Your Top 5 Anime of 2014 (And Ours)
Picking the top four titles this year was relatively easy, as I felt #1-4 clearly stood above the rest. The fifth one was far more difficult and ultimately a close call. Some other titles which were strongly considered, and thus warrant Honorable Mention status, include The World is Still Beautiful (loved the series but thought it had slightly more weak points than my #5 pick); When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace (one of the most delightful harem series in recent memory and surprisingly deep in its character development); World Conquest Zvezda Plot (one of the weirdest series in years, but a lot of fun); School Days (a better series than it is often given credit for, qualifies because it was first released in the U.S. in 2014); and Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (very strong at first, but it starts to get bogged down some as its story progresses). Amongst other widely-lauded series, Space Dandy only sporadically impressed me and I simply did not have time to watch Parasyte or Terror in Resonance.
And now on to my actual Top 5:
5: Engaged to the Unidentified
The premise – a teenage girl suddenly finds herself hosting her arranged fiancé and his kid sister – sounds like a typical anime contrivance. Instead of languishing on cheap gimmicks, though, this Winter season series develops into a surprisingly clever and funny story about very domestic main character Kobeni's efforts to come to terms with having a fiancé, decide if that's really okay with her (she hadn't really given much thought to her future), and discover what big secret her fiancé and sister-in-law-to-be are hiding. It (mostly) gracefully handles its serious content, pays unusual attention to detail, and comes up with creative but plausible justifications for some stock elements, such as Kobeni getting sick easily. It also has both an opener and a closer that are among the year's best. It wins out over the Honorable Mentions primarily because I respect it successfully doing something a little different with basic, commonplace story elements, although a big gap exists between it and the next title. . .
4: Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
This is how you do a card game adaptation; in fact, I daresay that one hasn't been done better. The basic story is pretty conventional high fantasy: a roguish type gets roped into helping a naïve young woman (who's actually both part-demon and part-angel) on her quest to be reunited with her mother, not knowing that she has become a key (literally!) player in an effort to unleash an apocalyptic dragon on the universe. The rogue's knightly former childhood friend, a necromancer who accompanies the knight, and gods, angel, devils, and saints all eventually get involved, too. What makes this one special is the cinematic approach it takes, which results in spectacular battles, dynamic visuals, involving pacing and framing, and a powerhouse musical score. The characterizations and developments of the core cast members are also a delight, as are swashbuckling action sequences reminiscent of Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean movies. There is nothing deep about it, but it is still one of the year's top action series.
This Summer season series could not be more diametrically aligned to my #4 pick if it tried. Instead of featuring events on the grandest scale, this is a simple, low-key tale about five middle school girls coming together to form their school's Yosakoi Club. (Basically it's a dance team, Japanese-style.) Contrary to Bahamut, the story heavily focuses on the development of its core cast and its plot, such as it is, merely involves each girl discovering her own reasons for getting involved. Pretty imagery, impressive character growth, and multiple emotional moments are all major strengths. It has a strong ensemble cast, too, but ultimately it gets edged out on that by. . .
2: Yuki Yuna is a Hero
At the time of this writing two episodes still remain to air, and a particularly strong finish could bump this one up to #1. It certainly deserves to be no less than #2 on my list, as it does basically everything right. What initially appears to be a slice-of-life story about four (later five) middle school girls who form a Hero Club is soon revealed to be a Madoka Magica-like magical girl series, complete with dazzling visual effects, spectacular combat sequences, substantial character development, and a tricky plot which takes the story in difficult-to-predict directions. Its biggest blessing, though, is a wonderful core cast whose love, devotion, and camaraderie with each other displays a palpable warmth which many other series about groups of girls only wish they could manage. As a bonus treat it also completely naturally integrates a paraplegic girl into the core cast, one whose disability does not in the slightest prevent her from contributing in a major way to all of the group's efforts; yes, the scene where she also turns into a magical girl for the first time is one of the year's most special anime moments. Making it all happen are great artistry, writing, and even voice acting.
1: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun
There is only one series that I have seen that I could even consider putting ahead of Yuki Yuna in 2014, and that series is, quite simply, the funniest anime comedy that I have seen in years – maybe even a full decade. Nozaki-kun’s delicious skewering of both shojo manga tropes and the procedures for creating manga hits the mark so often and so hard that most episodes have multiple laugh-out-loud moments. Even its weakest episodes still would fare well by comparison to the stronger episodes of most other anime comedies. A delightful cast of oddballs and smart, insightful writing and joke timing make it a joy to watch.
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