As another year passes, we look back on the anime of this past year. If 2013 was the year I started actively following currently airing series, 2014 was a year where I was learning what I liked to watch and learning more about anime trends. A few things I learned were that 95% of all light novel adaptations were guaranteed to be mediocre or worse, harems proliferate quicker than rabbits on aphrodisiacs, and fan service can be great when incorporated naturally into the story (too bad this doesn’t actually happen most of the time).
Before we look at this year’s Top 5 Anime, I thought it would be nice to acknowledge some anime categorically. Note that this is, by no means, a definitive, or objective list. This is merely a personal list, so feel free to disagree with my taste. I would also like to point that that I did not watch the following popular anime:
- Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
- JoJo’s Stardust Crusaders
- Mushishi 2
- Psycho-Pass 2
- Space Dandy
- Terror in Resonance
So, as you can see, there are some gaps in my sampling of 2014’s offerings, which may skew my choices. Without further ado, I present the honorees of Anime Monographia’s 2014 Anime Awards.
A popular title this year, whether Kill la Kill charmed you with its absurdity or flabbergast you with its antics, you can’t deny Kill la Kill‘s got style. Trigger may have not had much of a budget for this title but you can’t deny they’ve made the most of that budget. In any other situation, the rough animation and cartoonish character designs would be written off as “bad”–somehow they work here in Kill la Kill.
Runner-up: No Game No Life (Madhouse)
Was it just me or were there a ton of sequels this year? The sheer number of sequels and remakes prompted this award category. I did miss out on seeing a couple of notable titles, but I’m more than confident the second season of Magi makes the cut. Perhaps overlooked as a “standard shonen”, Magi is a surprisingly nuanced tale that tackles the trajectory of human civilization and history, imperialism and racism, human destiny and free will, showing us that more than anything, a world of magic can be both great and terrifying.
Runner-up: Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus (A-1 Pictures)
While the CGI incorporated into Knights of Sidonia leaves much to be desired for 2-D animation traditionalists, Knights of Sidonia really shines in its innovative use of CGI to tell the simple story of human kind’s struggle to survive in the deadly depths of outer space. Not to mention some wicked, breathtaking mecha action. And legitimately scary space squid.
Runner-up: Gundam Build Fighters (Sunrise)
Tolkien Award (Best Fantasy)
While Flawfinder might find me overly optimistic, I have no problem giving Garo this year’s Tolkien/Best Fantasy Award. In a market where fantasy anime fall neatly into the categories of harem and school genres, it’s refreshing to get a legitimately dark fantasy. And what a fantasy Garo is–while it does nothing particularly original, it plays to the medieval fantasy tropes we’ve come to know and love in Tolkien and isn’t afraid to present thoroughly flawed and human characters who go on to do monstrous deeds. Here’s to the second half of the season next year!
Runner-up: Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis
I rave a lot about Garo, and while anibloggers have commented on the underwhelming size of Garo’s audience, there’s an anime out there this year that was practically watched by only a few people. Nobunaga Concerto‘s animation style might have turned off 99% of the 1% of viewers who actually bothered to give this quirky title a go but for the 1% of the 1% who braved through the first episode, their efforts were surprisingly rewarded. A new spin on the story of Nobunaga, this anime presents a thoughtful exploration of Warring States Era life and politics and explores some great questions on the nature of history, which is anything but boring.
Runner-up: Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames
Having mostly enjoyed the first season, I was very excited to see the Gun Gale Online arc animated. But what was frustrating about Sword Art Online 2 was how the sequel not only repeated its flaws in the first season, but actually managed to make them worse the second time around. Although I can’t say I didn’t enjoy certain parts of SAOII, including the introduction of Sinon and the welcome characterization of Asuna in the Mother’s Rosario arc, Sword Art Online 2 felt very underwhelming and I’m not going to be terribly disappointed if the franchise were to stop here (which it won’t, given the sheer size of its fanbase.)
Runner-up: No Game No Life (Madhouse)
It’s rare to find an anime that elicits both raving and violently disparaging reviews from its viewers. Was NGNL great of its own accord or was it simply great at pandering? No Game No Life, largely deemed as a gamer-otaku power fantasy that’s necessarily sexist, was undoubtedly, the most watched and talked about anime of 2014–and is certainly a title that will be remembered for years. While the games shown were exciting, No Game No Life’s flippant use of misogyny, gamer glorification, and fanservice makes it an easy topic to start a fiery barfight and debate-fest with pretty much anyone.
Runner-up: The Irregular at Magic High School (Madhouse)
Book of Circus ended up being one of the surprises of the year. After an abysmal second season, I was cautious about this one. But man, what an excellent adaptation of one of the best arcs in the Kuroshitsuji manga. It’s great as a stand-alone series but also the true spiritual successor to the Kuroshitsuji anime. Succinct but powerful storytelling, with not a filler in sight.
Always a fun category and one that was surprisingly competitive this year. There were a lot of train wreck contenders this year, but I think it’s fair to say Aldnoah.Zero was one of the biggest. With Martian princesses “dying” for the umpteenth time, over-the-top battle drama, and of course, gratuitous amounts of Slaine pain, Aldnoah.Zero schizophrenically flirted its way as a war story, a mecha tale, and self-aware self destruction. Aldnoah.Zero may not be a masterpiece but it is a masterfully delightful mess.
Runner-up: Akame ga Kill! (A-1 Pictures)
Although Sinon from SAO was my go-to “Best Girl” for this year, Rita managed to sneak right under and grasp my heart with her cold, undead hands. Don’t be fooled by her loli appearance–this undead necromancer’s more cunning and capable (and older!) than she seems. Sarcastic and witty, Rita has the best lines out of any character in Shingeki no Bahamut and while she might take a while to warm up to, there’s no other comrade capable of watching your back. Do stay away from her zombies though, as they tend to bite.
Runner-up: Sinon from Sword Art Online 2
It seemed unfair to not have a male equivalent of “Best Girl”, so hence the “Best Guy” category was born. Note that the “Best Guy” is not necessarily the strongest, the smartest or the most badass character (he can be, though). More importantly, the “Best Guy” is a male character who adds something to the archetypal hero, someone real, a man who is both strong and vulnerable, clever but not overly cynical. German Luis, Makai knight in Garo, isn’t just a hero–he’s a father (albeit not a very good one), a teacher, a master swordsman, and a ladies’ man. While his carnal desires seem somewhat at odds with the holiness of his Makai knight duties, German manages to merge them seamlessly as he plays the role of the clever fool, the rakish rascal, and humanity’s defender. The guy’s suffered a lot but still finds the strength to see the good in humanity and the world, even when his general experience has been otherwise.
Runner-up: Gotou Hidenori from Samurai Flamenco
Now, I’m not big on romance and leave the shipping to real shippers but goddamnit, I haven’t seen a couple this cute since Cardcaptor Sakura. Wonderful, wonderful Mako, a force of nature in the guise of a moe schoolgirl and Gamagoori, a force of nature that’s totally ripped…truly a match made in heaven.
Runner-up: Slaine x Pain from Aldnoah.Zero
The Irregular at Magic High School (Madhouse)
Do you know what’s terrible than a terrible looking anime? An anime that looks okay but immediately betrays your expectations in the most flagrant way possible. The Irregular at Magic High School is an awful anime not because it’s another male power fantasy–it’s because the dogma it preaches goes against every shred of human decency and dignity. And let me warn you that the incest tacked on in virtual every scene with these two main characters is just the icing on this poisonous cake. Each episode is a perfect microcosm of the entire series–and each episode tells us the exact same story with the exact same message. Tatsuya’s magic ability is what makes him superior and OP–although he “sucks” at magic by conventional society standards, he is able to circumvent this deficiency by owning everyone in every other way. On the technical and narrative side, the anime just flops. The fights are laughably dull and jargon-heavy, the dialogue monotonous (expect every character to “shockingly” sing Tatsuya’s praises), and the characters unrelatable. Tatsuya and Miyuki are pretty terrible human beings who lack the ability to empathize with others–and they make me glad that magic doesn’t exist.
Runner-up: Pupa (Studio DEEN)
On that bright note, stay tuned for Part 2 which will cover my 2 Top 5 Anime of 2014!