Wow I got super late on this post. I spent the entire year cataloging my consumption of art, and what happened? I got sick and tired of cataloging. But dang it, there was a lot of great stuff!
What a year it was for art. There’s a lot I got to see, and a lot I didn’t – due to the latter, for now I am releasing my personal list. Not my favorite things from 2017, but my favorite things that 2017 introduced me to.
10. Firefly and Serenity
Treason alert: Firefly had exactly the right amount of content released. 14 episodes was enough to introduce its amazing cast and their various conflicts, setting up for a heartbreaking tell-most movie finale. Yes, it would be nice to see Shepherd Book’s backstory told on-screen. Yes, Inara would get a fleshed out story in a multi-season Firefly. But it’s well worth the Simon drama, unearned tragedies, and Whedon-isms avoided. Firefly is still very good though. And all these people wishing for multiple seasons have me curious to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and see what Joss does with 144 episodes.
Recommended episode: Jaynestown
Nichijou is about as weird and good as anime gets. It’s a high school situation comedy where the situations are genuinely relatable and interesting, but are made comedic through high-quality animation. Days are ruined, robots are loved, and soccer games are fabricated and unfabricated, all in one small, constantly moving town.
Recommended skit: Igo Soccer Club
8. The Good Place
While The Good Place had episodes this year, I want to focus on the mostly-2016 first season. I like shows more than movies, and The Good Place S1 is a remarkable movie. Constant creativity, entertaining characters who are continuously explored, and a singly-focused continuous plot despite its four hour run time. While, like a certain visual novel, the ending resets those great character moments, it’s still a must-watch.
This show is very linear. You can only start from the beginning.
7. Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou
Hideaki Anno’s so-called masterpiece. It’s pretty great. Complex, sympathetic protagonists, absolute mastery in depicting both cartoon insanity and the fearful tremors of teenage love, and Anno’s mix of masterful cinematography and inability to organize a production make this a frustrating gem every bit as much as Evangelion was. Sadly Anno didn’t get to take these characters that far – the show changed focus after 18 episodes and never got its movie apocalypse moment. But maybe it didn’t really need that – KareKano’s eighteenth episode is an unsatisfying ending, and this show demonstrated that those have their place.
This show is very linear. You can only start from the beginning.
6. Yu Yu Hakusho
Childhood wish fulfilled: I watched the entirety of the Dark Tournament arc. While Yu Yu Hakusho is not something I finished this year, it has already impressed me. It is the story of a teenage thug given a second chance at life, and it seems to have formed my entire stance on what that kind of story should be. Yusuke is about as charming as a delinquent protagonist gets, and in the midst of his fantastical battles he does some real growing up. Life is beautiful, even if you have to fight demons. Live it.
Recommended episode: Episode 1 if you like emotional stuff. Peek at 32, 40, and 58 if you want action.
5. Xavier: Renegade Angel
This show might have a better script than Ping Pong. It joins Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, Jimmy Nutron, and the entire rest of the adult swim catalog in the pantheon of “Things That No One Expected to Exist”. And yet in the sea of puns, glitches, and sperm, it can be so darn crushing. Xavier: Renegade Angel is about a guy who just does not get it. He deserves better, but he just does not understand anything around him. It takes this premise to its highest potential.
Recommended episode: Damnesia Vu
4. Star vs the Forces of Evil
You like fantasy action shows? You like seeing characters rise to the top of their potential? You like lived-in worlds? Continuity? You like teen comedies for preteens? Star Vs the Forces of Evil is Disney’s new fantasy epic, and it is excellent all across the board. Some badly-written episodes and an over-focus on romance aside, it’s a necessary watch for fans of long-form fantasy animation and a charming time.
Recommended episodes: Season 2’s “Spider With a Top Hat” and “Ludo in the Wild”
3. Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks will probably trickle higher up on this list as time goes on. In the face of its effortlessly likable cast, sense of humor, and some of the strongest imagery in art, the weaker stretches feel like nothing. But it is an incomplete series – Fire Walk With Me, while phenomenal, was not meant to be the ending it was. Good thing it’s no longer the end. A big delay on my in-2017 media list is that I hadn’t watched the Return until this year.
Recommendation: Watch the first seventeen episodes. After that, watch as much as you want and skip to the finale if you get bored.
2. Brooklyn Nine Nine
Parks and Recreation is compressed comedy in a can. The Good Place, in its first season, is a tightly paces supernatural/theological comedy as well as a sharp character study. Michael Shur’s third show is maybe his most flawed one, and quite possibly his best. Its co-workers’ friendships are both realistic and fascinating. Its heart is the most genuine – the love between these characters is palpable and human. That “what happens next?” feeling hits every episode, even when the stories they tell are self-contained. It can be wacky comedy, fascinating mystery, and one of the best romances I’ve seen.
Recommended episode: Season 1’s “The Party”
1. Bojack Horseman
SecretAgentBob-esque talking animals go on wacky misadventures and go on long rants about our culture and the hopelessness of human life in a fully realized pun-filled fictional version of Hollywood. I spent the entirety of 2016 knowing this show was perfect for me, and it was. Combining brilliant gag comedy with overwhelming bleakness is interesting enough, but Bojack Horseman takes these pointless, cynical events, and forces you to say “keep going! You can do it!” The show believes in you, even when you fail.
Recommendation: This show is great and I hope you watch all of it. But at least watch Season 3’s “Stop the Presses”
Probably considered Laika’s masterpiece. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Paranorman, it’s still a good time. Masterful aesthetics combined with Gaiman’s lovely adventure writing makes for greatness, pure and simple.
9. K-On! Movie
Kyoto Animation, what do you do when you’ve already depicted the entirety of the high school experience? What more is there to achieve in a franchise that ended up basing itself in the inevitability of endings? Go into what comes after. The K-On! Movie does not take place chronologically after the original series, but its moments of focus on the gang’s teachers give a sort of glimpse to the future. It’s also just more K-On!, as charming and beautiful as it’s always been.
8. Inglourious Basterds
Yeah, this was one of the most important things I had to watch. Tarantino nazi-killing fest. This movie has no real dips – the entire experience is nail-biting, witty, and cathartic.
7. Gunnerkrigg Court
Holy crap that art shift. This comic is absolutely beautiful, and its “Academy of Adventure” setting makes me hunger for more.
Why do people create art? To feel purpose? To feel accomplishment. Maybe so that others can feel happy to be alive. Ozanari-kun depicts this idea with the pathos and cruelty that only gag manga can deliver. Ozanari-kun is Inio Asano’s underrated masterpiece.
I might have to take a step back to fully explain this.
Ozanari-kun is a gag-style manga about a young office worker who constantly abuses and mistreats his boss. His boss falls in love with him. The rest of the comic explores the processes of mourning, and love, and reunion in about as obnoxious of a visual and textual style as possible. It takes Solanin’s sobriety and Punpun’s masterful mixing of styles, and makes the most of them to crush the soul. It is profoundly sad to be alive, but works like this one make me happy that I am.
5. Hot Fuzz
But let’s move away from the complicated emotions of Asano’s works and into the world of “oh my gosh that was amazing”. Hot Fuzz has energy. It’s a buddy cop comedy with two utterly lovable buddies and a brilliantly dim town setting. Friendship, laughs, and gore. This is what a movie needs to be.
4. Horseshoe Finale
If Hot Fuzz is what I want out of movies, Horseshoe Finale is what I want from visual media in general. You know how you watch Ping Pong the Animation and wonder why few shows have such focused, well-composed visuals, or meticulously crafted scripts, or godly use of their soundtracks?
Horseshoe Finale is that for YouTube. It’s a labor of labors, a monumental piece of work that took thousands of dollars and at least hundreds of hours of work to create.
Talking about how Endless Jess is a huge genius is hardly going to get anyone interested in his work, but I will say this: don’t go into his work looking for someone to agree with. Consume whole, and reflect.
3. The Meadowlands by The Wrens
I haven’t found enough albums that feel like single works to me. Albums where each song is a great piece of art that feeds into a longer message and theme. Bjork and Sparklehorse make amazing songs, but Bjork’s stand on their own, while Sparklehorse’s entire discography is a brilliant work of art.
Dark Side of the Moon kind of scratched that itch, but that’s an album where you listen to either the highlights or the whole thing.
The Meadowlands is one of the first albums where I feel I could start almost anywhere. Each track emanates a sort of sparkly sadness – light magical chords in a fundamentally melancholy situation. It’s what I’d call “Nickelodeon rock”: an upbeat partying crowd listening to an angsting guitarist. But unlike Drake Bell, you get the impression that the musicians of the Wrens are seriously having a rough time. It takes those musical moments of youth and makes them crushingly real.
2. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls
I don’t know what I can say about these games that hasn’t been said already. Demon’s Souls is the ultimate badass experience. A knight in full armor braving forces that can literally kill them. Dark Souls is a great rewarding exploratory experience.
If I’ve gotta explain why these games beat out almost every piece of media I consumed in 2017, it’s that pulling off a riposte or beating a boss feels the way that The Meadowlands sounds. The player experience is just so well-constructed.
And no, I can’t pick a favorite. Demon’s Souls had a way bigger effect on me personally, but I’m far more eager to revisit Dark Souls.
1. Oyasumi Punpun
You’ve been fired from your job. You kick a half-empty soda can around on your walk home. As fizzy grape juice stains the toe of your shoes, you pass a dumpster. Around the corner from the dumpster, just outside your view, two little boys play tag. “It” has almost caught up with his friend, but just as his hand reaches out, the other boy jumps up. And he doesn’t come down, not for a full five seconds at least.
That’s my favorite aspect of Oyasumi Punpun: miraculous, amazing things, just outside of your perception’s reach. Like anyone, this comic depressed me. Its beautiful backgrounds astounded me. Its mix of dramatic modes and influences succeeded and impressed.
And because it made me believe in magic, just for a little, it’s one of my favorite stories ever told.