A look back: The Anime of 2014

King of punctuality that I am, I find myself typing this piece up at the very end of February. But hey, at least it's more timely than my summary of Autumn 2013 first episodes! *pause for laughter*

Inspired by my good friend Ben's post, I thought I would once again dust-off my writing hat and add some new content to this frankly depressing blog. A review of a whole year will be a first for me on here, with the closest precedent being my top 10 shows from 2011, but I'm always up for a challenge. As such, following Ben's example, I will provide my humble opinion on each of the series last year that I watched through to bitter completion. I'll also try to copy his ranking system in an attempt to force myself to make a solid judgement for once. I won't be commenting on shows that continued from the Autumn and are now about to reach their climax. Perhaps you might be encouraged to seek out or actively avoid some of the series mentioned here on the strength of my rhetoric, but I hope you might at least find it semi-entertaining to read.

So as I sit here listening to an endless loop of Flyers by BRADIO, allow me to regale you with some words about Japanese cartoons and stuff. There are a lot of them so be prepared.

Akame ga Kill!
A show about a group of rebel assassins duking it out with the military's cream-of-the-crop in an attempt to topple a tyrannical regime and liberate a nation. Plus they all have ridiculous magic weapons.

Akame ga Kill (sans the exclamation mark because it looks ridiculous in prose) tries to have the best of two different worlds as far as I can see. It has your typical shounen vibes of vibrant colours, insanely over-the-top violence, and characters frequently suffering beyond fatal injuries as a result of said violence yet standing up and fighting on because of the power of friendship or something. And yet the show also tries its best to convince you of a harsh reality in which everything is really grim and bleak and anyone can die at any time, along the lines of Shingeki no Kyojin or similar. But these two styles didn't really mesh well in my books. It ended up being completely arbitrary whether someone would just shrug off having a mountain dropped on their head or whether there would then be a really drawn-out episode mourning their passing.

That particular complaint said, I still quite enjoyed the series. None of the emotional anguish it was trying to convey resonated with me, but it is visually impressive and has some pretty nifty fight scenes. Kept me coming back for more so I guess it did its job!

Verdict: Good tier

Akuma no Riddle
A show about a group of assassins (not going to be a consistent theme, don't worry) who are all enrolled in the same class at school, tasked with killing one of their classmates in exchange for anything they wish for. But one of them decides to protect said classmate. Oh and they're all girls. I think that was supposed to be relevant.

Not a memorable one I'm afraid. Mostly comprised of one-off episodes in which one of the assassins would take up the gauntlet, we'd be treated to a very brief glimpse of their tragic backstory, they'd devise some kind of bland scheme to complete their objective, then they'd ultimately fail. I think the show's creators probably thought there was much more palpable character development going on than there actually was. You don't really see enough of any of the characters (even the protagonist to be honest) to get attached to them, and then they disappear forever. Even the combat, which was supposedly going to be the show's bread and butter, was lacklustre and forgettable - ok, but certainly nothing to write home about. Also I love how they tried to get otaku to watch this show about assassination by hinting it would be all shoujo ai/yuri. That would be funny enough as it is, but it also happens to be a blatant lie so sorry to disappoint fellas.

Verdict: Bad tier

A show about a group of assassins A show about an alternate universe in which the moon has some kind of crazy portal to Mars on it and gets blown up when Martians come through to take over the world with their magic-fueled mechas. Conflict ensues.

I don't really know what to think about this one. As someone who hasn't really watched much mecha I wasn't put off by what I'm led to believe is a pretty generic set-up, and I found some of the world-building pretty interesting. I could enjoy the music as well as despite the fact that Sawano Hiroyuki delivers the same soundtrack for every show, it's at least consistently decent. The story progression certainly left something to be desired however, for example any of it. We kick things off with humans being locked in a battle with Martians, and that's how things stay. Our protagonist kills off one of the Martian super-mechs every week with some awful contrived "science", but nothing happens to progress things except:
1) When Count Cruhteo was killed (made me genuinely sad) by another Martian guy who was blatantly evil and I can't even remember whether that was supposed to be a twist or not
2) When pretty much all of the major players get shot in the season finale. Yep, they did that. And (SPOILERS) they didn't even die. That's my least favourite thing ever.

I think it can objectively be called a pretty bad show, and there's lots of wasted potential - for example Lt. Marito whose character they devoted a lot of time to building up only to never do anything with. And yet at the end of every episode I still wanted to see what was going to happen in the next one. I guess I just enjoyed the silliness of it, from the ludicrous combat tricks to the Orbital Knights strutting around looking fabulous. As such it's hard for me to say it's a bad show. It gets its own ranking...

Verdict: Good/bad tier

Amagi Brilliant Park
A show about a former child actor who is roped into getting a failing theme park back on its feet. Also all the people who work there are magic.

This was a fantastic show. The characters (of which there are a lot) and their antics are all very memorable, from the protagonist who's completely in love with himself to the samurai dolphin who habitually commits seppuku. Most of the comedy was spot on, the music was great and the visuals were of the quality you'd expect from KyoAni. In terms of the actual content of the show it's very much a mixed bag, with seemingly completely unrelated and random happenings going on each week, yet there's just enough development in terms of the overall story (the park needs to reach a certain number of visitors within a year) to keep you invested. However whilst most of these individual adventures are great fun and really well executed, there are a couple that don't quite hit the mark. Needless to say any fanservice is a big negative, and also it was a bit jarring when the show tried to get serious every now and then - it doesn't quite fit with the "magical theme park, talking animals and wrenches" theme. Alas this is probably enough to keep the show from being God tier, but it certainly got close! Also massive props for essentially ending the series a week early then having the wackiest of specials for your final episode.

Verdict: Good tier

Ao Haru Ride
A show about a girl and a boy who like each other, and the stage is set for an endearing romance. Boy moves away, then moves back and now he's all dangerous and edgy. Girl still likes boy. No she doesn't. Yes she does. No she doesn't. Yes she do-

A pretty standard shoujo affair I guess you could say. You know who's into who from the get-go (even if the characters don't) and nothing really happens to shake your confidence in that. Still done very well in terms of building atmosphere, and looks nice too, but nothing particularly remarkable about it. Certainly not bad, but not approaching God tier either. If you like high school romances you'll like this.

Verdict: Good tier

A show about a top calligrapher who is exiled to a backwater island for punching a competition judge. No kidding.

Absolutely brilliant show. A mix of some comical hijinks involving our city-boy protagonist and the crowd of excitable local children, and some appreciation of how great nature is and how we should sometimes take a step back from our busy lives and just slow things down a bit. The hijinks are really fun, with all sorts of different scenarios that you don't normally find in typical slice-of-life shows due to the setting, and the kids themselves are adorable. The adorableness is doubled when you have a look at some of the behind the scenes stuff with Ono Daisuke (<3) hanging out with all of them - that's right, they actually got kids to voice the kids. We see the development of the protagonist as the people of the village have an effect on him, and he likewise positively impacts their lives. Scenery looks wonderful too. Highly recommended.

Verdict: God tier

Black Bullet
A show about pairs of badasses and little girls who have to go around killing giant bugs to stop them wiping out humanity or something.

Looking back on it I'm sort of surprised I got through this whole series. The setting isn't really anything new - you could draw parallels to all sorts of different shows - and it's very light novely, featuring a super-powered yet totally conflicted protagonist with girls throwing themselves at him left, right and centre. It's perfectly passable as some mindless entertainment, and there are some reasonable action sequences in there, but I can't give it any more praise than that.

Verdict: Bad tier

Break Blade (TV)
A show about some warring nations who have mechas and stuff. Was previously a series of films I believe.

Oh man, was this really 2014? Feels like forever ago. And that's possibly due in part to the fact that it looks really old. I wanted to like this show, I really did, and I guess that's why I sort of ended up liking it. On the face of it it's really nothing special - really bland setting, really bland story, really bland characters, really bland mechas, really bland art, you name it. And yet it felt like it could have been so much more. It was only 12 episodes, and from how it was presented it seemed like there was a lot more world lore it could have drawn upon from the source material with a hint of something interesting. But as it is I can't appraise what could have been, and I can't say many good things about what we got.

Verdict: Bad tier

A show about a wannabe delinquent who's press-ganged into joining his school's "game creation club", in which no games are made and hijinks naturally ensue.

This one was pretty fun. Basically wacky comedy based around the protagonist playing the straight man to the frankly insane club members and those around them. Lots of gaming culture references thrown in as well of course. Decent enough comedy for the most part, though some recurring gags get a bit stale. Worth a try for sure.

Verdict: Good tier

Free!: Eternal Summer
A show about a group of assassins hell-bent on wreaking havoc wherever they go.

Well what do you think it's like? It's probably like that. On the plus side, if I'm remembering correctly, there was actually some more swimming this time around. Not really aimed at me so I'm not going to judge it poorly as it clearly did what it set out to do, even if there was a bit too much "PLEASE CARE ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS AND THEIR REALLY NIGGLING, INSIGNIFICANT PROBLEMS". And there was that episode where they went to Australia and Miyano Mamoru spoke English, tee hee.

Verdict: Fine.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
A show about a girl who likes her senpai who turns out to be a published shoujo manga artist. Many hijinks ensue involving them and the eccentric figures surrounding them.

God tier stuff right here. God tier stuff. I don't even know what to say. Simply the best comedy I've seen in a long, long time with a fantastic cast of characters. Just caught up with the manga actually. Go watch this right now.

Verdict: God tier

Gin no Saji/Silver Spoon Season 2
A show about an ordinary high school boy who, in a desperate attempt to escape his parents, enrolls at an agricultural boarding school despite having no relevant background knowledge.

Second season and more of the same goodness. I believe I have mentioned the first season on this blog in the distant past and it continues in the same vein. Combination of some great comedy, brilliant characters, nice visuals, actual farming education and inspiring scenes. No sign of a season 3 on the horizon which saddens me.

Verdict: Good tier (was right at the start of the year so can't remember if it was quite God tier material)

A show about some guys who play volleyball.

"It's decent enough" would be my summary of this series. A lot of people seem to be raving about it, but I honestly don't see it competing even with other contemporary sports anime let alone other "mainstream" series. Just a bit too bland for me. Character designs are quite cool, though most of the characters themselves are classic archetypes and all the typical sports anime tropes are there. The pacing is almost worse than sports anime usually is as well. Plus I can't be the only one who noticed how terrible the art was in places right? And I'm not talking about the bits where it's intentional either.

All that said, by its very nature as a by-the-book sports anime, it ticks all the boxes to keep you interested and I guess I still enjoyed it a reasonable amount.

Verdict: Good tier

Hamatora The Animation
A show about a private detective agency in a world where some people, including our detectives, have super powers.

Yeesh, did we really have two series of Hamatora last year? From the off I was intrigued by the colourful artstyle and the way in which they presented the super powers in the show, even though the powers themselves or their mechanics weren't in any way original. Characters fairly archetypal for the most part, and villains were certainly not very memorable. The story was also pretty terrible as I recall - the show seemed to think it was smarter than it actually was. When it wasn't spending time on completely irrelevant side-stories it tried to build up intrigue around various people and past events and set up twists to varying degrees of success and most of it didn't really go anywhere, culminating in an absolutely stupid finale which was picked up to get even more stupid in the second season. As I said, the artstyle sort of carried me through this series along with the fact there wasn't anything much like it around at the time. Needless to say I dropped the second season so it won't be appearing in this post.

Verdict: Bad tier (possibly a little unfair, but there's no middle ground. Unless you're Aldnoah.)

Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle
A show about some fighty guys who go around helping some dead guy's daughter discover who she really is and stuff...

Yeah I think I covered the first season of this on the blog a while back, hence the lazy synopsis - more of the same really. It's not a particularly stand-out show yet evidently I kept it up for two whole seasons. Its relatively interesting world is its biggest boon, with nice art, mediocre fight scenes and a lack of a concrete plot or memorable characters. Very light novely.

Verdict: Bad tier

Hoozuki no Reitetsu
A show about Hell, and the right-hand man of Great King Enma who is both ruthlessly efficient and a fan of freaky goldfish plants.

"Oh man, I can't wait to see what WIT Studio will do next!" are the words that were on everyone's lips back in the day. Something completely different to what people were expecting is what they ended up doing. A sort of "dark" comedy pretty light on animation but heavy on personality and (presumably) references to different folklore. Was an entertaining show to be sure, with some very entertaining moments in there, but not consistently fantastic by any means - the standalone episodes were pretty hit-and-miss. Worth a look if you're wanting to try something a bit different.

Verdict: Good tier

Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha.
A show about a typical schoolgirl who has a crush on some guy and ends up having divine powers bestowed upon her, namely the ability to turn into other people.

Very typical scenario, very typical gimmick, very typical characters, etc. Despite that the show somehow still manages to be quite characterful, possibly due to the nice art for the shrine setting and the cute little fox gods. Pretty decent as a bit of light relief, though even then the characters' stupidity can get a bit irritating.

Verdict: Bad tier

Isshuukan Friends.
A show about a girl whose memory resets at the start of every week and the boy who is interested in her and wants to help her overcome her strange affliction.

Considering the premise was relatively promising this was a bit of let down. They sort of mention the "Why's this happening? Is it some kind of past trauma?" intrigue near the start of the series, then meander around for a while without anything happening, then eventually reveal her generic backstory without any kind of fanfare. Essentially I don't think much work was put into planning this show and how it was going to develop. Most of the series feels like filler - simply all the most boring scenes from a high school romance strung together - then all the seemingly pivotal stuff, including the introduction of a new character, happens in the last two episodes and then it just kind of stops. Fairly nice to look at is all I can say in favour of it.

Verdict: Bad tier

Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
It's Black Butler, at the circus.

Without much prior experience of Black Butler I found this one pretty enjoyable. A paltry 10 episodes so quite a lot has to be squeezed in, and despite the fact they used up the first episode to effectively replicate the original first episode it doesn't feel at all rushed. Demonic butler being better than everyone else is what you sign up for and it's what you get. There isn't really that much mystery to the plot, just some pretty depressing and disturbing developments. The setting is also pretty refreshing, as I can't remember the last anime I watched that involved a travelling circus. Fans of the series will enjoy it I'm sure, and even for those who aren't it's a solid series.

Verdict: Good tier

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
I'm just going to direct you to Ben's post again because I probably can't put it much better than he does. Maybe I'll get around to writing something about it myself at some point. True comedic bliss in a nice 26-episode package.

Verdict: God tier

Mikakunin de Shinkoukei
A show about a girl who is abruptly told that her fiance, whose existence had hitherto been unknown to her, is coming to stay along with his little sister. Also they turn out to be werewolves. Really didn't see that one coming.

This was an interesting one. Not my usual fare by a long shot and yet I ended up looking forward to a new episode each week. The initial premise is very standard and whilst the whole werewolf thing throws it a bit off-kilter it surprisingly isn't relevant for much of the series, which is essentially just a comedic high school romance. A cast of memorable characters (though some more annoying than they were endearing) and a mixture of incredibly funny and deliciously cute moments sprinkled throughout made it an overall enjoyable experience.

Verdict: Good tier

A show about a guy who has a vague memory of making a promise with a childhood friend that he will marry her, but then it turns out that there are like 15 million different people it could have been and he already sort of likes this other girl?!

Man, I don't know. I feel like I'm missing something. This show has been heralded as one of the best things of recent times and I'm just not seeing it. I mean I saw it through to conclusion, and I guess it was reasonably engaging, but I couldn't discern anything special about it at all. It's a very tired premise in the most tired setting of them all - a high school. The art is fairly charming, and the direction is very Shafty which works well here. But. The characters are archetyped and forgettable to the extreme, The "plot" goes absolutely nowhere. Not only could you find at least 5 other series just like it on any shelf but you could probably write a perfect substitute yourself without having to leave the comfort of your home.

But that's the thing. Everyone knows this. And yet they still say it's awesome and rate it incredibly highly. Maybe I just keep watching to try and understand the hold it has over people? I don't know. Either way I can't in good conscience rate it as "good".

Verdict: Bad tier

No Game No Life
A show about a pair of siblings who get transported to another world where everything is decided by games and they end up ruling the country and staging a large-scale military initiative or something.

Another show that's had the anime community at large singing its praises. I must admit it has a certain charm - its vibrant colour palette, its fairly unique world, that guy's t-shirt - but it certainly doesn't withstand scrutiny. Needless fanservice littered around everywhere and almost Aldnoah-level contrived solutions to problems make it grating to watch most of the time. Which is a shame, because occasionally you get glimpses of what could have been a good show beneath all that. Genius protagonists overcoming the odds has been a popular theme for a long time, and tied in with some of the actual decent comedy (which is few and far between) it could have worked for this series too. But alas it was not to be. I don't even know what the story was trying to do by the last few episodes either.

Verdict: Bad tier

A show about a washed-up God who doesn't have anyone to worship him and so goes around trying to take on odd jobs. He saves a girl from a fatal accident, though she ends up turning into some kind of half-spirit thing(?) and decides to help him gain recognition.

So whilst we're on the topic of overrated series, this. Don't get me wrong, I would probably still watch it again if I went back in time but it certainly wasn't as good as people at the time made it out to be. There were some moments of comedic gold, and some pretty memorable characters in combination with solid art and animation. However the story is what let this one down in my book. Most of the series is spent on trivialities or helping some character or other you don't especially care about overcome his past and stop being an absolute muppet, and then when they try to put some direction in there it feels a bit forced and it almost seems as if they up the complexity of the universe specifically to accommodate the exact course of events that they've decided on. That's probably not phrased very well but hopefully you see where I'm coming from. I think the series was at its best when it was just being silly and having some fun, which is a shame because most of the time it put on a deadly serious facade.

Verdict: Bad tier

Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin
I tried for a while to describe the entirety of the premise of this show but it's surprisingly multi-faceted. Essentially some kids go treasure hunting - solving puzzles around their city to find items that grant people amazing abilities.

This wasn't great basically. I thought something good could come out of the premise, but it was pretty much squandered when they decided to make it character focused rather than actually be a series about solving the treasure puzzles - I think they only end up doing like 3 of them? Not the best decision when you have these super-cool treasures and these super-bland characters to work with. Filled with done-to-death scenarios and nothing surprising happens throughout despite efforts to the contrary.

Verdict: Bad tier

Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis
A show about.....man, I don't know. Gods and devils and humans all sort of at each others' throats but at the same time REALLY DON'T WANT TO WAKE UP BAHAMUT.

I think possibly the first and only anime I've seen where the source material is a mobile game? As such it may surprise you to hear that I actually really liked it! I was hooked right away from that outrageous first episode, and whilst it certainly had slow periods in the middle (who puts a recap episode in the middle of a 12-episode series anyway?) I definitely enjoyed it as a whole. I'm hesitant to say that it's objectively "good", but I can definitely say that I'm glad it exists. Some fantastic and memorable characters, stunning visuals throughout and surprisingly engrossing world-building (for a mobile game for crying out loud) made for an entertaining watch. It of course must be said that the plot wasn't exactly gold, but it almost didn't matter.

Verdict: Good tier

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta
A show about a younger generation who are dragged into war as pilots, where relationships and intrigue blossom.

A surprise hit for me actually. It's actually a sequel series from a film (The Princess and the Pilot, recently released on DVD over here) which I haven't seen, and I didn't really know anything going in. It ended up being a really charming series though, and no prior knowledge of the world is really needed (though you certainly feel slightly uninformed at times). The meat of the show is a mixture of dogfighting sequences - which are still a very fresh experience for me in anime - and downtime with the cadets - where we see characters and romances develop, as well as an insight into what wartime might be like for youths (granted in a scenario far removed from something we are familiar with). I actually found myself quite attached to the characters which ended up making for some tearful farewells. Certainly worth a watch if you don't mind a) planes and b) some romance.

Verdict: Good tier

Tokyo ESP
A show about people getting super powers from weird flying fish.

This wasn't a good show. I think I got through it on the strength of the visuals alone. The premise is generic. The story is generic (who'd have thought some of the guys with super powers would want to help humanity whilst others would want to wipe them out?). The characters are stupid AND generic. Really weird fanservice involving a creepy old man in a panda suit. At least I think it was a suit...

The most frustrating thing was that it does the thing where it opens with all the action of the exciting finale in the first episode which looked quite cool, and then spends the rest of the series getting back to that same point through a series of really boring and stupid events.

Verdict: Bad tier

Tokyo Ghoul
A show about a normal boy who gets turned into a half-ghoul (ghouls probably being exactly what you'd expect them to be) through an unfortunate encounter. He must then struggle with cravings for human flesh, and the wider unsurprising issue of shaky human-ghoul relations.

This won points in my book by airing at the same time as Tokyo ESP and not being as terrible. Has a lot of the tropes from your typical ghoul/zombie/other monster stories but also manages to be quite unique through the ghouls' abilities and its Tokyo separated into different wards rife with conflict between the human task force and the ghouls. Lost points by having that exact same good ghouls vs. bad ghouls thing going on as in Tokyo ESP and any other similar supernatural fiction. Also by having ridiculous censorship - if you're not going to show the screen then don't bother "showing" that stuff on the screen. The pacing's a bit shoddy too, but overall it's a perfectly acceptable show.

Verdict: Good tier

Tonari no Seki-kun
A show about a guy who gets up to the most amazing mischief in the middle of class and the girl whose fate it is to endure it from a ringside seat.

Ben didn't even mention this one in his post. Boo.
This was a fantastic series of shorts which everyone should watch. For the ending song if nothing else. That's it really. Go.

Verdict: God tier

Zankyou no Terror
A show about a pair of mysterious students who are committing serious acts of terrorism for some reason and the girl who gets swept along for the ride.

This was a very solid show. Perfect pacing, sympathetic characters on both sides of the line, an intriguing plot and some really cool set pieces. Not really a mystery series in the conventional sense, as you can't be expected to really work anything out for yourself, but more of a tense thriller. Well worth a watch. Only complaint really is that I couldn't care less about the main girl even though I'm clearly supposed to be rooting for her or something. Also I remember reading an interview with Shinichiro Watanabe where he said what the moral of this series was supposed to be and I was like "Eh? What? Really?" I'm not sure what it was you're supposed to take from the show, but you should at least get some thrills out of it.

Verdict: Good tier

Well that was pretty lengthy. And not only did I omit the shows continuing into this year but those that continued into last year as well. Perhaps I watch too much anime. Or perhaps I don't watch enough? You decide. Until next time,


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