2017 has been a pretty good year for anime. Not a great year but one filled with plenty of shows that delivered. Funny shows, weird shows, touching shows and absolutely stunning shows. I didn’t find any all-time favourites but some shows got darn close, and a lot of the shows that didn’t reach that level were still satisfying and good at what they did. After a lot of marathoning and thinking and writing I put together a list of my ten favourite new anime, and here it is.
But first a few things to note. This is my list and everything here is my opinion. In case you wanted to know why I placed one show above another… it’s because I liked that show more. Secondly this is only a list for new anime. I’ll compile a list containing sequels in the future but shows like My Hero Academia and Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju won’t be featured here. And finally I obviously haven’t seen every single anime to come out this year so this isn’t a definitive list, it’s just my experience of new anime in 2017. If there’s a new series I haven’t included here please feel free to recommend! With that out of the way let’s talk about the new anime of 2017.
10. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
KyoAni have returned with another reliable hit in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. It’s got all the warmth and fuzziness you expect with plenty of heart and sincerity to boot. The premise of dragon maids in itself is lovable, but the series elevates it with KyoAni’s pure mastery of comedic pacing and composition. A premise worth a chuckle becomes a show filled with good laughs, and good laughs build towards making a cast of characters who you can’t help but fall in love with.
There are some iffy jokes and not so effective sentimental moments but they’re vastly outnumbered by the moments that do work. For the most part Dragon Maid plays its drama fairly light, and coupled with the genuine spirit of the show these moments are well-earned and build a stronger connection to the humans and dragons that inhabit this world. Across its ensemble cast of silly characters not everyone gets their serious moment, but they still effortlessly endear themselves through their gags and little interactions.
Of all the shows on this list Miss Kobayashi‘s Dragon Maid is probably the easiest to watch. It’s fun and comfy and adorable and full-hearted. KyoAni continue to make an art form out of sitting back and relaxing.
9. Sakura Quest
Sakura Quest is another series from the “working series” line of shows by PA Works, following in the footsteps of Hanasaku Iroha and the phenomenal Shirobako. It’s a worthy addition to the grounded adult narratives the studio has been delivering, lightly funny and charming but at its core a sincere story about coming into adulthood in an ageing Japanese society.
It’s the interweaving of two of the most significant costs of Japan’s post-boom economy: the cost of young people disenfranchised by dwindling opportunities and unachievable dreams, and the larger scale cost of rural decay as a result of the ageing population. These ideas are told gracefully through Yoshino’s personal journey to the fictional village of Manoyama. Through her eyes we see this slowly fading place struggle to make itself relevant, and through the various character journeys that weave together with Yoshino’s we see the younger generation come to terms with life outside the monolithic fantasy of Tokyo. Sakura Quest is brimming with these fantastic ideas, but it sometimes struggles to express them fully. Although the thematic core ultimately comes through in its arcs its exploration of them only goes so far, and the show ends up stranded in random events that don’t do much for it. The end result is a solid commentary but not necessarily a fully realised one.
All things considered though I’m glad Sakura Quest exists. I’m glad there’s shows willing to just be about the lives of adults, and moreover shows daring to tackle these extremely pertinent Japanese social issues. It also helps that the main cast is warm and likeable in spite of sometimes bumpy character arcs. Sakura Quest is a truly worthwhile series. Here’s hoping we see more PA Works adult dramas.
8. Just Because!!
This is one of two teen romantic dramas to make this list, and that probably sounds groanworthy. But by golly these are some beautiful shows. The first of the two is Just Because!!. It’s probably one of the more KyoAni human dramas you can get without being KyoAni, loaded with stunning background compositions and densely textured places and plenty of wonderful visual storytelling that effortlessly sells the emotional struggles of these teens. It doesn’t hit the same aesthetic narrative highs and it struggles with consistency but it’s still a beautiful series that sells an intimate story fairly well.
The story in question is about adolescents on the verge of graduation trying to find their place and consolidating the feelings they have for their friends, and it tells that story with subtlety and grace. The little struggles and endearing everyday interactions paint an authentic picture that makes it easy to believe in these characters and their problems. It does get messy with one particular misunderstanding arc towards the end but you still feel for these struggling soon to be young adults because they’re emotionally understandable, and that’s the bottom line.
If you’re up for some fluttery teen romance with some pretty neat visual storytelling you can’t really go wrong with Just Because!!. It’s a lovingly textured story that tries it’s best, and for the most part it’s a success.
7. Recovery of an MMO Junkie
(EDIT: So it turns out the director of this anime is an actual nazi. Probably a good reason to steer clear of it, and safe to say this won’t be in my complete top anime of 2017 list. Keeping it here just for the sake of archiving my writing and stuff. Haven’t read the source material so I can’t make a proper recommendation, but for an anime with some neat ideas about digital culture that’s not directed by a god damn nazi check out Gatchaman Crowds).
Recovery of an MMO Junkie came out of nowhere with the most honest romantic comedy of the year. We don’t get many stories in anime about adults, let alone mundane everyday adults encroaching on their thirties. Even more surprising is that MMORPG’s are the backdrop of their lives. It doesn’t judge its adult characters for using such games as an escape, nor does it glorify them for being outsiders. It’s simply a hobby they’re drawn to because it allows them to communicate when they feel powerless in the outside world.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie is a frank and touching reflection on the power gaming and digital media gives to socially anxious people, even well into adulthood. It gives them a voice from a place of comfort, it allows them to build friendships and memories and lifelong bonds with like-minded people that seem impossible with all the hurdles of real life social interaction. And it tells ageing adults who still don’t feel like they have their stuff together that it’s okay.
It’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to make mistakes and it’s okay to do the things that fulfil you. You’re not weird and you’re not a failure, and no matter how long it takes one day you’ll come to terms with yourself and find people who can know you warts and all and support you unconditionally. Recovery of an MMO Junkie is a story for all of us troubled adult geeks doing our best.
6. Land of the Lustrous
Land of the Lustrous is arguably the most “perfect” show I’ve seen this year, and that’s shocking for a CG animated series. Kemono Friends managed to have wonderful art design IN SPITE of its tacky CG animation but Land of the Lustrous is truly a visual masterpiece in the intentional choices it makes with CG. Its frame composition, its intense dynamically composed action scenes, its use of colour and lighting and its superb art design. It all comes together to create a show that isn’t just good looking for CG but perhaps the best looking show of the year. It’s truly an aesthetic joy.
At its core is a haunting coming of age story. Phosphophyllite wants to become stronger by any means necessary, but the stronger they become the more they isolate themselves and the more they inflict suffering on themselves and the other gems. It’s a dark scary world and every step to try and make sense of it only raises more unnerving questions.
Unfortunately it leaves on a bit of a cold close. There’s a lot more happening in Land of the Lustrous that this adaptation simply doesn’t get to, reaching a mild reflection on the things that have happened but no sense of closure. Land of the Lustrous a truly fantastic series that I hope will continue to be adapted, because it truly deserves to be told.
5. Juni Taisen
I never knew I wanted a death game anime from Monogatari author Nisio Isin, but I’m sure glad I got it. Juni Taisen hits the obvious trappings of a death game series with its schlocky premise and eccentric designs, but from there it takes things in pretty bizarre and wonderful directions.
The most surprising is how character focused it is for a show in its genre space, and how little it cares for building action sequences. It’ll take an entire episode to tell us a character’s history and motivations just to build up to them dying in a seconds long battle. Juni Taisen recognises that the anticipation of the bang is far more impactful than the bang itself, and instead of choosing to ground itself in the fighters’ skills or the stakes they’re up against it decides to build empathy towards its inevitably tragic cast. And to that end it does a fine job, gracefully weaving narrative economy between the journeys of twelve different characters across twelve episodes and giving each of them a presence. Not only does this allow you to empathise but you begin to feel genuinely fond of them. Fond enough that you just want to see them hang out and do silly stuff instead of killing each other.
Each of these little personal narratives come together to paint a tragic picture. The war of Juni Taisen was always mindless, but in seeing strong righteous individuals destroyed at the hands of immature and unthinking characters we see the blind destructiveness of war first hand. Juni Taisen is story of hopelessness and tragedy, but ultimately it’s about the pain of knowing hopelessness and tragedy in the world. It’s about how many of us are only able to move forward by not knowing or not caring. It’s a bleak story, but it still believes in its righteous characters. It’s a senseless world, so let’s continue senselessly believing in the power of good people.
4. Made In Abyss
Made In Abyss is a darn impressive adventure series. In its first 13 episodes it’s shown a level of craft and world-building that very few anime can express. If you’ve heard any of the buzz around Made In Abyss you’ll probably know that things get pretty dark, but it never lies about the harrowing abyss. Before the real meat of the story even begins this show is already building a haunting anticipation, layering the gruesomeness of its world so thickly that the expectation of tragedy is almost as terrifying as the actual tragedies themselves. I say almost because no matter how much Made In Abyss prepares you to expect horrific things the actual reality is often far more shocking than you expect. It makes zero compromise in building the stakes of travelling down the abyss, and it rises to the challenge of raising those stakes the deeper it goes.
Despite all that I believe Made In Abyss is a series of subtle optimism. Awful unspeakable things happen and yet our main characters continue to pick themselves up, no matter how slow and painful that may be. They go through what they do for their goals, and they endear themselves not only through their immense strength but also their ability to continue finding reasons to smile.
There are some unfortunate issues with Made In Abyss, like the occasionally stunted pacing of its adaptation and its deeply uncomfortable interest in making sexually charged jokes about its child protagonists. But gosh dang Made In Abyss is a finely crafted work, and one that’s well and truly invested me in its long term development.
3. Kemono Friends
2017 began with the pleasant surprise that was Kemono Friends, and it was a wonderful gift to the anime community both in Japan and abroad. A cheap CG kids show made to sell a dead app became one of the most genuine and heartwarming anime to come out this year, loaded with wholesome adventure against the backdrop of a beautifully dense world.
Japari Park is somewhat of a haunting post-apocalyptic zoo, and for a lesser series that would be hard to sell with the disposition of being for children. However not only does Kemono Friends excel at building its world in spite of its limits but it actually succeeds BECAUSE of its limits. By playing its darker narrative themes more subtly through accumulating tiny mysteries and background details it makes it that much more intriguing to understand the world of the series.
It’s also a really great episodic adventure series. It layers its upbeat shenanigans with the introduction of charming and silly new characters each episode, taking Serval and Kaban to new places that expand the world of the series while also allowing countless opportunities for fun ideas and little vignettes. But more importantly than all of that Kemono Friends is perhaps the most genuinely good-spirited anime of the year. There isn’t a hint of sarcasm or meanness, it’s an outwardly wholesome adventure and proud of it. The future of the Kemono Friends franchise may be bleak, but it sure was wonderful while it lasted.
2. Tsuki ga Kirei
There is… a lot of anime about teenagers, but surprisingly a lot less that emotionally understand teenagers. Tsuki ga Kirei is a clear standout, a dense portrayal of the lives of two adorable young adolescents who become infatuated with each other. The confusion and anxiety of that first crush is almost painfully felt, reverberating through a consistent fixation on body language. Awkward silences, excited jitters, the odd flustered but barely coherent sexual gazes. It plays all these little elements with quiet grace, hitting all the subtle markers of what it’s like to be a teenager attracted to someone for the first time.
As Akane and Kotarou start to interact more we see their composures change. They go from trying to distance themselves in brief uncomfortable exchanges to being actively upset when they’re not able to be with each other. They warm up to each other through conversations over the phone as they gradually start to behave more casually in their shared physical presence. Flustered hand holding becomes a flustered kiss becomes confident honest intimacy. But as with any young relationship there’s conflicts, little moments of jealousy and misunderstanding and causing hurt to one another without intending to. These things bubble up under the surface and reveal themselves through cold reserved interactions, and find natural closure through an honest exchange of feelings.
I believed in Akane and Kotarou. To everyone around them it was puppy love that would dissolve as they came into adulthood, but as viewers we see it for what it is. We see the sincerity beneath the awkwardness in all of their exchanges, and that’s what allows us to root for them. Tsuki ga Kirei is mushy, but it works because it’s such an earnestly human story about young love. And it’s visually resonant and gorgeous to boot. More anime like this please!
1. Girls’ Last Tour
Girls’ Last Tour is exactly the kind of big idea work that draws me in, with the kind of low-key storytelling I love. It’s about the end of human civilisation, and the everyday lives of two silly but earnest girls named Chito and Yuuri piecing together the final remnants of our societies and the things we did and the feelings we felt.
It’s about as bleak as it sounds. The two scrape by on limited rations, knowing once they’re gone that it’ll be the end of human life on earth. But they fight on. It’s hopeless, but they’re getting along with hopelessness. Girls’ Last Tour is ultimately a story of optimism. A story of coming to believe in good things even when it seems they don’t exist. Whether it’s joy of telling stories, the joy of discovery or just the joy of eating Chito and Yuuri find happiness in the human experience.
It’s also a story about the ability of human beings to be good to one another. The selfishness and destruction of our kind may lead to our demise, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be finding empathy and connection with others to the end the way Chito and Yuuri do. It may be idealistic to think that, but these ideas that resonate through even the most poignant moments of Girls’ Last Tour are necessary and powerful. Girls’ Last Tour knows the world is on fire, so it does it’s best to come to terms with that.
So that was the year in new anime. Like I said it wasn’t a spectacular year but it was undoubtedly a good year to be watching Japanese animation (or in my case to not be watching Japanese animation for the better part of 11 months and to spend the very last month watching everything I humanely could). I hope you all enjoyed some good shows this year, and I hope next year brings many more.