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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Best New Anime of 2014:

It's December, so it's time to have a little retrospective on the entire year.  My appraisal of this fall season's quality has finally settled down now that all the facts are in.  Before we move on to the winter 2015 anime season, one last look back is in order.

The best new anime of 2014 is the list of my ranked anime that began just this year:

81. Sakura Trick (2014) (12) (manga)  
82. Akatsuki no Yona (2014+) (8) (manga) 
102. Akame ga Kill (2014+) (19) (manga)
103. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru (2014+) (8) (original)
113. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (2014+) (12) (manga)  
115. Gokukoku no Brynhildr (2014) (14) (manga)
118. Mikakunin de Shinkoukei (2014) (14) (manga)
119. Shirobako (2014+) (8) (original) #

121. Amagi Brilliant Park (2014+) (9) (light novel)
145. No Game No Life (2014) (13) (light novel)   
149. Hanayamata (2014) (12) (manga)
150. Locodol (2014) (13) (manga) 
151. Atelier Escha & Logy (2014) (12) (video game) * #

155. Grisaia no Kajitsu (2014+) (9) (visual novel) * 
166. Wake Up, Girls! (2014+) (13) (original) * #
167. Ao Haru Ride (2014+) (12) (manga)

This has to be an unprecedented high, 16 new good series all in the same year.  The reason none of them scored above 81 in my rankings is very frustrating, however.  In some cases, the anime just stopped too short to take it seriously, like Sakura Trick, Hanayamata, Locodol, No Game No Life, etc.  No matter how good a story is it won't do very well when the anime abruptly cuts off halfway.  Of course, the same is true of PapaKiki but none of the stories that came out this year were remotely as good as PapaKiki.  They shared the same weakness, but not the same strength.

But for three particular cases, the quality suffered due to a conscious choice of the animators to switch to filler instead of staying true to the original, and incredibly amazing, original story.  This happened to Akame ga Kill, Gokukoku no Brynhildr, and Grisaia no Kajitsu.  All three could have ranked much higher if they had just followed their source.  We'll never know how good an anime they could have been anymore.  Just three outright wasted opportunities we'll never get back.

The two best shows of 2014 stand out because of how eclectic they are.  Sakura Trick manages to be different in three ways -- it features lesbians as the main cast, it does not shy away from sexual expressions of love, and the story is told once they start dating, instead of ending once the dating begins like most romance stories.  These three exceptional differences from all other storytellers gives Sakura Trick a special place in the world no one else can approach.  Everyone could learn a lot from Sakura Trick.  Most of all, it's a good answer to bigotry in a variety of forms -- anti-gay bigotry, but also the puritanical urge to treat all sex as sinful and indecent even when it's between two people who love each other and want to marry each other, which is just a bad a prejudice as gay bashing.  There's also the ridiculous belief that once people confess their feelings for each other, there is nothing rich or meaningful about their relationship or their lives ever again, so there's no need to track their futures together whatsoever.  Clannad disrupts this ridiculous belief excellently with the entire After Story season, but Sakura Trick does its part just as well and depicts a wonderful 'After Story' of its own.

Akatsuki no Yona is unique in a more traditional way, it fills in a badly needed empty niche in good anime that's been waiting around for a long time now -- a historical fantasy based around China.  Akatsuki no Yona doesn't rely on magic nearly as much as Saiunkoku Monogatari or 12 Kingdoms, so it can be taken more seriously and the story is just plain more interesting when magic isn't solving all problems via deus ex machina.  The western equivalent of Akatsuki no Yona would be Berserk, and the Japanese equivalent would be Katanagatari.  A smattering of magic, but mainly relying on skill at swords and statecraft.  This is a severely underutilized resource in the anime world, and it's great to see Akatsuki no Yona plant its flag in the beautiful Chinese scenery/costumes/architecture version of this undiscovered paradise.  Though to be more specific, this is more like Korea than China, but same difference.  It looks Chinese to me, and that's just fine, because historical China was ravishingly beautiful (so long as you stuck to the upper classes).  So long as Akatsuki no Yona doesn't mess anything up from here, just by relying on its setting, the story should deliver all the quality I'm looking for.

Akame ga Kill was a unique concept, a story where killing and dying is an unavoidable fact of nature/life/war.  There was no sugarcoating in this story.  I love Akame ga Kill, but that can only be said of its manga.  If the anime hadn't diverged into filler nonsense, it would be the best new anime of 2014, but instead it's only third best at a lowly 102 ranking.

Yuuki Yuuna was just a well executed magical girl story.  The problem is its as short as Madoka Magica but not as good, so it just feels kind of empty when all is said and done.  Is there a point to watching a Madoka clone that's just plain inferior to the original?  Yes, of course.  Madoka Magica was amazing so any clone or ripoff of Madoka Magica will also be worth watching.  But ripoffs can only get you so far, in this case 103rd.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was uproariously funny, one of the best comedy series ever.  The problem is its short, and comedy isn't that good a genre to begin with.  Drama/tragedy leaves a far stronger impression on the soul, so its hard for a comedy to even compete.  The best comedy is found within drama/tragedy, like when it's included inside Clannad or Little Busters.  A pure comedy show just can't compete with a tragedy that has all the comedy you could ask for baked into the cake as well.  That's two for the price of one.  Nozaki took the farce route, so it only reached 113.

Gokukoku no Brynhildr had an amazingly harsh premise and storytelling method.  People were always suffering or dying, and there doesn't seem to be much hope for our heroes.  Rather than defeating the evil organization, the best they can hope for is simply living one more day, day by day, in a struggle to enjoy the things the rest of us just take for granted.  There's nothing like Brynhildr.  Brynhildr could have been amazing -- but the animators chose to butcher this show and replace it with filler too.  I guess that's the fate of all dark anime, since there's plenty of downer themes in Akame ga Kill and Grisaia no Kajitsu too.  It's like these shows just can't get through the censors and reach the audience in one piece.  Because it was butchered, it ended up at 115.  Oh well.  The manga's still great.

Mikakunin de Shinkoukei is a really sweet story of arranged marriage working out because both sides put their heart into making it work.  I'd love to see more romances like this, where instead of just leaving things to pheromones, people make a conscious effort to support and appreciate each other and love blossoms after the fact.  My complaint with this series can basically summed up with the word 'Benio.'  Kobani is fine.  Mashiro is fine.  But Benio needs to fall off a cliff.  I can't stand that woman.  Mikakunin shares the same defect as Nozaki-kun, too short and a pure comedy series, but in addition it slathers on the curse of Benio.  As a result, it ends up at 118.

Shirobako is a really unique story centered around workers at work.  It's about an animation studio making an anime, which of course is of interest to anime fans, so the premise is really clever.  Everything is over-exaggerated for comic effect, though, so it ends up being a pure comedy instead of a tragedy/drama with comedy included.  One of the worst choices this show made was to include car races for god knows what reason, I guess just to add some action to an otherwise down to Earth dialogue heavy plot.  Anyway, there's a lot that's uniquely good about Shirobako, but as a comedy it can only get so far.  In this case, it's stuck at 119.

Amagi Brilliant Park has the same problem.  It's a hilarious comedy.  But because it creates ridiculous situations and characters no one can take seriously, it will always only be a comedy.  There's no way it can reach heartfelt crescendos like PapaKiki (which, by the way, had great comedy whenever it wanted, but also tragedy/drama ready at hand as well.)  For that matter, Full Metal Panic also has great humor, but took care to keep things serious and dramatic when the time came.  That hard edge to the show gives it a huge edge over this circus nonsense, and it's by the very same author.  If only they had just done another season of FMP instead. . . *Sigh.*  Nevertheless, this author is a comic genius and it's no wonder Amagi is funny with this writer at the helm.  If he feels like writing a pure comedy series, who am I to complain.  It was enough to earn the rank of 121 through the strength of his comic sense alone.

No Game No Life skates on the edge of chuunibyou crap, like Mondaiji Tachi, but manages to emerge safely on the 'quality' side.  The idea of gamers having fun gaming in a world that's evolved beyond brute force is mesmerizing.  The idea that a pair of NEETS could end up having the perfect skill set if only they lived in a differently set up civilization is also satisfying.  You can't just judge people by their income without looking at how the system elevates or oppresses their innate quality.  Now if only they'd stop making pretentious speeches, smirking, putting on condescending tones, etc, I could really start to like this series.  But I guess that's too much to ask.  Also, too many of their game victories seem like deus ex machinas.  Is it really skill that's winning these games?  Or is it just the author's magic pen?  I'm not very impressed by the plot of this story.  What I am impressed by is the uniquely colorful art style that really should be hung up in a museum somewhere.  Even with a mediocre plot, this show is still fantastic just for the art's sake.  As such, it logs in at 145.

Hanayamata is another story that thrives first and foremost on its beautiful art, and the strength of its plot only secondarily.  The plot is just plain too melodramatic.  Too many people are going emo over too little problems, it's really grating for the bystander who just wants to give them all a kick in the pants.  But hey, Anohana was too melodramatic too, and it's still great.  You can get over melodrama if there's still a solid core of serious heartfelt sincere emotions inside all that fuss.  When Hana takes the stage halfway through their long awaited performance, there's no one in this world who wouldn't cry in happiness/relief that their dream wasn't destroyed after all.  That scene was just so touching it's a masterpiece all on its own.  This show could be even better if it were twice as long, but I don't think the sales figures are going to let that happen.  Oh well.  Right now it rings in at 149.

Locodol is another song and dance series like Hanayamata, but doesn't look as good.  It also has no melodrama, but then again it doesn't have any drama either.  It's just a light comedy where everything goes well every episode, leaving you with a big smile on your face at the end of every episode.  But shallow impressions like those aren't as good as tragedy/drama impressions, so Locodol is stuck at 150.  It should've killed a character off or something, right now the series just lacks weight/presence and is easily forgettable.

Atelier Escha started off really strong, but it sort of trailed off weakly until a really lame ending where the protagonists don't even get together romantically.  They all just wander off their own ways, and you're left wondering what was the point of the whole story then since in the end nothing happened at all.  During that beginning, though, there was a wonderful sense of work paying off and camaraderie at work  giving everyone a happy environment throughout their day.  Like Shirobako, this was a story about work, and it's a surprisingly great theme when done right.  Between its strengths and weaknesses, it landed at 151.

Grisaia no Kajitsu is what happens when a trained assassin is asked to solve a lot of high school girl's internal struggles.  His solution is always to kill someone.  When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.  It's radical, it's hilarious, and sure enough it creates all the tragedy/drama you could ask for.  This show could have gone far, but it was upended by filler from the very start (in the visual novel, the driver of the car did not swerve in front of a truck, nearly getting them killed.)  It's stupid deviations like that which really get on my nerves.  There was absolutely no reason to cast that woman as a ditzy idiot bad driver, but they just randomly threw that in anyway, despite the fact that it went expressly against the original source.  I'll never forgive this series, so even though the anime is good I'm never going to give it a high rank.  Not after all the bullshit it's pulled.  155 is more than enough for this show.

Wake Up, Girls has a great song and dance center to it.  Nevertheless, its overwhelmingly negative take on show business is unwelcome.  AKB0048 had a much more balanced viewpoint that really got across the love of the idols for their fans.  Wake Up, Girls might appeal to cynical, sneering, ironic types that enjoy looking down on everything.  But I like hope filled, optimistic series like One Piece and Dragon Ball, where no matter how bad things get, people preserve their innocent feelings and childish delight in the world.  I'm just a sucker for song and dance anime, which means even Wake Up, Girls ends up in my best of list.  That, and the show had one amazing philosophical quote I'll never forget.  There are three ways to make someone happy.  First, you can make a great deal of people happy.  Second, you can make the people around you happy.  Third, you can make yourself happy.  When you realize that the third is just as important and valuable an ability as the second or the first, you've taken an important step towards being a complete soul.  With that philosophical advice, Wake Up, Girls gets to be 166.

Ao Haru Ride is a pure shoujo romance, with all the annoying traits we've come to expect from shoujo stories.  I still think the protagonists show a lot of strength of character to overcome peer pressure or natural jealousy and put their friendship first.  I love the bond between the two girl friends who the story really centers around.  I don't think much of the romance this show cooks up, so I'll just stick to admiring the friendship that's really front and center during the first half of the show.  That's enough to earn it a place at 167.

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