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The Best of Anime 2014


Now that 2014 is officially over, it’s time for our yearly rage fest foray into annoying everyone with our questionable opinions, the Best of Anime 2014 post! As with last year, this post is a collaboration between the writers who watched the most series this year (and who didn’t say “Not it!” quickly enough), me (Zephyr) and Stilts. Through hiatuses and book releases, we both still managed to watch upwards of a 100 series this year, and while we won’t guarantee total objectivity (like such a thing exists), we’re generally well-informed about whatever we’re wrong about.

Continuing from last year, there are numerous categories in the following areas: Production, Miscellaneous (fun stuff), Genre, and Notable Others. Adding to the list is a category everyone’s been clamoring for, Best Sports, and while it’s not fully comprehensive, it should cover most (if not all) of the sports shows worth watching this year. This addition complements two previous additions in Best Short and Category Defying—though that’s not featured this year, nor is Fan-Service, since neither of us watched many of those series this year—adding to the scope of the series we hope to cover in this post.

2014 brings a departure from previous years, in that both Stilts and I will be doing our picks separately for each category (cue a throwback to the 2009 version of the post), which was done to ensure we keep what little sanity we have left a greater range of picks, and cut out the dozen hours or so of deliberation that would’ve been necessary to strike some sort of consensus. Some categories may only feature commentary from one writer, however, in which case the author with the most affinity, expertise, or experience with that category was given carte blanche. In regards to the encoding and videos for the OP/ED/Song categories, resident cage master Xumbra was gracious enough to assist us, so here’s a shout out (thanks!) for him and everything he does for the site behind the scenes. Included at the end are the final results of the Reader’s Choice Poll.

 

Disclaimer: As always, disclaimers abound. Please keep in mind that “best” is subjective. What’s best for us isn’t necessarily best for you, and that’s perfectly fine. This list shouldn’t be taken as some kind of inviolable truth, but rather the opinions of two guys who had too much time on their hands and spent it conjuring up a list of picks based on all the anime they watched. Naturally, our choices will be influenced by our own tastes, experiences, and personal impressions. Before you go bashing one of our choices, please make sure you’ve at least seen it and know where we’re coming from. Finally, all we ask is that you respect our opinions and the opinions of others in the comments, just like we respect yours. Thank you.

Disclaimer #2: The choices in this post are not reflective of the opinions of all Random Curiosity writers. They are solely the opinions of myself (Zephyr) and Stilts, save for where otherwise noted. Thank you for your understanding.

Note: For a show to be considered, it has to have met the requirements outlined in the Reader’s Choice Poll. For OVAs/movies, the additional requirement is that it’s been either released on BD or DVD, so that viewers outside of Japan have had a chance to watch it.

 


Production


Animation

Visuals and fluid movement. It’s all about the quality of what we see on screen and what impressed us the most. Any lack of consistency due to poor outsourcing should be taken into account, as we’re trying to think of the most jaw-dropping series across the board. To a certain degree, character designs and overall art style fall into this category too.

Zephyr: Depending on personal preference, one could make a case for any of the series mentioned here (and then some). Buddy Complex and Captain Earth bought immense detail and godly HUDs to their respective Sci-Fi universes, Fate/kaleid liner blew boatloads of budget on slow-motion scenes and 360 camera pans, Kawaisou bought an artistic touch to its visuals, and Amagi Brilliant Park scored points for its vivid colors, sharp lines and consistency. All pale in comparison to the visual excellence that was Nagi no Asukara however, which had a dual land/sea focus and nailed them both. This was a series that was beautiful to watch from beginning to end, filled with scenes like the Tomeobi (representative of real-life ice halos) and the Ofunehiki festivities that sent a chill down your spine and left you mesmerized. It only helps that extra effort was put into the audio aspects here, which emphasized the fact that this was a fantasy story through and through, and one that wouldn’t nearly have been as enjoyable without the effort P.A. Works put into its visuals.

Honorable Mentions: Amagi Brilliant Park, Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou, Buddy Complex, Captain Earth, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei!

Stilts: Great animation ought to serve the narrative. It’s not an end in and of itself—if it doesn’t support the story, it’s all light and noise, without substance. Which, granted, can still net you an honorable mention if it’s done well enough, as it did this year for ALDNOAH.ZERO. But it’s the beautiful animation that enhances the story which is always greatest to me. The visuals in Nagi no Asukara were reliably beautiful, the backgrounds stunning, and the detail top-notch. But it’s not just P.A. Works showing off—they poured so much into the animation in order to build the world and convey the story’s tone, enhancing everything the show did in the process. No Game No Life did this as well, with an utterly unique color pallette to boot, as did Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru, especially when they entered the world of the Shinju-sama. Finally, special mention goes to Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya Zwei!, whose studio, Silver Link, once again signed their souls away on Type-Moon’s Unlimited Budget Works contract. I swear they were showing off sometimes, but it was fun to watch.

Honorable Mentions: Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya Zwei!, No Game No Life, Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru

 

Story

As the somewhat polar opposite to what’s on the surface, here we’re looking at depth and what captivated us from start to finish. You don’t need amazing visuals to tell a good story, so it’s about the original material (if any) and the screenwriter’s adaptation of it here. Good cliffhangers that keep you on the edge of your seat week after week suggest the series is doing something right, whereas filler-esque showings don’t.

Zephyr: When it comes to judging stories, it’s easy to be misled by the presence of detail and multiple plot layers. Having those don’t automatically equate to a quality narrative, and it’s important to remember that some of the best experiences arise from the simplest of stories. In this way, Uchuu Kyoudai comes in as an example of the latter, illustrating the beauty of a simple, singular focus on two brothers and their dream of becoming astronauts. Complemented by an abundance of well-developed characters, this was a story that made you want its characters to succeed while bringing you on an emotional roller coaster that highlighted all the ups and downs life brings with it. Best of all, it didn’t use cheap theatrics or overly dramatic events, choosing instead to rely on a realistic approach that was low key yet powerful, and held its audience through a run that lasted two years but felt much shorter. It emphasized the possibilities that lie within us as individuals and as a species, and dared its viewers to not only dream, but to try and make that dream a reality. Like Shin Sekai Yori from last year, Uchuu Kyoudai was a truly a demonstration of the potential anime has as a story telling medium.

Honorable Mentions: Gin no Saji 2nd Season, Hanamonogatari, Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus, Nagi no Asukara, Ping Pong the Animation

Stilts: This was a tough decision for me. Log Horizon nearly took the prize for taking a simple premise—a bunch of gamers trapped in an MMORPG—and building a socio-political drama on that foundation. It could have been a dungeon crawl story, but instead it tells its story on a national (and global) scale, and does it well. But what clinched the win for Gin no Saji 2 was how often I’ve gone back to rewatch the critical moments, and some of the not-so-critical ones as well. There’s so much power in a simple story told well, both in the source material and then transported unadulterated to the screen. The coming-of-age struggles of Hachiken and all the others strike a nerve in us all, even if most of us have spent little time on a farm. As I watch Hachiken’s insecurities and doubt, I remember my own insecurities and doubt; as I watch Mikage fight to pursue her dream, I feel the echoes of my own struggles; and as I watch Komaba’s dreams die, sundered on the harsh rocks of reality, I know that they may happen to me, and that I too will survive. The story speaks to something in all of us, and every moment brings that forth beautifully.

Honorable Mentions: Log Horizon, Mushishi, Nagi no Asukara, Tokyo Ravens

 

 

Soundtrack

What would a series be without the music to help set the mood and tone? A good soundtrack enhances the power and emotions behind scenes in such a way that you start associating imagery with the music unconsciously, regardless of whether it’s cheery, inspiring, or heartfelt. Lasting impressions say a lot, plus it just has to sound good too.

Zephyr: Every year brings a selection of diverse and memorable soundtracks, and it’s pure insanity trying to decide between something like Zankyou no Terror (vintage Kanno) and ALDNOAH.ZERO (vintage Sawano). Adding in soundtracks such as those found in the honorable mentions—all notable for their unique styles, how they complemented their respective series, or their pure individual impact—only complicates the equation, which gets even more convoluted when you realize those are only a handful of 2014’s great works. It would’ve been easy to pick Sawano again for his work in ALDNOAH.ZERO or Kill la Kill, but that would have been an disservice to the soundtrack Kanno produced in Zankyou no Terror, which was low-key yet powerful, diverse stylistically, and amazing in regards to the emotional impact felt when combined with the events of the series. They don’t have the immediate oomph like Sawano’s works do, but tracks like “Von,” “nc17,” “crystalized,” and “cket” simply didn’t need it, relying rather on a gradual build up that allow our ears truly reap the audio bang for the metaphorical minute.

Honorable Mentions: ALDNOAH.ZERO, Buddy Complex, Kill la Kill, Strike the Blood, Trinity Seven

Opening Sequence

Whether for its originality or ability to showcase what a series has to offer, opening sequences are always fun to watch. We tend to look forward to new ones and the songs that will be featured in them, and sometimes get a glimpse at what’s coming up in the show too (for better or worse). Here, the focus is on the sequence itself, even though the song may play a part in making it memorable.

Sidonia no Kishi OP
SPACE☆DANDY OP

Zephyr: When it comes to openings, it’s all about the theme itself, its lyrical relevance to the series, and the sequence that go with it. Sidonia no Kishi may not have a leg up on others in regards to the animation within its sequence, but makes it up with its thematic relevance. Essentially a military anthem, this was a theme that pumped me up before every episode and played a large role in making the series as enjoyable as it was. Its lyrics were a perfect summary of what the show was about—battlefields, survival, and fighting for a cause bigger than yourself—and this was a sequence I made sure to watch without exception week in, week out. That said, you can’t really go wrong with any of the themes listed here, as ALDNOAH.ZERO “heavenly blue” also provided its own brand of adrenaline rush, Log Horizon’s “Database” was extremely popular, and Soul Eater NOT!’s “Monochrome” exceptionally catchy. Barely missing the cut is Brynhildr’s OP, which earns a mention due to its vocal-less nature.

Honorable Mentions: ALDNOAH.ZERO OP, Log Horizon OP, Nagi no Asukara OP2, No Game No Life OP, Soul Eater NOT! OP

Stilts: Some openings are so good that, the first time you see them, you know you’re watching this show. I lack the musical vocabulary to properly describe Space Dandy’s OP, but it’s one of those. Upbeat, peppy, and absolute fun, it makes me want to dance every time I hear it. Combined with the colorful and energetic animation that Bones and Space Dandy itself are known for, and it perfectly fits the ethos of the series. The Log Horizon OP is a runner-up for the same reason, and it answers the eternal question: If you have the perfect OP, what do you do next season? Answer: Don’t change it. It may have taken the prize, if not for the spoilers in the sequence. Special mentions go to the first OP for Gokukoku no Brynhildr, which hits this list without vocals—but the tone and animation was so pitch perfect, it deserves to be here. I also have to mention the Hanayamata OP, which I can’t hear without thinking of their final yosakoi. It always makes me smile.

Honorable Mentions: Log Horizon OP, Hanayamata OP, Gokukoku no Brynhildr OP, Nagi no Asukara OP2, Sidonia no Kishi OP

Watch Honorable Mentions ▼

 

Ending Sequence

Unlike opening sequences, endings don’t strive to draw the viewer in and get them psyched up about the episode that’s coming up. Instead, they’re an outro to what you’ve just seen and may highlight a specific aspect/emotion of the series, though sometimes they’re completely irrelevant to the actual story and are just an outlet for sheer fun/comedic value. Whichever the case, there are certain sequences that we enjoyed more than others.

Black Bullet ED
Witch Craft Works ED

Zephyr: I thought this category would be harder than it was, but the second I saw Black Bullet’s “Tokohana” for the first time, I knew that was going to be my pick. Equal parts haunting and powerful, this was a sequence that captured the essence of the series’ “Cursed Children,” testifying to a bittersweet existence highlighted by a youthful innocence and nonstop suffering. The series itself may have fallen short of expectations, but courtesy of Nagi Yanagi’s great vocals and personally crafted lyrics, this ending does not—instead earning permanent place on my “endings to remember” list. Rounding out the list are a selection of songs that all earn their places here on this list as great individual works and worthy complements to their series.

Honorable Mentions: ALDNOAH.ZERO ED, Gin no Saji 2nd Season ED, M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane ED, Nagi no Asukara ED2, Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta ED

Stilts: It’s the combination of song + sequence that most often makes the winner, and that’s why the Witch Craft Works ED is my pick. The song is infectious (what’s a fancy crisis? I don’t know, but it sounds fun!) and the visuals go well with the light-hearted tone of the show. There’s just something whimsically ridiculous about five antagonists happily singing while being tortured. A close second is No Game No Life’s ED, for implementation as much as anything else—the episode where the ED is fractured to signal Sora’s complete disappearance still haunts me. Honorable mentions also go to Gin no Saji 2′s ED, for being the reason I follow Goose House so closely now.

Honorable Mentions: No Game No Life ED, Gin no Saji 2nd Season ED, Barakamon ED, ALDNOAH.ZERO ED1, Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei ED2

Watch Honorable Mentions ▼

 

Song

With the sequences covered, the attention is now on the actual songs. Insert songs are also up for consideration, with the only real criteria being that it’s something we never got tired of listening to. There’s no bearing on if it was created specifically for a series or even if the series was any good, we’re simply picking some of our favorite songs that were featured in an anime.

Kill la Kill – “Blumenkranz” (Sawano Hiroyuki)
Love Live! S2 – “Snow Halation” (μ’s)

Zephyr: Ever have a bout of megalomania? Feel like taking over the world? Just want to stand in your room and look cool for a bit? Well, look no further for the accompaniment to that fantasy. As the theme to the Kiryuin Ragyo, the ultimate in 2014 megalomaniacs, Blumenkranz earns its place here as one of the most memorable insert themes of the year. The German pronunciations may be a tad off, but there’s no denying the epic nature of the theme, which plays off its strength-related/survival of the fittest lyrics. Every time this theme played, you knew something was going to go down, and I’ll admit I spent a bit just putting this on repeat and imagining myself the ruler of some small county. Okay, I lied about the last part, but you know what I mean. Rounding out the list are ALDNOAH.ZERO infamous theme of treachery, Gundam Unicorn epic final ending theme, our favorite rain summoning theme from Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, and some burning of my dead dread.

Honorable Mentions: “aLIEz” by Sawano Hiroyuki [nZk] (ALDNOAH.ZERO ED2), “StarRingChild” by Aimer (Gundam Unicorn ED7), “Amefurashi no Uta ~Beautiful Rain~” by Maeda Reina (Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii INSERT), “Burn My Dread (Spring of Birth Ver.)“ by Shoji Meguro (Persona 3 the Movie: Spring of Birth OP)

Stilts: One of the things I love about anime music is that it’s so inexorably tied with the stories it comes from. I can’t hear the music without reliving the story, and that heightens the experience in my mind. “Snow Halation” is an idol song, peppy and J-Pop to the core, elevated on pure merit perhaps only by its ensemble nature, and the emotions the singers infuse into their vocals. It’s the scene that clinches it. Every time I hear it, I can see μ’s performance in my mind, the one that lifted them above the reigning champions and sent them to Love Live. Special mention goes to “Kimi ja Nakya Dame Mitai”, which nearly got the knod for being Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun incarnate, proudly declaring that this comedy is different, with style, flair, and a swing in its step.

Honorable Mentions: “Kimi ja Nakya Dame Mitai” by Ooishi Masayoshi (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun OP), “Blade Dance” by Ni-sokkususu (Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance ED), “Seijatachi” by People In The Box (Tokyo Ghoul ED), “azurite” by petit milady (Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta OP)

Watch Honorable Mentions ▼

 


Miscellaneous


Character

Branching away from strictly picking series and focusing on some specifics is the idea behind the miscellaneous section. The first one is our favorite character, who won his or her way into our hearts for whatever reason. The criteria here is somewhat loose, but with numerous options in a single series, multiplied by almost a hundred in the past year, it’s actually quite difficult to pick one above all others. Be that as it may…

Zephyr: Each year’s candidates come in with a diversity of backgrounds and accomplishments. This year was no different, bringing us characters such as Shiroe (the one who trademarked the glasses adjust), 「」 (the brother/sister combo who were as unbeatable as they were inseparable) Tanikaze Nagate (the rice thief turned humanity’s savior), Akatsuki Kojou (the immortal vampire who got himself a harem and a dozen plus familiars) and Nanba Mutta (perhaps one of anime’s more realistic characters). In the end though, the title of best belongs to the one and only Esdeath. She was someone who knew what she wanted and didn’t care what she had to do to get it. Conqueror of entire armies, she was the one enemy you didn’t want to face, and on the flip side, one of the best allies you could ever have. Fiercely loyal to her subordinates, she was also so skilled at wielding her Imperial Arms that she could freeze time itself! Esdeath was also the sole survivor of her village, led an elite group of arms wielders in the Jaegers… you get the gist.

Honorable Mentions: Shiroe (Log Horizon), 「」 (No Game No Life), Tanikaze Nagate (Sidonia no Kishi), Akatsuki Kojou (Strike the Blood), Nanba Mutta (Uchuu Kyoudai).

Stilts: Is it cheating to pick two characters? Perhaps, but my reasons are sound. Sora & Shiro refer to themselves collectively (as Kuuhaku, lit. “Blank”), and they operate collectively almost exclusively, to the point that they’re almost completely useless when apart. Together they are invincible, and together they are the main character, while neither of them could be subtracted from the story without utterly destroying it, as the ninth episode so ably demonstrated. But more than that, everything that makes No Game No Life so much fun—the crazy tactics, the insane gamibts, the irreverent humor, the casual teasing of Steph—springs directly from them, and the number they’re doing on their crazy new world. Shiroe of Log Horizon is a close second, for his outsized effect on a world that isn’t sure what to do with someone like him, while he still retaining the imperfections of a human character. But as always, there were far too many great characters this year to list them all.

Honorable Mentions: Shiroe (Log Horizon), Mikorin (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun), Momoka (Sabagebu!), Kuro (Prisma Illya), Tirame (Amaburi)

 

Seiyuu

As the natural extension of characters, the seiyuu who voiced and gave them life deserve some attention. A character’s appeal can change drastically depending on the voice behind it, so we’re here to highlight those whose acting we enjoyed time and time again. A variety of roles tends to showcase a seiyuu’s talent better, but sometimes all it takes is one unforgettable role to get our pick. Below are our favorite male and female seiyuu this past year.

Stilts: I was surprised when I realized how many roles Ishikawa Kaito had this past year. From Harutora (Tokyo Ravens) to Tsumugu (Nagi no Asukara) to Nine (Zankyou no Terror), and more besides, he’s held a wide range of pivotal roles, and done them all well. If he’s the workhorse, Yoshino Hiroyuki (Favaro in Bahamut and Meow Space Dandy) is the fun one, because while he may not get as much of that main protagonist work, whatever character he voices has a flair all its own. Rounding out my picks is Terashima Takuma, whose roles as Shiroe (Log Horizon), Wanipi (Amaburi), and Leo (Mahouka) show his range of serious, supporting, and comedic roles, as well as Kimura Ryouhei (Hachiken in Gin no Saji, Wakamatsu in Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Touji in Tokyo Ravens) and Konishi Katsuyuki (Kazama Kenji in D-Frag!, Bulat in Akame ga Kill, and Tsumugu in Kill la Kill) for the exact same reason.

Honorable Mentions: Yoshino Hiroyuki, Terashma Takuma, Kimura Ryouhei, Konishi Katsuyuki

Stilts: Usually it’s a breadth of work over the year that earns a voice actor the top spot. This time, it all came down to one incredible performance. Not that Hayami Saori isn’t a reliably top-tier seiyuu—I’ve been following her since she first played Ikaros in Sora no Otoshimono, a role she reprised in this year’s final movie. But it was her role as Hatoko in Inou Battle that tipped the scales in her favor. She gave a solid performance throughout, but it was the amazing rant in episode seven that made me go “Wow. She’s good.” A lesser seiyuu could have filled the role, but she infused it with so much emotion as to make it almost hurt to watch. Honorable mentions go to Ozawa Ari for her role in Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun. Not many newbies can head up such a stellar cast, but she’s got kawaii and comedic chops in spades. Rounding out the top picks are Amamiya Sora (Akame in Akame ga Kill, Asseylum in ALDNOAH.ZERO, Kaori in Isshukan Friends, Touka in Tokyo Ghoul), another newbie whose star is on the rise, and Saito Chiwa (Kuro in Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, Fredrica in Hitsugi no Chaika, Uomi in Seitokai Yakuindomo*), the veteran whose every role this year was filled with flirt.

Honorable Mentions: Ozawa Ari, Amamiya Sora, Saito Chiwa

 

Plot Twist

This is the replacement for the category previously known as “Biggest Shocks”. We’re looking for a sudden unexpected turn of events in the story that caught us off guard and delivered sheer shock value. It’s that “WTF” moment that has people talking about it for the next few days, regardless of whether or not anyone found it agreeable. Below are the plot twists we have in mind.

Show Plot Twist ▼

 

Death

This may be part of a plot twist or something you see coming a mile away, but we’re concerned about the impact the death has on the story and us as viewers. Well-executed screenplay leading up to it may play a big part, but there are also cases where a character dies so suddenly that we’re left in complete disbelief. In both cases, it’s the lingering impression we’re basing our selection on.

Show Death Picks ▼

 

Trap

“It’s a trap!” and by that we mean a guy cross-dressing as a remarkably cute-looking girl. Gender bender is also acceptable since we’re simply looking for the character who gave off a disturbingly unsettling feeling with how well they portrayed the opposite sex. In short, the character who managed to deceive others (and us!) into thinking they’re actually a cute girl, if even only for a moment.

Stilts: No matter who won this award, I knew one thing going in: Hanazawa Kana would be voicing them. Of all the traps this year, two were lightyears ahead: Megumu of Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara, and Daruku of Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin. Megumu was the girlier of the two, the one who everyone treated as part of Souta’s harem even though he kept protesting that he was a guy! Which was funny, and certainly confusing (as a good trap ought to be), but to me, Daruku takes the cake because of his clear attraction to his “master”, Tensai. Most traps are treated so completely like girls that being gay is practically mandatory, but Daruku remained interested in the ladies, even if he was cuter than most of them. Add in some hilarious opening skits when Juugo didn’t yet know the maid was packing heat—and then how his crossdressing settled into complete normality, remarked upon by no one—Daruku wins the Admiral Akbar award for the year.

Honorable Mentions: Megumu (Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara), Kashima (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun), Tsugumi (Nisekoi)

 


Genre


Short

In the genre section, the goal is to pick the series of the year for their respective classes. These are pretty much the series that brought their A-game to the table and are viable candidates for our best anime of the year.

First up is a relatively new category, Best Short. Shorts tend to get a bad rap. Where once they were mostly low-budget productions not worth your time, nowadays many shorts are of very high quality, with stories and situations exceedingly well-suited to their short run times. This category is for any series with a run time of less 15 minutes or less that defied the stereotype and gave us a good show.

Zephyr: There were plenty of shorts worth watching this year, but none more enjoyable than the hilarious and nostalgia inducing Tonari no Seki-kun. We were all kids once, and this show was one that highlighted some of the hilarious things many of us did at one point or another during our childhood. Granted, we probably never did the things Seki did (or had an outside observer like Yokoi), but there’s a measure of fun to be had messing around (or watching someone do it), and Tonari no Seki-kun really caught the essence of that while also setting a mark for consistency—providing laughs on and off for nearly half a year. Just make sure not to get caught watching this in the middle of class or something.

Honorable Mentions: Danna ga Nani o Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken, Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san, Orenchi no Furo Jijou, Yama no Susume Second Season

Stilts: When Yama no Susume 2 began, I thought I would be giving this award to it, just as we did last year. I’m not. The animation, atmosphere, acting, and pacing were all still there. The problem was in the character arcs. That’s what made the first season stand out so much, but when Aoi spend a third of the season complaining, it lessened my enjoyment. The character growth and drama felt more manufactured this time around. Instead, it’s Danna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken that takes my top spot, for giving us an adult story in an industry so filled with high schoolers. Seeing a relationship begin is only half the story, and this gave us the other part. That, combined with funny jokes, touching moments, and an unexpected ending that leaves me with high hopes for a different kind of second season, make it my best short of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Yama no Susume 2, Onee-chan ga Kita

 

Action

Action, action, and more action! The action genre ranges anywhere from shounen-crazed series to war-filled mecha shows. For battles, choreography plays a huge role, so that was definitely taken into consideration.

Zephyr: Kill la Kill might not have met the lofty expectations put on it, but it certainly set the bar high from an action perspective. Endlessly over the top and flat out ridiculous at times, this was a series that put its foot on the action pedal early and never let up. Cannon fodder were dispatched almost every episode in the thousands, flashy transformations preceded each butt-kicking (which inevitably led to someone being stripped of their clothing), and that’s not even scratching the surface. Did I mention the giant scissor blades, new opponents showing up every week with ridiculous abilities, the epic Kamui battles between Ryuuko and Satsuki, and the half-naked nudists that ran around with city-sized ships (and glowing private parts)? How about the fight with the megalomaniac who went around trying to take over the world by slipping things in people’s clothing? Or the epic, adrenaline rush inducing soundtrack made to complement it all? This was one show where “don’t lose your way” meant defeating all your enemies with overwhelming force, and that was fine with me. I’ll say, each of the candidates here had some pretty darn good action scenes, so you can’t really go wrong with any of the choices here.

Honorable Mentions: ALDNOAH.ZERO, Akame ga Kill!, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Strike the Blood

Stilts: There were a lot of good action shows this year, so this pick was especially hard. Honestly, consider any of my honorable mentions the winner, and you won’t be wrong. I hardly need to explain why Kill la Kill is there, nor the blood-soaked, superpowered combat of Akame ga Kill. Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya Zwei! was stunning, with Kuro and Bazett proving themselves to be exciting (as well as unpredictable and/or terrifying) challengers. I almost picked ALDNOAH.ZERO, because, though the plot was a bit of a mess, the action was always exciting, especially when Inaho entered the field and came up with some ingenious way to take down the baddies. But Sidonia no Kishi takes the win for giving us the kind of full-throttled space combat I didn’t realize I missed so much. Not only was it exciting, I was never sure which way a given battle would go, nor how Tanikaze & co would (or would not) pull out a win. With the very real possibility that characters could die, that amped up the tension and uncertainty to highs no other series matched. Plus, how could I not give the win to the series with a friggin’ trench run? Not an easy choice, but it’s the only one I could make.

Honorable Mentions: Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya Zwei!, ALDNOAH.ZERO, Akame ga Kill, Kill la Kill

 

Romance

Emotion-filled romance at its finest. The relationship between characters and the emotions involved are the appeal, and the main criteria for selecting a series here. A sentimental story is always good, with tear-jerking scenes being a plus. This is the series that had the best romantic mood from the character interactions to the big confession.

Zephyr: At some point, you’ve probably wanted to do something over again or be given another chance. It didn’t always end up happening, but sometimes life does gift us a second chances, and Ao Haru Ride’s all about the potential that can come from it. Amid thematic foci relating to being genuine vs. pretending to be someone else, Ao Haru Ride was first and foremost about a romantic opportunity being given a second life, and whether or not one can overcome issues that resulted from missing the chance in the first place. This was a romance that took its time to develop, and even if it didn’t conclude with a confirmed relationship, was easily the best pick for this category due to the great romantic interactions between the main pairing and the friends that joined them. This was a story that demonstrated how even though time changes people and circumstances, it doesn’t have to change everything, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to change something either. Ao Haru Ride was a romance that reached further thematically, ultimately eclipsing the romantic decagon (or something) that Nagi no Asukara gave us and the great chemistry we got between Soredemo Sekai’s Livius and Nike.

Honorable Mentions: Isshuukan Friends, Nagi no Asukara, Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii

Stilts: Part of me wanted to give this Nagi no Asukara, and that may have been the romance that I enjoyed the most, for I’m a sucker for a story I can’t call ahead of time (between the time skip and the couple scrambles, they made it hard). But romance has such a greater role to play in Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, and the transformation that takes place within and between Nike and Livius is, simply put, beautiful. It’s a cliche to say that love conquers all, but it’s a cliche for a reason, and it’s one we saw unfold naturally between them. This is an anime I wasn’t sure I’d even watch—sadistic king throws feisty princess in jail isn’t a premise that filled me with optimism. But like my beloved Sakurasou, the premise turned out to be a pale shadow of what we got. Nike changed Livius by being herself, and was changed in return, as love blossomed amid the blasted lands like the rain that came when Nike sang. It wasn’t the dramatic love of so many romances, but that’s all right. Sometimes love is enough.

Honorable Mentions: Nagi no Asukara, Isshukan Friends, Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta

 

Drama

A lot of good series out there depict an emotion-filled story where the romance comes secondary, if at all. Strong depictions of friendship and in challenging situations can really draw a viewer into the story and start making them sympathize with the characters. It’s a bit of an all-encompassing genre, but only a handful of series really pull viewers in with their screenplay.

Zephyr: Love her or hate her, you have to admit that the drama category would be incomplete with entries from Okada Mari. In this case, it’s three separate entries—she ain’t the queen of drama for nothing—and each one piles on the drama like no other series this year. M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane had trauma filled cast compounded by the Earth’s imminent demise at the hands of the darkness known as “the Lightless Realm,” Selector Infected WIXOSS was a tale of girls that merely wanted to have their wishes granted and then found those wishes horribly twisted, and Waremete (the only non-Okada entry and surprise late-comer) finds itself here on part of its trauma-filled, time travel-related story-line. Each of the aforementioned filled the drama void for those seeking it, but all pale in comparison to Nagi no Asukara, which provided an apocalyptic backdrop, a love polygon with so many sides that I don’t want to bother specifying, and two-cours of land/sea division elements to boot. Despite this, Asukara isn’t the most dramatic of the works listed here, but it wins the category due it being the best executed one—ironic considering how this comes on the heels of Okada easing off the drama pedal rather than flooring it.

Honorable Mentions: M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane, Selector Infected WIXOSS, Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete.

Stilts: Drama is bound into the very DNA of Isshuukan Friends. The very premise promises it, at every step, and it delivers with a balance of lightness and worry that runs through the story. Every happy moment comes with the knowledge that Kaori will forget, and if something goes wrong—she misplaces her diary, or doesn’t see her note, or someone from her past comes back—the delicate happiness she and Hase-kun have built will shatter. It’s gentle, letting us hope … only to pull that rug out from under us. But not too much! Never too much, so we always keep coming back for more. It makes us earn the happy ending as much as the characters do. Nagi no Asukara ranks for mixing romantic drama with worldwise peril, and throwing an unexpected time skip into the mix, whereas Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru is nearly a classical tragedy, with all the pain that implies.

Honorable Mentions: Nagi no Asukara, Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru, Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta

 

Sci-Fi

When it comes to science fiction, a futuristic world with advanced technology, robots, space travel, and superhuman abilities is the usual connotation. However, that’s not the only setting that fits this genre. Sometimes all a series has to do is play up a single sci-fi aspect and do it well to go down as an excellent sci-fi series.

Zephyr: Praised by the likes of Hideo Kojima and other industry figures, Sidonia no Kishi comes in as the easy pick for best Sci-Fi series of 2014. Set in a post-apocalyptic future and rife with conspiracies, mecha combat, aliens, and even touching upon genetic engineering, Sidonia no Kishi was everything a Sci-Fi fan could want and then some. It showcased the resilience, imagination, and potential of the human race, teased a future where we’ve left our home planet (albeit unwillingly), and topped things off by taking the effort to account for the physics of motion and projectiles while it was at it. The series was a blast of fresh air in more ways than one, capturing the essence of the genre like few others have in recent years. The 3D CGI left some things to be desired, but as a kind of series that doesn’t come around often anymore, that’s one small flaw I’d gladly take. Following behind and worth a mention is Uchuu Kyoudai, which brought back bittersweet memories of a now defunct manned space shuttle program, the potential it had (and still has), and the notion that space is indeed humanity’s final frontier.

Honorable Mentions: ALDNOAH.ZERO, Black Bullet, Captain Earth, PSYCHO-PASS 2, Uchuu Kyoudai

Stilts: I feel like I didn’t get to watch much sci-fi this year, but it hardly matters, because Sidonia no Kishi would have clobbered just about anything the industry could throw out. It’s old school hard sci-fi, an epic tale in outer space, complete with a war against an alien species that’s threatening to push humanity the rest of the way to extinction. It’s rare to get an anime with this kind of ambition or scale, but more than that, it’s how it thinks about (and answers) all the little questions we have about life aboard a ship like Sidonia. How do they grow food? What happens when they die? What’s with that talking bear? (That one’s still a bit weird) The wrinkles with photosynthesis and the third gender are especially interesting. Add in a bunch of badass mechs, and Sidonia no Kishi is the unquestioned king of the sci-fi realm.

Honorable Mentions: ALDNOAH.ZERO, Uchuu Kyoudai, Log Horizon

 

Horror/Thriller

The best horror shows are those that incite visceral feelings of shock, fear, and pulse-pounding dread. Gore is not a necessity for this genre, as there’s always psychological thrillers that are just as gripping if not more. However, those that can provide both an unsettling atmosphere and a good scare are even better.

Zephyr: As much as I wanted to select Tokyo Ghoul for this category, there was just no avoiding Zankyou no Terror as the winner here. The whole cat and mouse game between Five and Sphinx might not have floated everyone’s boats, but there’s no denying the thrilling nature of their interactions, especially when put together with the backdrop of terrorism, 9/11 style attacks, and the specter of nuclear annihilation. This was a story that surprised people by even making it to broadcast, and I’m glad it did, because there were few shows quite like it when it came to the overall experience—one that was gripping at times, unsettling at others, and flat-out controversial when it came to the messages Watanabe might’ve wanted to send with it. The latter was worth watching the series for on its own, as was the breath-taking finale, which left many of its viewers with a range of emotions a true psychological thriller should.

Honorable Mentions: Black Bullet, Gokukoku no Brynhildr, M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane, Tokyo Ghoul

Stilts: When it comes to an unsettling atmosphere, Tokyo Ghoul has this award locked down. The gore, the warped personalities, and the uncomfortable connotations all combine to make a chill slide up the spine. Yet, when it comes to unsettling ideas, Zankyou no Terror is well ahead, and its superior execution gives it the nod. Terrorists are so maligned in today’s climate, but it’s worth remembering that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and that the “good guys” can be more evil than even the villains. Seeing the way of the world flipped on its head, where the police are detonating bombs and the terrorists are trying to stop them, was disorienting, and the message we were left with at the end was an interesting one.

Honorable Mentions: Tokyo Ghoul, Gokukoku no Brynhildr, Akame ga Kill!, Black Bullet

 

Mystery

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Thought-provoking storylines that keep inquisitive viewers watching and speculating on where things are headed? Yes, please. They don’t necessarily have to have a horror element to them either, as all we’re looking for here is a blend of detective/crime fiction.

Zephyr: This year was interesting in that none of the candidates were mysteries in the sense that GOSICK or UN-GO were years back. All the “mysteries” here weren’t so much detective stories as they were just a part of a plot line that bled into other genres (Nanana was more an adventure and Zankyou more a thriller) and the fact that some candidates had plot twists intricately tied with their mysteries made this an even harder category to decide on. There’s going to be a lot of differences here depending on personal preference as a result, but personally I settled on Hitsugi no Chaika, as the mystery behind the Chaikas were arguably one of the biggest questions of the year. Every few episodes bought even more questions as to who was the “real” Chaika and why there were so many of them, and the end game only served to deepen the confusion further. The fact that none of them were actually real—Gaz had no daughter—just added to this mystery’s impact and played a big part in why this series ended up exceeding expectations.

Honorable Mentions: M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane, Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin, Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete, Zankyou no Terror

Stilts: My favorite thing about Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin was probably the treasure hunting, which is something I wish we had more of. Seeing Juugo, Tensai, Isshin, and all the others—though mainly Tensai—think their way through the puzzles to get to the treasures was both fun and interesting, though it was the overall mysteries that kept it from being Legends of the Hidden Temple: The Anime. (Not that I wouldn’t watch that.) I still wonder who murdered Nanana, though that’s so far out there I never expected to get an answer in the season we got. The motivations of all the various factions (and the continual reveals or double-crosses) are what kept me interested, providing a new mystery all the time.

Honorable Mentions: Hitsugi no Chaika, Gokukoku no Brynhildr

 

Fantasy

Where science fiction seeks to explain the remarkable happenings of its universe via technology and logic, fantasy is less concerned with that. Wizards, dragons, and Tolkien-esque adventures are what usually come to mind, but those aren’t mandatory. As long as the focus is less on what makes the world tick and more on using magic and wonder to tell a story, it’s probably a fantasy tale you’re looking at.

Zephyr: It seems like every year that there’s something Monogatari related in the running for this category, and rightfully so. There are few things quite like it, and Hanamonogatari is the latest in the long line of sequels and side-stories to take the mantel of best fantasy. Arguably one of the better iterations, Hanamonogatari was a step up on the maturity scale in terms of how it tackled themes ranging from emotional insecurities to schadenfreude, the importance of meat, and the duality of wishes etc., while also serving an important role as a sequel by showing us how some of our well-loved characters from the original series ended up. Araragi’s car was worth watching for in and of itself, and one can’t forget the confirmation that Kaiki’s indeed alive following the dramatic ambush of the previous season. Aside from that, it was the usual mixture of witty dialogue, enjoyable banter, strange oddities, head-tilts, and fan-service that the series has been known for, allowing this fabulous modern fantasy franchise continues its roll as the top devil monkey dog of yet another year—even in the face of stiff competition from a year filled with some pretty darn good fantasies.

Honorable Mentions: Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus, Log Horizon, Nagi no Asukara, No Game No Life, Tokyo Ravens

Stilts: This was a fantasy-filled year, and as Random Curiosity’s resident fantasy author, I could not be happier. I love fantasy where magic seeps into every facet of the world, and this year gave me plenty to choose from. Of them all, none were so incontrovertibly shaped by its magic as No Game No Life. It’s a world where magic can do anything, provided it’s wagered on a game, but because it’s only the magic that results from games that shatters all the rules, it doesn’t feel like they’re pulling spells out of their asses all the time. (That the main characters have little magic themselves helps.) The entire world also oozes with fantasy, from the color palette to the fantasy races to the vibrant scenery that undergirds everything. Honorable mentions go to Log Horizon, which is more hard fantasy/sci-fi, Tokyo Ravens for the ways magic has changed a world similar to our own, and Hitsugi no Chaika, for being an old school D&D-style adventure.

Honorable Mentions: Log Horizon, Tokyo Ravens, Hitsugi no Chaika, Nagi no Asukara

 

Comedy

The ability to make you laugh until you cry – that’s probably the number one criteria when selecting a comedy of the year. From everything to sheer stupidity, quirky characters, and timely comedic pauses to perverted fun, elaborate setups, and witty jokes, it’s the lighthearted nature and humorous entertainment value of these series that we love.

Zephyr: If you ever find yourself looking for a good comedy, you needn’t look far. 2014 was one of the best years for the comedy genre in recent memory, and every single series here made its viewers laugh for one reason or another. The only question is which series made viewers laugh the most, and for me, it’s quite clear this year’s winner was Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun. Powered by misunderstandings that started only thirty seconds in, Nozaki-kun was a riot that left me in stitches week in and week out, powered by a memorable cast of characters that could make you laugh without saying a single word. Whether you’re into deadpan humor, jokes at others’ expenses, bathroom jokes, slapstick routines, or any mixture of jokes you can think of, chances are it was used at some point with this series, and to great effect (especially when you include cardboard boxes). In a year filled with great laughs, this was a head taller than the rest, even though you can’t go wrong with any of the shows listed here.

Honorable Mentions: Barakamon, D-Frag!, Nourin, Seitokai Yakuindomo*

Stilts: I feel like 2014 was the Year of the Comedy. There were so many good ones, I had a hard time deciding which would make my honorable mentions, but the winner was never in question. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was not only hilarious every episode, it was smart. By playing with gender conventions, it felt fresh, and had an undercurrent of satire that poked fun at the tropes we’ve come to expect. Aided by a cast of colorful characters which could be mixed and matched for endless fun, it’s one of the rare comedies that not only remains funny, but gets better every week. Sabagebu! gets honorable mentions for its slapstick comedic sociopathy, Barakamon for being equal measures funny and heartwarming, D-Frag! for bringing the pure gags, and Amaburi for bringing back that old school KyoAni comedy.

Honorable Mentions: Sabagebu!, Barakamon, Amagi Brilliant Park, D-Frag!

 

Romantic Comedy

The romantic comedy genre separates itself from the individual romance and comedy ones by teasing us with potential relationships but never quite settling on one. Instead, the enjoyment comes from the character interactions themselves, often – but not always – in harem-like scenarios.

Zephyr: When it comes to Nisekoi, the first thing that comes to mind for most viewers is how it could’ve been over in its first episode or two. Combine that with the prevalence of generic elements, and it’s easy to see where some would end up disliking this show to no end. For me though, the fact that it didn’t try to be something it wasn’t made it an enjoyable watch, and it’s not every day that a series makes me binge watch the entire series in the span of a few days. Once you get past the aforementioned, Nisekoi’s a series that fits the RomCom genre perfectly, and it was pretty darn hilarious getting trolled week in and week out in regards to who made the original promise with Raku ten years prior. Shaft being Shaft added a unique stylistic touch to the series only they could do, and this was a show that led me by the nose throughout its entire run. Nisekoi might not have floated everyone’s boats due to clichéd nature, but it was darn enjoyable to watch regardless (sometimes inexplicably so), and it’s this consistent entertainment value that ultimately propels it above the other “fresher” series listed here in this category.

Honorable Mentions: Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou, Mikakunin de Shinkoukei, Sakura Trick

Stilts: While this category is usually dominated by harem shows, but only one of my honorable mentions features a harem this time. It’s the comedy and the teasing that won out this year, and none were so good at that as Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou. Usa-kun’s progress with Ritsu was so agonizingly slow, with little hints and teases to say that he was getting somewhere, maybe, just maybe! He came to understand her so well, so I was really rooting for them, but it was clear that Ritsu’s personality would make any progress slow, so the tease marched on. Add in plenty of colorful comedy from the cast of crazy characters, and Kawaisou is a certifiable winner. Runners up Mikakunin de Shinkoukei and Sakura Trick both avoided the harem train, with the former all around the main couple while the latter was lusty indeed. Only Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!? had an identifiable harem, a budding one at least, and one I feel that many didn’t catch. it’s funny, lovey, heartfelt, and worth it.

Honorable Mentions: Mikakunin de Shinkoukei, Sakura Trick, Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!?

 

Slice of Life

A laid-back series with no reliance on heavily gimmicky plot devices nor a constantly progressing storyline is what this genre stands for. The character interactions themselves in an otherwise “normal” setting are the highlight, along with any incidental humor that results from them. A lot of times, they’re just really cute and innocent happenings, and that’s exactly what makes a good slice of life series.

Zephyr: I came into this entry thinking I’d be picking Barakamon, but that’d be forgetting Gin no Saji another year, which I just couldn’t do. The second season was emotionally powerful, packed full of quality character development and interaction, and gave insight into a life style that many of us can only imagine. It’s a story led by one of this year’s more memorable characters in Hachiken Yugo, and it’s a coming of age tale filled with many of the pains and aches associated with that notion. This was truly a slice of life in every sense of the word, encompassing the potential one’s future can hold, the harsh realities that lie in the shadows, the fact that each day will bring both good and bad times, and included personal experiences straight out of the author’s life to boot. It only helps that the series had a pretty darn memorable ED sequence to boot (even if it didn’t make my final shortlist), and this was a testament to how a slice of life series can be so much more. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that a slice of life has to have extra themes or perfect execution to be notable, but it sure helps, and many of this year’s entries gave that extra mile thematically—a notion that made this year a strong one for this category.

Honorable Mentions: Amagi Brilliant Park, Barakamon, Hanayamata, Inou Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de, Isshuukan Friends

Stilts: I’ve heard Barakamon likened to the family television of old, something heartwarming and reliably funny that the whole family can watch together. That strikes me as the right way to look at it. I’ve heard that the source material has a different (and deeper) tone, but from my anime-only perspective, Barakamon did what it set out to do: show us the everyday life on a backwater island, show how it changes you through Handa-sensei’s character arc, and make us laugh along the way. It’s the kind of slice of life I like, the kind where, most of the time you’re just enjoy the sights, until all of a sudden you realize that the characters have changed forever. Hanayamata was perhaps my favorite slice of life of the year, but it doesn’t have the depth to earn itself the title of Best. For the record, I would have picked Gin no Saji 2, but I don’t consider it slice of life. We just don’t have a category for coming-of-age stories, so it gets an honorable mention here.

Honorable Mentions: Gin no Saji 2, Hanayamata, Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?, Inou Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de

 

Sports

Eagerly requested and the newest addition to this post, this category seeks to celebrate the competitive past times many of us cherish—at least, the animated equivalents of them. Chances are you’re no Roger Federer or Lebron James, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine ourselves as him or enjoy watching people like him play, and this category seeks to include those series that gave us a great take on a particular sport, with bonus points given to quality animations, insight into mental aspects of the game, and other athletic intangibles.

Zephyr: With volleyball, ping pong, tennis, and cycling on the agenda, there was something for everyone this year, and all of them had a unique take on their sport that made them worth watching. I didn’t get to watch all the sports series this year, but out of the ones I did get to watch, Ping Pong the Animation was the one that stood out for me the most, narrowing inching out the great Haikyuu!!. Short and sweet, Ping Pong demonstrated the ability to tell an engaging narrative in a short time span and with shoestring budget. Stylish to boot, this was a series that focused not so much on the matches itself (which were pretty epic), but the memorable cast behind it and their reasons for being involved in the game. It didn’t shy away from broaching topics like talent vs. effort, and there’s much to be said about how it depicts the difficulties of aiming for the top and the perspective of casual players. Ping Pong was a series that truly hit on all aspects of the sport, left viewers with important life lessons while it was at it, and it’s a show that has value not only as a must watch for sports fans, but also for those not normally interested in the genre and/or the sport. Did I mention how much I loved the extra effort put into ensuring the Chinese players were voiced with genuine speakers of the language?

Honorable Mentions: Baby Steps (Enzo’s recommendation), Haikyuu!!, Yowamushi Pedal

 


Notable Others


Most Underappreciated

There are numerous shows out there that people don’t watch or continue watching because they’re so fixated on what’s unanimously popular. We make a point of watching and covering series that tend to be overlooked, so this is intended to highlight the series that more people should have checked out but probably didn’t.

Zephyr: Each of the series named here came short of the appreciation that it should have received during its initial airing, but none fell short as Nobunaga Concerto. Left at a miserable #2000+ rank popularity wise on MyAnimeList at time of writing, this was a series that initially turned off viewers due to its 3D CGI and the fact that it was yet another Nobunaga related plotline. Those that looked past the CGI though, were ultimately rewarded with a series that threw expectations out the window and provided some quality laughs and enjoyment before it was all said and done. The circumstances that lead to our protagonist’s taking of Nobunaga’s mantle was an absurd way to start, and the series only followed this up with some hilarious misunderstandings and abuses relating to the Saburou’s modern knowledge and gadgets. It may not have been a masterpiece and it’s not something everyone would enjoy, but there’s certainly a huge discrepancy here in terms of popularity, ratings, actual content, and discussion about the series—a common thread that links all the candidates in this category.

Honorable Mentions: Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus, M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane, Selector Infected WIXOSS, Uchuu Kyoudai

Stilts: It’s probably the old school aesthetic that turns people off on Majimoji Rurumo. I understand, I really do—had I not previewed it, I may not have watched it either. That would have been a mistake though, because it’s one funny show. It’s adapted from a manga written by Watanabe Wataru, more famous for Yowamushi Pedal, which is popular for a reason. The same skill, care, and execution that made Yowapeda such a success is on display in Majimoji, and its seemingly generic premise only serves to hide its quality. But all of my honorable mentions are similarly overlooked, and worthy of your time.

Honorable Mentions: Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!?, Inou Battle, Nobunagun, Kanojo ga Flag o Oraretara

 

Biggest Disappointment

The pitfall of excessive hype and anticipation for anything is the disappointment that results when things don’t meet expectations. With regards to anime, this is doubly true when a series has precedent established by its original and a sequel falls incomparably short. At times it’s only a small letdown, but sometimes we’re left wondering what we did to deserve sitting through it. We’re not looking for the worst series of the year here, but the biggest disparity between expectations going in and way the series turned out.

Zephyr: When it comes to disappointments, the important part to consider is the discrepancy between expectations and the actual results. As much as I wanted to fit in series like Mahou Sensou in here (one of the worst shows I’ve ever watched), the fact I never had that much prior expectation makes them ineligible for this category, which is why this’ll be a short and sweet entry rather than a rage filled one. The “winner” of the biggest disappointment should come as no surprise, owing to the collective hype train that followed its initial announcement and PV and the rapid downfall following its broadcast. Whereas one initially expected a magical fantasy + romance, the only magic that came out of Glasslip was how it was possible to make a series this bad in the first place, and there aren’t any words to describe how badly this series missed the mark. Awkward confessions, terrible character interactions, nonsensical developments, chickens, and a conclusion that didn’t resolve anything were just some of the problems that plagued this, and every extra word I spend on this show is one too many.

Honorable Mentions: Pupa

Stilts: I’m tremendously lucky, because I fell behind on Glasslip after only watching the first episode, and when I asked if I should marathon it the week before it ended, I was met with a resounding “NO!”. Bullet dodged. I’ve actually gotten better at dropping losers early in general, so I had to dig deeper for this category. Golden Time hits the list primarily because it was written by Takemiya Yuyuko, who also wrote Toradora!. That gave romance fans high expectations, so when Golden Time exposed itself as a total mess, disappointment was inevitable. Mahouka is here not because of its polarizing source material—though it has that too—but because they rushed through the source material so fast that even most fans were disappointed with the anime. (Though it’s not like it’s the only rushed adaptation. Not by far.) But the biggest loser to me is Tokyo ESP, for having good source material full of lively humor and strong characters, and screwing it all up. The unnecessary cold open episode one destroyed the pacing for the rest of the season, and it never caught up. Whoever made that decision shot Tokyo ESP in the foot, and wasted everyone’s time.

Honorable Mentions: Golden Time, Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei

 

Exceeded Expectations

Naturally, there’s the exact opposite of the above, where we go into a series with low or little-to-no expectations and it turns out much better than we anticipated. This could easily be considered finding diamonds in the rough, which is only possible if you tend to give new shows the benefit of the doubt. Our picks here don’t necessarily mean they’re blockbuster hits in disguise, but that the disparity between expectations and the actual series goes in the favorable direction.

Zephyr: When it comes to multi-cour series, it’s imperative that one consider the whole picture before making a judgment, lest you miss a series that ends up being a hidden gem. Tokyo Ravens was one such example. Starting off with a slow build filled with potential, this was a story that really got off the ground the second half and exceeded expectations with just how enjoyable it ended up. Key revelations were abound, plot twists ran rampant, and epic contests of magic a constant in what turned out to be an intricately crafted story. I’d go on in depth, but as Stilts and I already wrote a whole finale post about it, I’ll just say that this is one fantasy I won’t be forgetting anytime soon, and it’s just a pity that the lack of sales it received will likely mean we won’t ever get the sequel it deserves. Rounding out the category are an assortment of other similar series that weren’t masterpieces, but good/great series that did a lot more than what they were expected to initially or turned out more enjoyable than expected. Sadly, most of the series here also shared the common fate of not having received weekly coverage, a notion I hoped is rectified to some degree by their inclusion here.

Honorable Mentions: Hitsugi no Chaika, Nobunaga Concerto, Strike the Blood

Stilts: It’s not that I went into Tokyo Ravens with low expectations. I thought it looked decent. The Japanese-style magic didn’t tickle my fancy, but it was well animated and the direction seemed good, so I thought it’d be all right. And for the first half, that’s what it was. Then it got awesome. Everything that came before built into an explosion of revelations, confrontations, and plot twists where every episode surpassed the one before it, no matter how high my expectations soared. Strike the Blood was similar, though it didn’t rise to quite such great heights, while Sabagebu! was something entirely different from what I expected, in a good way. As for Shingeki no Bahamut GENESIS and Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru, these originals sailed into the fall season under the radar, only to explode into something great once they arrived.

Honorable Mentions: Sabagebu!, Shingeki no Bahamut GENESIS, Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru, Strike the Blood

 


And Finally…


Best Anime 2014

The be-all, end-all of the year. This pick is always a hotbed of controversy, so here’s the exact criteria we used to make it: if we were to meet an anime fan for the first time and they were to ask us to recommend a show that aired in 2014, what would it be? Without knowing the person’s tastes, we would naturally default to the show that did the most things right, one that had wide appeal and deserved it, that had superb animation and told its story well, and above all else, that we enjoyed. The winner of this category should be a high anticipation show that supremely deserved it, or a dark horse that blew everyone out of the water. This is subjective as hell, but you can find a list of our best picks below.

Zephyr: The great, consistent narratives typically win the best of anime category for me, so it’s only fitting that another in Uchuu Kyoudai takes the reins as this year’s big winner. I went in depth in the story category already, but this was a series that demonstrated the ability of anime to tell a realistic and potent narrative without relying on excess drama or cheap thrills, and it was a near hundred episode series whose run felt much shorter than it actually was. Topping it off with great interactions and a strong cast of characters, this was a series that was strong all around, and made me remember the days I looked into the sky and thought about going into space. Motion sickness and general physical frailness derailed that idea, but that doesn’t stop me from believing that even though we were “born on this Earth, we were never meant to die here.” Space is truly the final frontier for humanity, and Uchuu Kyoudai highlighted that and everything it entails. That said, many of the other candidates were all quite close to one another impressions wise, and I’ll say I did not have fun sorting through the honorable mentions. I’ll just say some shows that deserved to be here didn’t make it and I’ll point you to my individual category winners for a better idea of the full list. (I did not manage to complete Hunter x Hunter (2011) so it was not considered.)

Honorable Mentions (In Order): Nagi no Asukara, Sidonia no Kishi, No Game No Life, Ping Pong the Animation, Hanamonogatari

Stilts: I’ll admit, I have pulpy tastes. While some assuredly outstanding series have slid onto my backlog thanks to an overly busy life, it’s the shows with the most pure entertainment value that took my top spots. No Game No Life was, from the very first episode, pure, unadulterated fun. It took its fantasy premise and played it to the hilt, delivering a clash of the titans based not on shounen-style power ups, but corkscrew cleverness, intellectual one-upmanship, and the guts to wager everything—and I mean everything—in the name of winning the game. It’s over-the-top in the best of way, and expertly guided by the woman who is quickly becoming my favorite director, Ishizuka Atsuko. The art is beautifully surreal, the main characters are as brilliant as they are broken, and every episode is ingenious, thrilling, and frequently hilarious. Few shows burst to life like No Game No Life, which is one of the many reasons why it takes my top spot. But my honorable mentions aren’t far behind.

Honorable Mentions: Log Horizon, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Gin no Saji 2, Nagi no Asukara, Sidonia no Kishi

 

Best OVA/Movie 2014

The same as above, except for the not-regularly-broadcasted offerings. These aren’t covered very often on the site, but we’ve each had the pleasure of watching enough to find some that really caught our eyes.

Zephyr: Controversial as it may have been, Madoka Magica’s third movie comes in as the easy winner for this year’s Best OVA/Movie. As a die-hard fan of the original series, this was an addition I feared initially but came to love—impressive considering the many issues I could’ve had with it. Instead of being a mere money grab, it added to the story where I didn’t anticipate it could, and guided things down a natural path that made a whole lot of sense in hindsight (more on that in my initial post). The verdict’s still out on whether that ending was what should’ve transpired or not, but there’s no denying the fact the movie was a spectacular watch—filled with budget blowing transformations, action, animation and yet another great accompaniment from Yuki Kajiura. It was equal parts a nostalgia trip and a powerful story, and it was great being given one more chance to revisit the amazing world where magical girls reside, risking their lives to protect us from threats that we don’t even know exist. That said, if it were anything but Madoka Magica, it would’ve been a pretty interesting fight between the respective finales of both the Kara no Kyoukai (a series I loved so much I bought a ton of exclusive, signed art from it) and Gundam Unicorn franchises. The stars didn’t align to allow that to happen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still appreciate the series and respective franchises for what they were though: simply amazing and worth watching again and again.

Honorable Mentions (In Order): Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin, Gundam Unicorn Episode 7, Persona 3 the Movie: Spring of Birth, Sakasama no Patema

 

Reader’s Choice – Favorite Anime 2014

Your choice for 2014. With everyone allowed to pick up to five series, we have a pretty nice spread of results. In exchange for finding out if there was one series that everyone would’ve picked with a single vote, we have a much better idea of the other ones you enjoyed. The top choice is still pretty unquestionable though, since it was good enough to make it into the majority of your top 5 picks.

The Top 5:
Hunter x Hunter (2011) – 2765 (10.6%)
No Game No Life – 1,653 (6.34%)
ALDNOAH.ZERO – 1,290 (4.95%)
Kill la Kill – 1,145 (4.39%)
Log Horizon – 1,052 (4.03%)
Total Number of Votes – 26,074
Here are the full results.

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Hunter x Hunter takes the gold for this year! Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it, though the glowing praise Enzo and others have heaped upon it make me feel guilty for not having watched it. It’s on my (ever-growing) backlog, I swear. I’m pleased to see a couple of my own shows, No Game No Life and Log Horizon, break the top five, with my own number one taking the number two spot. Woo! ALDNOAH.ZERO and Kill la Kill (both covered by Zephyr) aren’t surprises, if only because they’re so widely watched, though it’s hard to deny the style in Trigger’s first original. I’m also pleased to see three comedies cracking the top ten, including Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun at number six.

 

Reader’s Choice – Favorite OVA/Movie 2014

Your OVA/Movie choice of 2014. As mentioned in the disclaimer above, the choices here were restricted to what’s been released on BD/DVD so that viewers outside of Japan have a chance of watching them and making an informed decision. It didn’t make sense to restrict such offerings to a small pool of voters this year and not have it up it for consideration in 2013, so if you wanted to vote for anything that premiered in theaters, you’ll get your chance next year.

The Top 5:
Madoka Magica the Movie – Part III: Hangyaku no Monogatari – 589 (5.38%)
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn OVA (Episode 7) – 465 (4.25%)
Kill la Kill Special – 424 (3.87%)
Tamako Love Story – 408 (3.73%)
Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin – 379 (3.46%)
Total Number of Votes – 10,952
Here are the full results.

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Rounding out things for this year’s post is the Reader’s Choice for best OVA/Movie in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica the Movie – Part III: Hangyaku no Monogatari. Similar to last year’s winner in Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryouiki no Déjà vu, Madoka Magica was a beloved series on RC and among many fans in general, making this an unsurprising winner. Following behind is another expected front-runner in Gundam Unicorn’s climactic finale, which was followed by a higher than expected #3 and #4 ranking for the Kill la Kill Special and Tamako Love Story. I had been expecting Kara no Kyoukai, Persona 3, and Sakasama no Patema to score higher than they did, but all three did do fairly well, along with the AnoHana and GITS ARISE movies. Overall, the votes were interesting in terms of overall number—the winners received only half of last year’s—which reflected the strange decrease in the amount of OVA/Movies released in 2014 and correlated with a decrease in interest in them. Aside from that, the Reader’s Choice ended up very similar to my own personal picks, with four of the top six Reader’s Choices matching up with my personal favorites.



 

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While 2014 didn’t have a clear AOTY like in the past, I feel like we had a good crop of anime. Comedy and Fantasy were the big winners, with plenty of high quality series in both. We also had a lot of long-running and/or atypical shows that came to the end, series which probably weren’t featured as much in this post as they deserved to be, since some of them snuck past my and Zephyr’s fantasy/sci-fi biased eyes. Mushishi, for instance, would likely have featured prominently, were I not still working my way through the first season. My backlog, as ever, continues to grow. Help!

On a personal note, 2014 feels like the first year since I started blogging at Random Curiosity where I missed major shows due to sheer lack of time. From my full-time job to publishing a book, time has been scarce, and shows I really wanted to watch ended up falling through the cracks. Which is to say, if your favorite show isn’t here: It’s not it, it’s me. Or maybe Zephyr, but probably me. Am I saying this to cover my ass? Absolutely, though that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Looking forward to 2015, I’m optimistic once again. Winter is looking a little weak—which will hopefully give me some time to work on that backlog—but Spring is already looking like a winner, with high profile series in spades. If the trend of strong Summers continues, and we finish out strong with another good Fall, we could have another great year of anime ahead of us. I hope you’ll continue to visit Random Curiosity, so we can find out together.

January 5, 2015 at 12:37 am
313 comments »
  • January 14, 2015 at 5:08 amowq

    So, upon seeing Tokyo Ravens in this post, I got curious and went to watch it. And couldn’t stop. OMFG. Really think you guys should have blogged that. Haha.

    • January 20, 2015 at 12:11 amdudeinthesun

      I second that! Completely under the radar only to be consumed in a 4 days 24 episodes marathon. Thank you RandomC!

      • March 2, 2015 at 1:28 amKevin

        Once i was so addicted to an anime i completed all 75 episodes in 4 days 3 nights

  • February 6, 2015 at 3:44 pmichigo

    I just wanted to let you know that under the Seiyuu category, it looks like Stilts picked two choices.
    http://i293.photobucket.com/albums/mm58/ichigo_daisuki/2015.02.06_zpsbfus876s.png

    On another note, thank you for the thoroughly detailed The Best of Anime 2014 post, Zephyr and Stilts! I am also extremely proud that the reader’s choice for Favorite Anime 2014 was Hunter × Hunter (2011)! Yay~

    • April 4, 2015 at 9:59 amZephyr

      Late, but yes, Stilts did both the seiyuu this time because I can’t ever keep track of who does what. I usually end up listening more to the soundtrack, so I did that instead.

  • February 11, 2015 at 5:29 pmStargen

    Thank you, RandomC for posting Uchuu Kyoudai!
    Such a great title, and I never got a chance to discover it, that is – till I read the above!
    So many episodes, books, and it even has a drama movie!
    Uchuu Kyoudai is a jackpot for people who long for a space opera anime close to something as good as Planetes, and for those who long for animes that are truly worth watching.

  • February 12, 2015 at 12:27 amR_Jaeger

    Holy cow, I didn’t even expected Nobunaga Concerto to be mentioned here! I noticed it only after hearing its beautiful rock ED by MY FIRST STORY on osu!, and watched it out of curiosity. It totally exceeded my expectations. Sure, the ‘Nobunaga’ tag might turn off some, but imo, this is the best ‘Nobunaga’ titled show among those previous ‘Nobunaga’ shows in terms of character development and humor. Never mind the CG, it’s quite great though.

  • June 30, 2015 at 7:01 pmWhatevs

    Whatever guys, I think Golden Time was good.

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