed us a brief glimpse into its world and those kind of moments, and for that I’m forever grateful to it. Would I ever want a second season? Frankly I’m not so sure, but I certainly won’t mind if Trigger tries.
Little Witch Academia Episode 18: “Miracle Magical Shining Tornado Punch!” isn’t the show’s best episode but it’s probably my favorite. 2017 wasn’t a great year for mecha so seeing Trigger return to their Gainax mecha roots for even a brief moment was easily one of the highlights of the LWA’s run.
My Hero Academia Episode 23: “Come at me with everything you got!” shows MHA’s continual understanding of its core appeal. Less concerned with winning the fight than getting Todoroki to understand his selfishness and getting him out of his emotional turmoil is maybe one of Deku’s hallmark moments of true heroism. It’s also just a really rad fight.
Welcome to the Ballroom! Episode 9: “The Flower and the Frame” is maybe one of the most beautiful culminations of sports anime tropes I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading and then watching in its anime form. I’ve written about it plenty so I’ll try not to ramble too much here. Suffice to say, it is the one defining moment of Welcome to the Ballroom that endears it to me despite any of its other flaws.
Little Witch Academia Episode 8: “Going to the movies” is just a really warm moment. Using the old-timey film in Sucy’s brain as a cypher to communicate how much she genuinely values Akko’s friendship is a really special moment in a show that has a lot of special moments. There’s a good reason LWA is getting nominated twice in this category.
Last year, I wanted to give a shoutout to one of the quieter moments of My Hero Academia, giving props to the more heartfelt heroism that formed its compelling core. This year, I could have done that with the Sucy episode of Little Witch Academia, but at the same time, I’m also really easy to please with dumb spectacle. Episode 18 isn’t going to go down in history as anything particularly special, but within the context of what LWA is and what the studio that made it is, introducing a crazy super robot Gurren Lagann inspired segment, complete with giant drills and crazy attack names was exactly the kind of novel one-off that the show thrived on. From a narrative standpoint, it was a good reminder during a particularly weak part of the show that at her best, the greatest thing Akko brings to the table is her rambunctious optimism and ability to inspire others. When the show would proceed to go off the rails in some unfortunate ways before barely tying it back together with the finale, I would think back to episodes like this one and remember that when LWA was at its best, few could compare.
Best Overall Anime
Like last year’s personal favorite, Made in Abyss came out of nowhere. I had heard rumblings of the beautiful and dire manga in the preceding months and had seen some out of context pages, but beyond that, knew nothing of what it contained. When the anime came out proper, it hit like a truck by nearly every metric. Between its presentation, music, characters, and narrative, Made in Abyss just impressed on so many levels. But perhaps the most impressive thing about it is that it managed to balance so many plates nigh flawlessly. As I already talked about during the music and art sections of my post, what it does best is its ability to maintain a careful balance between both its beauty and the tragic pathos that forms its underlying foundation. It’s a show that manages to evoke a sense of adventure like no other anime I’ve seen in years, yet simultaneously ground it in a realistic danger that lurked around every corner. As someone who read the manga after watching the first few episodes, my only complaint is that due to the realities of production, Made in Abyss never addresses the looming spectre of Bondrewd, its enigmatic and monstrous villain. I can only hope that the powers that be are planning some OVA to address this. Despite that, it’s without a doubt the anime of 2017 that sticks with me the most.