I’ll start this post off with some honourable mentions, since for a year full of so many good shows, a top five seems rather short. It’d also probably be best for me to mention that I only watched around 15-20 anime in 2016, before anyone complains about “x show not appearing” on this list.
Now, onto the main list!
Shelter is an anime music video that says all it needs in its brief six-minute runtime. Not a whole lot happens, but through its beautiful artwork and lively animation, Shelter evokes all of the right elements of visual storytelling, completely immersing you into its eccentric world before bringing you back to reality with Misawa Sachika’s heartfelt performance as Rin. Similarly to another entry on this list, I adore Shelter in part due to its simplicity, but more importantly because of its optimistic worldview. The future may be uncertain, but there will always be memories that give you reason to hope. It’s a message that’s compelling on a universal level, and simply presented in a way that really touches people. If you haven’t watched it already, it’s definitely worth your five minutes.
I’m not a huge fan of “plots”, at least not in the conventional sense of there needing to be a gripping narrative in order for a show to be engaging. In loose-narrative fashion, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash tells a compelling character story that feels heavy without compromising the believability of its characters. The show does have issues concerning its general light novel humor and sometimes flat-narration, but I would say its charm comes through the sheer atmospheric weight in its visuals. Illustrated with a melancholic tone and dark colour palette, the background art is highly evocative, perhaps too overbearing, but this works in favour of Grimgar’s goals as a character story depicting the beauty and hardship of life as it’s lived. Finally, while the poor fight choreography and hazy sense of space are perfectly reasonable complaints, the action is never where the show draws its weight in the more emotional segments. It’s not the cleanest of shows, but Grimgar has a respectable portrayal of the sensitivity of its cast and the rutted edges of life.
There are so many emotions that the planetarian visual novel left me with, and the anime adaptation puts in the effort to fully capture the appeal of the original. Between the lonely echo of its only two characters’ conversations, the sentimental piano pieces, and pervading use of rain as a backdrop, planetarian conveys an impassioned poignance without feeling overbearing. It puts precision into crafting a melancholy atmosphere, relying on the ambience of its world to land its dramatic beats rather than the early pathos that most other Key works fall back on. While the show’s subtle atmosphere might be its hook, where planetarian truly shines is in the simplicity of its themes. You see, my blog is named after planetarian, due to the glimmer of hope it instills in the bleak, post-apocalyptic world it’s set in. Mankind may bring itself to ashes, but having a sincere belief in humanity and a genuine desire for human interaction can rekindle our passion to live.
While almost every entry on this list has stellar visuals, Kizumonogatari is, in my opinion, the best-looking anime of 2016. Its self-conscious focus on aesthetics make its emotive tools powerful, and its cinema-style aspect ratio gives it a level of immersion suited for Araragi’s apprehensive headspace. If you don’t fancy Monogatari’s breezy dialogue, Kizumonogatari is still amazing as a stand alone film, and I’d recommend it as a gateway into the franchise if you haven’t started. The film cuts down on Araragi’s narration, gracefully replicating the tension of his words with uncomfortably detailed renditions of his facial expressions and the clamor of his panicked footsteps. As a reader of the light novels, Kizumonogatari is as perfect as far as adaptations go. But flawless execution isn’t enough to satisfy me. I’m a fan of thematically-rich works, but frankly, I don’t resonate with Monogatari’s themes. After a whole year since seeing it, I’ve mostly forgotten about Kizumongatari, and that’s why it doesn’t land my number one spot.
#1. Sound! Euphonium 2:
At the end of Sound! Euphonium’s first season, I was on the fence on whether it appealed to me on a visceral level. I’ve never experienced the band atmosphere, nor any of the joy, frustration, and drama that being involved would entail. This season showed that while Sound! Euphonium cares a great deal about depicting a serious band drama, it also cares about fleshing out the lives of the individuals that make up the ensemble. Let’s take a step back.
Sound! Euphonium takes place during a time of fleeting youth, where the band members’ diverging pursuits of passion influence the atmosphere of the KitaUji Wind Ensemble. There are disagreements, things get heavy, and the outcome of their performances aren’t to be scoffed at. But at the end each episode, Sound! Euphonium reminds us that every member contributes to the wind ensemble for different reasons. Reina plays for the sake of self-improvement—to become special—because she’s talented and will likely pursue a future in music after graduation. Kumiko plays for the sake of finding a place in the band’s overarching narrative: to observe the lives of others, what makes them tick, and by extension, find inspiration to play the Euphonium. Fundamentally, they’re completely different people. Even though they may be close now, the members of the KitaUji Wind Ensemble will be graduating, and before they know it, they’ll slowly fade in the background of each other’s lives. And that’s the unforgiving pace life moves at.
In spite of all that, amidst its verses of profound melancholy, Sound! Euphonium’s chorus—its heartwarming refrain—is that the feelings we had in our shared time was important, even if those moments feel as if they lasted mere seconds. For the empathetic hand with which it handles its relationships, and the empathy it made me feels towards its characters, I’ll humbly respond to Sound! Euphonium’s realism—its invitation for viewer interaction. I love Sound! Euphonium. It’s my favourite anime of 2016.