Funomena Picks: Best of Anime 2016 | Part II

For my second and final venture into the best of anime 2016, I determine the overall winners of the year.

Below are my meticulously considered titles, albums and characters that will be competing for and winning the Funomenon Globe (Took me five seconds to come up with this name…so it’s AWESOME. Design & 3D render pending).

In addition to part I’s entries, the categories I will be awarding for at the end are:

  • Best Background Art & Atmosphere, Object & Setting Design
  • Best Animation: Object, Background & Character Interactivity / Composition Polish
  • Best Animation: Action | Choreography, Composition & Framing Polish
  • Best OP & ED
  • Favourite Character
  • Best OST
  • Favourite Anime of 2016

Now, without further ado, Let’s tackle the last three categories.


Favourite Characters of 2016

5. Prince Raj Shenazard of Tanbarun | Snow White with the Red Hair Season 2

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Pretty much everyone who sat through Snow White with the Red Hair 2 (good show. You should watch it) left their seats loving this guy, despite celebrating him trotting pathetically away in a horse cart back in season one.

A pampered prince with a collection of nosy siblings, and a personal handler who actively tries to get his master on the right track, Raj’s (arguably) uncharacteristic transformation is ultimately a pledge to make himself worthy of Shirayuki’s friendship, whose infectious demeanor of independent flare acted as a source of inspiration for the man-child.

And you know what? By the end of the season, Raj was able to dig himself out of the hole, pledged his nation’s support to the red-haired beauty and strives to lead by her example. An admirable demonstration of good will.

I mean come on…the guy handles the violin like a true charmer.

4. Nico Niiyama | Kiznavier

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Nico fits right into the weird world that is the show Kiznavier. Seemingly a weird girl who’s too blind to societal expectations to give a shit about how she’s dresses and acts, Nico’s manufactured outer shell was an attempt to humanise herself, to shatter that perfect image of a cute, rich and smart girl.

What we got was perhaps the most expressive, mature AND authentically human characters out of the entire cast; the embodiment of the human spirit if one were to be overly sentimental. Nico’s main goal is to befriend every Kiznavier, TRULY befriend them, and she’s willing to stake her romantic feelings for that goal too.

3. Asuka Tanaka | Sound! Euphonium 2

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The Sound! Euphonium franchise has always devoted a huge chunk of its narrative energy to exploring the fundamental influences that keep ensembles from imploding. On a much grander scale, the microcosmic details that the show’s two seasons explored promptly invited organic comparisons between compromise, emotional safeguards and sympathy.

Asuka’s introduction in season one and her arc’s resolution in season two was a beautiful; albeit bittersweet ode to teenage selfishness. With a personal goal that resembles giving her abusive and jealous mother and never present father the finger, Asuka’s saint-like devotion to the concert band was so powerfully resonant, that she has become a literal drug the band members crave and rely on, in order to stay focused on their own goals of reaching the Nationals.

In short, the human girl behind those red glasses has reaped the rewards of a well-scripted presence, thus making her one of the most sincerely created characters in recent years.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of finally getting to understand Asuka before she walks off into the snow, was just how it feeds into the fundamental purpose of narratives that rely on character nuance: the curiosity to wander. Asuka is a cynical person, beaten down by circumstance. Her devotion to the euphonium started as a revenge tale, and it ended as a new-minted story about pursuing passion. Illogical, waste-of-time, useless passion.

And most importantly…well, let’s leave that conversation to another topic in the near future.

2. Tanaka | Tanaka-kun is Always Listless

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I will admit that this is an unexpected pick for such a high position. Above Asuka, even.

Tanaka is an odd take on a well-oiled trope of the unmotivated protagonist, thrusted in a world where he was forced to be the…well, protagonist.

Except being a protagonist means next to nothing here. Tanaka’s approach to life is by all amounts of logic; unhealthy and dangerous. Yet the show somehow manages to spin him into an almost sage-like character: sailing above the violent waves in his own paradigm of being, making friends and ‘recruiting’ apprentices.

My fascination with Tanaka is ultimately the strong resemblance of him with the…Buddha. An enlightened being that thrives on the barest of nourishment and pleasures, but with no small amount of substance that ultimately allows Tanaka to enjoy his time with companions, and offering no small amount of advice for them, unknowingly or not.

1. Kumiko Oumae | Sound! Euphonium 2

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I think both 2015 and 2016’s awards featured a crying Kumiko. And I made that particular decision quite deliberately. To illustrate a legitimate point, if you must know.

Crying proves that you care. It proves that you are human, that you have allowed yourself to be hurt by the world around you. Kumiko has naively tried to avoid all that throughout much of season one, only to break down in episode 12 in a desperate, maddening plea as she comes to terms that she has already let her heart wander too much; too much to stop herself from caring. The ensemble’s success is now tied to her reason to play the euphonium. Her love of music is now tied to her reason of existence. She loves the euphonium.

It has always being a matter of emotional synergy, that I almost never find scenes where the protagonist bursts into one of their speeches about trying your best that much effective. They are cringe-worthy more often than not. The outbursts’ tie to my understanding of the reasoning behind them has to remain in clarity. This is perhaps my only decent explanation as to why I sat there, speechless, in awe, when Kumiko has her moment of cathartic breakdowns. I understood her, I felt like I would be doing the same thing if I was thrust into a situation where my good intentions was being called out by a senior I begrudgingly respect.

Which brings me back to that cliffhanger in Asuka’s section.

Kumiko hated (past tense is key) her for the same reasons why I found myself putting up mental safeguards every time Asuka takes over a scene: somethings felt disturbing about her tone of presence. She’s too friendly, too perfect, too secretive. Too ruthless.

Not only that, Kumiko; being the ambassador for the Sound! Euphonium franchise, demonstrated a profound drive in season two, to grow into the active protagonist that every other high school drama would’ve started her off as: it’s a struggle that is definitive of her treatment in the material as a literal sponge of the surrounding good will. Thus in this case, the journey is most DEFINITELY more important than the destination, especially when the entire series was about that journey to become your own story’s protagonist.

Honourable Mentions

Sakamoto | Sakamoto desu ga?

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Usami Mizuki | This Art Club Has a Problem

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Best OSTs of Anime 2016

5. Bungo Stray Dogs 2 | Taku Iwasaki

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For such a tonally inconsistent series, Bungo Stray Dogs’ second season suffered much of same issues as its first. Though this time, moments of profound clarity are scattered throughout. Along with a strong opening ‘flashback’ arc that placed Daizai’s Mafia days in the spotlight, the music took a more dramatic turn in the most literal sense possible: the incorporation of operatic orchestrations and vocal elements, which transcribed the show’s most dramatic moments with deserving weight and grandeur.

4. Flying Witch | Yoshiaki Dewa

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Flying Witch exemplifies a lot of the best qualities of the Iyashikei genre, and I’ve spend no less amount of words already trying to narrate that in writing. The musical score of the series is by and large, extremely minimalistic, sometimes struggling to produce even a semblance of melodic colour. For me, this approach to minimalism is rarely effective in film music, and for the most part, Flying Witch suffered in this regard as well.

However, a significant chunk of the album still delves into musical styles that feel pleasantly organic, even occasionally experimenting with more fantastical sounds to cater to the lightly magical side of the series.

3. Snow White with the Red Hair 2 | Michiru Oshima

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(Refer to my best of film music in 2016 post for more complete notes.)

In addition to penning perhaps one of her best anime main themes in a decade, Michiru Oshima indulged us with a gorgeously orchestrated soundtrack, stuffed to the brim with overwhelmingly romantic overtones.

Oshima’s now prolific compositional mannerisms are in full bloom here, and they have never rendered so beautifully.

2. Sound! Euphonium 2 | Akito Matsuda

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Sigh* The only reason this album failed to make into the above best of film music post was its release date…

But with nothing to stop me here; due to slightly different rules, allow me to first praise the wealth of ideas present in terms of thematic development, the amount which is almost unprecedented for an anime drama series.

The big hero theme here has got to be Asuka’s theme ‘Hibike! Euphonium’, a warm and far-reaching anthem for the solo euphonium. Incidentally, season one also had its own main theme, introduced in episode one while Kumiko and Reina waited for their middle school verdict.

What’s even more astounding about season two’s album however, are the sheer amount of depth and deliberacy that it has showcased when one listens to both seasons’ albums in unison. Specific storylines were quietly teased in the first season, before being fully developed in the second. Mizore’s arc is musically represented by a oboe solo in the middle of ‘Crescent Moon Dance’. While the first album featured the entire piece along with the solo, season one’s climax curiously omitted it from the on-screen performance. It was only after Mizore has found her passion again, that the solo was heard in full on-screen glory in the second season.

Not only that, Asuka’s theme was intricately teased in season one. Strings and piano performed the theme as the audition took a turn for the dramatic in episode 10.

Overall, in addition to the above-mentioned intelligent compositions and musical storytelling, the album is stuffed with full symphonic pieces featured in the show, including full excerpts of Borodin’s Prince Igor opera.

1. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu | Kana Shibue

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…But even Sound! Euphonium 2 couldn’t best the magnificence that was the 2 album release of Rakugo Shinjuu’s indulgently periodic and extroverted soundtrack.

Again, refer to my ‘best of film music 2016’ for a more detailed run-down.

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