It was a difficult thing, but we narrowed down our favorite U.S. anime releases from 2017. Let us know yours!
Best TV Anime
Little Witch Academia by Studio Trigger Sometimes taking a short film and turning it into a series shows the concepts’ limits, and sometimes, as was the case with Little Witch Academia, it shows how rich with story possibility the world was.
LWA can be enjoyed by anyone, an all-ages anime that we rarely get to see in the U.S. beyond a handful of films. A world of magic which was a visual delight, and the stumbling around of a girl who failed as hard as she succeeded made LWA the show I just never wanted to end.
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department by MADHOUSE A quiet, underplayed quality permeated ACCA. It was a compelling character drama and, somewhat paradoxically, a political thriller at the same time. The series had a tendency to slip-in a major revelation with little fanfare, sometimes resulting in making me question if I had understood correctly.
Honestly, I can understand why this series has gone a bit overlooked for the year. It’s not exactly a show that screams at you, but that’s exactly what made it so engrossing.
March Comes in like a Lion by Shaft As I have stated before this is a title that resonates with me very deeply. Rei’s depression feels real and relatable. The show is always sympathetic to him but also willing to show the ugly side of his personality.
The episodes this year really move the story forward any expand the cast both in how they interact with Rei and as individuals. Kai Shimada and Hinata Kawamoto arcs stand out as amazing journeys that add to Rei’s development while standing on their own brilliantly. Their look at success, failure, bullying, and determination will stick with you long after the show is over. That said stories with Akari, Nikaidou, and Takashi Hayashida should not be overlooked despite being smaller stories attached to other characters.
It is also worth noting that the show still looks wonderful and sounds great. I admit the SHAFTisms poke through at least once an episode but overall Chika Umino’s brilliant framing of scenes to convey tremendous amount of emotion in untouched. The openings and ending continue to be stellar and always bookend the show wonderfully. Also the fact that you can track Rei’s progress as a human via the openings show a very deliberate craft in their presentation. The continue to be wonderful gems worth experiencing even outside of the show.
It is really a show I could easily give all the awards to without regret. It always touches me on a level that refuses to let me forgot the show in the best way possible while not always being comfortable. It always helps me better understand who I am and what my little trip through life is all about. Any media that does that is worth its weight in gold.
Ninja Girl & Samurai Master by TMS Entertainment The combination of silly gags and history is pretty much right up my alley. Ninja Girl & Samurai Master is a wonderful blend of both of them. It is a splendid mixture of the dramatic and bloody adventure of rise of Nobunaga Oda mixed with Ninja Nonsense. It has just enough historical fact that you feel most episodes are teaching something but the comedy makes it all go down smoothly. It is not a series you can use a reference for a paper but it is a great jumping off point if you wanted to start to learn about the Sengoku period.
I loved that each episode stayed around long enough that you got a substantial amount of entertainment but never wore out its welcome. I was a little saddened that the series ended after 52 episodes because Nobunaga conquest of Japan was just getting started in earnest. But now that anime are far more able to come back after a hiatus of several years I look forward to when there is enough manga for another season.
Best Movie, Short, or OVA
Your Name by CoMix Wave Films Your Name took the theme of love over distance that Makoto Shinkai is so good at it and brought it to a broader audience. It was a little complex, definitely melodramatic, at times humorous, and absolutely romantic. Beautiful animation and a fantastic soundtrack completed the package. It was a fantastic experience that I won’t soon forget.
Our Love Has Always Been 10 Centimeters Apart by Lay-duce This late in the year OVA series was a pleasant surprise. Inspired by the Vocaloid Gumi song and music video “Hatsukoi no Ehon,” this is a love story of two young artists. It portrays not only the difficulty of closing that final gap between two people, but also how we choose to pursue our dreams.
Fate/stay night Movie: Heaven’s Feel – I. Presage Flower by ufotable Ufotable has made a name for itself with its adaptations of Fate titles. Before them Type-Moon anime just had the stigma of being extremely mediocre when compared to its source material. Then the Kara no Kyoukai changed everything. They looked amazing and were actually faithful where they needed to be and made some tweaks where it would be better for the medium. Fate/Zero and Unlimited Blade Works proved that the Garden of Sinners movies were not a fluke and that Ufotable could do the same thing with a TV series. The Heaven’s Feel movie on the other hand is just a level above what came before it. It shows that while Ufotable did before was amazing they still could be even more impressive.
The real skill in the first Heaven’s Feel movie is the ability to know what to focus on, what to cut, and what need tweaking. Ufotable is taking the longest arc in Fate/Stay Night and adapting into three movies. That it doable but it requires a fine ability to know when to be economical and when to be lavish. The Studio Deen movie of Unlimited Blade Works is case study in how you can generally get the idea of the route across while falling short of capturing the essence of the original. The next two movies can fall part but the first movie does an exceptional job of telling the story of Heaven’s Feel without feeling like a clip show.
I could go on about the magnificent animation and powerful score but those elements are just wonderful ornamentation that make a great production exceptional. It is the master class in storytelling that place this movie in a category of its own.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Those Awaiting a Star by Production I.G The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a manga that begs to be given an appropriate level of care to be fully realized. With average animation its rich story and excellent characters would still elevate it ahead of the pack but it needs an extra bit of effort for the breathtaking artwork of the original to pull everything together. The loving detail placed into the art of the manga is an important pillar of the original so any adaptation needs to capture that to really express the wonder it invokes. Production I.G wisely made their first foot forward with series an OVA that can properly bring this story to life.
It was interesting that they decided to adapt a later story from the manga but in a way it makes perfect sense given that it is an OVA. Then introductory story was being saved for the TV series. The TV series is meant to not only cater to the fans of the manga but also hopefully draw in people who have not read the original. Therefore you start with the first meeting of Chise and Elias like in the manga. The OVA is more for reader of the manga. Therefore a story from Chise’s childhood is more meaningful for them Plus they make it clear where fans of the TV can jump in and go and watch the OVA if they wish to see it after watching the first half of the TV series.
Those Awaiting a Star is a wonderful encapsulation of the mood of the series as a whole. It is filled with beautiful moments of joy, terrible moment of dread, and always shows a magical world filled with the full spectrum of experiences in which discovery is the only one that is always present. It is also a fascinating look into many of the experiences that make Chise the broken woman she is at the start of the series.
Those Awaiting a Star was a brilliant reassurance that everything was probably going to be all right with the TV show and thankfully it has proven to be the case.
Best Anime Woman
Moriko Morioka from Recovery of an MMO Junkie Moriko left her job, retreated from the world, and found solace in online gaming. We don’t know the gory details, but she wore her stress and anxiety clearly. Moriko was neither too much of a parody (although there were funny moments) nor too self-loathing (although there were too-close-to-the-mark moments). I understood her conflicting desires to stay secluded and wanting to reconnect. It was deeply rewarding watching her take step after step forward.
Mordred from Fate/Apocrypha By the end of Fate/Apocrypha most people realize a great crime has occurred. It turns out that despite the beginning of the series might have you believe Mordred is not that main character of the novel. It is in fact the far less interesting Sieg. After the first few episodes it feels like a bit of a bait and switch. By the end my roommate was actively mad especially since he hated how Sieg’s story hijacks everything around it. If nothing else it shows how much Mordred leaves a strong impression on the viewer so they latch onto her and her tragic adventure with Kairi Shishigou.
The superficial joy of Mordred is she is a classic antihero. Mordred and her Master don’t care what means they use to win the Holy Grail War so they are willing to fight as dirty as they need to. Proper magic and chivalric combat are something that neither of them have any time for. It gives them a sense of freedom few of the other characters have. At the same time despite everything they are still heroes and do the right thing when push comes to shove. They just take their time coming to that decision. Also their fights are just cool. They have some of the best scenes in the whole series.
But the real reason she works so well is that she has a great character arc. She starts of wanting to win the war so she can challenge Caliburn like Artoria did. She wants validation and a bit of revenge at the same time. She wants to throw her right tot the throne in Artoria’s face while also getting her approval. At the series goes on she questions what it means to be a ruler and the importance of her wish. By the end her time with Shishigou and the remaining Yggdmillennia members gets her to reevaluate her choices. In the end she leaves the series with a greater understanding of herself and Artoria. If this Mordred and Artoria were to meet again their interactions would be much different.
It is a shame that Sieg never got anywhere as compelling a story. She entered a champion and left a hero. What she really deserved was the main character spot.
Best Anime Man
Orga Itsuka from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-blooded Orphans Orga didn’t always make the right decisions; he was a flawed leader who frequently found himself in over his head. He was also selflessly dedicated to his found-family, the only family he’d ever know. Throughout the series, he navigated politics, brutal battles, betrayals, and so much tragedy seeking a place in the universe for that family. Orga’s fate was one that has stuck with me all year.
Kai Shimada from March Comes in like a Lion At first it seems that Kai Shimada is going to be an utterly disposable opponent for Rei. Everything points to Masamune Gotou being the big antagonist of the arc and the only thing Rei is focused on. Kai Shimada is poised to be merely a speed bump on his path to Gotou. We never even see his face for the first half of the match as everything is focused on Rei’s inner monologue and what he is going to do next. Then in the middle of the match Rei’s realizes he is losing. He forgot to pay attention to the obstacle in front of him. Then Rei completely loses which throws you for a loop. It is a bold introduction to the character that makes a man who normally blends into the background jump out at you.
Past that point Kai acts as a mentor and senpai for Rei who clearly needed someone to guide him. But it is also clear that Kai and Rei are not on completely different levels. Kai is older and more experienced but still has far to go himself. So at points they seem like equals and friends. At some point they might even play against each other. Kai’s story is both simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming as he deals with the major defeats and gets to enjoy minor victories. When Kai faces off against Souya Touji and is utterly outclassed it opens Rei and the audiences eyes to a very different level of play. Rei might not learn new shogi techniques but he learns a lot about the game.
Kai Shimada exemplifies the value in examining and elevating what might otherwise be characters who would fade into the background. At first Rei and the audience can barely see Kai but by the end they cannot forget him.
Best Sequel or Ongoing Anime
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower by Sunrise New characters, a cult, and revelations about human experimentation bring a whole other dimension to the Thunderbolt universe. And of course the central rivalry rages on. This series is also beautiful production-wise just like the first with impeccable animation and another killer soundtrack.
Kirakira PreCure a la Mode by Toei Animation The last two PreCure have been interesting entries in the franchise. Go! Princess Precure had critical acclaim but apparently did abysmally when it came to ratings and merchandise sales. People like Kate and I loved it for how it drew on old shojo conventions while putting a brilliant modern spin on them but it apparently did not connect with kids. Maho Girls Precure! on the hand was far more standard iteration that drew more on Harry Potter. If was a fine show but it never hit the complex highs of its predecessor. The thing is that it did extremely well. I feel Kirakira PreCure a la Mode has hit the medium between the complexity of Go! Princess and the simple inviting nature of Maho Girls.
Best Mascot Character
Pikario and Kirarin from Kirakira PreCure a la Mode These twins were great mascots and great characters. Their dedication to the art of dessert making was what bonded them, tore them apart, and healed them.
Shogi Cats from March Comes in like a Lion It turns out that Rei’s rival Nikaidou actually makes picture books on the side. Naturally one of the books he has written explains the rules of shogi in a simple and colorful fashion so children can get into the game. He draws all the shogi pieces as warrior cutie pie cats. In the show this lets Nikaidou explain the basic concepts of the game to the Kawamoto sisters while being visually interesting. This also lets them have an ending that uses the cats to repeat the information. It not only helps explain the game to reviewers who don’t know the basics of the game it is also just damn entertaining.
If anyone is surprised there is a ton of Shogi cats merchandise they are a fool.
Best Ensemble Cast
Tsuredure Children by Studio Gokumi This show didn’t have a main character so it fits perfectly in this category. The antics of these couples ran the gamut of sweet and simple to outlandish and bizarre. Each character brought their unique personalities, hang-ups, and romantic expectations to the table.
Restaurant to Another World by Silver Link Look. The star of Restaurant to Another World is the food. If that were not the case then the show would be doing something gravely wrong. That said the people eating that food are an important aspect of the show. I mean someone has to eat the food and make yummy noises. But the cast of Restaurant to Another World is there for more than just elevating the show beyond an animated foodie blogger’s Instagram.
There is a fairly fleshed out fantasy land to connects to the Nekoya one a week but we rarely get lore dumps about that world. Most of the information and this D&D setting is given through the iterations of the characters. Their stories give most of the insights into the geography, politics, customs, and mechanics of the lands were the Saturday customers comes from. This lets the world mostly roll out organically while fleshing out the patrons of this unusual restaurant.
The other great part of the cast if how they slowly become more and more integrated At first the cast is nothing more than the two main staff members and several regulars. Everyone interacts with the Master, Aletta, and Kuro out of necessity but they slowly start talking to their fellow foodies. As time goes on various characters invite new patrons to eat at the restaurant which always changes the dynamic of the restaurant. At the same time established characters begin to cross paths with new people and other customers in a variety of methods. This expands their characters as well as their world.
The cast quickly becomes as important and intriguing as the food that they eat.
Best Anime I Unexpectedly Liked
Recovery of an MMO Junkie by Signal. MD There are a lot a lot a lot of stories out there using MMOs as set trappings. At this point when I see a description with the words MMO, I usually just skip to the next thing. Luckily, someone pointed me in the right direction when it came to this series.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid by Kyoto Animation I was not a fan of I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying. It just seemed like the anime equivalent of The Big Bang Theory. (I will admit that is overly harsh short hand but you get my point.) So I had no real interest in seeing a different anime based on a manga by the same author.
But as chance would have it my roommate decided to check out the first episode since we had not watched it for a SWAT review for the blog. We were both surprised that the show was far better than we could have ever imagined it to be. Since it is animated by Kyoto Animation it looks wonderful but I think they put an extra amount of thought into the show that makes it feel beautiful besides just looking beautiful.
But beyond that the show had a warmth and inclusive nature that really elevates the material. The little family of Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna draws you into the story and enhances the humor. You find yourself quickly won over my their makeshift household that balances goofy and heartwarming exceptionally well. Some characters like Quetzalcoatl and Riko are a bit one note but even they shine given the right circumstances.
I was super surprised that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was not only funny but actually had a little something to say beyond Tohru looks good in a maid outfit. I liked it enough that I might actually give manga by Cool-kyou Shinja a second glance now which is something I would have never said in the past. That in of itself is a huge accomplishment which speaks volumes about the quality and heart of this show.
“GO” by Bump of Chicken from Granblue Fantasy the Animation This opening was full of adventurous spirit. It started with the characters in mist and shadow, slowly making their way towards one another. As the singer’s voice started to swell, the world opens up. It made me excited to start each episode.
“Aozora no Rhapsody” by fhána from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid The season this came out I wanted to spread the awards around so I gave the prize of best opening to Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju mostly because despite problems with the last episode I felt that show should get some praise. Now that we are looking at the year as a whole I felt it was time to give the opening to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid its proper due.
The opening is just so damn stylish and vibrant. Every piece of it just pops with energy and dynaminism. Tohru does not just simply run across the screen as super speeds. She runs around the screen filling up the screen with afterimages all running in place until she finally starts running at the screen creating afterimages allover the place. It is a fun way to show her super speed that stick out in your mind. Even sullen Mr. Fafnir gets a bright and cheerful screen of his dour face appearing out of blooming flowers. Plus who can’t love the image of pixel Kanas slowly trailer off the screen.
It is just an energetic opening that does so well to convey the joy that the show is just filled with. Since Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is mostly a slice of life show there is little coding to do in order to seed later plot elements. It is just an opening that shows that just because you’re a slice of life anime does not mean you have to be subdued or sleepy. The comedy, excitement, and tenderness in the show all come through in the opening.
“KING OF THE WILD” by Shounan no Kaze from Tiger Mask W Stark and dramatic, the art and music were a perfect complement to each other. Almost like an entrance theme it left quite an impression.
“Datte Atashi no Hero” by LiSA from My Hero Academia The gimmick of making all the superheroes into fantasy adventure characters is still stands out to be as clever and fun. It reminds me of when people mas lists of “What D&D class would these characters be” or when fan artists re-imagine a cast in a different genre. It is a way of making something that is usually rather rote and perfunctory and makes it spark as if it were something the staff cares about like an opening.