Anime in America: Theron and Rebecca's Best, Worst, and Most Notable of 2014

by Theron Martin,
Theron: Greetings, everyone, and welcome to the 2014 editions of Anime in America! For the past several years I have done this feature with fellow review Carl Kimlinger, but his departure from ANN's staff around the end of summer left me with an empty recliner to be filled. (Because the best way to watch anime is, of course, from a recliner!) It just made all kinds of sense for me to invite our next most senior staff reviewer, Rebecca Silverman, to take that empty seat, and she has opted to do so. So welcome, Rebecca, to this annual happy funfest!

Rebecca: Thank you! And may I say, these are very comfortable recliners. It's exciting to be here to discuss the thrills and chills of 2014's anime offerings, especially since I'm usually writing and talking about manga. Don't get me wrong, I could do that for hours, but even I like to put down the books and watch a little television sometimes, and there were definitely some interesting shows this year! It's also been a busy year personally, moving into a new house and immediately rescuing another cat, which brings my sister and I up to more cats than normal people have.

Theron: Yeah, I'm a cat person myself, and now that I can actually afford one, I might consider getting one. That's because my biggest accomplishment is 2014 was finishing paying off my once-massive credit card debt, which also has allowed me to finally get the smart TV I've long wanted; watching Crunchyroll streams on a 40” screen is great (and when are we going to see a proper app from you, Funimation?), though any tiny flaw in the artistry is now much more readily visible.

In the world of anime in America, the biggest developments were unquestionably on the Sailor Moon front. I had the privilege to be present live for Viz Media's announcement at Anime Central that they had all of the original series as well as the stream for the new series; in fact, I still have a video recording of it on my phone to remind me of how electric that moment was. Also on the physical front were the releases of numerous prominent titles on Blu-Ray for the first time and the willingness of companies like Discotek to take fliers on nearly forgotten older titles like Dallos and Ringing Bell or overlooked relatively recent ones like the infamous School Days. On American TV, Doraemon finally made its American debut, while Attack on Titan's featured run on Toonami signaled the possible establishment of a new gateway title and an era ended when Bleach finally wrapped after eight nearly continuous years of Adult Swim/Toonami broadcasts. For new titles simulcast streaming from Japan, the most significant trend seemed to be a distinct increase in fujoshi-oriented series. I also thought it was a particularly strong year for comedies and (especially in the last quarter) fantasy series.

Rebecca: I agree, it's been an eventful year. The release of the so many older favorites on Blu-Ray made things very exciting (and hard on the wallet!), while I've been personally thrilled to see releases of a lot of older titles. Itazura na Kiss was one Discotek brought us that I never thought I'd get to own, and the re-release of Cat's Eye by Nozomi made for another nice surprise. I personally have been very happy with the increase in female-oriented shows, and there seems to have been a magical girl resurgence as well, with titles like Sailor Moon Crystal, Yuki Yuna is a Hero, and Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Ilya, among others. Of course, I feel like we have also seen an increase in stories that just sort of fizzle out as well, although that may be due to the fact that we simply get more series now. In any event, it's made picking awards fun!

Theron: And now let's get on with those awards, shall we?

THE STANDARDS
Unlike similar features on a lot of other sites, we do this one strictly about titles that first become widely-available in the American market – whether on TV, in a theatrical release, on DVD/Blu-Ray, or via legal streaming or downloads – during the 2014 calendar year. The only exception is for English dub awards, which are based on when the English dub first becomes available, not when the dubbed title first becomes available. Where titles overlap years, only the part which debuted in 2014 is eligible for consideration.

WARNING: Although we have tried to minimize spoilers, certain awards include major spoilers for the final episodes of Sword Art Online II and School Days and late-season episodes of The Fruit of Grisaia and Fairy Tail II.

Series of the Year


Theron's Pick: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun
Runner-Up: Yuki Yuna is a Hero
Best of the Rest: Hanayamata, Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, Engaged to the Unidentified


Rebecca's Pick: Yona of the Dawn
Runner-Up: Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works
Best of the Rest: The World is Still Beautiful, Hanayamata, Chaika the Coffin Princess

Theron: Rebecca and I both commented at length about our picks in the Your Top 5 Anime of 2014 feature a couple of weeks ago, so we're only going to offer brief thoughts here.

Of Rebecca's picks that I haven't already commented on, Chaika was a series that I enjoyed very much (I am also a huge fan of Scrapped Princess) and thought had many interesting twists, but for me it always fell just a little short of greatness and its final episode certainly didn't help on that. Yona of the Dawn was one of the Fall season titles that I was interested in, but I did not make it past episode 2 because I already had a whopping 10 other titles I was following (a personal record, and I'm still amazed that I kept up with them all) and had to cut something. And after watching the final episode of Yuki Yuna, I think I would have to have a long debate with myself about whether it or Nozaki-kun deserves the top place more, so I will leave that ordering as is for now.

Rebecca: I found myself agreeing with those of Theron's picks I'd seen, and some of them were contenders for my Top Five as well. An overloaded school year made me have to drop a couple of shows that I wanted to keep up with, and sadly Rage of Bahamut was one of them, and I never even got to see Yuki Yuna, which will be remedied shortly! But Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun is hands-down one of the funniest shows I've seen since Daily Lives of High School Boys, and it also restored my faith in its original mangaka, whose Oresama Teacher had me doubting her humor skills. The only one on Theron's list I didn't really care for was Engaged to the Unidentified, which just wasn't my taste. As for my list, I'm still pretty happy with my choices, though I might, upon reflection, have gone with Nozaki-kun instead of Chaika, as I was considering. Knowing me, I'll keep debating that with myself for way too long.

Movie of the Year


Rebecca's Pick: Little Witch Academia
Theron's Pick: Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home (Runner-up: Wake Up, Girls! – Seven Idols)

Rebecca: While there were other, more complex, films released this past year, none of them quite grabbed me the way that Little Witch Academia did. The art had a fascinating mix of classic fantasy, art nouveau, and Harry Potter tribute that gave it an “anywhen” feeling. That certainly kept my eyes busy as I tried to take in as many details as I possibly could, noticing more each time I rewatched it. (Watching each time for the face the dragon makes at the end, of course.) But what really made this a stand-out to me was the reason Akko enrolled in the witch academy in the first place: her childhood hero. Akko saw Chariot, a sort of witch/magical girl hybrid, perform as a little girl and never lost her love of her. Other witches, including her friends Lotte and Sucy, disdain Chariot, but Akko doesn't let that get her down. She's both endearing and annoying and tends to express herself in the loudest way possible, but she always does her best, and ultimately her belief in her hero allows her to pull through. It doesn't make her a better person, which I kind of appreciate, but it shows her friends and rivals that there she's more than just a fangirl. It's the kind of movie I would have loved as a little kid and still really enjoy today – because like Akko shows, sometimes it's worth it not to change what you love, even when you get older.

Theron: This was a pretty tough choice, as while I found there to be several good anime movies out this year, none were clear stand-outs. Also very seriously considered here were Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust and A Letter to Momo; the latter is the best-animated of the lot and had a story as good as the others but just didn't connect with me as strongly, while the former just has a couple more writing flaws than the others. The seminal Wake Up, Girls! movie is here because it accomplished the rare feat of getting me to give an unqualified recommendation to an idol show, a genre I can't normally get very enthusiastic about. (And I also met the real-life idol group in person at Anime Central, which gives me a more personal connection to it.) The Hanasaku Iroha movie is here because it is a perfect complement to a great series.

Surprise of the Year

Theron's Pick: Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
Rebecca's Pick: If Her Flag Breaks

Theron: This award goes to a series or movie which defies expectations the most, either for the better or for the worse. Cross Ange was tempting here, as it has started to come together surprisingly well in its second quarter, but I was far more completely caught off-guard by Genesis. Anime adaptations of games other than ero games generally do not have a good track record, so I was expecting little from this one, but I was absolutely floored by its ambitious visual presentation, sharp characters, and cinematic style. Rebecca's choice indicates to me that I do eventually need to go back and watch that one, as I had been somewhat interested in it but just didn't have enough time during the Spring season to keep up with it.

Rebecca: I wish I'd had the time to see Theron's choice! If Her Flag Breaks really looked like it was going to be harem schlock and then completely surprised me by becoming a humorous parody of it instead, while still maintaining just enough genre conventions to keep it grounded. While the girls all did fit into the stereotypes, hero Souta uses his gift of being able to see people's choices represented by flags on their heads to either cultivate or destroy his relationships with them, oftentimes flat-out saving their lives. His inner monologue about his feelings, mostly annoyance with the more stereotyped characters, gives the show a metafictional edge, and sort-of hidden RPG character roles in the girls' names are a nice touch, especially when you remember that they all live in Quest Dormitory. If Her Flag Breaks isn't the best show of the year by any means, but it kept me watching until the end when I'd expected to barely make it through an episode. Talk about a nice surprise!

Character of the Year


Rebecca's Pick: Yona, Yona of the Dawn
Theron's Pick: Favaro Leone, Rage of Bahamut: Genesis

Rebecca: Characters don't always get the chance to grow and change as much as they might in any medium that is constrained by the number of episodes, so when one comes along in a show who does evolve naturally without making the story drag, it's pretty exciting. Princess Yona is one of those characters. When the show starts she's a spoiled little princess whose biggest concerns are her freakishly red hair (her opinion) and how she can get her cousin Su-won to like her. Within twenty-four minutes, however, her world has been turned utterly upside down with Su-won's hostile takeover and murder of her dad. She's thrown upon her own resources, and while she does have help, she's the one who has to come to terms with the fact that nothing she knows is useful in her new situation, plus the guy she liked is out to kill her. Slowly, she begins to change. She accepts her new situation, decides to take an active role in her new life, and strives to become a stronger person. By the point we are at as of this writing, Yona has become a woman to be reckoned with and continues to try and improve. Her refusal to just lie back and be trod upon by her life makes her one of the most interesting and strongest characters of this past year.

Theron: Favaro is a kind of character rarely seen in a leading role in anime: the roguish cad. Unlike Akatsuki in Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero, though, he carries of the part with panache (and most importantly, without being irritatingly smarmy). Though he most commonly acts in a self-serving fashion, he also gives off the distinct impression that he is basically a good guy at heart, and his swashbuckling flair is second to none. His wicked smile (see the screenshot) is a delight and his interactions with Kaisar, Amira, and Bacchus are always fun. No other single character stood out even half as much to me this year, although if I had to pick a runner-up, it would probably be either Sio from Nobunagun or Mizugi from Parasyte.

Duo/Group of the Year


Rebecca's Pick: Nike and Livius, The World is Still Beautiful
Theron's Pick: Hero Club, Yuki Yuna is a Hero

Rebecca: Whether you see them as a romantic couple or just a great pair of friends until that age gap is a little less creepy, Nike and Livius are hard to dispute as two people who can get things done. Of course they have to get over their differences first, but watching them go head-to-head in order to achieve heart-to-heart is a bit like watching a fantasy version of Pride and Prejudice. They need to become friends before they can become spouses, and that they keep making the effort throughout the story is a nice change of pace from many romances out there. There's no love at first sight here, and their relationship is the stronger for it.

Theron: Favaro and Kaisar from Rage of Bahamut: Genesis was a serious thought here, as were Rebecca's pick and Sio and Jack from Nobunagun. Once I allowed myself the group option, though, the choice was crystal-clear. As strong an options as the Literature Club from When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace or the Yosakoi Club from Hanayamata were, they were simply not on the same level as the Hero Club. Many series over the years have tried to establish a girl group dynamic based on bonds of platonic love and camaraderie, but cases where that effort has succeeded so powerfully, and with such a strong sense of chemistry, as what is accomplished with the Hero Club are rare indeed.

Biggest Bastard


Theron's Pick: Prime Minister Honest, Akame ga KILL!
Rebecca's Pick: Dio Brando, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

Theron: I was sorely tempted to go with The Major from Hellsing Ultimate, even if only on the strength of the last two episodes, because I so thoroughly hated him as a character. Makoto Ito from School Days was also a consideration here; he isn't one of the most reviled protagonists in anime history for nothing. However, Honest's behavior more accurately represents the actions of a supreme bastard. Maybe it's something about the way he's always seen gorging himself despite complaints about the populace being ill-served, or the way he essentially goes, “oh, well” when his son gets slain. Any way you look at it, he is easily one of the year's most self-serving asses.

Rebecca: I'll be honest – I've hated this guy since he killed the dog back in season 1. He is ruthless and generally evil, willing to stoop to pretty much any level in order to achieve his ultimate goal. His unscrupulous actions and burning hatred of the Joestar line have caused him to forsake his own humanity, and there isn't anyone else I can think of who is as full of hatred and vitriol as him. The colloquial meaning of the word “bastard” was pretty much invented to describe this guy, and I'm seriously considering gluing his picture in the dictionary to prove it.

Scene of the Year


Rebecca's Pick: Ultear casts a spell to save everyone...except herself, Fairy Tail II, episode 22
Theron's Pick: Mimori Togo becomes anime's first physically disabled magical girl, Yuki Yuna is a Hero, episode 2

Theron: Take the detail that Mimori is wheelchair-bound out of the equation and this is just a fairly ordinary scene of a new heroine discovering her resolve, but that one detail turns this into a ground-breaking moment. The series had already taken great pains to show that Mimori being paraplegic did not hamper her at all in contributing to the Hero Club's more mundane activities, but allowing her to also join the others in becoming a magical girl (and not letting the transformation correct her disability but merely give her a handy work-around - she uses the streamers you see in the picture to prop herself up, you see) is the true affirmation and acceptance that even people with disabilities can be heroines, too. No other individual anime scene that I saw in 2014 carried a greater sense that I was watching something special.

Rebecca: Reformed villains are hardly a new phenomenon, but if done correctly, their shining moments can be stunning. For Ultear, her great good thing is to turn back time so that at least some of the tragedies resulting from the dragon battle can be prevented. The cost of this spell? Her own time. It is the ultimate sacrifice for a woman who spent most of her life being jealous and angry, despising everyone for perceived wrongs. She has her change of heart at just the right moment, and her sacrifice does what it is meant to. It's a selfless moment we see in magical girl shows but rarely one performed by a character like Ultear, which makes it all the more poignant and powerful...and all the less likely to have a happy ending for the caster herself.

Death Scene of the Year (Warning: Spoilers!)


Theron's Picks: Tie – Sekai says “good-bye” to Makoto in her own special way, School Days episode 12; Yuuki passes on, Sword Art Online II episode 24.
Rebecca's Pick: Makina's mom is shot by Yuuji for her mistreatment of Makina, The Fruit of Grisaia episode 9

Theron: As I did in 2012, I am opting for a double-dose of death scenes this year because both of these two showed excellence in diametrically opposing fashions. For all of the bloody, messy, or outright disturbing death scenes in 2014 series like Akame ga KILL!, Brynhildr in the Darkness, Tokyo Ghoul, and Hellsing Ultimate, none of them carried the frank brutality (and some might add visceral satisfaction) of Sekai repeatedly stabbing Makoto with a kitchen knife over his philandering ways. It was a stunning turn of events for a series which had given no hint of violence to that point and the epitome of an ero game “bad ending.” The closest runner-up on this side would, of course, be another death scene which follows shortly thereafter in the same episode, which deserves special consideration for containing one of the single most disturbing camera angles you'll ever see, anime or not. Standing opposite both is possibly the year's most beautifully peaceful death, as the AIDS-ravaged Yuuki (yes, for those of you that weren't following it, an anime series really went there) passes on her literal and figurative legacies and says her final farewells with hundreds of other virtual avatars in attendance. I will have more to say about this one later on.

Rebecca: I was going to go with something that was meaningful, the death of a character who really made an emotional impact on both me and the story. And then I remembered this one, and how ultimately satisfying it was. This was a woman who had her husband murdered in front of her daughter, then spurned that child in favor of the other because she was traumatized, disinheriting her and basically pretending that she didn't exist. Then she took out a hit on that same poor kid. This is the kind of evil that we see in the old fairy tales, so I thought it was appropriate when Yuuji came in and just shot her in one of the more understated deaths in anime. He didn't let her monologue about her reasons, didn't allow for any explanations that might have excused her. There were no fancy camera angles or speeches: it was a simple hit carried out with no apparent emotion, which suited the moment and the monster. It may not have been the most meaningful death of the year, but it damn sure was the most satisfying.

Episode of the Year


Theron's Pick: “Evolutionary Invasion Objects,” Nobunagun episode 2
Rebecca's Pick: “What Kind of Test is That?!” Love Stage!! Episode 6

Theron: This award, new this year, goes to an episode which we felt stood out as something special, even beyond (or especially compared to) other content in its series. A couple of episodes of Space Dandy (especially the ones about the planet of the dead and the alternate-dimensional beings) are worthy of serious consideration here, but my favorite for this has long been Nobunagun's second episode, which I have probably rewatched ten or more times since it aired. Its first half is a great, smart action piece where the heroine gets to use her brain as much as her big gun, complete with enjoyably ludicrous extensions to her established power highlighted by the spirit of Nobunaga speaking from the past. (“Enemy attacks from two directions? Fire in both directions simultaneously! Enemy attacks from three directions? Fire in all three directions simultaneously!”) Her expression when the spirit of Nobunaga influences her is priceless. What really sells the episode as special, though, is its second half, where a more normal Sio must contemplate committing to defending the world as she visits with a new friend in the hospital. The pacing, artistic choices, musical choices, and scene framing are all outstanding for conveying the weight of the scary choice that Sio has to make and how utterly awesome a new friend Kaoru is. Frankly, I think this is one of the finest examples of episode direction and editing that you will see anywhere in anime, 2014 or not.

Rebecca: While I feel a little sadistic picking the episode that crushes the hopes and dreams of protagonist Izumi, this is nevertheless the one that I kept coming back to as I pondered the category. Since we met him, Izumi has shunned the family business, i.e., show business, in hopes of making his debut as a manga artist. Unfortunately, he's not much good at it. Or good at it at all, really, something he is blissfully unaware of...until this episode. He's been issued an ultimatum by family manager Rei, who tells him that if a publisher doesn't pick up his manga, he'll have to go into show business. Keep in mind that Rei knows full well how awful Izumi's drawing is – he's basically set him up to fail. So not only does Izumi have his dreams crushed, he also has to come to terms with the fact that he was set up for it by someone he trusts in a very harsh dose of reality. The voice, animation, visual metaphor of Izumi in the garbage, and music all come together to show his despair, and Izumi's final action, to basically just give up and tell Ryouma that he can do what he likes to him, sets the stage for Ryouma to both realize that he's not that kind of guy (after several questionable moments earlier in the series) and to become someone who can emotionally support Izumi, not just desire him physically. It's a turning point for the characters and the show.

Opener of the Year


Theron's Pick: “EXISTENCE" by SiM, Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
Rebecca's Pick: “Hanaha Odori Reya Iroha ni Ho” by Team Hanayamata, HaNaYaMaTa

Theron: Boy, I really hemmed and hawed over both this and the Best Closer award, which were the last two I chose, because I saw several good ones for each but nothing that clearly stood out. Rebecca's pick was one that I considered, but I decided to look elsewhere in the interest of variety. My personal favorite is probably the perky, high-spirited “Tomadoi→Recipe” from Engaged to the Unidentified, and I also seriously considered “Sidonia” for Knights of Sidonia for its unique cadence and driving beat; “Kimi Janakya Dame Mitai” from Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun for its catchy, jazzy sound; “ideal white” for Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works for just generally being a strong song, and “heavenly blue” for Aldnoah.Zero because it's a Kalafina song. (Do I need a better reason than that?) “EXISTENCE” ultimately wins out because its pounding metal beat and savage sound, combined with that dizzying montage, captures the essence of its series and does an excellent job of energizing viewers for what they are about to see.

Rebecca: I considered “ideal white” as well, along with Yona of the Dawn' s instrumental opener, but ultimately went with this. Apart from the fact that it gets stuck in my head, it really captures the nature of the show as well. HaNaYaMaTa is a sweet, light story about dance and the friendships formed because of it, and “Hanaha Odori Reya Iroha ni Ho” manages to portray all of that. The rhythm is upbeat and steady, the dancing is beautiful and makes you want to join in, and the voices are soft and sweet without straying into squeaky or shrill. You could take it out of context and choreograph to it yourself, which is another sign of a good song in a show about dance. While there may be other, catchier songs this year, this one stands out to me simply because of how well it suits its story.

Closer of the Year


Rebecca's Pick: “Hoshikuzu no Interlude” (星屑のインターリュード) by fhana, Celestial Method
Theron's Pick: “aLIEz” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki, Aldnoah.Zero (second closer)

Rebecca: While the show itself turned out to be a disappointment, there is no denying that Celestial Method's ending theme is both a nice song and host to some gorgeous animation. Each character moves in a way that compliments his or her personality, with different gaits and postures, and the motions of walking, sitting, standing, and running are so gorgeously animated that you wouldn't think they were part of a mediocre TV show. The movements are also nicely in time with the music, making the whole thing feel more like a music video than the closing animation of a series. It may not be the most striking song of the year, but it is some of the most memorable animation.

Theron: Engaged to the Unidentified was also considered here for having one of the year's most fun closers in its “Mashiro World,” as was also F/SN for its soulful closer “believe,” but “aLIEz” (what a great song title!) is the one that I would love to have on my phone and the one that I had stuck in my head in 2014 for as long as “Let It Go” was – and that's saying something.

Rebecca: You mean you got “Let It Go” out of your head? Lucky!

Best DVD/Blu-Ray Feature or Extra

Theron's Pick: Hardbacked booklet, Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home
Rebecca's Pick: Q & A session, One Piece (Runner-Up: J. Michael Tatum discusses fashion, Karneval)

Theron: Also considered here was the Limited Edition booklet for Blood Lad, which contained a full manga chapter; the interview with Satoru Ozawa, the original creator and manga-ka for Blue Submarine No. 6, which was included on its Blu-Ray release; and the "Remembering Dallos 1983-2003" feature on the DVD release of Dallos, which delves into the earliest days of OVA creation. However, I opted for this instead because the layout and presentation is superb and the commentary on what, exactly, the director was doing with each scene is deeply insightful.

Rebecca: Funimation's commentary tracks can really run the gamut between interesting and “oh god, take the mike away from them.” But they do tend to have a sense of humor and the final commentary on the release of One Piece Season 5 Part 6 really shows it. Rather than having people discuss the show or just sit around gabbing, ADR Director Joel McDonald conducts a series of interviews with the main cast based on viewer questions. The locations range from Brina Palencia's telenovela film set (her parrot was deported!) to Sonny Strait as a crazy man at the food kitchen where Patrick Seitz is working while Colleen Clinkenbeard robs a bank. McDonald's dippy delivery, as none of this phases him, helps make it especially funny. It's totally bizarre and a lot of fun, and they even manage to throw in some dub vs sub jokes, an argument that will probably never really be outdated. All the fancy artboxes and episode booklets can't quite compare to how much this made me laugh, although J. Michael Tatum's analysis of the characters' clothes in Karneval came close.

Guilty Pleasure


Rebecca's Pick: Monster High Kowa-ike Girls
Theron's Pick: Koe de Oshigoto

Rebecca: This award goes to titles that we didn't necessarily find to be great but nonetheless found enormously entertaining. My pick probably says more about what I like than I should be sharing: a series of shorts based on a toy line from Mattel! The anime take on Monster High is a mesmerizing combination of advertising and American children's culture seen through a Japanese lens, which is already interesting because the original dolls draw pretty heavily from Japanese pop culture, so there's this weird endless feedback thing going on. The focus of the show is on Draculaura rather than Frankie Stein, who tends to dominate the American cartoons. All of the characters have undergone some serious personality changes and the plots are short and cute. But really, at the end of the day the reason I keep coming back and watching this is because it's cute and silly and about funny monster girls who do goofy things and have weird powers. There are worse things.

Theron: On the opposite end of the spectrum from Rebecca's pick is mine, a title that didn't create the firestorm of controversy over its content that some other titles did but is still among the sketchiest releases of 2014. For all of the fan service-laden fare out there, true sex comedies are actually quite rare in anime, but this two-episode 2010 OVA is one of them. Despite walking a very fine line between being funny and just plain wrong, it (mostly) stays on the funny and good-natured side throughout and so is a delight for adult audiences.

Worst Series Concept

Unanimous Pick: Gonna Be the Twin-Tail!

Rebecca: “Hey, I have an idea! Let's base an entire show around how much this guy likes ponytails!” And lo, it came to be. Gonna be the Twin-Tail is pretty much an ode to Soji's double ponytail fetish. He can classify a girl's personality by what kind of twin-tails she wears, obsesses over them, and loves them beyond reason. So when aliens come and plan to steal all of the twin-tails, forcing girls into other, personality-changing hairstyles, Soji can't take it lying down! Lucky for him, he can transform into a battle maiden with twin-tails! Let's save the youthful hairstyle! In all honesty, this show really isn't meant to be taken seriously and can be very entertaining. But as far as stupid concepts? Yeah, this one has my vote.

Theron: Even if you're a fan of this series, is this one even debatable? I second everything that Rebecca said and will only add that the only other concept I found to even be in the ballpark was Recently, My Sister Is Unusual, about a girl inflicted with a magical chastity belt who can only get rid of it by getting lovey-dovey with her new stepbrother on a ghost's behalf. Yeah. Despite occasional moments where it shows some promise, it is as trashy in execution as it sounds, and is most certainly my I Can't Believe I Actually Watched It Out title of the year.

Rebecca: Oh, man, I forgot about that one. I think I blocked it out...

It Came Out Of Left Field

Theron: The real identity of the historical Jack the Ripper, Nobunagun episode 13 (and kinda 12) Rebecca: Livius' nude scene(s), The World is Still Beautiful

Theron: We're skipping the picture on this one in the interest of avoiding spoilers and keeping this SFW. Rebecca's pick is a worthy one in my book, too, but I still have to go with this unmitigated jaw-dropper. Unless you have read the source manga, you will not see the truth of this reveal coming prior to the final shot of episode 12, no matter how adept you are at predicting anime plot twists, no matter what you think you know about the actual history of Jack the Ripper. I will not spoil the surprise, so I will only say that it is another historical figure whose name would probably be recognized the world over and would not in the slightest ever be associated with being a serial killer, yet somehow the series still justifies it.

Rebecca: Maybe this isn't as odd a choice as I thought, but honestly, nothing seemed more out-of-the-blue to me this past year than when the ending theme to this fairly tame shoujo fantasy came on and there was naked Livius (who at the time I assumed to be much younger) with his ass on my screen. It was in no way what I was expecting and didn't have a whole lot to do with the show, either. It is also getting this award because I was watching it at my parents' house and my dad walked by as the ending theme came on. His facial expression was priceless – it clearly came out of left field for him, too.

Fall From Grace


Rebecca's Pick: Nobunaga the Fool
Theron's Pick: Trinity Seven

Rebecca: This award goes to titles which started with a good premise and/or first few episodes and then collapsed. Nobunaga the Fool may not have had a whole lot of promise to begin with, but in its early episodes, perhaps even in its first half, it was an over-the-top exercise in lunatic history, mashing together characters like Oda Nobunaga with Joan of Arc and Leonardo da Vinci, while re-enacting battles from actual history. It was good, dumb fun...until it tried to get serious. Jeanne (Joan) got reduced to the boobs of the operation, a couple of tortured romances cropped up, and villains became cackling madmen rather than calculated plotters. A real effort was made with Nobunaga's sister Ichihime, but that floundered in the end. You only have to look as far as Nobunagun or the French manga City Hall to see how well this kind of plot can work, but Nobunaga the Fool overstepped its bounds and try to be something deeper and more meaningful. I'm not sure if that makes the story foolish or me a fool for watching to the end.

Theron: If I was basing this award on a single episode then it would go to Chaika, as I found its final episode to be a mighty disappointment. I didn't find any particularly strong example of an entire series collapsing this year, so I will go instead with Trinity Seven, which I never expected to be a great series but certainly expected to at least be competent based on a strong first half for its first episode, a visually appealing cast of girls, and a male harem lead who had refreshingly entertaining interactions with his potential love bunnies. It thoroughly wasted what potential it had through cripplingly questionable directing choices.

DUB PERFORMANCE AWARDS
Theron: I don't usually feel qualified to do Japanese awards, while Rebecca does, so she is taking over that duty while I stick with the English awards only.

Best Overall Japanese Dub: Yona of the Dawn
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Male: Yuki Kaji as Yukine and Kou, Noragami and Blue Spring Ride (Runner-Up: DAIGO as Shogo, Love Stage!!)
Best Japanese Dub Performance – Female: Naoko Takano as Magical Ruby in Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Ilya

Rebecca: Yona of the Dawn has one of the overall strongest casts I've heard in a long while, with everyone playing their roles with emotional nuances to the point where even background characters become memorable. The best example of this is Nobuhiko Okamoto's two-episode stint as Heang-dea, a random guy in Hak's hometown, who effectively turns his small line count into some of the best in his episodes. Yusuke Kobayashi's Su-won is highly nuanced, with his guilt at killing his uncle and forcing his cousin out coming through even as he makes harsh governmental calls, and Chiwa Saito's performance as Yona grows stronger with her character – the shift from wilting blossom to warrior princess is ongoing and impressive. Everyone plays off of each other very well, particularly Tomoaki Maeno's Hak and Masakazu Morita's Gija, to create a set of voices that doesn't just add sound to the story – it helps to tell it.

But since I can't give all the awards to one show, Yuki Kaji's two turns as two different tortured young men also deserves praise. He actually had quite a few roles in 2014, but his stints as Yukine in Noragami and Kou in Blue Spring Ride are definitely among the strongest. Both boys are differently tormented and tend towards the understated, and Kaji manages to make them sound like two totally different people rather than making us say, “Oh, he's using his Yukine voice on Kou.” His performance in Blue Spring Ride felt a little stronger, but that simply may be because as a shoujo hero, Kou gave him a bit more to work with. However he made both characters really come alive, no small feat when one is literally dead and the other emotionally so. An honorable mention goes to DAIGO from Love Stage!!, who voiced the character based on him, Shogo. He started off weak and got audibly better with each episode, more than holding his own by the end. It was impressive and helped to make Shogo even more of a standout character.

Finally, the female performance I found myself praising the most this past year is Naoko Takano's role as the magical wand/artifact/guardian Magical Ruby in Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Ilya. Forget Luna, Jamapi, or even Kyubey – Ruby is the absolute creepiest magical guardian out there. She talks like a pervy old guy, she harasses Ilya and gets her into awkward situations without providing much help, and she's just generally nuts. Takano's performance gave a flying ornament personality and expression, making her a memorable character. Never has a transformation object been so alive, and since there's only so much animation can do on that front, the credit has to go to Takano.

Best Overall English Dub: Mardock Scramble: The Third Exhaust
Best English Dub Performance – Male: Gildart Jackson as The Major, Hellsing Ultimate episodes 9 and 10.
Best English Dub Performance – Female: Jessica Calvello as Zoё Hange, Attack on Titan

Theron: My new English dub viewing was not as broad this year as in most past years, as aside from doing reviews I often did not see a series dubbed if I had previously seen it subbed. That being said, I still think that I have pretty strong choices here. If I was basing the Overall award solely on performance quality then I might have gone with Attack on Titan instead, but I agree with Hope's evaluation in her review of the second half that the script writing was sometimes an issue. Hence The Third Exhaust wins out instead, in large part for being one of the best all-around dubs that Sentai Filmworks has put out in years, with strong or even great performances across the board. Titan still had the stand-out female performance of the year, though, as long-time dub actress Calvello was sensational in giving the somewhat sadistic Survey Corps science expert the disturbingly enthusiastic, mad scientist-type feel that the character so richly deserved. In the Best Male Performance category, Gildart Jackson has a substantial career in U.S. TV (probably most significantly a two year run on General Hospital) but little anime experience beyond this series, and yet he absolutely nails the role of the warmongering former SS officer at the core of Millennium. I so passionately hated his character, the way he gloatingly philosophized about war and destruction, and Jackson's performance had quite a bit to do with that. Consider this a make-up for completely missing him for this award in 2008 and 2012, when the earlier parts of the series including his character came out.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS
Theron: Each of us has chosen three awards to hand out in cases that merit special recognition or damnation.

Art Imitates Life/Life Imitates Art: Sword Art Online II episode 24 and Codex Vahlda

Theron: The final episode of Sword Art Online II streamed in the afternoon of Saturday December 20th, telling the story of a prominent VR player saying her last farewells online before dying, with an audience that eventually ran into the hundreds holding vigil, doubtless including many who didn't know her except possibly by reputation. I know that I was far from alone in initially finding that part of an otherwise-great scene to be overkill, but one of those immense ironies of real life quickly proved that it actually wasn't a fanciful exaggeration after all. On the same day, a 29-year-old player who had been prominent on the Final Fantasy XI and XIV MMOs, known in the latter as Codex Vahlda, was discovered unconscious and suffering from renal failure. Over the next couple of days, as he was attended in person by a guild mate and eventually succumbed to his symptoms, word about it spread across various social media platforms, resulting in all manner of real-world and virtual vigils and remembrances being held by a tally of players that probably ultimately numbered in the thousands, including many who admitted that they didn't know the player and had never adventured with him but nonetheless sympathized. (Arguably the most visually impressive remembrance is depicted above; yes, that's spelled out all with PC avatars specially placed to create the name.) The extent of the unintended parallels and coincidental timing is almost creepy.

For the Ladies: The bevy of female-oriented fan service

Rebecca: I'd actually like to give this award to multiple shows. Female-oriented fan service was an interesting trend this year, and as someone who doesn't find boobs enthralling, that's a pretty good thing. So thank you, Free! Eternal Summer, for your lithe-bodied fan service. Thanks, The Fruit of Grisaia, for your from-the-back nude scenes of Yuuji. Kamigami no Asobi, you were kind of silly, but thanks for the lovely and occasionally underclothed males, and thank you, Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works, for Archer in his tight, ab-defining outfit. And who could forget naked Livius in the ending theme of The World is Still Beautiful for those who prefer their men younger? But, uh, Love Stage? That weird sky censorship thing should never have happened. You should work on that.

Theron: Didn't even occur to me to do a “For the Gentlemen” side to this. Next year it will be a regular feature!

Most Bizarre Series: World Conquest Zvezda Plot

Theron: This was a Winter 2014 series about a teenage boy who encounters a little girl who claims to be on a quest to conquer the world. He soon discovers that hers aren't childish fantasies; she really is the charismatic leader of a super-secret, super-powered organization bent on world conquest and there really is an opposing organization as well. The whole series is more an exercise in absurdity than outright humor, with story elements that include an ancient civilization centered on the power of udon and how smoking literally turns one to the Dark Side. Watching it is a fun but very strange ride.

Most Desperately in Need of a Sequel: Blue Spring Ride

Rebecca: I understand anime existing as a means to promote the original manga. Sure, you make your money how and where you have to; that's how business works. But Blue Spring Ride not only stopped before the story was complete, it had the brazen gall to do so right after introducing the romantic rivals. On the one hand, that's a gutsy move, and they aren't required to take into account the fact that the manga isn't available in English. On the other hand, it was not only annoying, but it also made the ending less satisfying than it might have been. And it's not like false endings haven't been written for shows before. So this comes off as a combination of “too faithful” and “kick in the pants to viewers,” which is an excellent way to drag down an otherwise very enjoyable show.

Rant of the Year: Hatoko Kushikawa at Jurai Andou, When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace episode 7

Theron: There's practically an unwritten rule in anime that brash girls are freely allowed to blow their tops at any small thing, whereas meek girls will only fret, cry, or less directly express their emotion. Violating that is just part of what makes this scene so extraordinary. A decade's worth of frustration over not being able to understand what her friend is talking about finally comes to a head as Hatoko lets it all out in a 2½ minute long, nonstop rant without a shred of humor to it – and if that sounds long, it is. It's incredibly long, in fact, and I deeply respect VA Saori Hayami for being able to pull off such a sustained, intense burst and the directors for allowing it to fully play out. If I had to name a runner-up for Scene of the Year, this would be it.

Best Performance in an Idol Show: “Snow Halation,” Love Live II episode 9

Rebecca: I thought long and hard about this, but ultimately had to give the award to Love Live II's “Snow Halation.” The use of lights, soft colors, a more individualized choreography, and a catchy, pretty song really put this above the other song performances across this year's idol shows. That it was preceded by one of the silliest snow scenes I've witnessed in some ways made it more striking. For a show with such high melodrama content, “Snow Halation” really pulled everything that makes the series work together in one performance that assures us that the girls will triumph in the end.

Theron: Seems like we have to wrap this one up now, Rebecca. Any final thoughts?

Rebecca: Gosh, this recliner is comfy. Are you sure I can't take it home? Anyway, overall I feel like it was a pretty good year, with even the lesser shows having something to offer, even if that was only something to laugh at. Now I'm looking forward to 2015 and I hope you all have a good one!

Theron: Sorry, but it's part of a set. And lastly, a disclaimer: Neither Rebecca nor I had anywhere near enough time to watch out more than a fraction of the titles which came out in 2014, hence it is entirely possible that there are worthy picks in these categories that we missed. If you have justifiable alternate opinions on any of these, I encourage you to bring them up in the response thread.

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