If I was to create a mental image of what anime was like in 2014, imagine a few gleaming diamonds being buried under a sea of light novels about little sisters, video game wish fulfilment and shittiness. It’s been like that for a while but it did seem like this year was especially bad for it. But don’t worry you, for thankfully we have a couple of scuba divers on hand in the for of The Cart Driver Dot Com’s Writing Staff, who have dived into that pile and dragged up an arbitrary number of anime we have arbitrarily ordered from really good to possibly one of the best anime ever…and then to one final anime that defies categorisation. Like diving below that sea of books for diamonds and finding an alien nightclub instead. So here’s our top 10 anime of 2014, along with some awards we wanted to hand out.
2014’s 2015 Anime of the Year: Parasyte
The first award of each year is given to the This Year’s Next Year’s Anime of the Year. The award for the best anime airing this year but doesn’t end this year so isn’t elligible. This is to prevent silly people from asking why not-yet-finished anime isn’t on this list. This year the award goes to the face-eating horror thriller anime that manages the extraordinary by making the younger modern anime fan actually care about a mid-90’s manga adaptation, while also pleasing those of us who had read the original manga. It pleased me anyway, and given that I rank the Parasyte manga as my favourite of all time, that’s pretty high praise.
10: Kill la Kill
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure won 2012’s 2013 anime of the year award and went on to take top spot for 2013. Unfortunately for 2013’s 2014 anime of the year Kill la Kill, it wasn’t able to replicate that success and narrowly knocks Gundam Build Fighters out of The Cart Driver Dot Com’s 10th best anime of 2014. But don’t let that get you down Kill la Kill, you semi-naked, barely coherent, pile of lunacy. With your glowing penises and sentient clothing and nudist terrorist organisations and all of that nonsense you produced. It’s a testament to Kill la Kill’s infectious enthusiasm that you can be quite easily swept along with its style and presentation, allowing yourself to be taken in by the spectacle and embrace the crazy that’s unfolding in front of you. Kill la Kill looks like what someone who was making a dumb parody of anime would make, but instead made earnest and sincere and that’s precisely what makes it so entertaining.
9: Knights of Sidonia
It’s rare for a show to actually be unnerving on a primal level, without losing the drive to explore the harsh world that it creates. Knights of Sidonia is probably one of the medium’s best portrayals of being thrown against the outright hostility of an unfeeling, uncaring cosmos, and the impact that it has on the human psyche, both on an individual and a societal level. Despite the characters not being developed past a superficial level, it’s hard not to sympathize with them as they’re beaten, thrashed, lose those they care about, and are generally forced to suffer in ways that they didn’t anticipate. Even the vastly compressed second half does a superb job at conveying an omnipresent sense of hopelessness at humanity’s last known hope being slowly whittled away.
Best Movie/OVA/Special: Hanamonogatari
This particular award is usually saved for whatever the latest big anime movie that came out this year, but for whatever reason either the movies we saw stank or they took so long to come out that we didn’t have time to get to them all. So instead we can give this to the latest iteration of the Monogatari franchise. Which thankfully is possibly the strongest Monogatari arc so far, right up there with the best Second Season produced. Kanbaru continues her role as a mightily entertaining character while following the series trend of maturing as a person as the series progresses. It’s still ultimately a very similar series to the one that started back in 2009. It still has the same quirky, roundabout style of dialogue along with the quick cut animation style combined with architecture and scene framing that ignores reality in favour of aesthetic abnormality. If you weren’t on board then, you won’t be on board now. But watching this franchise progress has really been a joy.
8: Sekai Seifuku Zvezda Plot
Sekai Seifuku is a show with a lot of heart lurking beneath an odd surface. It is an anime where an organization led by a child desires to take over the world (also, they’re the protagonists) and are met with resistance by a group dedicated to protecting the status quo. There is an episode-long diatribe about how crappy smokers are and how they have no souls and probably aren’t human at all. But beyond that, the stories of the individual members of each group can be surprisingly touching, even wrapped in the zany comedy and oddball setting. Ultimately it’s a story of coming to terms with one’s self-worth and the worth of other people. And fighting an evil governor.
7: Tonari no Seki-kun
One day I was sitting in class as a kid. The teacher had left the room and everyone was given work to do. I was bored so I started setting out a little battlefield for my pens and pencils and then started pitting them against each other. There were epic rivalries, scores being settled, upsets and every soap opera twist being played out in my mind as my pencils silently bashed against one another. Some girl next to me was watching what I was doing and shaking her head, but I knew. For as much as she disapproved of my actions, she wanted to know if Red Pen would get revenge on HB Pencil for defeating his old sparring buddy Blue Pen. Tonari no Seki-kun was my childhood and it spoke to me. It spoke to all of us at The Cart Driver Dot Com.
Best Bad Anime (Symphogear Memorial Award) – The Fruit of Grisaia
It almost feels wrong to say that Grisaia is the best of anything, even when it’s implying that it’s the best at being enjoyably terrible. Still, its only competition is two shows that relate to Ayn Rand in some form, Dai Shogun, which barely qualifies as animation, Rail Wars, a show so agonizingly banal that having “Wars” in the title is almost an insult, and Cross Ange, which is Cross Ange. All things considered, this was a pretty terrible year for terrible. But, lucky for everyone, Grisaia pulled through. It was at the point when a girl faked her own death by holing up in her school with a gun, shooting at her father (but not actually shooting him, that was the MC acting as a sniper, for some reason), and planting a dead body on a grenade to make everyone think it was her that Grisaia solidified its place as The Cart Driver’s Best Bad Anime of 2014. The fact that it only escalated in… quality, for lack of a better word, only further solidified its position. Grisaia may have been many things, bad being among them, but it sure wasn’t boring.
6: Silver Spoon
Silver Spoon’s a show that’s managed to be consistently impressive, without actually ramping up the stakes. Where the first season served as a competent introduction to the sometimes harsh world of modern agriculture, the second builds on the characters as they come to terms with the reality of an uncertain future, and the very real character flaws that exacerbate it. While Hachiken and his struggle to not be helpful to everyone all the time takes up a good portion of the show’s attention, where it really shines is in Mikage’s confusion over whether she should inherit the family farm, or pursue a more dedicated equestrian career. Equal parts sobering and reassuring, Silver Spoon is easily one of the year’s most rewarding shows.
5: Ping Pong
When the barest of bones are laid out for Yuasa to lovingly cushion in psychedelic muscle, freeform fat, and artistically hideous skin, his style can really bring out the best in a work. Ping Pong is probably the best case for this, with a grounded story dripping in symbolic imagery to help the weight of situations seep in. It probably serves as one of the lone sober spots in the auteur’s eventful career, and the fact that it’s actually good only highlights how strong the man can be when he isn’t left solely to his own devices. As expressive as Ping Pong is, it just wouldn’t have been as memorable if everyone was bubble people. Or if it had poorly drawn nudity.
Biggest Disappointment: TIE Psycho Pass 2 and Terror in Resonance
In the end the judges were undecided which of the two was more disappointing. Do we give it to the anime with fantastic ideas, an unbelievably talented staff, gorgeous production and massive hype turning out to be a boring, pretentious load of twaddle with unlikable characters and the worst mystery stories created by randomly opening a story of Greek myths, shutting your eyes and pointing at the page? Or do we give it to the anime with an impressive first season changing lead writers for its hotly anticipated sequel and creating something laughably stupid whose existence as a sequel gave the impression the writers never understood what made the first season so compelling? In the end we just called it a tie. Congratulations Terror in Resonance and Psycho Pass 2. Now both of you sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.
4: Hunter X Hunter
Hunter x Hunter is a show whose length — 148 episodes — seems daunting, but is manageable because the show never stops getting better. (It’s true, anime can do that sometimes!) Indeed, Hunter x Hunter’s best run is in its final year: the heartbreaking climax of the Chimera Ant arc and the political games of the Election arc. Hunter x Hunter flows seamlessly from tense battles to small emotional moments to relieving comedy and anything else one could think of. Each arc tells an interesting story and jumps to a different genre, keeping the show fresh but also managing to keep everything cohesive. How? A cast of characters with compelling struggles that illustrate the best and worst not just of this fictional world, but of our own as well.
3: Space Dandy
There’s this guy called Dandy. He’s a dandy guy in space. He’s a bounty hunter, but kinda sucks at it. He goes to space Hooters. He travels with a space cat and an autotuned vacuum cleaner. Now go.
So said Shinichiro Watanabe to each new episode director he brought onto each new episode of Space Dandy (paraphrased obviously). What those 26 wildly talented directors brought was an array of phenomenally imaginative, incredibly entertaining and each just so different from each other that you genuinely never knew what sort of episode would you get next week. Would you get a dreamlike travel to a world of taking plants, or get trapped on a burning planet with a talking fish. How about High School Musical, or zombies, or purgatory, or rock and roll, or a robot rebellion. Anything and everything was on the table. And most remarkably of all, they actually justified it all in the end. They actually tied these 26 episodes together in a way that was surprisingly coherent and satisfying. What a remarkable series.
Worst Anime: Dai Shogun
It’s not often I will evoke a comparison to Musashi Gundoh, easily the worst anime ever created purely from a production capacity, so I would like to put in a few caveats here. While the character designs for Dai Shogun are similar both in style and awfulness to Gundoh, at least the character designs didn’t have jpeg artefacts. While Dai Shogun did have a very similar ‘animation’ style in that the only movement in the entire series was them shaking the camera to try hide the fact there was no animation, at least Dai Shogun didn’t take blurry pictures of trees and wibble that about as the background moving. Musashi Gundoh on a story level though was at least just trying to do some samurai gunslinger story, rather than some awful harem-y jokes about virgins and brothels. So yes, while Dai Shogun may not be as bad as Musashi Gundoh, it is the closest I’ve ever seen anime come to that legendary show. That alone means it deserves this award.
2: Mushishi Season 2
You know those compilation anime OVAs or projects that are put out? Things like the Anime Mirai projects or things like Neo Tokyo or Freedom? Usually with these projects they are a very mixed bag but there will be this one standout short with excellent storytelling that really stuck with you. It’s the one that you tell people it’s worth watching. Mushishi is like an entire anime of those excellent individual stories for like 50 episodes worth. Each episode delivers fantastically as a little piece of storytelling. You can sink into its atmosphere and let its excellence wash over you. It’s not exactly relaxing since it’s frequently horrific. It’s more like it takes you in a tender yet firm grasp for its duration, tricking you into thinking you’re watching something relaxing but instead giving you a new-found fear of looking at your own reflection in a pool of water. It was a fantastic anime back in 2005 and it turns out it’s still a fantastic anime in 2014.
It would have to take something truly special to knock this masterpiece off the top spot for the year…
Yup, something truly special all right…
*Scamp sulks in a corner*
1: Samurai Flamenco
Justice has truly prevailed. Samurai Flamenco is the year’s most polarizing anime. It has flaws aplenty: the story is messy, the tone is all over the place after a certain big event, and BOY is the production rough, as if some of the animators had to be forced to finish certain scenes at gunpoint. However, no other series — not even Hunter x Hunter or Kill la Kill — was as thrilling a roller coaster ride as Samurai Flamenco. Fans and detractors alike simply had to tune in for the next episode to see just what the hell would happen next, to know how the creative team would push the story further into the outer reaches of the universe. Those who stuck with SamFlam found a story of a dorky fan’s journey into what it means to be a hero and how to grow up beyond that. They also found a charming tribute to the types of shows so many grew up on and hold dear in their hearts. Even in the context of battling a surprise alien, being a hero means something.
Reader’s Choice Award
Best anime series to end in 2014 (Choose 3)
- Hunter X Hunter (31%, 245 Votes)
- Ping Pong The Animation (27%, 218 Votes)
- Mushishi 2 (27%, 212 Votes)
- Kill la Kill (25%, 196 Votes)
- Space Dandy (18%, 140 Votes)
- Monthly Girl's Nozaki-kun (17%, 132 Votes)
- Barakamon (11%, 86 Votes)
- Silver Spoon (9%, 74 Votes)
- Rage of Bahamut: Genesis (8%, 64 Votes)
- Knights of Sidonia (7%, 57 Votes)
- Samurai Flamenco (6%, 49 Votes)
- Haikyuu!! (6%, 48 Votes)
- No Game No Life (6%, 46 Votes)
- Space Brothers (6%, 45 Votes)
- Tonari no Seki-kun (5%, 40 Votes)
- Log Horizon (4%, 35 Votes)
- Hoozuki no Reitetsu (4%, 32 Votes)
- Other (not mentioned here) (4%, 31 Votes)
- Gundam Build Fighters (4%, 31 Votes)
- Terror in Resonance (4%, 28 Votes)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (3%, 25 Votes)
- Noragami (3%, 24 Votes)
- Magi: The Kingdom of Magic (3%, 21 Votes)
- Ghost in the Shell: Arise (3%, 21 Votes)
- Psycho Pass 2 (3%, 20 Votes)
- Free!: Eternal Summer (2%, 19 Votes)
- Sekai Seifuku (2%, 15 Votes)
- Love Live! School Idol Project 2nd Season (2%, 14 Votes)
- Nagi no Asukara (2%, 13 Votes)
- Selector Infected/Spread Wixoss (2%, 13 Votes)
- Chaika - The Coffin Princess- (2%, 13 Votes)
- Sword Art Online 2 (2%, 12 Votes)
- Amagi Brilliant Park (2%, 12 Votes)
- Witch Craft Works (2%, 12 Votes)
- Sabagebu! (1%, 11 Votes)
- Golden Time (1%, 11 Votes)
- Kuroko's Basketball 2 (1%, 10 Votes)
- Hajime no Ippo: Rising (1%, 10 Votes)
- Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus (1%, 9 Votes)
- Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou (1%, 9 Votes)
- Hanayamata (1%, 9 Votes)
- Nisekoi (1%, 9 Votes)
- One Week Friends (1%, 7 Votes)
- Tokyo Ravens (1%, 7 Votes)
- Akame ga Kill! (1%, 6 Votes)
- The Irregular at Magic High School (1%, 5 Votes)
- Baby Steps (1%, 5 Votes)
- Blue Spring Ride (1%, 4 Votes)
- When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace (0%, 3 Votes)
- Hamatora (0%, 3 Votes)
- The World is Still Beautiful (0%, 3 Votes)
- Nanana's Buried Treasure (0%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 796
Can’t have too many complaints with your tastes, although I do wish Seki-kun got higher. Although I do like that it ranked above Log Horizon and Terror in Resonance. Maybe our reader’s taste in anime isn’t so bad after all.