2016 was, by all accounts, a bad year. A bad year full of bad people doing bad things. So what better way to cope with impending global disaster than by reflecting on the best trash that anime had to offer this year?
I love trash anime. Not universally, mind you. I have some standards. But every season I try to single out at least one show that is bizarre, probably in poor taste, and likely to be either panned or ignored by most critics. With upwards of 70 shows to choose from in the heights of this anime bubble, I’m never left wanting for choices, but finding the right show can be surprisingly difficult. It’s not a matter of picking something “bad” and engaging in ironic revelry. Anybody can force that out of any show with enough commitment. I’m looking for weird passion projects, for failed blockbusters, for extremely niche and specific fetish pandering. I’m looking for the shows that could only come out of today’s anime climate. I’m not looking to get mad, nor to disparage fans of these shows. I’m looking to have a good time.
Failure can be a lot more interesting than success, and it’s with that attitude that I present my choices for the best trash anime from each season of 2016. I think each of these have worthwhile qualities that merit being seen, and at the very least they’re each fun to livetweet. They’re no diamonds in the rough, but let’s dig out these cubic zirconia from the dumpster.
Winter 2016: Pandora in the Crimson Shell: Ghost Urn
If you couldn’t tell from the title, this show’s concept comes from Masamune Shirow, creator of Ghost in the Shell. I think it even technically takes place in the same universe, andf while you won’t find the Major anywhere, our protagonist Nene also boasts a full-body prosthetic and finds herself at the center of several sci-fi conspiracies. Ostensibly the plot is about a superweapon lying dormant underneath a tropical island that Nene must defend from villains who would like to use it, but really the show is about Nene and her girlfriend Clarion, a kuudere nekomimi maid combat android with doll joints and twintails. Their relationship grows because Nene can finger Clarion and open Pandora’s Box (get it?), gaining access to a bevy of knowledge, skills, and costume changes that let them save the day.
If you’ve seen one image from this show you’ve probably seen Nene reach into Clarion’s crotch hatch and tickle her digital G spot (one time she literally does it over wifi), and I imagine most of you wrote it off right then and there. With good reason! But honestly if you’re able to swallow that, the rest of the anime is breezy, relatively inoffensive, and kinda fun! As Clarion’s extremely specific nexus of moe charm points would indicate, there’s a lot of fanservice, but almost none of the gross and nonconsensual variety. At worst, the superweapon’s AI Buer is a tiny pervert lion with a third leg, but even then the villain’s ultimate plan is thwarted when Buer’s collection of booty images gets leaked to the internet. As that climax might indicate, the show never takes itself too seriously, and the focus is always on the fluffy yuri undertones of Nene and Clarion’s relationship. It’s pleasant trash.
Also there’s a very cool chicken.
Spring 2016: Big Order
If you watch one show from this list, I’m going to recommend Big Order. From the creator of Mirai Nikki, it’s Mirai Nikki…But With Stands! I want to be very careful about describing it too closely, because it crams so much bullshit into its 10 episodes that much of its enjoyment is derived from going along with the ride yourself. This is pure action anime schlock in the way that Mirai Nikki was, but even denser and more incomprehensible due to its restricted running time. Do you wanna see bizarre pseudo-Stand battles set to a free jazz soundtrack? A guy with a plank of wood for a head? A slightly different version of Yuno Gasai? A fish gun? Big Order has it all!
I haven’t read the manga, but I have to imagine that the showrunners had to compress and/or remove a lot of material to make the show “work.” Ultimately, it’s to Big Order’s benefit, because the uneven pacing adds its own charm, and focusing on its highlights makes for a much more consistently entertaining and/or baffling experience. More than any other anime I saw this year, Big Order fits into the “so bad it’s good” category, with awful power fantasies, politics, animation, and fanservice. But if you reach beyond your irony, you can feel the desperation of the writing and production. Sakae Esuno must have had no idea how to follow up the success of Mirai Nikki, so he ended up telling the same story again, but worse, which makes for a fascinating case study. What made one such a phenomenon and the other such a flop? They’re both trash, but what is it that makes certain trash appealing to most anime watchers and other trash appealing only to people like me? Fill up your glass, queue up Big Order, and find your answer.
Summer 2016: First Love Monster
*in the shittiest human voice possible* Kaho Nikaido just fell head over heels in love with the dashingly handsome Kanade! There’s only one teeeeensy problem tho! He’s in FIFTH GRADE!
That is the morally reprehensible plot summary of First Love Monster, the joke being that Kanade and his friends, despite all being fifth graders, look like full-grown adults. And like most fifth graders, they spend 9/10ths of the show telling dick jokes, as Kaho wrestles with the unusual circumstances of her first crush. At first, it looks like the show is using its bizarre premise to lampoon shoujo tropes, but after having seen half of it I think its major concern is making fun of sexual deviancy. One of Kaho’s housemates is an adult man really into an effeminate young catboy character named Renren. Another is a girl who goes into an Evangelion-inspired berserker rage over sniffing the landlord’s underwear. It’s overall quite silly, but there’s something mean-spirited about its premise and targets that never sat entirely well with me.
I only watched half of the show, so I can’t comment on how it ends and whether or not it ever deviates from my impressions. But from what I saw, the show was at its best whenever it leaned into the inherent absurdity of Kanade and his grown-up-looking friends rough-housing and talking about their wieners. It’s not the best trash this year had to offer, but as far as uniquely trashy premises go, it’s worth checking out.
Fall 2016: Heybot!
I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to write about Heybot, so I’ll let it speak for itself.
And that’s just the first episode.