My Personal Favorites of 2014

With the Winter 2015 Anime Season now coming to a close, I wanted to make a final post about my thoughts of the 2014 Anime Season as a whole. This will be a series of two posts, with this one focusing on the more positive aspects of 2014 anime.

Before I get into the post, I want to explain my reasoning for doing a particular post like this, as some people may just write this post off as me stating my personal opinions on these shows. Although that is partially the reason why those shows made it onto the list, I would like to mention there were several shows that I enjoyed in 2014, but out of all of them, these were the ones that I will personally remember as the years continue on. These are also the ones that I hold in high regards in comparison to all of the other shows of that year, and are shows I could recommend to anyone that is a fan of anime.

Another reason that I decided to do this post was for appeal of all anime fans across the internet. By that, I mean that no matter what kind of anime watcher you are, you are bound to enjoy at least one of the series that I have chosen. From being an older fan of anime, to being someone that’s looking to get into anime, I’m sure at least one of my personal favorites will appeal to your genre of choice, and will (hopefully) also be a work that you can personally enjoy. These anime will be in alphabetical order, as putting them in a ranking order would be impossible since these are all of varying genres and would imply that one of my choices is better than another, which is not the case.

With my underlying thoughts out-of-the-way, I’ll now present the actual list!

 

 Amagi Brilliant Park (Amaburi)

LOOK AT THE SKY ITS MAGIC HOUR

LOOK AT THE SKY, ITS MAGIC HOUR!

After Kyoto Animation’s (KyoAni) previous two or three works, I seriously thought that may have been losing their touch in making interesting shows that were slice-of-life oriented. Shows such as Kyoukai no Kanata (KnK) and Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren (Chuu2 Ren) are almost unanimously agreed upon by the community as some of KyoAni’s weakest works, both attempting to be something more than a slice-of-life, but failed to deliver. Although Amaburi isn’t a slice-of-life, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call it one, as the format it follows is similar to that of a slice-of-life anime.

The whole show revolves around the main character (MC) Kanie Seiya using his great charismatic personality and management skills in an attempt to revive this run-down amusement park, which also happens to have a bunch of magical creatures and elements surrounding its daily operations. Normally, with a plot summary like that, Amaburi almost screams “generic harem anime”, but this isn’t the case at all. Not only are most of the normal “harem” elements far removed from this series, but the comedy segments really drive this anime to be something that stands out, even among good comedy anime. The humor is consistently hilarious, and doesn’t use worn-out and crude jokes that have been done time and time again in most comedy anime.

I mean, how many times have you seen this in an anime?

I mean, how many times have you seen this in an anime?

Both KyoAni and the community itself also saw this anime as a revolutionary comedic anime, with the serious and dramatic moments throughout the show being short, but powerful. KyoAni changes the source material’s order of events and subtracts certain plot points and over-dramatic elements to fit their style of animating and keeping the show’s theme humor-centric. The fansub group Vivid also follows this trend, as they take the initial script from CrunchyRoll (CR) and continuously build on the jokes established within the series, while also making the serious moments equally as powerful. With both of these parties focusing on the critical aspects of the show, the product was certain to bring out the best in both the execution of the jokes and making the characters themselves entertaining.

The characters continue to bring the comedy to a new level, as the normal character tropes aren’t followed all the way through, and with the magical aspect of the anime creating many interesting situations, each character develops through those situations as the show continues. Although sometimes the development is minimal, and the plot of the anime never seems to move out of the “We have to save the park” stage, the characters and the humor make this show enjoyable enough to stand on its own, and when coupled with the excellent animation and OST, make it an unforgettable show of the year.

 

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2

Rin sure does enjoy those maracas.

Rin is still enjoying those maracas from Season 1.

There’s no way I could forgive myself if I left this one out. Out of all of the idol shows that I’ve seen, this is not only one that’s been the most appealing to me, but is also one of the best music-themed shows that I have ever seen. This idol show also succeeds where other idol shows in the past have failed, such as making a cast of characters more than just trope characters with no development, and also emphasizing the troubles and hardships of life without going overboard. Although this isn’t your run-of-the-mill high school life anime, the themes of it remain there and are utilized in a manner which creates drama and helps build character between our main cast members.

From the first season, we have some of the main group members already experiencing some of those hardships. Kousaka Honoka, the “leader” of our group, formed a school idol group in order to make sure that their school wasn’t shut down after having low attendance rates. If that’s not enough of a hardship, she has to form an idol group from scratch in order to save it, with the school principal, student council, and even her close friends rejecting the idea. As they manage to finally gain some members, many more hardships occur that would potentially drive them and their group apart, but they continue to press onward through their troubles in order to save their school. The second season continues to follow-up on this, but in a much more uplifting way than in the first.

While the first season was focused on drama and character development, the second season focus on the slice-of-life and music aspects by attempting to enter Love Live! yet again in order to save the school. There are still struggles that the group has to face in order to win the competition and characters encountering various problems along the way, but it’s no longer the focus of the show. This cour emphasizes the group interactions between each other and show how much each of them care about the others within the group. Unlike iDOLM@STER, where competition and other groups forming are handled with a negative viewpoint, μ’s manages to stay together and help each other out, and even later become good rivals with their competitors.

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 differs from other idol anime in much more than just how they handle competition though, as the music element is heavily emphasized during the second season. Where other idol shows tend to just put the insert songs of the groups as the ending usually utilizing minimal animation with stock photos, Love Live! puts them in the show where it would make sense for the plot. Although the CGI cuts of the performances can be distracting at times and seem out-of-place for the show, the different genres of music played along with seeing the character’s struggles pay off make the performances heart-warming to the viewer.

Speaking of heart-warming, the characters are what really drive this show to be better than most other school dramas and slice-of-life shows, even outside of the idol genre. Even though the characters tend to follow specific tropes like most characters do, these break the mold by not fully following through with the tropes that stock characters normally have. Most of the characters have certain “ways” of acting, which can sometimes be tropes, but they also have their own personality to them to show that these aren’t just your everyday characters. The community itself proves this when asked “What is the worst character within this show”, and the response normally given is “None of them, all of the characters are pretty great”, with the other common response being “Nico a shit.”

We all know who the best girl really is though.

We all know who the best girl really is though.

Combining the well-written characters, the varying genres of music, and the perfect balance of slice-of-life and drama together, this show manages to stand out as an idol anime and also as an uplifting drama that makes the viewer want more once the series ends.

 

Nisekoi

It's the greatest love story ever told... Ok, maybe not, but it's not spooky, unlike other rom-coms.

It’s the greatest love story ever told! …Ok, maybe not, but at least it’s not spooky, unlike some other rom-coms.

Now here’s a show that I didn’t think was even going to be good when I read the synopsis, for the very reason that it sounded super generic besides certain aspects of the plot itself. I slowly changed my mind a few episodes in, and after the show finished, I ended up not only enjoying the show, but also started reading the manga which the show is based upon. It’s not even that the plot is amazing or that the events that take place are extraordinarily out of the norm, but I also think that’s also part of the appeal to me.

While the story of a high school boy falling in love with a girl isn’t exactly the most unique idea, two factors automatically set this story apart from other stories. One of these factors is that his yakuza background makes him a pretty unique individual (within the universe, not exactly as a character) which causes his life to be drastically different from everyone else around him. The other factor is that his established relationship with the “main” heroine is actually forced upon him and not a choice made by himself. Although these elements alone aren’t what causes the story to be unique, these are the backbone for the unique events that take place later on in the series.

Lots of the elements within this story may seem generic to someone that has been watching anime even for a short period of time, but I think there are a few driving factors that make Nisekoi as an anime stand out. One of the main ones being the animation direction and style that Shaft has put upon the show. While I don’t think the show would desperately fail if placed in the hands of another studio, Shaft has not only brought out the comedic moments of the show out in a hilarious fashion, but has also manage to dramatize even the slightest moments to make them over-dramatic to the point where they become funny. Although, this sometimes also created moments where the show was hard to take seriously in its more dramatic scenes, especially in the Blu-rays.

Sometimes I really question some of the liberties that Shaft takes.

Sometimes I really question some of the liberties that Shaft takes. For example, this shiny school.

Despite the more comedic aspect of the show, the romance part of the show is definitely what causes the show to be on this list and is also the main cause of debate among the anime community. Simple debates among the community include whether this series is a rom-com or a harem anime or if there’s too many characters being introduced to be able to carry the story in a meaningful direction. More complicated debates get into what the romance in the story actually strives to represent or if it even has a point at all.

In terms of romance, this show tends to use tropes, clichés, and stock characters to drive itself forward, so what exactly causes that to be a good romance in any way? Some, such as anime blogger Frog-kun from Fantastic Memes, say that it creates this idea of false love (hence the name Nisekoi – False Love) for the viewer as it’s pretty easy to tell who will most likely win over the MC’s heart in the end. While I agree and disagree with parts of his philosophy, what makes this anime’s romance so endearing to me is the fact that while the characters don’t necessarily act in the most realistic ways, the feelings are realistic to how people would act in those situations that they are placed in. I think Onodera Kosaki is an excellent example of proving that, as her acting on her feelings would be unrealistic for her personality and also in context of a real-life scenario. Some people may see this as bad writing or as an attempt to draw the story out, but I personally like this particular aspect of the series.

The “romance” part of this romantic comedy may not be as strong as the “comedy” portion, but both aspects will be one of the reasons why I will continue with the series and remember it years down the line.

 

No Game No Life

I have to hand it to the artist and the animators for the massive amount of color present in this anime.

I have to hand it to the artist and the animators for the massive amount of vibrant color in this anime.

To be completely honest, I actually did not enjoy this show when I first started watching it. Perhaps it was because of the over-saturation of discussion, hype, and expectations that others were giving this series, or maybe it was because of the generic fantasy aspects of the show that I didn’t think I would enjoy. It was midway into this series when I realized that not only my outlook was wrong on the show, but also that the show was vastly more intellectual and entertaining than I had previous expected.

This anime was more of a growing experience for me and also altered the way that I looked at anime as a whole. The show is mainly focused around an otaku and his sister entering a gaming world based around nothing but games and uses a variety of tropes and gags that have been done time and time again. But what makes it stand out from other anime doing the same is that it not only took these tropes and well-executed them in an entertaining manner, but also managed to avoid some of the bigger pitfalls that ecchi anime tend to have within them. Of course, with this being based off an ecchi themed light novel, some of those themes remained, but were not a hindrance to my personal enjoyment of the series.

To go into more of my journey while watching this show, I thought that the beginning of it was pretty clichéd and that this show was just another otaku-based light novel adaptation that was obviously just trying to win over the anime communities for merchandising and Blu-ray sale purposes. Not only that, the community surrounding the show made me completely disregard what they was saying about the show. Granted, the community was either one of two categories, which was A. The show is really good and is a masterpiece within the genre while still being vastly entertaining or B. This show is shit and just attempting to get Blu-ray sales from the hardcore otaku and light novel fans. Unsurprisingly, /a/ from 4chan (thinking B) and Reddit (thinking A) were split as to how they felt about this show, which ended up causing a huge split in between people thinking the show was great and people who thought it was trash.

After a few episodes, I began to avoid the community as it was unproductive discussion, and only then did I realize how the jokes within the show were some of the best I’ve seen a while in the anime. The setting was extremely well-built, and even the themes discussing humanity and its future were really well-done and well-thought out. Not only that, the cleverness of the jokes were well-executed and the twists that the show gave to modern, everyday games had me intrigued throughout the rest of the show. The ecchi was also not personally distracting to me, and was touched upon in very minimal manners after the beginning episodes. While some people may disagree with certain points of this, I still whole-heartedly enjoyed the show, despite some of the annoying factors that would normally kill an anime for me.

Even by Episode 3, the creativeness of the show really shines through with this game of chess.

Even by Episode 3, this game of chess shows the creativity of the show.

In the end, this show allowed me to remind myself that anime is a medium for entertainment and also allowed me to take a minor step back from my “critical analysis” of shows, and remember that if you don’t enjoy the show you’re watching, what’s the point of even watching it? This is one of the reasons that I take into account how much I enjoy a series in my MAL ratings, even though technically that’s not an “objective” rating. I think some hardcore anime enthusiasts could learn a lesson from watching a series such as this one, and even if you already are aware of the lesson, the series is still good enough to stand on its own with its clever jokes and unique setting.

 

Noragami

That's not a censor bar. I promise.

That’s not a censor bar. I promise.

I was really shocked when I watched this show, as I didn’t think I would enjoy it and didn’t even pick the show up when the Winter 2014 season started. I initially went into watching the show with the mindset of “I’ll just watch the first episode and see if this is something I want to watch”, and ended up surprised on the very first episode. It’s a show I would normally glance over just because of the shounen genre label given to the series, hence the reason I didn’t pick it up the first time around. I’m pretty glad that I didn’t skip over it, though. This is one of the few shounen that I have watched and enjoyed for the interesting characters, low-key fight scenes, and emotion that went into the episodes.

Getting into the details of the background, it’s basically a show where there’s a cast of three main characters that have to fight evil “spirits” (or “youma”, as some subtitle groups would have it) created by negative emotions within the world. I’m not usually one for these settings that involve battling with swords and spirits, but I knew from the opening and the first episode that this was going to be a unique show involving several elements that I had never experienced before in anime. Even with the way the show frames itself, you would think that it’s a show based around Japanese mythology and older style weaponry that samurai would use in a Japanese historical setting, but the anime (and probably the source material as well) really manages to incorporate those elements in a modern setting while also using the older historical themes as well.

Guns, swords, mythical creatures; this show has it all.

Guns, swords, mythical creatures; this show has it all. It’s pretty amazing, really.

As the setting is built, the main characters develop with each new turn of events, and the unique personalities and motives of even the side characters become really interesting to watch. Every character in the show has a purpose and each character serves that purpose really well, especially when it comes to character development. Each member is a very different type of character, completely ridden from the normal tropes that most shounen characters have, and each come from varied backgrounds and upbringings. While some of the details involving the characters’ personal history are left out from the source material in the adaptation, there is enough information provided in the anime that doesn’t require that knowledge in order to tell the story effectively.

Not only was the direction of the characters absolutely perfect, the entire show from beginning to end was pretty much flawless. Normally shounen anime have pitfalls such as having random elongated fight scenes or forced drama for development, but in this anime, neither of these situations really occurred. There was really only one instance where it seemed a little forced, and that was for plot-related reasons (and Bones always seems to have issues creating anime original endings). Besides that, the show was absolutely perfect, even when it came down to the finer details, such as the animation direction and soundtrack choice. It’s even one of the few shows that I could say that the soundtrack actually stuck out to me, and personally, I would even say it’s in my top 3 for best original soundtracks (OST) of anime that I’ve ever seen (just listen to Delivery, and you’ll understand why). The animation, music, and the characters made this show what it was, and you can tell exactly what the director and Bones wanted to do when creating this show. It’s definitely one of the better written shounen stories out of the ones that have been popularized, and has features that make it stand out from others within its genre.

While the series doesn’t end in a way that resembles the rest of the show, I’m personally glad that this series is classified as a shounen as I think that it should be the standard for the genre and not an outlier. I’m not a huge fan of shounen because of the direction most of them take, but I especially love story-driven anime, and this is no exception to that rule. If you’re a shounen fan and you have yet to see this series, then this is absolutely something that you will enjoy. If you’re not, it’s still a great series that does phenomenal things in a single 12 episode span and I know if decided to watch more of the genre, I’m sure this one will always remain one of my favorites despite what other shows may be out there.

————————————————————————————————————————————

Additional Notes from the Author:

Completely unplanned, Noragami Season 2 was announced earlier today. So if you’re even remotely interested in the anime, it’d make the perfect time to watch it to get ready for the upcoming season 2.

Next Planned Post: Spring 2015 Anime – Plan to Watch

*This list only contains the anime that I have seen, and may mean that I didn’t even watch a potentially amazing show. If you have seen a show that you think is a contender for the top anime of 2014, then leave a comment below or message me in your preferred method (contact info is listed in my About Me section of the site), and I’ll be sure to give it a watch.

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