Year In Review – 2016

It’s a new year, and new anime and manga are already starting to flood in. Before checking out what this year has to offer though, I wanted to look back at 2016 and talk about some of the highlights. I’ll be covering Anime, Manga, Video Games and Music, so hopefully there will be a little something in here for everyone. Hopefully I can get someone to check out something new from 2016, so let’s get started.

Anime

2016 was a pretty good year for anime. Not great, but not horrible. It was definitely weaker than some recent years for me, with a serious lack in anime I rated in the strong 9’s. Still, I found quite a few shows that I really enjoyed my time with that many other anime fans seem to have also enjoyed as well.

At the start of the year, Erased was triumphed as the anime of the year. As it went on, opinions started to change on just how good it was, but for the most part everyone walked away satisfied. Erased had a pretty common problem for anime, in that it was not able to stick its landing after a great run. Still, Erased had started off on such a strong note that ot undoubtedly deserved to have a spot in my 2016 highlights. It features one of the most precious characters of the year (Kayo, the abused girl the story is centered around) and most heartwarming scenes of the year as well (In Kayo’s first home-cooked meal and bath with Satoru’s mom). It has its problems, but Erased is still a great watch for those who have yet to check it out.

If you are in need of some cheering up, Kono Suba is the perfect anime to check out. A hilarious take on the stuck-in-a-fantasy-world story, Kono Suba doesn’t take itself too seriously and it works perfectly. The world of Kono Suba may be generic and boring, but the show uses it to its advantage. Ever wonder how you make money in these worlds? Turns out you do hard, physical labor. What skills would a new adventurer learn? Crappy party tricks and the ability to steal panties apparently. What really makes Kono Suba work though is its quirky cast of charactes. Just check it out and you will soon be shouting “EXPLOSION!” and be getting giddy at the fact that season 2 is right around the corner.

Like awesome animation in your show? Mob Psycho 100 is for you. Aesthetically Mob Psycho 100 isn’t the prettiest, since the original artist for the manga series was One (of One Punch Man fame). If you were unaware, One Punch Man’s manga was redrawn by Yusuke Murata, and it as redrawn for a reason. Simply put, One’s art is pretty bad (he could probably give Attack On Titan a run for worst art in a popular manga series). That didn’t stop Bones from making it look amazing though, as it features some of the best animation I have seen in a while. The show keeps the “unique” style of One’s art and touches it up a bit to make it more presentable, but uses superb animation to really bring the show to life and provide a visual treat.

The next show on the list is My Hero Academia, a show perfect for any Marvel fans out there. The concept is simple, the world is inhabited by super heroes and having super powers has become the norm for most people. The main character Izuku Midoriya was unfortunately one of the few people born without powers, though he still hopes to some day become a great hero like his idol All Might. At its core, My Hero Academia is a typical shonen story about an underdog that is given / has incredibly abilities that they do not know how to control. So naturally, the story follows Midoriya as he trains to become stronger and reach his goal to be a professional hero. There are some great fight scenes in this season, with one of the more memorable fight scenes of the year for me occurring at the end of the series in a grand finale. It has Saitama vs Boros levels of hype surrounding it (though the power levels and stakes are far less of coarse). Its a visual treat for sure though, and will undoubtedly make you anxious for more My Hero Academia.

Moving on to something that came as a bit of a surprise to me, Yuri on Ice was certainly a show that impressed me from 2016. The reason why this one surprised me was because I had no expectations going in to get so caught up in the sport of male figure skating, and I had no idea that it would look so good in animation. Each of the skaters in Yuri on Ice are given distinct personalities and styles, which is all reflected in their performances. There were quite a few times where I felt the art and animation took a significant hit, but all in all found myself enjoying the performances regardless (there are some really beautiful moments in there too though). This is probably the weakest show on my list for stand out anime, which is not bad considering how much I enjoyed it. It should go to show how much I loved the other shows on this list, and why you should make sure you check out each of them.

The next show should come as no surprise to those who had watched season 1, and that show is Hibike! Euphonium S2. Season 2 was as stellar as season 1, in fact I found it to be even more enjoyable. Still beautifully animated and featuring a killer sound design, season 2 brought more drama to the table than season 1 and focused more on its wide cast of side characters. It should go without saying that if you have watched season 1 and enjoyed it, season 2 should be top priority. If you haven’t watched season 1 yet though, than get on that and start watching it! A great series that needs more love.

Even though it has not finished yet, what I have seen from March Comes in Like a Lion has been fantastic. It follows a young shogi player who is able to make it into the professional leagues while in middle school, solidifying his place in the shogi community as a prodigy. Rei Kiriyama’s life isn’t all roses and rainbows though, and he has a lot of emotional baggage following him around stemming from the loss of his family at a young age and a falling out with his foster siblings. The show is a great look at the effects depression can have on a person, and gives us plenty of inside looks into Rei’s mind as he contemplates his life. Once he secures himself into the professional leagues he debates why he should keep trying to improve his rank, since it doesn’t really matter to him. Once you add in a fun family of sisters that Rei becomes accompanied with (and their cat) and you have one of the most melancholic yet heartwarming shows of 2016. Everyone has something bringing them down in this show, but the show focuses more on how the characters deal with their past and emotions and carry on then it does just wallowing in their sadness. A great watch and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the second half has in store.

The last show I wanted to talk about is probably the most underappreciated show of 2016, and that is Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. The show is a drama that starts off with an ex-convict going to an old rakugo performer to become his apprentice, but quickly becomes much more than that. After some prying, the old rakuga master Yakumo decides to tell a story about his upbringing, beginning with his childhood leading all the way up to his adulthood. The story is filled with drama, tragedy and comedy as he and his new brother / rival Sukeroku grow up and learn rakugo together. It is a bit of a slow burn, but those interested in Japanese history and culture should find every minute interesting. The fact that it has one of the most tragic scenes from 2016 that legitimately depressed me is also a bonus, if you want to go on a bit of a feel trip (it will take a while to get to the heavy emotional stuff though).

Manga

I didn’t read as much new manga as I would have liked in 2016, but what I did read turned out to be pretty good. In terms of what was eligable for this list, it needed to have a North American release in 2016 for me to consider it. Therefore series that are old and finished are probably going to appear on here as new series for me. With that out of the way lets talk about some manga.

The first two series on the list didn’t actually start their North American publication in 2016, as they are ongoing series. The first of the two is Food Wars, and 2016 was a kind year to this series. Food Wars has rarely dropped its ball with its arcs for me, and consistently is able to keep me interested and hyped for the big shokugeki and challenges that face Souma and his classmates. In 2016 we got the school festival arc which remained exciting as Souma finally got to face off against one of the elite ten. The battle was fierce and consistently had me coming back for more. Thanks to Viz Media’s Weekly Shonen Jump we could also stay up to date with series like Food Wars, reading the newest chapters as they come out in Japan. The latest arc that the series is going through (and the tail end of 2016 was able to start into) has me the most interested in Food Wars since perhaps the beginning of the series when it was all fresh and new. Seeing Souma get a rematch against an old rival, leading into a battle of the century style shokugeki where Souma and his crew will have to face off against a crew of Tootsuki’s cooking elite has been keeping me on the edge of my seat.

Similarly, Tokyo Ghoul had a good year in 2016 as well. Though the series is long since finished in Japan, over here in North America we have only just gotten volumes 5-10 in the past year, leaving the last 4 volumes for 2017. Unfortunately 2016 has probably stolen all the thunder for this series as my favorite section of the manga had happened around volumes 7 and 8. The scenes I am talking about are Kaneki’s capture and torture by Jason which happens in volume 7, and the aftermath of these events. Aside from the initial shock Kaneki goes through when he finds out he is now a half ghoul, this is the second time Kaneki goes though intense psychological trauma. This time however, his psyche doesn’t really make it out all intact and he goes through some pretty crazy character developments as his ghoul side starts to take hold. If you have not read Tokyo Ghoul yet, get on it. Especially now that some of the best parts of the manga are finally officially available.

The next manga is one I had already written about in 2016 so it should come as no surprise that it made it on here, and that manga is The Gods Lie. I called it one of the best volumes of manga to come out in 2016, and I still stand by that (though another series takes the number 1 spot with its incredible volume 1). It’s a complete and fulfilling story in one tiny volume, and every bit worth your time to check out if you have not. Check out my first impression on it if you want more details regarding it plot and what it’s about. Just know that it was an incredible read for such a short story.

Goodnight Punpun (also known as Oyasumi Punpun) has to be my favorite series I read from 2016. Volume 1 captivated me with its odd charm so much that I consider it to be the single best volume of manga that I had read in 2016. Its quirky yet deep, incredibly deatiled but simplistic, Goodnight Punpun is probably impossible to describe in a short paragraph without leaving out what makes it such a great series to read. Its a look into the life of a kid going through life and his hardships, and it perfectly captures what the life of a young boy is like while adding in all kinds of crazy and trippy scenes. Even if you aren’t in to all of is eccentric storytelling (that is just down right insane sometimes) I would still recommend checking it out just for its beautiful artwork alone. This series is not ranked #5 in MAL for nothing.

The last series I wanted to talk about is one that should be a safe choice for most manga fans, since it is created by the creators of Death Note and Bakuman, two hugely popular manga series. Obata and Ohba’s new series is called Platinum End, and even though it is extremely early into the series it already has a dark and engaging story similar to Death Note. For those who loved Death Note and wanted more from the duo once it was done (which was most people who read the series I am sure), Platinum End may be the next big series to sink your teeth into. Like The Gods Lie I already wrote up an initial impressions last year that you can check out for some more general info on the series first volume and setup, so check that out if this is your first time hearing about the series. If you have already heard about it though and still haven’t read it, this is the series you won’t want to pass by, and the fact that it is being created by such a legendary duo should give the series enough credability to trust that it won’t all fall down hill a few volumes in.

Video Games

Although 2016 was pretty alright for anime and manga for me, I found it to be severely lacking in great video game experiences for me to sink my teeth into and fall in love with. After such a great year that was 2015 which brought out games like The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V and Rainbow 6 Siege, all of which still remain on my list of favorite games of the generation, 2016 really needed to bring some top notch titles to stand up in comparison. There were a few great games that I was able to check out last year, but much like my experience with anime the truly amazing experiences that I was seeking just weren’t there. That’s not to knock these few games I am about to talk about though, as they were each fantastic experiences for me through and through.

Overwatch was probably the first game from 2016 that I played, and I had been waiting for it for some time. When Blizzard first announced the title with its CG trailer, I thought the games artstyle looked fantastic and really brought the characters to life. When gameplay started to be shown I was hooked, since I love first-person shooters with a passion and I also love the strategic elements of games like League of Legends in that you need to create a team of characters that work well together and can take on the enemy characters. For the first month or so after Overwatch’s release I was completely hooked and playing it almost daily. I have fallen off a bit now but that mostly has to do with computer problems and my not wanting to deal with the xbox one players. If I had a good pc to run it again, I would still be playing this day after day.

The rest of this list is pretty much just a list of great games on Nintendo’s consoles, and that mostly has to do with the fact that nothing on the Xbox One really interested me this year (and I don’t have a PS4 or PC to play games on those). That’s not so bad though, since Nintendo had a pretty solid year, if not a bit of a slow one. The 3DS got new games for two highly beloved franchises of mine in Fire Emblem Fates and Monster Hunter Generations. The new Fire Emblem brought everything I love about the series back again. Strategic gameplay, fun characters and a blend of RPG and turn-based strategy that the series always gets right. I started off with Birthright, which even on hard mode felt a little easy. The game doesn’t shy away from giving you new characters who match or out-level your current characters meaning grinding isn’t really necessary, especially when you consider some of the come with legendary weapons that do insane amounts of damage. I have not gotten around to the other two paths of the game yet, but I hear Conquest ups the challenge quite a bit, giving seasoned veterans of the series a run for their money. It was definitely not my favorite entry into the series, but it still was a great game from beginning to end.

Likewise, Monster Hunter Generations brought back the classic Monster Hunter gameplay that I know and love. Hunting Monsters with groups of friends is still as fun as ever, and fighting your way up to the biggest, baddest monsters is satisfying to the very end. I liked the new addition of abilities that Generations added, where you could mount monsters and do massive damage with other abilities. If you liked past Monster Hunter games than Generations is more of the same, so it should be a safe bet to try out. If you are new to the series however, I will warn you that the game is pretty notorious for not being too welcoming to newcomers. I thought it did an alright job explaining the basics for new players, but I am sure there are a lot of things left out that you will have to figure out yourself as there are so many different mechanics when it comes to crafting items and gear and many other activities. Getting used to combat and learning each monsters attacks and behaviors can also be tricky, but that’s half the fun of a new Monster Hunter game.

On the Wii U side of things, it was a pretty slow year for Nintendo. Luckily there were a few gems released in the slow trickle that was the Wii U’s 2016 games lineup. Pokken Tournament was one of these games, bringing a unique blend of Tekken and Pokemon. I am a bit of a fighting game enthusiast, but I never really get very competitive with them. I just like figuring out their systems and doing cool stuff with the characters. Pokken was a bit different though, since it forgoes complex button inputs for simple one r two button inputs that often combo into each other with some pretty easy to learn timing. The complexity of its fighting system comes from the rock-paper-scissors gameplay that the attack-counters-grabs mechanic brings to the table. Essentially, it is up to the player to decide what the best approach is going to be based on what their opponent is likely to do, making it a bit more of a mind game and less of a competition of execution of specific button inputs. I found this to be incredibly fun and addicting since it didn’t take to long to figure out a new character and start kicking butt. On the flip side though, a smarter, more experienced player would always come out on top compared to someone who just picked up a new character and smashed buttons. It eliminated the frustration of not being able to execute the moves I wanted do to lack of practice day in and day out, but kept a competitive side to the game to make the wins feel rewarding. It would be wrong to think this game is a dumbed-down fighter, because you can dig deep into this game and still find yourself losing.

The last game of 2016 that I will be talking about is Tokyo Mirage Sessions, the Japanese idol RPG. As a huge fan of JRPG’s and Japanese pop culture, it was as if this game was made for me. It combines the worlds of Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem into a bright world full of j-pop and idols.  It features an incredibly fun and deep battle system and a fun cast of characters to hook you in, just don’t expect anything too amazing in terms of story (its passable, but nothing groundbreaking). Honestly, it is one of the few JRPGs where I was consistently able to pick it back up after hours and hours of playtime without needing a break.

Music

Running with the theme of “I didn’t get into as much of this as I wanted” we finally stumble upon the music of 2016. This theme is incredibly true for music though, as if I were to guess I probably listened to a total of 10 or less albums from last year. Honestly, I spent a lot of my time with music in 2016 revisiting old favorites from Green Day’s American Idiot to some of Billy Talent’s first albums. In terms of Japanese music, even then I spent a lot of time listening to Asian Kung-fu Generation’s early albums such as Houkai Amplifer. There were a few albums(two really, the other is a single) from 2016 that I listened to however that got me off these nostalgic albums for a bit, and I think they were good enough to warrant a listen if you haven’t already.

The first album is by Super Beaver and is titled 27. Super beaver has been a personal favorite band ever since their album Aisuru came out with their hit single Rashisa (the Barakamon opening for those who may be familiar with the show). I love the style of upbeat and catchy songs, and they can always put a smile on my face when I listen to them. 27 had some great singles on there such as Kotoba, Aiharu and Urusai (all of which I believe are available on youtube for those interested). A great album to jam out to in an afternoon, and I played the album many times while working on things in my room.

The next might come as no surprise for those who have seen the movie, but the other album that really caught my attention last year was the album Your Name by Radwimps. I haven’t actually seen the movie, but have been following the band for some time now. Every once in a while they come out with a song I love, and in this album the song Zen Zen Zense was that song. That’s not to knock the rest of the album which is mostly comprised of the instrumental soundtrack for the film (which is pretty great), but that song was stuck in my head for weeks after I first heard it, and I still play it on my way to school in the mornings. Truly fitting for the main theme of a blockbuster hit, the song is catchy as hell and will probably remain as one of my favorite anime themes for some time. I honestly cannot wait to see the movie just so I hear this song play with the beautiful animation of the film.

As I said above, the last one on this list is a single rather than an album, but it was such a good single I just had to put it on here. Ever since I first heard the song in March Comes in Like a Lion’s opening I knew I just needed it to listen to on the go, and as soon as the single Answer by Bump of Chicken dropped I picked it up. I don’t really know what it is that makes me love the song so much, but something about it just kind of puts me at ease. Its a song I can easily relax to or play in the background as I do work. You can check out the song yourself on youtube to see if the single is something you might be interested in as well.

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So there you have it, all my favorite stuff from 2016. It may not have been a great year for anything, but there were still some gems in there that I am glad to have experienced. Hopefully 2017 can give me some more great experiences, preferably more than 2016 was able to. I wouldn’t mind some new shows to enter my top 10 either, so lets see what 2017 has in store!