One last hug to the year’s favorites.
Did you miss out on Part 1? Fear not! You can click here for the bottom half of the Top 10, including honorable mentions. Or, if you’re ready to check out the cream of the crop, hit the jump and read on for more.
As a reminder, all seasons that ended in 2017 are eligible for this list, including sequels, even if they began their run in 2016 or earlier. Ongoing series (like The Ancient Magus’ Bride) will be eligible in 2018.
So here we go, my five top (read: favorite) shows of the year! Drums rolled? Fingers crossed? Angry comments about the series I didn’t include typed and at the ready? Perfect. Let’s do this thing.
5. ClassicaLoid – Season 1
Episode Count: 25 (Season 2 currently airing)
Season Director: Fujita Yoichi
In a Sentence: Classical composers are reborn in the modern era, where they goof around, wax poetic about gyoza, and use the supernatural power of “Musik” to help out their high school landlady, Kanae.
Content Warning: Comedic violence
…Okay. Look. Yes. Deep down in my heart of hearts, I know, dammit. I know Made in Abyss is a more impressive production, Scum’s Wish is a more ambitious and complicated narrative, and Natsume’s Book of Friends is a more elegant and emotional episodic tale.
I also, quite frankly, don’t give a damn, because none of those shows made me as giddy each week as ClassicaLoid did, none of those shows helped me through the dumpster fire months that were the end of 2016 and the beginning of ’17, and none of those shows are ones that I would watch again, right now, with anybody who wanted to see it, no hesitation. I freaking love ClassicaLoid, and if you can’t put the things you love in a Top 5 list on your own blog, then honestly, what’s even the point?
This show is an utter delight and only improved as its first season progressed. The staff gained confidence and fully embraced the show’s weirdness, going all-in on premises as ridiculously varied as “Beethoven seeks the perfect cup of coffee” and “Schubert turns into a fish.” Oh, and have I mentioned its female characters are wonderful and it’s quietly, gleefully progressive, too?
The shenanigans are exquisite, the dynamics between characters fresh, and the dialogue snappy. But what really makes this series special is the way it endears the audience to its cast through steady character development and bursts of sudden sincerity. Most comedies (anime or otherwise) occasionally attempt to balance wacky hijinks with genuine emotional beats. Many fail. ClassicaLoid succeeded almost every darn week. It was a joy to have this Saturday Morning Cartoon on my schedule, and I’m so glad I get to keep hanging out with the gang as Season 2 continues into next year.
ClassicaLoid is licensed by Sentai and is streaming on HiDIVE. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
4. Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou)
Episode Count: 12
Studio: WHITE FOX
Series Director: Ozaki Takaharu
In a sentence: Two girls travel through a nearly abandoned city at the end of the world, uncovering their world’s past as they do their best to survive.
Content Warning: Mild nudity (bathing scenes, not sexualized)
I still can’t believe Girls’ Last Tour swooped in out of absolutely nowhere to claim a spot on my Top 5. I darn near put it even higher than this. I binged almost the entire thing less than a week ago and am still bathing in the afterglow of such a surprising, thoughtful, poignant little series.
As I said a couple days ago in my Season Retrospective, despite the lack of a clear plot and some tonal dissonance in the first couple episodes, GLT builds on itself beautifully, slowly creating a world and tone that is at once heartbreakingly bleak and warmly peaceful. In a kind of “road trip” format, the series uses its setting and characters (Chiito and Yuuri, two girls whose squabbling but intimate relationship feels refreshingly realistic) to ask questions about life, death, and what it means to be human with an elegance that’s rare to find.
While it doesn’t provide much in the way of answers, it doesn’t leave its audience or characters entirely void of hope, either. Neither optimistic nor despairing, GLT explores how people find meaning in their lives and does so beautifully, combining wistful music with melancholy backgrounds with character designs that seem as simultaneously fragile and resilient as the world around them. Don’t dismiss the blobs, folks—they’re part of one of the finest atmospheric stories of the year.
Girls’ Last Tour is licensed by Sentai and is streaming on HiDIVE and Amazon. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
3. Land of the Lustrous (Houseki no Kuni)
Episode Count: 12
Series Director: Kyougoku Takahiko
In a sentence: In a place where sentient gems are on constant guard against “Lunarians” seeking to turn them into jewelry, one young lustrous, Phosphophyllite, tries to find their path and uncover the mysteries of their world.
Content Warning: Violence; Body horror (involving rock-people, but still)
As with Girls’ Last Tour, I just talked about this one the other day, so this will sound really familiar to you: Lustrous is an easy show to enjoy both intellectually and emotionally, given its likable, flawed characters and slowly unraveling narrative and thematic threads. However, it’s also a difficult show to discuss, because so much of its main ideas and themes are built around mysteries.
So I can’t talk that much about exactly what it’s trying to say, other than that it certainly seems prepared to say something: about personal growth and change, about the fragility of bodies and minds, about community and trust, agency and purpose. That it’s all wrapped in Buddhist imagery suggests a story about self-awareness, compassion, and transience, but where exactly it’s going with all of that is still up in the air.
Make no mistake, though: The pieces are all there, and they’re all exquisite. Layered, diverse characters with complicated relationships who clash and cooperate and clash again; a lush world gorgeously brought to life by Studio Orange; a well-paced narrative that teases out answers even as it adds more questions; and some of the most dynamically staged action sequences of the year.
Land of the Lustrous is a triumph of an adaptation, a stunning blend of cel-drawn and CG animation that brings Ichikawa’s manga to life in new and surprising ways. I will continue to sing its praises to the rooftops in desperate hope that enough people will watch it (or buy the manga!) to justify a Season Two. I really want to know where all these fascinating pieces end up, y’know.
Land of the Lustrous is licensed by Sentai and is streaming on HiDIVE and Amazon. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
2. The Eccentric Family (Uchouten Kazoku) – Season 2
Season Episode Count: 12
Series Episode Count: 24
Studio: P.A. Works
Season director: Yoshihara Masayuki
In a sentence: Set in a fantastical Kyoto shared by tanuki, tengu, and humans, this series follows the lives of Yasaburo and his family (both blood and found) as they try to find their places in the world after the loss of Yasaburo’s father.
Content warning: Mild violence and a nudity
Land of the Lustrous and Girls’ Last Tour put up an impressive last-minute fight, but at the end of the day they were just no match for the furballs. The Eccentric Family has been one of my Top 10 All-Time Favorites ever since the first season finished its magnificent run, and Season 2 is more of everything I love about it: A fantastical yet emotionally grounded exploration of the complicated relationships within and among communities, the enduring bonds of familial love, and the magic that exists just beneath the surface of the everyday world.
While the series is largely told through the eyes of its male protagonist, The Eccentric Family is also full of diverse, layered female characters who are more than just their relationships to the guys. Whether it’s the mother who transforms into a prince and hangs out at pool halls, the courteous master shogi player, or the sharp-tongued protector on the wrong side of a family feud, the tanuki ladies breathe with just as much energy and life as the brothers at the heart of the story. And that’s to say nothing of Benten, a proud, capricious, lonely quasi-villain who may just be the secret main character of the series.
Admittedly, Season 2’s final act felt a bit disjointed and incomplete at times, wrapping up a few minor arcs but leaving the door open for many of the major ones. This is understandable, though, given The Eccentric Family is based on a novel series that’s reportedly planned to be a trilogy, and this season very much feels like a middle book. As a result, my final feeling is one of hunger for another season rather than total satisfaction with this one. Still, I’m so incredibly grateful to have gotten to spend more time in this world and with these characters I adore.
Open-ended finales aside, The Eccentric Family is the complete package, one of those rare, wonderful labors of love that wholly envelops its audience in its enchanting, ephemeral world. Maybe if I do all my chores and say all my prayers and am very, very good, the Anime Fairy will bring me a Season 3 in a few years, too!
The Eccentric Family is licensed by and streaming on Crunchyroll. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
1. Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Season Episode Count: 12
Series Episode Count: 25
Series Director: Hatakeyama Mamoru
In a Sentence: This historical fiction (and modern masterpiece) follows the complicated career and personal life of Yakumo, a rakugo master, as well as the lives of his found families both past and present.
Content Warning: The story deals with sexism, emotional abuse, sexual situations, and violence/suicide, but most of it is told or implied rather than graphically depicted.
Thanks to some strong Fall series, there was a last-minute scuffle for #2-4 on this list, but #1 has never been in doubt. Complete, complex, brilliantly human works like Rakugo Shinju come along once in a decade, so even in a year as strong as 2017, nothing came close to knocking it from its podium.
I’ve written a small novel about this series over its two seasons (and you’re welcome to read all those words), and what I said in my series finale post still holds true: I don’t think there’s any way for me to neatly summarize my feelings for this show except to say that it’s a modern masterpiece, a nigh-perfectly crafted series featuring some of the most impressive direction, writing, acting, and cinematography that visual storytelling has to offer.
It was a love letter to the performance arts, a thoughtful exploration of storytelling, a powerful meditation on the inevitability of change, a quiet challenge of gender norms, a beautiful tale of found families and forgiveness, and a nuanced character study featuring an array of complex, contradictory figures and a fascinatingly layered protagonist. It was an analytical feast and an emotional haymaker, warming and breaking my heart in equal measures. Director Hatakeyama has proven himself one of the standout talents in the industry and Akira Ishida gave the finest performance of his already splendid career.
Simply put, Rakugo Shinju is a phenomenal piece of fiction and easily one of the top five anime I’ve seen, full stop. More to the point, it made me care deeply for its cast and I loved the hell out of it. I’m thrilled that I was able to watch it as it was airing, honored that I had the chance to talk about it for 25 episodes, and beyond grateful that Kumota Haruko and Studio DEEN gave us this incredible series in the first place. This one is going to stay with me for a long, long time.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is licensed by and streaming on Crunchyroll. Check to see if it’s available in your region.
And that’s the end of 2017! Thanks to everyone who’s kept up with me over the past 12 months! It’s been a hectic year full of lots of changes and more than a little stress, but hopefully that won’t keep us from hanging out some more in the coming year, too. Fingers crossed we’ll see brighter current events to help match all this great anime in the months ahead. Cheers!