In the past year, I’ve written four Girls in Capes Recommends for anime. At the beginning of each season, I peruse the upcoming shows and recommend my favorites based on trailers, synopses, who’s involved in the production, and artwork. But now that it’s the end of the year, it’s time for me to tell you about my all-time favorites from this past year.
I’ve handpicked five anime from what I’ve watched, with one honorable mention for good measure. If you haven’t watched much anime this season, but are interested in starting, these are a great place to begin, especially if you like slice-of-life, drama, suspense, and stories that leave you with all of the feels.
Naho Takamiya is a timid 16-year-old girl. One day, she receives a letter from her future self detailing actions she must take to prevent Kakeru Naruse, the new transfer student, from sinking into depression and taking his own life (Plot Summary from Anime News Network).
Deeply moving, slice of life anime is a favorite of mine, so it’s no surprise that I’d include Orange in a list of top anime shows from 2016.
Based on the manga, written and illustrated by Ichigo Takano—which I reviewed back in February—the ephemeral art of this show pulls directly from the original source. Yet, the anime adaptation almost feels to me like a keitai shousetsu or cell phone novel, sort of in the same vein as Koizora or Sky Love. It’s raw, tragic, and even harrowing, almost more so than the manga. It’s not at all a light and fluffy summer show. It almost permeates a heat of it’s own, mimicking the summer weather and leaving you feeling exhausted.
If you’re interested in this story, I’d definitely recommend the anime over the manga. It has a beautiful color palette and pleasant, romantic shōjo style. The transitions between the present and the future are easier to follow in the anime, but even so, the show fell flat for me at times; it was almost too evanescent.
Satoru Fujinuma is a struggling manga artist who has the ability to turn back time and prevent deaths. When his mother is killed he turns back time to solve the mystery, but ends up back in elementary school, just before the disappearance of his classmate Kayo (Plot Summary from Anime News Network).
When ERASED was first announced, I wasn’t all that interested in the show. In fact, I almost forgot to include it in my Winter 2016 picks. Once I started watching it, however, everything changed.
Suspenseful, thought-provoking, and full of twists and turns, ERASED is a binge-watch-worthy show that will have you hooked from the start. You’ll get to the end of an episode and need to know what happens, and before you know it, you’ll have completed all twelve.
The main character is 29-years-old, which is refreshing given all the middle schoolers and high schoolers who litter anime lately, and although he’s working as a pizza deliveryman, he seems mostly content with his life. There are supernatural elements in the story, but they don’t overcrowd it in any way, and like Orange, the supernatural-nature of the show is simply accepted. And the twist that occurs at the end of episode ten and beginning of episode eleven is satisfying!
If this is any measure of how much I enjoyed ERASED, I ended up yelling at my computer screen during the last couple of scenes in the final episode. I won’t reveal why, but in the end, my emotions were acknowledged, and the show ended just as it should have.
ERASED is available to watch on Crunchyroll.
#3: March comes in like a lion
The protagonist Rei is a 17-year old professional shōgi player, who lives by himself, not having a real family, and has scarcely any friends. Among his acquaintances is a family, which consists of a young woman, Akari, and two young girls, Hinata and Momo, and who also keep a numerous number of cats (Plot Summary from Anime News Network).
I cannot get enough of Chica Umino’s work. Honey and Clover is one of my favorite anime shows and manga series of all time. Unfortunately, it’s also one of Umino’s only works. So when I discovered that the March comes in like a lion anime is based on the ongoing manga series by Umino, I was super excited. I didn’t even realize that she was working on anything new until I heard about the anime. And I recognized her style the moment I saw the promotional art and trailer.
Similar to how Hayao Miyazaki’s character designs are distinguishable or how Mamoru Hosoda’s coloring and animation-style are obvious, Umino’s work is also distinct and unique. I love how she draws her character’s colorful, expressive eyes, as well as the attention she pays to fashion.
Her stories are also deep and satisfying. Honey and Clover is not just about art students working through college, and March comes in like a lion is not just about a young professional shōgi player. Both stories are about the importance of friendships, growing up, and finding one’s passion in life.
March comes in like a lion is available to watch on Crunchyroll.
Ikebukuro is engulfed in a spiral of confusion. A group of individuals, each carrying the weight of their own past, gathers at Shinra’s apartment, while in the city the Dollars, Yellow Scarves, and Saika contend for power. However, the situation takes a turn that no one could expect when Celty’s head is revealed to the public, as this tale approaches its conclusion (Plot Summary from Anime News Network).
Durarara!! is a strange show to describe, but it has been one of my favorites for a while now. The first season aired back in 2010, and at the beginning of 2016, the third part of season two, the final season, aired. If you haven’t seen the first season, I highly recommend starting there before starting Durarara!!x2 Ketsu. The cast of characters is massive, with at least ten main characters and twenty or more supporting characters, so if you don’t start at the beginning, the long chain of events connecting the different characters won’t make any sense.
Based on a light novel series by Ryohgo Narita, there’s something really intriguing about this story; it’s imaginative and almost magical realist, and yet, at the same time, the show and it’s large cast of characters is almost believable.
The darker underbelly of Ikebukuro comes alive in the show, and although I’m not sure if it’s really like that there, it makes me want to visit and explore its dark alleys and gritty train station, not to mention Ikebukuro’s otaku stores. It reminds me of what it was like to walk around Causeway Bay in Hong Kong at night when I lived there; I used to watch all of the people passing by and wondered about their lives, much like driving by houses with lit windows in an American suburb at night. What does everyone do with their time, and what motivates their actions?
I think I especially like this series because of the large cast, which is fairly diverse, but I also enjoy it because not all of the characters are in middle school or high school. There are a lot of adult characters in this show, and that is something I’ve been craving in anime as of late.
Durarara!! is available to watch on Crunchyroll.
#1: Yuri!!! on ICE
Yūri Katsuki carried all of Japan’s hopes on his shoulders to win at the Gran Prix Finale ice skating competition, but suffered a crushing defeat. He returns home to Kyushu and half feels like he wants to retire, and half feels like he wants to continue ice skating. Suddenly the five-time consecutive world championship ice skater Victor Nikiforov appears before him with Yuri Plisetsky, a young Russian figure skater who is already defeating his seniors. Victor and both Yuris take up the challenge on an unprecedented Gran Prix series (Plot Summary from Anime News Network).
Yuri!!! on ICE is, without a doubt, this year’s number one most popular anime, or at least it feels like it lately. Twitter and Tumblr are ablaze with YOI fandom, and it’s difficult not to notice the show, even among non-anime viewers.
With mostly positive representations of LGBTQ+ relationships, various forms of masculinity/femininity positively portrayed, well-done fan service, inspiration taken from real ice skaters, complementary music, a former ice dancer and figure skating coach, Kenji Miyamoto, on staff to choreograph the skating scenes, and even real ice skaters being fans of the show, Yuri!!! on ICE is spectacular.
It’s a sports anime, and yet, it doesn’t feel like your typical sports anime in which you may have to sit through gruelingly episode after gruelingly episode of long, drawn out sports scenes (see Yowamushi Pedal) or a huge cast of characters that you can’t keep straight (see Yowamushi Pedal again). Instead, it has a progressive storyline that moves forward, a cast of characters that are easy enough to distinguish, and a lot of humor and feeling.
If you’re not already watching Yuri!!! on ICE, you need to remedy that! It is available to watch on Crunchyroll.
Honorable Mention: Kimi no Na wa.
Mitsuha Miyamizu is a high school student in the rural countryside of Japan. Taki Tachibana is a teenager living in Tokyo. As a comet approaches Earth, their dreams and lives start getting entangled. One day Mitsuha wakes up as Taki. Taki one day wakes up as Mitsuha. For a few days they sporadically switch bodies until one afternoon they lose complete contact (Plot Summary from Anime News Network).
I’ve included Kimi no Na wa. or Your Name as an “Honorable Mention” because it hasn’t been officially released in the U.S. yet. It is an anime film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai—whose previous directorial works include The Garden of Words, 5 Centimeters Per Second, Voices of a Distant Star, and She and Her Cat. It was first shown at Anime Expo in Los Angeles in July and released in Japan in August.
With a well-received and complementary soundtrack—composed by Noda Yojiro and played by the Radwimps—and tear-jerking story, Kimi no Na wa. has broken numerous box office expectations and has been praised by critics both inside and outside of Japan. According to The Japan News, as of December 7, 2016, the film has surpassed the ¥20 billion mark at the Japanese box office placing it in fifth place for all-time domestic box office revenue second to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
Personally, I can’t wait for Kimi no Na Wa. to be released in the U.S. I can tell that it’s going to make me cry, which is a very good way to measure the quality of a film. Shinkai is not my favorite director (I prefer Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Hosoda, and Masamune Shirow), but with each new film he releases—especially his short films, which I think he’s best known for in the U.S.—Shinkai is undoubtedly evolving and growing and becoming a better storyteller. He’s definitely worked his way into my favorite directors list.
The Los Angeles’ Laemmle Music Hall showed the film from December 2nd through the 8th, but it is slated for a wider release in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2017 by Funimation.
Rine Karr is an Anime Writer at Girls in Capes. She’s a writer and aspiring novelist by moonlight and a copyeditor by daylight. Rine loves good food, travel, and lots of fiction, especially novels, anime, manga, video games, and films. She’s also the Chief Copyeditor and an occasional contributor at Women Write About Comics.