Jacquie’s 2014 Year in Review – Top 10 Anime

When I started thinking about the anime that I enjoyed the most this past year, I realized it would be challenging to make a realistic year-end best list. A vast majority of my favourite shows remain officially unfinished, either being ongoing, or with a continuation announced around the airing time of the season finale episode.

Usually, I only consider series which finish airing in the given year, without the immediate promise of a sequel. This time, any shows I watched in entirety that came to a clear season end in 2014, will be eligible. (Ongoing and designated split-cour series will be considered for next year.)

Below are my top picks of 2014, chosen from about 55 eligible titles. The top five were easy to decide; those were the series that received an 8 or 9 rating from me at MyAnimeList. The next five had to be selected from the nearly 20 shows which scored a 7, and it was no simple task.


#1. KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA (Sidonia no Kishi) (Season 1, 12 episodes)
There’s not much I can add that I haven’t already said in the mid-spring writeup.

I’m not much of a fan of computer-generated animation normally, but this show really made the most of it. With its engrossing sci-fi story and great world-building, KNIGHTS OF SIDONIA was smartly written and very exciting to watch.

Definitely looking forward to season 2 come springtime!
(NETFLIX)


#2. Free! Eternal Summer (Season 2, 13 episodes, complete)
In season one, the boys grew together as a swim team and as friends, while coming to terms with their past experiences. Eternal Summer, on the other hand, focused more on their personal development, especially as Haru, Makoto, and Rin needed to start thinking about their futures.

I had high expectations of Free! from the very beginning, and also confidence that the creators knew what they were doing and where they were going with the series. I felt that my faith was rewarded throughout, but particularly in this second season, including the satisfying finale.

The ending was conclusive enough that it seems fairly certain there will not ever be a season 3, never mind a season 10. Which is too bad, because I will miss having this series to look forward to. The animation was gorgeous, the music was evocative, and I came to care about the characters as if they were real people.
(Crunchyroll, FUNimation)


#3. YowaPeda (Yowamushi Pedal) (Season 1, 38 episodes)
This entertaining cycling anime was in my top 3 practically every week that it aired. Even though the storyline was quite simple and focused entirely on bike racing and training, it was always fun to watch. I liked how we gradually got to know each character in the huge cast as it came time for them to play their part for their team. It helped me empathize with their goals and it gave context to their successes and failures.

Well, season one officially ended in June and the sequel, GRANDE ROAD, started in September with a renewed numbering system, but there was really no ending to season one, as it stopped right smack dab in the midst of the gruelling Inter-high race.
(Crunchyroll)


#4. GUGURE! KOKKURI-SAN (12 episodes, complete)
When I first heard of this, I thought it was just yet another fox spirit anime; there seem to be so many of them! But one glimpse of the female protagonist and I was convinced it was not going to be just one of those shows.

I didn’t love everything about the series. Inugami and Tama, for instance, were not especially funny to me. But Kokkuri and Kohina, and even Shigaraki, were loveable enough to make up for it.

Overall, I enjoyed the absurd, irreverent humour a lot; and the balance of drama and comedy added some surprising depth to the material.
(Crunchyroll)


#5. ALDNOAH.ZERO (Season 1, 12 episodes)
The second of 3 mecha series on this list, ALDNOAH.ZERO had a strong start, featuring a war of worlds storyline, inventive plot developments, and an atypical lead character in soft-spoken, inexpressive Inaho.

The Martian Kataphrakt-of-the-week format of the middle section reduced the appeal of the show somewhat, however. It also didn’t help that Inaho always seemed to dispense with his enemies a little too effortlessly.

Regardless, the detailed animation, powerful soundtrack, and strong early episodes were enough to get me hooked and looking forward to the new season, which has just started.
(DAISUKI, Crunchyroll)


#6. NOBUNAGUN (13 episodes, complete)
For most of its run, this was a middling series for me. I really liked awkward, tomboyish Sio as the lead protagonist, and I enjoyed the episodes where her group, the Second Platoon, was featured in the plot. But it was considerably less fun whenever the focus was on other characters.

What raised my opinion of NOBUNAGUN was the final story arc, in which Sio got to display her character development and a truly inspired twist regarding the identity of one of the E-Gene Holders was revealed.

I’ve said before that it’s fairly uncommon for an anime to have a great ending, so I really appreciate it when it happens. NOBUNAGUN resolved not only its battle storyline, but its romantic subplot as well, even though the love triangle was mostly imaginary and played for laughs up till that point. This is more than can be said for most shows with romance as the theme!

There is still room for a sequel, but the series ended in a satisfying way.
(Crunchyroll)


#7. Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai) (99 episodes, complete)
An all-ages-appropriate, realistic portrayal of what it’s like to apply for the space program and the process for becoming an astronaut.

Self-deprecating Mutta made for a sympathetic hero; and the underlying story of brothers with a shared passion was touching.

The first half of the series definitely had the better material, climaxing with Hibito’s moon mission arc. The remaining episodes were more slow-paced and less riveting. But overall, I still give the show a strong recommendation. It’s well-informed and well-written, and it’s entertaining too.
(Crunchyroll)


#8. Shirogane no Ishi ARGEVOLLEN (24 episodes, complete)
This mecha/war anime suffered a weak start full of tropes: predictably hotheaded protagonist and grossly out-of-place fanservice, just to name a couple of the problems.

But along the way, the characters, including the lead, grew and became fleshed out and believable. Fanservice fell by the wayside. It was a joy to see the military strategy play out, as well as the interactions between the cast. All in all, it was not a predictable show at all; and it’s a shame that many viewers probably dropped it, for understandable reasons, before it got good.
(Crunchyroll)


#9. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: STARDUST CRUSADERS (Season 2, 24 episodes)
The third part in the JoJo timeline, once again featuring a huge time skip from the previous arc. Happily, Joseph is still around, and although he’s a grandfather now, he’s still as much of a redneck a-hole as ever. This time, it’s all about special powers called stands and it’s a race against time to reach Dio and stop him from destroying the Joestar family.

Basically, Jotaro and company are trying to make it from Japan to Egypt in one piece, but at every step, Dio’s followers are there to thwart their progress. This results in a stand-of-the-week horror story format most of the time. But that’s okay, because it’s so much fun just watching these lovably flawed characters interacting with each other. You can’t help but laugh at the crazy situations they find themselves in.
(Crunchyroll)


#10. Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji): Book of Circus (Season 3, 10 episodes, complete)
I never actually finished season one, and I didn’t watch any of the second season, but I checked out this third installment of Kuroshitsuji anyway. And I liked it!

Who is a victim and who is a villain in a world that isn’t black and white? Book of Circus was pretty dark and explored some of the same themes as Tokyo Ghoul (which also aired in the summer) clumsily attempted to, but executed on them so much better, in my opinion.
(FUNimation, DAISUKI)

Mid-Winter 2014 Anime Ranking

Can I just make a list of my favourite theme songs this season? Because that would be so much easier:

1. AXIS, by STEREO DIVE FOUNDATION (NOBUNAGA The Fool ED)
2. Respect for the dead man, by Pay money To my Pain (NOBUNAGUN OP)
3. With You / With Me, by 9nine (MAGI: The Kingdom of Magic ED2)
4. Goya no Machiawase, by Hello Sleepwalkers (NORAGAMI OP)
5. FANTASTIC TUNE, by Ono Kensho (Kuroko’s Basketball 2 ED2)

Guess not, eh? The thing is, fully half the shows I’m following currently were middling carryovers from last season. The other half debuted in January; and it seems like practically every one of these new shows is taking forever to get moving plot-wise. So I find myself in a position where I’m not particularly enthusiastic about anything on my watch list. Anyway, here goes.


01. MAGI: The Kingdom of Magic (ep. 13-21) – After a seriously underwhelming first cour, MAGI has gotten back on track in a big way. We’re now familiar with the 3 main nations (the Kou Empire, the Leam Empire, Magnoshutatt) that have begun to clash. While the main focus has been on Aladdin’s experiences in Magnoshutatt, we’ve seen that all 3 of the factions have grand and worthy ideals. And true to MAGI fashion, we’ve also seen that each side can be criticized for transgressions they are willing to make in the name of those ideals. To top it off, there exists some discontent within each group as well. These kinds of complex and balanced portrayals are what impress me the most about this franchise.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


02. YowaPeda (Yowamushi Pedal) (ep. 13-21)
03. Ace of Diamond (ep. 14-22)
04. Kuroko’s Basketball 2 (ep. 38-47) – In a stronger season, these 3 sports anime probably wouldn’t rank so highly. None of these shows really explore the characters’ personal lives or their interests/relations outside of the sport, which is something I’d like to see. For what they are though, with the focus on training and competing/playing games, the stories are competently told and each episode is consistently enjoyable to watch.
(all 3 streaming at Crunchyroll)


05. NORAGAMI (ep. 1-9) – NORAGAMI is generally well put-together; the 3 leads are interesting characters, especially Yukine. However, I can’t help but feel the show is being excessively cryptic about Yato’s past. It’s hard to feel the intended impact of current events when we know so little of why they are significant relative to the character’s history and present situation.
(streaming at FUNimation)

06. TOKYO RAVENS (ep. 13-21) – This second cour has the story moving out from the core group to expand on the greater story. Unfortunately, it’s pretty convoluted. And it isn’t easy to keep track of the growing cast, especially as some of them are reincarnations of other characters.
(streaming at FUNimation)

07. SPACE DANDY (ep. 1-9) – Completely episodic. So far it doesn’t matter what order you watch the episodes in since the show doesn’t even pretend to have any continuity concerns. Of course, that allows for a lot of creativity and it is frequently pretty fun and amusing to watch. My favourite episode of what I’ve seen is the ingenious fourth one, with the zombies. They really went all out with that one; every time it seemed like it had to be all over, they found a way to take it further!
(streaming at FUNimation)


08. NOBUNAGUN (ep. 1-10) – I’m enjoying the primary characters, including lead girl Sio/Nobunagun, who is quirky in an appealing way. That makes the series fun to watch. However, the main Pacific Rim-like plot line is not very inspiring. The Evolutionary Invasion Objects seem so powerful that I don’t see how DOGOO has any reasonable chance of defeating them, even with their E-Gene Holder forces.

One of the giggle-inducing highlights for me was the random swimsuit dream sequence from ep. 8, in which Jack (Suzuki Tatsuhisa) threw his arm around Gandhi (Shimazaki Nobunaga) after declaring their relationship as lovers. Too funny! (edit: Sorry, it might not be obvious that I interpreted this as a MakotoXHaru Free! reference.)
(streaming at Crunchyroll and FUNimation)

09. KILL la KILL (ep. 13-21) – Thankfully the various battles and power-ups are done and we are finally into the meat of the story starting with episode 16. The revelations since then have been meaningful and the fights have felt consequential. I’m pretty impressed with the novel theory of evolution that KILL la KILL is adhering to – I’ve definitely never heard anything like that before. More and more, it’s becoming evident how smart the series is and how it’s been consistent with its internal logic from the start.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


10. Witch Craft Works (ep. 1-9) – The best thing about Witch Craft Works is how crazy funny it frequently is, right down to the irreverent ED sequence which moe-fies the historical persecution of witches for laughs. The atypical roles (the guy is the “princess”, while the girl is the strong protector) are also refreshing. Unfortunately, both the main characters are pretty bland otherwise, and that keeps me from really getting into the series. That, and they’re constantly throwing in too many new players, and I can’t keep them all straight.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

11. Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai) (ep. 88-97) – I haven’t been all that interested in Mutta’s experiences with his grating new team members. The touching episode about Eddie Jay, hit the mark, though. Now, Hibito is finding himself being stigmatized for having suffered a psychological disorder; I give the show credit for how realistic that is.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

12. PHI BRAIN – Kami no Puzzle Season 3 (ep. 14-23) – After two and a half seasons of Kaito and company tackling killer puzzles and emerging largely unscathed, it came as a surprise that there has now been a fatality – a welcome surprise, because come on!

If Kaito’s friends end up dying one after another now, and he obtains the ultimate power and turns back time to bring everyone back to life, I’m going to be really, really disappointed. Dead people should stay dead or it’s cheap storytelling.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


13. NAGI NO ASUKARA (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea) (ep. 14-22) – So the sea kids are waking from their slumber after 5 years. There is still a threat of global catastrophe somewhere in the future. And the mildly melodramatic polygonal romantic angst continues.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

14. The Pilot’s Love Song (ep. 1-10) – The darker, more serious flashback sequences are pretty good, but the lighter present story… leaves something to be desired. This is another show that’s not forthcoming enough with its basic setup. What is Isla’s goal? Where are they going exactly? Why are they even at war?
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. BUDDY COMPLEX (ep. 1-9) – I can understand that there’s going to be some mystery about how and why Aoba got transported to the future, but I would think that by now there’d be some explanation of the conflict that’s currently going on. Who are the Free Treaty Alliance and the Great Zogilia Republic and what are they fighting for? Never mind the audience, why doesn’t Aoba ask?
(streaming at FUNimation)


16. NOBUNAGA THE FOOL (ep. 1-9) – What I don’t like: Tarot cards. It’s fine if they’re just used for artistic effect. But when a character actually pulls out the cards and that’s what regularly passes for plot advancement, forgive me if I’m a little skeptical of the narrative integrity.

The two-worlds plot is so nonsensical, or at least so insufficiently explained, that even though da Vinci delivered that lengthy infodump in ep. 8, I still feel we didn’t learn anything!

It also bothers me that all the women are useless. Especially Nobunaga’s sister. She just stands there like a non-player character in a game, singing, until approached, at which point she’ll divulge a little information and then go back to singing.

What I like: Mitsuhide’s hair, which is almost a character on its own. It’s great the way the animators lovingly render every strand that falls across his eyes, and every lock that’s casually brushed away from his face. It’s so absurd, it’s awesome.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

17. Samurai Flamenco (ep. 12-19) – Episode 18 was surprisingly, hilariously crack and actually offered an explanation of the events so far. It may not have been the best episode to date (probably ep. 2 would take that honour), but it was certainly the funniest. That said, it still doesn’t make up for all the time-wasting, plot-twisting dreck I was suckered into watching for the preceding 11 episodes! Well, it’s not over yet; let’s see what they have in store for us in this final stretch.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

18. Wizard Barristers (ep. 1-7) – This show is about lawyers who try to protect the rights of magic users in a society where the use of magic is against the law. The unintended irony is that these lawyers can’t seem to get anything done without resorting to magic themselves! What are they trying to say exactly?

Also, I can’t relate to Cecil at all. Even her character design is annoying. It should be a really cool thing that an anime protagonist is Canadian, but instead, it’s disappointing at best, mortifying at worst. I was only following Wizard Barristers because my sister was still watching it; now that she’s sufficiently exasperated and also ready to drop, I doubt I will stick around see if this incompetent narrative actually goes anywhere.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

Also watching:

Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time (ep. 1-10) – A 6-minute (without credits) short about a schoolboy who continually goofs off in elaborate ways during class. The girl who sits beside him struggles with feelings of disapproval and fascination at witnessing his antics.

Every once in a while, they change things up a bit by involving another student, which is good.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


Pupa (ep.1-9) – Since it’s a 3-minute short, you’d expect things to move at a brisk pace. Not so with Pupa. It just takes its time unraveling its horror story as if it were a full-length show, only to end abruptly. One episode consists solely of the brother being slowly devoured by his sister; another is all him howling in pain off-screen as he is undergoing surgical evaluation.

We initially put Pupa on hold after 2 episodes, then returned to marathon up to ep. 9 all at once, which is definitely a better way to approach this. We will finish watching – it’s a very small time commitment after all – once it is complete.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)