Sunday, February 26, 2017

My Best of 2016

Dang, this is quite a bit later than I wanted.

I needed that break, not so much because reviewing was burning me out but life was burning me out in general. Work is less crazy after the holidays, I've been accepted into grad school which will cool my job search for a while, and Katsucon is done so I have fewer pressing panel/cosplay deadlines to get to.

Plus, the zoloft is REALLY kicking in now and guys, in hindsight I was pretty dang depressed last year. I had so many different health problems (did you know stress can fuck up your eating AND give you hives? Not simultaneously but I only fixed my eating problems after a little bit of bronchitis and the hives did drive me to the emergency room) that there was just no respite for me at all, there was always something going wrong for basically a solid year.

Personally 2017 is going better so far, although yes we have possibly the last president of the United States currently in power so I'm real glad for the zoloft keeping the "hamster ball of anxiety" in the back of my mind, not constantly in the forefront. But before I fully stride into 2017 with this blog I want to look back at 2016 one last time here and talk about the things I did love last year.

Anime

As usual I have a few caveats, honestly I'd put Voltron Legendary Defender here since this is the best category for it (I haven't seen enough tv/movies to even have a category for that this year) BUT the show is a split cour and I do not include the first halves of split cour shows! (been burned a couple of times by that) This means that Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Natsume Yuujinchou, and Iron Blooded Orphans are all also not eligible for this list. Also technically ineligible are The Great Passage and Macross Delta since I never saw them! Highlighting this only because they both had really odd streaming circumstances (a middle finger to you, Amazon and Harmony Gold) I suspect that one or both of them would have made my list otherwise.

Yuri On Ice!!
It feels odd to have a series that just finished as one of my top series of the year but dangit, I just really like this series. It’s a sport I like and my god was it gay, it was so much fun like that! It’s a show I can see myself rewatching easier than almost anything else on this list and it’s reminding me of how much I’ve missed missed ice skating as well. It’s a show that’s pushed all of my creative buttons and I’m certainly not about to ignore that. 

ReLIFE
I suspect a lot of folks forgot about this series since it was released Netflix style at the very beginning of the summer season but I still remember it! As a 20-something who has been mightily struggling with job hunting I really sympathized with Arata and felt like the mix of adult and teenaged characters worked really well here. I hope Crunchyroll updates the manga soon, since the original manga is in full color I have few hopes that it'll be licensed for print.

Kuromukuro
You'd never believe that this was Studio PA Works first mecha show since they pulled off such a fine one. The fights looked great, the characters were really fleshed out by the end, and there were a lot of details about the setting that seemed really well thought out. I suspect that this is yet another series that most people didn't see, an actual Netflix title, but I hope it gains more traction over time (and maybe gets a movie too).

flying witch
A soft, almost-Ghibli-like tv series about the Japanese countryside and magic. I thought it was charming, the magic was cute, and I'll be checking out the manga when Vertical releases it this spring.

Sound! Euphonium 2
While I feel like this season wasn't as great as the first season, Kumiko wasn't as involved in some of the arcs which is a problem since her quiet, honest snark-ery is a pretty big draw to the series, the show was throughly enjoyable by the end and Kyoto Animation was just plain showing off when they spent almost half of an episode animating an entire musical piece. I'm looking forward to reading the light novels as they come out from Yen Press this year but not looking forward to paying PonyCan prices for the BR sets here, ugh.

Flip Flappers
Another late addition to this list and continuing the trend that my favorite fall series were the gay ones! (okay Sound!Eupho is debatably gay but that's it's own topic.) Flip Flappers is the rare animator showcase that holds itself together with strong themes and a reasonable story and I just had a lot of fun with it. I'll certainly have to rewatch it at some point to catch all of the visual foreshadowing I missed the first time around and I'm looking forward to it!

Books

I have decided to spit up this section into two subsections, one which is everything released in 2016 (the same way I do anime etc) and one for other books which I only got around to in 2016 since that's the bulk of my reading in any given year! So first, the standouts first published in 2016.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
A really satisfying end to The Raven Cycle, there were a lot of balls in the air but everything landed well. I'm happy, although I'm not sure how Stiefvater's planned Ronan trilogy will work into all of this. 

Persona by Genevieve Valentine
I typically don't like thrillers since there are just too many things to suspend your disbelief for, too much for me in "realistic" settings. Persona is set a bit in the future which is represented not through technology but through governments so this actually worked in my favor! Suyana is a whip sharp protagonist that I loved following, I'm sad I haven't heard more folks talking about this book since it's quite good!

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Now THIS is the kind of sorta-dystopia people should be writing. The world still trudges on as it seems to grow closer and closer to falling apart (just the background asides throughout are scary) and having Patricia and Laurence both fall on either sides of "here's how to save the world" and be so extreme about it was one of the few "star-crossed friends" stories that I've enjoyed, much less said "I see why this story had to have this exact set-up". This was fucking phenomenal and I'm so sad I missed seeing Anders at the National Book Festival (that was the weekend I started coming down with bronchitis lol). 

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett
When I started this book I thought "but does City of Stairs really need a sequel?" The answer is still "CoS did wrap up perfectly well on it's own" but "but this book is really good too!" I think one of my favorite parts of this book is just how casually it introduces new female characters, there had to be more important female roles than men's in this book and it felt both so utterly natural and startling at the same time. I'd like to go back to Shara for a bit after this book, seeing how her political career is starting to fail seems like it could really be explored in great detail and from an unusual angle for fiction, seeing someone who did something great and then returning to them after the tide of public opinion has turned, despite the character doing all of the same things as before.

And for the books published earlier than 2016:

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Like I said in the review, I feel like this series had every single sub-genre of a space opera in there which means it's hard to talk about it without spoilers and this is also why I enjoyed it so much. Apparently the author does a lot of sci-fi so I'll have to be sure to check out more of their work later!

The Goblin Emperor  Katherine Addison
I've seen some people talk about how much they liked this book for years but I spent a lot of time conflating it with another book, whose title I don't remember, and wasn't interested (given the number of books I hear about in a year this happens quite a lot). Now that I have read it however I think it's a really interesting political-fantasy and very well thought out in terms of it's world-building especially with regards to privilege. Another author whose other works I clearly need to check out!

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hart 
Yes yes I know, given that this is the sequel to a book I loved quite a bit (Seraphina) I took my sweet time getting around to the sequel, I just have too many books to read that I forget about series when they have long gaps in-between! My thoughts on it are pretty inline with everyone else's: a good book but not quite as strong as the first. Had some really neat details but I felt like it rushed a bit when it had Seraphina traveling around the world and I wish there had been even more time to flesh out the other cultures since they were so fascinating. There aren't enough books out there about dragons these days in my opinion so I'm really happy that I'm able to find good ones. 

Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke  
I'm sure that there is other science-fiction out there like this, of an isolated in a frozen wasteland (although I don't think anything else has quite this setting) but I really liked how different it was to me. When I saw people talking about the tv reboot of Westworld I couldn't help but think "but that sounds BORING, this deals with the ideas of self and humanity so much more interestingly! and without sex"). It was a really strong piece of sci-fi which I felt like avoided being pigeonholed into most of the common sub-genres and I really liked it for that. 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho 
Intersectionality yipee! It's a story about the first black sorcerer to the crown in a (fictional) England AND the fight that some women are having to be recognized as magic users as well! All three of the main characters are PoC, and two are women, and I thought it was fantastic how Cho borrowed from real life to show that even marginalized groups won't necessarily respect each other from the get go, trying to hold onto whatever little detail might give them more status and protection than the other group, even if it's in everyone's best interests to unite against a common oppressor. 

The Scorpion's Rules by Erin Bow
I was hesitant going in since I liked Plain Kate but I didn't like Sorrow's Knot at alllll. But I really liked this book and I'm miffed that I didn't get a chance to read it's sequel, The Swan Riders from 2016! A unique feeling dystopia since for once it's not a bad world because of an evil ruler, it's bad because this is all everyone has left and it's just not enough.

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Another classic case where I had this book mixed up with another book (which was seriously odd, I'll try to describe it during the full review) but I'm glad I finally read this book and enjoyed it! Apparently it has some sequels, which I honestly don't feel like it needs, I mean we have a king not a prince by the end, but I'll check them out anyway.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen 
The rare non-fantasy on this list! It's a mixture of realistic and historical fiction which I think is part of the reason why it worked for me, contemporary realistic fiction tends to bore me but I've always liked historical fiction. Like I said back in December I've been trying out a lot of more "literary" adult fiction recently and this has been basically the only one to stick. Somehow the premise is far less crazy than most of the stories I was trying (seriously, you can't exactly have a "realistic" AND crazy setting!) and I really liked the narrator Jacob, especially his utterly sympathetic struggles as an old man in the retirement home. Almost surprised there isn't a movie of this one!

Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie 
I can't remember the last time I read a series this fast, I think I got through all three books in about two weeks because I practically swallowed them whole. I'll be reviewing the series as a whole therefore, I didn't want to pause long enough to write reviews for each individual volume, and it sounds like there is a companion novel or two coming out in this series which I totally plan to read, the setting is wide enough to hold many more stories!

Akita Witch by Nnedi Okorafor 
I sometimes feel like an odd reader since I've only read Okorafor's young adult books and yet 80%+ of the discussions I see on Okorafor's work are on her adult novels. Oh well, I'm actually thrilled that it took me so long to finally get to this series since that means I won't have long to wait on the sequel and I'm also impressed at how sneakily Okorafor has connected her three YA books, I wonder if the adult books share the same universe as well..... 

Webcomics

I've wanted to talk more about webcomics for a while now but it's hard for me to figure out just how to cover stories that run for years continuously. So here's my idea, let me highlight some of the webcomics I first discovered in 2016 and really enjoyed. I tried way more than these few but these are the ones I'm head over heels in love with.
Fictional Skin
This has a plot just, unlike any other comic I've read so far and I'm intrigued. The basic gist is "Finn's cousin Vivi has this really classmate who really reminds both of them of the hero of a game franchise, Finn makes comics related to that, and then it gets weird." Not in a "no the character really IS the hero from another world" weird but, almost soap-opera dramatic but with a bit more snark than I think you would find in a soap opera. I have absolutely no idea where the story will go and I'm so thrilled that it updates quite frequently!

Far to the North
FttN is just a good fantasy right now. As the site's own blurb puts it "see Kelu run, see Kelu jump, and see Kelu save her captive family" and so far that's an accurate description of the story! I really like Allison Shaw's character/clothing designs (and in her other, sorta on hiatus webcomic I also discovered this year, Tigress Queen) and the setting is rather nice too. I'm excited to see where it goes next and hope for more dragons!

Always Human
I actually remember reading this comic when it was still a one-shot, it was being passed around on tumblr back then and I had no clue until about this fall that the creator later continued it! It's an adorable lesbian story (with other queer background characters) that I would recommend to a heck of a lot of people for the way it handles both that relationship and how the two girls, Sunati and Austen, deal with their changing adult lives. Both of those parts are really relatable and the sci-fi setting adds in it's own conflicts (I'm not quite sure if Austen would count as a disabled character but she has a condition which I think would fall under the general heading of "auto-immune disorder" and it means that she's not able to interact with technology the same way that most of the population can) as well as being pretty. I think the story is close to wrapping up now and I plan on doing a full review when it does!

[un]Divine
Wow the coloring is great in this series (plus I love the setting, I think the creator Ayme Sotuyo has said it's inspired by Cuban cities which I've never seen before). And, as a former Catholic, I tend to get peeved when people just dump Christian imagery willy-nilly into a story but this feels like one of the few stories to include a Christian-inspired religion in the story and have it feel like something real enough for the characters to believe in but in a world with it's own complicated, supernatural hidden side. I'm not completely sure what the main conflict of the story will be later on but I really like all of the world-building and character establishing moments so far. 

Daughter of the Lilies
Holy cow, just go look at the latest page, whatever it is, because this series has such dynamic art (as of writing it's an especially impressive looking fight). I'm usually not keen on stories that lean more on "DnD tropes" than "fantasy tropes" but here the characters have more than enough personality to make the set-up work. This is another story where I'm not quite sure where it'll go in the end, especially since currently the story is in a flashback prologue, but I like where it's done so far and don't expect that to change! 

How to be a Werewolf
A lot of fantasy stories start out with "you have new powers now!" not "you've had this power for years and known about it!" when they're set in a contemporary setting. So I like that part of the initial plot in HtbaW is "whoa okay, how about I teach you all of these important werewolf things since you're hanging in there right now but it'd be really good to know even more stuff". The characters are all a little older, the youngest age explicitly given so far is 20, and the story has a very, contemporary sensibility. Our lead is half-Filipino mid-20s girl and there are several other PoC reoccurring characters, multiple LGTB+ characters, casual jokes are made about being a werewolf etc etc (I suppose we could call this "a Buffy sensibility" since it's certainly in the same vein).  This is one of my favorite webcomic finds of the year and if it ever has a kickstarter you bet I'll be one of the first backers.

1 comment:

  1. >adds some of the books you liked to my NYPL reading list
    >realizes I'll never find the time to read them all
    fuuuu---

    - Justin

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