I started doing this kind of post around the same time last year, when I realised there were at least a small handful of new season shows that plenty of bloggers raved about while my own feelings were, at best, only lukewarm. While I don’t necessarily think my tastes are wildly different from any other anime blogger out there, it gives me a chance to talk about those titles released over the past year that didn’t push quite the same buttons for me. (And besides, since I’m saving my annual anime wrap-up until spring as usual, I gotta talk about something while everyone else is releasing those 2016 best-of posts, right?)
Needless to say, this post isn’t intended as any sort of criticism of peoples’ choices in anime. I’m not even saying these anime are bad per se – they’re just shows I didn’t seem to like as much as a lot of other viewers. So if you watched and liked any of these yourself (and I’m guessing plenty of you did), rest assured I’m not bashing you or your personal tastes.
Bungou Stray Dogs (Spring)
Just for the record, I’m focusing only on the first season here since I never saw anything of the second. And you know what, I think I probably would’ve liked this show a lot more had I watched it when I was younger. It’s pretty, it’s angsty, and there’s a certain expressive weight to it that does indeed still appeal to my inner 15-year old. Unfortunately, said emotional weight is seriously undermined by a tendency to throw in flippant one-liners and repetitive comedy routines just when I was ready to get emotionally invested. Basically, the tonal whiplash put me off – although even if it hadn’t, the melodrama is laid on a bit too thick given that I’m now in my late 20s and no longer writing terrible poetry while listening to Linkin Park. Like I said, my teenage self probably would’ve been all over this. Tedious suicide jokes and jarring tonal shifts aside, I did see glimmers of a decent enough story here; it’s just that it’s overshadowed by poor writing. One of these days, I’ll find an action anime I actually like again. It’s just too bad that despite technically being a seinen title, Bungou Stray Dogs reads far more like a stereotypical shounen.
Flying Witch (Spring)
This show ended up being both less and more than I wanted it to be. On the one hand, I assumed before watching that it would be moe as all hell, in that annoyingly cutesy yet slightly disturbing (i.e. targeting the male audience hard) kind of way. And it isn’t. There’s no fanservice or heavy audience pandering and the main character isn’t some moeblob with zero personality. In fact, every character is perfectly fine – no assholes, no creeps, and no teenage heroine with all the mental faculties of a 5-year old and jarringly high-pitched vocals to match. (You’d be surprised how often this is a concern for me.) Flying Witch basically struck me as a less charming version of Kiki’s Delivery Service, and normally I would have been so there. After all, nobody likes slow-paced, supernatural/slice-of-life anime more than me, especially when it’s set in rural Japan. And yet strangely, I was bored throughout the entire thing. Maybe it was that Flying Witch came out in a season already rich in the light-hearted comedy and slice-of-life department, or maybe the story was just too slow even for my tastes. I never did quite put my finger on it. All I know is that I never got any real sense of connection. It was a perfectly sweet and heartwarming series that, for whatever reason, left my own heart out in the cold.
I do have to wonder whether or not ReLIFE would have gotten anywhere near as good reviews if it had been released week by week like every other show rather than all at once. Would people have been as frustrated as I was by a premise that’s potentially interesting, but that ultimately fails to deliver on anything much different from every other generic high school drama/romcom anime? I didn’t dislike ReLIFE, but I almost wish I had. At least then, I wouldn’t have felt let down by the fact that it never managed to go beyond the usual character archetypes, love triangles, and age-old romantic misunderstandings that seem to occur in 90% of all high school-orientated titles. Instead of choosing to fully engage with its own base plot, the series uses it as barely anything more than window dressing for your standard teen drama, showcasing characters and events that could be part of literally almost any other series of the same genre. Sadly, while the glimmer of something a little deeper and more complex is definitely there, it’s mostly overshadowed in favour of the general hijinks and inoffensively bland storytelling I’d hoped to avoid seeing, and I couldn’t help but mourn the wasted opportunity. Oh well – there were a couple of decent gags, I guess.
Flip Flappers (Fall)
In some ways, Flip Flappers reminded me of Yuri Kuma Arashi – which incidentally also made it onto this same list in 2015. I actually liked Flip Flappers a lot more, but both shows try (and in my opinion mostly fail) to tell a cohesive story that showcases, above all, an exploration of budding female sexuality. My biggest problem with Yuri Kuma Arashi though was that it approached it themes with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Conversely, I think Flip Flappers tries too hard to be mysterious, and in the process turns its boldly distinctive and otherwise delightful surrealism into a deliberately evasive, narratively disjointed mess. The plot isn’t confusing so much as it is fragmented, and while I get how this could be pretty appealing to many a viewer, it only annoyed me more with each passing episode. There’s plenty the show does right, including the soundtrack and the arresting art style, but I only wish the series had more focus, more of a drive to tell one unified story instead of several great pieces of one. Compelling symbolism and a dreamy, often downright trippy atmosphere didn’t make up for the lack of integration for me. The only real consistency I did see going on were the reminders that the line between genuine exploration of budding adolescence and plain old titillation is a very fine one indeed. Credit where credit is due, I don’t believe Flip Flappers ever got sleazy, but it came pretty damn close at times.
Question of the post: Were there any shows released during 2016 that you didn’t like despite their general popularity? If not, how about shows you did like that very few others seemed to enjoy?