It’s the end of the year and as is tradition all over the pop culture commentary sphere, year-in-review lists are as much a staple of this time as Christmas presents and fireworks on new year’s eve. Although we like to remain mostly positive here at Oh no, Anime!, we thought it prescient to take a look back at some of the less-than-satisfying things that happened in anime in 2016, a year that for a great deal of us was marked by disappointment and tragedy in many categories. The so-called “things” selected here are just that: things, selected without specific category because several them are vacuous and either don’t represent a show as a whole or represent a small part of what was otherwise a well-received project. That being said, let’s dive right in after the jump!
Animation Blunders in Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Starting off in no particular order, we have the obvious animation blunders in what was otherwise a great show, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. Despite its strong showing in the first few episodes, it soon became more and more obvious as the show progressed that the staff working on the show at A-1 Pictures ran into some issues with getting animation finished in time for airing, often including re-used animation cuts in multiple episodes or using severely degraded quality in background animation that upon closer scrutiny looked no better than a flash animation from the early 2000s. All of this I could have forgiven, but sadly the last episode of Grimgar contained a blunder so obvious that not even the most ignorant viewer could’ve let it slide. Towards the end of the episode, at the climax of what is perhaps the most important fight of the entire show, the animation in the initial broadcast version sent to Funimation degrades into basic untouched colors and nothing more than sketched key frames, looking much more like a rough storyboard than a bad cut of animation. Even though there were other shows in 2016 that had animation and time management problems make their way on screen, this was the most egregious and embarrassing example and cheapened the impact of an otherwise great show.
The Second Half of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
The first half of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, had it ended before the introduction of the main villain, would have been one of my top shows of the year. It was an intensely human story about survival and mistrust in a world that had long since turned against humanity, the design and visual style of which was one of the most unique we saw this year. However, with the introduction of Biba, the show’s main villain and leader of a special forces company trained to kill the steampunk zombies called “Kabane”, the show took a nosedive for the cheap and campy. His introduction broadened the scope of the story to an unnecessary level, changing the plot arc from one about survival that was intensely identifiable, realistic and harrowing, to one in which the entire fate of the world and humanity was inexorably tied. In addition, his introduction seemed to open the door to things that were wholly outside the show’s design aesthetics and universe, which is encapsulated a few episodes after this where someone shoots a goddamn laser beam out of their mouth. Biba also served to throw Kabaneri’s pacing out of whack, changing the chugging and consistent pace of the first half to one where fifty different story elements were introduced in each episode, forcing more ground to be covered in a shorter amount of time and leaving behind the more human and personal stories that made the show so great.
Everything was set up for DAYS to be a fantastic show: a stacked voice cast, great source material, and studio MAPPA’s fantastic track record for making unique and good anime. However, despite all this DAYS fell flat on its face in every conceivable way. Both opening and ending themes were wholly unremarkable, as was the original soundtrack. I couldn’t tell you any of the characters’ names despite the fact that I watched 10 episodes, and what’s worse the main character (again, I can’t remember his name) was one of the worst sports anime protagonists I’ve seen in my short career watching as much as I do, lacking even the most basic traits that would make him sympathetic to the viewer in any way. However possibly the most offending thing about DAYS was its near-total lack of anything that one could say is worthy of MAPPA’s skill, with most of the episodes consisting of panning over still frames paired with the show’s already mediocre sound design. With a powerhouse studio like MAPPA animating the project, this is simply unacceptable for me. DAYS was a massive disappointment for me when on paper, it was supposed to be fantastic. I guess if there’s a silver lining to this show it’d be that it taught me not to overblow my expectations with stuff like this.
Unnecessary Fanservice in Izetta: The Last Witch
Izetta is a strange show, in that it had possibly the best female character I’ve seen all year (Fine) paired with another female character (Izetta) that the show’s staff seemed intent on objectifying in the most distracting ways throughout the entirety of the series. Even in the opening animation you can tell that Izetta is a character the show’s creators want looked at sexually, even if that makes absolutely no sense in the greater context of the show. For me what works so well about Izetta is that it is able to take itself seriously and present a compelling narrative about something that should seem patently insane: the idea of a witch with magical powers intervening in World War II. However what takes away from this success is when the show seems to be going out of its way to show off Izetta’s sexualized body, something that wouldn’t really matter to me if it seemed at place in the show. Instead what you’re presented with is a situation in which say, a large and realistic battle is taking place, many people are dying and overall the horrors of war are on full display, when all of a sudden the director sees fit to pan up through a tank’s main viewport in what could’ve been a masterful shot, only to zoom in on Izetta’s butt. I’m by no means offended by fanservice when it fits into the greater context of the show, but here it seemed like it was shoved in at very inopportune times and even cheapened what could’ve been a wonderful message that women are capable of being strong leaders.
Under the Dog Production Troubles
Under the Dog was a kind of project that’s becoming much more common nowadays: Kickstarter anime. It was originally created and promoted by Creative Intelligence Arts and Masahiro Ando, and was to be co-produced with the animation studio Kinema Citrus. However after some unfortunate disagreements between the two studios, Creative Intelligence Arts left the project, Kinema Citrus put up their own team, and the project ultimately suffered greatly in quality because of it. In addition to the disagreements between different partners on the project, when Kinema Citrus took full control they discovered that the financial viability of the project was in danger, and eventually had to make cuts to the production budget to make up for operating costs, as well as re-assess whether the promised rewards for Kickstarter backers could even be met. Overall Under the Dog’s mis-handling turned it from one of my most anticipated new projects into a shadow of its former self, and more importantly it calls attention to the double-edged sword that is Kickstarter. On the one hand fantastic projects that never could have been made are given a chance (like Little Witch Academia 2), and on the other hand Under the Dog shows us how this idea can sometimes go very wrong.
I do not consider myself a negative person. In fact, I think overt negativity is something that ultimately hurts the western anime commentary sphere. However, nothing made me viscerally mad in 2016 quite like Millepensee and GEMBA’s Berserk “adaptation”. I barely made it through the first episode, as while I was not expecting too much from it in the first place, I did not expect them to skip three entire chapters and replace any semblance of competent 2D animation with some of the worst attempts at 3DCGI I have ever seen in anime. As I have had time to calm down since watching this bloated monstrosity and think about the world and my place in it, I’ve come to the conclusion that Berserk 2016 will only make me sad, as it is an unbelievably poor adaptation of what I consider to be one of the greatest manga series of all time. Do yourself a favor, if you want the best Berserk anime experience available to you, watch the three Golden Age Arc movies and then binge the original TV series.
The First 2/3 of Shokugeki no Soma Season 2
I can definitely count Shokugeki no Soma/Food Wars among my favorite anime of the past three-four years, however the opening to its second season was rough for me. The pacing of the election arc was slow and drawn-out, probably intended to make it feel consequential and suspenseful. What actually ended up happening was it made the entire arc incredibly repetitive and thus boring to watch, making me near-constantly wish it was over instead of sitting on the edge of my seat like it was supposed to. The fatal flaw by the show’s staff was underestimating how interesting the same event could be over and over, and using that as the basis for no less than nine episodes before moving on to the next arc, which was actually one of my favorites of the entire show. The second season called attention to the fact that Shokugeki no Soma has a problem with pacing, namely not being able to separate its individual arcs into neatly appearing within the 26 or 12-episode format standard to anime nowadays. While they made up for it and then some with the end of season 2, I’m disappointed in how bored I was inititally.
Fragmentation of Streaming Services
2016 was a weird year for streaming services because while on the one hand we had a lot of good come out of the Funimation-Crunchyroll partnership, on the other hand we saw more widespread fragmentation of which anime are on what streaming service than ever before. Shows like Battery and the Great Passage were taken almost completely out of the conversation because of the bungling of their streaming availability and promotion by Amazon, Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans continues to be left behind in mainstream discussion because of its one-week exclusivity on Daisuki, and most importantly one of the most unique shows of the year, Kuromukuro, was completely forgotten by watchers in the west because of Netflix’s streaming strategy of waiting until a show has aired in its entirety before putting it up for streaming. Netflix is an especially egregious example because they do not support a simulcast release strategy like literally every other streaming platform for anime in existence, and that’s a huge problem because shows like Kuromukuro, Ajin: Demi-Human and Seven Deadly Sins are taken almost completely out of the national conversation, a problem that shows airing regularly on Crunchyroll and Funimation simply do not have. Not to mention the fact that all of the anime Amazon has had exclusivity with this year have been horrifically publicised and in some instances near-impossible to find in the first place.
Funimation Kickstarting Escaflowne
This year, Funimation, a multi-million dollar company and the largest and most successful anime licensor in the United States, launched a Kickstarter for its plan to re-release Vision of Escaflowne on Bluray with a new English dub. While Kickstarter anime are becoming a regular staple of the industry at this point, I wholly disapprove of Funimation’s strategy on this release, considering the fact that Kickstarter is meant solely for parties who are nothing like Funimation, in that they would not already have the money to fund a project such as this. We’ve seen a trend in recent years (Shenmue 3, anyone?) of these massive companies starting Kickstarters for projects to “gauge interest” from consumers. This is setting a dangerous precedent, because unlike the usual product funnel where people give their hard-earned money to a company and get goods in return, here Kickstarter backers are treated as investors and there is in fact no obligation in the fine print that states that the creators must follow up on this donation with some kind of reward. Massive companies like Funimation have absolutely no business on a site which is meant for low-capital creators to get their ideas funded by the masses, and it even cheapens the entire model of Kickstarter by opening the doors to other massive companies to funnel their “risky” ideas through Kickstarter as a means of mitigating some of that risk.