Year-end posts are hard. I watched somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 new shows this year, many of them wildly different from one another, so how does one create a top 10 list that has any kind of logic or consistency? Since I don't really know the answer to that, I figured I would simply list the 10 shows that I had the most fun watching this year. This was actually a pretty stacked year for me, and there are at least five or six other shows I could have easily stuck on here, but I think I have less to say about them.
So, without further ado, here are 10 shows I really enjoyed in 2014 in no particular order:
I guess I'll get the "controversial" choice out of the way early, although I'm not sure why this is a choice that so many people seem to think is odd. I've even seen this title on several "worst of 2014" lists, which totally baffled me. Funny enough, one of my favorite shows of last year was Sasami-san@Ganbaranai – another Shaft show nobody seemed to like. In any case, despite a shoestring budget and natural comparisons to Monogatari due to its overabundance of Shaftisms and Shinboisms, Mekakucity Actors is one hell of a good show. It definitely could have been more polished or more unique in terms of visuals, but the story, the narrative, the characters, and the music were all great. I especially enjoyed how everything was slowly revealed and how certain things remained open to interpretation (including the ending). I gather this wasn't a wholly satisfying experiencing to fans of the Kagero Project franchise, but being as elaborate as it is, a 1-cour anime would be hard pressed to accomplish that anyway.
Sidonia no Kishi (Knights of Sidonia)
Perhaps my favorite show of the year, and would have been a shoe in for Anime of the Year if not for the 3DCG. Now, I don't mind CG anime as much as some, and I actually think it gave this show a very bizarre, alien look to it, which actually contributed to the vibe, but I do still have a bit of a purist streak in me and I couldn't help but think what it would have been like if it were traditionally animated. I know lots of people praise Space Dandy (a show I couldn't even watch all the way through), but to me all that talent spent creating a mildly amusing and visually eclectic episodic could have been far better utilized making something like Sidonia no Kishi truly shine. Edge of your seat action and suspense, crazy twists and turns to the plot, lots of great science fiction detail, and some really good voice performances make this a must-watch. I am eagerly awaiting the second season, which starts this spring.
Yuuki Yuuni wa Yuusha de Aru (Yuki Yuna is a Hero)
This show really came out of nowhere. Despite having a pretty good pedigree, it played its cards close to the vest, and the results were wholly satisfying. It's true that to a certain extent, Madoka Magica opened and closed the book and the so-called "Dark Mahou Shoujo" subgenre, but specifically because of that, it's always nice to see others take a crack at it, and amazingly enough, this year had not one but two such successful endeavors (keep reading for the second one). Yuyuyu's pacing is great, it has fun characters, really nice music and combat sequences, and some powerful, tear jerking emotional moments. This show gets pretty dark, and I want to be as vague as possible about the actual plot, so suffice it to say I loved browsing the show hashtag after each episode and seeing people's shocked reactions. Definitely a dark horse that came in late in the year and won over a ton of people.
Selector Infected/Spread WIXOSS
If Madoka Magica was Gen Urobuchi's ode to little girls suffering, then WIXOSS was Mari Okada's. I don't think many people had high hopes for a JC Staff card game anime, but for once, the show didn't feel like it was trying to sell you a different product. In fact, I even saw people complain that they didn't reference the actually card game enough, let alone too much. It also felt like a show trying to capitalize on the popularity of Madoka while fairly easily skirting the obligatory comparisons (I saw far more people compare Yuyuyu to Madoka than this). WIXOSS was its own animal, which is always a blessing. Some very fucked up themes, a good plot progression, and a pretty satisfying ending came together nicely.
Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis (Rage of Bahamut)
Another show that came out of nowhere, and another good show based on a card game! Bahamut was one of three excellent shows produced by relative newcomer Studio MAPPA (along with Zankyou no Terror and Garo), which is a name I will definitely be happy to see attached to future projects. This show came out swinging – an epic fantasy adventure that sometimes felt almost Disney-ish in its scale and production quality. This show featured a lush, interesting world with a nice mishmash of various mythological elements, a ton of visual variety, great moments of levity, and a completely stellar presentation. I sincerely hope this show will serve as a franchise launcher, because I just want to see more of this world – what happens next, but also what happened in the past, and what else happens in this mad universe of Greek and Christian mythological figures. Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis is another late comer that could easily be called Anime of the Year.
I generally trust Studio BONES to deliver a solid product and Noragami was no exception. While this show was a classic case of "read the manga to find out what happens next," it did so while still being an entertaining and satisfying product in its own right. Alongside a stellar voice cast led by the immensely talented Maaya Uchida, Noragami has an interesting mythology, some good character drama, and is great to look at. My only real complaint is that it ended. I would have loved to get another season of it.
An interesting entry on my Best of the Year list since I normally would never have bothered watching a show like this. A dramedy about a cocky urbanite calligrapher sent to hone his craft on a remote island surrounded by the local country bumpkins is the type of synopsis I wouldn't normally give a second look at. However, I was talked into giving it a try, and I don't regret it for a second. The show beautifully balances the dramatic and comedic elements, the characters are all layered and nuanced and interesting, and despite being a show about nothing, it manages to never be boring. One thing to remark on in particular is the drop-dead killer performance by 9-year-old voice actress Suzuko Hara, who manages to make Naru one of the most memorable characters of the entire year. Her comedic timing is impeccable, and she does things that I only see adults do when they voice the roles of children. It grants the role a level of authenticity that's pretty rare and quite amazing to experience.
The next three shows are holdovers that began airing prior to 2014. Traditionally, these count as belonging to the year in which they ended. Since my AOTY for 2013 was such a show (Shin Sekai Yori, which premiered in Fall 2012), I will include these here as well:
This show epitomizes the term "rollercoaster ride." It has many fans who became haters, haters who became fans, and every shade of grey in between. Once this show took its infamous turn and never looked back, you were either thrown from the train or left hanging on for dear life. Samurai Flamenco had everything and the kitchen sink thrown in. At core level, a show about heroism and altruism and justice and pursuing your dreams, but wrapped in an insane, everything-goes, wacky explosion of laughs and gasps and head scratching and joy. It really is something that can only be fully understood by experience.
Kill la Kill
The show that probably featured the most hype, discussion, flame wars, and fan art in recent memory. Studio Trigger's debut full length show is still routinely and heavily featured in my Twitter timeline in the form of memes, avatars, animated gifs, Pixiv links, and more. I think nothing speaks more to a show's popularity than how present it remains after it is over. Kill la Kill is still very vivid and fresh in the minds of anime fans of all sorts. It had a joie de vivre that appealed to many fans. The characters are all unique and memorable and quotable, the visuals are all distinct and instantly recognizable, and the music is still epic and fun to listen to. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise – Kill la Kill is one of the very best shows in the last several years for this reason alone – people are still talking about it, referencing it, reminiscing about it, drawing its characters, etc. If any show or movie's purpose is to stick in your mind and rise above the din and white noise of infinite modern variety, then KLK succeeded far better than shows that are both more critically acclaimed and more financially successful.
Nagi no Asukara (A Lull in the Sea)
I really enjoyed this show as it was airing and gave it very high marks in both the visual and dramatic narrative fields. But interestingly, Nagi no Asukara looks even better now after 2014 is over due to two subsequent shows that tried to capture a similar vibe and failed miserably – Glasslip and Sora no Method. Apparently supernatural moe dramas are harder to do right than you think. Unlike the latter two, which were boring, incomprehensible, unfocused, and had a slew of other problems, NagiAsu managed to be very cohesive and interesting, have some top notch drama that made sense and wasn't forced, and was absolutely beautiful in the visual department. It also had a lot of interesting creative flourishes and scenes that were interestingly constructed and played out (I'm not the most perceptive person when it comes to that stuff so if I notice it, that usually means they're doing a good job). I see this show on many "best of" lists for this year, which makes me very happy.
So those are ten shows that I recommend you check out if you happened to miss them for any reason. Unlike last year, which had a clear AOTY winner for me, this time I am less certain who to give that award to. I also mentioned that several other shows were tons of fun and could have easily been on this list too: Log Horizon, Sekai Seifuku, Gundam Build Fighters, Garo, Sabagebu!, Zankyou no Terror and more.
I think if I absolutely had to choose the one show that entertained me the most this year, it would have to be Sidonia no Kishi, but unlike last year, the competition was stiff enough so that almost any show on the list above could comfortably occupy my AOTY slot. 2014 was a good anime year for me, and I hope 2015 will be too.