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Spitz’s Year End Wrap Up 2016

January 1, 2017

(Spitz’s Soapbox prides itself on how seriously it takes spoilers, and nothing within this article should lessen your enjoyment of the following series, but keep in mind that the things spoken of in this article are done so in a retroactive sense. Don’t let me ruin anything for you!)

明けまして! 2016 is gone, never to return. Personally, I know exactly what 2016 will be remembered for, but in the big picture, it was a year which provided truly amazing new and old anime series, as well as superb surprises in video games, and if I were to offer up a complaint pertaining to the year 2016, it would be that it came and went so quickly that my head is still spinning. Once you fall behind it is very difficult to get caught up.

 

The Round-up:
What follows is a list of everything I talked about over the past year. Click the names to be taken to the article(s) in which they were talked about.

Anime:
Amaama to Inazuma
Amanchu!
Ai Mai Mii
Ai Mai Mii: Mousou Catastrophe
Aiura!
Anime de Training! Xx
Ao no Kanata no Four Rhythm
Bakuon!!
Brave Witches
Boku Dake ga Inai Machi
Evangelion 1.11: You Are {Not} Alone
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya: 3rei!!
Flying Witch
Fushigi no Somera-chan
High School Fleet
Himegoto
Himouto! Umaru-chan
Kaijuu Girls: Ultra Kaijuu Gijinka Keikaku
Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko: Everything Flows
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV
Kiznaiver
Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru!
Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku
Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara
Mahou Shoujo Nante Mou Ii Desukara Second Season
Mayoiga
Mitsudomoe
Momokuri
Musaigen no Phantom World
Nobunaga no Shinobi
Nurse Witch Komugi-chan R
Ojisan to Marshmallow
Onee-chan ga Kita
Onsen Yousei Hakone-chan
Ooya-san wa Shishunki!
Orange
Pan de Peace!
Rewrite
Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
Shuumatsu no Izetta
Sketchbook ~Full Color’s~
Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note
Thunderbolt Fantasy
Uchuu Patrol Luluco
Usakame
Wagamama High Spec
Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru.
Yamishibai Season 3
Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru

Games:
Battlefield 1 (beta), (review)
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Overwatch
Street Fighter V
Titanfall 2 (tech test), (review)

 

Spitz’s Obligatory Year’s End Awards Section:

I’m very against the idea of “Anime of the Year” or “Game of the Year” or such things, especially for a blog which covers older stuff as well as new.
We aren’t here to rank things as better or inferior to others, but it’s always fun to point out some series or games which for specific reasons struck a lasting impression.
Here are some of 2016’s stand-outs:

Biggest Surprise:
Amanchu!
As mentioned when reviewing it, I had expected little more than a scuba-tinged slice of life moe series from Amanchu!. What I got instead was a shockingly well executed series from a production standpoint, and a narrative full of relatable, sincere and warm characters which came together to create something special.
The contrast of doofy and elegant art styles compliment the combination of comedic antics and heartfelt moments tremendously in a way which seems like should be impossible. Futaba and Hikari’s friendship resonates very well, and from the moment of their meeting to the waning minutes of the last episode, there was never a dull second with this series. This is a keeper.
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Great 萌え:
Highschool Fleet
Military Moe is good business, and Highschool Fleet stands right up there next to Girls und Panzer and Strike Witches as arguments for the subgenre. The characters are bright and energetic, and the battles, much like Girls und Panzer, do wondrous things with the lumbering pace of the warships to add to tension. The visuals and selection of music feel like summertime, and overall the production quality is terrific. If these types of series aren’t your thing, I can certainly understand, but personally I couldn’t get enough of it.
I was a fan especially of the manner in which the series wrapped up.
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(Additional mention:)
Momokuri
Momokuri to me is filed under ‘guilty pleasure’. I am a grown man non-averse to cuteness, but I am a grown man nonetheless, and while it would be endlessly embarrassing to be seen watching something as overtly cute as Momokuri, it is a series full of nothing but lovable characters, and I couldn’t get enough of their antics while the show was airing. Mizuyama Norika stole the show for me, but watching Yuki fawn over Momotsuki in her own over the top ways never got old either.

 

Madoka Magica Spirit Award:
Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru
This series had been sitting in my queue forever, despite having viewed the superb first episode and loving it, and I’m unsure why, because this is a very strong entry in what has become a crowded genre.
The characters are quite likable, and the voice cast does a wonderful job with their performances (Uchiyama Yumi who voices Fuu was especially great). The visuals can be a little uneven, but stylistically, coupled with the series’ unique soundtrack, they add much to making this series feel like something fresh and different.
It deserves sharing the same breath as Madoka Magica I think, thanks to the nature of the world in which the narrative takes place. It takes a while to see the big picture, with a slice of life lull in the middle of the series, but this all shatters away once the truth is revealed.
yuuki-yuunaa

(Additional mention:)
Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku
Even if it’s flawed in some notable ways, how could I not mention Mahoiku here?
Style goes a long way, especially in series treading in worn ground, and style is something this series excels at. The character designs are busy and diverse (even if a couple of them had to grow on me), and though the production quality wavered ever so slightly in the later episodes, the visuals were stunning.
Some characters are conniving and several are self-interested and entirely worth hating, but even the antagonists in this series come from a relatable and in some cases endearing place. Terrible things happen within this series to its characters, and while I didn’t have an issue with that in concept, the methods used to depict their fates felt misguided. If you’re going for shock value, you can only do it once or twice before it feels forced.
Even series you recognize as having missteps can be immersive and memorable though, and seeing as there are plenty of light novels worth of material for this series to draw from, I do hope we see more of it in the future.

 

High Impact:
Boku Dake ga Inai Machi
It’s admittedly tasteless in a way to praise a series for its realistic depiction of violence, but if the scenes of abuse weren’t in this series, sure, it would probably still be memorable, but it would not have had anywhere near the impact it did.
There has never been a character in an anime series I have felt so strongly needed protecting than Hinazuki Kayo. Showing us in well-animated scenes how her mother beats on her is striking and outright difficult to watch, and seeing Kayo’s reaction to Satoru’s mother’s love for her own child in a later scene really tore me up.
It’s an absurd thing to recommend a series because “hey they beat on that kid and it was messed up”, and that isn’t why I’m recommending Boku Dake ga Inai Machi. I’m recommending it because it’s a series which uses that violence intelligently to give weight and purpose to the goals of the narrative. It isn’t about Kayo necessarily. It’s about protecting her, and I think that’s wonderful.
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(Additional mention:)
Shakunetsu no Takkyuu Musume
A series doesn’t need to be emotionally abusive to grab you in a big way.
I am endlessly impressed by this series. Similar to Amanchu!, I expected little more than a cast of bright moe characters from Shakunetsu, and it brought them, but I was not at all expecting to be so drawn to a series based on table tennis of all things.
Throwing aside the moe pretext, Shakunetsu is a series about competition, and it was written by someone who understands the mind of a competitive person. Things like the adrenaline highs found in the midsts of contests of skill, and characteristics like ego which are born from the compulsion to perform well, even if the root of that compulsion is misunderstood. As anyone who has played a competitive shooter with me knows, I’m an overly competitive person, and through Agari and the unendingly entertaining Futamaru Kururi, this series served up (I know) a means to think about why I am the way I am.
Even without the personal reasons for why this series struck me however, it’s a series absolutely worth seeing for its over the top delivery of its table tennis matches. The animation is completely ludicrous in the best ways, and they are presented in a way which makes each match feel as though the world is exploding.
On the topic of presentation, I was also a fan of the way brief dialogue snippets were sometimes delivered in the middle of the series’ OP sequence, as well as the selection of music throughout. I want that soundtrack, and I’d be head over heels for more from this series in the future.

 

Most Underwhelming:
Orange
I’m going to sound like a real jerk here: Kakeru was lame. Even boring people deserve life, but building a story around preventing the suicide of a character doesn’t work when the character in question is insufferably bland and in no way particularly likable.
The poor characterization doesn’t stop at Kakeru, either. Aside from Hagita, who was quite funny in many scenes, the personalities of the overall cast were dreadfully forgettable, and their dialogue felt more like a buffer between scenes than it was meant to steer the narrative toward a goal or to endear the characters to the viewer. Taka-chan especially was criminally underutilized. Why was she even there?
Orange to me, as an anime series on its own, felt built to be emotionally abusive without doing the work needed to make such a story effective or memorable, and while I didn’t love every single series I started this year, Orange was the one which felt like an outright chore to watch.

 

Video Games:

Best Single Player:
Doom-
Its violence is over the top. Its available arsenal is aplenty. It knows what it is. Doom is a video game.
Getting back into the old style of the classic Doom games was a tall order. The speed and the sense of both power and frailness those older games provided isn’t the sort of thing you see with shooters these days.
I had my doubts leading up to its launch, but the moment a racked shotgun replaced the last notes of the ripping music in the introductory sequence I knew I was in for a treat.
The visuals were smooth, the speed of the action was breakneck, and the moxie with which Doom cast aside the tropes and style of recent shooters did well to produce a near perfect modern take on the formula which made the original game so fun.
If I had a complaint (aside from its poor competitive mulitplayer), it would be that it took too long for them to crank up the difficulty.

 

Best Multiplayer:
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare-
I can’t shake the feeling that I should be apologizing for how much I enjoyed this year’s Call of Duty. For whatever reason, this game has seen little more than ire from the video game community (Big shock. Video game fans hate something.), though much of that hate happened to die down once the game was actually out. Did everyone already forget it exists, or did they realize that it’s actually a pretty damned good game?
Regardless of young people disliking things for the sake of disliking them, Infinite Warfare’s campaign brought fresh ideas into the single player, but the multiplayer has been honed to a razor’s edge. Many of my complaints regarding the custom classes which have persisted from previous games in the series can’t be overlooked, but the gunplay feels frantic and precise, and the maps are some of the best in years. It runs silky smooth, and the movement and control just feel perfect.

2016 was chock full of good shooters, and the other big ones are superb as well, but as someone who mostly plays them solo, and who has less and less time to spend on them, Infinite Warfare’s speed and peerless control made it stick with me when the rest of the bunch did not. If next year’s Call of Duty is the same thing, yeah, I’ll be bummed out. This series needs a refresh or a break, but Infinite Warfare is the most I have enjoyed one since the original Modern Warfare, and that is saying a ton. Give it an honest chance.

 

Biggest Surprise:
Thumper-
There’s something here, beneath the sharp, mystifying visuals and the vaguely uncomfortable yet trance-inducing soundtrack which strikes a tone in a way video games very rarely manage to do.
As far as gameplay itself goes, Thumper is a simple but satisfying rhythm game. It’s approach to correcting your mistakes is particularly great; nestled within the increased risk/reward of its subtle combo system. It’s a challenging game, especially if you aren’t in the right state of mind, or at least playing at a volume loud enough to drench yourself in it, but like all games properly balanced around challenge, when a rough section is overcome or when a section which had given you trouble previously is tackled effortlessly thanks to experience, you feel elated.
This game is a beautiful nightmare, and it came out of nowhere.

 

Most Underwhelming:
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End-
It feels unfair in a way for Uncharted 4 to be here, considering I never got around to finishing it, but perhaps that fact is all the argument I need.
I know people love this game, and I’m not interested in petty things like going against the crowd just to incite a reaction, so if you disagree, at least hear me out.
This is a beautiful video game. The visuals are so tremendously detailed and the things which have been done to animation (responsive yet realistic? eat that, GTAV) and facial animation are just out of this world. The performances are great too (even if the characters aren’t especially likable in my opinion), and the manner in which dialogue is fit into your in-game actions is well done.

My problem is that yes, it’s a technical masterpiece, but I’m not playing a video game to watch a masterfully produced CG film – I’m here to play it, and Uncharted 4’s gameplay was boring to the degree at which I could no longer force myself to bother with it to earn the next cutscene or set piece.
Minor additions such as the grappling hook couldn’t bat away the dullness of the same sorts of climbing and third person shooting we’ve all been doing for years upon years now, and I was rather stupefied to see the fervor for this game after its release.
Then again, as far as my eyes could see, none of that praise was for its gameplay.

 

And As For Me:

Looking Back:
2016 was a lot of waiting. Wait for this time; wait for this date; wait here, wait there.
I waited in hospitals. I waited in my bedroom. I waited in my car. In parking lots or at work. I waited for the games I was anticipating to arrive. I waited for new episodes of the anime series I was watching. For shifts to end and for results to arrive.
Come November, I began waiting for 2017, so that the new year would give me an excuse to finally do something else.

Looking Forward:
And 2017 is a mystery to me. There are always things which can change, and there are always things which will change whether I want them to or not, and at a certain point, if you aren’t seeking out the first, the second will strike you in the head with unforgiving force.
The new feature for the Soapbox has been on the back burner for far too long, so I suppose priority one should be to see what can be done to get that ball rolling.
Writing up the reviews during video game shooter season began as a chore, but became fun once the first couple were written. Save for Persona 5, there aren’t any games on the close horizon I’m actively looking forward to (except for maybe Nier: Automata), but who says I have to only write exclusively about current games?
Anime is why this blog exists, and there will always be more to talk about.

 

Spitz’s Soapbox is a work of joy, not of obligation, and to anyone who has spent but a stray moment on its pages over this past year, you have my utmost gratitude. Thank you for reading my words. There will be more coming your way in 2017.
(By the way, have you found any easter eggs yet?)

From → Anime, Games

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