As we begin the New Year, let’s look back at the best of the best from 2014.
Gonna be honest with you guys here: 2014 was not a great year for anime. There was a decent number of quality anime competing for the back-end of these rankings but the top end shows that really carry the year just weren’t there. Every year from 2011-2013 had at least 3 shows that made my top 20 but nothing this year was good enough to be added to that list. That said, there were still plenty of shows worth recognizing that aired this year so let’s get to it:
10. Isshuukan Friends
In what will become a pattern in this list, Isshuukan Friends is a show that started out very strong but ended up fading by the end. The first half of the show was a great look at friendship and how we connect with the people around us. Fujimiya and Hase had great chemistry through this part and felt like genuinely good but flawed people. The second part kind of stumbled as it failed to address Hase’s flaws and the romantic progress stalled out before the end leaving me somewhat disappointed by the show. Still, the show was incredibly charming and had a ton of sweet moments that make it deserving of the first spot on this list.
9. Inari Konkon Koi Iroha
Inari Konkon Koi Iroha was a big surprise for me this year. I expected very little from the show and it turned out to be a very nice coming of age romance. Uka-sama was a wonderful character that managed to be smart, funny and endearing as well as having great chemistry with Touka. The side characters were excellent as well and did a good job of articulating the show’s themes regarding confidence in yourself and personal identity. The romantic progress kind of stalled out by the end, but the show overall was a very enjoyable ride and much better than I had expected going in.
8. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru
Yuuki Yuuna was an incredibly difficult show to rank. It was made up of 8 episodes of a decent slice of life anime with a generic magical girl show awkwardly attached to it. Then for 3 episodes it was an astonishingly good show about heroism, isolation and despair that was far and away the best thing I’d seen all year. These episodes validated everything that had come before and created an incredibly compelling showdown between one girl ready to throw away the entire world for her friends and another that refused to give in to despair. Unfortunately the ending took all of that back and shoehorned a happy ending into a show that demanded something more nuanced and bittersweet. Ultimately, Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru is still a good show but the outstanding parts are severely tempered by the lackluster ending.
Hanayamata was the kind of show that on the surface appeared to be little more than “cute girls doing cute things” but managed to occasionally rise above that to say some very insightful things about growing up and finding yourself. The cast worked very effectively together and each of them had a personality that reflected their personal circumstances and that informed how they each approached yosakoi. The show was extremely colorful which really enhanced the scenes where the characters were dancing in their flowing yosakoi outfits. Hanayamata also did a solid job of not creating an overly-idealized world where the characters can overcome anything through sheer force of will and magical friendship powers. I particularly loved the balanced look the show gave to Hana’s circumstances as she was tugged between the competing goals of making her family whole again or continuing with her yosakoi team. The show stopped just short of being perfect on this front though as it seemed that Hana intended to try to have it both ways at the end. Still, simply by having a cast of characters with complex personalities and actually acknowledging both sides of issues like this puts Hanayamata ahead of most shows like it.
6. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?
Sometimes a seemingly insubstantial show can stand out due to its execution and GochiUsa is that show this year. Studio White Fox did a superb job of bringing this endearing cast of characters to life in a vibrantly-colored and beautifully animated show. It sounds like a simple thing to throw a bunch of cute girls on the screen and watch the merchandise sales flow but there’s an art to it which GochiUsa nailed perfectly. Everything from the way the character relationships were set up to the calming and comforting atmosphere to the comedic timing was almost perfectly done. The show didn’t have a ton of ambition beyond being a nice, cute, relaxing experience but it got that completely right.
5. Yama no Susume Second Season
The second season of Yama no Susume did a beautiful job of expanding on and enhancing the foundation laid by the first season. The characters’ friendships felt natural and genuine, the mountain climbing experiences were realistic and the whole thing was full of heartwarming moments that made it all worthwhile. It’s rare for an anime to be as informative, touching and funny as Yama no Susume’s second season but it managed to accomplish all this despite its half-length episodes. I loved seeing Aoi grow as a person and seeing her friendship with Hinata grow and mature throughout the season. It’s rare to see a show so thoroughly succeed at what it sets out to do but Yama no Susume was practically perfect for what it was. I certainly hope to see more of it in the future.
4. Nagi no Asukara
Like Isshuukan Friends and Yuuki Yuuna, Nagi no Asukara was a show that had the potential to end up at or near the top of this list and instead fell off thanks to an underwhelming ending. That said, the show was still a very well executed romance anime that managed to effectively handle a time skip in the middle that could have derailed a lesser show. Instead the time skip served to create a ton of interesting character dynamics and the 6-8 episode run at the start of this year was some of the best anime all year. I loved how the show conveyed the complicated feelings experienced by Hikari, Chisaki and Miuna as they adjusted to their world and the people around them. Unfortunately the show may have bit off a little more than it could chew with the racial tension and the sea god subplot. While the romance portion of the show was outstanding, the rest was very hit or miss which keeps the show from ranking higher than it does.
3. Sora no Method
Coming from a brand new studio and a writer who had been away from anime for the better part of a decade, I wasn’t really sure what to expect going into Sora no Method. By the end I was pleasantly surprised by a well-animated and emotionally resonant production that was among the most touching and heartwarming anime I’d seen in a long time. The show relied heavily on the inherent emotion stemming from Nonoka’s circumstances with her mother but it commanded this emotion extremely effectively. Pretty much everything related to Nonoka’s mother was superbly handled and incredibly moving. The show also did a great job of switching between present and past events for maximum impact. All of this was accompanied by outstanding visuals that were very consistent throughout despite the fact that it was made by a new studio. The show did run about an episode longer than it should have and that was ultimately why it doesn’t top this list. But make no mistake, Sora no Method was outstanding and a must for people with a taste for melodrama. (Which, again, is not an insult)
2. Sakura Trick
This will probably be my most controversial pick in this list but screw it, I loved Sakura Trick. The show might not have been much more than cute girls kissing but goddamn if it didn’t get cute girls kissing exactly right. The show was cute, it was funny, it was heartwarming and aside from the fact that every character was a cute lesbian it was actually a fairly realistic look at young people in love. It was a silly show to be sure but it also managed to capture something genuine about the experience of first love in high school. Your first love might be meaningless in the long run but you enjoy the hell out it at the time and you’re really bummed out when it’s over and that’s pretty much how I felt about Sakura Trick. The show wasn’t particularly deep or meaningful but it didn’t need to be to achieve its goals. It was absolutely perfect as a cute yuri show and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
1. Love Live School Idol Project Second Season
At the end of the year, one show has to stand above the rest and in this case it’s more because other shows fell off at the end rather than the top show being an utterly transcendent work. I had limited expectations for this show after the first season was fine but nothing special and this second season blew that out of the water. It was an outstanding show that basically rewrote the first season’s ending into something truly memorable. The chemistry between the cast members was superb and watching them bounce off each other for thirteen episodes this spring was a treat. Beyond the goofy and endearing interplay between the members of µ’s, I loved the way they incorporated A-RISE into the show, not as evil cutthroat enemies that attempt to crush our heroes but rather as fellow idols who want to win but are also willing to extend a helping hand and work together with µ’s as equals. This dynamic really enhanced the positive energy that flowed throughout this season of Love Live. In addition to the effective handling of A-RISE’s involvement, the show managed to turn emotional near the end as the third-years neared graduation and actually pull it off. The show had created a group of friends whose connection we bought into and so the impending separation really cut deep on an emotional level.
But the best part of the second season of Love Live was the growth we saw from Honoka. The season opened with Honoka being elected as student council president which felt like more of a joke than anything at the time. However, throughout the season we saw Honoka grow into the role and earn the respect of the people around her. In season one she was the leader of µ’s through sheer energy and force of will but in this season she actually grew into somebody capable in all aspects of leadership. I loved watching her mature as a person and being to understand her role in the group and how to move everyone forward as a unit. On top of this we had all of the outstanding live performances from A-RISE’s show-stopping rendition of Shocking Party to the wonderful Snow Halation to the brilliant performance at the Love Live finals in the next to last episode and concluding with the acoustic performance of Aishiteru Banzai at the graduation ceremony. Love Live’s second season was an improvement on the first in every way and it deserves this spot as the number one anime of 2014.
So that’s it for 2014. Like I said, no real stand-out number one show but a lot of very good anime this year. While the new crop of shows for next season doesn’t look that good, we do have two outstanding continuing shows in Shirobako and Parasyte which promise to make 2015 more memorable than 2014 was. See you next time for the first power rankings of 2