Every year, for better or for worse, anime pushes the limits of artistic expression and creative techniques. Fortunately, in 2017, we got to enjoy the lion’s share of such boundary-breaking in the most positive sense. And no aspect bloomed more from it than the backgrounds and settings. Settings are more than just a backdrop for characters to stand against. Through texture, colors, lighting, and space, they can create rich, expressive worlds that enhance a show tenfold. As they say, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

Frankly, there are a whole lot of good anime out there that would just be mediocre without their gorgeous backgrounds. Sadly, though, it seems to me that such work doesn’t get enough credit for all it lends to the subtle atmosphere-building and visual exposition that makes anime so enjoyable. So with that in mind, I’d like to shine the spotlight on my top three anime settings of this year.

3. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

anime setting acca
Image: Crunchyroll

ACCA takes place in a fictional country divided into 13 territories. Although a monarchy rules over the country as a whole, each territory has its own autonomy, and thus, its own history and culture. The show follows an inspection agent as he visits each territory, learning about and enjoying their individuality, while simultaneously uncovering a sinister plot against the royal family.

ACCA’s sceneries may not be as wild or ostentatious as some others, but when it comes to beauty, detail, and mood-making, it’s in a league of its own. Each territory features completely unique environments and architecture. Underground cities, luscious oases, old-European towns… this country has it all in the most beautiful way possible! Every one of ACCA’s hand-painted settings speaks more to a territory’s culture and personality than dialogue ever could. Such careful ties between art and story mark this quiet little show one of my top favorites of 2017.

2. LAND OF THE LUSTROUS

anime settings land of the lustrous
Image: Amazon Anime Strike

Set in a sort of post-apocalyptic, barren version of Earth, LAND OF THE LUSTROUS stars a cast of humanoid rocks fighting humanoid aliens, and also there are some humanoid jellyfish/slugs at one point (I couldn’t make this up if I tried). This show quickly gained attention for its imaginative blend of 2D and 3D. This created sceneries so beautiful that I would be careless not to talk about them.

The characters of LAND OF THE LUSTROUS are computer-generated, but the series still skillfully utilizes the soft, expressive touch of traditional animation to enhance the atmosphere and setting. This is most obvious in its painted backgrounds, which especially flourish under careful color and lighting direction. There’s a strong sense of vast emptiness — an old, overrun world waiting to be explored, which is exactly what we get to do alongside the show’s protagonist. My personal favorite artistic quirk from the show is how the dominant color of each scene changes depending on which character is the focus. Mint for Phos, purple for Amethyst, red for Cinnabar and, as seen above, a breathtaking rainbow for our radiant Diamond.

1. OWARIMONOGATARI II

anime setting owari
Image: Crunchyroll

OWARIMONOGATARI II is the latest, and possibly last, installment of the overarching MONOGATARI series. All loose ends from as far as eight years ago tie up in this show’s three arcs. Characters reach the peak of their development, conflicts resolve as neatly (or messily) as they can, and the staff pull themselves together for one last artistic hurrah that would do the series proud.

The MONOGATARI series has always been a fan of inconsistent art, and OWARIMONOGATARI II is no different. In fact, it has the most fun with such art shifts than the series has had in a while. Comedic deformation, abrupt palette switches, and its very own distorted trip to the underworld abound. That last one is, by far, the most memorable of the installment, as an angular cutout of the protagonist travels through warped spaces and retellings of his own adventures within the world known as the deepest level of Hell. Symbolic, creative, meaningful, and above all else, plain fascinating to look at — just as an anime setting should be. It’s this bold kind of style that truly makes the series stand out amongst all the others of the year.

More Than Just Settings

People don’t often realize just how much a setting makes a show. Well-made backgrounds can build moods, stories, and worlds all at once, even without a single character speaking. I selected these three anime settings as the top of 2017 because each one succeeds beautifully in establishing all of those aspects. From their opening scenes right until the final credits roll, their backgrounds hold up, and the shows shine as a result.

So, with all that said — thanks for the ride, 2017. Here’s hoping for an equally successful, or even better, 2018!

Featured image screenshotted from Crunchyroll.

LAND OF THE LUSTROUS: A Hidden Gem

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