2014 Favorites: Anime

The Best of 2014 continues with a look at some of the top-tier anime series that came out last year.

5.) Magic Kaito 1412

When I started Magic Kaito, I couldn't get over how much it looked like Detective Conan.  It held me back from watching the series for several weeks, then eventually the number of episodes I had to watch to "catch up" held me back even further, trapping me in a never-ending cycle of "I'm never gonna watch this".   But the gift of Winter Break is ample, almost depressing amounts of free time, and so I finally sat down and gave this series a try beyond its debut.

I actually think I like it better than Conan, which at 85 volumes and over 700 episodes, seems like it's going on at this point because the creator can keep a check coming in indefinitely with it.  And while I'm not offended by that, I also never thought Conan had the legs to justify running as long as it has.    Kaito has a chance to actually end, and in the meantime, tell some pretty neat little self-contained tales.  After becoming a fan of "heist" series like Hustle, watching Kaito pull off simpler, but no less cool capers is pretty entertaining.  The best part is the show so far has managed to change up its formula with each new episode--Kaito doesn't just go up against the cops, but against other criminals, witches, and even his counterpart the legendary Shinichi Kudo himself in his quest to avenge his father's murder and find the evasive Pandora Gem. 

Twelve episodes in and it's already proven itself a great series, so I'm hoping for an even better second half in 2015.

4.) JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

Stardust Crusaders took some getting used to, but once I did I found it to be just as weirdly brilliant as the first series, with its enormous cast of characters with ridiculous, wildly creative superpowers and names based on famous bands and musicians.  

Though Jotaro leaves something to be desired compared to his grandfather Joseph as far as being an entertaining protagonist on his own, his group of loyal "brothers" and the presence of an older (but no less hilarious) Joseph more than makes up for it.   The story came to an abrupt end back in September, but the "Egypt Chapter" starts in seven days.   Admittedly, I'm more excited for what happens afterwards---could Diamond is Unbreakable be on the horizon?   Only time will tell, I suppose.

3.) Log Horizon
Oh man.  As good as I thought Log Horizon was last year, it's been even better this year.   What initially seemed like a clone of Sword Art Online not only established itself as something unique unto itself, but superior to the "original" altogether.   In doing a bit of background research, I learned creator Mamare Touno was once a player of popular early 2000's MMO Everquest.  It shows; Log Horizon's usage of MMO mechanics are both extensive and easily explained, allowing even a novice like myself to easily understand complicated aspects of the genre like the ins-and-outs of raids.

It's also continued the trend of putting characters besides its "villain in glasses" protagonist Shiroe at the forefront, allowing them their own time to grow.  Akatsuki's mini-arc, featuring most of the major female players of Log Horizon, might just be one of my favorite stories told in anime all year.  It's a shame that we've all but reached the end of the available source material, so I'm a tad concerned with how things are going to end, but I still look forward to a third season in a couple years (hopefully).  It's definitely become my favorite fantasy anime of all time, and I'd hate to see it go without a conclusive ending.

2.) Hunter x Hunter

This series should never have ended.  Not, because it was so great, but because when you start at the beginning of a series with over 300 chapters to be adapted, you shouldn't ever have to worry about "catching up".   Unfortunately, while Yoshihiro Togashi is a genius, prolific isn't something you could've ever called him, and so after three years of continuous production, the anime was forced to come to a stop after finally adapting all the completed arcs of Hunter x Hunter.

Fortunately, it's not a bad ending.  After all the assassinations, the impending threat of the end of Human Life As We Know It, and political intrigue, the show finally gave us what we'd been looking for since the start: Gon finally meets his father.   The last episode goes out on a high note, as the two share the stories of the respective adventures in their lives before they each left to follow their own paths once more.  It's definitely a touching moment, receiving all the dramatic weight something like that needed.  So I'm rating this high because the series as a whole was superb, an example all action shonen mangaka should watch before doing their own stories, but also because the ending was extremely satisfying.  Every major loose end was tied up, and while there are certainly still places for the story to go (as evidenced by the still running manga), you can watch all 148 episodes of this and feel comfortable with how it ends. 

1.) Gundam Build Fighters/Gundam Build Fighters Try

This is cheating, but they both technically aired last year, so screw it.  Nevermind 2014, these two anime together may have actually cracked my Top 20 anime series of all time.  I said back in October that I didn't know what to say about Build Fighters Try, but I do now: absolutely excellent.  Despite being set in the same universe, it's managed to set itself apart from the original.  The first few episodes were filled with new characters and introduced conflicts that team Try Fighters had to overcome together.   Sekai, Yuuma, and Fumina aren't the geniuses that Sei and Reiji were, but that just makes you want to root for them more. 

At the same time, as we head towards the second half of the series, they haven't been afraid to introduce characters from the previous series.  But when they do so, they make it feel important.   When Yuuki Tatsuya from the original series makes his first legitimate appearance, it's the most epically ridiculous thing you've ever seen--his Gundam descends like a god deigning to come down from the heavens to challenge the mortals, and the light from its descent inexplicably revives a dead flower.   The writers are eminently aware their series works off Rule of Cool, and they take no shame in utilizing that fact to the fullest every episode.  

Both Build Fighters series are Shonen 101--each time the main characters defeat one bad guy, introduce another that's even more terrifying, leaving viewers wondering how the protagonists can even stand a chance.   It's simplistic, almost childish, they successfully tap into the inner child we all have, and masterfully manage to give each conflict an emotional connection that leaves you on the edge of your seat every week.   I'd love for Build Fighters to become a companion series to actual Gundam, as its obvious after finishing this series that the sky's the limit in terms of franchise potential. 

Honorable Mention: Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V

I bowed out on Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL fairly early on due to the inept protagonist, but when I heard Arc-V was going to be a thing I made sure to get in at the ground level, before the number of episodes became too overwhelming to even try it.   The early episodes made this series serviceable at best, with its very typical cast of kids' anime characters and basic duels that essentially serve as "character development" for both the characters and their decks. 

It wasn't until recently that things took a turn for the better, with some reveals that grabbed my attention in a way that Yu-Gi-Oh! hasn't done since the first arc of 5D's.   The last seven episodes or so have really succeeded in setting this show apart from its predecessors, introducing ideas that--while utterly ridiculous--fit the "cards > everything" theme the series has had since the days of Yugi and Kaiba.   Depending on how far they decide to take this, Arc-V could finally be the series that unites the vastly different Yu-Gi-Oh! series...but at the very least they've given viewers a plot that's wacky enough to make you want to tune in every week.

What keeps this out of the Top 5 (or keeps me from making it a Top 6) is that the series itself didn't get "good" until episode 31.  That's not only a lot of filler to ask fans to sit through, it also means the series only had seven great episodes in 2014.

Honorable Mention: Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis

The theme of this list is "I didn't expect that".  In anime, you can often predict what sort of show you're going to be watching just by reading a description and getting a look at the genre its classified under.   For Shingeki no Bahamut, I saw it was based off a card game and thus I expected something like Z/X: Ignition.  A fun, (hopefully) inoffensive fluff series that I could use to burn twenty-two minutes every week.

What I didn't expect was a gorgeously animated fantasy world of ne'er do well bounty hunters, giant dragons, angels, demons, zombie girls, and horseback sword duels on the rooftops of an enormous city.  Bahamut provided me with all that and so much more.  Like I said when the series launched--it was less like I was watching an anime and more like an animated film that just happened to be in Japanese.  What makes it an honorable mention is that I prefer my fantasy worlds to be more fleshed out than what's reasonably possible in a twelve episode series like this.  One of the best pieces of news I could get concerning anime in 2015 is that this series receives a sequel of some sort scheduled for the fall.

Honorable Mention: SpaceDandy
When director Shinchiro Watanabe announced he was directing a new anime that was set in space, I couldn't help going into full fanboy mode.  After all, his last space-focused series was Cowboy Bebop,  one of my favorite television series (anime or not) of all time, and I was hoping for a spiritual successor of sorts.   What I could never have expected, was SpaceDandy, a show both equal parts thought-provoking and ridiculous.

Like many, after the first episode I was pretty turned-off.  Amusing as the main character was, the series lacked the cool edge that Bebop had.  But I gave it another chance.  Then another.  Eventually I found myself no longer comparing it to Bebop, and that's when I realized what was special about it.  Whereas Cowboy Bebop had unique takes on pre-existing genres and stories that formed a cohesive vision of space that looked not unlike those science fiction fans were already used to, Space Dandy went in the complete opposite direction. It uses the backdrop of the final frontier to capture the true essence of exploration.  It challenges the notions of what we think space could be like, and takes advantage of its absurdist nature to tell science fiction stories you're unlikely to see anywhere else.  And yeah, they're ridiculous--but just as often they can be touching, even poignant.   Sometimes you just gotta take risks, baby.

What makes this an honorable mention is that unlike everything else on this list, I couldn't actually marathon this series on my own.  I  can only take so much ridiculousness at once. 


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