The best N anime that I saw in 2014
This is much like last year's best N, namely what I consider to be the best or most enjoyable N anime that I saw in calendar 2014 (regardless of when they were made or released). This year my ordering is biased towards how enjoyable the show is instead of how good I think it is in some absolute measure of quality. As in the past two years, my rule of thumb is that only shows that have actually ended count because you never know what unsatisfying or terrible things an unfinished show will do over the rest of its run. Overall 2014 was not the exceptional year that 2013 was, but it was pretty good.
More or less in order of my affections, except that the top two or three are very close to a tie:
- KILL la KILL: I'm an anime fan and in the end this is a glorious work
of fanservice to everything that I like about a certain sort of anime.
It's fun and exciting and loud and overflows with a sheer exuberant
joy (and spectacle), even if it's not particularly deep or coherent
or thematic. Episode 22 contains the single most spectacular moment
of fanservice of the entire year.
(By 'fanservice' I do not particular mean 'nearly naked people'; I mean 'giving the audience the spectacle it wants to see'. KLK's fanservice is all about giving us just what will make us cheer loudly.)
- Ping Pong: I didn't expect to love this anywhere near as much as I
did and its twists and turns genuinely surprised me (although
other people found it more predictable). For me it's a great story
with great characters and full to bursting with little moments and
gestures. The Christmas episode is a thing of beauty; it may well be
the best single episode I watched all year. Don't let the animation
style put you off; it really works well with the material and the
This is both a drama that involves sports and a sports story, one that makes the sport itself interesting and compelling. And oh so physical as well; these people sweat and strain and push themselves to their physical limits, and Ping Pong's beautiful directing and animation makes that very visceral.
- Ghost in the Shell ARISE: When I first saw the second episode
of ARISE I was rather down on it, but I rewatched
both the first and second episodes at the end of the
year and wound up with an improved impression of it
(and the first is still great). As a
whole the ARISE series is great and a fine GitS work. I'll probably
always be fondest of the first episode because I think it's the best
distillation of the essence of GitS (and anime cyberpunk in general)
in a single piece that I've seen, but the other episodes are good
in their own ways.
(You should totally ignore anyone who gripes that ARISE is not exactly like GitS: Stand Alone Complex. That it's different is one of the things that makes it great, and frankly the second season of SAC showed us some of the hazards of trying to retrace SAC too closely.)
I enjoyed all of these three in different ways, so this year I'm going to wave my hands about their exact ordering. I think that Ping Pong is a more powerful show than the other two, but KILL la KILL is the most whoop it up show and ARISE is in many ways the most fascinating and interesting one (and it's certainly the best-made visually). Their current order is my feelings today, but next week I might change my mind. And in a year or three, who knows.
- Mushishi second season: The individual episodes are as excellent
as in the first season, continuing to give us a whole string of quietly
beautiful, poignant, and touching encounters with people. I just don't
find it as engaging or powerful as the first season for reasons that
deserve a separate entry. But it's
still a great show that's well worth anyone's attention.
(Some people will consider me a heretic for only ranking this #4 this year. For the record, had I first seen the original season this year I think it would easily be at the top of this list. Yeah, I'm a lot less fired up about this season.)
- Hanamonogatari: There's a lot about the Monogatari franchise that's
not to like, but every so often it winds up and hits one out of the
park. This is one of those times, partly because the show keeps most
of its usual excesses under control. The core story is simple but
the characters and their interplay carry the show and oh, the ending
sequence. What could have been in another and perhaps better world.
(Several of the best Monogatari stories break your heart. This is one of them.)
- Knights of Sidonia: The show has two strong things going for it.
The first is that it nails a certain sense of claustrophobic
atmosphere and ambivalence about what's happening; this is war and the
future not as a pleasant thing. The second is that it's a gorgeously
SF show in a way that's hard to put into words. See also my spring
retrospective, where I wave my hands more.
Far from detracting from the experience I think that the all-CGI
nature generally added to it, although opinions differ a lot there.
- Shingeki no Bahamut - Genesis: In the end it was somewhat flawed, but
for a while it was amazing and even afterwards it was pretty excellent
with its Hollywood-style heroic action and collection of great
moments. It was a lot of fun to watch in a way that's quite uncommon
and I loved almost all of the characters (I just wish that Amira
had stayed Amira). I waved my hands more in my fall retrospective.
- PuPiPo!: This is a little near-gem (it's a bit too short and
thus simple to be a true gem) that's well worth your attention; it's
quietly beautiful and touching while also being a rollicking adventure
with quite a few really fun characters. The short runtime forces it
to fiercely concentrate its focus and the result delivers a great run
that covers an amazing amount of story and plot with some serious twists
thrown in. Not many shows would have the ambition to even attempt some
of the things it does, never mind execute them well (which it does).
Look, just watch it, okay? The whole thing is no more than an hour long (and you can stop sooner than that if it turns you off, since each episode is about four minutes).
(I owe my exposure to PuPiPo! to Author's praise of it. Thank you, Author, for getting me to watch this overlooked beauty.)
Special merit award for a show that normally would not qualify because it hasn't finished yet but I don't care, it's my best N and I can do what I want:
- Shirobako: The show's first half forms a strong arc that ends in a great conclusion, so I'm letting it sneak in here on a technicality. Contrary to what I expected when I started watching it, that it's about anime production is the least of its appeal. I started watching for a view into the industry; now I stay for the characters, for the humour, and for the painful moments of reality. And to hate Tarou, who is a great character. See also.
Shows that I consider good but not necessarily memorable over the long term:
- Witch Craft Works: Brilliantly entertaining through a parade of
diversions and distractions, WCW never took itself seriously and
that was a good thing. Everything great about the show is the things
that made you laugh and smile, from Tanpopo's antics through Kagari's
deadpan craziness; the plot served mostly to keep everything moving
- Sekai Seifuku - Bouryaku no Zvezda: This had heart, soul,
intelligence, and plenty of charm but also ambitions that it couldn't
quite deliver on. It tried hard and while it fell somewhat short
(which was inevitably a bit disappointing), it fetched up pretty high
anyways. The smoking episode may be the second greatest episode of
the year. See also. I reserve my right
to retrospectively increase my opinion of this in a few years, which
- Log Horizon first season: Since the second season is ongoing, I
can conveniently ignore it. The first season is both a great and
thoughtful exploration of 'people translated into an MMO world'
and full of really fun plotting, exploration, and characters.
Watching Shiroe scheme was great, although Lenessia stole the
show. In an odd way this is a very SF show, in that it's very
concerned with logical extrapolations from its MMO starting point;
what it means for MMO things to be actually real is repeatedly an
important issue (and the answers are both interesting and feel
right). It also really understands its characters, periodically
surprising me with moments that were just
- Seitokai Yakuindomo second season: It reliably made me laugh,
which is rare. The show is as the show was before, with all of the
strengths and (for some people) weaknesses that that implies.
- Hitsugi no Chaika: While it went downhill over the course of its run, it was still a quite good adventure show of an old-fashioned sort that gave me plenty of fond memories. In retrospect the pacing was off in a number of places and maybe it would have been improved by being even shorter than the 22 episodes it was.
Special mention for the memories:
- Star Driver The Movie: The Star Driver movie is almost entirely
a condensed version of the show. Since it has to leave plenty of things
out it's not as good as the show, but what's left is a high power
concentrate that hits plenty of right spots. Most importantly, it
brought back a bunch of my fond memories of the show itself. Star
Driver is one of the shows that have only gone up in my estimation
since they finished (I would now give it a place above the fold in
my best N of 2011), so it's great to return to it
even in condensed form. See also my Twitter ramblings.
(And I really liked the 'and life goes on' framing bits from the movie, because the ending of the series always felt a little bit ambivalent. The movie removes that ambivalence and I'm fannishly happy about that.)
- Majokko Shimai no Yoyo to Nene: I didn't watch many movies this year, but this one was fun. It's fairly much a kid's movie but it still has plenty of excitement and interesting stuff, and I liked how it played against expectations and pulled off surprises several times. Don't expect tragedy; this is not that sort of movie.
Praised for good reasons but that I didn't or haven't watched (all of):
- Barakamon and Sabagebu: See here.
I theoretically want to watch more of both and I think they'd rate
in this entry if I had. But in the mean time you don't have to be a
slacker like me.
- Space Dandy: In the end this turned out to be not for me; pure artistry in a show isn't enough for me. Lots of people love it and it did have plenty of amazing animation and even what are probably great episodes, even if they never really engaged me.
In the end I completed 24 shows, OVAs, and movies this year, more or less (there's some hand-waving around split season shows here); this is down from last year. In part that was because the summer season was pretty dire for me. I saw only three movies this year, none of them major ones, which means i have a number queued up to watch sometime (including the big one of Madoka: Rebellion).
Looking back at last year and comparing it to this year, I think that last year had better top shows but this year is more even (ie, the later ranked shows here mostly leave me more enthused than last year's later ranked shows). Don't ask me to be definite here, I'll just wave my hands. Ordered rankings are hard and my opinions keep changing.
(If you're wondering about JoJo's, I wound up dropping it because it didn't really work for me.)
PS: for an amusingly different take on my opinions, my year end APR vote. The moral here is that I change my mind on a regular basis.
Written on 28 January 2015.