Welp, it’s yet again the start of a new season, which of course means the usual deluge of articles reflecting on the previous season. Like always, my method is a bit more involved than a simple list of my favorite shows from that season, as I like to recognize shows in various categories. Coming off the heels of the insanely stacked Fall 2016 season that few knew would be just that damn good from an overall quality standpoint and with the overwhelming majority of anime fans looking ahead to the mega hype of the Spring 2017 season on the horizon(a hype that in the last week significantly decreased among fans who don’t use less than kosher means to view their anime thanks to forces outside their control, but that’s a subject for another article), the Winter 2017 season had a tough road ahead of it.
Because it didn’t have as many shows as the Fall 2016 season, many deemed the season “weak” simply from an apparent lack of entertaining titles. However, if there is anything I have learned in the years I’ve been watching seasonal anime, it is that you could always count on the Winter season to deliver hidden gems, and deliver Winter 2017 did. I saw a total of 16 shows this season through to the end, which was actually more than I was expecting to see heading into it. This time around I’ve also decided to greatly expand my number of awards by adding in 7 new categories(5 new production awards, 1 new show award, and 1 new character award). So with that all nice and covered, let’s get started with my production awards.
(Warning, there be some spoilers below)
Ten people. That is the grand total number of staff members who worked on Kemono Friends at Yaoyorozu. They had the odds stacked against them with the game the anime was supposed to promote being killed off just weeks before the anime was to debut and as a result, the collaboration went with it. Their budget was so constrained they couldn’t even afford to properly animate the wheels on the Japari Bus in the opening.
Yet despite that, everything somehow just...worked. They took the crap hand dealt to them and fought tooth and nail to make something out of it and ended up with the run away hit of the season. It’s the kind of success story you are more likely to find in the video game industry with an indie game than in the anime industry.
I was also impressed by both what KyoAni and Studio NuT managed to do this season as well. KyoAni proved they can still successfully break away from their signature visual style they’ve been using the last few years and Studio NuT busted onto the scene with one of the most impressive debut titles I’ve seen from a new studio, but the fact that a freaking ten person team was able to churn out a full length anime series, even one with rough visuals like this one, is just quite frankly a god damn miracle. These people are anime gods to be able to accomplish such a feat. Bow down at their feet! I said bow down at their feet!
Winner: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
It is no secret that KyoAni does good animation. Hell people get hyped for every KyoAni show in part because they know it will not only look good, but consistent. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is an interesting example of KyoAni’s work, in that it doesn’t often have big flashy displays of animation like in the above GIF. Rather it tends to have more subtle animation, giving out the spectacle as little treats instead. Regardless of which style they were giving us at a given time in this show, it looked great and was a rather clear choice for me. I was also contemplating March comes in like a lion, but what gave Dragon Maid the edge for me was that March sometimes reused animation cuts, and there were some periods of a noticeable drop in quality in some shots as the show progressed.
Winner: March comes in like a lion
As a show from Shaft, it is rather hard to describe the art style to March comes in like a lion. In no small part thanks to the fact that the show utilizes a wide range of styles in key moments, rarely using the same style twice outside of reused animation. March comes in like a lion is just a visual treat, even if the mouths look weird in the show’s main, default style.
Winner: “Los! Los! Los!” by Aoi Yuuki (Saga of Tanya the Evil)
This season had a pretty strong lineup of quality EDs. There were a lot of cute or catchy EDs like the endings to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and Interviews with Monster Girls, but I am an absolute sucker for OPs and EDs sung by the voice actors in the show performing as their character, and this guttural rock song with Aoi Yuuki singing while doing her Tanya voice shows just how talented she really is.
Nearly all season long this was my clear favorite, but it ran into some stiff competition late in the season when I binged watched Kemono Friends. Kemono Friends’ hauntingly beautiful ED feature glass silhouettes of the characters standing among the ruins of abandoned amusement parks help set the tone for that series. So I settled this by having the most enjoyable music face off I’ve had in a while, just listening to these two EDs back and forth over and over before siding with Tanya’s ED.
Winner: “Whoa, I Battled with Game Cards!” (Akiba’s Trip: The Animation)
So this is the first in what is going to be a running theme in this article, which is the battle between what I know are better constructed shows and what I enjoyed the most. What I mean is, for example, I think the “best” episode this season was “Episode 11" from Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju(which, btw, is seriously the episode’s title). However, as a fan of trading card games who has been playing them off and on since I was in freaking middle school(and I started middle school in the fall of 2001 for reference), this loving parody send up of the games and the cartoons based on them just spoke to me at my very core. It was probably the most sustained laughing I had in any episode of a comedic series this season, though Konosuba and the others did have me laughing harder at specific jokes, this episode had me laughing basically from start to finish.
Winner: Hail to the King (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 2)
So this one is technically a bit cheating, since this moment is from the finale of Iron-Blooded Orphans, which isn’t even on Crunchyroll at the time of this writing, but screw it, it’s a Crunchyroll series so it still counts damn it! Anyways, while the runner-up for this particular award, which was Kontasu getting to perform rakugo on stage for the first time as an adult, got me a little misty-eyed, this moment had me feeling a whole array of emotions. Seeing Mika and Barbatos Lupus Rex go into a blood rage the likes of which I’ve never seen in a mecha series was just a badass treat.
This one scene, this one fight, is why I am so god damn glad that Iron-Blooded Orphans did away with beam weapons(mostly). The pure visceral adrenaline of this fight is something to behold. This was, for me, the best combination of visuals, music, and sound effects in the entire season, as the King of Wolves zipped across the battlefield, growling and howling like its namesake animal, all while making satisfying crunching sounds as it ripped through Mobile Suits like tissue paper. Also doesn’t hurt that this moment intersects with bar none the most satisfying moment of the season, either.
Winner: “Shadow and Truth” by ONE ||| NOTES (ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.)
The last time I fell instantly in love with an OP the first time I heard it was Death Parade’s. Yet that’s what we have here. This was my favorite of the season from beginning to end, as I just could not resist, in the immortal words of Lucio from Overwatch, giving myself to the rhythm. There were many strong OPs this season, though, and they ended up giving this one hell of a fight, in particular Rakugo’s OP, which I think actually had the best visuals in an OP this season, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid’s OP, which admittedly actually took me a few episodes to like because of just how weird it was the first few times I experienced it, but by either episode 3 or 4 I’ll fully admit that I was doing the “noodle dance”, as it has become known as around the Ani-TAY community, along with the dragons in the OP and did it every week from then.
Winner: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 2
My favorite soundtrack each season tends to either be the one I think adds the most to its show or is the most memorable one of its season that I listened to. In that regards, this season there were only two real contenders for me, ACCA and Iron-Blooded Orphans, and interestingly enough the two soundtracks are basically opposites for the most part. ACCA is a lot more cool and reserved, like the characters in the show. On the other hand, Iron-Blooded Orphans’ soundtrack is like its characters, epic, loud, and boisterous. While ACCA’s soundtrack does one hell of a job at setting the mood for many of the scenes, in the end I just think Iron-Blooded Orphans’ had a bigger impact.
For example, if you told me to name a single soundtrack song title from this season, the only one I’d be able to immediately name is “Crescent Moon”, the main theme of the show. You know, it’s that one badass violin and guitar song that played in most of the fight scenes involving Tekkadan. If you’ve seen IBO you probably have that song in your head now, even if you didn’t watch that video above. That song by itself I’ve listened to numerous times in my spare time this season. It’s just that badass. Though, I should also give a shout-out to the shockingly really good dubstep/EDM that is used as part of Kemono Friends’ soundtrack, even if I don’t know what the tracks are called.
Winner: Kemono Friends
Sometimes a show’s story isn’t in its present, but its past. Not only does Kemono Friends have one of the more well crafted subtle tales of mystery I’ve encountered, the show has one of my favorite kinds of stories, a meta story. You see, the story of Kemono Friends directly ties into the fate of the game the series was based on. The game was one of those free to play mobile games that is all the rage in Japan right now. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t one of those that exactly caught on, and was summarily canned just a little over a month before the anime was supposed to start. This ended up becoming a blessing in disguise, because the lack of players in the game now becomes a massive plot point when it comes to the downfall of Japari Park. Even better, this show doesn’t directly tell you the whole story, but instead places clues all over the place, which has led to a ton of discussion among the fans of the show to figure out just what exactly happened.
If you know me, you know I love the hell out of shows that foster discussion with the viewers. I mean, Gatchaman Crowds Insight was my Anime of the Year for 2015 because of this very reason, for crying out loud. This is a prime example of a series that tells its story through its world building, and it utilizes every entry in the franchise to help add to this. With so many franchises trying to become multimedia works, it is fascinating to actually see one of the few to nail the format. Is it the best story of this season? Honestly, no, not really, but it was certainly the most fun to experience.
Winner: Aoi Yuuki as Tanya von Degurechaff (Saga of Tanya the Evil)
*slow clap* This is just a phenomenal performance from Aoi Yuuki. She has the unenviable task of playing a little girl who literally has the mind of a cynical grown Japanese man, and somehow make it all sound convincing. But by god she managed to do it. On top of that, she gets to show her range even more when she has to do things like make Tanya sound all sweet and innocent when she gives out a warning to a city she is about to attack, just to technically adhere to international laws regarding war. Her crowning achievement, though, is an epic explosion of rage and frustration at the bullheaded stupidity of her superiors at the end of episode 11. Aoi Yuuki’s performance in this scene was just so damn good it actually made me feel bad for Tanya for once.
Winner: Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
What a surprise, the show that not only got this last Winter, but got my nod for favorite writing for the entire year in 2016 adds even more writing hardware to its shelf. Rakugo is just an exceptionally well-written series. They even managed to rather successfully navigate the minefield that is having a major female character getting pregnant/becoming a mother. Time and again in works of fiction when a prominent female character becomes a mother, especially if they are a woman of the “feisty” variety like Konatsu is, they tend to become, I guess the best word I can think of to describe it is “domesticated”. Not Konatsu, her claws are just as sharp as ever, regardless her age and number of kids. The show even manages to make Yotaro interesting to watch, which I wasn’t sure they could do after giving us an entire season following Yakumo’s past as Kikuhiko.
Now let’s move on to my show awards.
Winner: Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 2
Every god damn week this season I went back and forth between this and Saga of Tanya the Evil being my favorite action series of the season. The reason for this was simply because the two shows would seemingly alternate which one had the more awesome fight scenes every week. In the end, while Saga of Tanya the Evil did indeed have some outstanding action scenes, eventually it became clear that Tanya and her squad had some level of plot armor in their favor, whereas over in Gundam Land, named characters started dropping like flies, and of course, Iron-Blooded Orphans just had the better overall fight scenes, including one that as I mentioned earlier was my favorite moment in the entire freaking season.
Winner: Kemono Friends
I honestly don’t get to see adventure anime of the “road trip” variety that often nowadays, probably because they don’t make that many of them anymore. Regardless, Kemono Friends is a surprisingly engaging trip through the freaking massive Japari Park as Lucky Beast guides Serval and Kaban to find out the truth about what animal Kaban really is. Not necessarily a high stakes adventure, but a fun one nevertheless.
Winner: Konosuba Season 2
Konosuba’s back and funnier than ever! Though in exchange for some sacrifices. The overall visual package is definitely a bit weaker this time(though oddly enough the highest peaks of animation seen in the series happen in this season too), and things are less grand adventure feeling. It was a worthy sacrifice though, as Konosuba’s second season sometimes had me gasping for breath at some of the jokes. I probably prefer the first season just a tiny bit more as a complete series, but the second season is absolutely still a blast to see.
Winner: Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
To the shock of no one in particular, Rakugo yet again grabs another one of the awards it won both in last Winter and in my end of year awards. What can I say, this is just a finely tuned dramatic machine. I’m more than comfortable enough to say this series is in my current Top 10 all time favorites, and easily my favorite drama anime. It’s just that god damn good. March comes in like a lion did make a strong push this season, though, and honestly probably would have taken this if the entire show was more like what we got this season.
Winner: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
So yeah I really love Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. I also love its monster girl brethren from this season Interviews with Monster Girls. I think highly of both shows, I just liked Dragon Maid a bit more, as it felt, I don’t know, more ambitious I guess you could say. You really can’t go wrong with either show, and I fully expect both of them to be in the mix at the end of the year for my overall favorite slice of life show for the year.
Winner: Ninja Girl & Samurai Master
I’m going to be honest here. There were other shorts this season, yes, but for all intents and purposes the Winter 2017 season was a one-short season. Koro-Sensei Quest was amusing, but it heavily relied on knowledge of Assassination Classroom, because it is basically a comedic abridgement of AssClass, and Ai-Mai-Mi is the same weird drug-fueled....thing that it is, but the only short I’d flat out call good this season was Ninja Girl & Samurai Master, which continued with the hilarious Sengoku period edutainment that earned it a spot on my Top 10 2016 shorts list. With a new season starting in Spring and the current shorts outlook for the next few seasons also being dire, get used to seeing this series pop up here.
Winner: Kemono Friends
Honestly there isn’t really anything else that could be here. I mean I suppose one could argue for Saga of Tanya the Evil because few people expected it to be as good as it ended up being after the first episode, which wasn’t a bad episode, just a misleading one. However, while it is true that Saga of Tanya the Evil was surprising, it wasn’t anywhere close to being the surprise that Kemono Friends ended up being. Scores of anime friends dropped this show during its first episode like a bad habit. Many more avoided the show as soon as they heard it was CGI animation.
Those who stuck around, however, were rewarded with a true gem. No one even expected this show to do good. It was basically sent to die, with even merchandisers barely making anything for the show. Yet despite that, Kemono Friends became the Little Animu That Could, and just skyrocketed in popularity over the weeks. Hell, even I didn’t finish the first episode when it debuted because I just assumed it was a show for little kids. That all changed when many of the anime people I knew on Twitter just wouldn’t stop talking about the show, so I cracked and gave it a shot. And now here I am, refusing to stop talking about the show. Funny that.
Now let’s move on to my character awards.
Winner: Kemono Friends
You get a waifu! You get a waifu! You all get a waifu! Ok, so I can talk up the show’s story and world building all I want, let’s be honest here, a significant part of the show’s success came from its literal god damn menagerie of waifus. There is so many waifus in this show that it is impossible to walk away without one...or two...or maybe three...
Impressively, despite the sheer number of characters, so many of them are rather memorable to me, thanks to their simple, yet quirky and often accurate character traits. For example, American Beaver’s neurotic worrying about her building decisions or Crested Ibis, a bird that was once all but extinct singing sorrowful songs about trying to find her friends. Plus, this show has PPP, the quintet of penguin idols who ended up being the best idols featured in this season.
Winner: Tanya von Degurechaff (Saga of Tanya the Evil)
Ok, this one is a bit complicated, because technically speaking, Tanya is only a female character in body, as Tanya literally has the mind of a man. But for the sake of my sanity, I’m just going to put Tanya here. So, yeah, Tanya is a raging prick, and I love her for it. Or rather I love seeing her be dicked around by Being X and how she reacts to all of it. Again, a big part of my enjoyment when it comes to Tanya is thanks to Aoi Yuuki’s incredible performance as her. It’s not often I get a character I love to hate that isn’t an antagonist as well. The art of a protagonist you love to hate is a delicate balance. You have to properly keep their level of assholeness and level of comeuppance just right, or you will get a series with either an insufferable douche for a main character or a series that is just too cruel to the main character.
Winner: Yakumo Yurakutei VIII (Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju)
So Yakumo gets to repeat on a technicality, thanks to me placing Tanya under the female character category. I say that because Tanya is honestly my favorite overall character this season. Still, Yakumo is firmly my second choice, because he still retains all of the qualities that made him fascinating in the first season, but now with extra geriatric seasoning making him crotchety to the Nth degree. Much like with Tanya a lot of my love for Yakumo comes from his voice actor, who also has an impressive task of playing an actor, so you have the trippy situation of an actor playing a character who is playing multiple characters.
Winner: Rustal Elion (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans Season 2)
Despite winning this award, Rustal Elion is not a full on evil villain. Like the winner of this award last Winter, Reoko from BBK/BRNK, Rustal is very much an antagonist, though. He’s cold, calculating, and more than willing to both bend and break the rules to achieve his goals. Yet despite all of this, he is more of a shades of grey character who just happens to be standing on the other side. He’s really no different than some of the very people we as viewers were cheering for. Hell, he’s not even the most vile person connected to Gjallarhorn.
Winner: Kai Shimada (March comes in like a lion)
This was basically a two horse race this season as it came down to Shimada and Satania from Gabriel DropOut. However, despite Satania doing her best Russell Westbrook impersonation by putting the entire show on her back and carrying it through its first half until the show finally started doing new jokes, for all of her efforts she only carried a show that would have in all honesty been pretty bad without her to merely being entertaining. Kai Shimada, however, turned a show that I once thought was beautiful, but flawed, into a great show. Everything about the show, except for maybe the consistency of the animation, improved once Shimada came onto the scene. His arrival took a show I would sometimes grimace at the prospect of watching, and made it into must-watch TV for me.
And last, but certainly not least, my favorite anime of the season.
Winner: Kemono Friends
Seriously? Yes, seriously. Over Rakugo, Dragon Maid, Gundam, Tanya, Konosuba, and everything else? Yes, over all of those shows that I also greatly loved. Ok, look, it’s no secret I sometimes pick something “out of left field” as my favorite of the season. Just look back to my Spring 2016 awards, where I gave Anime of the Season to Joker Game. So, yes, I know the series has some less than stellar CG animation. Even the animation program used to make the series isn’t up to snuff, because there is some clear performance issues when they breach a certain threshold for characters on the screen. I also know full well that Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is a better show, top to bottom. Hell if I was doing this by what I thought were the best things, Rakugo would honestly be walking away with as many of these things as I can heap upon it.
However, all that said, there is a very stark difference between what I think is the best and what I enjoyed the most, and plain and simply, pound for pound the most fun I had watching an anime this season was with Kemono Friends. A few days before the finale aired, I marathoned all the available episodes in a single day, all while interrupting my binge every couple of episodes to look up what theories other people had and to talk to people about the show. For a show all about friends(quite literally, the animal girls are actually called Friends in the show), it was rather fitting that I ended up making some thanks to it.
You can dislike the show for its animation, I perfectly understand, because you can pretty much see the budget. You can dislike it because you think it is shallow, that’s cool too, because I’ll even admit that it is shallow in many aspects. You can even dislike it simply because it is somehow extremely popular. But for me, flaws and all, Kemono Friends has been a great reminder of just how inherently silly and fun anime can be, which is honestly kind of what I needed right about now.
So there you have it, my favorites from Crunchyroll’s Winter 2017 season. So what about you guys? Which shows did you like from this season?