A Love Letter to 2016, postscript: the list…and a brief look at what’s in store for 2017!

And so, that was my 2016 in Anime. I definitely have not enjoyed a year in anime this much since at least 2010—and to be honest, I’m not even sure I enjoyed that year as much as I did this one. I should probably admit that most of it comes down to one anime, and one anime alone. When I started following figure skating a couple of years back, and dove even deeper into it over the 2015-2016 season, I honestly did not expect that I’d be able to marry these two hobbies of mine so soon. So Yuri!!! on ICE was a huge revelation for me, even though I soon found myself in the tiny group within the fandom that loved it primarily as a show about the sport. Despite the production issues that ultimately prevented the show from surpassing Rakugo Shinju as my top TV pick, I will never stop praising Yamamoto-san and Kubo-sensei for the story they set out to tell. But I’ll spare you any more gushing at this point—in exchange for the warning that there’ll be several more thousands of words over the next few months!


Looking back now, I think I definitely spent quite a few more hours on this hobby this past year compared to the previous one. Although I cut down a lot on my forum participation—the frustrations I started feeling in 2015 only got worse in 2016, though that’s a rant for another day—it wasn’t difficult for me to fill that space. Besides my two trips to Japan, I also found myself translating a whole lot more, what with the On ‘Anime Writing’ project that I launched in April and, more recently, all the Yuri!!! on ICE stuff has been posted both here and elsewhere. I hope you’ve found them useful and, in some cases, fun and amusing!

Many thanks to those of you who’ve read my stuff and left comments and feedback! This kind of effort would not be worth it if you were not around, and I hope you’ve found my posts useful or interesting in some way or other. Thank you especially to the other bloggers and translators I’ve been working with (you know who you are). Translating behind-the-scenes material to share is something that I’ve loved doing ever since I started back in 2010/2011, and I’m incredibly grateful that you’ve helped me get even better translations out there this year. And thank you also to everyone else who’s interacted with me on Twitter and Tumblr, where I’ve had many an interesting discussion. I’m still something of a small fry in this little corner of the fandom, so I’m a bit stunned at how many people followed me…especially since I have some rather unpopular interpretations of a number of popular or critically acclaimed shows! But if you don’t mind that, then I hope to see you around in the coming year as well!

Looking ahead, I do have some rather ambitious plans on the translation and blogging front, including several more editorials about how screenwriting ‘fits’ into the anime production process. Some of it will have to wait until I’ve sorted the non-anime side of my life out over the next few months. But in the meantime, you can expect more YOI stuff…as well as an interview with a pair of veteran voice actors about a show that’s returning to our screens tonight!

And of course, as usual, the list is under the cut! Read more of this post

A Love Letter to 2016, part 12: can you hear A Silent Voice?

Finally, it comes to this. My Anime of the Year is one that I can’t really talk about because so few people in the English-speaking fandom have seen it! It’s been three months already, but each passing day only increases my desire to see A Silent Voice once again.


Of course, I don’t know if it will have the same impact the second (third, fourth etc etc) time around. I’m also a little wary of building up expectations too high, as you know that there are always going to be people, especially fans of the original manga, who’ll want to see justice done to the parts they liked. To me, however, this film was just about perfect.

koe-3 koe-4

And that’s why my final love letter of 2016 goes to A Silent Voice.

A Love Letter to 2016, part 11: staging love and tragedy in Rakugo Shinju

And here’s the very first show that cemented it’s place on this list, right at the start of this year. As I noted back in April, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū is the first and, thus far, the only anime TV series to which I’ve ever given a full 10 out of 10 rating on MAL. Not because it has the best animation or sound, not because it has the most enjoyable story, and not because it was an entertaining show to partake in as part of the fandom. Rather, Rakugo is one of those shows where all of its component elements—its story, visual style, sound design and entertainment value—all came together in a manner that elevated it far, far above the sum of its parts.


I would, however, particularly like to celebrate one aspect of anime that I’ve yet to celebrate for any other title on this list. Though relatively minor in terms of the amount of time they would have spent compared to the production staff, the voice actors who inhabited our three main characters are key to Rakugo’s storytelling. It helps that all three of them are amongst the best that the industry has to offer: Ishida Akira, Yamadera Kōichi and Hayashibara Megumi are, in a word, giants. And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Ishida, in particular, deliver a better performance. Granted, I haven’t heard every single piece of voice work that he has done, but as Kikuhiko and the seventh generation Yakumo, a role spanning decades, he’s encapsulated and expressed vulnerability, joy, longing, despair…and so many other emotions. Each time I rewatch any part of the first season, I learn something new simply by listening to what he—along with Yamadera and Hayashibara—has invested into this show.


And so, my eleventh love letter to anime in 2016 goes to the love triangle of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū, and I pray that Kiku/Yakumo will find something of solace before the final curtain falls on us later this Winter season.

A Love Letter to 2016, part 10: I want to know your name.

Just three left! I’m embarrassed to admit, however, that your name. nearly didn’t make it onto this year-ender. As I noted a couple of months back, I’ve never been a big Shinkai Makoto fan, largely because his films have always felt somewhat ‘cold’ to me. His latest offering has definitely changed that—after I caught it for the second time when Madman brought it Down Under, it squeezed a couple of the other candidates that I’d been considering off this list. I just loved seeing Mitsuha and Taki find each other once again.



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A Love Letter to 2016, part 9: 91 Days of pathos

Looking back now, this next pick of mine has not aged as well as all the other shows on this list. 91 Days, which ended just one season ago, left me with a huge lump in my throat as the final credits rolled. However, the sheer level of animation that I’ve treated myself to over the last three months has made even skimming through to find screenshots rather painful.


What made 91 Days work was probably its writing. Again, this wasn’t always perfect—I remember seeing someone comment, quite early on, that his historian brother was quite disgruntled at the unrealistic American countryside and mafia lingo that the writers had decided to go with. Admittedly, some of the latter could be fixed with a good dub script. If anyone’s seen the Funimation dub, please let me know if that’s worth a watch.


Where the show excelled, on the other hand, was in the story arcs of its characters. As the Josei Next Door has discussed in great detail over at the Anime Evo, there are a lot of subtle details that illustrate where both Angelo and Nero start from and the lessons that they learn through the course of the Shakespearean-like tragedy that we see them living out over those 91 days. A strong knowledge of Shakespeare will help you pick up on all that subtlety, but even if you’re somewhat lacking in that department—like yours truly—the show packs a powerful punch in its last few episodes.

And so, my ninth love letter I write this year goes to Nero and Angelo, wherever they may be.

A Love Letter to 2016, part 8: and the Euphonium sings again

Moving on to the series that took my AOTY crown last year. This year, I was spoilt for choice with Sound! Euphonium. I really enjoyed the second season, especially the scene in episode 10 where Kumiko confronted Asuka, only to have her own major flaw laid out in front of her. What’s really great about that scene, however, was that Kumiko pulled herself together and said what she really thought, a shift that then continued through the rest of the series in the context of her other important relationships. So whilst certain parts of the fandom railed at various developments in this second season, I absolutely loved what we were presented with, especially from that episode 10 scene onwards.


However, it was in a little cinema way out in Chiba prefecture that I found the Eupho experience that I remember most fondly from 2016. Two and a half hours out there, two and a half hours back, and about an hour and a half hanging out in a tiny, half-deserted mall…admittedly, the cinema staff were dressed up that day promoting Alice Through the Looking Glass, which was fun to watch. But the real reward was undoubtedly the 103 minutes in that darkened cinema, culminating in a wonderful rendition of “Crescent Moon Dance.” There are no words that can adequately convey what it felt like, but if I had to choose just one, then I’d say that it was, quite simply, overwhelming.


And so I dedicate my eighth love letter to anime in 2016 to that glorious, ephemeral experience, one that I will cherish for a long, long time.

A Love Letter to 2016, part 7: the Kizumonogatari Inferno


Next on my list is the film that arguably got me paying a little more attention to sakuga, that is, the animation aspect of anime: Kizumonogatari: Tekketsu-hen. I have to admit: the only reason I sat down to watch this one this year—rather than waiting to watch all three Kizu films at once—was that I found Nekketsu still playing at cinemas when I landed in Tokyo at the end of September. Having avoided most of the promotional material out of a desire not to spoil the experience, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. And this is the main thing I remembered:

Watching Nekketsu straight after that was a bit of a deflating experience, I have to admit. I think I just couldn’t get the impact of this scene out of my head, and I dearly wish I’d had the chance to see it on the big screen. I’m madly envious of all the US fans who got a theatrical release of both films back in October!

In any case, now that the second BD is out, we’re all just waiting for Reiketsu to drop. Japanese fans will get it in just one week! Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll be able to catch it at the cinema this time, and thus probably won’t be able to get hold of that third movie pamphlet to complete my collection. But I’ll still be grateful that I had that chance to see at least one film on the big screen, and hope that Madman will manage to bring all three Down Under one day.

Hence, it’s to the Kizumonogatari films that my seventh love letter of 2016 goes.

A Love Letter to 2016, part 6: sound and silence in Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress

As some of you may have noticed, this year saw me take a couple of strides into an area of anime production that few viewers consciously pay attention to: sound design. Not only did I research and write a shortish editorial focused around ERASED and Knights of Sidonia, I went out of my way to translate interviews with the sound director and sound editor for Yuri!!! on ICE. A few of you may remember that I first became curious about anime sound design when I was looking into the interviews for ERASED. What fewer people are probably aware of is that Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress was actually the series that made me look up and write that editorial.


Kabaneri is a bit of an odd inclusion in this list given the theme I have chosen. It’s the title I’ve gone back-and-forth about including over the past two weeks. But no matter what I think of the show as a whole, it’s opening salvo remains one of the few first episodes that has ever left me shivering. There was this palpable sense of dread that I can’t even remember sensing for many modern Western thrillers…though some of the older ones like Rosemary’s Baby and Hitchcock’s Psycho had it in spades. Oh, and I can sense people rolling their eyes at me comparing Kabaneri to those classics!

But when I rewatched the episode to find out how it had hooked me so effectively, I’d have to put it down to the sound design. And it wasn’t Sawano Hiroyuki’s music—although I like some of his earlier soundtracks, his score for Kabaneri is not one I remember—but rather the effective use of sound effects and silence:

Since then, I’ve found that this kind of moment is quite effective for a range of purposes. orange is another show where I noticed it, in episode 2 when Kakeru and Naho hang out together for the first time. Is it emotionally manipulative? Well, yes…but if you don’t really notice it at the time, then that’s effective sound design, is it not?

So, unlikely though it is, my sixth love letter to anime in 2016 goes to the sound design in Kabaneri. Whether I watch the sequel or not is another question, though… (^^;

A Love Letter to 2016, part 5: the axis on which Bungo Stray Dogs turns

For most of its first cour—and even some of its second—Bungo Stray Dogs was a show that I found myself reconsidering every single week. Despite a strong visual style courtesy of esteemed director Igarashi Takuya, there were issues with the main character and plot that I found a little annoying. Despite the manga running in Young Ace, which is a seinen magazine, it often felt like a typical shōnen story to me, with episodic battles and whatnot.1 And to be honest, many of the characters felt like stock characters that we’ve seen in countless other stories already.

It’s in a certain side character that I found something more interesting to pay attention to. Although I found the drawn-out joke about his suicidal tendencies somewhat distasteful (even though it’s based on the real author that was his namesake), the darkness behind Dazai was something that I really hope the show would explore, and boy, did the show deliver!


Admittedly, this is also the choice I feel most guilty about. Why? Because Dazai is an absolute jerk. I’d have to agree with Chuuya there, he’s the last person I’d want to work with, because of the psychological games that he likes to play. Dazai isn’t one of the most feared individuals in the world of Bungo Stray Dogs because of his special ability of “No Longer Human,” nor because of his physical strength. What he holds over others is the way he is able to manipulate them to accomplish his goals, which he is frighteningly good at. But it’s precisely because of this that you want to see Dazai use this ability for good, right?

And thus, I write this fifth love letter in the hope of seeing more Dazai somewhere down the track!

  1. I suspect that others might disagree with me here, because a protagonist with self-loathing and self-belief issues like Atsushi is, I suspect, relatively unheard of in shōnen manga, which is typically about individuals with a lot of self-belief. That is to say, they’re individuals who work hard by themselves and with friends, and thus overcome massive odds in order to accomplish what they set out to do. Atsushi first has to find his reason for living, and that’s definitely a more complex idea to tackle. I’m not entirely sure they sold it all that successfully, however. 

A Love Letter to 2016, part 4: why Joker Game killed me…

If you’d told me before its eleventh episode aired that Joker Game would be part of my end-of-year review, I would have said you were crazy. And then I would have had to eat my hat almost the very minute the episode finished.



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