Best of the Best: 2016

It’s Oscar season again, and that means it’s time for the best of anime, 2016!

Another year is in the books, and it was a very good one for anime. That made this year’s Oscars especially tough to select, but gave us a worthy list of recipients. And the winners are:

 

Best Song: “Beautiful Life” by Shiggy Jr. – Kyoukai no Rinne Season 2 ED2
Probably a pretty under the radar pick, but I absolutely loved this cut.  Not only is it catchy as hell, but it perfectly matches the mood of the series it’s written for and the accompanying animation is equally well-matched (the original Shiggy Jr. music video is hilarious too).
Honorable Mention: “”Kore wa Watashi no Ikiru Michi” (これが私の生きる道; This is the Way I Live) by PUFFY (ReLIFE ED5), “Re:Re:” by ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi OP)

Best Soundtrack: Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari
I tend to favor soundtracks that accent rather than overwhelm, and that match the mood of the series in tone and feel. That certainly applies to Hashimoto Yukari’s playful, understated soundtrack for Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari. It doesn’t hit you ever the head, but always seems to be accenting the mood of whatever is happening on-screen.
Honorable Mention: 911 Days, Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru

Original Screenplay: 91 Days
This is always a more selective category than Adapted Screenplay, and the lack of competition often produces easy picks. Not in 2016 thought, where an equally strong case can be made for Kishimoto Taku’s work on 91 Days and Aikawa Shou’s on Concrete Revolutio. These are dramatically different examples of storytelling, but both superb. In the end I chose Kishimoto because 91 Days is such an exquisitely constructed story, start to finish – not a hair out of place. But the sheer expanse of what Aikawa did with ConRevo is not to be dismissed – it’s a remarkable story
Honorable Mention: Concrete Revolutio, Yuri!! on Ice

Adapted Screenplay: Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari
Kishimoto Taku very nearly pulled off the first-ever double in the writing categories with his work on Boku Dake ga Inai Machi. In the end, though, I chose Takahashi Natsuko for her work on Udon no Kuni, because I think her job was even more remarkable. I don’t know how many times an ongoing manga got a one-cour adaptation that was so seamless it felt like an original, with a perfect beginning, middle and end – but I can count them on one hand, that’s for sure. Udon no Kuni’s progression is so natural that it’s almost hard to believe the manga is still ongoing – the anime never felt rushed, and it’s hard to imagine it ending any other way.
Honorable Mention: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, Mob Psycho 100

Best Art Direction: Konou Ryou, Mob Psycho 100
A Tachikawa Yuzuru series wins for the second year in a row. There were of course a wealth of worthwhile candidates in this category, but the look of Mob Psycho 100 was so distinctive and vibrant that in the end it stood out the most for me. MP100 is so spectacular visually that it’s hard to single out the work of individual contributors, but the backgrounds, locations and color schemes were truly integral to achieving the overall look.
Honorable Mention: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Best Animation: Mob Psycho 100
See above, to a certain extent. Bones had a phenomenal year (this is the first-ever studio sweep of any category), and Mob Psycho 100 was their most impressive series in terms of sakuga and cinematography. ONE has been treated very well by the anime industry, that’s for damn sure – to have Madhouse and Bones do they work they’ve done on One Punch Man and Mob Psycho is something any mangaka should be thrilled with
Honorable Mention: Boku no Hero Academia, Concrete Revolutio

Best Character Design: Otsuka Mai, Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru
I’ve always found this a tough category to judge (in fact it was the last one added over the years I’ve given the Oscars out). Are we rewarding the original creator – or rewarding a designer for getting as close to the original as possible? Is it just a matter of subjective preference (hint: mostly, yes)? In any event, I really loved the designs in the thoroughly delightful Konobi – even more than the ones in the manga. These are middle schoolers that look (well, and act) like actual middle schoolers. This was one of the handsomest comedies in years altogether but Otsuka’s designs (what a resume she has) were a big part of that.
Honorable Mention: Ushio to Tora, Boku no Hero Academia

Best Supporting Actress: Takayama Minami as Fujinuma Sachiko (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi)
This was the best female supporting character of 2016, and Takayama’s performance was a crucial component. Some anime simply need actors who are outside the current inner circle, and Boku Dake is one of them. Takayama is a long way from Conan Edogawa here, but she nails Sachiko’s fierce, protective love for her son and her wry sense of humor.
Honorable Mention: Hayashibara Megumi as Hakumen no Mono (Ushio to Tora), Koiwai Kotori as Shiraishi (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge)

Best Supporting Actor: Ohtsuka Houchu as Satou, Ajin
This season of Ajin belonged to Satou, really. He drove all the action and had all the best lines and generally owned the screen every moment he was on it, and the venerable Houchu-san delivered the goods. For my money Samuel T. O’Brien was (along with Hakumen no Mono) the best antagonist in anime in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Suzumura Kenichi as Iyami (Osomatsu-san), Takeuchi Ryota as Ushijima Wakatoshi (Haikyuu!!)

Best Actress: Hayami Saori as Shirayuki (Akagami no Shirayukihime)
I tend to have a love-hate relationship with the omnipresent Hayamai Saori, though that might be more due to the fact that she’s in some really bad series than the actual performances.  She’s been in some great series too, and Akagami no Shirayukihime is one of them – and this performance is probably the best of Hayami’s career.  She manages to avoid the traps in this character’s path and strike the balance between independence and strength and naiveté and kindness.
Honorable Mention: Senbongi Sayaka as Karasuma Chitose (Girlish Number), Inoue Marina as Mamiya Sakura (Kyoukai no Rinne Second Season)

Best Actor: Ishida Akira as Yakumo (Kikuhiko) (Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu)
This was an extremely strong category this year, as the anime landscape was full of complex adult male characters.  Some of Ishida’s strongest competition came from the same series, in fact, but in the end I have to give him the nod.  Simply put, Ishida-san’s work in Shouwa Genroku is some of the best in modern anime, as he takes this complicated and difficult character from youth to late middle age, onto the rakugo stage and into the bedroom.  Ishida is badly underutilized in most of his roles, and he’s been sadly typecast over the years (largely thanks to Evangelion, I would argue) but in Kikuhiko he’s given license to display all of his talent and my goodness, does he ever display it.  His glorious work continues in the second season, airing now, and even in a cast of superb actors his performance really stands out.
Honorable Mention: Yamadera Kouichi as as Sukeroku (Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu), Nakamura Yuuichi as Tawara Souta (Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari)

Best Director: Hatakeyama Mamoru, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu
In any year as strong as this one was, the Best Director category is going to be an embarrassment of riches.  I could toss a dart at any of the top five candidates here and not go wrong, but I guess as a purely directorial work Shouwa Genroku might be the most impressive of the bunch.  Hatakeyama is one of the best directors in anime, and certainly among the most underrated – he has a wonderful sense of style.  More than that, he understands that in a show like this everything, including the visuals, plays a supporting role to the characters.
Honorable Mention: Tachikawa Yuzuru (Mob Psycho 100), Ito Tomohiko (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi), Takuno Seiki (Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari), Kawatsura Shinya (Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge)

Best Romance: Akagami no Shirayukihime
When I view the genre categories, I like to give preference to those series with which the genre tag really fits.  This was an OK year for anime, not great – but of all the shows I seriously considered for this slot, it was really only Akagami no Shirayukihime that put the romance tag first.  And it’s a damn good one – refreshingly low-key and realistic in terms of the relationship development.  In most years it would have been solidly a Top 10 series, and it was this year’s best true anime romance.
Honorable Mention: Yuri!! on Ice, Orange

Best Comedy: Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge
By contrast, anime comedy was loaded in 2016 – one of the strongest genres.  I had a number of choices of comedy-first series for this spot, but in the end Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge has to be the winner (it was the only pure comedy to make the Top 10, after all).  Silver Link (again) took a great manga and made it even better as an anime.  Tanaka-kun is sweet and silly and smart and more than a little quirky, full of great characters of both genders and a master of numerous comedic styles.  It’s also one of the best-looking anime comedies in years (I wish I’d gone to a high school that gorgeous).
Honoroable Mention: Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Monday ga Aru, Osomatsu-san

Best Drama: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi
It’s not automatic that the winner here is the winner of the next category – nor should it be – but it does tend to work out that way more often that not.  And as ever, there’s not much point in talking about the same show twice in two paragraphs.  So I’ll just say a word of praise to the runners-up – and to other stuff like Udon no Kuni and Mob Psycho, which had plenty of drama too, even if they weren’t shows where that would be the first tag you’d use.  I think the three I chose are.
Honorable Mention: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Orange

Best Series: Boku Dake ga Inai Machi
Sure, after the year-end Top 10 this one is pretty much a given.  It was close – the top four series all spent at least a short spell in this spot over the last few weeks of the year.  But Boku Dake is my pick, because it delivered high points higher than any series this year, and among the highest ever.  I won’t debate the ending yet again (though I’ll always defend it as brilliant and misunderstood), but as a whole, this series was magnificently dramatic.  Great characters, a spectacularly conceived premise, pathos, suspense – all the ingredients are here.  Boku Dake ga Inai Machi is first a triumph of the manga medium of course – it remains a place where great storytelling like this can take form.  But it’s a transcendent anime, too, a great achievement by Ito Tomohiko, Kishimoto Taku and A-1 Pictures.  They’re never in the conversation for the best studio in the business, but they’re the only one that’s appeared on every LiA Top 10 list (and more than once, atop it).
Honorable Mention: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari

Best Picture: The Red Turtle
Some may argue whether or not the Academy Award-nominated The Red Turtle is an anime, and I’ll acknowledge that a case can be made either way.  But this is a Studio Ghibli production, created at the instigation of Studio Ghibli, and in my mind that’s enough.  It’s a simple and beautiful tale that explores some very deep and fundamental questions about the nature of humanity, and one that stands as a testament to the unwavering need for hand-drawn animation as an artistic outlet.
Honorable Mention: Kimi No na Wa, Sarusuberi ~Miss HOKUSAI~

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11 comments

  1. And here I was hoping that Ono Kensho would at least receive a nomination for ReLIFE and Tanaka-kun…
    Can’t argue with your choices though. I’d have been inclined to put Yamadera in running for Best Supporting Actor, but I can’t question the excellence of his performance. And I really liked Nakamura i Udon no Kuni- it was nice seeing him in a role that required none of his usual swagger.

  2. That Ono performance was probably the last cut (ReLIFE), and he was great in Tanaka-kun too. As for Yamadera he was probably right on the edge, but in the end Ithink that’s a lead performance. As I said, a great year for the male acting categories- lots of interesting adult male roles.

  3. Sooooo nice to see Akagami Shirayuki getting the spotlight it deserves, as well as Shirayuki herself as a character (and her VA, of course).

    Interesting list though. Pity about Ushio to Tora getting edged out by character designs, but Kono Bujitsubu was quite nice as well (comparing both series to their source mangas, I mean).

  4. Yeah, going through this list really made me amazed that Akagami didn’t make the top 10, but that’s just how good a year it was I guess. A few shows did win two categories (only Boku Dake won 3) but Akagami was the only show in the second 10 that did so.

    Ushio to Tora was another multiple runner-up, and a show that might have cracked the top 10 some years.

  5. You should have created a custom “Best villain” category just for Hakumen no Mono 😀 (honourable mention: Kira Yoshikage from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. I know you didn’t see it but DAMN he was amazing).

  6. I love Hakumen, for sure. It was first runner-up in two categories.

  7. F

    Yay for Senbongi Sayaka’s honourable mention for best actress. Despite being quite new to the seiyuu industry, she really did a great job in portraying Chitose’s character. I do hope that she will get roles for nuanced characters in the future too.

  8. Yep, always nice to see a young actor make a nice impression. And Chitose was not by any means an easy role – there’s quite a progression there.

  9. Boku Dake was my choice for anime of the year. If you ever want to introduce an adult friend to the world of anime and show them just how good anime can be Boku Dake is a good way to start.

  10. J

    Best of the Best?

    Roger Federer. This year, last year, every year.

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