Ask John: What Were John’s Picks of 2017’s New TV Anime?

Every year Japan’s anime industry pushes more new anime out to viewers via television broadcast and increasingly by Internet streaming. By comparison, 2010 saw the broadcast of roughly 125 new anime productions. That number blossomed up to an estimated 213 new television & web anime in 2014 and hit a record high of 248 in 2017. In the current century, 2002, 2008, and the second half of 2012 through 2013 have been exceptionally praiseworthy years for new television anime debuts while classes including 2010 & 2014 were rather unimpressive. 2017 was comparable to its predecessor in a certain light. 2016 was a year with a slightly above average median of quality for broadcast anime but a year with a small number of exceptional highlights. 2017 was also a year with a high average quality but an unusually small number of flawless premieres.

I judge anime quality by considering technical merit, including art design and animation quality, and literary quality, including originality and script. Therefore premiere titles have an intrinsic advantage over sequels in my eyes, and the best shows are typically ones that introduce viewers to unique ideas and individual creativity distinct from convention and stereotype. So my personal “best of the year” picks are determined by artistic merit rather than popularity. Out of personal curiosity, I try to sample as many new anime as I can. By my count, 249 “new” anime premiered on Japanese television or web broadcast in 2017. My count deliberately excludes new seasons that do not have a change in title and continue official episode numbering, and TV specials that are clearly part of a continuing season. I was fortunate to watch at least one complete episode of 237 of the year’s roughly 249 new anime.

I’m conflicted about nominating the singular best broadcast anime of 2017 because two shows vie for the title: the stronger of the two has one prominent weakness. The Little Witch Academia television series is arguably the second best TV anime of 2017. But among the year’s finest new programs, it’s the only one that didn’t suffer a noticeable structural compromise. Studio Trigger could have taken the easy route and launched its Little Witch Academia television anime by re-editing or remaking its earlier two OVAs, but it didn’t. Instead, Trigger took inspiration from the fan enthusiasm for the franchise, and artistic inspiration from the golden era of anime, and created a wonderfully imaginative, heartfelt, and joyously animated cohesive story that began and ended within its allotted 26 episodes. More than just about any other anime series in modern memory, the Little Witch Academia television series felt like a show its creators enjoyed making rather than a show they made as a business provision. The series was filled with vibrant characterizations and plenty of scenes in which animation was deliberately more extensive and elaborate than necessary just because the animators wanted to show off their ability. The Little Witch Academia TV series harkens back to an era of anime when anime was delightful and felt creatively inspired rather than commercially necessitated.

On first impression American viewers may regard Houseki no Kuni as a Japanese take on creator Rebecca Sugar’s popular cartoon series Steven Universe. However, the reality may be the reverse as manga-ka Haruko Ichikawa’s Houseki no Kuni premiered in print a year before Steven Universe premiered. Making the story about living crystalline immortals allowed Houseki no Kuni to depict narrative turns impossible in more conventional stories. The crystal girls of Houseki no Kuni can survive physical injuries that would kill human beings. Moreover, their fundamental psychology is different from that of human beings. Their isolated, communal, immortal nature makes them behave in ways that are a bit unexpected and contrary to human expectation, thereby making the show unpredictable and fascinating. Moreover, the sheer amount of physical and psychological trauma and evolution that protagonist Phos undergoes throughout the series is virtually incomprehensible for human beings. Even at centuries old, Phos is still the immature baby of the group. Her elder sisters indulge her infantile selfishness to a tragic degree, and as the tragedies Phos causes pile up, the guilt and sadness she endures is monumental, creating a change in her character that’s completely natural and believable in the context of the show but drastically exceptional compared to typical anime. Houseki no Kuni is arguably the finest anime of 2017 because it’s ethereally and hauntingly beautiful visually, psychologically, and emotionally. The series is highly unpredictable, constantly surprising, and frequently heartbreaking. Its balance of humor and pathos is as delicate as the gem girls themselves. The frequent action scenes are deft and balletically fluid. The series unexpectedly introduces multiple complex and fascinating philosophical questions. The show’s singular weakness, shared by nearly all of 2017’s best anime, is a degree of compromise in the ending. With only 12 episodes, Houseki no Kuni simply doesn’t have enough time to answer its big, provocative questions. The series’ final episode does a commendable job of consciously creating closure for the series, but viewers are invariably left wanting to know more of the series’ story.

Like an anime cousin to 2016’s intellectual sci-fi movie Arrival, Seikaisuru Kado is literally an anime about ideas, theory, and practical philosophy. It’s a hard sci-fi tale depicting humanity’s first encounter with an exponentially more advanced alien intelligence. When faced with the opportunity to mentally evolve instantaneously, humanity is forced to question whether it’s humane enough to accept such a profound gift. Seikaisuru Kado eschews violence and action in favor of debate, analysis, rational discussion, and scientific experimentation. It’s a show that poses tremendous philosophical questions and asks the viewer, “What would you do if you were in the situation?” Unfortunately, as if intimidated by its own intellectual weight, the series climaxes by succumbing to convention, either by studio mandate or because screenwriter Mado Nozaki ran out of ideas. The highly intellectual show about political and philosophical compromise ends up relying on old-fashioned physical violence and a practical deus ex machina, a disappointing ending for such a high-minded program.

Tonally on the polar opposite end of the scale, Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon feels like KyoAni’s effort to filter Nichijou to a more mainstream audience. A slice-of-life comedy about a scenario that’s anything but ordinary, Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon managed to hit just about every note and demographic perfectly. The show’s tone is whimsical, charming, amusing, and soothing. It’s easy and relaxing to watch yet never dull. It’s a chamber piece comedy with exceptional animation quality. The show effortlessly appeals to mainstream viewers with its domestic sensibilities yet also appeals to hardcore otaku with its fantasy elements, esoteric asides, and laughably busty character Lucoa-san. And the dragon child Kanna may be one of the most adorable anime characters ever created. Once again, the show’s prominent weakness is the fact that its penultimate episode feels like a series finale while its actual final broadcast episode seems as though it should have aired within the middle of the broadcast duration.

Kuzu no Honkai feels exactly like a cousin to 2013’s Aku no Hana. In the way that an anti-hero exhibits the characteristics of a protagonist in a contradictory way, “Scum’s Wish” is an anti-romantic anime. It’s an unsettlingly intimate depiction of emotionally dysfunctional people whose unrequited loves lead to psychologically destructive behavior. The series frequently feels embarrassing, shocking, and disturbing to watch because it’s so shamelessly graphic and emotionally visceral. The frank sexuality and honest angst on display within the series make watching the show akin to surreptitiously reading someone’s private diary, making viewers feel like voyeurs peeping into the characters’ deepest and darkest private secrets. The series is emotionally dark, uncomfortable, and deeply human, which makes it especially unique and exceptional compared to typical anime. Simultaneously disappointing and gratifying, the show’s climax turns to a (relatively) happy ending. The tonal shift is a natural and believable turn of the plot, but it also feels nearly like a betrayal of the grim, ruinous psychology of the first half of the show. Had the characters not found a way to absolve themselves, the show could only have ended in disturbing psychopathy.

I’d like to also discuss a second tier of noteworthy 2017 anime, shows that narrowly missed the top five largely due to a single prominent weakness.

Re:Creators launched promising to easily rank among the year’s best shows. Throughout the series the art design and animation quality were exceptional. The show’s characters and plot twists kept viewers around the globe on the edge of their seats, eagerly debating and analyzing the show online. However, after a pulse-pounding first ten episodes the series falls into a lull that it never fully recovers from. The extended climax reintroduces some of the show’s grand action, but the final climactic moments feel a bit too abstract and a bit too generous. Furthermore, particularly in the middle of the series, the protagonist reveals a character flaw that’s a bit too on-the-nose, and the show never quite gives a resolution the necessary attention for the character to fully recover his prominence. In effect, Re:Creators has an astounding beginning, a weak middle, and an ending that’s good but not great.

Gainax’s Ryuu no Haisha goes a long way toward reestablishing the studio’s reputation for being creatively groundbreaking. The problem is that as a two-episode special the story development is neither concise nor comprehensive enough. If “Dragon Dentist” had been a single feature film, it could have cut some extraneous narrative and focused. Had it been a full season series, it could have fleshed out and fully explained all of its plot points. But in the form it exists, it’s a fascinating proof of concept that doesn’t feel complete.

Although in a different way, Made in Abyss rivals Kuzu no Honkai as one of the year’s most gut-wrenchingly affective programs. Made in Abyss’ claim to fame is its cute, child-like art design that belies the show’s Fullmetal Alchemist level of morose and grim plot development. Once all of its cards are on the table, the show is at once adorable and terrifying. Later episodes challenge viewers by daring to depict scenes and reveal tragic plot revelations that viewers would instinctively expect such a child-like show to exclude. Making viewers complicit in harsh moral choices that the characters have to face turns the show into emotional torture-porn. The show’s biggest flaw is, again, its limited episode count. The anime is little more than a teasing prologue to the far longer manga story. Just as viewers finally begin to comprehend the full context of the show and its characters, the anime abruptly ends.

Unlike 1998’s Steam Detectives, which practically wasn’t an aesthetic steampunk anime, and 2004’s Steamboy feature film which provided only a limited look at its steampunk world, Princess Principal is the first anime to extensively immerse itself into the steampunk ecology. Taking cues from Madoka Magica, the series’ first two episodes introduce a cute and innocuous looking cast existing within a ruthless, unforgiving world. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of episode five, the show softens its harsh tone and drastically scales back its violence after the opening two episodes to such an extent that the standards which set the tone in the first two episodes are used as a surprise gimmick in episode ten. The show is consistently gorgeous looking, but the series’ most elaborate and tense action scenes are mostly contained within the series’ first half rather than building up to an amazing climax.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 & Kekkai Sensen & Beyond demand mention despite lacking some of the originality of other mentioned titles. Neither series is entirely “new” since they’re both sequel seasons. But both shows surpass their excellent predecessors. Uchouten Kazoku 2 feels far more confident than its first season. The narrative is more focused with much less digression into tangents. The story development also surprises with multiple unexpected plot twists that feel entirely natural. Kekkai Sensen second season dispenses with the overarching season plot, instead committing to an episodic development. The commitment allows the show to concentrate on its characters rather than splitting its focus as the first season did. As a result, Kekkai Sensen & Beyond fully exploits the potential of its 2D medium to depict any and everything that would be practically impossible to render in live-action or even CG. Kekkai Sensen & Beyond is simply a dozen episodes of unadulterated, exuberant, hyper-exaggerated anime fun.

On a final side note, my personal favorite broadcast anime of 2017 were: Hoozuki no Reitetsu second season, Houseki no Kuni, Kakegurui, Kekkai Sensen & Beyond, Kemono Friends, Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon, Little Witch Academia, Made in Abyss, Tsuki ga Kirei, Uchouten Kazoku 2, and Youjo Senki.

List of 2017 TV & Web anime: (The titles I didn’t watch any of are boldfaced)
100% Pascal-sensei
6HP Six Hearts Princess
ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka
Action Heroine Cheer Fruits
Africa no Salaryman [cell phone anime]
Aho Girl
Ai Mai Me ~Surgical Friends~
Akiba’s Trip The Animation
Alice to Zouroku
Ame-iro Cocoa Series: Ame-con!!
Ani ni Tsukeru Kusuri wa Nai!
Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen
Atom: The Beginning
Baito-saki wa “Aku no Soshiki”!? [cell phone anime]
Ballroom e Youkoso
BanG Dream!
Battle Girl High School
Berserk 2nd Season
Beyblade Burst God
Black Clover
Blame! [web anime]
Blend S
Boku no Kanojo ga Majimesugiru Sho-bitch na Ken
Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
Busou Shoujo Machiavellism
Cardfight!! Vanguard G Z
Centaur no Nayami
Chain Chronicle: Haecceitas no Hikari
Chiruran: Nibun no Ichi
Chou Shounen Tanteidan Neo
Choukan x Algorhythm [web anime]
Cinderella Girls Gekijou
ClassicaLoid 2nd Season
Clione no Akari
Clockwork Planet
Code:Realize ~Sousei no Himegimi~
Crayon Shin-chan Gaiden: Kazokuzure Ookami [web anime]
Crayon Shin-chan Gaiden: O-O-O-no Shinnosuke [web anime]
Dekirukana [cell phone anime]
Demi-chan wa Kataritai
Dia Horizon (Hi)
Dies irae
Dream Fes R
Duel Masters (2017)
Dynamic Chord
Enmusubi no Youko-chan
Enoshimanzu [cell phone anime]
Fate/Grand Order -First Order-
Fireball Humorous
Forest Fairy Five
Frame Arms Girl
Fukumenkei Noise
Furusato Meguri: Nihon no Mukashi Banashi
Future Card Buddyfight X
Gabriel DropOut
Gan Gan Ganko-chan
Garo: Vanishing Line
Gin no Guardian
Gintama: Porori-hen
Glamorous Heroes
Go-chan. ~Moco to Chinju no Mori no Nakama-tachi~
Gohan Suki [cell phone anime]
Granblue Fantasy the Animation
Gravity Daze The Animation ~Ouverture~
Gundam Build Fighters: Battlogue [web anime]
Hajimete no Gal
Hand Shakers
Henkei Shoujo
High School Fleet OVA
Himouto! Umaru-chan R
Hina Logi ~From Luck & Logic~
Hinako Note
Hitorigurashi no Shougakusei [cell phone anime]
Hitorijime My Hero
Hoozuki no Reitetsu second season
Houseki no Kuni
Idol Jihen
Idol Time PriPara
iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls Gekijou season 2
Ikemen Sengoku: Toki wo Kakeru ga Koi wa Hajimaranai
Imouto sae Ireba Ii.
Inagawa Junji no Sugo: Ku Kowai Hanashi [cell phone anime]
Infini-T Force
Isekai Shokudou
Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni.
Isobe Isobee Monogatari 2 [web anime]
Itazura Majo to Nemuranai Machi [web anime]
Itsu Datte Bokura no Koi 10 Centi Datta.
Jigoku Shoujo: Yoi no Togi
Jikan no Shihaisha
Jingisukan no Jin-kun [cell phone anime]
Just Because!
Juuni Taisen
Kaito × Ansa
Kakuchou Shoujo-Kei Trinary [web anime]
Karada Sagashi [cell phone anime]
Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu
Kekkai Sensen & Beyond
Kemono Friends
Kenka Banchou Otome: Girl Beats Boys
Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun
Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World – The Animated Series
Kirakira Precure A La Mode
Knight’s & Magic
Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon
Kochinpa! Dainiki
Koi to Uso
Konbini Kareshi
Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2
Konohana Kitan
Koro-sensei Q
Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau
Kuruneko [cell phone anime]
Kuzu no Honkai
LayereD Stories Zero [web anime]
Line Akindo Sei no Little Peso
Little Witch Academia
Love Kome: We Love Rice
Love Kome: We Love Rice nikisaku
Love Live! Sunshine!! 2nd Season
Luna-tan: 1-man Nen no Himitsu [cell phone anime]
Made in Abyss
Mahoujin Guru Guru (2017)
Mahoutsukai no Yome
Makeruna!! Aku no Gundan!
Marginal#4: Kiss kara Tsukuru Big Bang
Marvel Future Avengers
Masamune-kun no Revenge
Mentori [cell phone anime]
Minami Kamakura Koukou Joshi Jitensha-bu
Mobile Suit Gundam Twilight AXIS [web anime]
Monster Strike season 3
Monster Strike second season [web anime]
Musekinin Galaxy?Tylor
Nanamaru Sanbatsu
Nananin no Ayakashi: Chimi Chimi Mouryou!! Gendai Monogatari
Natsume Yuujinchou Roku
Netojuu no Susume
Netsuzou Trap -NTR-
Nobunaga no Shinobi: Ise Kanegasaki-hen
Nora to Oujo to Noraneko Heart
Nui Nui Hinobori San Kyoudai [web anime]
Nyanko Days
Omiai Aite wa Oshiego, Tsuyoki na, Mondaiji
One Room
Oretacha Youkai Ningen
Osake wa Fuufu ni Natte kara
Osomatsu-san 2
Ousama Game The Animation
Oushitsu Kyoushi Haine
Owarimonogatari second season
Piace: Watashi no Italian
Pikaia!! (2017)
Pikotarou no Lullaby Lu-llaby
Pingu in the City
Princess Principal
Puripuri Chii-chan!!
Reikenzan: Eichi e no Shikaku
Renai Boukun
Rilu Rilu Fairilu: Mahou no Kagami
RoboMasters: The Animated Series
Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records
Room Mate
Ryuu no Haisha
Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata ?
Sagrada Reset
Saiyuki Reload Blast
Sakura Quest
Sanrio Characters Pon Pon Jump!
Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel
Seikaisuru Kado
Sekai no Yami Zukan
Sengoku Choujuu Giga ~Otsu~
Sengoku Night Blood
Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ
Sentai Hero Sukiyaki Force ~ Gunma no Heiwa o Negau Season
Shadow of Laffandor
Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul
Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2
Shirotan: Shirotan ga Ippai! [web anime]
Shokugeki no Souma: San no Sara
Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou
Shoukoku no Altair
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka…
Sin: Nanatsu no Taizai
Skirt no Naka wa Kedamono Deshita
Snack World
Souryo to Majiwaru Shikiyoku no Yoru ni…
Soutai Sekai [web anime]
Starmyu 2nd Season
Super Lovers 2
Sword Oratoria
Sylvanian Families: Mini Story
Taishou Mebius Line: Chicchai-san
Tantei Opera Milky Holmes: Fun Fun Party Night?
Teekyuu season 9
Tei-sensei [cell phone anime]
Tenshi no 3P!
The Reflection
Time Bokan 24: Gyakushuu no San-Okunin
Tomica Hyper Rescue Drive Head: Kidou Kyuukyuu Keisatsu
Tsuki ga Kirei
Tsukipro The Animation
Tsuredure Children
Twin Angel Break
Two Car
Uchouten Kazoku 2
UQ Holder! ~Mahou Sensei Negima 2~
Urara Meirochou
Vatican Kiseki Chousakan
Wake Up, Girls! Shinshou
Warau Salesman New
Whistle! [Voice Remake version]
Yami Shibai 4th Season
Yami Shibai 5th season
Youjo Senki
Youkai Apartment no Yuuga na Nichijou
Youkoso Jitsuryoku Shijou Shugi no Kyoushitsu e
Yowamushi Pedal: New Generation
Yume Oukoku to Nemureru 100 nin no Ouji-sama Short [web anime]
Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru: Yuusha no Shou
Zannen Onna Kanbu Black General-san [cell phone anime]
Zero Kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho

*Article updated on December 29 to add “LayereD Stories Zero” to the list of 2017 anime.

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