Looking back at the Fall 2014 anime season
Once again it's time (and past time) for my usual retrospective look back at the season to see how shows wound up, following on my early impressions and my more solid midway views. The short summary is that fall was a good season (at least for me). As I sometimes do, I'm ranking shows a bit more by how much I enjoyed them than by how good I think they are.
- Shirobako: This has become the surprise hit of the season and in
some ways of the year for me. The show has deftly mixed several levels
of comedy with drama, tension, heartache, and in the end a deeply
heart-warming climax for the first half. This show has heart and
affection for all of its characters (yes, even Tarou) and it shows,
even if the show is not perfect.
(Some of the ways that the show is not perfect are probably authentic to the work environment it's portraying. By which I mean a certain amount of casual background sexism.)
- Mushishi second season: Mushishi is as good as it ever is, which
is both excellent and in many ways on a
completely different level than other shows; it
continued to give us a whole string of quietly beautiful, poignant,
and touching episodes. While it's probably objectively better than
Shirobako (and it certainly has less flaws), I've come to see it as cool
observation to Shirobako's warm passion and right now I simply
connect with that passion better than with the observation.
(One reason that Mushishi is so much observation instead of passion is that Ginko only rarely reacts to the situation; most often he's less a character and more an oracle. Sometimes this actively robs the show of impact, for example when it skips having Ginko react to the effects of his actions in episode 17.)
Good but falls a bit short:
- Shingeki no Bahamut - Genesis: This finished quite well, with lots
of excitement and good moments, but in the end it couldn't quite
live up to the promise of its first four or five episodes. Part of it
is that things slowed down once the show got into the main plot and
part of it is that the explanation of various events didn't entirely
make sense. However, for me the show's largest eventual flaw is
that it demoted Amira from an interesting active character who did
interesting things down to a standard do-nothing damsel in distress.
Losing what was the first or second most interesting character
in the show made the show much more ordinary, even if it was still a
well done adventure show.
With that said, I had a lot of fun watching almost all episodes and there's plenty to like about it, including things most 'action' shows don't actually do well. It's an atypical show and I quite liked that. It just didn't wind up being amazing, which is what it could have been if it sustained the first few episodes all the way through.
- Garo - The Animation: In the end this season of Garo was frustratingly erratic. I've come around to the view that the show's writing is almost always standard but sometimes it can execute those stock scenarios in ways that are very powerful. When it doesn't manage that the episodes often come across as quite pedestrian and boring, even if the developments and themes in the episode are important in the long run. But the high points are very high and the show can be inventive. The other problem with the show is that often it just doesn't have the animation budget it needs and then it compounds the problem by deliberately filming fights very dark to cover up the problem.
- Hitsugi no Chaika - Avenging Battle: In the end it ended decently
but not excellently. In
some ways the ending was surprisingly abrupt
(although not in any way that would be easy to fix); in other
ways I think the largest difference was just that the show didn't draw
out things that other shows would have, although it didn't have anywhere
near Bahamut's flare for the dramatic. While the show was decent it
never entirely lived up to the promise of the very first few episodes.
- Log Horizon: The show is trucking along more or less as it always has
been this season. Unfortunately this is not up to the relatively
exciting standards of the first season (which was wall to wall with
interesting developments and evil plots) and it has a noticeable flaw or two that keep irritating me. I've also wound
up with the impression that the pacing has slowed down so it's drawing
things out too much; I keep wanting it to do something and do it faster.
- Fate/Stay Night - Unlimited Blade Works: It looks pretty, the fights
are generally good, it's nice to watch Rin and Archer bounce off each
other, and the show is doing yeoman work to make things with Shirou be
reasonably interesting. But after the dust settles it's still F/SN,
which is why it's at the bottom of my list.
(It did pick a much better moment to stop for three months than Fate/Zero did; it's a cliffhanger but it's not in the middle of the action.)
On the whole I think the season was somewhere between quite good and excellent for me, with plenty of stuff that I enjoyed on a week to week basis and the slow climb of Shirobako to amaze me.
(I say that Shirobako may be the surprise hit of the year for me over Ping Pong because the latter had Yuasa going for it from the start. Shirobako really came out of nowhere from my perspective and yes, I know the director has a track record. With a few extremely talked about exceptions, I don't pay much attention to directors because they in no way guarantee that something will be excellent or interesting.)