Okay, I SWEAR I didn't get this idea from Anime News Network. This year, the year I got into Talk Amongst Yourselves AND got authorship (once again, thanks admins! And if you're reading this Aikage, we miss you dude!), the year I got into watching anime the same year it's released, AND the year I finally learned how to drive stick; despite what I've said, some good stuff did indeed happen this year. And to remind myself and others of this, I decided to start a segment I call my "5 Top Fives". Five mediums (movies, video games, anime, TV... and one other thing, once I agree on it), each with their own top five examples of what was best in each medium for this year. That said, I've kind of been waiting out this year to see and play through a few more things, but now I can with great certainty say what my favorite anime(s) for this year were. My criteria for what counts is pretty simple: the anime has to have aired/finish a majority of its run this year, and it has to be what I count as anime. For those of you wondering about what I count as anime, you'll see what I mean when we get to my #1 spot. When we get there, I'll finally get around to the one ani-debate (aniTAY-bate?) I signed up for months ago: what is anime? That said, we'll start with my honorable mentions, and as always these are my personal opinions, so if something you watched and liked this year didn't make the list, or didn't place higher, well... tough luck [ducks].
When is Gainax not Gainax? When it's Trigger, evidently. Despite the difference in the studio that made it, this series has all the style over substance that Gurren Lagann had before it (both share a great deal of animators and a writer after all). While the story may not be anything new, it's enjoyable as all hell to watch, has top notch voice acting, and... well, that may be it, but sometimes all you need is just something that looks so friggin good. So why is it just here? Well, while the majority of this series aired this year, I saw it had more of an impact in 2013 when it first came on, and there were other anime that debuted THIS year that I think are technically "better" (ones that look AND are written with style). Still, I can't wait for the dub, since I have no idea how this thing can be dubbed...
You have no idea how psyched (no pun intended) I was for season 2 of this show. I got into this through the superb dub on Netflix, and I couldn't stop talking about it for days. Then Psycho-Pass 2 aired and... goddammit, I know this series deserves some kind of mention, but I can't in good conscience give it through Psycho-Pass 2 (that said, don't believe 100% the episodic reviews ANN has given on it. It's not as bad as they say they are, but... they aren't great either). I can however, give praise to the dub that came out this year: for someone who watched the dub before the sub, it hits every note it's going for. Being subdue and smooth when it wants and needs to be, but also graphic and emotional when it's called for. While its sequel may be a bit of a dud, the OG Pass is still a damn good series, and if you have Netflix, give it a watch. And don't go any further.
I will admit this is worth a look, but... it's not one of my favorites. The animation is fine, the story is fine, the action is actually quite good, and the characters are, well... eh? This show is definitely not bad, but it's not exactly what I'd call groundbreaking, not when there's so much out there that beats it in various categories. That said, I do hope this somehow gets a third season: I'm not ready to leave a world where everyone's last name references a car company. A gearhead's guilty pleasure; that's something you can't say for most anime.
With those out of the way, time for my Top Five Anime of 2014!
Yeah, you heard me. Despite the fact this entire thing is CGI, this does count as an anime: it's based off a manga, the 3D images are created and animated to nearly perfectly replicate what this would look like in just 2D images; hell, , Johnny Young Bosch voices the protagonist! What more do you need? Still, how'd it make the list? An intriguing story and universe, characters that develop over the series, and, well, it's one part Gundam (the old, good Gundam), and one part Battlestar Galactica. It should also be noted that this series is groundbreaking for Netflix, given they financed localization of this series outside of Japan, and for their first effort they did a good job. This was one of the few series I straight-up binged this year, and season 2 looks like it'll be damn impressive given what happens in the manga.
This series is what made me put this off for so long: it's still going, and by god it's going strong. Described by some as the thinking man's SAO, the two are so different that I can't really call it that: this show is so much better, it feels like comparing The Marvel Cinematic Universe to the Transformers movies. While this second season may only have the advantage of (mercifully) having a bigger animation budget over the first one, it still has what made the first season so good: an interesting and seemingly ever evolving world, nail biting politics, the implications of actually living in a game with no foreseeable way out, and characters that get depth, their own moments, and exist because they matter to the story and people around them. While some may criticize it for its lack of constant action, I view it this way: when shit does go down, it feels like SHIT'S GOING DOWN. All this makes it my perfect Saturday morning 'toon, really.
Given what fans of this show say about it, and what ANN said about it in many of their Top Five lists, Richard Eisenbeis may want to eat his words: of all the anime on this list and out of everything that aired this year, this show (and my #1 spot, obviously) has the best chance of being a future classic. Nothing this year had anything close to just how creative this show was: it was a comedy, and it could do drama with honest to god character development. I had old guard and modern day writers and directors working on it. The animation styles was all over the place, but it never felt like it ran out of its budget. It has fan AND manservice in it! Its strength came in what many first called its weakness: so called lack of focus, and no real story. But that turned out to be what made it great: its incredible ability to do so much, and not screw up. My only gripe with it is its dub (it's good, but not great), but since it had to be done against the clock, I can't really be mad at Funimation for the effort they turned in. And it now holds a place in my gallery of gateway anime; if you want to introduce someone into this medium, this is a good place to start, no matter which episode you go with. Now, if I can just find the damn soundtrack to it... what the heck, I can't talk about this show without listening to this. Enjoy!
This series was this close to being my #1, but... well, you'll see soon enough. Despite the sheer levels of gore in it, this series does something that can be forgotten again and again when it comes to storytelling: it maintains a sense of humanity to it. The characters in it talk about how they view and feel about certain things, we constantly see characters talk about what does and doesn't make us human. Heck, I'm starting to come around to seeing all the blood and... stuff seen every other episode, actually serves to highlight what's beautiful about humanity. Compassion we have, how we aren't just killing machines, how we can feel and empathize with others, even with beings that don't belong our own species. This series, weirdly, is the one that constantly hit home for me again and again, and I love it for that. The only thing stopping it from taking #1 is that while it did give me feels again and again, it never came close to making me shed tears like I did for the finale of #1. With that said...
Yes, this is my choice for the best anime of 2014. It may even be the best show period of 2014. And if you haven't screamed at me "THAT'S NOT AN ANIME YOU @#$%!", I'll explain why it makes the list, and tops it. A few months ago, I joined in the ani-debate thing that... never really got off the ground, but I went in wanting to at least try to give a good, well thought out definition of what constitutes as "anime". While most people see it as simply Japanese animation/cartoons and that's it, I disagree: there are multiple countries and cultures around the world that engage in animation, but most of them aren't defined into subgroups just by the nationality of the people who made them. Hell, seasons 3 and 4 of Korra were produced by Studio Mir, a production house based in South Korea. If it wasn't written by American writers, most people would probably call it anime right off the bat. No, to me anime is a style of animation defined by two things: the level of detail that goes into it, and each character is based off a similar design.
By detail, I mean that you can see real emotion on a character's face. Take Rocky and Bullwinkle for example (note: this is one of my ALL TIME favorite shows by the way, so don't knock me for... knocking it). They can display emotion, but it's never anything really complex. They're usually smiling, and aside from a few emotional extremes (sadness, anger, confusion, etc.), they don't show anything that's... deep. Anime however: SAO, Log Horizon, Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Tokyo Godfathers, Knights of Sidonia, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Hell, I'll even count Young Justice and some works from the DCAU. All of these have characters that can convey complex ideas and feels just through the look(s) in the eyes of various characters, all have characters that have faces that almost look like they can't exist in something that's just a cartoon show. That's what I mean by detail. And for similar character models, let's look at R&B again. The designs for each character are radically different: Boris is comically small, Natasha looks like she's six feet tall, Bullwinkle almost looks human. They're so radically different, someone who knows nothing about animation couldn't really tell who is supposed to be what, and it can't ever really be taken seriously. And that (to me) is kind of what anime ultimately is: an animation style that's used to tell mature and/or serious forms of story. You can also take this to mean that various shows made in Japan aren't anime, and that shows not made in Japan are actually anime, and I'd most likely agree with you. Being open minded usually does more good for a medium than harm.
[gets off soapbox] Now, The Legend of Korra. Season 1: pacing issues. Season 2: oh great, we got more seasons... now what? Seasons 3 and 4: oh my god, this is glorious. One of this show's defining characteristics will be how it was produced. How it was a mini-series, how it got three more seasons, how the writers tried (and I say ultimately succeeded) to write in an expanded story to a show that already ended. Then how Nick screwed everything up by not having a goddamn clue as to when or even how they should show it. But despite all that, this show... when the final scene played, and the Chinese characters for "The End" popped up... I needed a moment to let it all sink in. That hasn't happened to me in god knows how long when it comes to a show, or a game, or even a movie. I love this series. It's the kind of show I actively recommend when it comes to people who want something to watch, or to people who have never really seen a "cartoon" capable of deep ideas. I'll even admit when I was writing my first draft of this list, I know I could have gone into flaws this show has (well, had, sadly), but I found myself talking about what I love about it instead. Not like, not what it does well, what I love about it. I love the universe, I love the characters, I love the various relationships between said characters, I love the way it looks, I love the action, the comedy... the only thing I don't love is how it was treated. This show did what was almost impossible: it became as good as the original Avatar: TLA. After trying to be TLA for the first two seasons, it stopped trying and instead became its own thing, and it should be commended for that. It will go down as an all time great show, and I sincerely hope that this isn't the last time we see this incredible world and its incredible characters.
Anyhow, that's my top 5 anime of this year. If this goes down well (and/or gets shared to aniTAY... wouldn't mind getting authorship on that site either, I have to say), expect to see my best games of 2014 in late December/early January, and possibly my favorite movies as well. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all, and game/watch/binge on!