Looking back at the Winter 2014 anime season
It's time for the usual retrospective look back at the season to go with my early impressions and my midway views. This time I've decided to be different in my ranking; instead of ranking series more or less on how good they are, which I usually do, I'm going to rank by pure enjoyment.
Plain good fun:
- Witch Craft Works: This show demonstrates the power of understanding
that your basic premise comes straight out of bad light
novel cliches (although it's actually adopted from a manga) and therefor should be
ignored as much as possible. In the hands of anyone who took the basic
plot seriously WCW would have been a disaster; instead it succeeds
brilliantly at being entertaining by de-emphasizing the core plot in
favour of a parade of diversions, from Tanpopo's antics to Kagari's
WCW has no pretensions of being any deeper than a pothole after a rainstorm but it more than makes up for this with pure amusement value. That made it the most consistently enjoyable show I watched all season and gets it the first place ranking here.
- Seitokai Yakuindomo season 2: It delivered almost exactly what I
was expecting, including an excellent troll in the last episode.
Every episode made me laugh, often several times. I could ask for
no more in a comedy.
- Sekai Seifuku - Bouryaku no Zvezda: Zvezda is the best show I
watched this season. It had heart, intelligence, and a solid sense of
fun and humour and was far more ambitious than WCW and SY. The problem
is that while it quietly aimed high it didn't always hit that mark;
while perfectly decent, the result sometimes felt like a bit of a
letdown. This came to a head in the final episode, which was perfectly
good but couldn't quite deliver on the promise of either the previous
few episodes or the opening of the first episode.
- Noragami: This continued its good execution through the end and as
a result I wouldn't mind a second season (as you might expect for
a 12-episode series based on an ongoing manga, the major things are
in no way resolved or concluded). I liked that it was willing to be
subtle about some things. I disagree with people about the idea that
the season should have ended with Yukine's plotline but that argument
doesn't fit in the margins of this summary.
(Whatever you do, don't watch the OAD. The OAD might as well be a different and significantly worse show, or at least a bad dream version.)
(In a way these four shows neatly split into two shows that were mostly about spectacle and two shows that were primarily about substance. The spectacle based shows executed it better than the substance based ones.)
- Space Dandy: Ultimately this is an indulgent show, in that it indulges
the animators, the writers, and the directors involved by allowing
them to do pretty much whatever they want. The result is very uneven,
kind of interesting on occasion, and not very compelling (I didn't find
even the good episodes to be particularly powerful). In essence what
we're getting here is a bunch of art cinema experiments and like most
experiments many of them are only really interesting as 'look what we
can do' things. Still, the zombies episode.
Apparently this may be just what Watanabe wanted, so I can't exactly call Space Dandy a failure as such. But I don't think it's a success.
- Robot Girls Z: I wound up watching all three episodes, mostly out of a feeling that I might as well. It was okay, which makes it the kind of thing I've been trying to stop watching. Fans of old giant robot shows apparently got more out of it than I did.
Carried over from the fall:
- KILL la KILL: As I put it on Twitter KLK is
an epic and spectacular show, and I'd add 'showy' to that list of
adjectives. I think it clearly succeeded at what it set out to do,
namely being BURNING ANIME in a good way. To deal with one issue:
I don't think KLK (strongly) intended to have messages, although I do
think it had themes that it worked into the narrative.
Episode 22 and its ending and how people reacted to it is really the encapsulated KILL la KILL experience in one moment. KLK is all about delivering fanservice of the sort that doesn't involve nearly naked people (although it has them too, and in a much less fanservicy way than you might think).
- Log Horizon: This stayed strong through the nominal end.
Since the show is getting a second season it didn't bother to invent
some sort of temporary finish to things but just wrapped up the
current story and hung out a 'here is your second season introduction
cliffhanger' sign. I'm perfectly fine with this; the last few episodes
were a good way to wind down from the more intense earlier ones.
Log Horizon took a while to build up but the eventual payoffs were
As peculiar as it sounds, I think that Log Horizon is above all thoughtful and intelligent. It did any number of interesting things with the intersection of MMO mechanics, MMO players, and a real world, and the smart characters in it felt genuinely smart. And I really liked a number of 'well of course' moments that it gave me, such as Crusty's enthusiasm for combat once he got into it. See also my fall retrospective.
- Tokyo Ravens: For reasons that boil down to 'I was bored and it was
made to look appealing' I marathoned
this right at the end of the season despite having dismissed it back
in the fall. I don't regret this overall but I also
don't regret skipping the show in the fall; I think it was drastically
improved by being marathoned instead of doled out week by week. The
first two episodes are weak and the final episode induced eye-rolling,
but apart from that I found it surprisingly fun.
(I also benefited from having been spoiled on one or two plot twists ahead of time, which made it easier to enjoy watching some bits.)
One refreshing thing about TR is that it never beat around the bush about issues. Several times it raised suspicions and then immediately confirmed them in the next episode or two rather than drawing things out the way that many other shows would. The protagonist was still as dense as lead but the other characters were pretty smart and aware and not at all confused about who liked who and what was going on; as a result it skipped any number of tedious cliches that are common to the genre.
If I did a merged ranking of the carried over fall shows with this season's shows KILL la KILL would be clearly on top and Log Horizon might beat Witch Craft Works. Tokyo Ravens would be on the boundary of ordinary (and I would rate it much higher than Space Dandy, which spent the entire season on the edge of being dropped).
Ignoring the shows that carried over from the fall, I think this was a good but not great season. Four solidly enjoyable shows is not a bad number.
Written on 05 April 2014.