Here we are then, the final five of my top 20 anime of 2016. I can’t put into words how hard these last five were to rank, they’re all so good and important and special to me. But after much consideration they all fell into their respective places. So let’s go then, here are the top 5 best anime of 2016.
#5: NEW GAME!
Orig. Title: NEW GAME!
Studio: Doga Kobo
I waited for this manga to be adapted into an anime for a very long time and I was not disappointed with the final results. A workplace comedy about a game development studio and the women who work there, NEW GAME! manages to both be the best comedy of the year and also one of the most genuine depictions of what it feels like to work your first job as well as dealing with game development in general. It’s funny, I’ve seen a lot of people outside of game development comment on the anime saying that it seems like a poor representation of it, but you can tell that Shoutarou Tokunou, the author, worked at a game studio himself, because the depiction is on point.
The characters are beyond charming, with the lead character Aoba being unbelievably cute as the recently graduated woman just getting to terms with what it’s like living as an adult. I also love how it carries the tone and energy of your average high school anime while moving the setting to an adult workplace instead, it’s refreshing and honestly something I would like to see become more common in anime, as there’s not enough lighthearted comedy centered on adults.
No, it’s not the video game equivalent to Shirobako like some wanted it to be, but it never aimed for that goal to begin with. It wanted to be a sweet but genuine comedy about learning what it means to become an adult and also showing what it’s like to work on a video game. The show is cute, but it doesn’t shy away from depicting stress, crunch time and dealing with bugs and rejected pitches and designs. I highly recommend checking the anime out, whether or not you’re interested in the game development angle of the series or not.
Orig. Title: あまんちゅ！
I have to admit, I was never really a fan of Aria The Animation. It’s a favourite among a lot of friends of mine, but I could never get into the series for some reason. As such, I had a lot of doubts that the author’s other work, Amanchu!, would appeal to me. I couldn’t have been more wrong with those doubts. In Amanchu! we follow Hikari and Futaba, two young girls who attend the same high school and soon find themselves drawn to each other. Hikari has diving as her hobby and wishes to introduce Futaba to it, causing them to get closer and slowly letting Futaba break free from the weight on her shoulders.
It’s rare for an anime to make me feel as relaxed as Amanchu! does, and it’s impressive considering how much it uses open water for said relaxing scenes and I have a fear of water in general. I can’t give enough credit to the direction by Satou Junichi and Kasai Kenichi here. Honestly, if I were doing separate categories and had to pick best direction in a 2016 anime this series would win without contest. It’s so consistently beautiful and, to use an overused word, atmospheric in how everything is presented. The series makes me feel like I’m right there with the characters, just enjoying life. Healing anime as a genre has always been fascinating to me as a concept, and I’ve liked multiple series dubbed that in the past, but Amanchu! is on a whole new level. Watching it is practically therapy.
And that’s not even getting into how great the relationship between the main characters great, from their initial awkward meeting to the final scenes you can feel the love and care between the two grow more and more each episode until it’s basically exploding out of them. The soundtrack deserves a mention as well, composed by the guitar duo Gontiti with some of the most memorable tunes of the year. If you don’t at least give Amanchu! a chance you are missing out on a one-of-a-kind experience.
#3: ViVid Strike!
Orig. Title: ViVid Strike!
Studio: Seven Arcs
Hey, have you checked out the Lyrical Retrospective! series on this blog? Well, you can thank this series for it being a thing. ViVid Strike! is the latest anime in the long running Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha franchise, stepping away from the main series for the sake of a martial arts focused spin-off that is so good it made me go back and rewatch the entire franchise from the start.
In ViVid Strike! we follow two new characters, Fuuka Reventon and Rinne Berlinetta. Fuuka and Rinne grew up together at the same orphanage, with Fuuka being a strong-willed tomboy who always protected Rinne from bullies and was there for her if she needed to cry. But after Rinne got adopted, the two were separated for several years. Rinne suddenly emerged as a highly succesful martial artist, much to Fuuka’s surprise. But once Fuuka got to meet her again, she could tell that something was wrong. Determined to find out what happened to her friend, she begins training to take her on one-on-one in the ring.
Throughout the twelve episodes, ViVid Strike! keeps an impeccably strong pacing and flow, making for one of the most exciting series I’ve had the opportunity to watch in years. The fights are well choreographed and animated, both when it comes to sparring scenes at the gym and the actual tournament fights. The series also handles its drama really well, with very serious depictions of trauma, harassment and self-destructive behaviour being key components to the narrative. In fact, one particular aspect of Rinne’s backstory hit so close to home that a day doesn’t go by since watching that particular episode that I don’t think about it.
The series features returning cast members from previous Nanoha related series, stretching across anime, manga and even drama CDs to build up a huge and colourful cast. While it can be overwhelming for a newcomer, the series spin-off status means that the story itself can be enjoyed without having watched previous Nanoha titles as well, albeit with some retroactive spoilers should you choose to go back to earlier stories. Honestly, while this isn’t the best anime I watched in 2016, it’s no doubt the anime that’s going to stick with me the longest, to the point where I’ve even made sure to start importing the Japanese blurays to support the series to the best of my ability. Please watch ViVid Strike!.
#2: Girlish Number
Orig. Title: ガーリッシュ ナンバー
Also known as: Gi(a)rlish Number
If you ask me what my favourite anime of all time is, I will likely list up a total five that I consider equal. One of those series is Oregairu, localized in the west as My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. In Girlish Number, we see the author of Oregairu, Watari Wataru, bring his style of writing to a whole new setting. Girlish Number is about voice actresses within the anime industry and how much shit they have to go through. Through the life of Karasume Chitose, an arrogant rookie whose charm might be the only thing surpassing her self-confidence, we see how the anime industry treats its own in rather depressing ways.
It’s a show with a heavy dose of realistic cynicism towards a lot of things, in particular the idea that voice actresses can become the perfect shining beacons of purity that corporate suits wants them to be for marketing purposes. Everyone in Girlish Number has flaws, some more than others, but none of them too many to keep them from being good people with good intentions. The series can often feel like you’re just watching people slowly suffering, but never without the reminder that they all love what they’re doing. These girls are voice actresses and even in the worst of times, that’s what they want to be.
Girlish Number dares to say something more media should dare to say, that it’s okay to not be perfect. That it’s okay to have flaws and personal issues. That as long as you’re not actively trying to hurt someone, you’re not a bad person. It’s a very important message and one that really ended up fitting well with the setting in the series. If people were upset that NEW GAME! wasn’t close enough to Shirobako for them, maybe this is the series they should look at instead. Because this is no doubt the best anime I’ve seen that brings up the nature of its own industry. I wrote a post a few weeks back called The Self-Destruction of Karasume Chitose in which I did a character study on the main character of the series two episodes away from the finale. I was pleased to see a lot of my predictions in that post come true, but I feel even if I had been wrong on every single note, Girlish Number would have still been a masterpiece in my eyes.
In fact, for most of the season leading up to the year’s end it was set to be number one on this list. It held that position until the final episode of the eventual number one anime of 2016, which is…
#1: Flip Flappers
Orig. Title: フリップフラッパーズ
Studio: Studio 3Hz
Writing about Flip Flappers is hard. It’s simultaneously one of the simplest and yet most complex series of the year, with a presentation that runs through so many imaginative ideas that just watching the show without the narrative is an amazing experience on its own. But the narrative, like I said, is so simple. In Flip Flappers we meet Cocona, a young girl who lacks confidence and ability to make her own decisions. One day she meets Papika, a strange girl who decides to pull her along on a strange adventure into a world known as Pure Illusion. Throughout the adventure and thanks to Papika, Cocona starts to finally find her place in the world.
So what makes it so special? One reason is its unapologetic devotion to the relationship between the two main characters. The series doesn’t shy away from the fact that Papika is in love with Cocona, bringing it up many times, but it’s Cocona’s journey of self-discovery and finding how to respond to Papika’s constant confessions that makes it a true masterpiece in terms of character writing. Essentially every single episode has its own style to it, with inspiration ranging everywhere from Alice in Wonderland to Mad Max. It’s one of the most unique series to ever have been made and it pains me to see it ignored as much as it has been by the general audience.
And I get it, it’s a very messy and visually confusing anime. But I beg you to give it a chance because the journey is absolutely worth it by the end. I have never watched anything like Flip Flappers and I don’t think I ever will again. I wish I could say more, but every word I can say might take something away from the experience of watching it, which you definitely should. So please, do yourself a favour and watch Flip Flappers as soon as possible. It has a green rabbit named Uexküll in it, that’s gotta count for something, right?
And there you have it, Flip Flappers is my best anime of 2016. It was quite an intense battle on the way here as well, considering the top 3 series aired in the last season of the year. I’m hoping that 2017 can be at least near as good as 2016 was when it came to anime. With a few days left until the first new series of the year kick off, all we can do is hope.
Thank you for reading and please let me know your favourite anime of 2016, either in the comments or on Twitter.