Before we kick things off, a brief explanation for those who may not be familiar with this highly prestigious ceremony: contrary to the post title, these awards are not for those anime released solely in 2017, but rather for shows released from the start of spring 2017 and finished by the end of winter 2018. This is because a) scrolling through best-of lists in late December and early January gets old fast, and b) there tends to be less in the way of ongoing titles between the winter and spring seasons. Also important to note is that only televised shows I watched right through to the end are in the running here. Films, specials, and OVAs, along with any shows that I dropped part-way through or are still ongoing, are automatically disqualified.
And now, on with the show!
The Congrats-For-Not-Being-Shit Trophy (aka Biggest Surprise Title)
Winner: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho/A Place Further Than The Universe
Going by the synopsis, I naturally assumed this would be nothing more than one of those “cute girls do cute things in a school club that have absolutely nothing to do with the actual club activity” kind of shows. You know the type – moe as hell, with a four or five-strong main female cast who, upon deciding on some lofty goal, then spend the rest of the series drinking tea, having sleepovers, and attending beach ‘training camps’. While Sora yori mo Tooi Basho has its fair share of cute moments, I’m happy to report that the girls do actually progress steadily towards their shared goal – and that they show a truly impressive amount of focus, determination, and spirit along the way. Neither is the idea of going to Antarctica merely used as some kind of gimmick in place of forming a band or whatever; somewhat unrealistic as the story might be, it’s serious in all the right places as well as genuinely heartfelt.
The Shiny Entrance Medal (aka Best Debut Episode)
Winner: Natsume Yuujinchou Roku/Natsume’s Book of Friends season 6
I’ve been a fan of Natsume Yuujinchou for a number of years now; it’s one of the few long-running shows I count among my all-time anime favourites. That said, I’m used to each season starting off relatively lightly in terms of emotional punch and saving the really big guns for the last couple of episodes. Not so with season 6, which begins with an episode where Natsume is transformed back into a much younger version of himself – complete with all the insecurities and fears of his childhood and no knowledge of the friends he meets later. Tanuma and Taki (who are rarely seen together in other episodes) both get in some great screen time here, and all up it’s a fantastic opener that serves to remind everyone exactly why Natsume is the way he is, and just how far he’s come since the first season.
The Blue Ribbon of Fabulosity (aka Best Character)
Runner-up: Nanachi, Made in Abyss
I don’t know that I’d call Nanachi one of my favourite characters of the 2017-18 anime year, but I certainly think there’s no other quite like them, either physically or in terms of what they’ve been through story-wise. It’s near the end of the show by the time their character is introduced, and everyone probably has an inkling by this point that, like the rest of the series, the cutesy exterior hides some incredibly grim content. Nanachi takes this to the next level, but it’s precisely because they still have some humanity left to give that I feel compelled to give them the recognition they deserve. It’s not the dark-as-hell backstory, but rather the fact that they’ve come out the other side with their mind and heart mostly intact, that makes Nanachi truly special.
Winner: Hina, 3-gatsu no Lion
The first season of 3-gatsu no Lion made perfectly clear that Hina was already one of the kindest, most open-hearted, and most non-judgmental characters to be introduced in the history of anime. What the second season of 3-gatsu no Lion makes equally clear is that Hina is also one of the emotionally strongest characters in anime – not because she has no fear, but because she does and chooses to act anyway, purely because she understands beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s the right thing to do. In the face of everyone else’s judgement, she consciously takes a stand, knowing that even when she’s essentially ‘creating trouble’ for the culture around her, she’s not doing anything wrong by sticking up for those who aren’t able to do so for themselves.
The Holy Eyedrops Award (aka Best Visuals)
Runner-up: Violet Evergarden
I feel that Kyoto Animation tends to be quite divisive not only with their stories but also their artwork. Some instantly love it, others tend to find it rather empty and sterile. I suppose I sit somewhere in between, but I do want to praise the rich colouring and high attention to detail (at least in the foreground art) that Violet Evergarden brings to the table. The character designs are also nice and varied, and the extremely clean surface of much of the artwork, while unrealistic (you’d think a pseudo-European 19th century setting would be a bit… well, dirtier), is pretty to look at nonetheless.
Winner: 3-gatsu no Lion/March Comes in Like a Lion season 2
Although perhaps a bit too busy for some tastes, particularly when the artwork takes on a younger feel and is combined with a lot of onscreen character action and rapid text, 3-gatsu no Lion takes home this award for the second year in a row. It’s during its quieter, more abstract moments that I think 3-gatsu no Lion’s artwork really shines – that sometimes sudden lack of colour, ballooning of negative space, and very careful attention to both shadow and framing. At other times, the show looks like a detailed watercolour sketch or painting – particularly whenever the Kawamoto family is involved – which works as a warm relief to the starkness that so often seems to follow Rei around. In both cases, the visual design of the show tells a lot without the need for dialogue, and that’s something I can appreciate a whole lot.
The First Miniature Crown of Swank (aka Best OP)
Winner: Kakegurui/Compulsive Gambler
Kakegurui might be pure (albeit highly entertaining) trash, not to mention a textbook example of style over substance, but the OP at least is not only stylish as hell but also genuinely good. Tia’s vocals here – husky, playful, and undeniably sexy – really compliment the catchy, show-time jazz music. Moreover, while I’m normally instantly turned off by any given show when an opening sequence presents this much obvious fanservice, it helps that it is actually pretty sexy in this case, as opposed to just plain dumb or unimaginative (as most fanservice tends to be). There’s also enough going on with the visuals that said fanservice seems smartly calculated to emphasize the trippiness rather than the other way around. At this point, I expect nothing less from OP director Yamamoto Sayo, whose always vividly colourful and seemingly effortless chic touch gift Kakegurui with one hell of an entrance.
The Second Miniature Crown of Swank (aka Best ED)
Winner: Koi wa Ameagari no You ni/After the Rain
Aimer’s distinctively husky voice, especially in comparison to the rather high-pitched and often quite nasally vocal style that many female J-pop artists tend to go for, is a lovely fit for heartfelt ballads like this one. I never get the impression that Aimer is going out of her way to be angsty, but the quality of her voice is such that especially paired with these slower-paced tracks, it just naturally creates a very melancholic and nostalgic atmosphere. This happens to suit the general tone of Koi wa Ameagari no You ni very well indeed, as do the lyrics – and although I have no idea whether this song was created specifically for the show, it could scarcely have been a better fit regardless.
The Golden Ears Award (aka Best Overall Soundtrack)
You guys, I got nothin’. While in previous years I’ve had no issue picking a winner for this award (Kill la Kill, Zankyou no Terror, Kekkai Sensen, and Yuri on Ice), there was simply no anime soundtrack this year that stood out to me in the same remarkable way.
The Wooden Spoon of Shame (aka Worst Overall Title)
Runner-up: Juuni Taisen/Zodiac Wars
Despite being an obviously trash show, Juuni Taisen starts off promisingly enough, with an opening episode that got my attention pretty quick and gave me modestly high hopes for the rest of the series. Unfortunately, this descends very rapidly into predictability (not least because the characters are killed off in exact order of each zodiac animal), and ends on a rather flat and anticlimactic note. Granted, it would’ve been much worse had I cared more about the show to begin with, but I was left feeling mildly annoyed by the experience nonetheless.
Winner: Kino no Tabi/Kino’s Journey
Don’t get me wrong, there were technically far worse shows than the remake of Kino no Tabi out this anime year, but this title was the one that I felt failed hardest at living up to its potential. As a highly episodic series, some stories were always going to be better than others, but I was left with a vague sense of disappointment after nearly all of them, with a couple of episodes that feel downright off in terms of its moral message. While I’m completely of the view that an anime should be judged purely on its own merits and not in comparison to any other work, that’s pretty difficult in the case of Kino no Tabi, where some of the episodes are simply being retold rather than existing as original stories, and retold with inferior writing at that. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad show per se, but I’d argue that the remake of Kino no Tabi, despite being pleasant enough to look at, is an average overall production even at its best, and nowhere near as interesting or compelling as it should have been.
The Diamond-Studded Tiara (aka Best Overall Title)
Runner-up: Made in Abyss
Made in Abyss made an appearance on a great many best-of lists for the 2017 anime year, and for good reason. It stood completely apart from any other title airing in its season in terms of both plot and setting. Its world-building is detailed but generally non-expository. Its main characters are fairly likable, and while the designs make them look like they’re permanently stuck in chibi-mode, the writing is strong enough that this simply ceases to matter after a while. The pacing, while perhaps a little too deliberate for some, is offset by the intensely compelling atmosphere of childlike wonder mixed with a constantly unsettling undercurrent. If I have any particular qualms about this series, it’s that the humour (particularly regarding Reg’s more intimate body parts) gets repetitive and that Riko, despite not being depicted in any traditional fanservicey way, is shown stripping down a tad too often for comfort. Other than this, I’m very impressed by what Made in Abyss has to offer and am very much looking forward to season 2.
Winner: 3-gatsu no Lion/March Comes in Like a Lion season 2
Thanks to powerhouses like Yuri on Ice and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, 3-gatsu no Lion narrowly lost out as best title in last year’s AAA. It therefore seems only right that it should finally score the big win this time around, especially as I have no major issues with the show as I do with Made in Abyss. Of course, not all story arcs in season 2 of 3-gatsu no Lion are equally fantastic; the depiction of Kyouko and Gouda’s relationship in particular strikes a very dissonant tone, while on the other hand, Hina and her bully-centric storyline is portrayed in near-flawless detail. I don’t think the second season of this show is necessarily better than the first, all things considered, but I do think they’re about equal – and given how much praise I ended up lavishing on that first season, this should not be taken as anything other than a compliment. In short, I deem 3-gatsu-no Lion to be truly deserving of this award. No matter how much interest anime viewers may or may not have in shogi, I highly encourage everyone to give it a shot.
And as always, just to wrap things up, here are all the shows that aired over the past anime year which I finished but do not make an appearance in the above awards. I enjoyed all of them to some extent, so these should really be considered more as honourable mentions than snubs: Just Because!, Kekkai Sensen season 2, Mahoutsukai no Yome, Osomatsu-san season 2, Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, Tsuki ga Kirei, Uchouten Kazoku season 2.
Question of the post: Agree? Disagree? Completely affronted by my taste in anime? Sing out in the comments and let me know some of your own picks for these categories (or for any other category that you care to make up).