Your Top 5 Anime of 2014 (And Ours)
Honorable mention: Psycho-Pass Extended Edition
Although the original cut of Psycho-Pass aired last year, I only got around to it a few months ago with the recut – released in 2014 – which converts the twenty-two episode 20-minute show into eleven 40-minute episodes. This is the definitive version of the series because it adds new footage that, most significantly, reduces its early procedural structure by integrating showstopper villain Shogo Makishima from the very beginning. The show is underestimated, which is saying a lot, because people seem to have pretty high opinions of it. While it's generally perceived as just an exceptionally engaging crime thriller, it's actually an intelligent exploration of what could happen to society if we integrate networked technology as a “solution” to all of our problems without understanding what those problems are. It's also an excellent dystopia. I can't see how the society we live in now would become the world in Psycho-Pass, but I can see how that society serves as an extension of our current problems. Gen Urobuchi delivered with another high-concept exploration of human nature in genre fiction's clothing.
5: Hōzuki no Reitetsu
While it didn't work for everyone, this dark comedy hit me right in the funnybone. It's a stylishly deadpan series about the bureaucratic dealings of different mythologies in the afterlife, all centered around the omnicompetent oni Hozuki, the second-in-command of Japanese Hell. While not every episode provoked peals of laughter, there was just enough cuteness and cleverness aside to make me love this little show. Of the five on this list, it's the one I'll revisit on rainy days, when my heart can only be soothed by the sufferings of the damned. Now if only it had a better english title than Hozuki's Coolheadness…
4: Tokyo Ghoul
Cannibals are the new zombie/pirate/vampire/dragons. From Parasyte to Attack on Titan to the USA's own Hannibal, there's been a trend of quality people-eating-people in televised fiction, and to me Tokyo Ghoul ranks as the year's sterling example in this genre. Initially seeming like tepid material (it seems like its closest relations would be carnivalesque fighting shlock like Deadman Wonderland, but it's really Kemonozume), this show is made by a few aspects of its production – first, the stellar direction that turns this relatively low-budget show into a consistent treat, if you can stand to look at it. It's best sequences involve masses of swirling viscera expanding and crashing into each other, and the final episode is a 20-minute long, brilliantly-directed torture scene that also happens to thematically make the show. This, coupled with some strong character writing across the board, makes it a standout show in our current anime meat market.
ufotable went beyond the call of duty in their lush adaptation of Fate/stay night's second route, Unlimited Blade Works. To me, this anime is most impressive in how it manages to rectify some the source material's less-palatable aspects, like the main character's interior monologue and its oppressive length. This feels like Fate/stay night as it was meant to be experienced for a lay audience – just constant, gorgeously animated fight scenes strung together by quite solid character and thematic material. The first season isn't over, but it hasn't made a major misstep yet.
2: Space Dandy
On the other end of the spectrum from Ping Pong, few shows are as hit-or-miss as Space Dandy. But then again, few shows are as consistently daring, experimental and just plain weird as Space Dandy, a genre-bending romp through animation and narrative styles as well as space and time. It's a good sign for an episodic show when people's top ten episode lists vary. Pretty much ever top ten Space Dandy episodes list I've seen has been different, indicating that they're based more on personal taste than certain ones being significantly above par. (My favorites are “Lovers are Trendy, Baby,” “A World with No Sadness, Baby,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dandy, Baby,” “Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby”… ugh, this is descending into me just listing half of the series.) It's a tour-de-force of some of the most vibrant creatives working in anime today, and if you haven't seen it already, get your butt ordering it, baby.
1: Ping Pong the Animation
Masaaki Yuasa has done it again. A rare animator who can write, he's at least scripted everything that he's directed – including the adapted stuff – a fact that perhaps accounts for the unique syncronicity between his narratives and visuals. While I've never disliked anything he's written, his works are at their worst when they splinter and lose focus under the weight of a high concept. (Looking at you, Kaiba.) Ping Pong is his simplest story, and it benefits from that through some of the most ironclad character writing and theming in a Yuasa show to date. Like many sports anime, it amounts to a story about the many paths that adolescence can take, and the different ways in which people from a multitude of backgrounds go about constructing who they want to be in adulthood. Whether you relate most to Peco or Smile, Kazama or Sakuma, Ota or Kong Wenge, this show'll drive itself into your heart with the force of an Olympic-level serve.
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