Mid-year Recap
Summer Recap
Fall Update #1

My overall 2016 rankings. Click on a title to jump to the comments.

Completed or Airing
01. Flip Flappers [ 10.0 / 10 ]
T2. Flying Witch [ 9.5 / 10 ]
T2. Amanchu! [ 9.5 / 10 ]
T4. ViVid Strike! [ 9.25 / 10 ]
T4. Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume [ 9.25 / 10 ]
06. New Game! [ 9.0 / 10 ]
07. Anne Happy♪ [ 8.5 / 10 ]
08. Ange Vierge [ 8.5 / 10 ]
09. Girlish Number [ 8.0 / 10 ]
10. Bakuon!! [ 8.0 / 10 ]
11. Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu [ 7.5 / 10 ]
12. Shuumatsu no Izetta [ 7.5 / 10 ]
13. Natsume Yuujinchou Go [ 7.5 / 10 ]
14. Amaama to Inazuma [ 7.5 / 10 ]
15. Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku [ 7.5 / 10 ]
16. Keijo!!!!!!!! [ 7.0 / 10 ]
17. Nejimaki Seirei Senki: Tenkyou no Alderamin [ 7.0 / 10 ]
18. Stella no Mahou [ 7.0 / 10 ]
19. Sansha Sanyou [ 7.0 / 10 ]
20. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu [ 7.0 / 10 ]
21. JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Diamond wa Kudakenai [ 6.5 / 10 ]
22. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! [ 6.5 / 10 ]
23. Mayoiga [ 6.0 / 10 ]

Oshite! Galko-chan [1 ep]
Pan de Peace [5 eps]
Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge [6 eps]
lostorage incited WIXOSS [10 eps] – The lone new drop. I’m so deeply disappointed in this show. I was excited to get more Wixoss, but this show simply doesn’t get the appeal of the franchise. Sure it’s got the despair down, but it is incapable of having fun with it the way AKI-LUCKY made Wixoss’ despair fun. It also completely botches the core emotional relationship by having Chinatsu and Suzuko barely interact. Instead, Chinatsu’s story arc is wasted on a dumb boy following her around and being an unspeakably bland nuisance, and not doing a single damn thing they couldn’t have much more effectively and meaningfully done with Suzuko. It poisoned the show so much that I don’t even care about Chinatsu/Suzuko’s reconciliation anymore. I miss Selector so much…

Top Characters
Kokomine Cocona – Flip Flappers
Papika – Flip Flappers
Yayaka – Flip Flappers
Kuramoto Chinatsu – Flying Witch
Hagyuu Hibiki – Anne Happy
Kamiya Agari – Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
Ooki Futaba – Amanchu!
Suzunoki Rin – Bakuon!!
Miyata Sayaka – Keijo!!!!!!!!
Megumin – Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

Top Pairings
Kokomine Cocona / Papika – Flip Flappers
Ooki Futaba / Kohinata Hikari – Amanchu!
Izetta / Ortfiné Fredericka von Eylstadt – Shuumatsu no Izetta
Yagami Kou / Tooyama Rin – New Game!
Fuuka Reventon / Rinne Berlinetta – ViVid Strike!
Tsumujikaze Koyori / Kamiya Agari – Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
Hagyuu Hibiki / Eokda Ren – Anne Happy
Almaria / Sofina – Ange Vierge
Futamaru Kururi / Zashikiwarashi Zakuro – Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
Oomune Mune / Ushirode Kiruka – Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
Sanagi Ageha / Sanagi Mayuka – Ange Vierge

Top OPs
Ange Vierge – “Love is MY RAIL”
Flying Witch – “Shanranran”
Amanchu! – “Million Clouds”
ViVid Strike! – “Future Strike”
Flip Flappers – “Serendipity”
Anne Happy – “Punch Mind Happiness”
Sansha Sanyou – “Clover Kakumation”
Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Msuume – “Shakunetsu Switch”

Top EDs
New Game! – “Now Loading!!!!”
Flip Flappers – “FLIP FLAP FLIP FLAP”
ViVid Strike! – “Starry Wish”
Anne Happy – “Ashta de Ii kara”
Ange Vierge – “Link With U”
Stella no Mahou – “Yonaka Jikaru”

Please note THIS IS NOT SPOILER FREE. I’m talking about my reactions to what I’ve watched and anything goes.

Since this is the year-end update, I’ll be listing everything in its appropriate place. But shows covered by the Summer and Mid-year recaps will just contain links to those posts.

Flip Flappers [IMPORTED]
(click to hide)

No need to bury the lede: Flip Flappers is my favorite show of all time.

That’s why in some ways it’s overwhelming to even talk about. Part of the beauty of Flip Flappers is in the indescribable sense of wonder and adventure it captures. And on a personal level, conveying why something is emotionally rewarding is always difficult. But one critical aspect to Flip Flappers’ appeal is not difficult to explain: the beautiful efficiency of its narrative.

That efficiency results from Flip Flappers’ knack for firing off bursts of episodic creativity in parallel with consistent character development. There isn’t a single episode that doesn’t advance either Cocona’s, Yayaka’s, or Papika’s story. It doesn’t matter if they’re living out their senpai’s childhood trauma, battling a BDSM demon in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or trapped in a time loop populated by faceless schoolgirls. Flip Flappers’ visual spectacle never outshines its characters’ emotional journeys, it reinforces them. And the fact that so much of what happens early on is re-contextualized by having seen the ending only makes a rewatch more rewarding, it doesn’t strip a the first viewing of its cohesion and clarity of progression.

Cocona finding herself amid the confusion of adolescence is a familiar premise. Time and again we’ve seen protagonists who, lacking in dreams or direction, begin the story blandly coasting through life until they meet a strange and charismatic partner who expands their outlook. There’s initial reluctance that is overcome in time, either through necessity or desire or both. It’s Simon in Gurren Lagann, it’s Madoka in Madoka Magica, it’s Futaba in Amanchu!. It’s so many characters and it’s so readily understandable. And if you somehow miss it in the first two episodes, the villain in episode three makes sure to clue you in.

But we already have a sense of what kind of person Cocona is by that point. Her reluctance to adventure with Papika is little more than skin deep, and as early as the first episode we catch her enjoying herself, somewhat to her own surprise and annoyance. Most tellingly, after nearly being trampled by a stampede of giant monsters and then attacked by mysterious robots her concern is less for her own safety than for Papika’s. She’s not entirely adverse to adventuring, but she’s terrified of seeing anyone come to harm because of it. Roles reverse for the second episode, where Papika learns what it feels like to almost lose Cocona, and then the third episode cements their bond.

Much later we learn why Cocona and Papika take to each other so quickly, but Flip Flappers works because you don’t need to know that in episode two to appreciate their relationship. Everything is laid out in this opening arc, provided you’re willing to look at more than the pretty art and animation, and take a genuine interest in the characters.

The theme of Cocona leveraging her newfound confidence in order to give back to those who have given her strength is the real genius of her arc. If the first two episodes taught Papika and Cocona to appreciate each other, and the third forced them to face each other more honestly, the fourth is where Cocona decides she wants to do something for Papika. She isn’t entirely successful, and only ends up making more work for Papika, but it truly is the thought that counts. It’s those feelings that make the bond-building exercise of episode 4 a success, and we see this bear fruit immediately when Cocona ends up dragging Papika out of the trap laid for them in the next Pure Illusion. It’s the first time Cocona has taken the lead.

Cocona’s self-realization enables her to shift her gaze from inward to outward, and the broader story reflects this. Irodori’s backstory, Yayaka’s struggles, and the Papikana/Mimi/Salt origin story all require Cocona to have reached a particular milestone before they can begin. It takes a confident Cocona to actively seek out the resolution of Irodori’s past trauma. Yayaka’s fortunes wind up being inversely related to Cocona’s, and thus Cocona’s gains unwittingly become Yayaka’s downfall (and then, salvation). And the backstory kicking off the final arc can only be told once enough fragments (which parallel Cocona’s progress) have been collected to piece together Papika’s memories and enable Mimi’s release.

Of these, let’s discuss Yayaka. Precious, tragic, badass Yayaka.

It’s a close race, but I think Yayaka has a rougher time of it than anyone. All the principal characters experience devastating lows, but for the bulk of her arc Yayaka faces them down without the support structure that gets Cocona through her worst moments. And this all goes down for Yayaka while she’s watching the girl she almost certainly loves develop an intense romantic bond with a girl working at a rival organization. If you enjoy suffering, Yayaka is your girl.

Yayaka’s attempts to keep Cocona out of harm’s way are successful, but she incurs a terrible cost to herself. Every time we see Asclepius and Flip Flap clash in Pure Illusion, Yayaka does something that compromises her standing within her organization. At first she can excuse it as just being efficient (passing off a reluctance to attack Cocona and Papika in episode three as a desire not to waste time), but as Cocona becomes more confident in her role, and Flip Flap becomes a greater threat in the fragment hunt, Yayaka has to bend over backwards to help her in increasingly obvious ways. It’s the tragic irony of Cocona’s growth – she unwittingly strips her best friend of the only place she ever called home.

But Yayaka is strong, much stronger than she knows. Her strength isn’t in retrieving fragments for Asclepius or her willingness to sacrifice her feelings for the sake of the job. It’s in precisely the emotions she’s torn herself apart trying to suppress. She discovers her true potential only when, at Papika’s urging, she embraces those feelings fully and without hesitation.

“Flip Flapping!”

Yayaka’s transformation gives voice to the true nature of flip flapping. It’s not a matter of birth or involvement in Asclepius’ experiments. Flip flapping is Pure Illusion recognizing the depth of your love, and in Flip Flappers love is power. (Even if sometimes that love can be twisted.)

But before Yayaka flip flapped, the show underwent a change. Not, I’d argue, a change in message, though some took it that way, but in episode structure. Yayaka’s break from Asclepius in episode 9 also broke the story out of an episodic structure that had defined the series until this point. Suddenly our creative little auteur project had a ::ominous thunderclap:: plot! A recognizably more traditional plot with flashbacks, origin stories, a “final boss”-type antagonist, and clearer narrative continuity from one episode to the next.

How you reacted to this change says, I think, a lot about what you valued in those first nine episodes. If you valued Flip Flappers for the diverse and lively worlds with their excellent animation and art design, but either did not engage with or simply did not recognize the underlying story of Papika, Cocona, and Yayaka’s relationships, you might consider episodes 10-13 to be an unacceptable change in direction. But that seems deeply unfortunate. Those fantastical episodic romps were powerful precisely because they came with a consistent character narrative, one that continued straight through the final episodes unabated.

The specifics of Salt and Mimi’s backstory are interesting enough, but what I truly value from these episodes is what they did for Papika.

We know almost nothing about Papika before this point. I don’t mean of her personality – there’s a lot that fleshes her out in the earlier episodes. But it’s true that Cocona has been our point of view the entire time, and we know only as much about Papika as is necessary to establish her feelings for Cocona. We spend an entire episode breaking down what makes Papika Papika but it’s in the context of Cocona’s understanding of Papika, not from Papika herself. A lot of what I wrote about Koyori in the Takkyuu Musume comments below applies to Papika at this point. Papika shakes up a dynamic, but the viewers live in other characters’ headspace, not hers.

So it’s important to me that the final arc revolved so heavily around Papika. We learn more about who she really is (or was) and how she relates to Cocona. We see her forced to choose between Mimi (a dear friend to the woman whose memories Papika has inherited) and Cocona (the girl she loves in this present life). We see her fight for Cocona’s sake rather than alongside her. We see Yayaka help her out of an emotional low point, and we see her help Yayaka in return. We see the scope of Papika’s interpersonal relationships expanded in these episodes.

If Cocona is the point of view character, does it matter how well fleshed out Papika is? In many shows, the answer would be “not necessarily”. And you could have aired a very good if less ambitious Flip Flappers by leaving Papika as a simplistic foil for Cocona. But that Flip Flappers wouldn’t be my favorite show of all time. That Flip Flappers would not have affected me so deeply. Because that Flip Flappers would have had a much less equal, much less emotionally fulfilling central romance. And that romance is its backbone and its soul.

Every emotional high I felt while watching this show was matched by a corresponding increase in dread at what could happen if it stumbled at the finish line. My investment in Cocona and Papika’s happiness together was by the end intense to the point of being overwhelming. Flip Flappers was always as much a love story as a story of Cocona’s self-realization, because the two are inseparable. Cocona’s feelings for Papika are the lens through which she discovers who she is. So to pull any punches regarding their feelings for one another would have been disastrous to the show’s message.

The first time Papika says she “dai-dai-daisuki!”s Cocona, it’s a cute moment but nothing we haven’t heard a hundred times before from a hundred other characters mouths. 好き is an increasingly devalued currency in anime, and I can’t help but be skeptical of it after the hundredth slice of life ship that gets there and stops dead. So nevermind the director’s tweet back in October that the yuri themes are intentional. Nevermind their comment that they don’t like the idea of het pairings for Cocona. Extra-textual commentary from creators is nice, but if it’s not reflected at all in the text, my question will always be, “And what is stopping you?”.

But Flip Flappers did not shy away from this, as virtually every other show does. It embraces their love, first subtly and then increasingly overtly. Flip Flappers success here gives me a few points to touch on: traditional lesbian symbolism scattered throughout the show, the depiction of “Class S” as a prison, and the use of repetition to smash down ambiguity.

If those shells vaguely remind you of something else, that’s intentional, not a sign that you have a dirty mind (okay maybe you also have a dirty mind, but that’s your business). Kai Awase, “shell matching”, is a slang term for lesbian sex. Think also about how Cocona entered the transformed pipe house in episode four: reaching into and parting a crevice to enter Papika’s hidden place. All of episode five depicts the traditional yuri setting of an all-girls school, complete with copious lily imagery. Their ultimate Flip Flapping results in outfits that essentially look like armored wedding dresses. The seeming non-sequiter of Papia’s nail clippers suddenly makes sense when you find out that this, too, is an established metaphor for lesbian sex. There is absolutely no reason for that scene to exist except as a scream from Cocona’s subconscious – for this is *her* Pure Illusion, populated by *her* views of Papika – saying “You really, really want to have sex with Papika.”

…Aaaand then Cocona nearly has sex with a succubus version of Papika. We’ve moved beyond symbolism here. She abstains because she knows her true goal is to find a complete Papika, the one that embodies all of the Papikas she meets in Pure Illusion. But she looks a little disappointed nonetheless when Papina vanishes like the rest of the Papikas she’s met here and subsequently rejected in her search for Papika.

Their conversation is still worth reiterating. When Papina asks if Cocona loves her, she says she’s not sure what love is. She then reacts to Papina’s confession of love by asking “You mean as a friend, right?” And then Papina replies with “Why would you ask that?“. Except it’s not really correct for me to say “Papina replies”. There is no Papina. There is only Cocona having a debate with herself. Cocona answers her own doubts with incredulity at herself for even entertaining the notion that it’s “just friends”.

Flip Flappers also touches on the concept of Class S yuri. Think Maria-sama ga Miteru, the most influential modern show in this category. It’s hushed voices, long skirts, tea parties, and emotionally charged “sisterhood” in a place where time stands still, safely tucked away from the real world (and all the men they’re expected to marry once they graduate). So much of modern yuri borrows from this worldview, and all the problems and limitations that follow from it.

But in Flip Flappers, Class S is prison. It’s a horror film. It’s death to meaningful relationships and the end of the line for personal growth, as you quite literally repeat the same superficially intimate yet ultimately hollow actions over and over and over and over. Class S is a trap, and it must be escaped at all costs. And so they do. Papika and Cocona break free, and their story continues on, unconstrained by walled gardens and long skirts. It’s amazing in retrospect how strong a message this episode is sending.

Repetition has power in Flip Flappers. Papika doesn’t just “daisuki” Cocona, she “dai-dai-daisuki”s her. And she repeats this until the pivotal moment when Cocona returns the same words. Cocona even makes sure to reiterate her love in the final episode. While most of these proclamations of love come from Papika, we’re left with no possible doubt about whether it’s mutual.

Other repeated ideas emphasize their status as soulmates: they’re always waiting for one another (even Mimi gets in on the act when chiding Salt). They’re always searching for the other. They know deep down that they could never choose anyone else, that it has to be Papika for Cocona, and Cocona for Papika.

It’s precisely because love is power in Pure Illusion that Cocona and Papika possess the strength to overcome every obstacle they face, including Mimi herself. The love between Cocona and Papika is without limit or boundaries. Every wild fantasy that makes up Pure Illusion is ultimately rooted in the reality of their love – the truest thing that exists in the world. Their love is the reason why Flip Flappers is a story worth telling.

I can’t describe how I felt when I realized that Flip Flappers was finally over, and that it hadn’t stumbled. That it hadn’t betrayed its own themes and ideas. That a show this perfect and meaningful and complete really could exist. Because the (masterfully executed, please take some notes, Izetta) fake out scene had left me breathless, wondering if a story about genuine, ecstatic, boundless love was really going to fail in the last minute in the name of drama, tragedy, and all the other concepts that are far too often valued over pure unconditional happiness in our media.

Then Papika came out of the pipe.

Moist eyes became tears, then crying, then sobbing. Not in sadness or even just in happiness, the reasons I might usually cry. This was an emotional release directed at the overwhelming and joyous realization of the very existence of the thing. At the very fact that this show is real, exists within our world, and is now part of my life. That every single hope and worry I’d poured into it for 13 weeks had been accepted and rewarded tenfold, a thousandfold, a millionfold beyond anything I could have dreamed. I cannot do it justice in words. No show has ever elicited the same feeling. Perhaps no show ever will again.

This is it. This is my favorite thing. What a feeling. What a show. What an experience.

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Flying Witch [IMPORTED]
» Winter/Spring wrap-up post
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Amanchu! [IMPORTED]
» Summer wrap-up post
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ViVid Strike! [IMPORTED]
(click to hide)

Sometimes you expect a show to be good and it obliges well enough. Sometimes you expect a show to be good and it smiles at your limited imagination before schooling you in greatness. It’s difficult to pin down when ViVid Strike! transitioned from the former to the latter, but it sure did.

From the start, the show occupied a strange position in Nanoha canon, which is already one of the strangest in anime. I won’t recap the whole history again (brief summary here), but Nanoha runs the gamut. Traditional mahou shoujo. Sci-fi SWAT team. Knock-down-drag-out martial arts tournament brawler. Nanoha contains multitudes.

ViVid Strike! inherits the tournament setup introduced in Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, but immediately starts playing coy with its relationship to the rest. The elephant in the room is the absence of Nanoha and Fate. This title is “ViVid Strike”, not “Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid Strike”. It’s the first animated entry to drop the MSLN portion. If you haven’t been into Nanoha all along it’s difficult to convey just how strange this all is. I only recall two references to the franchise’s founding pair – this reference to Vivio’s two moms, and maybe the most hilarious frame of video ever:

I’m stuck on this point not for trivia’s sake, but because Strike’s quirky relationship to its predecessors became one of the primary joys of watching the show each weekend with other Nanoha fans. You can enjoy Strike in isolation. If you don’t know better there’s no reason why you can’t take its explanations at face value and still have fun. But the experience is markedly different if you’ve got enough background to lose your shit when this nice-looking girl waltzes into Nakajima Gym for a casual visit.

There are only two reactions to this for an established fan: You’ll either be completely turned off at the lack of Nanoha and Fate and pass, or you’ll suppress giggles at every intentionally obtuse reference the show lobs your way. I was wholeheartedly on the latter side.

But endearing meta humor alone wouldn’t rate ViVid Strike! this highly. It’s compelling character arcs that elevate a fun show to a great one.

Once Fuuka settles in at Nakajima Gym, Strike pivots hard towards her erstwhile friend, Rinne Berlinetta. And in that fourth episode, everything changes.

Episode four was legitimately stunning. It’s challenging to convey what that felt like the first time I saw it. Serious bullying is new to the franchise to start with, but Rinne’s wrathful, bloody vengeance was completely unprecedented. Nervous laughter might cover my reaction best? It’s a mix of shock, grim amusement at how intense it was, and a wide-eyed feeling of “what the hell series was this, again?”

Nanoha has never been a franchise to shy away from violence, but its beamspam has rarely been this grounded or visceral. ViVid Strike is closest to Vita’s assault on Nanoha in A’s 01, a fury of Belkan steel and blood punctuated by the merciless clunk of the Cartridge System, than to most of the franchise’s other encounters. And yet I don’t think the uncharacteristic nature of Rinne’s rampage is purely the pursuit of shock value. ViVid Strike!’s violence is meaningfully raw and painful. We saw hints of this in Fuuka’s first sparring matches, but episode four was the wake-up call.

It would be a betrayal of the franchise if the violence were purely self-indulgent. But ViVid Strike! just gets the defining characteristics of a Nanoha show, no matter whose name is or isn’t in the title. It understands that the pain and violence must ultimately lead to friendship and understanding. Violence that doesn’t serve that end is the violence of the antagonist. And yet even this is often the twisted manifestation of sincere love. We see it in Fate’s Jewel Seed assaults in 1st, carried out to please her deranged mother. We see it in the Knights’ reckless pursuit of magical energy in A’s, an attempt to feed The Book of Darkness and protect Hayate. Rinne’s transgression was less magical and perhaps less noble-mined, but was ultimately driven by her deep love for her late grandfather. And her violence in the ring is a violence of atonement, a warped desire to please her coach and prove her strength and dedication to her family.

This cycle of misguided violence must always be shattered by a physical manifestation of the protagonist’s love. Nanoha used a Starlight Breaker. Fuuka used her fists. The effect is the same.

While the tournament structure slightly handicaps Fuuka’s character arc throughout the middle portion of the story, she excels in her role as Rinne’s salvation. Fuuka instinctively understands what it means to be the Nanoha protagonist to a Nanoha antagonist: You bend your every thought to understanding their feelings. You stare unflinchingly into their beautiful, sad eyes. Your heart overflows with boundless compassion and love. You break their goddamn ribs with your Hegemon Sky-Splitting Fist. No step of this is any less vital than the others.

Fuuka and Rinne’s climactic fight begins at the end of episode 9 and runs straight through to the end of episode 11. It’s a punishing marathon, reflecting both their fighting styles (neither fighter relies greatly on speed, opting instead to both give and take punishment like a ton of bricks) and the thickness of the emotional barriers they need to punch through. As in many of Strike’s fights, an ability to convey impact masks a lack of animation prowess, but it’s fitting here.

Even as their fists pound down on each other, Rinne comes to understand the true source of Fuuka’s powerful strikes:
“I never thought I’d lose to Fuu-chan. But I don’t think I can win… because now I know why Fuu-chan’s fist hurts so much. It isn’t a matter of the power of toughness of her fist. …It’s because Fuu-chan is so full of love and affection.”

This fight is a master class in building relationships through the medium of battle. Rinne’s character arc comes to a cathartic conclusion, while Fuuka proves herself worthy of the franchise she’s inherited. As the skies clear and they collapse on the drenched ground together, everything dark and upsetting has been obliterated by their hot-blooded assault. Only love remains.

“Thou shalt not be afraid, I am with you”, reads the subtitle. Fuuka has delivered this message to Rinne, and Rinne has finally accepted it.

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Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume [IMPORTED]
(click to hide)

What does it take to make your heart race? Nervousness. Physical exertion. Excitement. Love.
What makes it race even faster? Knowing someone else’s heart is racing in sync with yours.

Tsumujikaze Koyori plays table tennis because she craves that feeling. She’s a missionary from the Church of Dokidoki, and she will not relent until you have been bathed in the holy perspiration of that passion.

But what kind of character is Koyori? Koyori is an unquestionably enjoyable character, but it’d be fair to say she’s not a complex character. Even so, what of it? This gets at something I think about a lot when a character is criticized for being “static”. Character growth is not necessarily superior to character dynamics. I have a lot of respect for characters who shake up a dynamic, and in doing so push other characters to re-examine themselves, and maybe even to grow. When evaluating characters, don’t just look at how they themselves change. Look at how they effect change in the world around them. Agari needs Koyori for this show to work every bit as much as Cocona needs Papika in Flip Flappers, or Teko needs Pikari in Amanchu!.

Looking at a character in terms of how they affect those around them often results in seeing them in a new light as well. Koyori isn’t static. All it takes is one match and she’ll go from timidly clinging to Agari’s back to opening up to her opponent (and now friend). A scorching hot game of table tennis is her ice breaker, and she gets more comfortable with it each time. Just look at how she handled Kururi before, during, and especially after their match in episode 10.

Not once does the show bring attention to Koyori’s growth, but it’s there if you’re willing to look. And even if you aren’t, look at those who she changed. Her dokidoki evangelism touched many, but her most prominent converts are Agari and Kururi.

Agari is Koyori’s first and most passionate disciple, and her arc hinges on an aspect of Koyori’s influence that I really enjoy: Koyori takes your existing but slightly askew passion for table tennis and tilts it just enough to point you back in the right direction. Agari was dedicated to table tennis long before she met Koyori, but it was a dedication clouded by narcissism. She worked hard, but did it for the adulation of her teammates and kouhai. She wanted to be #1 because it felt good to be on top.

Agari wasn’t a bad person. Everyone wants to be recognized for the things to which they dedicate themselves. And it’s not as if she wanted to go to the nationals purely for her own sake. But when your passion is inextricably tied up in being #1, you run the risk of losing that passion when you become #2. This is exactly what started happening when Koyori hit the club like a whirlwind, sweeping the younger girls off their feet while rapidly ascending the ranks by beating the club’s best players.

The episode three match between Koyori and Agari caps off their brilliant introductory arc. Koyori taking the top spot could have been devastating for Agari if it happened against anyone else. But Koyori’s smile and her excitement are infectious. DOKI. DOKI. DOKI. Agari’s beating heart gave voice to the change occurring inside of her. “Every time I play table tennis my heart gets set ablaze. When did I forget this feeling?” At some point the excitement of racket on ball was eclipsed by the excitement of being the best. Being locked in a scorching one-on-one with Koyori burned away the cluttered undergrowth choking out the passion that lay dormant below. A passion never dead, only hibernating. Only waiting for temperature to rise, signaling an awakening.

When I first watched this match, I wanted Agari to win, only because I was hesitant of Koyori rising so far so fast. I thought her passion needed to be cooled a little, to avoid the dullness of an oppressively perfect protagonist. But it quickly became apparent that Koyori had to win that match, that cooling her passion is the last thing we should ever wish for. She had to win not for herself, but because that’s the only way Agari’s arc could start – and she’s every bit as much the protagonist. But more on that later. We ought to meet Koyori’s second biggest convert.

Unlike Agari, the object of Kururi’s passion isn’t herself, it’s her captain. But like Agari, this passion had morphed into narcissism. “I must win for Zakuro” sounds selfless, but at what point did she ask what Zakuro wanted? She just assumed that winning at all costs was the way to make Zakuro happy, and that she was the only one who could deliver that happiness.

The metaphor for this unintentional self-aggrandizement is the Curve Drive, the very symbol of Kururi and Zakuro’s bond. When we first meet Kururi, the Curve Drive is a bludgeon she uses to crush her foes. She even delivers it with a breathtakingly arrogant flourish by turning her back on her opponent in the middle of a match. I wonder if she stopped to think about how Zakuro feels about that?

A match with Koyori, as it always does, changes everything. Koyori approaches Kururi with surprising bravery despite Kururi’s pretty terrifying personality. Koyori is determined to make Kururi’s heart race. Kururi is determined to race for no one but Zakuro. You can guess how that goes.

Throughout the match, Curve Drive mirrors Kururi along her character arc. As soon as Koyori learns a counter and breaks the spell, Kururi backpedals from arrogantly flaunting it to nervously locking it away for its own protection. If the Curve Drive is her connection to Zakuro, the last thing she can bear is the idea of it ever losing. To her, that would be to degrade Zakuro herself – this too, is a form of arrogance, though a much more sympathetic one.

But an encounter with Koyori doesn’t end there. Koyori faced the Curve Drive with unwavering will, and Kururi gets swept up in the moment and determines to do the same. The Curve Drive comes out of hiding, and like Kururi, evolves rapidly. And although in the end the reborn technique finally hits its mark, Koyori is there with an answer. It’s a moment of goosebumps and bated breath, surpassed only by the emotional catharsis that comes next.

Kururi has been transformed. Her playstyle has changed, her outlook has changed, even her hairstyle has changed – her last smash was so powerful it knocked her one of her ribbons right off. But change is scary, and just as much as the match sent her heart racing, her heart beats now in fear that she’ll be abandoned by Zakuro. She let herself DOKI with someone else, and she lost. She’s betrayed Zakuro.

It’s the very last vestige of her narcissism speaking, and Zakuro gently wipes it away. She finishes the job Koyori started, in a way only she can. It’s one of the most beautiful moments of the year.

Takkyuu Musume could have just spent the whole last episode teasing us about a Nationals tournament in a sequel it knows we’re never going to see animated. Instead, we spend the time we have left focusing on what the show did best: exploring character relationships. The Nationals tease is a mere (though incredibly exciting and beautifully animated) 45 second sequence at the end, which leaps ahead three whole manga volumes.

There’s so much worth covering in the final two episodes, but if I could focus on just one thing it’d be the two first-year girls. You know which two. They’ve been on the sidelines throughout the whole series, a cute Greek chorus asking the right questions at the right time to explain the sport to unfamiliar viewers. They were charming enough already, but Takkyuu Musume had better plans.

There was no reason to flesh these two out as well as this episode did, but I’m so glad it took the time. Their reinvigorated excitement for the sport is a mirror that reflects what positive role models Agari and Koyori have become. This is particularly meaningful for Agari, because I don’t think she ever realized how much the younger girls look up to her. She basked in their applause and praise, but in doing so only heard what they said about her, not what they were saying about themselves. That’s why she’s so surprised when one of the girls asks her for advice. Agari might not recognize it as such now, but this is an important moment for her.

Takkyuu Musume leaves behind a wealth of memorable sounds. The crack of the ball against Koyori’s racket when she finds the sweet spot. The menacing growl of Kururi’s curve drive. The squeal of a sneaker bracing against the hardwood floor. The tak, tak, tak of the balls against the table. The doki, doki, doki of the competitor’s hearts. They may be the things I remember longest about this show, though none of it will be easy to forget.

↑ + ♥ Forever

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New Game! [IMPORTED]
» Summer wrap-up post
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Anne Happy♪ [IMPORTED]
» Winter/Spring wrap-up post
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Ange Vierge [IMPORTED]
» Summer wrap-up post
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Girlish Number [IMPORTED]
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Shows about the adult working world are rare, and that’s a shame considering their potential to convey characters’ fears and hopes in ways school club anime may struggle with. That additional layer is what let New Game! excel, and it provides much of the texture that defined Girlish Number’s characters.

The stakes are lower in school. If you lose the art competition, flub the culture festival play, or fail to make the Comiket deadline for your doujin circle, meaningful personal pain may result. But if Koto or Chitose fail at being a seiyuu, they have to worry about that and paying the bills. Adulthood invalidates many of the fallback plans you have as a teenager. It’s not that high school feelings can’t be equally as intense as adult feelings, nor is the school/adult distinction applicable to all areas (e.g. romance). But something about watching characters pursue careers rather than hobbies adds weight for me.

On a personal level, as someone who has been out of school for quite some time, I can relate a little better to adult characters. I don’t want to overstate the importance of this, because I don’t watch anime in order to “relate to” characters. I love becoming emotionally invested, but it’s an investment in their story, not a desire to see myself in them. Even so, there are way more moments of involuntary “yeah I feel you” head-nodding when the characters are closer to my age, and are dealing with jobs rather than clubs or schoolwork.

This weight of young adulthood helped bring my favorite aspects of the show to life: the interactions between Koto and Kazuha, and between Momoka and Kazuha.

Koto is the slightly more experienced seiyuu who has stuck it out for a few years without a breakthrough. This positions her between the newbies she primarily associates with (Yae, Chitose, Nanami) and the more successful seiyuu they work with (Momoka, Kazuha, also Gojou in a way). Even if she gets less focus than anyone else in the show short of Yae, she’s a fascinating bridge character.

Koto’s habit of appending a “-sama” to some characters’ names is doubly meaningful with Kazuha. The hint of deference is real (Kazuha is her senpai in the industry, and more successful), but the underlying playful intent shines through (she gets a kick out of annoying Kazuha with the faux-grandiosity). Koto is the kouhai who isn’t very different from you after all, and that gives her a lot of flexibility in the story. It puts the prickly Kazuha at ease, and opens her up to two memorable conversations in episodes 6 and 7. Girlish Number isn’t much of a “shippy” show at all, but if I could pick one it’d be these two for sure. They’ve got excellent chemistry in these scenes.

While Kazuha herself isn’t an inherently interesting character type for me, she’s such a great foil for the characters around her. That goes double for my favorite Girlish Number character, Momoka.

Moreso than Koto, Momoka really is Kazuha’s equal in every way. They’re both big in the industry, have similar amounts of experience, and often end up on projects together. But the parity between them only makes it harder for either one to open up. Where Koto isn’t self-conscious about looking like a dork around Kazuha, and Kazuha is able to feel at ease around someone of a lower professional position, the relationship between Momoka and Kazuha is so much muddier.

Until episode 8, it’s only in bursts of ambiguity and subtext that these muddied feelings ooze out. When they quietly spar over the nature of their industry in earlier episodes, it’s really a proxy for their parental issues. Momoka is struggling in an industry where she’s always compared to her mother, and is ambivalent about following a popularity template that she’s not certain will gain her the respect and admiration she (wrongly) thinks her mother lacks for her. Kazuha (whose favorite Idolmaster is definitely Kisaragi Chihaya) is struggling with the same 2.5D industry that prevents her from focusing on the “pure” acting she (wrongly) thinks is required to gain her parents’ respect and approval.

Their similarities are plain to the audience, but hidden to themselves. During the trip back to Kazuha’s hometown, everything is quickly brought into focus. They mirror each other’s “I don’t get you, but I envy you” lines, and yet by that point they’re already well on their way to coming to an understanding. All it really takes is stopping to observe each other during a moment of emotional vulnerability: Momoka observing Kazuha’s conflict with her father, and Kazuha overhearing Momoka’s discussion with her mother. Kazuha’s closure is done well, but Momoka’s arc caps off in the most brilliant moment of the show. In just a few words, her mother puts a new spin on everything we’ve known about both of them thus far. And to the show’s great credit, the scene is allowed to speak for itself with minimal dialogue.

Given all this glowing praise, why isn’t it scored or ranked higher? Well, I found Girlish Number to be an odd experience. There’s no shortage of insightful, beautiful, hilarious, and legitimately devastating moments distributed throughout its entire run, and yet I always struggled to piece it together into a cohesive whole. Maybe it’s because I didn’t watch it on as regular a schedule as my favorites this season, or maybe it’s just because it happened to come out in a season where FliFla, Takkyuu, and Vivid were monopolizing my headspace on a weekly basis. If only this had come out next season, or any other season this year.

It’s also possible that I wanted a show about Koto, Kazuha, and Momoka more than about Chitose. I’m not knocking Chitose or her arc, which I found to be pretty damn satisfying. But in the end, Girlish Number felt like a bunch of moments I really loved, but something I can’t feel as strongly about it as a show. It’s not something I can easily explain.

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Bakuon!! [IMPORTED]
» Winter/Spring wrap-up post
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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu
» Summer wrap-up post
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Shuumatsu no Izetta [IMPORTED]
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Which Shuumatsu no Izetta should I discuss? This show wanted to be many things simultaneously, with wildly varying degrees of success.

Shuumatsu no Izetta: The Alternate History

It’s World War II, albeit limited to the European theater (no mention of the Pacific). Technology is largely realistic for the period, outside of the “secret German research facilities” all WW2 fiction loves. The outline of the war is about the same: Germany invades Poland, France is conquered, Britain remains an island holdout, US is reluctant to join. The important addition is the small country of Eylstadt, which stands in the way of Germany linking up with their allies to the south.

I’m not convinced setting the show in an AU made or broke it in any way. Every once in a while there was neat nod to the period, such as Izetta’s popularity being expressed in comic form, though these were few and far between. But reusing a real war allowed them to rely on audience familiarity and avoid spending excessive time on exposition. This reduced need for world-building would in theory allow more focus on the more unique aspects of the story. It’s debatable whether they utilized this advantage, considering the show’s scattershot narrative. Regardless, being a WW2 AU isn’t something I count against the show.

Shuumatsu no Izetta: The Battlefield Story

You can tell a war story without setting foot on a battlefield. Hotaru no Haka and Saving Private Ryan are both equally valid WW2 films. But Izetta does spend quite a lot of time in battle, so how those battles were depicted matters. So I’m happy to say that by and large they were really well executed. The first large ground engagement in episode 3 effectively conveyed both the overwhelming might of the German army, and the even more overwhelming might of a determined Witch with a magical leyline nearby. Aerial battles felt particularly dynamic and well-directed, whether Izetta was up against airplanes or another Witch.

Whether I was actually invested in the events of the battles varied. As nicely executed as the episode three battle was, I didn’t care until Izetta showed up. Generally speaking, if an engagement furthered Izetta’s arc or led to some new development between her and Fine, it was good! If it just moved chess pieces on the geopolitical map, yawn. “It matters if Fine and Izetta are involved, otherwise not so much” will be a recurring theme. Overall though, Izetta gets a thumbs up in the pure action department.

Shuumatsu no Izetta: The Geopolitical Thriller

Did I say thriller? Sorry, I meant “Tedium”. Yikes, this is where things most often went wrong. It’s also where so many plot threads went to drown in irrelevance, or at best tread water. Why did Revenge-Seeking Pilot exist? Why did Ikemen German Spy exist? Why did German Emperor’s Right Hand Man exist? No, I can’t remember any of their names. The last one may have been the most bewildering of all. He appears alongside the also-extraneous emperor to look disgruntled and shoot loaded glances at everyone else, enough so that I thought he must be related to witches, or be planning to backstab the emperor, or… do… anything. In the end, nope. The only plot thread dangling from the German side to ultimately tie into anything of significance was the witch cloning project.

It’s not as if every side character was poorly constructed. On the German side, Berkman at least had a distinct personality and clear goal, even if it was simply “self-preservation”. He wasn’t interesting, but he wasn’t a narrative black hole sucking the life out of the people he interacted with. The Allies fared better in this regard: very little time was wasted unnecessarily characterizing the non-Elystad politicians, and those with major speaking roles within Elystad were basically fine! Mueller was so-so, and had to be boosted twice (first by blond soldier boy, later by Berkman) in order to remain a narratively relevant character. But Elvira, oh Elvira. I won’t say she was pointless, because the propaganda aspect of the geopolitical situation was actually pretty solid, and she nominally ran that operation. But I really think she ultimately only existed to introduce all the problems covered in the next section.

It’s not that I wanted every one of these characters to take the spotlight. But if they weren’t going to contribute anything, they should have been cut. This show is too busy for its own good as is and every 45 second conversation of no lasting significance was 45 less seconds of reinforcing core themes.

Shuumatsu no Izetta: The Awkward Titty Jokes

I’m not going to harp on this aspect much, because I think it’s one that gets far more focus than is warranted and I don’t want to contribute to what I feel is a diversion from discussing the show’s core strengths and weaknesses. And yet it has to be mentioned at least in passing, because it’s an object lesson in how misunderstanding the mood of your show can make scenes unnecessarily awkward.

I didn’t mind the mild fanservice sprinkled throughout the show, with a few exceptions. Even the scene in the above screencap actually isn’t too bad! It fits the relationships and personalities of the characters involved at that point. But one scene legitimately irritated me: Fine getting depressed when comparing her modest chest to the titty monsters Izetta, Bianca, and Elvira. I’m fairly lenient about dumb boob size jokes and this was still utterly flabbergasting. It had no precedent and (mercifully) no follow-up. She had spent so much time around the buxom Izetta before then, and never once expressed any hint of envy or inadequacy. It contradicted everything we knew about her character and was offensive both to her and the viewer. Thankfully, like almost all of these scenes, it was also brief and of zero lasting significance.

The other scene worth calling out, because it *did* have some lasting effect, was German Spy Boy walking in on Bianca bathing. Stupid but short on its own, yes, but in retrospect was apparently the show’s way of selling us on their “”feelings”” for each other. And now that I’m being reminded of that grotesquely botched abortion of a plot thread, it’s high time I move on to the whole reason I like this show (because believe it or not, I do).

Shuumatsu no Izetta: The Love Story

If this has been tedious to read so far, it’s also been a little tedious to write (though still valuable for me as a way to organize my thoughts), because only now am I getting to the aspect I’m passionate about. Every truly magical moment in this series is tied to these two. It’s been borderline painful spending screencap real estate on anything that isn’t Izetta and Fine making eyes at each other, so forgive a reduced text to image ratio in the remaining paragraphs. Some of these moments are going to be on my mind for a long time.

If you put Fine and Izetta on a broom (or substitute flying apparatus) together, if you flash back to their childhood together, if you leave them together in private essentially anywhere, everything bad simply fades away. Every awkward fanservice gag, every poorly characterized antagonist, every over-long diversion into treaty negotiations, every bewildering misuse of limited screentime. Fine and Izetta’s relationship, at least for a time, shines brightly and warmly enough to erase everything else, leaving only the intimacy of their feelings for one another.

The White Witch legend was the best piece of unique worldbuilding in the show, even if not everything that came of it was great (I’m pretty mixed on Sophie). But it added a layer of gravitas to Fine and Izetta’s relationship. It may be a cliche to overcome your predecessors’ tragic history by attaining the perfect love they could not, but it’s a good cliche. Izetta grew to doubt her power, and question if it could truly make Fine happy. Fine loathed the weakness in herself that required her to push Izetta into ever more dangerous confrontations. None of this is new, but that doesn’t matter, because it’s a powerful obstacle for a relationship to overcome.

If there are criticisms to be made here, it’s that the show ever thought anything else it did could be as important as developing the relationship between these two. The final episode is a case study in misplaced priorities. It’s not a bad episode. If anything it’s rather impeccably executed about 95% of the way through, at least for what it’s attempting to do. It even spares some time for Fine and Izetta’s feelings, although they’re physically apart. Fine pours her heart out to the sky as the dust settles and and Sophie is defeated, with us led to believe Izetta has made the highest sacrifice.

To the show’s credit, it doesn’t kill either of them off. But what it does do is spend a few minutes recapping how WW2 ended, rather than providing a decent epilogue. Remember how I said reusing a universally understood setting frees you from unnecessary exposition? The writers chose the worst time to throw away that advantage. This leaves the final reunion of Fine and Izetta to a brief flash-forward with Izetta unvoiced and largely out of frame. Why? I couldn’t tell you. It’s a bizarre and amateurish move, and it’s the kind of thing you should grow out of writing by the time you’re 16. And they deserve so much better! They managed a happy ending, but a needlessly obtuse one.

But that’s not the note I want to end on. I want to end on episode 11. I want it to be what I think of every time I recall this show.

More than the first reunion flight, more than the endearing childhood flashbacks, more than Izetta carrying Fine into the sky to announce their determination to the world, more than that moment of intimacy on a shared bed, it is this moment that I will remember above all else. In two short minutes it cements everything about their relationship at the most pivotal of moments: the night before the climactic confrontation.

From the moment Izetta invites Fine out into the sky with her, their love is palpable. Despite extending the invitation, Izetta becomes timid with Fine so close. Fine, as she’s done so many times, reaches out to reassure Izetta. Her hand moves from Izetta’s shoulder, to her cheek, and gently slides across the side of her face. This scene is the definition of intimacy, and it’s conveyed as such deep, unquestioning love. Once she has Izetta’s attention, she gently demands to be called by her name, not her title. When she only gets a weak reply, she seductively coaxes a louder voice from Izetta. Emboldened, Izetta obliges, and once the dam has been breached, the word, and the love, overflows.

It’s a genuine masterpiece of a scene. Almost nothing else this year has matched its heights.

And that’s why this show is so hard to score. It’s a 10 or it’s a 4, depending on where you look. So while it may only be the second best show this year to involve flying witches, it is the only one that involves a witch and her princess falling deeply in love, and that counts for a lot.

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Natsume Yuujinchou Go
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There’s little to say about this show that I wouldn’t have said about the first four seasons. The formula has barely changed, although admittedly the strength of a good formula is in its longevity.

The episodic youkai stories still make up the bulk of the franchise, but Natsume has a fairly strong central story when it can be bothered to focus on it. I’m certainly not one to ask slice of life shows to throw plot at me, but the amount of material involving the central Takashi, Reiko, Matoba, and Natori conflict that we’ve covered in five seasons now might just barely fill one cour. It moves slowly and infrequently, which is actually a shame considering it’s usually so solid.

My favorite episode this season by far was the episode told from Touko’s perspective. Getting to see Takashi through Touko’s eyes, to see the insecurities she felt about her ability to do right by him, emphasized once more that Takashi isn’t alone. As viewers, we obviously knew this already. The whole arc of the franchise has been to discover all the myriad ways the people around Takashi care for him. But to actually hear the words so clearly from Touko in particular was emotionally overwhelming. Their moment of bonding over the crow at the end was transcendent. I’d count it among the best episodes of the year.

There’s a lot more I want to see this show do, so I’m pleased it’s getting a sixth season. But it won’t get more seasons forever, and it has me interested enough in the underlying story (not to mention what happened to Reiko later in life) that I hope we’ll finally get some kind of closure on both Reiko’s past and the exorcists’ present.

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Amaama to Inazuma [IMPORTED]
» Summer wrap-up post
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Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku [IMPORTED]
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Ah, dark mahou shoujo. The genre that’s not allowed to exist without being eternally compared to Madoka, even when the shows really aren’t trying to be Madoka. Mahoiku is a battle royale, and I don’t know anyone who paid attention who would describe Madoka as such. It’s more My:HiME than Madoka, if we must name drop. But Mahoiku never escaped the comparisons anyway.

Mahoiku is a show about magical girls being forced to kill each other (though some take much less prodding than others). The only rubric I’m going to grade such a show against is “Was it stupid fun?” And yes, Mahoiku was both very stupid and very fun.

I try to stick to themes in these write-ups but Mahoiku is best approached as a big clusterfuck of interesting personalities bouncing off one another. Some were less engaging than others (including the two who survive, go figure) but I really enjoyed a bunch of them: Hardgore Alice, Swim Swim, Tama, Ruler, and Top Speed in particular, with a nod to Nemurin and Magicaloid as well. (Also shout-out to Fav, the biggest asshole in anime in 2016. I loved Fav.) It’s noteworthy that Swim Swim murders literally all of my favorites, so I guess the fact that I still like her so much is a testament to her character. There’s an innate charm in an emotionally repressed 9 year old serial killer with a twisted princess complex. There was even something legitimately sad (when I wasn’t busy laughing) about seeing her kingdom gradually collapse around her.

Some of the deaths were even emotionally affecting! I’d count Tama and Hardgore Alice among these. Affecting enough that that I was hoping pretty hard for a reset ending, and I’m a little surprised we didn’t get one… and even more surprised at the ending we did get. That Snow White and Ripple survived wasn’t a shock given their prominent roles in the OP but that they continue on as magical girls under employ of the Magical World (albeit playing by their own rules) was, um, strange? In many ways it’s a dumb ending, but seeing Snow White turn into a hard-ass was so weird and novel I ended up enjoying it amidst my confusion.

I think my positive reaction to Mahoiku comes from taking a show on its own terms. By expecting little from it, and not caring about it’s flaws That’s not how I want to, or even can, approach every show but here it felt like the most natural way to enjoy the story. I also didn’t judge it based on what it “could have” done, even if it did provide plenty of scenarios I’d love to see explored in alternate takes. Such as: Tama makes lots of friends and is never sad ever. Such as: Ruler and her merry band of misfits have lots of fun and are never sad ever. Such as: Hardgore Alice fangirls over a much cooler magical girl than Snow White and is super happy and is never sad ever. Such as: Nemurin gets to sleep as much as she wants and is never sad ever.

Alright, I guess my desired outcomes all run completely counter to the nature of the show. But what we got was fun too!

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Keijo!!!!!!!! [IMPORTED]
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It’s hard to say which is Keijo’s more definitive trait: the preposterous premise, or its commitment to taking that premise seriously within the context of the world it portrays. The former is all most people will remember, but the addition of the latter made coming back for more worthwhile.

What I don’t mean is that Keijo takes a stupid premise and then acts exasperatingly over-serious about it. I mean it takes a stupid premise and builds a clear vision of how a world (or at least a sport) like that would actually function, without fretting much over the details (such as, um, all the superpowers). I feel like it succeeds at this in small but meaningful ways.

For one, the sport isn’t viewed as particularly lewd within the show. Keijo is careful to separate its copious fanservice for the audience from the sport’s relative normalcy within the show. We the audience see women punishing each other with their breasts but we don’t see any reaction shots from horny spectators howling over the jiggling. Audiences at Keijo matches are comprised of both men and women, equally passionate about the sport. (I do believe this is something the anime improved from the manga however, where audiences were almost exclusively male.) Keijo competitors get cheers for well executed attacks, not for titillating the audience. On the multiple occasions where the players partially or fully expose themselves to execute clever new maneuvers, the announcers praise their dedication to the sport rather than their sexy physiques. When the media plays a role in Keijo, it’s as legitimate sports news, not tabloid paparazzi scoping out nipslips.

My favorite example of this is the unexpectedly heartwarming subplot between Miyata Sayaka and her father. When we get wind of his objection to Sayaka taking up keijo, the natural assumption is that he’ll object to the sport’s lewd nature. But more backstory reveals he’s not concerned about that in the least; he just feels betrayed that Sayaka abandoned the martial art to which he’s dedicated his life (judo), and he doubts her dedication to the new sport. He’s a father concerned about his daughter introducing significant uncertainty into her previously stable future, but he’s not interested in controlling her body.

When she perseveres in her match in the East/West Race, he cheers her on, won over by her clear passion for the sport and the emotional reaction her performance elicits from the audience. He returns her thumbs up, and we get one of the strangely sweetest moments of the season. That she mooned the audience for half the fight and executed a judo throw using only her exposed nipples doesn’t degrade judo for him; it proves that she’s not forgotten where she came from.

Be all that as it may, I’m not trying to convince you that Keijo is something it’s not. It’s still fundamentally a show about hot girls in swimsuits smacking other hot girls in swimsuits with their tiddies. The special moves are outrageous, and tension during matches always a split second from turning into fits of laughter. We get Shingeki no Kyojin parodies, literal drill boobs, asses possessed by Cerberus, and aerodynamic wedgies.

This, too, is Keijo. It’s passionate women dedicating themselves to sport, and it’s an excuse for every strange T&A fetish you can dream up. I see nothing wrong with that combination.

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Nejimaki Seirei Senki: Tenkyou no Alderamin
» Summer wrap-up post
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Stella no Mahou [IMPORTED]
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I often say that the strength of unambitious shows is that you know they won’t stab you in the back by betraying their themes or taking bizarre left turns. You don’t want every show to be “safe” (in such a world, Flip Flappers could not exist) but there’s comfort and safety in predictability. Sometimes shows play it a little too safe though, and Stella no Mahou just barely falls on the acceptable side of that line. It’s got the right building blocks, but is largely content constructing the simplest of shapes.

This is fine, but it’s interesting to contrast it to the much more successful (both commercially and in my personal opinion) New Game!, the other show this year about girls making games. While the setup isn’t identical (corporate/commercial vs. high school doujin game club) the gist is similar. But New Game! is slightly more ambitious in every way: in visuals, in character relationships, in setting, and so on. It hits enough highs to be memorable, whereas I won’t remember Stella for very long. I do think Stella has some decent visuals to offer (like the shot below and a few other outside environments) and it’s got cute character closeups down. But besides above average silly faces, it’s not offering anything terribly noteworthy.

Insofar as there’s any conflict in Stella no Mahou, it’s two-fold: Tamaki against herself, Tamaki against Minaha. They stem from the same source, namely Tamaki’s attempt to overcome a lack of confidence in her art and grow as a creator. She starts to get there when they finish their first game together, but the introduction of second illustrator Minaha reveals that most of the doubts had only been swept under the rug. The first sign of direct competition drags them back out.

To be clear, it’s actually handled pretty well. Minaha is a solid “helpful rival” character, even if her own “convince my family of the worth of my hobby” arc is largely unremarkable. And I thought Tamaki had some legitimately strong moments of confidence building sprinkled throughout. It’s nothing special, but it does the job.

Besides Minaha, we have Ayame, Shiina, Yumine, and Kayo. Of those, Yumine (not even a club member) leaves the strongest impression even if you set aside her fujoshi fantasizing (using her female friends as material). The flashbacks covering her friendship with Tamaki were totally charming, and early on in the series when everything felt too rigid and stuffy, she’s the one who broke the ice and got the club’s chemistry churning.

I’d also be remiss in not mentioning Teru-senpai. She has a cat on her head. She’s pretty good.

Watch Stella no Mahou if you have time to kill and want something that’s almost a little too comfy but never screws up in any serious way.

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Sansha Sanyou [IMPORTED]
» Winter/Spring wrap-up post
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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
» Winter wrap-up post
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JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken: Diamond wa Kudakenai
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(Spring show, finished this season)

This is possibly the only screencap I have of this show, because Reimi is cute and also because I never tweeted about or screencapped Jojo.

But the last portion of the show was legitimately strong. And by that, I really mean Yoshikage Kira was a strong villain. I always felt like Dio in Stardust Crusaders took his villain status for granted. Like he’d earned it in prior seasons and now all he had to do was hang out in the shadows for 30 episodes and make the occasional menacing sfx. When he revealed himself, it was inevitably somewhat anticlimactic. Kira goes in a completely different direction. His predilections and fears are on display for the audience from the start. We spend vastly more time observing Kira than fighting him, and he’s a far better fleshed out character than any of the protagonists. Kira shaped, and was shaped by, the suburban Moriouchou setting, while Dio was simply shaped by the story’s need to have a powerful antagonist at the end. Dio assumed he’s invincible, while Kira spends more time being afraid than any of his victims. Kira is just inevitably the more interesting character.

If they announce Part 5, I’ll show up again, I’m sure. I’m in this for the long haul now. And besides, I’m out of long-running shows now with Jojo stopped again.

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Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!
» Winter wrap-up post
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» Winter/Spring wrap-up post
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Ongoing Series


Winter 2017 Plans

01. Urara Meirochou
02. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen

03. Little Witch Academia
04. Gabriel Dropout
05. Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu
06. Nyanko Days
07. Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel
08. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2

These aren’t necessarily listed in most-least wanted, more like “safest to riskiest”. As in, I’m most likely to enjoy the ones at the top just based on the premise and genre.

This is going to be a huge step down from this godly Fall, unless a couple of these shows blow me away far more than seems possible.

Urara is the Manga Time Kirara title this season, so of course it’s #1. Rakugo is kind of a middling show for me, but it’s a sequel so it’s a safe watch. I also have reason to believe I’ll like s2 better than s1.

I know Netflix is doing their damndest to destroy LWA by holding it all until it finishes airing. But that’s just begging fansubbers to step in, and they will. So if any tolerable groups do it, I’ll be checking it out.

4 though 7 are just my usual approach of “anything that has an all-female cast goes on the Maybe list”. But Konosuba… it’s a sequel to something I finished so it should be a sure thing, but I only watched the first season because Winter 2016 was a dead barren wasteland with nothing else to watch. If even, say, 5 Winter shows end up being good, I’m not sure I need to make time for Konosuba.                           …Well, Megumin, tho. Hmmm.

23 Responses to “2016 Anime Watching Year in Review (with Final 2016 Fall update, Winter 2017 Plans)”

  1. silvrss says:

    You should finish the rest of the Wixoss Lostorage episodes, it’s the high point of Chinatsu and Homura’s relationship, they have a preety interesting one when it’s explained

    • something says:

      I’ve heard about how it ends, and it’s really not something that would improve my impression of the show. It’s possible they’ll fix things up in the second cour but it already did far too much damage to my emotional investment in the series in the first cour.

      • silvrss says:

        I feel like episodes 11 and 12 were sort of the ”reward” for waiting 10 episodes for their interactions, but oh well

  2. musouka says:

    Yuri on Ice was the high point of the year for me. I had a few issues with the finale–mostly pacing related–but it’s nothing a sequel couldn’t take care of. (Also, that lovely, lovely pair skating at the end…)

    Magikyun was THE low point, to the point where I’m currently blacklisting any otoge (and otoge-ish) series with a female lead unless I get word that they’re interesting characters in their own right.

  3. makotachi says:

    I really enjoyed reading your analysis of Flip Flappers. I enjoyed the show to some extent (obviously not as much as you!) but I more enjoyed it for the representation that it brought up. It didn’t shy away from the sexuality topic and that honestly struck a chord with me. Plus this show was phenomenally animated. Very pleasant watch, indeed. Hopefully in the future we’ll get another show that will focus on sexuality and how it can emerge from someone, but it may be a long wait!

    Your Flip Flappers though is my Yuuri!!! on Ice. I can’t talk about that show enough. I really am ridiculously in love with how it portrayed Viktor and Yuuri’s romance. I really hope that this anime opened up the gateway to more respectful series with gay couples as the main pairing. I won’t go on and on about the show though cause I feel like I talk about it too much! Other than YOI, I did like Haikyuu!! from this season and Flip Flappers, but YOI really stole the show!

  4. AholePony says:

    Wonderful write-ups something. I loved your take on FliFla, it’s wildly different from the writer at ANN and I think you’re more on track to what the intended messages were compared to them. That you can have such varying views can be seen as either a boon or a shortfall of the series, high bar of entry for a rewarding experience or too complex for it’s own good? I did enjoy it quite a bit, though I was on board for the visuals more than the coming of age/sexuality plot admittedly.

    Also want to give a shout out to Vivid Strike. I have not delved into the Nanoha franchise so this was my introduction and I quite enjoyed it! I was expecting a little more in the way of revelations on Fuuka’s past…. I thought having her past being just as, if not rougher than Rinne’s (post-adoption) could have been really moving. Here she is, her bff adopted because she’s objectively more beautiful to these rich people, and Fuu-chan ends up on the streets. We’re introduced to her as a homeless person! If her “strength” was that she didn’t blame anyone for her troubles while Rinne was so pre-occupied with “strength” while she had a supporting family waiting for her not to mention Fuu’s love… well that would have been awesome to me. But that’s just me inserting what I hopped would happen so I don’t hold that against the series. That show was a nice surprise last season for me, maybe it’s time I check out the other Nanoha shows. Should I start at the beginning or do you recommend another entry as my next stop on the Nanoha train?

    • something says:

      Definitely start Nanoha at the beginning. Season one is the best (even if I’m the only one who thinks so). And absolutely positively do *not* listen to anyone who tries to say the films are a suitable replacement for their respective seasons. That’s crazy talk. The first film has cool fights in the second half but totally botches the emotional component of the first season. The second film (covering A’s) is really excellent, but more as an action film than a character film.

      For more detail, see here: http://ask.fm/somekindofthing/answers/141733836974

      Also, “not having any idea what your talking about” is more or less the primary requirement of being an ANN writer.

    • Progeusz says:

      You should always watch stuff in order it came out.

      @something, don’t worry, you aren’t alone in this belief. Both on Nanoha and ANN.

      • AholePony says:

        Awesome, thanks for the link! From what I’ve seen and what you said I wasn’t sure how individual the Nanoha entries were, could be like gundam where you can watch whatever suits your fancy, but since you love the 1st one I’ll go ahead and start there. Your link sounds wishy-washy on the movies, I’m kind of a completionist but hate recaps, is there enough new in any of them to make it worth the time?

        I had typed something about the ANN reviewers being hacks but I know you try to keep things calm around here so I deleted it lol. I still like to get different viewpoints even bad ones, so I read them for some shows, keeps me well-rounded. Or, maybe I’m just a masochist :-P

        • something says:

          The films are mostly worth it to see the big battles with much higher production values. Doesn’t mean they’re better necessarily (again, kinda lacking the emotional component) but they look fantastic. Definitely check out at least the second film.

  5. SleepyDave says:

    Oh my god, Flip Flappers was such a good one! And I really like your Review, it’s such a good view on this show!

  6. Rederoin says:

    What about Kobayashi-san?

  7. Progeusz says:

    9 episodes in.
    Please don’t ever watch Hibike S2.
    Even if you get over het stuff and no longer feel any animosity toward it. Seriously. That isn’t even really important in S2, at least relatively to other stuff. Just don’t watch it. You need the strength to survive.

    • Ayumi says:

      Really? That show is actually on my list of anime to watch because I see a lot of “yuri” moments on tumblr. A YOI fan claims that it’s pretty “gay” and the animation is gorgeous. I’m going to decide if I should binge watch Hibike s1/s2 or Legend of The Galactic Heroes.

      • Progeusz says:

        @Ayumi, as I said, that’s irrelevant. You don’t understand. But yeah, it’s most likely just as worth watching as LoGH. Yes, I’m aware of how much of a classic LoGH is.

        • hpulley says:

          Hibike isn’t a bad show. The animation is really well done and the music too if you like concert band music. Lovely character designs but the yuri subtext is just bait plain and simple. I’m not even sure I’d call it subtext anymore, just bait and switch. So watch it if you want an overly melodrama filled show about a high school concert band that hopes to win a gold medal in the nationals. Don’t watch it if you want yuri.

  8. Progeusz says:

    As I was watching the last episode, half through it, I was sure they blew it in the last episode. I was painfully disappointed at realism of the situation and surprisingly glad at the same time that it was ending this way. But no, they sadly didn’t, at least not completely. They managed to finish what was the most important splendidly. So I uphold what I said earlier. This show, this second season, can be considered a masterpiece. But I don’t recommend watching it. No way in hell would I ever tell anyone to watch this. That would be simply cruel, at least in my eyes. Especially to someone I respect so much as you, @something. Kumiko is the best character I know in M&A. The show should technically be 8.5/10. Personally I give it a perfect ten. It really deserves 10/10. But at the same time, I hate it.

    • Progeusz says:

      I was sure they blew it in the last episodes*
      Kinda crucial typo, even if “episode” somewhat fits too. I wish it was possible to make edits to the comments.

  9. Yaoi-Senpai says:

    Can I ask you this?

    Why you didn’t watch Yuri!!! on ice?

    • something says:

      It’s just not the kind of thing that would interest me. I mostly avoid shows with male characters for one. And I’m not that into sports anime in general, so if I am going to give one a shot it’s going to be one with a female cast like Takkyuu Musume.

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