What better way to end off the 12-day barrage of articles than with a list of my favorites of 2016! Today we have awards categories for: top airing anime, best male and female characters, OTP, top opening and ending numbers, and best background piece. Do note that I drop shows mercilessly and don’t watch that many per season, so if your favorites aren’t on there, chances are I haven’t watched them (blame my garbage taste). And with that, let’s get started!

TOP ANIME

5: Mob Psycho 100

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I enjoyed Mob’s endearing obliviousness, the miscommunication and conflict (aka ANGST) between the brothers, and the animation and the pure adrenaline in the battle scenes. Mob Psycho 100 also happens to tell a meaningful tale about the trials and fears of adolescence, and uses Reigen to provide a refreshing adult perspective. But that’s not me talking: this article on the Isn’t it Electrifying blog explains it better than I ever could.

4: Flip Flappers

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This placement comes with a big caveat that Flip Flappers isn’t finished yet and could still come apart in its final episode, but hey, I wanted to get this article out on Christmas. I mentioned Flip Flappers in my post about anime that go over my head, so I’ll defer in-depth discussion to those who can better dissect it than me. Other than that, I still love the visuals, and I’ve grown attached to the characters. Cocona’s struggles have become more relatable, and I love Papika’s earnestness and especially Yayaka’s suffering and growth as they get dunked on but continue struggling anyway. You go girls!

3. Hibike! Euphonium season 2

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The first season combined laser focus on the nature of ambition with some gorgeous visuals, resulting in a stunning experience. The second season couldn’t live up to that, with less of a thematic focus and an underwhelming climax to the first arc taking away from the ever-consistent visual presentation. Nevertheless, I’ve become endeared to the entire cast, and I’m content just to watch them spend time together. Plus, Mamiko’s and Asuka’s stories gave such sublime emotional payoffs that I’m overall happy with this season. And unlike Flip Flappers, Hibike! Euphonium’s thematic threads have basically all been concluded, so even if the last episode falls apart, I can just ignore it.

2. Thunderbolt Fantasy

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Yes I know this isn’t anime. I also don’t care. I ranked this above the others because although it doesn’t quite reach their emotional peaks or thematic depth, all the episodes were engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed the scheming, the plot twists, the betrayals, the flashy fights, the blustering and bravado, and the Wuxia setting that made me feel like I was reliving my childhood days of reading old Chinese stories. Nostalgia is a powerful drug.

1. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

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As I’ve said in the previous post,  I love this work because it reminds me of my favorite book Wuthering Heights. However, it stands on its own merits as well. The character work is gripping: Kikuhiko drives the story with a compelling mix of insecurity, jealousy, pride, and devotion; Sukeroku charms us with his charisma and fierce independence even as we decry his actions; and the others are sympathetic in their own right (you can read better episode/character analysis here at the Josei Next Door blog). I became invested in the characters and relationships even as the show drives them headlong into tragedy. Combine this with a confident visual presentation and several emotional highlights, and you’ve got a top-tier anime for me.

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Honorable mentions:

  • Arata Reigen (Mob Psycho 100) because of his adult perspective and good-hearted guidance of the angsty adolescents.
  • Shang Bu Huan (Thunderbolt Fantasy) because he is generally charming with his “I’m too old for this shit” attitude, and because it’s funny to see the show provide comedy at his expense.

Winner:

Kikuhiko (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu)

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Among the shows I’ve watched this year, I can’t think of a more compelling, fleshed-out male character than Kikuhiko. Through the first watch and the rewatch, I noticed and appreciated the skill gone into crafting his conflicted personality, from his inferiority complex, to his complicated relationship with Sukeroku and Miyokichi, to the way he responds to pressures of his master’s name, the Association, and indeed the entire Rakugo art form. All characters in Rakugo Shinjuu are sympathetic, but Kikuhiko is my favorite.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Honorable mentions:

  • Kawamoto Hina (March Comes in like a Lion) for her resilience and caring for Rei despite the stress in her life, and for the show’s sympathetic portrayal of her struggles. I’d have considered Akari as well but she gets less of a character focus.
  • Yayaka (Flip Flappers) because she gets dunked on by the story despite having a good heart and a willingness to sacrifice for her friend and I just want her story to end well T.T

Winner:

Tanaka Asuka (Hibike! Euphonium)

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Tanaka Asuka = best Asuka.

Sorry I had to give my #animehottakes.

A charismatic yet enigmatic figure throughout the first season, Asuka got her well-deserved focus this season, and man was it beautiful. I related so hard to the stubborn pride and fear of causing trouble to others that prevented her from reaching out for help or letting people close to her, despite that being exactly what she needed and wanted deep down. I cheered silently from the edge of my seat as she allowed Kumiko to break through her defences, allowed herself to believe that yes, it’s OK to be selfish from time to time, it’s OK not to always be a perfect adult. It was a cathartic, heartwarming closure to her arc. Plus her euphonium solos were among the most beautiful moments of the show.

For more in-depth analysis of Asuka, refer to Nick Creamer’s two excellent articles written on Crunchyroll.

OTP (best couple)

Mitsuhide and Kiki (Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime season 2)

You will read everywhere else about the Shirayuki x Zens, the Cocona x Papikas, the Yuuri x Viktors, so I’d like to use this opportunity to highlight a couple that’s out of the spotlight. Yes, Mitsuhide and Kiki have a fascinating rapport between them, in which they can freely banter and tease each other while knowing they have each other’s trust. When Kiki volunteers to disguise herself as a captive on the pirate ship, Mitsuhide protests, worried for her safety, but ultimately respects her decision. Kiki then gives him her sword, trusting him (and not someone else) to return it when she needs it. And he lives up to that trust.

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OK I may have generously interpreted some of the above considering I haven’t rewatched the show. But they’re so darn cute together, and they don’t visibly show much affection, so my imagination and my shipping goggles may have led me to exaggerate.

THE MUSIC AWARDS

The next section is the music-related awards, a topic I’m even less qualified to talk about than storytelling. I’m not usually one to pay much attention to the music, and I will skip the OP/ED numbers unless I like them enough to listen through them. And honestly I think most of these songs are here by default because they’re the only ones I listened to in their entirety. Therefore, please, take anything I say with a grain of salt.

TOP OPENING NUMBERS

Honorable mentions:

Answer, by Bump of Chicken (March Comes in like a Lion): because the chorus was catchy

Serendipity, by ZAQ (Flip Flappers): because the visuals are flashy, which is appropriate with the show, and the song is catchy (especially the part where she sings “even if we’re far apart I’ll be by your side”)

Winner:

History Maker, by Dean Fujioka (Yuri!!! on Ice): jeez are the visuals pretty, with the splashes of color, and the beautiful choreography and animation. The English is pronounced very well, and the song and lyrics are pretty catchy. The time signature is 3/4 which is also a nice bonus.

TOP ENDING NUMBERS

Honorable mentions:

STEEL-鉄血の絆, by TRUE (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans 2nd cour): although I think I skipped it a few times, I liked it enough to eventually listen to it in its entirety for the rest of the show.

FLIP FLAP FLIP FLAP, by To-Mas feat Chima (Flip Flappers): the screen splits the visuals in half, with the top showing Cocona and Papika in a fairy-tale setting, and the bottom showing Papika goading Cocona out of her comfort zone. Both are cute touches, nicely summarizing the setting and themes of the story, respectively. And the song is catchy as all heck and I can’t get FLIP FLAP FLIP FLAP out of my head.

Winner:

Dawn (JPN: かは、たれどき), by Shibue Kana (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu): no lyrics, no problem. The smooth, almost melancholic jazz is beautiful in its own right and perfectly complements the story’s tragedy.

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TOP BACKGROUND MUSIC TRACK

Main theme from Flying Witch, by Dewa Yoshiaki.

I went into Flying Witch knowing it would be an easygoing, relaxed anime. The first episode started with a cold open, so I was treated to this as the first piece of music I heard in Flying Witch. Within two seconds, I felt my mind noticeably relax, my day’s stress carried away by the acoustic instruments singing a gentle melody above a set of simple chords. If the purpose of art is to move you from one emotional place to another, this piece did its job so well I simply cannot put another above it.

And done!

Thus concludes my top list for 2016, as well as the 12 Days of Anime challenge. This was 12 days of gruelling writing, image-finding, and editing. But I’m glad I did it. It was an amazing community feeling to read personal and analytical posts from other talented writers, and I’ve added quite a few of them to the list of blogs I can trust for quality work. I doubt we’ll continue to write at such prolific rates (I know I won’t), but I’ll definitely treasure this experience. Happy holidays everyone! Now I can finally binge watch anime instead of writing all these articles.

You can read about the 12 Days of Anime on my introductory post here.

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