As always, this article is provided in video format and transcribed directly below. I would like to note that my articles are written first and foremost to be experienced as videos (that is, read aloud), so no guarantees that jokes, grammar, or anything else will transition entirely smoothly to text.
This year and last, instead of a personal “top” list, I went for a popularity list, ranking the year’s most popular anime according to MyAnimeList. That’s fun, I really enjoyed making that video both times, but part of me couldn’t help wondering: why? By nature, every anime on that list was popular, and something you probably already had an opinion on. Love it or hate it, I would guess most of you had already heard of Re:Zero, Mob Psycho, KonoSuba, Yuri!!! on Ice and Erased. So it seemed more responsible of me to use this end-of-year list format as a platform to talk about shows that you may not have heard of, hidden gems that very well could’ve slipped below the radar of a casual viewer. So here it is, ten not-so-popular 2016 anime that I think you should watch.
Please note, “not-so-popular” is defined strictly as just a series that did not make it on my last list, the popular list. There are certainly things on here with ardent fans, but a clear line had to be drawn somewhere. Also, in addition to the rule that everything on this list has to be actually over (sorry, March comes in like a lion), I have decided to include no sequels. 2016 had a lot of great sequels, too many in fact. There’s enough that, between JoJo, Gintama, Danganronpa, Ushio & Tora, Euphonium, Durarara, Prisma Illya, Haikyuu, and Natsume, if I allowed sequels this list would probably be mostly sequels, and that’s just no fun. So everything I talk about henceforth, you can go and watch right now with no strings attached. Finally, before we begin, let it be known that this list is in no particular order. While there are some shows here that I like more than some others, all ten I feel are worth looking into in some capacity.
So, without further ado...
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Available on: Crunchyroll
It is absolutely criminal that this series had to be relegated to the “Not-So-Popular” list. Not only is it an anime I’d highly recommend, it is quite possibly my favorite anime of the year, telling the simple story of two rakugo performers. Rakugo is a traditional form of Japanese storytelling, wherein a single person will sit in front of a crowd, with only a fan and cloth as props, to tell a tale, usually a long, winding, comedic tale, and one in which the rakugo performer plays every character. Rakugo as a form of entertainment has somewhat understandably fallen out of favor in the modern world, what with the advent of film, radio and television, so an entire series based around it might not sound especially exciting... but it really is, for a number of reasons.
First off, the visuals. I hesitate to specifically say “the animation”, because while the animation is good (particularly for a Studio Deen production), what really sells it is the direction. The rakugo performances are always a treat, shuffling between different angles and shots to illustrate and accentuate the events and characters of the performance. Better yet, these performances are often delivered in full, or close to it, minutes upon minutes of subtlety and nuance that always establish or forward the character that is performing. It’s a delight, and that’s without giving mention to the characters as characters, since at the end of the day the show is more than just a rakugo showcase. It is a drama; a grounded, heartfelt, tragic drama that never failed to captivate. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is excellent, and with a second season starting, well, today, there’s no better time to check it out.
Lupin III: Part IV
Available on: Crunchyroll
I know, I’ve only just started and I already broke my “no sequels” rule, but I’m willing to get away with it for this one because Lupin tells self-contained stories. It’s like an episode of The Simpsons. There’s this main cast of characters that always pops up and has all these relationships between each other, but there’s no real beginning or end to the story. There are constants; Lupin is a thief, Jigen is a crackshot, Goemon a samurai, Fujiko a femme fatale and Zenigata the cop after them all, but that’s it. That’s all you need to know. From there, you can pop in any episode, and enjoy it just as much as someone who’s been through all three parts prior (which would frankly be somewhat surprising, considering Part III aired during the mid-80s).
This Part IV can sometimes get a little bizarre, perhaps too much so for its own good, but when it just settles back and throws the master thief into new and wacky situations, from simple robbery to long-term imprisonment to love potion chaos to James Bond showdowns, it strikes a very neat balance between fun and action. And if you enjoy or have enjoyed Part IV, this is my chance to plug a spin-off, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which aired a few years back, and is more dark and stylistic, but in my opinion just as much worth your time.
Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume (Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet)
If the words “Key visual novel” send you running for the hills, this one might not be for you, but if you’ve seen their work and have ever felt it tug at your heartstrings, Planetarian most definitely deserves a watch. It’s only 5 episodes of varying length, totaling about 100 minutes, telling the straightforward story of a man and a machine. The man, Kuzuya, is a grizzled looter, scavenging around the remnants of society after the more-or-less end of the world. The machine, Hoshino Yumemi, is a service android at the local planetarium, powered by backup generators for the last three decades, waiting for but never greeting even a single customer… until one day when Kuzuya stumbles upon her.
The story that follows is not wide-reaching. It’s not a tale of saving the world, of rescuing survivors, or even of eking out a better life. Instead, it’s more about the momentary bond that these two share, isolated and at peace in a world that has otherwise completely fallen apart. Key stuff can be hit or miss, I freely admit that, but this is one of their cleanest hits. It really won’t take long, just go watch it.
I must admit, Flip Flappers slipped under my radar as this year’s fall season began. Sure, the PV looked good, but PVs aren’t always indicative of the final product, and the studio’s resume did not shoot me full of confidence with only two prior productions (one of which was Dimension W), so I was skeptical. Even by the end of first episode, I wasn’t entirely on board. It had indeed been well-animated, but it was also erratic and off-the-wall and seemed like the kind of thing that wouldn’t exactly culminate into anything special. By the end of the third however, I was transfixed and ready to sit this ride through to the end. Putting aside that, contrary to expectations, the animation remained very strong, Flip Flappers’ design work is boundlessly creative, imagining dimensions of all shapes and sizes for our main characters to tromp through, from tranquil fields of snow to actually rather unnerving schoolhouses.
And all that wrapped up in characters that take a journey, and a plot that somewhat comes out of left field, but doesn’t feel incongruent. There’s a lot of heart here, a lot of love that can’t help but make you smile. If you need your anime to be more put-together in the story department, and aren’t happy with simply the artistry doing the talking, I couldn’t fully recommend Flip Flappers but for everyone else, absolutely go for it.
Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge (Tanaka-kun is Always Listless)
We all have those days when we don’t want to do anything. We just want to lounge around, sink into the sofa or curl up in bed, and embrace the joy of listlessness. That feeling is Tanaka-kun’s default setting. He’s laid-back, unenthusiastic, sleepy and lethargic, nearly perfecting a complete lack of presence... and that’s the entire show, in a nutshell. Tanaka and his other, less listless friends, going about their lives. It’s hard to describe what exactly makes it work, but it’s a riot. Whether it’s getting into odd situations and not having the will to get out of them, or getting into normal situations and not having the will to get out of them, Tanaka’s relentless pursuit of sloth is wonderfully endearing. And it has a pretty great opening theme too, so even better.
That’s all I got. Slightly shorter than my spiel for the others, but sometimes a series’ appeal is simple.
The polar opposite of simple. Start with nine characters. Then, separate them out. Then, follow each of them intently, but regularly switch between their stories on a dime. Then, have them all talk as fast as possible and cram as much information as they can into their conversations. Then, layer it all in between eccentric direction and actually quite good animation, plus a convoluted story with heavy ties to the occult and the supernatural, and that’s the experience of watching Occultic;Nine. It’s insane, but it’s so confident in its insanity that it pulls you along for the ride.
Some people felt overwhelmed by this series. Others felt it was too disjointed or nonsensical or just too fast, and these are valid complaints. I can understand why this is not a show for everyone, but it is a show for me. I love rapid lunacy that manages to tie itself together in a semblance of sense, as is somewhat the case with series like Baccano and especially Durarara, and Occultic;Nine scratched that itch. It was weird and maybe overstuffed, but entranced me regardless all the way through.
Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari (Poco’s Udon World)
Available on: Crunchyroll
This slot was a tossup between Poco’s Udon World and the somewhat similar Sweetness & Lightning. Both focus on an adult man, well into the career of his choice, living alone with a small child. In Sweetness & Lightning’s case, this is his daughter, and in Poco’s, it is a mythical shape-shifting Tanuki. If you just want a dose of cute, both shows will work fine for your purposes, but neither is without its own pros and cons. Sweetness and Lightning can be a little more feels-y, but the episodic structure is much more formulaic and has a chance to lose viewer interest over the course of repetition.
Poco’s Udon World, on the other hand, spends a lot more time telling a likeness of a story, and fleshing out the myriad grown-up characters. Each major adult in the show will generally get some sort of flashback or focus episode to help understand them and what makes them tick, such that the ultimate climax does not feel unearned. And of course, otherwise, there’s an adorable kid to fawn over if all else fails. If you crave those fluffy feelings that only these types of shows can create, give it a shot.
Tales of Zestiria the X
This anime is adapted from the video game with which it shares its name, and it’s not hard to describe the appeal: ufotable. I won’t put up any pretense, that’s the only reason it made the list. The story is workable but unremarkable, and the characters fairly one-note, so it has to lean very heavily on its visual presentation; that is, its effects, backgrounds and animation, which is fine by me. I love the digitally-drenched ufotable aesthetic. Action scenes burst with flashes and colors, while everyday conversations will be basked in glittering light and realistic shadow. Even their CGI is constantly the industry frontrunner. So while I cannot recommend Tales of Zestiria if you want anything more than pretty pictures, I would highly recommend it if you are into pretty pictures, and can tolerate a lackluster plot for the sake of them.
Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko: Everything Flows (She and Her Cat: Everything Flows)
Available on: Crunchyroll
This is a short series based on an early work of Makoto Shinkai, who is currently making the rounds as the director of Your Name, and when I say “short”, I do mean short. It’s the shortest thing on this list, shorter than even Planetarian, sitting at just less than half an hour. As the name would imply, it’s a story about a woman and her cat. From a cat’s-eye view, we see this woman struggle with her college, her job, and her friends, always comforted at the end of the day by her fluffy little companion. It’s not an extremely in-depth story, but for its length, it’s a short and sweet one that will probably make you go “awww” at one point or another.
Uchuu Patrol Luluco (Space Patrol Luluco)
Available on: Crunchyroll
There’s only two things that really need to be said about Luluco: it’s created by Studio Trigger, and it’s directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi. If you’re not familiar with the name, you are almost certainly familiar with the repertoire, including Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, and Kill la Kill. Luluco is perfectly at home among those greats, despite being a short series with only 7 minute episodes. It’s zany, it’s fun, it’s… I wouldn’t exactly say powerful, but it does have a message, even if a simple one.
The cherry on top is that Luluco makes heavy references to a bunch of other Trigger properties, from Little Witch Academia to Inferno Cop (although for that reason, I can’t fully recommend watching it until you are familiar with the studio’s other offerings.) But bottom line, if you’re an Imaishi fan, you owe it to yourself to check Luluco out, because it’s more of exactly what we’ve come to love and expect.
And with that, we’ve reached the end. That’s all for me so, what were your favorite not-so-popular anime of 2016? Maybe something I missed, or something I didn’t even watch? I tried to watch a lot, but it’s near impossible to watch everything, so feel free to comment that below.
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