Well, it has been a year, hasn’t it? 2014, as a whole, was a pretty disappointing year in anime. This has been the first year that I’ve actually watched simulcasted seasons for the entire year, so perhaps there’s some of Sturgeon’s Law in effect, but overall I felt that 2014 was far inferior to 2013 in terms of top level quality, mid-tier depth, and low-tier hilarity. To be completely fair to 2014, I did end up watching a lot of 2013 shows this year, but, by way of comparison, shows like Chihayafuru 2 and Monogatari Series: Second Season only served to further expose the weakness of this year.
But it’s more fun to talk about the good things that happened this year, so that’s what I’m going to do. Unlike last year, I’m not going to do caption awards. I’ve already done that with each season, so if you want to see which shows were notable in certain areas, check out those posts:
So, without further distraction, I present my top anime of 2014! Here’s the Best Girl of 2014 to kick things off!
- Hitsugi no Chaika S1
- The World is Still Beautiful
- Tonari no Seki-kun
- Sword Art Online II
While these six shows didn’t make it on to the list, all of them have at least something to distinguish them from the pack. Chaika‘s first season had its derpy sense of humor, The World is Still Beautiful had the wonderful Nike x Livi pairing, and Seki-kun nailed its comedic formula for an astounding 21 weeks in a row. Noragami marked BONES’ return with a beautifully animated action series, Haikyuu!! paired with another series about ping pong to prove to me that I can like sports anime, and Sword Art Online 2 stumbled through its first arc until returning to its more endearing roots in the Excalibur and Mother’s Rosario arcs.
#10. Witchcraft Works
Witchcraft Works is a pretty silly show, but it’s silly in just the right way for me. While the core premise of the show—a normal boy gets a magical girlfriend—has been played out hundreds of times before, Witchcraft Works has a whimsical flair to it that makes is stand out, even almost a full year after its broadcast in Winter 2014. It’s a colorful, energetic show where the bad guys are accompanied by sidekicks that look like giant stuffed animals and the main heroine calls the protagonist her “princess.” It doesn’t hurt that the show looks incredibly pretty—J.C. Staff really nailed me in the aesthetics with Witchcraft Works‘ bright colors and the way the world transitions from normal life into fantasyland and back. Whenever I think about Witchcraft Works, though, there’s one word that blocks out all others: fun. Maybe it’s not the right kind of fun for everyone, but it worked brilliantly for me, more so than almost anything else I saw this year.
If you want to read some thoughts from around the time I finished the show, check out my review.
A city slicker goes to an island and finds himself in one of Summer 2014’s best anime. Of all the shows I picked up on recommendation of others this year, none inspired such constant encouragement to watch as Barakamon. And, well…everyone who told me I would love it was right. I’m fairly convinced that marathoning the show, rather than watching it weekly, was the right decision, as the cumulative effect of Handa’s maturation and slowly increasing comfort on the island not only made him a more lovable character, but also condensed the slower parts of the show. There were some solid themes about figuring out how you want to do what you want to do, but Barakamon‘s greatest strength, I think, was in the simple charm of a bunch of kids who loved a guy who often gave them no reason to do so. Headlined by tiny Naru, Barakamon had a whole lot of love to give, both to its characters and its viewers.
#8. World Conquest: Zvezda Plot
Another offbeat show from the Winter 2014 season, I actually dropped Zvezda after the first episode initially, but came back to it later for a variety of reasons. Once I hit the smoking episode, I knew this was a show for me. Despite the tasteless costumes that the female members of Zvezda wear, Zvezda ended up being a surprisingly mature show for all its childish fascination with quirky fantasy. Or, perhaps, it’s maturely interested in its own immaturity and in the positive personal products of childhood ambitions. That’s a lot of big and abstract words to throw at a show where the world-conquering loli hero channels her superpowers through a stuffed animal, but the genius of Zvezda is that both crazy nonsense and thoughtful insight can coexist together within it.
#7. Zankyou no Terror
The first show I ever blogged weekly, Zankyou no Terror was the best show to come out of Summer 2014 and was my first experience with acclaimed director Shinichiro Watanabe. Unlike many critics on the blogging circuit, I had took little issue with Five’s character or the more absurd elements of the show’s plot and premise. For me, the heart of this show was always Twelve and Lisa’s relationship, an truly odd romance backgrounded by a meeting in the midst of extreme violence and a fast-arising intimacy. But perhaps the element of Zankyou no Terror that I found most poignant was the show’s reflections on the loss of childhood imposed on Nine, Twelve, and Five by what were essentially the expectations of their entire world. In the end, our terrorist protagonists were children begging to be noticed and remembered. Their awfulness of their actions only served to indelibly remind us that they ought to have been protected and that the world around them failed to do just that.
I was a little burned out on writing about Zankyou no Terror by the end of the season, so all I have are my episodic posts on the series.
#6. Golden Time
A carry-over from Fall 2013 that ended during Winter 2014, I ended up putting Golden Time on hold after the first four episodes when I started feeling like the pacing of the show was interfering with my enjoyment of it. Marathoning such shows had helped fix this problem in the past, so near the end of its run I came back and watched the whole show in a couple of days. By the end of the show, I was absolutely convinced that, technically, Golden Time was a mess. I was also equally convinced that it was a mess saying some incredibly important things. That adults are just as capable at miscommunication and non-communication as teenagers. That adults treat each other horribly all the time. That a truly strong relationship is one where both parties are willing to forgive and work. In the end, the show’s technical and artistic failings, for me, couldn’t fully dull the impact of what Golden Time was trying to say.
I wrote a fairly incoherent and illogical explanation of why I think Golden Time is an important show, even if it isn’t good.
#5. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
Shoutout to Enzo over at Lost in Anime—without him picking up Nozaki-kun as a speculative pick, I probably would never have ended up watching this gem of a show. Although Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun came in behind Zankyou no Terror in the Summer 2014 rankings, it leapfrogs ZnT here for having a much longer tail. I’m still listening (and dancing wildly) to both the OP and the ED, still talking about Best Girl Mikorin, and still using that amazing gif of Sakura from the first episode. One of the telling signs about a comedy for me if I remember it as being really funny or not, and Nozaki-kun definitely falls into the former category in my memory. But there’s more to Nozaki-kun than just comedy: there’s the shipping, the playing with gender roles, and the occasional heartstoppingly cute moments between Nozaki and Sakura. 8/10 anime comedies are rare finds; Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, thus, is well-worth remembering.
I wrote a review of Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun after it ended for those of you still needing more Mikorin love.
#4. Gundam Build Fighters
An AniTwitter favorite that ended in Winter 2014, I picked up Gundam Build Fighters in the middle of my fall semester midterms and proceeded to marathon all 25 episodes in four days. Featuring a cast somehow more lovable than Nozaki-kun‘s and boasting Best Girl Aila Jyrkiäinen, Gundam Build Fighters is an incredibly generous show in that its foremost desire is to allow the audience to experience the same exhilaration and wanton joy that its characters do. As a watcher who had never seen even an episode of a Gundam before, I worried that the show would somehow end up too esoteric or too Gundam to entertain me, but Gundam Build Fighters is an exercise in universality. It’s a show for the modern world, where childhood is something that passes us by all too quickly. And I truly love it for that.
To read more about my thoughts on Gundam Build Fighters‘ themes, check out my reflection on the series.
#3. Hunter x Hunter
Honestly, I have no good reason for not putting Hunter x Hunter at the top of this list, other than the fact that I refuse to accept that it is truly over. I didn’t watch Hunter x Hunter weekly for the duration of its run, but I did catch up more than a year before the end of the series and had the simultaneous pleasure and agony of waiting a week in between each brilliant episode. While the majority of the Chimera Ant arc aired in 2013, 2014 was the year that brought us the absolute best Hunter x Hunter had to offer, including Gon’s first confrontation with Pitou, Netero and Meruem’s spectacular battle, Gon’s horrifying transformation from a child into a darkness-filled warrior, and Komugi and Meruem’s tragically beautiful passing. Capped by Gon’s reunion with Ging, Hunter x Hunter left me desperately wanting more, but extremely grateful for everything it had given me. Until its return, I will wait.
#2. Ping Pong the Animation
One of my first experiences with true arthouse anime, Ping Pong was one of those lucky pick-ups thanks to positive critical opinion that turned out to be the best show of Spring 2014. While the animation itself was barely better than shoddy in places and the art style admittedly ugly, Ping Pong and director Masaaki Yuasa wound up telling a heartfelt, superbly crafted story on the nature of being alive and the ways we live our lives. To be honest, Ping Pong left me feeling totally unqualified to be writing anything about it—such well-made stuff rarely comes around and for a fledging anime blogger, it was a lot to take in. But I know a good show when I see it, and Ping Pong is a great one.
If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on Ping Pong, I wrote a review of the show along with a bit of thematic analysis.
#1. Silver Spoon S2
I liked Silver Spoon pretty well when the first season aired in 2013 and I was excited for the second season when it returned in Winter 2014, but I wasn’t expecting it to become my favorite show of the entire year. I don’t actually know that I can explain why Silver Spoon is here better than I did on my APR ballot, so here’s what I wrote:
The truth is that Silver Spoon has always been a simple show, and I’m a simple person. There’s a sort of fundamental essence that Silver Spoon brings to the screen, a quality that grounds the series in both the mundanity and glory of life—an understanding of what it means to being alive on this earth and a realization of our role within it. Whether it is in dealing with other human beings or with the creatures that populate this planet, Silver Spoon pleads us to find a peace within ourselves that might someday help us find peace with the world around us.
Everything season one did well, season two did better. With Hachiken and Mikage’s respective journeys intertwining with and enhancing each other, Silver Spoon portrayed some of the best low-key drama of the year and gave us a way to understand everyone in the show—even Hachiken’s grumpy father. It’s a true shame we’ll probably never see more of Silver Spoon in animated form (the manga is selling well enough that an anime isn’t really needed to boost sales) because this is the type of show the world needs more of.