The anime industry in Japan just keeps on rolling and whilst that is a good thing for us fans there is the small matter of quality over quantity. 2016 saw another vast array of titles make their debut on Japanese TV, alongside returning favourites and the long running hardy perennials which show no signs of slowing down.
As ever the staple genres of the high school comedy, mecha adventure, harem fluff and magical girls continue to dominate the schedules, with dimension hopping fantasies being another concept that is on the verge of becoming a default choice for new writers. Yet amidst this mire of familiarity and retreads, the occasional diamond in the rough surfaces to remind us that all hope is not lost and that new ideas and fresh perspectives are still being nurtured and encouraged.
So, without further ado, here are my personal Top Ten shows which aired on Japanese TV in 2016 and as usual agree or disagree as is your wont.
10. Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari (Poco’s Udon World)
This charming slice-of-life tale about web designer from Tokyo returning to his rural hometown is given a slight fantasy twist to help convey its messages about family relationships and realising one’s dreams. Planning to close up the family udon restaurant following his father’s death Souta Tawara discovers a young orphaned boy sleeping in it. The boy, whom he names Poco, just happens to be a tanuki in human form which he tries to hide! Too cute for words.
9. Sakamoto desu ga? (Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto)
Usually anime protagonists are losers who go on a journey to become the man of the hour – not Sakamoto, he is already THE man and he knows it. So does everyone else which engenders both jealousy and admiration in equal measures from all he meets. Effortlessly cool and able to resolve any situation or dilemma through guile and creative genius, Sakamoto is a new kind of hero bringing a riotous new twist to the high school comedy.
Similar to Sakamoto above, Sei Handa is the guy everyone thinks is the coolest and the nerds all worship him; unlike Sakamoto, Handa is unaware of this and thinks everyone hates him thus avoids integration, making him seen even cooler. Handa-kun is in fact a prequel to the 2015 hit Barakamon, where the adult version of the protagonist is now a calligraphy expert exiled to a rural town to quell his anger management issues. The two shows couldn’t be more different yet both are hilariously funny.
7. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (Showa And Genroku Era Lover’s Suicide Through Rakugo)
For the more discerning anime fan comes this show based around the traditional art of Rakugo, comedy stories told by a solo performer. A young Yakuza freed from prison decides to devote his life to Rakugo and seeks out the tutelage of his idol Yakumo Yuurakutei, learning the tragic backstory of his mentor’s own journey into the world of Rakugo. Told at a thorough pace the story spans two generations and is never less than eventful despite it laconic atmosphere. A second season is due in 2017.
6. Fune wo Amu (The Great Passage)
Another atypical anime, this time the adaptation of the novel by Shion Miura which has already been made into a live action film in 2013. Afforded a little more time and with some added levity, the story revolves around Mitsuya Majime, a floundering salesperson recruited to help create the best dictionary ever. It sounds like a dull topic but both the film and the anime joyously indulge in importance and wonder of words whilst educating us on the compiling of such a challenging book as the dictionary.
5. Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge (Tanaka-kun Is Always Listless)
Back to teenage life with a subversive show in which the titular character has all the energy and will power of a dead sloth. Yet, like Sakamoto and Handa, Tanaka is able to inspire the friendship of the burly Oota, willing to carry Tanaka around for him and daffy junior Miyano, who puts in her maximum effort to be as lazy as Tanaka, missing the point of his apathy. It’s a wonderfully droll and understated series that gets maximum laughs out such a negative concept. Sublime.
This weepy drama, which has already been a live action TV series, focuses on a group of school friends who one day each receive letters from themselves ten years in the future, instructing them to prevent the death of Kageru, a transfer student they later befriend. The time hopping element might be the hook for some, as well as the distraction, but it is the real life issues this show addresses in a mature manner, such as depression and death, that makes it a compelling and touching show.
3. Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 2 (Assassination Classroom 2)
Koro-Sensei is back for a second term with class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High School, this time brining them one step closer to killing him as the fate of the earth remains in the balance. This sequel delves into the backstory of Koro-Sensei, including the tragic circumstances that brought him into being. The same manic comedy and group bonding by the kids from the first series is once again present, except this time we reach a definitive conclusion to the story.
2. Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan (The Disastrous Life Of Saiki K.)
This is a unique show in that it was broadcast daily at five minutes per-episode then compiled into a 25-minute session at the weekend. Saiki Kusuo is a high school student blessed or cursed with psychic powers that he tries to hide from everyone but ends up using in doing so. Quick witted, self-aware, subversive and above all extremely funny, Saiki’s deadpan commentary and reactions to his exuberant co-stars is as side-splitting as their ridiculous actions. Genius.
(aka Boku dake ga Inai Machi /
The Town Where Only I am Missing)
Satoru Fujinuma discovers a supernatural phenomenon where at the point of danger, he can transport back in time by a few minutes, giving him the chance to avoid his fate. When he is arrested for the murder of his own mother, Satoru suddenly jumps all the way back to his childhood in 1988, where a loner classmate named Kayo Hinazuki was abducted and killed. Believing there is a link between the two incidents, Satoru has to save Kayo in order to save his mother.
The second show on this list involving time manipulation but one that doesn’t go for the heartstrings but for the nerves instead. The winter setting with its dark and cold nights adds to the chilling atmosphere of this unique murder-mystery tale. The story deserves more than its allotted 12 episodes yet we don’t feel short changed by its length either, such is its grip on the viewer. Unnerving, densely plotted, if a little escapist, but utterly compelling all the way through and very deserving of the top spot in my book.
And that brings the countdown of my 2016 Top Ten anime shows from Japan to an end. Again, perhaps not a truly great year for new anime but a few gems and prospective titles that international licensers and distributors will be glad to get their hands on.
Other titles up for contention that failed to make the top ten include Flying Witch, Nanbaka, Dagashi Kashi, Hibike! Euphonium 2, Kyoukai no Rinne 2 and Watashi ga Motete Dousunda. I’m sure you all have your own personal favourites which may or may not have appeared here, or you’d have a different ranking, so rant away if you feel so inclined.
Join me again at the end of 2017 to see what new treats were served up in the home of anime, and which one made the grade in MIB’s Top Ten.
Thanks for reading and until next time, this is the Man in Black saying Sayonara!