2017 was not a fun year.
2016 was especially bad too, but it had an element of surprise to it with its inexplicable terribleness. 2017, on the other hand, was an expected kind of bad; we knew it was going to suck, and it did thanks to a never-ending stream of depressing real-world events. It’s not a year I like to revisit, but there was a silver lining: almost as if to give us a reprieve, 2017 was packed with media and entertainment to distract ourselves with (if not actively help us through) as the year trudged on. Pop music had a decent amount of good stuff, the golden age of television continued on strong, gaming was highlighted by the Nintendo Switch launching, and anime… well, this was a bit of a weird, transformative year for the medium and the industry. Everyone argues about what year “anime became mainstream”, and while I think it’s still relatively niche compared to other mediums, 2017 is when it became very much less niche. And it was all thanks to one movie.
You know its name.
There’s no correct way to measure “greatness” when it concerns media or art, but two metrics that are often utilized are reception regarding critical and financial success, and how the piece of media affects and shifts the surrounding landscape. Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name did both of those, and while it was a movie that was originally released in 2016, it was in 2017 when its full effects were really felt. Your Name not only achieved a level of success that only Studio Ghibli films usually get, it ended up rewriting the rules for how anime is distributed and released. Your Name was originally released in Japan and several other Asian countries in 2016, but its global release was hit and miss, especially in America where we had to wait until the next year in order to see it legally outside of anime conventions (ironically, Your Name’s premiere was at the 2016 Anime Expo in Los Angeles). Before this movie came out, anime receiving theatrical runs in the states was mostly limited to one-night screenings, usually for ultra-popular shows that had massive followings like an occasional Pokémon movie, or sometimes stuff that got lucky like some of Mamoro Hosoda’s works. Your Name, however, was neither of those. Shinkai was a decently well-known director, but this movie came out of almost nowhere to become the highest grossing anime film of all time, and soon afterwards a film that received great interest in an official US release. While various other countries had Madman Entertainment or Anime Limited to thank in getting a release outside of Japan, it took Funimation until April of 2017 for the film to get a widespread American release, and while it did sadly miss out on a nomination for best animated movie at that year’s Academy Awards, it achieved a posthumous success where it completely changed the anime landscape.
Since Your Name, anime has found the most interest it has ever had in not only an audience that’s eternally hungry for new content but now distributors who’ve made it easier than ever to legally consume it. Many popular anime movies now getting (albeit limited) screenings, and which anime shows get picked up by whom has turned into a competition, with various big-name media distributors now having a real interest in getting a handful of shows per season for their respective streaming platform. While this has resulted in content being more accessible than ever, it has also paradoxically resulted in anime being locked behind a new kind of wall. Where before the problem was just anime not being legally available for viewing, in 2017 (and to this day, sadly) the new problem was anime being on platforms that can now really cost you if you’re not careful. Admittedly there were bright spots such as the short-lived partnership between Funimation and Crunchyroll, but 2017 is when the two most accursed names in anime streaming came into their own: Netflix, and Amazon Prime’s Anime Strike.
I remember back in 2010 when I first got a Netflix account and stared in wonderment at the incredible anime library the streaming giant had gotten for (what was) relatively cheap, but those days went away as soon as people realized “oh wow, weebs really want this stuff”. Hulu’s library took a massive hit in 2016 that also changed how various companies acted with their distribution licenses, and Your Name’s success fully pried open the pandora’s box on who had the rights to what. The “old” players like Crunchyroll and Funimation are still going, but anime fans are already all too familiar with the foretold streaming wars, and even though we saw some early factions fail in spectacular fashion, said failures took some really good shows down with them. While Netflix’s inexplicable attitude towards anime release schedules has become especially reviled in recent years, 2017 was the year where the most hated name was Anime Strike, Amazon Prime’s anime streaming channel that was locked behind a double paywall where you had to pay a $5 a month subscription on top of a $100 a year membership. Thankfully this only lasted for a couple of years, but by the end the damage had been done: a handful of great shows lost their chance to get timely recognition, and those that did saw their later success thanks to being re-distributed on services like HiDive. And you know it’s bad when a show gets more popular after it gets onto HiDive. While Prime’s channels are still here, they’re now mostly utilized for big, pre-established channels like HBO. Locking an entire genre away, without even going the extra mile by making a new dub or funding your own original series, is where the limits for anime streaming were found. Even though things have gotten better in the two years since its demise, Anime Strike was very much the low point of the year for anime.
All that said, what were the actual shows of 2017 like? Well, the year wasn’t a hit factory like 2018, nor was it a year were one or two anime completely dominated the discourse like 2015 was with shows like One Punch Man and Death Parade. No, 2017 was something in between: it had a decent number of hits, but its hits remain some of the most remarkable anime of the decade. Just as Your Name changed the landscape of how anime was distributed, the series of 2017 showed just how far the medium had come and where it was possibly heading. Of course, the year was packed with shows that were eagerly anticipated and well received on their release like the second seasons of Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia and Konosuba, the Naruto Sequel series Boruto, and KyoAni’s instant hit Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. There were also sleeper hits that found their audiences like Kemono Friends, Tsuki ga kirei, and Tsurezure Children, and of course there was enjoyable trash like Netflix’s first wholly original anime project Neo Yokio. But the real groundbreakers, the shows that in retrospect came to define what made 2017 so different from every other year in the 2010s… somehow, most of those shows got onto Anime Strike. Yes, for one infamous, incredible year, the worst anime streaming service was the best anime streaming service.
I want to make it clear, these shows weren’t great because they were on Anime Strike, just that Anime Strike somehow got four of the most memorable shows of the year, and that they have become some of the defining shows of the decade because of their own merits. It must be said that Anime Strike’s poaching of quality shows wasn’t completely unforeseen, given that in the previous year they picked up The Great Passage, another cult classic of the 2010s, and that they got the license to stream long dormant movies like Memories. But the first series that really caught people’s attention, that made them curse Amazon while simultaneously singing praises for the show itself, was Scum’s Wish. High school dramas have been a staple anime genre for decades, and while they did really well in the 2010s, this one in particular was immediately recognized as something special. One unintended consequence of the newfound availability in anime via streaming is that some shows still struggle to market themselves effectively. Sure, Funimation making a full-on dub for a trashy isekai doesn’t raise any eyebrows, but a high school drama that fully goes into sexual relationships? That’s still a bit of a hard sell. More… mature shows still aren’t a common sight on Crunchyroll, and while some services like HiDive will (for better and worse) take chances, shows like Scum’s Wish found a surprising but welcome home on Anime Strike.
While it was annoying that the show was locked behind the aforementioned double paywall, the fact that the first few episodes were as hyped as they were spoke to just how unique this show was. I still can’t quite believe Scum’s Wish exists, but looking at the 2010s as a whole, with the success of shows like My Youth Romantic Comedy SNAFU and Your Name, high school dramas might honestly be the anime genre that evolved the most over the decade. They have gone so far past “will-they-won’t-they relationships” and now allow for stories about young adults fully exploring and interrogating what they want from relationships, where their boundaries lie, and even discovering what full acceptance feels like, while also learning about respectful rejection and ending things on the right terms. Recent shows like O Maidens in Your Savage Season owe some of their success to works like Scum’s Wish, and the fact that we got a series that portrayed this kind of subject matter without once ever feeling like it was doing it for attention or for kicks speaks for how far this genre and its fanbase has come.
The most popular show on AS, however, was a fantasy series that started out as a welcome reprieve from the multitude of isekai and quickly became one of the most emotionally devastating yet fascinating shows of the decade: Made in Abyss. I said two years ago when I first watched it that it was “like a Miyazaki movie if it stabbed you repeatedly in the heart,” and while I’ll admit that statement isn’t 100% accurate, it still does paint a picture of what the show is like: a robust fantasy setting that’s incredibly beautiful, centered a woman protagonist with mystical companions but set apart by being at times devastating to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if people started this show thinking it’d be alright for most audiences with maybe a hint of horror, but by the end there’s no mistaking that Made in Abyss could be downright horrific when it wanted to be. However, underneath the gore and soul crushing character moments is a series that improves upon its source material by moving away from some of its preexisting problematic elements, and focusing more on what makes Made in Abyss a truly great fantasy series. It was also notable for having a trademark musical score composed by an Australian, signaling another trend of 2010s anime in that they are becoming more and more globalized in their production. I can’t say a whole lot more about this show than what’s been said, but make no mistake, this deserves its reputation as a gruesome but nevertheless glorious show.
If you had told anyone at the start of 2017 that one of the best shows of that year was going to be a CG series, they probably would’ve either not believed you or said “come on, the year can’t that bad.” Thankfully, not only was Land of the Lustrous well written, acted, and directed, but earned widespread recognition for just how amazing it looked, effectively cementing itself as the best-looking CG anime ever made. That isn’t a high bar, I’ll admit, but Land of the Lustrous deserves that honor not just for the slim competition there is for the title, but because Studio Orange effectively rewrote the rulebook on what makes for good anime CG. Before Lustrous, anime CG looked and felt like it was something that was used when there were constraints, and while studios like Polygon Pictures and Sanzigen made admirable attempts, shows like Knights of Sidonia and Arpreggio of Blue Steel still left you wondering “wouldn’t this look really cool in 2D instead?” Good writing and direction can only take you so far if body language and facial animations create a disconnect that can’t quite be bridged.
Lustrous, though, bridged that gap by going above and beyond with its animation. Incredibly detailed character models that had greater range of movement and expression, increased framerates that made motion look more fluid while not falling into the trap of distracting motion-smoothing, and deft animation choices that allowed for Lustrous to actually utilize traditional 2D animation in scenes where 3D simply wouldn’t be the best choice. Orange hit it out of the park not by treating 3D animation as a cost-effective means but by seeing how many possibilities (and limits) it’s capable of. Oh, and the show was good to watch, too, thanks to a subtle but effective musical score and great writing that made Lustrous an outstanding character focused drama. Not unlike Abyss, Lustrous too was an adaptation, but exactly like Abyss it followed the golden rule of adaptation in that it knew what made the original manga work so well, thus allowing the show to improve in areas that made it stand apart from the existing source material. I’m still hoping for a second season, but right now I’m more than content knowing that Studio Orange is here to stay thanks to their continued success in 2019’s Beastars… which also wound up in streaming service purgatory somehow, but hey, it’s still a great series.
My favorite show of that year, however, is one that unfortunately hasn’t found a second-life on HiDive, but nevertheless became a true cult classic, going by how much of a fanbase it found for itself in the years after it finished airing. In the 2010s, superhero movies progressed so much, from the MCU to the reinvention of the X-Men series to the hit and miss DCEU, that the outlandish and incredible premise of Spider-man: Into The Spider-verse was not only greenlit, but was successful enough to achieve financial success and an Oscar win at the 2018 academy awards. The year before, however, anime had something akin to that movie, with a show that a decade prior would’ve been unthinkable, but thanks to an ever-evolving medium, industry, and fanbase, it was not only greenlit but found itself widespread recognition in spite of its initially limited access. Yes, I would go so far to say that the anime equivalent to Into The Spider-verse was Re:creators. Not by their notably different and distinct stories or themes mind you, but by what they represented in their respective creative fields as achievements that really represent how far things have come. As Spider-verse proved that audiences can enthusiastically accept a multiverse and wildly different people embodying the essence of a well-known character, Re:creators showed that a story could outright pick and choose aspects from multiple genres and mediums, be one of the most meta anime ever made, without buckling from the weight of its own ambition, instead standing as a truly unique show.
Re:creators has a concept that makes you go “why did no one try this before?” Sure, fictional characters coming into a “real” world has been done before, but I can’t think of any other time when a series, movie, etc. went so far with the concept, both by having a clear element of realism (in “how would this actually play out in real life?”) while also going deep into obvious subjects like death of god, death of the author, and fictional creations surpassing their original state. The show also feels like a love letter to anime fans of all stripes, especially in the final episodes where we see the fictional characters achieve their completed character arcs, from archetypal rivals ending a feud by simply talking things out, to the Shinji Ikari stand-in achieving closure and resolution that would actually feel in-line with what Evangelion has been pushing towards for decades, to various characters embracing empathy both in themselves and in their own work. In a weird way, Re:creators almost feels like a show we were always building towards, something that on a base level is just cool to watch, but on a meta-level is a celebratory deconstruction of a medium and the creative process itself.
Recreators, along with Scum’s Wish, Made in Abyss, and Land of the Lustrous, following up on the trailblazing success of Your Name, is how I ultimately view 2017 in anime, in the context of the 2010s: it wasn’t a hit factory, but in terms of shows that showed how far the industry had come, and shows that offered a glimpse of where things are headed, that year was a pinnacle.
You’re reading AniTAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku’s community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. AniTAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. To join in on the fun, check out our website, visit our official subreddit, or follow us on Twitter. You can follow TGRIP on Twitter @Dennis_wglasses, find his other work on Unwinnable.com and aniTAY, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SVJ”.