Summer 2017’s Anime Stars

A screenshot of the anime

A screenshot of the anime "New Game!!". Photo courtesy of Flickr user oaxaca.

Rena Cai, Staff Writer

The competition was pretty thin this summer, making this season’s top shows stand out even more. But even in a far stronger season, these choices would easily have been highlights as well.

New Game!!

It’s rare for a sequel to outshine its predecessor, but that’s exactly what happened with New Game!!. What impressed me most about this sequel was the way it built on the groundwork of the first season to create something that was a good show by any measure, rather than just being good by the standards of its genre. The big highlight here was New Game!!‘s loftier narrative ambitions. Where the series had previously been content to let its cast coast through lightweight slice of life adventures, this second season brought some genuine drama into the mix. There was a constant sense that the main characters were growing as people, and several episodes really hit it out of the park by delivering strong emotional high points. An excellent final episode sealed the deal for me, and what began as a typical moe workplace comedy now feels like a series that I can recommend to a wide audience.

Made In Abyss

Many great shows teach you something new about yourself, or introduce you to characters you feel like you’ve known all your life. Made in Abyss offers something very different: the pure exhilaration of exploring a rich fantasy world. Its compelling premise compacts the heart of adventure into two contrasting forces: fragile, ever-optimistic humans and the yawning, endless abyss. Episode after episode, that abyss continues to offer new wonders, the show’s leads descending through terrors and wonders on their journey to the bottom. For most productions, the simple thrill of exploring a great, foreboding wilderness might not be enough of a hook, but Made in Abyss also happens to be one of the most beautiful and smartly executed shows of the year. It’s lifted by evocative backgrounds, excellent monster animation, and a consistently inspiring soundtrack, along with a strong cast and a firm sense of narrative consequence. Made in Abyss embodies the heart of adventure and is easily the most evocative show of the season.

Sakura Quest

Sakura Quest first caught my eye in spring with its unusual rural setting and characters that were all ages, but it really came into its own during the second cour. During the latter half of the show, it transitioned from a mild workplace comedic drama to a story with real heart. The main difference is that this summer, the town of Manoyama itself became a main character with its own backstory, development, and emotional pull. Yoshino tries really hard, but our protagonist is not the most compelling character; unlike the other girls, she doesn’t seem to have particular passions or skills to set her apart. So when the second half of the show began focusing way less on Yoshino and more on the town’s more interesting denizens, the pace naturally picked up. Additionally, as the treasures of Manoyama are quite literally unearthed, the town and its stories, traditions, and secrets become the most irresistible part of the show. By the time we got to the finale, I found myself getting emotional over a show that I would have told you was just decent last season. Paired with good music and lovely background art, it’s an enlightening take on a rural way of life and why it’s worth preserving.