In 2016 the staff of RABUJOI watched 101 shows and reviewed 42 of them to completion (and yes, that’s the answer to life the universe and everything). When all was watched and reviewed, these fifteen shows comprise the cream of the crop, based on our average ratings.
15. Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge
Spring – 8.17
Tanaka-kun is one of only two shows from a pedestrian Spring that managed to make this list, despite its relatively modest rating. Call it an honorable mention. It’s here because few shows this year were funnier, made better use of silence, or possessed better comic timing. It was a deliciously witty high school comedy that made the classic “boring lazy protagonist” to the extreme and made him not boring. Tanaka wasn’t the only star of this show; the entire eclectic ensemble was imminently likable, and they attended a Shaft-esque, architecturally elaborate school in a mundane yet beautifully-rendered, often luminous town. And it wasn’t all comedy; there were some nice relationship moments too.
14. Flip Flappers
Winter – 8.58
Flip Flappers shares this year’s title for most visually creative, dynamically animated show with Space Patrol Luluco. Beautiful and light, FliFla’s mysterious world exudes a storybook quality that should be inviting for most audiences. Unfortunately, as the mystery made way for a more anime-conventional conflict and a convoluted backstory, which FliFla’s weekly one-off adventures could not possibly set up, those dreamy visuals lost their luster. In the end, it remains worth a watch, if only for the first four episodes.
Summer – 8.46
Don’t let the average looks, gimmicky premise, or goofy title fool you: ReLIFE combined young adult regret and ennui with solid high school drama that really captured the undue importance young people place on their personal affairs and entanglements at that age. While not as dense or sophisticated as, say, Oregairu, the intensity with which ReLIFE presents the joys and trials of youth is plain to see, and every character is well-rounded, rootable, and just plain fun to watch. This show was also released all at once, Netflix-style, making it perfect for a midsummer binge.
12. 3-gatsu no Lion
Fall – 8.55
Though not quite half over, March Comes In Like A Lion nevertheless earns a spot on this list. Its title may call to mind Your Lie in April, and features an emotionally stunted prodigy with shaggy black hair and Issues, but it stands on its own merits: one of the year’s more lovable families and coziest homes, a gorgeous watercolor palette, unique character design, and a toned-down but still interesting, often striking direction from Shinbo Akiyuki. I daresay the show succeeds in spite of its protagonist and his interminable inner dialogues, thanks to the care taken with the people and world around him.
11. Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara
Summer – 8.62
While lacking the same novelty, inventiveness, and pace of its excellent first season, I still had plenty of appetite for Food Wars 2, which aired as a single Summer cour. Even matches and face-offs we knew were coming became thrilling in the heat of battle, and the culinary lessons learned (or confirmed) and ideas gleaned are a nice bonus. I’ve gone on record as saying the best part of this season, and a big reason it’s on this list, was the Stagiaire mini-arc, and watching characters outside of the arena and school applying their trade in real world situations. Food Wars is above all comfort food, and is always welcome as long as quality doesn’t dip too far (cough cough WWW.Working!!).
10. Alderamin on the Sky
Summer – 8.62
Fantasy military shows seem like a dime a dozen, and on the ‘cover’, this ‘book’ looked like it had all the makings of another fun, if anonymous, low-fantasy romp. Further perusal of its ‘pages’ revealed Alderamin had two things that distinguished it as a rewarding, worthwhile viewing experience: an abundance of Gravitas, and a phenomenal core friendship. Ikta and Yatori made this show. For the first four episodes, we immediately learn the unique and complex nature of their relationship, then the fifth episode provides firsthand context and deepened my devotion to them all the more. While the show sometimes attempted (and failed) in its attempts at slapstick humor, I never tired of the witty – or serious – banter between these two.
9. Hai to Gensou no Grimgar
Winter – 8.67
Grimgar draws you into its beautiful, brutal world and doesn’t let go. A pristine textbook lesson on the importance, and the spoils, of careful preparation. World-building, character-building, conflict-building; Grimgar’s first seven episodes prepare the audience for an electrifying reckoning in the eighth. The show could have ended right there and still been on this list – higher up in the rankings – but its final third still ended strong, for the same reasons the first two, only in a more compressed, less impactful form.
8. Amaama to Inazuma
Winter – 8.83
I own and maintain a small child, about Tsumugi’s age and together we watched this show wrapped in our proxies’ worlds. AtI nails the specifics of a small child, for the most part, and the nature of being an adult living with that child. It’s earnest, charming, and the recipe of the week nature makes it easy to drop in and love. All it was missing was visual variety (almost always taking place in the wood toned kitchen) and a long term goal or purpose. Regardless, this is a thoughtful, insightful slice of life about people, food and loss and you should go back and watch it if you did not.
7. Hibike! Euphonium 2
Fall – 8.85
Even though the vast majority of the cast are elite teen musicians, Euph remains the gold standard for the genuine depiction of relatable young people as they amble gingerly towards the responsibilities and (relative) emotional stability of adulthood. And there are few characters this year as inscrutably effective in getting things done as Kumiko, nor are there BFF duos with chemistry as good as Kumiko and Reina. The second season has seen Kumiko not only put out a number of potentially cohesion-killing brush fires among the band, but also mend fences with her estranged sister. And just when you thought all these dealings had her drifting from her beloved Reina, the two have a thoroughly touching reconciliation. Sure, Hazuki, Sapphire, and especially Shuu are pretty much background characters this season, but who cares?
Summer – 8.92
The best romantic dramas (or comedies, or dramadies) preclude the viewer from asking questions like “why is everything so damned dramatic?” or “yes, but why should I care?” From word go, I never considered those questions, so immersed was I in the drama and suspense of the events in Orange. The show only stumbled when it got to granular about the mechanisms of its time-travelling correspondence, but while the ideas it presented were hardly new, their serious application in a shoujo romance made for compelling viewing; sometimes intensely so.
5. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
Winter – 8.92
The number of TV anime series we watched this year that depict wartime and postwar life in Japan as rigorously as Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu can be counted…on one finger. It’s a prickly space to work in, but Shouwa manages to thrive in a narrow corner with the very specialized vehicle of rakugo. It avoids being overly clinical in its explanation of the highly refined and deeply Japanese variant of oral tradition thanks to the powerful portrayal of its complex characters, two of whom approach their slowly waning craft from opposing directions. Once they get into a story, and that fantastic jazzy score kicks in, you can’t help but be swept in. I frankly can’t wait for the continuation of their story this coming Winter.
4. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
Winter – 8.96
The score above applies to the first twenty-five episodes of IBO, ending in March of this year. Yes, half of that season began last Fall, but it ended this Spring, with a lot accomplished and a lot of promise for the still-ongoing second season (which is also pretty damn good). From the start, it was clear this was going to be a gritty, low(er)-tech Gundam, packed with complex players who populate every possible shade of gray. Motivations and loyalties shift with time and circumstances. Battles rage to varying degrees of completion, and the stakes continue to mount as we become more invested in the combatants. There are characters who were born with everything, and some who were born with nothing. There’s the struggle between rebellious youth yearning for freedom and a stubborn over-class of adults of various levels of nefariousness, looking to cling to old systems. Finally, the gritty, rusty, brutally physical nature of the mobile suit battles themselves match the overall tone of the show.
3. Boku dake ga Inai Machi
winter – 9.00
Prior to the Fall, Re:Zero and ERASED were pretty closely matched as Franklin’s favorite shows of 2016 and both have a time travel element. Of the two, ERASED is more tightly paced (as it must be with half the eps) and consistent in emotional impact. In ERASED, we ultimately know there is only one villain and one hero, with a small cast of friends to save along the way. This makes ERASED focused but it also means the world building largely works because it is our world, with recognizable structures. This also means that ERASED’s post-villain showdown payoff, that its protagonist finally has manga worth making and ‘gets the girl’ is somewhat unrelated feel-good gravy. But that doesn’t discount the quality, or the intensity, of the buildup that preceded that payoff, which is good enough to land ERASED in our 2016 Top 3.
Spring – 9.04
Re:Zero‘s gut churning mid-arc, where Subaru burns many of his bridges, was the boldest narrative decision made by any studio this year. Breaking Subaru into a sputtering, unlikable and emotionally raw character risked turning off viewers, but gave us a fantastic, rounded hero to cheer on by the end.
Yes, it is frustrating that the conflict of the moment all but crowds Puck, the Dragon and the Witch’s stories out but, by playing the exact nature of those mysteries close to its chest, and implying that those mysteries may not be knowable as they can be changed dynamically by Subaru’s actions, Re:Zero almost gives us something better.
What held Re:Zero from top show was, ironically, several elements that leave so much mileage left in its tank. Priscilla, Anastasia and Felt ultimately feel tacked on only to make the battle for succession bigger. Felt in particular feels like a genre cliche, with her “I’ll break the nobility system” yo-yo to/not to participate. While her response may have emphasized Subie’s downfall, it was mostly cringey and, since she wasn’t in the rest of the series, felt like a needless thread. That false thread also emphasized the needlessness of others like the blank letter and the exploding stones.
Similarly, Reinhard, Priscilla’s bare-chested knight and Otto each came off as plot-movers and not real characters. This would be more acceptable if each had functioned like a traditional NPC and appeared across a larger number of episodes. Otto in particular feels under explored or over exposed, since his magic drag racing ability wasn’t necessary for Subie’s final showdown with Sloth-chan.
However, at the end of the day, Re:Zero is packed with expectation-breaking moments, great highs, and deep lows. Subie writing an end to Sloth-chan’s book of prophecy (in his blood) was just one from the finale. Packed is how I would describe this show in general, as it regularly stuffed narrative into the opening and closing credits and, even at 25 episodes, rarely felt like it was ‘dragging its feet’ for the final battle.
1. Yuri!!! On Ice
Winter – 9.42
In purely technical terms, Yuri on Ice!!! is the best-crafted show of the year. From color pallete, to gesture, to camera moves, to variable focal depths and character stylizations being used to control the viewers focus, it nails everything with a master level. But YoI is more than that – it builds a relatable world with dozens of characters, each with an intricate network of relationships, motivations and goals.
However, what truly elevates YoI above is what it is not. It is not a time travel show. It is not a mecha/scifi show. It is not a grim-dark drama with fate on the line. It has no story gimmick or genre familiarity or topical hook or magical spin on the visuals for the audience. It barely has stakes at all. Like Hibiki, this means the show must carry the audience’s attention entirely on its own merits, and boy did it.
Congratulations anime of 2016, you just got schooled by a quasi-boy love show about ice skaters!