Looking Forward, Looking Back

Whew. This year was one hell of a ride, wasn’t it?

I know it’s been a rough, heartbreaking year for almost all of you – we lost some true visionaries who dared to live differently and never apologized for being themselves. My country, the US, took a lot of steps backward that will doubtless affect the entire world, and a lot of other countries are headed in similar directions. I’m afraid we have all been cursed to live in interesting times.

 

Heroine Problem in 2016

It’s been an extremely busy year here at Heroine Problem headquarters. In terms of my personal life, the school where I was working at closed down suddenly, forcing me to find a new job. I was lucky enough to get hired for my first-ever lead teacher job in a toddler class at a fairly prestigious preschool. It has good benefits, low ratios, and the best wage I’ve ever made, but the learning curve has been extremely steep for me as I work on my CDA and learn to take charge and run the classroom as my own. It’s been a difficult few months learning to re-balance my life, and I’m not quite there yet.

This change has been reflected in the drop in updates for the site. I admit it, I’ve been really bad about updating consistently! Really, really terrible about it! My last attempt to make weekly updates about current anime crashed and burned – rather than keeping relevant, it mostly made me avoidant and led to me not even watching the new episodes for a couple weeks. Needless to say, I don’t think that approach works for me. Going forward, I’m going to try again on the approach I took for winter 2016: if I find something to talk about in a currently-airing show, I will. That’s the approach that, after all, led to the writing of my most popular post thus far. My hope is to be able to maintain a twice-a-week posting schedule. In addition, I’d like to give the site a sprucing up – get a proper logo and banner, and have some business cards to hand out at conventions this year.

Despite the lack of posts, it’s been a busy anime-related year for me. I attended Sakura Con, Otakon, and Geek Girl Con, presenting panels at the first two and volunteering at the third. Although my first panel had some bumps due to technical difficulties that threw my plans for a loop, the rest were very well-attended and successful, in no small part due to the help of my dear friends Michelle Liu and Rose Bridges. Otakon – my first in eight years – was the most fun I’ve had at a con in years, and though I thought at the time it would be my last, I’ve already made plans to attend again in 2017. I also hope to attend AnimeFest in Dallas, because Sayo Yamamoto, Mitsurou Kubo, and Tadashi Hiramatsu, the main creative team behind Yuri!! on Ice will be there as guests. It’ll be tough to manage attending two long-distance cons in a row, but with careful budgeting, I think I can make it!

This year also marked the inception of Anime Feminist, a collective feminist blogging site run by Amelia Cook. Amelia showed incredible leadership in gathering together amazing bloggers like Lauren Orsini of Anime News Network, Gunpla 101, and Otaku Journalist; Dee of Josei Next Door; Vrai Kaiser; and many others. It’s a group I’m proud to be a part of, with a huge variety of perspectives. Amelia’s promotional prowess also led to coverage on heavy-hitter sites like Kotaku and The Mary Sue and a successful Patreon that makes it possible for writers to get paid for their work. I don’t know what the future holds for AniFem, but I’m excited to see where it goes.

 

Anime in 2016

This year, I watched fifteen current anime series, and parts of several others. Historically, I’ve focused on backlog shows, with less than a dozen current series in a year, so this is quite a lot for me. I’m glad I decided to get current this year, because there have been some truly stellar series that would have been a true shame to to miss out on. Even if a lot of other things were terrible, at least 2016 was a good year for anime.

Short-subject anime are increasingly popular as more and more anime are designed to be watched on phones while commuting. They cover a broad range of subjects, from silly gag anime to plot-driven stories as complex as any full-length series. Winter’s Please Tell Me! Galko-chan remains one of my favorite shows of the season. I’m not usually one for gross-out humor, but its frankness about things such as periods, finding cute bras in large sizes, and pooping after eating a spicy meal being discussed by likable characters charmed me. It was seven minutes of sunshine in the rainy Seattle winter. The absurdity of Sekkou Boys was entertaining enough, but ultimately forgettable. This Boy is a Professional Wizard, an independent production by the distinctive Soubi Yamamoto, remains under-appreciated. Space Patrol Luluco is the most popular of the shorts I watched, and for good reason. Hiroyuki Imaishi’s frenetic energy works in short bursts, and it was fun to see him work on relatively light fare. Historically, Trigger hasn’t been great with its female characters, but Luluco’s adolescent crush as the driving force of the story was well-handled and built up to a beautiful conclusion.

It was a year of extremes for shoujo and jousei anime as well. The fujoshi market has been gaining strength for some time, and this year the studios were eager to capitalize on that with an huge increase in shows about gay men and reverse harems. This led to two of the best series of the year: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and Yuri!! On Ice. Both shows tell compelling stories about gay men, but otherwise they are opposites to the extreme: historical vs. modern, tragedy vs. optimism, subtext vs. text, unrequited pining vs. a healthy relationship. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu also has a sequel season coming up, and while Yuri!! On Ice does not have a confirmed sequel, a smash hit with an open ending seems like an obvious choice. On the opposite extreme in terms of quality lie the pedophilic Super Lovers and First Love Monster. Super Lovers romanticizes grooming and abuse, while the mean-spirited First Love Monster mocks its viewers. Somewhere in the middle lies Kiss Him, Not Me. I expected it to be either critical of its viewers a la First Love Monsters, or superficial and far too forgiving of its heroine’s tendency to ship her classmates. Rather than either of those Kiss Him, Not Me shows some subversive leanings as it gently pokes fun at fujoshi culture, but remains all too willing to play many shoujo tropes straight.

Among shounen shows, two stood head and shoulders above the rest: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable and My Hero Academia. Diamond is Unbreakable continues David Production’s excellent adaptation with some of the most innovative art direction I’ve ever seen in TV anime. Sweet-natured Josuke and his friends brought a welcome change from the taciturn, disrespectful punk Jotaro, and the town of Morioh felt like a character in its own right. My Hero Academia hews closely to today’s standard shounen battle manga conventions, but with strong writing, lovable characters, and the production values of Studio Bones to bring the action sequences to life, I enjoyed it. The first season of last year’s Haikyuu!! came to a bittersweet ending last year when the boys lost in the final episodes, but the second and third seasons saw them learning from their defeat and coming together to make an even stronger team.

Seinen is something of a catch-all for series that don’t fall easily into the other categories, as the disparate remaining series show. How can you compare the symbolism-laden, fairytale inspired story of queer adolescent sexual awakening of Flip Flappers to the gentle episodic comedy Tanaka-kun is Always Listless? Or the tightly-plotted thriller Erased to the deeply cynical depiction of anime production in Girlish Number? There’s almost no overlap between the shows, other than that they are all worth your time.

This was also an incredible year for seeing anime films in theaters. Even without the dubious privilege of living in Los Angeles, where most are screened in order to be Oscar eligible, I experienced more anime on the big screen this year than I ever have. Isao Takahata’s nostalgic love letter to rural Japan, Only Yesterday, finally got a US release courtesy of GKids after years of sitting untouched in the Disney vault. Seeing Spirited Away again after 15 years brought me to tears as the now-iconic imagery felt new again. Miss Hokusai went sadly underappreciated – is there not enough of a market for feminist historical fiction? Beautiful, understated, female-helmed Doukyuusei continued this year’s trend of gay coming-of-age stories with two dissimilar high school boys connecting over music.

I learned this year there’s not much point to making predictions of what I’ll like next year. Too many shows have surprised me; too many others have disappointed. All I can hope is that 2017 is as strong as 2016, for the night is dark and full of terrors and sometimes I need some damn Japanese cartoons to cheer me up.

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