The Top Ten Series – The Best of 2014
So 2015 is upon us, but before we get stuck into the New Year’s offerings let us cast our eye back on 2014. This year I tried to be a bit more selective about what I was watching and tried to drop more things I wasn’t enjoying…..however that may not have worked out too well since I somehow managed to finish 60 TV series this year.
Overall my impression of 2014 is that it wasn’t a particularly wonderful year for anime. There are a few gems in there, but there was an awful lot of just watchable shows that time will forget quickly enough. Overall the year was just average, but as I said, there were some absolute gems mixed in there, so my top 10 wasn’t too hard to pick. Not many shows will be threatening my T0p 50 though (which I’m going to have to rework again soon).
For this list I take into consideration any show that finished its run in 2014, regardless of when it started – so a lot of those excellent Autumn series won’t be elligible since they’re carrying on into 2015. As usual my top 10 picks from the years OVAs/Movies/Specials will be in a separate post.
Also I guested on another seasonal anime podcast where Me, Mr Flawfinder, Deadlight, Appropriant, Lemur, and Wendeego have a chat about our most surprising, disappointing, and best anime of the year – there is a decent selection of shows covered.
10. Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror) – Summer ’14
I was so hyped for this Watanabe helmed project when it aired and I desperately wanted to be emotionally invested in Terror in Resonance, but it just never happened and the show left me rather cold in the end. But my opinion of the show has improved a bit since it ended as there was still lots to be interested in. Great animation and direction, wonderful music and interesting motifs peppered throughout the show; the characters needed further development to make them more emotionally resonant with the audience, but as noticeboards to paint ideas on they worked well.
The finale at least got things right – I liked it a lot (although it kind of glosses over what I’m sure was a rather tumultuous aftermath), but there was still that horribly annoying feeling that Terror in Resonance should have been a much better show than it ended up being. Definitely an interesting series beautifully presented, but could have been a masterpiece.
9. Samurai Flamenco – Autumn ’13
Truly one of the most exceptional works in recent memory – SamFlam was something you either loved with a fevered passion, or hated equally fervently! While the show utterly lost me in its middle portion, causing me to drop my episodic blogging of it, the show just doesn’t really care and continues to do its own thing to the end. You have to respect that kind of audacity in the writing and presentation of a show.
Riddled with flaws, dodgy animation and perplexing plot-twists, SamFlam was a real roller-coaster ride to watch – you truly never knew what the next episode would throw at you! And I loved that. When you watch so much anime it is inevitable that many shows end up becoming predictable, as the writers stick to tried & tested story-telling conventions. Such was never the case with Samurai Flamenco which threw all those conventions out the window in favour of boundless imagination – the staff knew where they wanted to go and they just went there with little regard for things making sense to the viewer!
But through it all the characters of Samurai Flamenco remained endearing and easy to relate to – there was some exceptional acting and characterisation for the the core cast and nearly everyone got their time to shine. Samurai Flamenco may not be a show that everyone one will love, but it deserves recognition for its fantastic, boundless creativity of writing.
8. Haikyuu!! – Spring ’14
Fantastically entertaining, cute as hell and a shippers dream – Haikyuu!! is a superb entry in the shounen sports genre.
What makes Haikyuu!! so wonderful is the genuinely endearing characters and the fantastic attention to detail. The backgrounds, sound design and animation for when the boys are actually playing volleyball are all wonderfully detailed and show that quite a lot of effort has gone into making this show. Another thing that is memorable about this show is the range of facial expressions and the brilliant chemistry the characters have with each other. The script is witty and the voice acting is excellent – all over Haikyuu!! is a very high quality show.
Roll on season 2!
7. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – Summer ’14
This was one of the true surprises of 2014 for me – I never expected to enjoy it so much thinking that it would be just another by-the-numbers comedy that I get very little mileage out of. However Nozaki-kun is a brilliant comedy series populated with really fun, memorable characters……and shipping galore, and I truly loved it! Some episodes were better than others as is the case with most comedy shows, but when Nozaki-kun is on top form it can induce fits of giggles – which is all I really ask of a comedy show.
Production was surprisingly solid on the series too, with some glorious reaction faces and pretty consistent quality throughout. Acting and comedic timing were both top-notch, which all add up to a very good series. I loved Nozaki-kun so much I picked up the manga since I wasn’t ready to quit these characters – I really hope another season materialises at some stage.
6. Ping Pong The Animation – Spring ’14
One of the stand-out shows of recent years in terms of stellar character development and creative direction. Masaaki Yuasa’s style isn’t to everyone’s taste and Ping Pong can hardly be called a traditionally attractive show with its shifting, loose animation style and rough character designs. However this dynamic style allowed for some striking match animation and a very interesting viewing experience full of wonderful visual metaphors. Yuasa’s deft touch and unique direction style allowed the stories of the boys in this show to be told in an amazingly tight, nuanced way – shows like this know how best to use the limited episode of count of the Noitamina timeslot.
We get a wonderful sense for all the characters personalities and personal struggles in a mostly non-verbal manner – we’re shown their stories in visual snippets that speak volumes, rather than spoon-fed it through endless exposition, a balance that far too many shows don’t quite get right. Ping Pong has a way of getting under your skin and really with the characters, even though we’re not spending massive amounts of time with each of them due to the brisk pacing. Shows like this are rare, if you haven’t checked it out, I really would recommend you give it a go – one of the true gems of the year.
5. Kill la Kill – Autumn ’13
Kill la Kill is a work of pure, unfiltered genius. It is the most anime of anime shows to come out in quite some time, and all the more entertaining because of that. There was a lot of hype for Trigger’s first foray into TV anime but Kill la Kill ended up being a triumph of fun and creativity.
The series is utterly bonkers filled with clothing from space, terrorist organisations promoting nudity and some truly absurd characters & special powers, but the whole thing is just so sincere and fun that you just can’t stop yourself from getting swept up in all the madness! Kill la Kill is an assault on your senses, from Trigger using every visual trick in the animation book to the bombastic soundtrack, Kill la Kill never has a dull moment. The series may not have the best writing or a cohesive plot of any real significance, but it has ideas & creativity to spare and for that it is deserving of praise. A real milestone in animation – Kill la Kill is definitely worth watching.
4. Gundam Build Fighters – Autumn ’13
Another show carried over from 2013 (and with a sequel currently airing), Gundam Build Fighters was a series that really made me fall in love with Gundam all over again. This show is just pure, childish delight. It revels in its base idea that Gundam is what makes this world go round and is just so sincere and utterly lacking in pretention that you just can’t stop yourself from loving the series.
Gundam Build Fighters also doesn’t skimp on the visual spectacle and the gunpla fights (especially in the 2nd half of the show) are absolutely amazing to watch. And because you actually like the characters, their absolute dedication to their hobby is endearing and you really care about their struggles to be the very best gunpla battler out there!
Charming and an absolute joy to watch, Gundam Build Fighters is something every Gundam and mecha fan should see.
3. Space Dandy – Winter & Summer ’14
Anthology shows like Space Dandy show off a wonderful array of talent – only Shinichiro Watanabe could have attracted so many talented individuals to this project. The exhaustive list of directors and animators who worked on Space Dandy is like a list of the crème de la crème of the current anime industry. This is a very special series and you have to admire the sheer creativity it displays.
There is no real over-arching plot for Space Dandy – every episode is completely different, employing different direction and animation styles, looking at different themes and just generally messing about with the idea of episodic space fun. Some episodes are better than others, but every one of them displays endless creativity. Watanabe basically gave each team free reign with the basic idea of a Dandy guy in space with his talking cat & robot vacuum cleaner. So while there is a lack of continuity every episode gives us another nugget of information about the characters, building up their personalities and exploring the world they inhabit – it is an absolute joy to watch.
I know that a lot of people ended up disappointed that this wasn’t the second coming of Cowboy Bebop, but once you get over that fact and start to appreciate what Space Dandy is on its own merits, you soon realise that this is an exceptional series.
2. Mushishi: Zoku Shou – Spring & Autumn ’14
Mushishi is extremely episodic and has a very particular atmosphere to it – there really isn’t another show out there that is quite like it. The brilliant direction, fantastic music, beautiful background art and understated acting, all make Mushishi one of the very finest anime series out there. It was worth waiting 9 years for this sequel. Absolutely sublime, this Mushishi sequel is easily the best show to air completely within 2014.
Mushishi somehow manages to be completely perfect in nearly every episode it produces – the 2nd half of the show is especially strong. There is just something completely magical about this series – there is no connecting plot line, Ginko doesn’t have a destination or a quest to fulfil in all his wanderings, and yet I find myself consistently mesmerised by the series. This is a true achievement given my notorious inability to tolerate iyashikei and episodic shows. I think it is the horror element that Mushishi has in a lot of its stories that holds my interest – the sickening feeling of being helpless in the face of natural disasters, the creeping uneasiness of something not being quite right with some of the people in the show, the slow burning tension that runs through a lot of the stories – it all makes for gripping viewing.
Mushishi is slow-paced, meandering and episodic, but it somehow stands in a class entirely of its own. This is a truly outstanding anime and a very rare treat.
Nothing else could have taken the crown this year – Hunter x Hunter was just that good. It helps that 2014 saw the series at its very best with the conclusion of the sublime Chimera Ant arc and the thrill of the Election arc. Yes you can say that I’m massively biased towards shounen shows, and yes that is true, but Hunter x Hunter is a very special shounen show – one that continues to only get better as it goes on rather than starting to repeat itself and get stale.
The secret is the way HxH constantly reinvents itself with each arc. It takes traditional shounen tropes and follows them through to their terrifying extremes – HxH is not frightened of going to some properly dark places. Each new arc takes a new bunch of characters and a new setting and just goes nuts with it. Of course our central cast stays consistent, but they too never stop growing as they adapt to new situations and confront harrowing trials. You truly care about what happens to people in HxH, it is one of those rare shows that succeeded in making me care enough about these characters that I cried.
It did take me a while to warm to this remake of HxH as I had a lot of love for the 90s adaptation, but once this 2011 reboot hit its stride and the staff became completely comfortable with the series, it really blossomed into a fantastic show. Wonderful animation, beautiful art direction and a voice cast that really made the roles their own – the production is excellent.
Containing blissful highs of childish glee, terrifying lows filled with body horror and every conceivable emotion in between, few shows contain so much variety over their run. Hunter x Hunter was a 148 episode journey and it was an emotional one. I was extremely sad to say goodbye at the end. Even if shounen shows aren’t normally your thing, I’d still urge you to give Hunter x Hunter a chance – it is just that good.
So those are my top 10 picks for 2014! Honourable mentions go to Silver Spoon 2, Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis, Knights of Sidonia and Free! Eternal Summer. Second part with the OVAs/Movies/Specials will be up shortly (once I actually write it).
So overall it was a fairly average year for anime with some diamonds in amongst the cheap rhinestones. Here’s hoping 2015 has more treats in store for us!