Your Top 5 Anime of 2014 (And Ours)
5: Mushi-Shi Season Two
Mushi-Shi returned, and it was just as beautiful, atmospheric, and insightful as ever. It almost feels silly for me to put this on my list instead of highlighting some lesser-known show (and if you're wondering, the hidden gem I had in mind was Sekai Seifuku (watch it!)), because Mushi-Shi is so firmly and justifiably established as a Modern Classic that nobody really needs to say it at this point. But I'll say it anyway - Mushi-Shi is as gorgeous in aesthetics as it is poignant in themes, a collection of biting fables that alternately soothe, shock, or simply make you think. The world Ginko explores is full of wonder and insight, and nearly every episode feels like a gift. Everyone should watch Mushi-Shi.
Your Lie in April is only half finished at this point, but it's not hard to get a read on a show with its heart this firmly on its sleeve. The show is about as dramatically heightened as possible, and yet its overblown style totally works for this story, these characters. It's less of a traditional romcom than a romance between a few kids and the music that inspires their passion, and that inspiration is illustrated through beautiful color work, evocative visual metaphor, and a bounty of energetic animation. On top of that, the show really understands music, performance, and art - its dialogue is very florid, but it's always able to sharply illustrate the feeling of helplessness before a performance, or the terror of the spotlight. I like sincere things, and Your Lie in April is very sincere.
Terror in Resonance wasn't quite the show people wanted, huh? I heard a lot of complaints about this one this year, but frankly, I think expectations did more damage to this show's reputation than anything the show itself did. Two kinds of expectations, in fact - expectations of what a new Watanabe show would be, and expectations of how shows in this genre are supposed to work. Because Terror in Resonance is messy as a strict thriller, but it's not that - it's a primal cry of youth and rebellion hiding in a crime procedural's coat. And it's also beautifully composed, and it also has great lighting, and the soundtrack is wonderful, and its best moments are perfect things. Scenes like LiSA and Twelve fleeing by motorcycle, or that ferris wheel bomb defusal, easily rank as some of the most iconic moments of the year. Terror in Resonance might not have been the show everybody wanted, but I don't really have any complaints.
2: Ping Pong the Animation
At one point this year, Masaaki Yuasa was apparently working on Ping Pong, Space Dandy, and Adventure Time simultaneously, making the fact that Ping Pong is such a masterpiece seem even more ridiculous. Because Ping Pong is a masterpiece - though it's not currently my favorite show of the year, I do think it was the best show. A great story full of vivid characters, a creative but always purposeful visual aesthetic, and a long line of iconic Big Scenes (Peco getting skunked! Wenge's song! Sakuma's last stand! Kazama learns to fly!) all contributed to make Ping Pong a show like no other, a perfectly contained story brimming with gifts. It's a sports story that's really a human story, and human stories are the best stories.
Why do I even like this show? It should be more painful than anything - I don't need to know a life in the arts is a stressful, thankless grind, I live enough of that already thank you very much. And yet somehow I find Shirobako's articulation of the hard knock anime life absolutely captivating. It helps that the show is often kind to its characters, and is very funny, and has great pacing and structure. It also helps that the show is very pretty, and well-written, and features a cast of actual adults. And yeah, I also inherently enjoy this kind of grounded drama - most anime slice of life shows don't actually offer anything resembling real slices of real lives whatsoever, so a show like this is automatically a breath of fresh air.
But the honest truth? Yeah, I like the pain. I like seeing these characters struggle with real issues, and directly reflect on how their current jobs might not lead to career satisfaction, or how they might actually just lack the talent to make it in their passion. That stuff hurts, but it's a good hurt - this show doesn't pull any punches, but it punches its characters out of love. There's constant truth in what Shirobako presents, and the empathy and understanding expressed by this show feel like the words of a compassionate friend. Shirobako knows it's hard, and it doesn't sugar-coat the truth, but that frankness is actually what makes it great. Shirobako knows it's hard, and it's here to share a beer.
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