Anime Wrap-up 2014: The Best, The Worst and The State of The Anime Medium – Part 1

Welcome to The Vault’s 2014 anime wrap-up where I, Logically Sound, shall run through some of the anime series that defined 2014. I’ll rate how each anime fared — from the 2013 leftovers to the fall season — decide the best and worst titles of the year, and discuss how current anime has changed and is going to progress in the coming years [WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS IN EACH REVIEW].

All end-of-year specials, by government protocol, have to begin with a bunch of superfluous, fluffy statements about the year’s end. So feel free to skip this next paragraph if you want meaningful comments on the anime of 2014. But if you do want to immerse yourself in that end-of-year-special spirit, then please enjoy the following, finely-crafted and completely objective, reminiscence upon the year 2014:

Boy, 2014, what a year. It was a year alright. Its sum total of days came to 365, so by definition, it was a year. And what a year it was; there was anime, and other stuff as well. But, boy, the anime, there was anime all right. Some of it was good, some of it was bad. Overall, it was a year, with anime, that was either good or bad, and will most likely be followed by a year where all these statements prove to be true once again.

Now how did 2014 fare in terms of anime? Not that good, but not deserving of the title “bad” either. If there is one thing I want to emphasis, it is this: rather than looking back at the fun times that have been had with the 2014 selection of anime, the anime community should be sitting down and having a hard talk about what happened here and how we can prevent it from happening again. The bad moments of 2014 remain far more salient in my mind than the positives, and hence it is these shortcomings that I want to address here.

So, allow me to paternalistically sit you down, like an overbearing father telling his “little girl” why Jeremy across the street is far from proper marriage material, and explain to you why 2014 is not a year one should remember fondly (for anime at least). I’ll break down the year’s most notable titles, I’ll hand out the awards, and I’ll make a final verdict on how 2014 has changed the anime climate, for better or for worse.

Fall leftovers (the end of an era)

It all seems like a dream. A distant past, existing some odd eons ago, where good anime flowed from the earth like a mighty river, spewing forth her content in an unrelenting torrent of awe. Yes, my mind does deceive me; looking back from the winter of 2014 to that fabled era feels like recalling a children’s fairy-tale. A paradise built on incomplete memories, cherry picked to form a picture far too idealized to have ever occurred in our sour reality. But I tell you my friends, this world was real. It was the fall of 2013 and even with the end of Attack on Titan, the state of the anime medium looked vibrant and passionate. Allow me to recount, for a moment, but a handful of the fine works produced in this gilded age: while I cannot write on all of them, Nagi no Asukara, Yowamushi Pedal, Hajime no Ippo: Rising, Kuroko no Basket 2, and Magi: The Kingdom of Magic all left positive marks on 2014.

Kill la Kill 3Kill la Kill (call me Jewish, but this isn’t the Messiah I was waiting for)

Kill la Kill has been given all manners of titles: from anime of the year, to the saviour of anime. I find the later title quite bizarre considering right before Kill la Kill started, Studio Wit finished off their fantastic adaptation of Attack on Titan. It makes me wonder what was so forsaken about the anime medium that it needed a saviour to redeem it from its sins. I mean, sure, the 2013 summer season was pretty bleak. With titles ranging from Sunday Without God, Watamote, and Fantasista Doll, which were below average at best, to shows such as Oreimo 2 and Ro-Kyu-Bu! SS showing a progression in anime culture many would hope wasn’t the case. Still, as a redeemer Kill la Kill has many shortfalls that make it seem quite far from divine: inconsistent animation, incongruent story introduction, and a symbolic narrative that clashes with its echii exterior.

But if you look at Kill la Kill as an anime, and not some embodiment of the One True God of anime, then you see an incredibly enjoyable and ingeniously crafted show whose merits far, far outshine its faults. If you want a more thorough investigation of these merits, I recommend you check out fellow Vault writer AlexHex’s Kill la Kill Review. He may give it a little more credit than I consider reasonable, but most of his points ring true. Overall, for me, Kill la Kill gets a GOOD… out of 10. This is a solid example of an enjoyable and well-made anime.

Golden timeGolden Time (a photo finish flopping face-first before the finish line)

How can a show provide both an intelligent, engaging and funny analysis of the life of a university student while at the same time fail to make an even coherent ending? Ok, I guess there really is nothing special about that at all… Having a terrible ending is a mark of the anime industry; it’s a definitive characteristic of the medium, up there with big eyes and incest. It just pains me so much that the show had to completely fall apart so close to its ending. While many consider Golden Time inherently flawed due to a certain spiritual being, I still hold firm that Golden Time had the perfect setup to deliver a very compelling message. The idea that you cannot progress as a person while repressing who you were in the past; the idea that maturation requires coming to terms with your past self. The idea that you can’t remake yourself by going to university and cutting all ties with your past; change is possible only by understanding and accepting your past persona as part of your growth as a human being.

But please, don’t go into Golden Time thinking any of those compelling ideas exist within it. They don’t, because Golden Time falls face-first mere centimeters before the show ended, so close to the end that I just can’t comprehend why they chose to end the story in the way they did when all the build-up and progression was there to deliver the beautiful messages listed above.

Even though Golden Time has some phenomenal merit to its name, the ending that failed for no apparent reason will remain the most salient memory of my viewing experience. For a more thorough examination of Golden Time, please see my review of the series.

In the end Golden Time could have been a top-tier title and received the highest ranking on my scale, but instead gave up the ghost mere inches away from winning the race. Golden Time gets a GOOD… out of 10. This is a solid example of an enjoyable and well-made anime.

Log Horizon_edited-1Log Horizon (it’s like Sword Art Online, except NOT shite)

Log Horizon is the reverse-Sword Art Online in many respects. Log Horizon has a poor start but gets progressively better; Sword Art Online has a good start but gets progressively worse. In Sword Art Online people die when they are killed; in Log Horizon, they don’t. But Log Horizon is the opposite of Sword Art Online in the most important way, in that it’s actually good.

Don’t give too much weight to that statement though. After all, being better than Sword Art Online isn’t much of an achievement. In the end it represents the only good “trapped in an MMORPG” anime to date, and for that reason it’s worthy of mention. If you want more thoughts on Log Horizon, head over to my review for a far more thorough treatment of the shows merits and demerits.

For being entertaining and having much promise Log Horizon gets an ABOVE AVERAGE… out of 10. This is a show whose merits outweigh its faults, making it an overall (somewhat) enjoyable piece of media to watch.


Winter (the descent unto the abyss)

And so we begin our journey to the anime underworld of otaku bait and for-profit sequels: The Abyss. “Lo, had our forebears not spoken of this day?” I exclaimed with great disenchantment, for I knew what would follow would be a lengthy journey through an inhospitable wasteland of utter rubbish. Even with this foresight The Abyss proved to be far deeper and far more insidious in nature than I could have ever anticipated. While a few lights shone through the darkness, the worst was yet to come.

Silver spoon 2 2Silver Spoon 2 (breaking news: idealized agrarian education is still awesome)

Before we get into the drudgery of the winter season, let’s look at one of the very, very few gems that managed to shine its way through the muck and goo known as everything else that came out this winter. Silver Spoon’s second season continues the story of this strong slice-of-life from the summer of 2013. If you enjoy plot-centric slice-of-lifes and haven’t seen Silver Spoon then you are doing yourself a disservice by having not watched it. It’s written by Hiromu Arakawa (mangaka behind Full Metal Alchemist) and is hands down one of the most engaging and well-crafted high school slice-of-life’s to ever exist.

With regards to the second season, it maintains the same level of solid character development and charming group dynamic that defined the first season, and for that reason it gets a GOOD… out of 10. This is a solid example of an enjoyable and well-made anime. Silver Spoon 2 is exactly what you would want from a second season: a planned continuation of the pre-established plot threads from the first season, expanded and compounded over time to create an even richer experience. Unfortunately, the next title is an archetypical example of the worst type of sequel a studio can concoct.

Chuunibyou renChuunibyou Ren (an act of treason against all that is right and true)

I love Chunnibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai. When I heard there was a sequel I got under my trusty rock and, in perfect isolation, waited for that special, prophesied moment when the stars of “completed airing” and “I have free-time” would align so I could be treated to one of the greatest anime experiences of the entire season. But in the time since the first Chuunibyou anime, Kyoto Animation had changed from a handsome maverick of moe animation to a deadbeat dad exploiting his children for cheap booze.

Chuunibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai Ren is one of the worst anime of the year (I would say it was the worst, but competition this year has been strong for that category). I already wrote a review showing how Ren is a grandiose betrayal of one of the most ingenious romantic comedies anime has created, so I will keep my explanation here brief. Chuunibyou Ren degrades everything that was good about the show, and by the end of its viewing I had gone from loving the show to hating almost every character, detesting every joke, and wondering what juvenile disorder the Kyoto Animation team had come down with that led them to produce this piece of garbage under their name.  Chuunibyou Ren gets a HORRIFIC… out of 10. This show is a horrendous, atrocious, and dreadful work that is offensive to anime, as a medium.

NisekoiNisekoi (unoriginal, unfunny but above all unenjoyable)

So we come to another romantic comedy that seemed to take the community by storm. While its premise wasn’t new I came in with hope that this show would rise above the porcelain pedestal of mediocrity one would easily assign to it after episode 1. Instead, it seems mediocrity was too high an honour for it, and it proceeded to sink into is pedestal, finally falling off of it and into the gutter of cheap, pandering harems. What got me the most about Nisekoi is the effortless explanation of its premise, which defies common sense (if the yakuza leader and the mob boss are friends, surely they can settle their feud without the need for an elaborate ruse like this). But even more mind-numbing was the comedy, most of which were predictable takes on the tropes each character was crated from. It was obvious that in the manga many of the shocked reaction gags would play out with one character saying the shocking line on one end of a page, to which then you flip the page to see the dramatic expression the other character reacts with. This is fine, for a book, but the Nisekoi I’m reviewing is an anime, and this humor does not translate well onto the moving picture screen.

Overall the real straw that broke my aching back was the fanservice. Forced into every situation was the usual cornucopia of sexually suggestive moments: cameras fixed on the female characters skirts and bust, swimming episodes that were milked to their fullest extent, even the transition frames within the show are used to present the viewer with sexualized depictions of each character. It was this that made quit the show after watching only a single digit number of episodes.

Nisekoi has nothing original in its premise, which is not an inherent problem; but everything from its characters, to its story progression, to its fanservice reeks of unoriginality, and that’s unacceptable. Nisekoi gets a BAD… out of 10. This is a solid example of an unpleasant and terribly constructed anime. But wait, the descent into The Abyss is only beginning, and we have a lot more to cover.

Nobunagun 3Nobunagun (one of the most listless creations on this list)

There really isn’t much to say with this one. There is just so much wrong with this title that I can’t go over every flaw with it, or else this wrap-up would require another year of writing.

Nobunagun is a shmuck of a show. It is historical exploitation used for the obvious reason that the writers have no idea how to write characters. This can be seen in our female lead having no personality. Her single attribute of liking all things military manifests itself only in her saying, “Oh look, it’s [inset full name of military object/vehicle]!” whenever said object is seen on camera. The plot is as empty and one dimensional as the characters. Its cliché, uninteresting, and horrendously executed. Oda Nobunaga’s military tactics become unintentional jokes, representing the only enjoyable aspect of the show.

Don’t watch it, don’t make eye contact with it, don’t even speak its god-forsaken name. Nobunagun is one of those archetypical examples of a bad-bad show; there is no meta-enjoyment in how bad it is, it’s just plain bad. Nobunagun gets a HORRIFIC… out of 10. This show is a horrendous, atrocious, and dreadful work that is offensive to anime, as a medium.

Besides, its name’s dumb, so it’s obvious it’s not good.

Sakura trickSakura Trick (a dark cloud with a silver lining?)

And on the seventh day, God said, “Let them kiss.” And they did, and it was “good” – not really – for the first few times, but it got old quickly. This is Sakura Trick in a nutshell.

If you aren’t satisfied with my synopsis, then read this: Sakura Trick is about 2 girls who go to a school for lesbians where they get to kiss. A lot. If the question, “is this a romance?” has crossed your mind after reading that statement, let me affirmatively tell you, no, it’s not. This show is for men: hetero, cis-gendered, manly men, who only like it when things deviate from the straight-and-narrow (emphasis on straight) when it involves two curvaceous females. And as you can see from Exhibit A: our “couple” meets their curvy criterion.

Exhibit A: one of the very first images you get when googling this show.

Exhibit A: one of the very first images you get when googling this show.

What I’m trying to get at is that this show is nothing but low grade fan service, a mere TV friendly version of soft-core pornography. Believe it or not, I have heard the argument made that this show is actually a lesbian romance with a coming of age subplot. If you believe this line of thought you are delusional. Sakura Trick is so unapologetically trite its “plot” contains no conflict, leading to characters that have no growth. In each episode one of the main characters forgets the other character likes them, then they realise the other character actually does like them, and finally, in celebration of this newfound realisation, they kiss.

Kissing: Sakura Trick’s big shtick. While many fan service shows might keep clothing to a minimum and panty shots to a maximum, they never get too heavy as to not risk being taken off air. Sakura Trick throws aside the old taboos of the past and opens up with one hot and heavy kiss (it’s in the opening for Pete’s sake). It is far more apparent now, having watched the entire show, that this was all a clever ploy. Sure the opening teases of kissing, and the first few episodes definitely deliver with the wet and slobbery action in all its glory, but this is all designed to make the viewer wonder, “where are we going to go next?” Truth was Sakura Trick had no more tricks up its sleeves: Haru-chan and Yu-chan can’t do anything more than kiss without putting their TV time slot at risk. So the show continues giving the audience action-packed make-out scenes with wanton disregard for the fact that by episode 8, they become downright boring.

Keep in mind Sakura Trick has no merit in any other category. The story is a salmagundi of static and careless skits, the characters are nanometers thin, the animation reeks of J.C. Staff’s patented brand of poverty, and the sound is unmemorable. The only real positive point I can think of is that character thighs were well-drawn. So good job J.C. Staff, you made an utter disgrace of yourselves through your beggarly adaptation of Little Busters and you’ve introduced a new cancerous form of fan service into the anime medium, but at the end of the day, you learned how to draw realistic thighs. Good job. Sakura trick gets a HORRIFIC… out of 10. This show is a horrendous, atrocious, and dreadful work that is offensive to anime, as a medium.

I hope you’re happy J.C. Staff. I was prepared to forgive you guys after Golden Time, but it seems you haven’t learned your lesson. Making bad anime doesn’t fill your coffers nor does it help your viewers, it just makes you look bad.

NoragamiNoragami (not God-tier, but definitely a demi-god when compared to its competitors)

Being the only original title this winter season that wasn’t completely terrible, I want to go easy on Noragami, but there are many points of contention I have with the show and after writing the Sakura Trick review my bitterness appears to be carrying over to my memories of Noragami.

The premise itself seemed enticing, yet at the same time tired. On one hand we have the wondering-god himself named Yato, a sketchy figure wearing a tracksuit belonging to some eastern European mob, while at the same time sporting a stylish bishonen haircut. He comes across not only as original but also as an interesting and engaging figure to follow in his prohibitively grandiose goal of becoming the most famous god on the Japanese isle. On the other hand we have Hiyori, an unassuming high school girl who ends up becoming a helpless visitor to the world of gods and spirits Yato resides in. She feels too much like the ghost-whispering character types of Natsume and Watanuki from Natsume Yuujinchou and XxxHolic respectively. The problem is that she’s a standard issue moe girl, model qt3.14, and hence doesn’t have anywhere near the character depth necessary to stand beside the supernatural juggernauts mentioned earlier. In the end, what you get is a possibly interesting story bogged down by the earthly need to cater to moe pigs and fanservice fanatics.

As a result Noragami remains in a state of limbo between creative goodness and terrestrial trashiness. Side characters range from exceptional to horrid. Case in point is Yukine and Kofuku. Yukine is a character that undergoes both ample exposition and comprehensive development, making for, without a doubt, the best part of Noragami. But in contrast Kofuku is a resignation to the idea that moe girls need to overpopulate every work put out in the anime medium. Her function in the narrative feels mechanical and her personality is wafer thin.

Noragami 3

But Noragami’s greatest vice was in its story, or the lack there of. The show initially appears to be spinning a yarn about Yato told through the eyes of Hiyori, but quickly falls victim to all means of stagnancy. Slice-of-life elements get infused with several newly introduced characters who force aside any semblance of an overarching narrative to make room for their (albeit well-executed) character arcs. By the end of the show we have a “final boss” of a villain that had only been introduced at episode 10! As a result of this jumbled mess, pacing and progression go off the rocker and the whole ensemble jitters awkwardly across the finish line, making a far from satisfying conclusion.

Still, in spite of the all the transgressions, stagnancies and qt3.14’s, Noragami still makes it to the other side of the river in my mind, because, well, it tried. Honestly, if you show any sign of trying to not be a pandering piece of junk, then I’ll give you an above average rating. As a result, since Noragami has managed to meet the cut-off of giving at least one shit towards trying to be good, it receives an ABOVE AVERAGE… out of 10. This is a show whose merits outweigh its faults, making it an overall (somewhat) enjoyable piece of media to watch. I mean, Silver Spoon can’t be the only good thing that came out this season, can it?

Click here for PART 2

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