Welcome to my third end of the year post. I felt this year might have been lacking in ground-breaking series, but instead offered us many solid and consistently enjoyable works.
Without further ado, here is my personal top 12 of the year.
#12 Log Horizon
This series is weird. Really, really weird. People expected this to be a SAO clone, but SAO played its tropes mostly straight, while Log Horizon does not seem to care about meeting anyone’s expectations. It rejects obvious sources of tension, like actually letting the characters die or face mortal peril. It rejects obvious sources of progression, like letting the characters grow in strength. It is flippant to the extreme, and I can only be curious where it goes from here.
#11 The World God Only Knows Goddess Arc
I will not be be particularly original in elevating the third series of this franchise above its predecessors. It is a series which came this far parodying other titles of the genre, but it has now matured enough to subvert its own premises. If nothing else, this is probably the series with the most thematically fitting ending of the year. I have a hard time imagining a better ending than Keima throwing away the responsibility for the carnage of a hell-and-heaven war left behind him, only to face the smoldering remains of a more personal battlefield. Great stuff.
#10 Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya
I initially dropped this after watching the first episode, but giving the series a second chance was fully worth it. Prisma Illya is a curious series in that it does not even pretend to have any kind of story and rides entirely on its two characters and action sequences. The action is superb. Miyu is cute and easy to empathize with. It is a very straightforward series, and successful for it.
#9 Hidamari Sketch – Sae-Hiro Sotsugyou-hen
Two episodes presenting a (possible) conclusion to a four season franchise. More than anything else, this OVA is notable among other SoL shows for how it resists the temptation of overwrought drama and manages to remain true to its usual atmosphere while also doing justice to the storm of emotion wreaking havoc in Yuno’s heart. Hidamari-sou forever!
#8 Monogatari – Second Season
I could never call myself a true fan of the Monogatari franchise, but this second season did much to win me over. The lessened focus on Araragi finally allowed other characters to come alive and add variety while retaining the strengths the series has gotten us used to. And Kaiki. Mostly Kaiki.
#7 Chihayafuru 2
The second season was not always as well-paced and directed as the first, but it does not fall far behind either. I am still left holding my breath over the outcome of poem-smacking matches and in awe of the voice performances – including what are possibly my favorite roles by Miyano Mamoru and Kayano Ai.
I did not think we would be getting a second season, but now I hope I can be proven wrong once more. Hoping for a third meeting with this wonderful cast!
#6 Kami sama no Inai Nichiyoubi
It is rare for me to be at a complete loss how to approach a show in terms of its messages and values, but Kami Inai makes a habit of subverting any expectations it builds up in this field. When you think the series is right about to make one moral point or another, the characters throw in the towel and admit they do not actually know what is right and wrong. But then again, that is fitting for a world where the rules are in constant flux and reality, both physical and spiritual, is not as consistent as one would expect it to be.
This is like Uchouten Kazoku, except it works. It is whimsical all around, straightforward where it counts. The kind of anime you can show to anyone. And there are gods and buddhas and other divine beings all over the place, so obviously I will have a soft spot for it xD.
#4 Love Lab
Most reviewers agree that with its title and premise, Love Lab has no right to be as good as it is. The key to the show’s greatness is that it combines the strengths of a yonkoma/four-panel comedy with a strong central storyline and constant character and storyline development. This year saw plenty of great slice of life series, but the ability to hook the viewer on the story sets Love Lab apart from its peers and guarantees that even an unfunny gag (and no comedy can please all viewers all the time) is never completely useless.
#3 Railgun S
The Sisters arc was carefully and beautifully executed, but truth be told, it was also something I have seen and read several times over in different incarnations of the franchise. Which means that yes, what really had me smiling fondly at the screen was the Silent Party anime-original arc. I am absolutely in love with the stuff they write for Railgun – the “filler” content for this series has a consistent theme in exploring Academy city and its society, makes full use of all available characters and is full of tongue-in-cheek fun. The final episode of this season is easily one of my favorite episodes of the entire year.
What can I say? There were some pacing issues, inconsistent episodes and funny CG, yes, but the emotional highs of the series left little time to think about such things. With its unique mix of sci-fi technology, creepy spirituality, conspiracy theories and tough idol business, AKB0048 stands as one of the most unusual anime series of recent years, even as it covers what seems to be familiar ground. Half the cast are either selfish or misguided, and yet it is difficult not to love them for their faults. After all, they are risking their lives and identities for our right to listen to pop music. Yeah.
#1 Symphogear G
There was no way to predict how Symphogear would transform so much in its second season, but here it is. The series threw away all unnecessary weight and just went from one crazy cliffhanger to another. Great music, smart scripting and Yuuki Aoi with an incredible performance as the lead of the series.
If I have any complaints, it is that it is obvious that the creators were ready to end things with this season, and so put in a lot of effort to conclude plot points and deliver messages in the final episodes, which is perfectly fine for almost all series, but not something Symphogear needed that badly. At least not at the expense of its great speed and not with the now-announced season 3 ahead of us. But things ended with Miku saving everyone again, so I can forgive a lot.
Now I am seriously looking forward to S3. It is time to start guessing what crazy title the writers have in store…
2014 is right ahead of us, and there are already tons of things to look forward to! The newest Saki season starts airing January 5th, and I will probably end up posting about the series one way or another.