The anime train in Japan may still be rolling but as 2017 has illustrated, it appears to be in a bit of a funk in terms of creativity and producing that hot new property to capture the imagination of fans worldwide. This is not to say there isn’t anything worth watching among the newly released titles but the bulk of the concepts driving them are hardly groundbreaking.
Admittedly yours truly has seen fewer new shows this year mainly due to time but also because very little appealed among the proliferation of more harem comedies, more magical girls and more people being trapped in MMO games – failing that, other popular shows have seen ersatz clones appear in abundance with no sense of shame or irony found in any of them.
Therefore this year’s choices in making up my ten best titles was a greater struggle than usual to complete, not that I didn’t enjoyed all the shows featured, only the top few were truly outstanding in terms of being bona fide sure fire picks and not concession choices, if that makes sense. I’ve even had to cheat a little with one title but I’ll explain why in its summary.
So, without further ado, here are my personal Top Ten shows which aired on Japanese TV in 2017 and as usual agree or disagree as is your wont.
10. Net-juu no Susume (Recovery Of An MMO Junkie)
MMO based anime are not usually my bag but this charming, if short, show is an exception through subverting the tired old premise for something slice-of-life based. Moriko Morioka is a 30 year-old ex-office worker who becomes immersed in MMORPG games where she plays a male hero, befriending a female character named Lily, who is actually a young man in real life. Gentle, amusing and accessible to non-gamers like yours truly.
9. Fukumenkei Noise (Anonymous Noise)
Music can bring people together but it can also break them apart. Nino is a young girl who loves to sing, enchanting her neighbour Momo until he moves away. Not long after Nino meets a song writer named Yuzu and they also split but both boys promise they will reunite with Nino when her singing reaches them. Years later Nino reconnects with her beaus when she ends up the lead singer of a popular rock group. Funny and touching the quirky artwork actually works in favour of the material.
8. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Descending Stories: Showa And Genroku Era Lover’s Suicide Through Rakugo Season 2)
The second series of this laconic part-period drama finally moves into the modern day setting with former yakuza Yotaro now given the chance to pick up the mantle from his master Yurakutei Yakumo as a practitioner of the traditional storytelling art of Rakugo. The drama this time round in born from a different set of problems, namely Yakumo’s advanced age and the personal issues of Konatsu, daughter of Yakumo’s late friend, yet the show retains its amiable pace and whimsical air.
7. Nana Maru San Batsu (Fastest Finger First)
A sporting show with a difference – there is no sports! It’s actually about quizzing but plays out like a sports show with milquetoast student Shiki Koshiyama finding his niche in his school’s Quiz Bowl club, developing his skills and understanding of the game along the way. Amusing and educational, the high tension quiz matches are as dramatic as any sports event, while the insight into quizzing techniques and advantage gaining methods is fascinating and invaluable.
6. Tsuki ga Kirei (As The Moon, So Beautiful)
Another sign that MIB is getting soft in his old age, this gentle teen romance caught me by surprise, just as much as me opting to watch it but I am glad I did. The concept isn’t original – Kotaro Azumi and Akane Mizuno are two students who end up in the same class for the first time together in their third year at junior high school and, you guessed, fall for each other but can’t quite seem to get it together. The imagery is soft with a pastel veneer to compliment its comfortable aura.
5. Tiger Mask W
The cheat title I mentioned earlier as it actually began in later 2016 but I figured it would just be a quick bit of fun – instead it ran for 38 episodes and turned out to tell quite a compelling story set in the world of Japanese pro wrestling. This incarnation of Tiger Mask is 21 year-old Naoto Azuma, seeking revenge for his trainer after the GWM group injured him and shut down his company. Many current New Japan Pro Wrestling stars are featured in the show but only Togi Makabe voices himself.
4. Made In Abyss
Orphan Girl Riko yearns to follow in the footsteps of her cave raider mother who went missing while exploring the Abyss, a giant hole that is said to lead to the remnants of the previous civilisation. Along with a robot boy named Reg, Riko heads off into the Abyss, aware that she may not be able to come back. Ignore the cutesy designs, this is quite a dark show that doesn’t shy away from upsetting the viewer, especially in the later episodes, via grotesque imagery, brutal violence and tragic backstories.
3. Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2 (Attack On Titan Season 2)
Surprised this isn’t at the top of the list like the first season was back in 2013? Well, it only ran for 12 episodes which isn’t usually cause for demotion but this was a mixed bag of a series, in that it continued the story but not in the way we had hoped. There are new Titans – including one that can speak – and the supporting characters get more air time than usual to explore their histories, but with intermittent action, although when these scenes do arrive – oh boy!
2. Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon (Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid)
Quite how this silly show about a dragon that turns into a young female to serve as a maid to a human in gratitude for removing a sword from her back should prove so endearing is why anime should never be underestimated. Tohru the dragon maid is a number of tropes rolled into one fun lead as are titular human Kobayashi and moe junior dragon Kanna. An absolute riot with an underlying sweetness about friendship and belonging, this is a series to reaffirm that fun is still fine.
(Inuyashiki: Last Hero)
It’s been a while since we last had a decent high concept sci-fi/horror thriller, the last one probably being Parasyte, so let’s all sing hallelujah for Inuyashiki. Ichiro Inuyashiki, a friendless old man is struck by a meteor while out walking his dog, except it was an alien craft, and the guilty aliens use their advanced technology to rebuild the crushed old man, turning him into a powerful cyborg. At the same time, teenager Hiro Shishigami was in the park that night and suffered the same fate as Inuyashiki, except he let his new abilities go to his head and becomes a psychotic killer, pitching the two cyborgs in a battle with the whole of humanity is at stake.
The episode count is disappointing short at just 11 episodes but this is a perfect case of quality over quantity. Not a second is wasted in detailing the divergent paths the two leads take, from Inuyashiki’s difficulty in adapting and controlling his cybernetic abilities to Shishigami’s quicker assimilation and horrific use for them. Many moral dilemmas are encountered and innocent people are affected in this intelligent and provocative series that enthrals and captivates the imagination from the get go.
And that brings the countdown of my 2017 Top Ten anime shows from Japan to an end. Other titles up for contention that only just failed to make the top ten include Sakura Quest, Kino no Tabi (2017), Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, Isekai Shokudou, Princess Principal and Koi to Uso.
Not the most reflective list of what was on offer in Japan but as explained earlier finding new titles that truly resonate is becoming increasingly harder as the anime industry hits a financial and productive road bump. 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 2018 to see what new treats were served up in the home of anime, and which ones made the grade in MIB’s Top Ten.
Thanks for reading and until next time, this is the Man in Black saying Sayonara!