We’ll be taking a look back at our favorite shows of the entire year in a couple days, but before that, we wanted to pop in and give some accolades to the fall shows that really (ah-hem) rocked.
We talked about three kinds of recommendations:
- Feminist-friendly favorite (you would recommend it to a feminist friend with no caveats)
- Problematic favorite (you would only recommend it to a feminist friend with caveats)
- Surprise favorite (you expected it to have caveats, but actually would recommend it without)
We’ve also decided to add a new rule, which is that ongoing series are not eligible for these lists. We’d rather wait until the series (or season) has finished up before recommending it to others, that way we can give you a more complete picture. So, if you were wondering why nobody mentioned The Ancient Magus’ Bride or why Dee wasn’t shouting about ClassicaLoid again, that’s why. These shows will be eligible when they finish up in the Winter 2018 season.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Problematic favorite: Vrai
Every season this year has ended with at least one ambitious wreck that pummeled my emotions and prodded my frustrations, and here we are again. Anime-Gataris is one of the most creative meta-anime that I’ve seen in some time, but the ride getting there is bumpy enough that I find myself somewhat reticent to recommend it.
The first chunk of the series is a fairly low-key club anime, distinguished by some truly eagle-eyed insight into what being a high school anime fan is like: the rush of going to a fan event for the first time, arguing anime versus source with your friend, and totally overanalyzing a crush because you don’t want to be like those lunk-headed idiots in rom-com anime. It believes passionately in anime and its power to bring people together. It even occasionally acknowledges that you can be a passionate fan without unquestioningly loving every anime produced, a small touch that endeared me after years of “critical fan=bad fan” portrayals.
The last third is an absolutely gonzo thrill ride that plays around extensively with the mechanics of how anime is made while also discussing the relationships between fan, author, and text. It’s not just meta, it’s creatively meta, playing with art style, aspect ratios, and stages of production. It avoids getting into anything too complex (none of the female characters are bothered even once by ecchi or siscon anime, for example) but it’s also not so far gone as to blindly tongue-bathe this thing we all love.
It also takes way too long to get going, content to wear its mask for far longer than most twist anime, stalling out in the middle with pleasant but unremarkable episodes. And while most of the skeevy elements in the series are part of a long walk toward a joke (overly-sexualizing a student character out of nowhere every episode, having a pretty offensive gay stereotype because it’s basically Jun Fukuyama reprising his role on Black Butler), those jokes are never good enough to wash away the discomfiting cost. Still, I can’t say I didn’t admire it at the end of the day, and the final three episodes are an unforgettable trip.
Problematic favorite: Peter
This was an unexpected second season that I’m very grateful to have. Even without Rie Matsumoto, B3&B maintained the energetic direction of its first season. This time around we enjoyed more deep dives into the personal lives and jobs of the members of Libra when they’re not defending Hellsalem’s Lot from an existential threat. We see K.K struggle as a working mom, Chain’s side-job as a member of an all-female spy unit, and even get a peek underneath Gilbert’s bandages.
Although the series is just as goofy as the first time around, the action is even more intense, and the climax hits the same unforgettable emotional high note as the first season. Any further adaptation would probably require a more defined narrative arc, but Beyond was another great joy ride.
Surprise favorite: Dee, Vrai
In my premiere review for Code: Realize, I lovingly called it “the unicorn” because it was a rare, magical example of how to do a good otome visual novel adaptation, and that mostly held true for the entire series. The steampunk London setting continued to be ridiculous fun (so many unnecessary gears!), the horde of cute boys named after literary figures continued to be sweet and supportive, and the plot clipped along at a nice pace, taking the story in weird but entertaining directions.
Best of all, Cardia proved herself to be a compelling protagonist, as well as an example of how a character can be quiet and insecure without being a passive cardboard cut-out. She was driven and passionate, with personal goals and the talents to achieve them. Called “monstrous” all her life, Cardia (with the help of a supportive community) slowly comes to realize that she can make her own choices and is a person worthy of happiness. She also got to kick some bad guys’ butts along the way, which was pretty rad, too.
While I do wish the final act had allowed her to exercise more agency, as it leans a little too heavily on the man being the active savior/protector figure (Cardia still makes choices, but they’re mostly passive and internal ones), her emotional arc is still a largely satisfying one. The friendships are sweet and the romance is cute and fluffy. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great example of how to play out the fantasy of the otome genre without the sexist pitfalls so often inherent in that genre. Here’s hoping future titles will follow its example and I can enjoy more active girls and good boys in the future.
Surprise favorite: Dee
This show was barely on my radar four days ago, and now it’s skyrocketed up my list to become not just one of my favorites of the season, but one of my favorites of the entire year. I’m still basking in the post-credits afterglow.
Despite the lack of a clear plot and some tonal dissonance in the first couple episodes, Girls’ Last Tour builds on itself beautifully, slowly creating a world and tone that is at once heartbreakingly bleak and warmly peaceful. In a kind of “road trip” format, the series uses its apocalyptic setting and characters (Chito and Yuuri, two girls whose squabbling but intimate relationship feels refreshingly realistic) to ask questions about life, death, and what it means to be human with an elegance that’s rare to find.
While it doesn’t provide much in the way of answers, it isn’t entirely void of hope, either. Neither optimistic nor despairing, GLT explores how people find meaning in their lives and does so beautifully, combining wistful music with melancholy backgrounds with character designs that seem as simultaneously fragile and resilient as the world around them. Don’t dismiss the blobs, folks—they’re part of one of the finest atmospheric stories of the year.
Feminist-friendly favorite: Dee, Peter, Vrai
Surprise favorite: Amelia
Land of the Lustrous is something special—I know I’ve spent quite a lot of time writing about it this season alone (including talking with the translators), in hopes of getting more eyes on it. As you can see, a lot of the team felt the same way. So what is it about the rock show?
Well, it’s not really anything like Steven Universe, however fun the memes are (the shows were developed roughly in tandem). What it is…well, that’s a bit harder to pin down. It’s a beautiful character drama focusing on an endearing and distinct ensemble cast. It’s often funny and dreadfully stressful, as part of the fun comes from being gutted by each new cliffhanger. It’s gorgeously produced, pairing daring visual direction and colorful, nuanced CGI with smartly implemented 2D mapping in order to keep the show from becoming (accidentally) uncanny. It has an almost entirely genderless cast, which is all but unheard of.
It’s a story about identity, bodies, and how the latter can determine your place in society. It’s about wanting to reach out to others without knowing quite how, and the balance between truth and comfort. There’s a heaping element of body horror and a disquieting air of suspicion around the gems living under the supposedly-beneficent tutelage of a patriarchal leader, but Ichikawa’s writing handles tough issues with a light touch in all the right places, and knows how to rip your guts out without ever making you numb.
This first season leaves a great many mysteries unanswered while successfully wrapping up its initial character hook—namely, the desire for connection between Phos and Cinnabar. While it’s not clear if a second season will be greenlit, you can rest assured that those questions are at least getting answered in the manga (which you can get in English through Kodansha!). If you’ve been saving up that free week of Anime Strike, this is absolutely the thing to spend it on.
Problematic favorite: Dee
Surprise favorite: Peter
An anime starring a woman in her thirties? I was IN… but wary of the MMO element. I steeled myself for panty shots, groping-as-meet-cute, harem set-up, the works. Instead, each week deepened my emotional investment in Moriko and her surprisingly psychological journey. And I wasn’t alone.
Let’s face it: in 2017, Moriko’s ability to retreat from society while retaining her independence and financial security (how?!) is almost aspirational. The series embraces her very human darkness, arising from common experiences like misery at work and discomfort meeting conventional standards of attractiveness. I found her arc painful without being depressing, though; such moments are handled with care and wrapped in a fun story set in a world of warm, well-intentioned people.
The wider cast is a pleasure to spend time with. Main character Lily has a sweetness rooted in sincerity, making it easy to feel as much affection for her as Moriko does. Multiple characters play as genders other than the ones they identify as in the real world, and while this unfortunately doesn’t lead to a real exploration of trans identities, it does provide some insightful commentary on what it means to present as a woman both in-game and out of it. One character’s humour crosses decidedly unfunny lines… but he also adds a fresh spark of comedy when he decides to join the game with an extremely muscular blonde avatar and no clue how the game mechanics work.
MMO Junkie was my only must-watch show week to week in the autumn season, and perhaps the most relatable show I saw all year.