With another year behind us, time to share the best of the recent anime offerings. As always at this place, I have a Top 12 list. What is different from usual is that movies, OVAs and ongoing shows are all off-limits. With plenty of good shows out this year, it was difficult enough cutting the numbers down as it is… Which is very good news!
#12 Amagi Brilliant Park
This was a very good year for KyoAni. Tamako Market came back with all the visual power and none of the meandering weakness of the main series, making for the best KyoAni work in some time. Free and Chuunibyou had satisfying second seasons, and last but not least, we also got Amagi Brilliant Park.
With a silly and unique premise, Amagi was a huge unknown before it aired. And thankfully, it remained an unknown until the very end, with different wackiness taking place every week. Down-to-earth problems and magical cataclysms went hand in hand in this show, mixing a dream with a familiar “workplace” feeling for a highly memorable result.
#11 Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
It is crazy. It is fun. Plenty of people include this one in their favorites for the year, and I am not surprised.
If I liked the remaining characters as much as I liked the Nozaki-Chiyo-Mikoshiba trio, this would have been even higher.
A simple story of a newly founded club aiming to prove themselves made fresh through exceptional presentation and organic relationships between the characters. Of note is the multi-layered title as well as the OP/ED combination moret than worthy of representing a dancing anime. It is too bad the middle and end of the anime are not quite as powerful as the briskly-paced and gorgeously animated opening episodes, but it is still a pleasant journey into the world of yosakoi.
For the most part, I have flawed but memorable series on this list. But from time to time, there are series like Mikakunin de Shinkoukei, which just never stumble and make that their foremost charm point. Simple and sweet, but inventive enough in its take on the central romance story not to feel repetitive, this show is a recommended pick for anyone looking for a dose of cute and relaxation.
#8 Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru
For many of the things YuYuYu did throughout its run, there is some magical girl show out there that did it better. Which is why the beauty of the show lies in all the things you can get here and nowhere else.
There is the terror that comes not during a fight, but after it is long over – the time when you wonder if that is really the end or not, the time when you listen to a friend report on her injuries, and then reassure them while hiding your own fears and wounds.
There is that moment when having successfully defeated twelve powerful monsters, you and your comrades take on the last small fry five on one… and nobody can quite get it together and make the first move, because now, now you suspect all the magic and power might not have been free after all.
Certainly a series with some issues, but the interesting bits make up for it. With the last episode having aired recently, I am still reanalyzing some of the events in the final episodes (as well as reading the Washio Sumi wa Yuusha de Aru prequel novel), so I have my doubts about the show’s exact position on this list, but it is definitely worth a try for fans of the genre.
#7 Nagi no Asukara
Give Okada Mari two cours to work with, and you will get plenty of believable human drama and a sprawling but messy plotline. Okada did that with Wixoss this year, and the same goes for this show.
But the ambition behind this show sets it apart from other Okada works. There is a tug-of-war between the yin-yang worlds of sea and land presented in this show and the individual stories of each character. But at times the two threads beautifully intersect, creating patterns which could not possibly come to be in a different setting – like when a time-skip affects only half the cast, completely changing the rules of the relationship game.
#6 Saki: Zenkoku-hen
Kan, kan, kan!
I want a Shinohayu anime.
Ritsu, draw faster nghhh…
#5 Black Bullet
Probably my favorite setting of the year, providing an excuse to pair up mercenaries and overpowered lolis on a planet-wide zombie hunt while also raising some questions of morality and portraying “life” as a powerful and universal, but also selfish force.
And yes, it did use all that potential in very weird ways. Kind of like bringing a shotgun to a fistfight only to try shooting it with your feet…
#4 Log Horizon
I mentioned this show last year, and my thoughts on it have not changed that much. It is one of the few anime of this type made with Japanese taxpayers’ money, and it shows. And I do not mean the cheap art and animation (those are certainly present). Log Horizon does not really care for universal appeal, so it does whatever it wants with its pacing and developments. You would kind of expect a series of boss fights to end with some great achievement, but not this show, here they will just have a talk. Talking is important.
I cannot exactly predict where this show will go at any given time, which I happen to like. Keeps me on my toes.
#3 Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!?
The best part about the show is that it carries all its likely weaknesses on its sleeve. It looks a little cheap, right? And the male-female ratio hints at harem mayhem.
Well, that just means that all the show’s surprises are for the better. This is a story of supernatural, extraterrestrial and sometimes cosplaying misfits locked in a struggle for six tatamai mats’ worth of space for the glory of their respective civilizations. Or saving the world. Or saving up on rent.
When the rivalry and insanity finally give way to camaraderie, an incredible team, or maybe even a family, is born. And there is plenty of trouble for them to face, all for the viewers’ satisfaction.
#2 No Game No Life
So if you thought you need to be smart to write stories about smart people… well, you probably have a point. However, NGNL proves that layers upon layers of presentation do much to cover up the warts.
What really makes NGNL work, though, is its determination to march forward without falling too much in love with any of its gags or ideas. The show is like a magician burning through one trick after another. And certainly, you already know some of those tricks and are not always equally amused. But the magician winks the disappointment away and fluidly moves into the next part of the spectacle.
Still, no show can go on forever. And in the end, when the lights go on, the audience might realize the tricks were just that, empty tricks. How do you prevent that? You do not let the show end. You turn the performance into a part of a greater trick, ongoing even as the audience leaves their seats.
NGNL ends in the middle of things, and had the show not found a way to deal with that (by diverging from the source material, too), it might have fallen off this list completely. But that is not how things turned out, and here it is.
#1 Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya 2wei!
I do not think there was another anime this year that consistently knew exactly what it wanted to do and how to go about doing it quite as much as Illya Zwei did. Combining a flexible and inspired direction style with Silver Link’s steady craftsmanship, the show constantly provided varied and gripping entertainment.
In a year with shows like Kill La Kill and Ping Pong to compete with on the visual front, Illya owes a lot to the art of restraint. Presenting a wide variety of tricks, but determinately avoiding repetition, the show always knows how to make the most of its potential. Most memorably, the show often chooses to make its statements by not-showing, rather than showing characters and their actions. During the farcical mud-trap rescue scene in the beginning of the show, the technique brings out the absurdity and comedic potential of what should be a clichéd transformation scene. During the mid-show confrontation between Kuro and Miyu, the same technique ends up filling a simple conversation with tension and allows for a dynamic switch straight into the action. Illya takes a similarly free approach to its background music, using its presence and lack thereof to flexibly switch between serious and comedic developments.
No matter the skillful execution, I expected to be able to shoot the show down on the storyline and ending fronts, the former of which kept the original series safely in the “average” zone. But here the show starts making use of its Fate roots to introduce a struggle with the shadows of the past each of the characters carries, giving meaning to many of the events of the first season while simultaneously creating cracks in the characters’ armors. Zwei ends in the middle of the second manga series, and should by all means fall apart at the end, but here the series skillfully puts the spotlight on the paradigm shift ongoing in Illya’s mind. The determination to protect her dear ones and her everyday life was there to begin with, of course, but now she is forced to admit that what constitutes those things might have changed without her noticing. And the show’s willingness to bet on the small changes of its characters allows for optimism regarding the forthcoming third season.
To sum up, 2014 was more about good shows rather than truly spectacular ones. With Shirobako and Parasyte, as well as Fate UBW and Log Horizon continuing into the next year, though, it seems like there will be enough big hitters to talk about next year to make up for it. Here is to another great year for anime and everyone reading this post!
Full list of stuff I watched this year for people who have recommendations. A * mark indicates stuff I dropped, with a ** mark signifying a first-ep drop. (Which does not immediately imply the series is bad, though.)
Akame ga Kill!*
Amagi Brilliant Park
Blue Spring Ride
Denki-gai no Honya-san
Engaged to the Unidentified
Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya 2wei!
Free! Eternal Summer
Gonna be the Twin-Tails!!
I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying
Invaders of the Rokujyouma?!
Kill La Kill
Kuroko’s Basketball 2
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions: Heart Throb
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea
No Game No Life
One Week Friends
Ping Pong The Animation
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis**
Riddle Story of Devil
Saki: The Nationals
Selector Infected WIXOSS & Spread WIXOSS
Soul Eater Not!
Sword Art Online II
Terror in Resonance
The Irregular at Magic High School
Wake Up, Girls!
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace
World Conquest Zvezda Plot*
Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero