Your Top 5 Anime of 2014 (And Ours)
5: Your Lie in April
I struggled a lot with what to put in this place, but realized it kind of had to be Your Lie in April. As a classical-music-lover, I expected to love this show even when I thought it was going to be a more pedestrian romantic-comedy affair. Instead, it was a thoughtful, gorgeously-drawn and –directed character drama that reaches deep into the psyches of teenage music "prodigies." Few other shows I've seen understand so well what it means to be a child whose parent lives vicariously through you, and how much that destroys you in the process. Your Lie in April keeps pleasantly surprising me in how much it gets its leads and the awful places they're in—and how it works them through that without undermining their struggles. Some of my favorite anime, from Evangelion to Penguindrum, are those that plunge the depths of depressed, lonely kids, but Your Lie in April has an intense hopefulness those series don't. If you skipped this one because you're not a rom-com fan or a music-lover, now's the time to catch up.
4: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun
Of all the fun slice-of-life comedies that came out this year, Nozaki-kun—the story of a teenage shojo mangaka, the classmate/assistant who loves him, and their ragtag group of friends—was easily the strongest. It's reminiscent of Ouran High School Host Club in its wacky skewering of shojo clichés, but Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun plays it a lot closer to its heart. It's a much more affectionate parody, somewhat less (but still) romance-focused, and somewhat more calculated in its silliness—giving it a much broader appeal. Its characters were also tons of fun, too, from stoic Nozaki, to boisterous Takarazuka parody Kashima, to Seo, the girl with a big voice and a big attitude to match. The way they bounced off each other made it the kind of show that appealed as much to the Tumblr shipping fandom as it did to critics. Well-written, well-animated and well-scored (tuba makes everything goofier), Nozaki-kun is everything a high-school comedy series needs to be. Now I'm desperately hoping for a second season.
3: Mushi-Shi: The Next Chapter
Along with the next entry, this show made my Friday afternoons the best part of my week during the spring season. Which was interesting since Mushi-Shi is basically the opposite of Jojo, preferring faded over bold colors, thought over action, and minimal scoring over a rocking soundtrack, but it did all that just as well. I'd only seen the earlier Mushi-Shi anime a few months before this one started, so I know my impressions are fresh enough to say: This one is miles better. Especially in its first half, The Next Chapter includes some of the show's best (and most optimistic) segments. They seamlessly merge supernatural-horrors and thought-provoking musings on human nature in a way that reminds me of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes. 2014 was a good year for anthology series, which made it the perfect time for one of anime's best to return even stronger, feeling like it never left.
2: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders is an adaptation of a manga that's older than I am, and yet this series has consistently proven that with the right production team, it can still feel fresh in the 2010s. I don't know if Stardust Crusaders' raw material is quite as strong as the stuff in Jojo's previous two arcs, but it's certainly just as, if not even more, fun. Its weirdness and episodic adventure format keep you constantly on your toes to see what new wacko Stand it'll throw at the boys this week (at least if, like me, you haven't read the manga). Combined with the vibrant, comic-book-like visual design and especially, Yūgo Kanno's energetic, varied score (a huge step up from the previous anime in the series), Stardust Crusaders is an engrossing, wild ride of a show. It was my introduction to the Jojo's franchise, and now I'm hooked.
1: Space Dandy
I don't know if Space Dandy was as consistently great as the other four things on my list, but it scaled the highest artistic heights and was the most interesting, creative thing airing by far. I'm someone who values artistic innovation over doing the safe thing well, so that's what makes it my pick for the top show of the year. Space Dandy's best episodes are among the best individual half-hours of anime, offering its surreal, over-the-top weirdness in service of both biting comedy ("Sometimes You Can't Live With Dying, Baby", aka the "zombie episode") and thought-provoking personal drama (the transcendent "A World Without Sadness, Baby"). Plus, it also deserves points for being the most-hyped thing that completely lived up to and surpassed its hype, in a year full of big-name disappointments like Sailor Moon Crystal. Space Dandy is an anthology series done as right one can, used to showcase the best directors, writers and animators the business has to offer and let them run wild with a well-trod premise.
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