Looking back at last season we had the epitome of adolescent mecha mayhem and bro in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans, a Detective Conan fan fiction Erased that turned out to actually be one my favorite shows the past few seasons, dancing disco rave ninjas in Dimension W, and a whole lot of other stuff I will immediately shred any and all credibility because I’m still watching or honestly I’ll never get to. BUT that’s all about to change because, new season, new shows, and what better way to usher in the cherry blossom bombs of springtime than an arbitrary numeric list of my favorite shows so far!
Oh yeah, keep in mind this is by no means everything I’m currently watching nor anything beyond first impressions of the first few episodes. I chose to do it this way because, lets be honest, you probably wouldn’t have clicked otherwise and now it will be more fun to read the comments. I’m Hayden Robel, and this is my top five anime of the spring 2016 season (*SO FAR). Enjoy.
5. Joker Game
If you like your anime shaken with a dash of Japanese James Bond and stirred with a whole lot tactically tense suspense look no further than Production I.G.’s latest foray: Joker Game. Beyond the stylish espionage action in the 1930s (an era I’m particularly a sucker for) what I’ve latched onto so far isn’t just the pressed suits, scotch-er-sake, and piece de period piece fedoras, rather it’s the yet morally virtuous soldier boy (no not that one) Miyoshi, a bright and brave boy-scout in contrast to the clandestine covert ops of the Japanese Spy Training Agency and their quote on quote “cowardly” means of getting the job done. Jumping through various WW2 era scenarios via different spies giving us different perspectives and a healthy amount political intrigue doesn't hurt either (even if its often bathed in a glimmering, disconcertingly retconning light favoring the Japanese during war times, but let the historians digress).
Already it’s looking to be a story about a good guy being dragged into a much darker, seedy world of stealth and corruption but it’s the psychological “game” of Joker Game, with Miyoshi and the spies inevitably shedding their ethics and any remaining goodhearted qualities as they embed themselves deeper into the world of spies that, like any good spy thriller, captured my attention. I have high hopes this series will gain more momentum as the season continues and, given enough time, maybe even sneak past the others on this list.
4. Bungou Stray Dogs
The first show registering on my hype radar going into this season, I thought Bungou Stray Dogs what with its emphasis on classical literary figures of modernist Japanese literature (with superpowers) would be a shoe-in for a humble man-child of letters like myself but...thus far I’m less than impressed. Before you smash your keyboards, It has nothing to do with the animation quality. It's Bones doing what bones does best (i.e. making the most of their source material look goddamn good looking). The story is still too nascent to fully criticize, one where detectives, taking their namesakes from actual acclaimed twentieth century Japanese writers, employ preternatural powers very loosely based on their published works to fight crime and solve any manner of dilemma that may arise during a case. In concept it's all well and (no detective pun detected) dandy, but it’s the reliance on humor and the tone that has, thus far, been hit or miss at best for me with weird interstitial scrolls interrupting the pacing and gags that, for a show about writers, is ironically pretty poorly written. Don’t even get me started on the constant suicide jokes. Yes, Osamu Dazai did make multiple suicide attempts before actually dying because of it, but if the goal is to treat something grim and make it lighthearted, introducing your ostensibly badass character via the way he died in real life for comedic effect is downright disrespectful of the legacy we as the audience are supposed to revere and primarily be attracted to this show for in the first place for!
Phew—You still there? Good, because, even though it sounds like I’ve only been harping on the show, there’s a reason why Bungou is still on this list. I like our main character Atsushi, he has the right blend of self-pity and hysterics to make him lovable to follow and, for how much I complained about the weird tonal inconsistencies, some of the banter between Kunikida and Dazai is hilarious while anytime Atsushi spirals into a speech about his passion for tea on rice makes for a well-earned chuckle.
I genuinely believe Bungou Stray Dogs has the most x factor, the most potential growth out of the majority of the shows on this list but right now the only reason it nudges out Joker Game for me is Bones and the equally hit or miss score. Less slapstick suicidal side shticks, more Read or Die than a Blood Blockade Battlefront wannabe, and we will be back on the write track…(yes that pun was intended).
Beloved “savior of all anime” Studio Trigger took a break from trolling its audiences this season this time bringing us a kooky combo of Kokoro Connect and Kizuna Encounter for my beloved NeoGeo: Kiznaiver! Here’s the premise: Agata Katsuhira is an apathetic boy who can’t feel. Pain, pleasure, any touch or sensations all but negligible, that is till he and six other highschool classmates are installed with the Kizuna system, a link that involuntarily shares all wounds or injuries with those connected called Kiznaivers. The premise is the kind of scifi schlock alone to make me tune in and want to watch without the added Trigger pedigree. And, while initially I had fears the large cast of what sounded like a grab bag of exaggerated anime archetypes made me cautious, in light of the first two episodes, these fears, unlike the show’s characters, proved to have no links (get it…).
In fact the show wants you to categorize it’s cast via stereotypes: you have the messy white-hair protagonist indifferent to the world, his childhood best friend/blatant love interest girl next door, the eccentric cutesy crazy girl I’m sure will flood all the con hallways with cosplayer doppelgangers, the hot blooded macho man RED HAIRED KAMINA, a popular pretty boy, followed by an aloof suspiciously quiet smart girl with glasses. This is where the Kizuna system becomes a clever plot device that, by episode two, has already eliminated my fears of a stereotype show cast, subverting expectations as Trigger is wont to do.
The Kizuna system forces these characters to talk, fight, interact and become a team when otherwise they’d never meet, delving into what makes each individual tick, their hopes, fears, the Kizuna system connecting the lives of the characters with the audience as it has already with me to the point to where I can adamantly list Kiznaiver in my top three as something new but true to studio trigger’s strengths of strong, emotionally dynamic characters coupled with a notably wacky animation enmeshed in a clever twist. Having the best opening song thus far this season doesn’t hurt either.
2. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
From the studio that brought you Attack On Titan and Attack On Titan Part Two: Vampire Boys Love Edition comes AOT Part Three: Feudal Steampunk Zombies. Sure, it’s an easy jab to compare Wit Studio’s titan sized niche of works these days following the a young potentially homicidal male protagonist on a superficially similar revenge plot but the formula works for a reason and Kabaneri does a few things differently that makes it more than worthwhile.
Humanity is on the brink. Driven into walled cities wherein leviathan steam-powered locomotives (think the train from Snowpiercier) are the only way to travel safely. The world is overrun by Kabane, once human now man eating creatures with molten nearly impenetrable cores, of which piercing with all manner of steampunk weaponry is the only surefire way of successfully snuffing them out. Cue Ikoma, our revenge fueled homicidal protagonist but unlike that scrappy lil' punk Eren we all love watching as he rushes fist first into action, what makes Ikoma unique so far is his patience, well comparatively at least. He actually thinks before he acts, makes rapid decisions sure, but Ikoma is a thinker, one who in the thick of it thinks of a way out, using his intellect to strategize and even develop technology, a badass spike gun that only the best hallmarks of steampunk can provide. That is till he is infected and becomes a half-human, half-Kabane hybrid, called a Kabaneri.
Does this sound like Attack on Titan with humanity sequestered behind immense walls as they dwindle to a seemingly insurmountable man eating horde? Yes. Are there similar themes of survival, revenge, lack of identity as our main protagonist exists as neither human nor fully creature? Ah huh. Would the show exist without AoT? Probably not. BUT...You can clearly tell director Tetsuro Araki and staff are laboring their collective talent and love into every meticulously shaded frame of Kabaneri and the character designs by Haruhiko Mikimoto, feudal steampunk samurai and cast iron kimonos, in particular are just tops, man tops, ripped straight out of nineties anime art books I use to scribble in (put up a shitty drawing as *actual photo*). And can I mention the shading again, I can’t get over how gorgeous this show is, by far the best animation Wit’s produced and arguably the best looking show on a technical level this season. I didn’t even mention the Mikasa stand in Mumei, who not only has an actual personality but is just so cool man! HERE JUST GO WATCH THIS!
1. My Hero Academia
While One Punch Man was all about an all-powerful superhero for fun, suffering more from societal ennui than necessarily having superpowers, My Hero Academia focuses on a boy with none. Everybody loves a good underdog story but even I didn’t expect to be invested in another superhero show so soon after Saitama consecutively normal punched all our hearts. You see, unlike OPM, I really appreciate how we get to watch Midoriya grow from a powerless, or in this case Quirkless boy to a hero all the same under the mistakenly godlike and utterly hilarious ALL MIGHT's (the uber Superman equivalent, with a dashing good smile) power training pupilage.
Rather than skipping over training sequences in a motivational montage or explaining it away in some pithy plot dump, with the first two episodes we witness Midoryia first as a hopeful child aspiring to be the next best superhero, to having his dreams crushed grappling with the fact he can never have superpowers, and yet years later rise to the occasion and topple the impossible odds in spite of super-villains and his own internal limitations. It’s my favorite kind of comic book inspired feelgood story arc, and Midoriya, in a world of super powers and superheroes, has more heart and courage than most quirky chumps, also a lot of tears, he cries a lot.
More human and more relateable than Superman or (sorry) Saitama, how could you not root for him?! Even if the Academia superhero school aspect might scare some people off, It’s much more than the Sky High anime all three of you have been waiting for. While perhaps its not the hero show we deserved or needed for that matter it’s definitely the one I’m hoping will continue to, like Midoryia, grow into its own and maintain its place as number one on my top five anime of spring 2016 (*so far).
Hayden Robel is a Senior Editor and resident sugoi hype man at biyabyte. But enough about me, I wanna see your top five anime in the comments below and If you wanna call me a plebeian pig dog why not do it in 140 characters or less on twitter. Or you could always listen to me ramble more Nippon nonsense in our anime podcast Sugoi Squad, its only the most sugoi anime podcast on the internetz. Oh, before they tighten these dungeon chains strangling my neck, please subscribe to our youtube channel if you have any compassion in your heart, they wont feed me otherwise, plus I’m sure I’ll do more anime videos and reviews around here sometime where we do this kinda thing but even cooler with video games, comics, and of course anime. Thanks for reading!