Yes, the top fifteen. I’m not trying to be 50% better then those top 10 countdowns 😉 . The idea for this countdown is that it contains all the series of merit from the past year that finished or aired enough episodes that I feel confident about including it here and is planned to be a longer running series. That means the exact number will fluctuate between years and is influenced by the diversity of shows I end up watching. The only hard and fast rule for the number of series included, beyond needing to be an anime of merit, is to have no more then 25% of the shows I’ve finished listed. The only way that there’d be a need to list more then 25% is if I’ve gone soft in my judging and this is a check against that. For this year, I finished 76 series so the list can contain a maximum of 19 series.
Before we get to that top 15, there’s two more awards to give out.
And if you need to review what’s been said so far, here’s the relevant links.
The Best Anime of 2014: Part 0 – The Worst Offenders
The Best Anime of 2014: Part 1 – Cast and Character Awards
The Best Anime of 2014: Part 2 – Genre and General Story Awards
The Best Anime of 2014: Part 3 – VMA Awards
Best Anime OVA/Special Seen in 2014
Suisei no Gargantia – Meguru Kouro, Haruka
Lupin III – Daisuke Jigen’s Gravestone
Kill la Kill
Yozakura Quartet: Tsuki ni Naku
Tonari no Seki-kun
Hana wa Saku – Flowers Will Bloom
Not that you’d know it (since I never finished) but last year the Yozakura Quartet series managed to claw all the way to finish as the sixth best anime of 2013. The director, ryo-timo, is one of my favorite animators and in Yozakura Quartet he’s shown that he’s a superb director as well. To keep my desire for a second season sated a bit, a 3 episode OVA, Yozakura Quartet: Tsuki ni Naku, finished airing this year and it was every bit as good as the series. I figured it had this category won but then Lupin III – Daisuke Jigen’s Gravestone unleashed quite possibly the best Lupin ever made. The only thing that detracted from this Lupin special is the lack of Zenigata and to a lesser extent Goemon XIII, but, that’s a long time fan talking. Someone new to Lupin would not notice nor miss their presence. The decision was made to take the guy, Takeshi Koike, who was the animation director of the Lupin:Fujiko series and director of Redline, and put him in charge of the whole thing and the result was startlingly excellent. (Having the time and budget this time around helped too.) This Lupin OVA oozed style, the car chases were wonderfully created, the story was focused and serious (while still allowing a bit of the comedic Lupin stuff space), it was gritty and well-animated. I dearly hope that Takeshi Koike will get the chance to make more Lupin.
Best Anime Movie Seen in 2014
Majokko Shimai no Yoyo to Nene
Tamako Love Story
Break Blade 2-6
Hunter x Hunter: The Last Mission
I felt KyoAni’s Tamako Market squandered a potentially very strong setting and group of characters which left me disappointed with the series. I was totally going to pass on the movie since I figured it would be a weak continuation of the series until I read some comments about the animation quality. Then I was like, #*&%$ Fine!, I’ll watch it but it better have some nice animation in it. Finally, I watched Tamako Love Story and my jaw dropped to the ground – this was a completely different show, a completely different level of competency on display. It still wasn’t the relaxing, slice-of-life series focusing on the daily lives of a local market that I wanted; but, it was a very close second. Like the title says it’s a love story; a tender, earnest, lovingly touching love story between Tamako and Mochizou. And it would have won this year if it wasn’t for a Kickstarter making me aware of the anime movie Mai-Mai Miracle, Originally released in 2009, animated by Madhouse, and directed by Sunao Katabuchi; this movie follows the growing friendship of two young girls who live in a small town on the shores of the Seto Inland Sea in 1955. The one has just recently moved from Tokyo and will have to adjust to living in an area that feels more old-fashionably Japanese than she’s used to and still hasn’t recovered economically from the war like Tokyo has. The other girl has lived her entire life in this little town and likes to imagine life there a thousand years ago when the famous author, Sei Shounagon, lived there as a girl. The easiest way to describe Mai-Mai Miracle is to say it’s similar to My Neighbor Totoro but with a bite to it. The two girls, I think they were third graders, are definitely kids with childlike imaginations but they seem instinctively to know that they will be adults one day and have started paying attention to the glimpses of the often sad and troubling adult world around them (especially in Japan so soon after the war), frequently only partly understanding what they are seeing. The narrative of the movie is pretty loose, closer to what one sees in a slice of life series like Mushishi or Kino’s Journey, and will feel meandering to those Western viewers that aren’t used to this type of storytelling, which is the negative I most often saw when reading reviews by professional critics. I was fine with it, though; I love the story and characters but I’d be remiss not to mention how beautiful this film looks. If you enjoy anime, you should definitely watch Mai-Mai Miracle.
As an addendum, I should mention that I saw neither of the Studio Ghibli movies inside of 2014 so they won’t be eligible until next year. I saw The Wind Rises a couple of weeks ago and if it had been eligible for 2014 it wouldn’t have placed in either of the top two spots. So take that to mean what you will.
For the countdown, the MAL score is the score I gave the series on MyAnimeList. The TNS score is my personal score given to the series based on the grading scale here at The Null Set. The season and year listed is the time when that series started airing. The Nominations, Runner-up, and Winner line refers to times the anime was nominated for an award for this my 2014 year in review posts and how many times it finished as either the runner-up or the winner.
Summer 2014, 12 episodes
Director – Ai Yoshimura, Series Composition – Tomoko Konparu, Animator – Production IG
MAL score – 9/10 Great, TNS score – 10.5/12 Strong A
Nominations – 1, Runner-up – 0, Winner – 0
Blue Spring Ride, aka Ao Haru Ride, had the misfortune of airing during the same season as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. As a shoujo series played straight, Blue Spring Ride was looked down upon from people who loved the cleverness of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun and it’s refreshingly unique look on the shoujo genre – as if it wasn’t possible for both series to be good. Which is silly, people. Blue Spring Ride is stocked with a very likeable and interesting cast of characters and allowed these characters to drive the events of the series. Most importantly, for someone like me who doesn’t like shoujo series that seem to condone abusive male characters, Blue Spring Ride does not have an abusive male lead. (He can be mildly abrasive but it made sense in the context of the show.) Another plus for this series is the slowly deepening relationship of our lead characters is not the only story driver in the series. In many similar series where the relationship of the main characters is the sole important thread in the show then it almost always becomes a question of how can they be prolong the inevitable, because it is inevitable, before finally allowing the main characters their happy ending. The ending of the TV series was satisfying for a continuing series like Blue Spring Ride but I’d like to see the continuation of the story.
Spring 2012, 99 episodes
Director – Ayumu Watanabe, Writer – various, Animator – A-1 Pictures
MAL score – 10/10 Masterpiece, TNS score – 11.5/12 Near Perfect
Nominations – 5, Runner-up – 2, Winner – 0
Back in 2012 Space Brothers ended the year almost exactly at the end of the story arc about if Mutta was going to get picked to be an astronaut and that felt close enough like a series ending that I decided to let the part of Space Brothers that already aired compete in the top anime countdown of 2012 where it ended up finishing as the number 1 series of the year. This tale of two brothers and their quest to be astronauts was a fascinating series to watch, even when it weakened a bit in the middle, and could draw out that sense of wonder that I love science fiction so much for. I also really liked that Space Brothers was very optimistic about the near future, the near unanimous bleakness found in science fiction and elsewhere about the near future is rather tiring to see. Seeing Space Brothers only able to reach number 14 this year feels disappointing – a slightly better adaptation probably would have seen Space Brothers finish near the top in 2013 and this year – but that also means that it’s better then 80 other anime series I watched this year. I would never hesitate to recommend Space Brothers to anyone, anime fan or not, who is looking for something good to watch. The number of episodes might sound daunting but, trust me, when the last episode airs you’ll be hoping for many more episodes.
Spring 2014, 12 episodes
Director – Kobun Shizuno, Series Composition – Sadayuki Murai, Animator – Polygon Pictures
MAL score – 9/10 Great, TNS score – 11/12 A+
Nominations – 6, Runner-up – 1 Winner – 1
If your reading this then you are probably one of those anime fans that cringes then gets angry when some ignorant person says that anime is all about X, Y, and Z because it so maligns the art form. I have a similar response when someone, most often the same ignorant person, proceeds to say that science fiction is all about A,B, and C where A = aliens, B = space ships, and C = Scientific gadgets as well as having amateurish writing ability and lousy characters. It’s unfortunate, then, the sole slight blemish to Knights of Sidonia is the characters are merely adequate because it would have been nice to use this series as another example to refer the above mentioned ignorant person to go watch when he/she tries to put down SF and/or anime. The world building, the plot, how it unfolds, the storytelling, the plausible scientific advances necessary for humanity’s survival and how they’ve affected human society are all top notch for this hard science fiction series. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel that’s going to air this upcoming spring.
I’ll let you all in on a dirty little secret of mine – I think Mari Okada is a great script writer and generally like the series she writes for. Of course she’s not perfect, I profiled one of her infrequent failures at the beginning for the anti-awards; however, one of the strongest strengths of her writing is that she normally creates characters with enough depth that one can’t help but find them interesting and likeable, even if they didn’t want too. For instance, I spent the first few episodes of this anime grumbling about how whiny the main character is but he slowly grew on me to the point that he almost got nominated for Best male character this year. This is an important reason to explain the success of Nagi no Asukara because, on the surface, the love polygon that is built up then slowly resolved here is not a recipe for a good anime. Yet, I was glued to this series to see the next development and to see how everything was going to be resolved (especially after that mid-season cliffhanger). Speaking of that cliffhanger, which I won’t spoil, I also like when I see a potential problem based on the decisions of the characters and the series has the guts to follow-thru and force the characters to live the consequences of their actions.
There are a couple aspects to Noragami that helped me enjoy it more then other people evidently did. I do not have a good nose for music. It’s probably something that comes from being a visual learner. If it’s not overly bombastic like the music to Attack on Titan then it normally takes a conscious effort for me to pay attention to the music (and that might be why I probably would have given AoT my best background music award for 2013, had I finished those awards). The sole exception appears to be the composer Taku Iwasaki. For some reason I can almost always pick his music out when I’m watching a random anime. If an anime utilizes Taku Iwasaki’s music well and he’s composed a good set of songs then it’s much easier for me to like the show. The other aspect is the idea of Yato, the very minor god who crosses paths with the main character, needing prayers to continue to exist and grow in power really strongly reminds me of the book American Gods by Neil Gaiman and I absolutely love that book. Over the last decade I’ve averaged reading it 1.2 times a year and merely mentioning it strongly tempts me into reading it again. So, this series really had a strong home field advantage for me; nonetheless, I don’t want to short change it’s accomplishments. Hiyori is a great lead character. The writing is good and it even has a solid ending – which is one of frequent weaknesses to a Bones anime series. The animation is above average. The simultaneously airing Space Dandy occupied most of the top animators at Bones but it still impressed at times and never looked bad. Vocal work was superb and the OP was good enough to be nominated in that category. A sequel would be very welcome.
The plan right now is to finish the top 10 in one post, coming soon, but there’s a chance I’ll end up writing too much and push the word count high enough that I’ll split it into two posts. Then again, I’ve already written about several of these anime series multiple times and might not find something else to say about them.