Mid-Autumn 2014 Anime Ranking

It’s more like a late-season review again. I took a break from work and anime for a couple of weeks early on, and it’s taken a while to get caught up, more or less. There are still a few shows on my watch list that I will not be covering here, since I have not seen enough of them to rank them.

It has been an exceptionally strong season, in my opinion. I’m really happy with just about everything in the top 10.


01. GARO THE ANIMATION (GARO: Honoo no Kokuin) (ep. 1-10) – I’m new to the GARO franchise, so I didn’t really know what to expect going in. I started watching because it seemed like it was an adult-oriented, medieval-setting anime, which is right up my alley. Fortunately, they seem to be presenting a stand-alone story which doesn’t demand much prior knowledge of previous works.

The interactions between sullen Leon and his libido-charged dad, German, have been amusing to watch. It’s a believable relationship. I can see how teenaged Leon would constantly feel annoyed at his father’s behaviour, and also how German would be frustrated at his withdrawn and uptight son.

Even though he hasn’t had much screen time until recently, I’ve been impressed with how Prince Alfonso is depicted as being a lot more capable and worldly than your average runaway royal. It’s obvious the King’s money bought him a good education, as one would expect, and it’s clear he paid attention in class, too. Of course he’s going to be a bit uncomfortable as he attempts to navigate his new surroundings, and he is physically weak compared to all the other guys in the show, but he is never useless or completely defenceless, either. I’ll bet Princess Yona (from currently airing Akatsuki no Yona) wishes her overprotective father had had as much foresight as Alfonso’s parents did!

This show proves that it’s possible to have mature content, including sex and violence, without being cheap and exploitative.

My one real complaint is that the super-shiny CG battle suits are a bit jarring compared to the restrained colour scheme of the 2D animation. I definitely prefer the fight scenes when they are not suited up. The only plus is that the CG suits are easier to see in the dark.
(streaming at FUNimation)


02. Parasyte –the maxim- (Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu) (ep. 1-10) – A thriller in which alien beings take over human bodies and turn them into shape-shifting cannibals. Our hero, Shinichi, fortuitously prevents his parasite from reaching his brain when it attacks him in the middle of the night. However, it permanently ends up in his right arm and they are forced to work together in order to survive.

I almost gave Parasyte the number one spot, as it has been the most consistent in effective storytelling, but the musical score is sometimes incongruous to the events on-screen, and GARO is just closer to my heart at the moment.

The narrative unfolds at a well-measured pace. It kind of reminds me of Death Note, with how it starts with the focus on the personal dynamic between Shinichi and Migi, then gradually expands the view to more and more of the outside world as the story progresses.

Even though it’s understated, we get a good sense of Shinichi’s feelings of discomfort at what is happening to his body. It’s fascinating to see Migi’s development too.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


03. Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works] (ep. 0-9) – Easily the best-looking series of the season, Fate/stay night offers top-notch action animation and detailed characterization.

Because this is being re-made as a direct sequel to Fate/Zero, it comes with a layer of context that elevates the material possibly above what it actually is. As such, I was invested in many of these characters before the show even began. Really subtle things, such as the way Saber stared at Illya, when they first encountered her, just for a moment, before casting down her gaze, can make me wonder at their meaning. Was Saber remembering the young child Illya used to be? Did seeing her standing there remind her of Illya’s mother Irisveil? Did she possibly feel regret that Illya was now to be her enemy?

I’m hoping they will eventually delve into the past events which many of the current Grail War participants have limited knowledge of. Rin seems to remember Sakura. But it’s hard to read her actions. Sakura doesn’t seem to be aware of their previous relationship at all. I also think it’s interesting that Illya, Shirou, and Saber each seem to have vastly different impressions about the kind of person that Kiritsugu was.

Rin is a great character. I love her interactions with her Servant Archer and with Shirou.

This version of Fate/stay night has done an extraordinary job of making Shirou out to be a likeable guy. He’s naïve and idealistic, but it’s clear he has a lot of potential for becoming a stronger Master. So far, he has not displayed any of the chauvinistic behaviour toward Saber that really irked me in the original Fate/stay night. Fingers crossed that there will be no mid-war “date” episode this time around.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


04. LAUGHING UNDER THE CLOUDS (Donten ni Warau) (ep. 1-10) – This one got off to a rocky start; it didn’t bode well for things when the main characters were running around in drag for no reason in the very first episode. Fortunately, the show took a more serious direction fairly quickly.

Tenka, the eldest Kumoh brother, reminds me of Headmaster Cross (from Vampire Knight) with the way he constantly puts on a goofball façade, while keeping his burdens to himself. I thought he took the act too far with his little brother, though, especially as it seemed obvious that Sora was mature enough to handle some reality. Gotta say, I was surprised and impressed by the gutsy yet logical conclusion to episode 6.

And then, the shocking twists in episode 9 left me reeling! I’m really enjoying Shirasu’s very nuanced portrayal. There’s a difficult scene between Soramaru and Shirasu in the latest episode, and I was blown away by the heartbreaking and compelling way in which it was handled.
(streaming at FUNimation)


05. Shirogane no Ishi: ARGEVOLLEN (ep. 13-22) – The story’s gotten really good. It’s now less a question of who is winning this war between Arandas and Ingelmia, and more about the disagreement within Arandas ranks on whether or not to stop fighting. The characters have become fleshed out and believable. The animation has been impressive as well, including the mecha fights. I’ll choose to forget the mostly off-model season opener episode 13; if anything positive came out of that, it’s that it made me appreciate how good the show usually looks!

And they really did stop with the random fanservice which marred the first half. Fanservice is now limited to the ED credits, and I, for one, am grateful the creators were able to use that to get it out of their systems so they can treat the actual show seriously.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

06. Ace of Diamond (Diamond no Ace) (ep. 51-59) – It’s the final game leading to Nationals and our main character Sawamura finally gets the spotlight as he takes the mound for Seido in the last few innings.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


07. Gugure! Kokkuri-san (ep. 1-10) – Emotionally-stunted Kohina inadvertently gets herself haunted by 3 spirits. It’s not as if she can easily get rid of them, so they sort of become her family. Long-suffering, vain fox spirit Kokkuri is remarkably endearing. And our cup-noodle-obsessed lead girl Kohina is no angel, but she is totally adorable.

I like how the show doesn’t feel obligated to produce a gag every minute. Some of the best episodes are the ones where the comedy takes a back seat for a while and allows the show to explore a more thoughtful storyline. The music used in these segments tends to be really pretty, too. Of course, the jokes and punchlines are never far behind.

Gugure! Kokkuri-san is silly and absurd and charming. It also has no qualms about making light of potentially touchy subjects such as suicide, stalking, or pedophilia, so sensitive viewers may wish to steer clear; but also know that you’ll be missing out if you do, because this is funny stuff.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

08. Yowamushi Pedal: GRANDE ROAD (ep. 1-10) – Continues right where we left off before the break, in the middle of the Inter-high race. Yes, it is more of the same of what we’ve come to expect from YowaPeda, and it’s just as fun and exciting as ever.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


09. Akatsuki no Yona (YONA OF THE DAWN) (ep. 1-10) – This was one of the series I was most looking forward to before the season began. For the most part, I’m pretty satisfied with the way it’s turned out. Many of the characters exhibit some depth, including the antagonists, and that’s a big draw for me. In fact, I’m eager to know more about traitor and pretender to the throne Soo-won; he’s a conflicted villain if I ever saw one.

I’m actually less excited about the current Dragon quest that Yona and Hak are on, but at least Yona is learning to be stronger and more independent in the process.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


10. ORENCHI NO FURO JIJO (ep. 1-10) – A four-minute comedy short in which blond merman Wakasa takes up residence in the bathtub of a young man named Tatsumi. Wakasa’s friends get involved and hijinks ensue. Frequently, the characters appear in chibi form and it’s super-cute!

The ridiculously dark and angsty OP sequence featuring Matenrou Opera music serves as a perfect counterpoint to the lightweight content of the rest of the show.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. PSYCHO-PASS 2 (ep. 1-9) – Maybe I had too-high expectations, but this sequel has proven to be a considerable disappointment to me thus far.

By the end of season one, we knew that Sibyl was flawed. I don’t recall Sibyl ever being so wilfully stupid or blatantly treacherous, though. Prisoners automatically get released the moment their crime coefficient goes down, no matter what they did to cause their incarceration? Is that even possible? A missing inspector, who is known to be acting suspiciously, is entitled to all her privileges as long as her psycho-pass is clear? I’m not saying they should fire her, but common sense says the MWPSB should have a way to prevent her from accessing police weapons until they can ascertain that she is safe and actually still on their side!

I’m not going to go so far as to call season 2 a train wreck, since they do seem to have a clear story in mind and they are telling it; and on its own, it’s probably fine. However, it’s difficult to ignore how the rules of the Sibyl System as established in the original series sometimes seem to be contradicted or changed to fit with the current production.
(streaming at FUNimation)

12. SHIROBAKO (ep. 1-9) – The overall story revolves around a group of friends beginning their careers in the animation industry. Most of the action (if you can call it that) is centered on Aoi’s experiences and the challenges she repeatedly faces in her role as production assistant for a company putting out a currently airing anime. Setbacks and deadlines abound and the fear of failure is sometimes palpable.

There is quite a bit of humour as well. I’m actually enjoying SHIROBAKO a lot; however, it’s just not the kind of show I find myself clamouring to watch each week.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


13. Rage of Bahamut: GENESIS (Shingeki no Bahamut GENESIS) (ep. 1-9) – This had a really promising start: nice-looking animation, medieval fantasy adventure setting. The men are likeable if rather needlessly unattractive; and single-minded Amira is an interesting heroine. Okay, to be fair, she’s interested in 2 things: food, and getting to Helheim some way somehow.

Anyway, I wanted to like this show more than I do. I kind of wish it remained more grounded in the human world, as I find the parts about the angels’ and demons’ realms to be somehow overwhelming and boring at the same time.

The best part of the show remains the kick-ass opening credits, featuring “EXiSTENCE” by SiM. In case anyone’s wondering, there is no need to watch episode 6.5; it is 100% recap and doesn’t shed any new light on the proceedings.
(streaming at FUNimation)

14. Wolf Girl and Black Prince (Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji) (ep. 1-10) – Erika gets caught in her lie about dating random hot guy Kyouya when he turns out to be a student at her school. To her surprise, he agrees to play her boyfriend; but only if she will be his dog. Yeah.

None of this is meant to be taken seriously, and honestly, the series is pretty fun and easy to watch. Still, I can’t help but have some reservations about the frankly abusive relationship at the core of this romance.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


15. Lord Marksman and Vanadis (Madan no Ou to Vanadis) (ep. 1-10) – For something that bills itself as a fanservice show, the gratuitous content is actually pretty mild. Sure, the way all the girls’ bodies are covered in canker sores is a turnoff, and the gigantic breasts on some can get ridiculous at times, but importantly, characters of both sexes get to retain their self-respect here.

The initial arc started things off well, but as the series continued, the execution has taken a tumble. After the fourth episode or so, things started happening at breakneck speed: characters were introduced and killed off before we learned their significance, Tigre wandered off and made a pact with some mysterious being, battles were fought and won with little regard for the human side of the story. It just seems a lot less focused now and I’m losing interest because of that.

tl;dr: Way better than expected; still not that good.
(streaming at FUNimation)

16. Your lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso) (ep. 1-9) – Former piano prodigy finds inspiration to take up his instrument again, and possibly romance, when a pretty and gifted violinist joins his group of friends. I find this stuff a tad melodramatic and, well, boring, but that’s just me. I would heartily recommend this anime to fans of Nodame Cantabile.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Notable Drop:

TERRA FORMARS (ep. 1-3) – The basic premise, with humanity possibly engineering its own demise when it attempts to terraform Mars by using cockroaches, sounds like a fascinating idea.

Problem is, the show is too obsessed with sensationalist violence. It’s just so hellbent on graphically depicting every beheading or dismemberment. Except you can’t show that stuff on TV, so at times up to 50% of the screen might be covered in black censor bars, making the show quite literally unwatchable.

It could have been so much better if they chose to suggest the gore artfully and if at least some clues as to what is going on on Mars were revealed earlier. If you’re looking for art or competent storytelling in a horror-thriller, best look elsewhere. Parasyte would be a good place to start.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Jacquie’s 2012 Year in Review – Top 10 Anime

My favourite anime shows of the year, selected from the titles I watched which finished airing in 2012:


#1.  Fate/Zero – This dramatic telling of the events of the 4th Holy Grail War was a far-superior prequel to the awful Fate/stay night anime. The grand storyline, epic cast of characters, and impressive action scenes made for a thrilling watch.  I found myself being very engrossed in the characters and the story, even though the final outcome was already known.  It was always an agonizing wait between episodes, tempered by the dreaded anticipation that any episode could be the last for characters that I’d come to love.


#2.  Chihayafuru – Endearing characters, great storytelling.  I really cared about Chihaya and Taichi and their team.  The anime even managed to make the old-fashioned card game of Karuta seem exciting.  Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the new season in 2013.


#3.  BEELZEBUB – Consistently funny, creative, and good-natured.  There were some duds during its 60-episode run, but they were remarkably few and far in between.  It’s a real shame that this is no longer airing.


#4.  Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi – The sort-of companion piece to Chihayafuru, UtaKoi featured the stories of the 100 poems from the Karuta game told in a way that was reverent and irreverent in equal measure.  The mature, bittersweet love stories really resonated with me.  I didn’t even mind the cart-race/talk-show episode.  Although I did find a few of the stories at the beginning of the second half to be weaker than the rest, the series came to a strong finish at the end.


#5.  Aquarion EVOL – I didn’t have any intention to watch this anime at first, due to the fact that I hadn’t seen the preceding Aquarion works and because I had seen supporting character Zessica’s fanservice-y get-up.  However, I was already watching the other 2 space operas (Moretsu Pirates and Rinne no Lagrange) to varying degrees of enjoyment, or not, respectively; and EVOL was often mentioned alongside those two.  EVOL turned out to be a blast!  Very over-the–top, with humorous fanservice and sexual innuendo (see, I don’t always hate on fanservice; I enjoy it when it’s funny) and a lot of heart.  And Zessica?  She became my favourite character.


#6.  Hakuouki Reimeiroku – I watched this because I also enjoyed the two previous Hakuouki series, of which this is a prequel.  It was a treat to revisit the Shinsengumi members and learn of the events of their early days.  The story as a whole may not have been amazing, and the new insert character was as useless as Chizuru from the original series; but the art, the recurring characters, the setting, and the way the events were based on actual history made the show really appealing to me, and I looked forward to watching it every week.


#7.  Kuroko’s Basketball – Watching this semi-fantastical sports anime reminded me of how I felt when watching the early seasons of BLEACH.  New characters were constantly being introduced as potential rivals for the main team, but they were interesting people, each with distinct personalities, and not necessarily “enemies”.  A new season was recently announced for 2013.  Looking forward to that too.


#8.  My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun) – Ostensibly a romance, but this show was really more about the interactions between a group of friends.  Every episode managed to be entertaining.  Although every character had definite flaws, they came across as likeable people that I wanted to root for.


#9.  Jormungand – A bloody, thought-provoking, action anime about a group led by Koko Hekmatyar, an arms dealer and visionary who dreams of world peace.  The mostly serious subject matter was balanced out by just the right amount of levity to make it an entertaining watch.


#10.  KIDS ON THE SLOPE (Sakamichi no Apollon) – If I never loved this show, I did respect it for the convincing portrayal of its 1960s setting, the jazz music, and the friendship of the lead characters.

Special Categories:

  • Best Comedy (intentional):  BEELZEBUB  (runner-up: Daily lives of high school boys (Danshi koukousei no nichijou))
  • Best Comedy (unintentional):  CODE:BREAKER  (runner-up: GUILTY CROWN)
  • Best OP or ED:  “Gekkou symphonia“, by AKINO & AIKI from bless4 (Aquarion EVOL ED1)

Notable Drops: Because I like to complain, listed below are the otherwise well-reviewed and popular anime series that were not considered for my year-end list because I couldn’t finish them.  Number of episodes watched is in brackets.

  • Rinne no Lagrange (12) – unnecessary fanservice detracted from the story; I just didn’t care about the characters enough to continue watching.
  • Tsuritama (5) – unlikeable characters; it was about fishing.
  • TARI TARI (5) – too sentimental, bad storytelling, bad music.
  • SWORD ART ONLINE (15) – so much wasted potential; wish-fulfillment pandering written with the mentality of a child.
  • Say “I Love You” (7) – irredeemably cliché-ridden; most of the characters were not the sort of people I would want to associate with; seemed to imply that sexual harassment/assault is okay, desirable even, as long as the offender is good-looking and popular.  (Maybe I’m overreacting and this is often sadly true, but I raged.)