2016 was a pretty bad year for the world, but there was some good that existed. It’s just that you have to dig very deep to find it, and that definitely holds true for the year's anime selection. What were the hidden gems? What was the worst of the worst? What was the most disappointing? This article is here to answer your questions.
Sixth Best: Ajin Demi-human
I'll be straight with you guys, while I recognize that Ajin Demi-human is a good show thanks to its solid world-building, interesting take on Stand-like superpowers, and angsty yet complex characters who must do whatever it takes to survive in a world that shuns them for very good reason, I'm having a hard time deciding on how much my praise for it should extend. It never really excelled at anything apart from maybe the English dub, the story is incomplete due to it being based on an on-going manga, and the second season was an overlong pile of fluff. My confusion regarding my true opinion of the show's overall quality is the main reason why I never bothered to write about it, and I'm having enough trouble describing Ajin on here as is. Don't get me wrong: it is generally fun to watch, or otherwise I wouldn't be putting in on the best list. But there sure are a lot of caveats sticking on my mind regarding Polygon Pictures' new hit after I finished it.
Sixth Worst: Rewrite
Not gonna lie, choosing six bad anime to represent on this list was pretty hard. I watched so much shit this year that I'm surprised I haven't committed myself to a mental asylum. But let's start things off by dipping into my visual novel anime bias with one of the worst adaptations I've seen in years: Rewrite. With Key's reputation getting to the point where putting their name on a product is almost guaranteed to reduce viewers and Romeo Tanaka's anime just being shit in general, the last thing anyone needed was these two entities working together. Badly animated, obnoxiously padded, and just plain nonsensical when stuff actually did happen, I'd be surprised if anyone involved with this show had a career after its inevitably terrible sequel finishes airing.
Sixth Disappointing: Lupin III (2015)
Choosing between disappointments wasn't nearly as hard because not a lot of things intrigue me based on the premise alone. But when they do, you can trust anime to bumfuck it all up about 90% of the time. And while it has its beautiful moments, this new iteration of Lupin III made its first mistake by introducing a new girl who was more of an annoyance than someone who fit within the Lupin canon, then devolved from there into a bunch of episodics that are nothing more than barely improved rehashes of tales from the old series before ending on an epic plot and villain that was so mismatched, an elephant trying to blend itself into a basketball team would have looked more natural. Fun for fans of this genre. Kinda meh for people like me who want anime to transcend whatever genre it's attached to.
Fifth Best: The Boy and the Beast
Selecting six anime to represent the positive side of 2016 was difficult this year, but for completely opposites reasons to choosing six anime to represent the negative side. Only the top two slots really stood out to me, and the other slots feel more like compromises than anything else. I mean everyone has already gone on about how The Boy and the Beast is basically just Hosada's Howl's Moving Castle, with its disjointed narrative and familiar tropes, and I had that opinion long before it came out on the Internet. But I can't deny that the individual set pieces and semi-coherent family story that was buried underneath all the disjointed subplots made for something mildly entertaining - which is a level that so many of 2016's selection struggled to obtain. And hey, at least it was better than that godawful live-action remake of The Jungle Book, right?
But yeah, Hosada should be happy that his movie didn't get released to the public in a more interesting year.
Fifth Worst: Big Order
To be honest, fifth worst anime is something I find more fascinating in its awfulness in a sort of "how the fuck did you make something this incompetent?" kind of way than something I truly hate like most anime fans seem to. It takes a certain amount of skill to put in so much weird shit like Big Order did, and yet somehow it's all completely boring. But yeah, all the nuclear missiles, pregnant bunny girls, and Stand-like powers can't save you if you have no good characters, no good animation, no story that goes beyond getting passed from ugly set piece to ugly set piece like a round-robin prison gangbang, and so many bad directing choices I'm surprised the show ever made it into broadcast. The fact that this thing got licensed so soon after completion is pretty laughable in of itself. Who exactly is the audience for Big Order and why haven't we detained them yet?
Fifth Disappointing: 91 Days
How the fuck can people support a show with as many failures in the storytelling as 91 Days? Technically good but soulless animation. Horrible world-building that assumes you already know what the Prohibition period was like. Characters, story, and entire scenes ripped off from much better gangster stories (and other movies) that the show fails to make into its own or effectively parody. It's pretty much the by-product of Hollywood's current system of rehashing what everyone loved in the past whilst using prefabricated plots as an anchor rather than create new interesting stories that try to push things forward. You do realize it's this same mindset that's causing the light novel industry to exist, right? So why the fuck do I have to deal with a non-ecchi, more American-ized version of that same mindset when all it does is push anime to its death even further?!
Fourth Best: Mob Psycho 100
In retrospect, I think I was too harsh on Mob Psycho 100 when I initially reviewed it. Sure none of the jokes were really all that funny. Sure it felt more like a prelude of things to come, but then again, so was Batman Begins. Sure it took around half the show to get things setup and the highs it achieved after that weren't the most original twists on the psychic power genre. Sure it was more of a "fun" show that I still don't want to buy the blu-rays for. But what can I say? Not really much to choose from this year, and any anime that manages to successfully accomplish character-driven storytelling supported heavily by the animation deserves whatever recognition it gets. As such, Mob Psycho 100 easily gets my recommendation over stylistic shows that just pass you from plot beat to plot beat like a Disneyland amusement park ride.
Fourth Worst: Re Zero
Have any of you guys noticed that White Fox's anime are starting to become like KyoAni's and PA Works' in that they're mostly defined by their female characters? Also, have any of you guys started to realize just how fundamentally flawed light novel writing is as a concept? Well obviously you haven't, because otherwise Re:Zero would never have become as popular as it is. In a world where people can say to me that Durarara!! is still a good anime with a straight face, the last thing I needed was for light novel writing to reach a new low by basically remaking Now and Then, Here and There except even worse. Enough with the overly long character interactions. Enough with the "not-funny-at all to anyone who's not an anime nerd" humor. Enough with "suffering as character development". And enough with the junk food stories that have no point and never go anywhere interesting!
Oh, and don't kid yourselves, guys. Now and Then, Here and There is shit.
Fourth Disappointing: ERASED
Well let's get the really obvious one out of the way: ERASED. A-1 Pictures' incredibly overhyped and overpraised noitamina hit that wasn't without merit, but quickly flushed said merit down the toilet when you realized that the main character it had saddled us with was an utter tool, the "save the girl" story was pretty much a glorified visual novel route with severe logic holes, the final villain was about as charismatic as Albert Wesker without the throat cancer voice, and the plot was nothing but a bunch of "beautiful" moments strung together with loopy writing and gimmicky animation tricks. Not the worst emotionally pandering/socially shallow show of all-time, but very much a product of that inexplicably popular trend that MAL just can't seem to get enough of for some reason.
Third Best: Planetarian The Reverie of a Little Planet
Visual novel anime have a long history of being shit. Their first mistake is taking control away from the player during transition, and mistakes #2 through 75 is putting in so many boring character interactions in order to get a decent length out of their miniscule stories that it turns my brain into stone. As such, I'd like to thank David Production for reminding me of a time when Key adaptations were once able to overcome those problems with Planetarian, a show that understands that drama and character need to go hand-in-hand rather than put in separate time-outs in two different rooms that are in different countries altogether. With a format that allows the pacing to be as long or short as it needs to be and a story that makes up for its lack of originality with its solid (if flawed at points) characterization, this web series stands somewhat proud as one of the most under-appreciated gems of 2016. Big emphasis on "somewhat" of course, but I think its strengths are good enough to deserve at least one watch.
Third Worst: The Lost Village
Not only is The Lost Village a bad show, it's a show that represents everything wrong with today's current English-speaking anime fanbase. There is literally not a single person who liked this show that went into it blind. They knew who made it beforehand. They participated in the crappy fan activities during its airing just to get entertainment out of it. They never judged this show by its own merits. And on its own merits, it was an utterly incompetent mess with crappy CG monsters, characters who had less personal identity than Mickey Mouse, an illogical plot that went absolutely nowhere, and NOBODY FUCKING DYING. But because people looked up who wrote and directed the show beforehand, it suddenly became post-modern genius.
Guys, I can't stress this enough: stop looking at who makes an anime before you watch an anime! That has never benefitted anyone, least of all me, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
Third Disappointing: Kiznaiver
Man, all those positive articles written about Kiznaiver's potential and my trying to meet it halfway as it aired was really fucking stupid wasn't it? I mean this show's understanding of the teenage mind was about as mature as someone who still thinks "your anime is shit" is funny (it never was), and where do I even start with the number of ways this show wasted its potential? The annoying tonal shifts? That shitty sci-fi plot that tried to make a big deal out of human emotions without delving any deeper than "I love this emotionless boy"? The fact that the only conclusion to the Kiznaiver experiment was "human emotions are too complex to scientifically analyze"? How pretty much every conflict ends with the discovery that humans have *gasp* EMPATHY and JEALOUSY! This is what people consider the improved Kill la Kill? A bunch of elementary-school logic carried out by a bunch of annoying stereotypes with the only thing standing out about it being the hyperactive visual direction?
Second Best: Danganronpa 3
Like you guys didn't see this one coming. Danganronpa 3, the epic conclusion to a series that not only brought back the fun in this hobby, but went all-out in terms of roasting pretty much everything whilst going all-out in tying things together to an admittedly distracting degree. It has pretty much everything for nerds, everything for elitists, and everything for people who just want to have a fun time in general, with the usual visual novel problems kept to a bare minimum, even if they had a tendency to show up at some unfortunate critical moments. It's so well-known that Hentai Beta actually features the main villain on their header (no seriously, it does). Everything that most of this year's anime did wrong, Danganronpa 3 did right, even if it introduced some of its own problems on the way. And that's what makes it one of the gems of 2016's lackluster selection.
Second Worst: Occultic;Nine
You know, I just did a review for this one. As such, it really feels redundant to list off why this show sucked so much, so here's a quick summary: this show was every goddamn obnoxious visual novel storytelling trick under the sun combined with horrible production choices and a sense of humor that's more unfunny than Kanye West trying to get political. The Science Adventure writers suck on this, and A-1 Pictures just plain suck in general. Can someone please put this company out of its misery? Anyone? No? Fine then, I'm just going to have to continue to make fun of this studio until they go bankrupt.
Second Disappointing: Orange
What irritates me the most about Orange - as well as why it's so high on this list - is that I could see how it could have been good if it didn't derail so hard that the wreckage ended up in a country across the ocean. The shitty production values as it went on are one thing, but the lack of teeth and obvious padding that ended up plaguing other notable adaptations of critically acclaimed manga were what really killed it for me. It just goes to show that if you want to combine anime cliches with serious storytelling, you have to put a lot more effort into it than this. And sadly, Orange could not break that trend.
Best Anime of 2016: Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Wasn't really sure whether to put this or Danganronpa 3 in the number one spot. Yeah the latter is the one I'd be more likely to rewatch, but the pre-requirements needed to understand the entire series is a bit high, and given my refusal to put other sequels on this list, it should be clear that I prefer to promote anime that can stand on their own. So I decided to recognize Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress as the best anime of 2016. Yes it was basically Guilty Crown trying to go for more of a mainstream appeal, but even through its worst, it still retained all the basic qualities that made this team's first collaboration so fun to watch. Grab some popcorn and laugh at the cliched characters getting themselves into increasingly unfair and ludicrous situations, with all that godawful self-awareness that embodies most of today's anime replaced with the tone of a Shakespearean tragedy. It worked for Prometheus. It worked for that 2014 Godzilla reboot. And it definitely works for the most fun Japanese cartoon to come from this dreadful year.
Worst Anime of 2016: Hitori no Shita - The Outcast
Why exactly is Hitori no Shita: The Outcast the worst anime of the year, you may ask? Well first answer this question: how many of you even remember this show existed? And even if you did, why would you want to remember it existed? I mean a Chinese-Japanese co-production that plays to none of the animation strengths from either country? Animation and characters so cut and paste that it makes Qualidea Code's cast look like they were written by Shakespeare? A boiler-plate plot that sort of gave up on itself in the final few episodes, meaning it can't even stand on its own as a self-contained product? Is there anything about this show worth remembering? The only thing I got from this show was utter pain at its banality with no fun to be had in analyzing its faults. And that is why it's my worst anime of 2016.
Most Disappointing Anime of 2016: The Project Itoh Films
I know this is kind of hypocritical of me to say given how my favorite anime of the year was a noitamina show, but we really need to stop giving any special attention to the slot. All it's good for at this point is disappointing hype, and that carries over greatly to this Project Itoh thing - or to be more accurate, the first two movies as the third one hasn't been released yet. Empire of Corpses had good presentation, but the story and action was so fucking scattershot that it made Michael Bay's Transformers movies look like Die Hard. Harmony had the more interesting themes and yeah I did give it a really positive review at first, but I found the in medias res and overall presentation to be too insufferable to get through on rewatch now that I know what's going to happen. Both movies were big budget projects with interesting premises and a good pool of talent behind it. Both ended up failing in major ways. And in a year where anime films were doing their best to make a name for themselves given how many of them there were, both Project Itoh films were easily the most disappointing anime of 2016.