Welp, the year is coming to an end. 2016 has been a tough year for the world at large, and a stressful year for me personally, what with transitioning entirely to freelance work the year before. Fortunately, 2016 was also a pretty excellent year in anime – there wasn’t anything I loved on the level of a Shirobako or an Eccentric Family, but the breadth of the year’s top tier was pretty dang remarkable. This season in particular was a real standout, offering a substantial portion of the shows that’ll make up my final top ten. We’re arriving at final episodes now, which is sad, but I’m never unhappy to see good shows end strong. Let’s run these titles down, and get ready for whatever 2017 may bring!
Sound! Euphonium didn’t exactly give me the episode I was expecting or truly hoping for this week, but what it offered was a very fun episode all the same. Instead of a sumptuously animated nationals performance, the entire Kitauji performance was actually cut out of this episode – instead, we got the closure and comedy-filled build-up and cooldown. Both Kumiko and Asuka got some powerful key moments near the end of this episode, while the show seemed to finally remember that Reina’s crush is actually pretty silly, and thus dunked on her feelings in every way possible. Cutting out the performance allowed this episode to settle far more narrative threads than would otherwise be possible, which ultimately felt appropriate – not only is this an ensemble production, but winning nationals was far less important than these characters coming to terms with why they play. Euphonium apparently still has some unexpected tricks up its sleeve.
Girlish Number, on the other hand, just had a flat-out disappointing episode. With last week’s sharp Chitose-focused scenes already having succeeded in investing me in her drama, this week’s further articulation of those feelings felt superfluous and overlong. There were charming moments here, and the show did some nice work in strengthening the relationships it’s established so far (Momoka and Kazuha have become very strong friends at this point, while the reveal of Koto and Gojo’s history lent both of their stories some substance), but overall this felt like an awkwardly paced extension of Chitose’s fall, covering material that only really needed half an episode. Hopefully things will come together more gracefully for the show’s conclusion.
Meanwhile, Yuri!!! On ICE had the opposite problem, a problem it’s had all along – far too little time and visual resources to tell the story it wanted to tell. Compressing the entire free skate portion into this final episode, and making sure every single skater’s performance was covered, meant this was one more breakneck run-through of skater after skater taking the ice and then rushing off to their happy ending. I’ve heard the staff list for this episode was basically a parody of time-crunch staff numbers, but the end result actually kind of worked; both Yuri and Yurio’s performances here felt like they were more effective articulations of emotional arguments than many previous performances, where the voiceover has had to dictate what we’re supposed to take away from sequences that we’ve already seen before. In the end, Yuri on Ice was an endearing show, but its issues of structure, character writing, and execution will probably keep it from sticking with me. The show was a hit, though, so hopefully the likely sequel can avoid running into this season’s pitfalls.
And dipping outside of problem land entirely, holy shit this week’s Flip Flappers. I had some minor issues with last episode’s structure, but this one was just a gorgeous and emotionally gratifying highlight from start to finish. Yayaka in particular was given a pile of wonderful material this week, as she truly deserved, moving from heartfelt personal confession to ass-kicking flip-flapping in one climactic battle. And even after a full episode of gorgeous fights, inspiring personal turns, and very sharp bits of character writing, Cocona’s final conversation with Mimi still managed to impress.
I’ve been very impressed in general with how these last few episodes have managed to integrate Mimi naturally into the overall plot – far from being some arbitrary villain, her nature and feelings are a perfect compliment to the show’s general thoughts on family and identity. Mimi echoes Cocona in a variety of ways, and also legitimately wants to help her, but is only able to act out through the behavior she herself has experienced. I loved the vulnerability even her villainous side expressed when trying to explain herself to Papika, and loved even more her comforting words to Cocona at the end. This show has built up these emotional issues so consistently through every single element of its production that these conversations feel as emotionally loaded as possible; small comments like “it’s okay to afraid of failure, we’re all like that” carry all the weight of Cocona’s insecurities. Flip Flappers is turning out to be the surprise highlight of the year.
March comes in like a lion took a bit of a breather this week, cooling down after two straight matches with more slice of life material. But before that, we got a wonderful sequence conveying Rei’s fever dreams, which put the show’s usual water imagery to work in a variety of compelling ways. This is still March comes in like a lion, after all, so even the new year episode has to be seasoned with suffering and accompanied by reflections on our desperate attempts to escape from loneliness. Still, most of this episode was just outright charming, with very little of the abrasive humor that can sometimes drag down the show’s lighter segments. What of that did exist here came courtesy of grandpa – the Kawamoto siblings themselves have become an always-welcome part of the cast at this point, offering not just charm, but also a variety of distinct perspectives to accompany Rei’s reliable mindstate.
March’s platform is steady enough at this point that I’d be happy to see this show continue for a long time; it’s not a show that needs an extremely clear dramatic arc, because it’s more about exploring these characters and appreciating the bonds they establish. There are themes, but they’re not themes that will arrive at “resolution,” at least until Rei somehow repairs his relationship with his adopted siblings and comes to term with the death of his original family. And since March is smart enough to understand those aren’t narrative hoops to jump, but lifelong problems to grapple with over time, I can’t see that happening any time soon.
And finally, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure concluded its fourth arc in spectacular fashion. There was plenty of beautiful animation in this episode, mostly shown off in the various ways Kira died a horrible death (first exploding, then getting run over, then getting dragged into the void dimension by grasping hands), and also a bit of satisfying action, but this episode was mostly dedicated to epilogue. That felt right for this arc – moreso than any arc before, Diamond is Unbreakable has been about a specific place and the specific people who inhabit it. The action and theatrics were always nice, but Diamond is Unbreakable’s core was its distinct and very welcome focus on a small, specific world, a place that ultimately developed a personality of its own. I was sad to see all these wacky characters go, but also sad to see Morioh itself make its goodbyes. The show seemed to understand what a strong character Morioh was – repeated birds-eye shots of the town felt deeply nostalgic, especially since you could actually point out landmarks like the school, the docks where they fought Chili Pepper, or Yukako’s cliffside home. This was JoJo’s best arc so far, and I’m happy the show’s been successful enough to get us here. Here’s to many more!