Naughty and Nice 2016 #3: The Year in Anime

NaughtyNice

I’m going on the naughty list this year because I’m behind on my anime. While preparing for this feature, I realized that everything “new” I watched this year was old news.

Luckily, Angela and Alex are much, much better at this, and they can pick up my shameful slack.

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1. Berserk 2016 Can Do No Right
Fans who had clamored a long time for a new Berserk series were delighted to hear that an adaptation going beyond the Golden Age arc was finally being created. However, the reception quickly became negative once the PVs were released and the heavy use of CGI became apparent. Many fans couldn’t stomach the thought manga creator Kentaro Miura’s art suffering such an injustice and passed entirely on the series. Others gave the first episode a try, declared the graphics to be on par with a bad PlayStation 2 game and dropped the series. Sadly, the production company, Liden Films, and the director, Shin Itagaki, mostly produced comedy series before tackling this epic dark fantasy. The CGI was so problematic that much of it was replaced by traditional animation for the blu-ray release. A pity a studio like BONES or Madhouse couldn’t have picked up Berserk.

2. The Decline of Anime on Hulu
In the past, Hulu used to be a dumping ground for a variety of new and old anime series. In June, the anime community received a huge shock when it was thought that a huge number of series would disappear from the streaming service due to them expiring. It turned out the number was far smaller than originally thought. That said, Hulu as a service does want to focus on more popular shows instead of keeping catalog that nearly no one watches. The number of NEW series airing on Hulu fell off sharply during the summer, with series like season two of The Legend of Arslan being completely ignored. On the upside, there’s always Crunchyroll…

3. Attack on Titan went AWOL on Fans
Remember when Attack on Titan was HOT stuff? The series originally ran in April of 2013, and the sequel was announced in 2014 with a broadcast date of 2016. Fans assumed the series would hit during the spring, then it was announced the series would be pushed back to the fall. Finally, it was announced that the series had slipped into 2017. Some fans blamed Wit Studio for focusing on the production of other series like Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and Seraph of the End. Other productions or not, the true test for Studio Wit will be if the second season is as popular as the first, or if everyone has simply moved on.

4. Toei Keeps Dragonball Super Away From the West
Dragon Ball Super began its run in July of 2015, but it took until NOVEMBER 2016 for the series to be streamed in the West. The wait was so bad that many fans had given up on seeing the series in English legally and resorted to fansubs, and illegal streaming sites. With Toei Animation being so tight-lipped, it is impossible to know why it took them so long to approve the series for streaming outside of Japan. Could they have wanted an immediate TV premier? Were their asking prices too high? We’ll never know. Nonetheless, late is better than never, especially with a dub (via FUNimation, of course) and a Toonami broadcast set for this January.

5. Anime on Amazon Video Prime Leaves Everything to be Desired
Remember when everyone was talking about Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress? Me neither. The show premiered during the spring season, but Amazon announced it was getting into the anime business via its video streaming service. The first show it picked up was Kabaneri, which left fans discouraged because it was trapped behind a paywall. While lots of fans have Netflix, Crunchyroll, Hulu, and even FUNimationNow, not a lot of people were willing to pay $99 upfront for Amazon Prime just to see one show. (If fans already had Prime, this wasn’t an issue.) So either fans skipped the show entirely or they relied on fansubs to follow the series. It also didn’t help that Amazon didn’t do much to promote the existence of the show. Needless to say, the buzz around Kabaneri was quite muted, even if the show itself (despite being accused of being an Attack on Titan clone) was pretty good.

1. Berserk 2016 is Imperfect, but Enjoyable
Berserk makes my nice list because while the anime had CGI animation stiffer than a piece of cardboard soaked in starch, the strong story made up for the lackluster animation. (In my opinion, I prefer weak animation and strong story to the exact opposite.) In fact the presentation was strong enough to bring in new fans (such as myself) who may have skipped the manga, the original 1997 series, and the three movies. While the animation was subpar, the direction was quite interesting and many fight scenes were exciting. The chaotic camera movements could be pulled off in a way that 2D animation couldn’t have achieved without a huge budget. It’s probably because of the complexity of Miura’s artwork that not many studios will even attempt to tackle Berserk, but I’m glad someone did. Furthermore, the show did well enough for a second season to be produced. Look forward to that in spring 2017, or not, depending on your tolerance for bad CGI.

2. FUNimation and Crunchyroll Partner Up
One of the biggest surprises of the year was the partnership between North American anime industry giants, FUNimation and Crunchyroll. Many fans feared this was a merger, but both companies made it quite clear that they’ll remain separate entities. With this partnership, more titles would be shared between both companies. Crunchyroll would handle and host subbed series, while FUNimation would focus on dubs. The effect has been amazing with shows like Cowboy Bebop and Pyscho-Pass on CR, and dubs of shows like Mob Psycho 100 and 91 Days on FUNimationNow. No doubt this arrangement will help the two licensors obtain better deals from Japanese producers when it comes to picking up shows for the Western market. Best of all, the partnership feels like a dream come true for fans who were worried about the increasing fragmentation of series on streaming sites.

3. Wolf’s Rain Howls in Glorious HD
Wolf’s Rain is one of my favorite BONES series. When Bandai Entertainment was shuttered in North America, it was unclear who would pick up the license. The show had only a single run on Toonami in 2004, but received various DVD releases. It was also odd that Japan had not put the series out on blu-ray. Many fans felt an excellent, but underrated show would go by the wayside. Then FUNimation suddenly announced in November that they had acquired the license to the series and that it would be released on blu-ray and DVD in February. What’s more striking is that FUNimation took the time to do an up-conversion as a Japanese blu-ray set still does not exist. This licence rescue was a pleasant surprise for diehard Wolf’s Rain fans.

4. 2016 is a Strong Year for Anime
Much of 2016 has been a disappointment to many people, but for anime fans it has been a strong year. Each season has received outstanding and memorable shows that will stand the test of time. 2016 is the same year that gave us the excellent Erased, season two of Food Wars!, Yuri!!! On Ice, Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World-, Mob Psycho 100, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, the end of the Durarara!! series, another season of D.Gray Man, two Mobile Suit Gundam shows (Thunderbolt and Iron Blooded Orphans), Drifters, Berserk, and so much more. Sure there were a bunch of duds (looking at you Ace Attorney), but overall 2016 was a standout year.

5. Some Older Series Receive a Second Life in 2017
It was a surprise to see D.Gray Man come back in 2016, but 2017 has even more surprises. Shows long thought to be left for dead, or unadapted are making a return. The Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Impure King Arc was an eye-raising announcement. A-1 Pictures’ 2011 adaptation deviated from the manga, by adding a different plot, and an open-ended conclusion. With the exception of a side story movie release in 2012, it seemed as if Rin and his pals were done. However, more seems to be in-store for fans. As for the anime-original elements in the 2011 series, A-1 Pictures seems to be side-stepping them entirely. Another surprise was the announcement of a new Full Metal Panic! series. The last time anyone heard a peep from FMP! was in 2005 with the release of The Second Raid. The light novel series, which the anime is adapted from was finished in 2010. At this point, fans (myself included) had written off the prospect of seeing more FMP! being animated, but again this comes as another pleasant surprise. Anime-wise, 2017 is off to a good start.

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1. The continued lack of information regarding “Your Name”
Makoto Shinkai’s works are amongst the most beautiful in all of anime, especially “The Garden of Words.” Plotwise, the works come up short in terms of structural integrity versus a Ghibli film (see “Children who Chase Lost Voices”), but they do a masterful job of prodding, even mangling, your soul into submission (see “Voices of a Distant Star”). The newest work, “Your Name,” has been a huge success in Japan since its release in August, earned millions of dollars worldwide, won multiple awards, and had its US premiere at Anime Expo in Los Angeles this year. However, despite all this success and its licensure by Funimation, there have only been a few small bits of information regarding additional showings in the United States, including plans to have it shown during 2016. Dates? Times? Theatre locations? All the important bits are still missing, so essentially those who weren’t able to make it out to Anime Expo this year didn’t have a chance. All we need are the aforementioned 3 bits of information, and this continued withholding is seriously testing my patience.

2. Lost potential with “Dimension W”
There was so much to like about this series. Interesting main characters, interesting concepts, seemingly nice plotline, catchy music. But then everything had to be ruined by needlessly adding secondary plotlines, introducing nearly a dozen horrendous secondary characters, and doing a haphazard job of explaining past events and mechanics of the current time. It’s a case in point of needing to focus on the basics and getting them right first before trying to be clever with other things, and perhaps one of a few series which starts off good but then deteriorates as it goes on. It’s a frustrating series, one that if done properly could have been hugely popular, but instead must settle for being mediocre and heavily flawed.

1. High marks for “The Boy and the Beast”
This coming-of-age film is directed by Mamoru Hosada, who also produced masterpieces such as “Summer Wars” and “Wolf Children.” “The Boy and the Beast” continues the trajectory of excellent films, with wonderful storytelling and captivating visuals. The themes and feelings that the story evokes are complex and deep, managing to transcend elements of right and wrong and instead making it feel extremely personal, even if my family situation was much better than Ren’s. The film had a nationwide release in the United States in 2016 and was also released on disc later this year. While I haven’t picked it up just yet, I do intend to soon and it is an easy recommend for me.

2. The wonderfully enjoyable “Yuri on Ice”
While the series is still being aired, the episodes I have seen so far have absolutely hilarious. It is the story of two figure skaters named Yuri, who have a fierce rivalry with each other due to the actions of another famous figure skater named Viktor. There are quite a lot of shonen-ai actions and overtones ala “Free”/“Free Eternal Summer”, but it is not overly imposing and in-your-face ala “Yuri Kuma Arashi.” Perhaps the best asset, however, is that while each Yuri has their primary personality for which others see them for, he also possesses an alter-ego, one which shows a side hidden from public view and revealed only to those worthy enough. This is a wonderful way of fleshing out these individuals, and makes them feel much more relatable to the audience. Each episode is over too soon, and as of this writing there have been 10 released. I have high hopes that the series will continue to be excellent.

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