This post has been delayed for far too long. That I waited until this year to watch some of the best shows from last year contributed to the delay; though, laziness stands as the primary cause. It is remarkable that four of the top five were aired on Amazon and that one streamed on Netflix. Most of my anime is viewed by way of Crunchyroll, which often errs on the side of quantity over quality. (Not a bad thing if one wants a more complete experience of each season.) I have the impression that Netflix and Amazon have more resources to either contribute to making or culling the crème de la crème from each season’s lineup.
Having said that, I wish that I could have included a show streamed from that pillar of the online anime community. If this list had been made in January, I would have included a couple of them. And so, let me list a couple of them to begin with as honorable mentions:
- Recovery of an MMO Junkie ★★★★
- Aho-Girl ★★★★
The likability of the cast of characters in Recovery of an MMO Junkie rated off the charts. Aho-Girl was simply the absolute funniest anime from last year, but it’s hard for a comedy to compete with more serious productions.
That the show in fifth place for 2017 has a rating of four and a half stars speaks to the quality of anime last year. The top five from 2016 would also have held this distinction if I had watched Ajin when it aired. Other than this year and last year, I have to go back to 2006 in order to find a top five rated so highly. If you’re curious, my top five from 2006 are Code Geass, History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi, Utawarerumono, The Third: the Girl with the Blue Eye, and Black Lagoon. The Year of Our Lord 2006 certainly counts as a godsend for anime fans!
If 2018 gives us similar quality, I might have to say that we’re in another golden age of anime–just as people described anime in the early 2000’s. I want to write a post about how anime went from a golden age (2001-2009) to a slump (2010-2014) from which anime has been recovering since 2015. I am rather curious to see whether my perspective matches that of my dear readers. In particular, I want to see how the year one became an anime fan (2003 in my case) and how one’s three favorite genres (action, fantasy, and comedy) influence one’s perception.
Anyway, let me get on to the top five of 2017!
5) Land of the Lustrous ★★★★ 1/2
This anime offers a very sympathetic heroine in Phos. (I know: the gem people technically lack a sex. But, it is impossible for a sexual species like ourselves to portray personhood without sexuality. It’s impossible to imagine Phos as belonging to a category separate from womanhood. Knights of Sidonia also attempts an asexual character with Izana Shinatose but cannot escape portraying her as an adolescent male until Izana transforms into a woman.) Then, Land of the Lustrous manages to create an immersive fantasy world despite being spare and empty. A very Buddhist aesthetic in the anime makes one call the series a myth rather than a fantasy. This helps Land of the Lustrous to come across as a very unique production.
The plot follows Phos as she emerges from her existence as the the most hapless and dependent in a large family of gem people to becoming a useful and independent member of this society. That she starts this process in her 300th year sends the message that it is never too late to better oneself. The other important message is that, no matter how much outside help one receives, only you can realize your inner aspirations. The headmaster, Kongou, gives Phos various jobs in his attempt to make her useful. Nothing works until mentoring by Antarcticite helps focus the desires Phos already had. Phos gradually replaces the weak parts of herself with stronger materials so that she can become the warrior which she always wanted to be in her heart of hearts.
Overall, this was a beautiful, moving, and meaningful anime which only lacks closure and a tightly focused plot. Any of my dear readers who have not watched this anime needs to give it a try, especially if you love fantasy. I very much look forward to the next season.
4) Onihei ★★★★ 1/2
Six months ago, this stood at the top of my list for 2017. Samurai tales brought me into anime, but these have become few and far between. In terms of TV anime, the last good samurai anime to come out was Mushibugyo back in 2013–unless you want to include Gintama as a samurai anime. This anime might fall in that genre, but Gintama combines so many genres that it’s hard to keep up with them: comedy, science fiction, parody, fantasy, drama, etc. So, I hesitate to call Gintama a samurai anime–as much as I love that long running series.
Onihei itself derives from a series of historical novels written by Shotaro Ikenami. Our hero is the head of a police force specialized in investigating arson and robbery, and we are treated to plenty of action and crime drama. The Japanese love using crime stories to examine a person’s motivations and inner self, and Onihei comes as an excellent example of this tradition. The complex and deep characters in this anime are a pleasure to watch.
The depth of the characters help suck the audience into the story. The animation tends to be very beautiful, though the anime cuts costs in notable ways: such as by placing faceless CGI persons into the background at various times. The fight scenes were very well done. Give this show a shot if you like samurai, mystery, or drama.
3) Children of the Whales ★★★★ 1/2
Children of the Whales struck me as the best anime Netflix released in 2017. As I sometimes do with Netflix anime, I watched the show in German. This proved to be a good choice, as the thematic struggle of the anime concerned whether it’s right to punish descendants for the crimes of their ancestors. Yes, one can easily apply this idea Germany; though Japan also has a tense relationship with its neighbors because of the war crimes committed during WWII. Besides the theme, the avengers hail from “the Allied Empire,” which brings to mind the Allies of WWII.
One might say that punishing the descendants for the crimes of their ancestors is obviously unjust. But, not all people feel this way. (Let me emphasize “feel” rather than “think.” It is not reasonable to punish the grandsons or the great-grandsons for their ancestors’ failings unless these commit the same crimes. The motives for such revenge lie in resentment rather than reason.) Thus, activists push for group reparations by reminding certain peoples over and over again about their ancestors’ sins. Others cannot disassociate the crimes of radicals from peace-loving members of a community. The desire for revenge can be passed on not only from father to son but even across many centuries. I can’t recall the last anime to deal with such a thing, but feel free to note some other titles in the comments.
As for the nuts and bolts of Children of the Whales, the animation stood out as being spectacularly beautiful. Plenty of action and exciting fights occur after the resentful Allies attack the Mud Whale. The characters make up for their lack of depth by being very likable. Certain villains, whether of the Allied Empire or Shuan–the leader of the Vigilante Force, stand out as being some of the most sinister and twisted characters of 2017.
2) Made in Abyss ★★★★★
The first of the two masterpieces made last year. A dear reader of this blog recommended Made in Abyss to me, and I did not take it up until the season was long over. As many other bloggers talked about their favorite anime from 2017, Made in Abyss came up again and again. So, I gave it a shot. A part of me also wished to place this as my #1. Yet, my absolute favorite holds a special appeal for a novelist like me. You’ll see why shortly.
Like everything on this top five list, Made in Abyss boasts some exquisite animation. The great abyss on the border of our heroes’ town inspires the imagination with its perils and fantastic environments. Fascinating, macabre, thrilling, and moving, Made in Abyss cannot but be a classic.
Part of the reason I put this anime off lies in how grisly some of the situations are. Then, the fact that children suffer all these horrors is very off-putting. For example, it’s hard to watch a twelve year old attempt to save one of his peers’ lives by trying to amputate a poisoned limb. And, the characters look younger than they are! A very good tale, but not for the faint of heart.
1) Re: Creators ★★★★★
Re: Creators instantly connected with me. Besides including a gorgeous redhead with divine proportions, the anime was about authors (of which class, I belong), their relationship to their characters, and the role resentment plays in twisting people’s souls. Much of the richness of this anime derives from how it mirrors the relationship between God and humanity. There is some interesting commentary on the Problem of Evil, as characters question their creators about why they have to suffer so much. And, you might say that the anime reveals the ultimate cause of suffering to be separation from God, which we see in the suffering of the archvillain Altair.
In the extreme resentment of Altair–resentment at a world without God and without meaning, reminded me somewhat of chapter six of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s* 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Essentially, some people can become so resentful and twisted that they hate existence itself and want to revenge themselves on Being. Of course, Being Himself is God, and God is immutable and unchanging. Since these vicious and resentful people cannot hurt God, they hurt His creation or His people–they imitate Cain’s slaying of Abel out of jealousy. When people go down that far down the road of resentment, only God can save them.
Despite having a diabolic personality, Altair’s suffering makes her a sympathetic character, and the viewer alternates between wanting her destruction and her salvation. The compelling battle between our heroes and Altair is drawn out with interesting dialogue, moving scenes, and deep characters. I loved the opening and ending song, and the soundtrack is superb overall. If you have not watched Re: Creators, you need to give it a try.
What were your favorites from last year?
*You may have read about this professor as being far-right, alt-right or some other brand of extremist. But, Jordan Peterson is ultimately a psychologist who wants people to be happy. He has been given a ton of speaking engagements and is embroiled in political controversy, but helping people to find their way to good and meaningful lives is his ultimate goal. Philosophically speaking, he’s a Pragmatist. (The only major philosophy to originate from America–which says a lot about American character.) Politically, he ascribes to British Classical Liberalism (e.g. John Locke, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill) with its beliefs in individual sovereignty, individual rights, capitalism, democracy, and the separation of church and state.
In an absolute sense, Classical Liberalism falls on the center-left of the political spectrum. Peterson is Canadian, but, on the spectrum of present day American politics, Classical Liberalism falls on the center-right. (America’s political founding combined ancient English rights and laws with ideas from new liberal philosophies. So, with this historical basis, many Americans who call themselves conservatives are classical liberals–conservative in respect to American heritage but liberal in respect to older European conservatism.) Having described the sort of philosophies Jordan Peterson ascribes to, it’s easy to see that only someone with an agenda or immersed in a far left atmosphere–the kind where anyone right of Lenin is a right wing extremist–would describe Jordan Peterson as being of the same class as people who favor Fascism, Nazism, Absolute Monarchy, or Military Dictatorship.