[Welcome to “A Very GLORIO 2014”, our look back at the best of the past year. We’ll be featuring a different post from each of our authors everyday leading up to our top 10 shows of the year. For this round, Gee punches other award posts in the face with his burning passion for his favorite shows of the year.]
Boy, 2014 huh? Talk about a weird year. Despite some hiccups, amoral jerks, and truly terrible mecha anime, 2014 has also been one of the strongest years I’ve seen for the medium in a long time. Between the return of some of last year’s highlights and the debut of some great shows, 2014 is a year to remember for anime. I also started the feature Pilgrimage To Mecha as a way to better acquaint myself with the genre (as well as come to realize just how truly crappy mecha is these days). Altogether, it led to a year with a lot of memorable anime, both new and old. So here I am, and I’ll try my best to give a shout out to some of my highlights from this year.
Sometimes a great cast saves a sparse narrative and sometimes an excellent narrative brings out the best in its characters. These were the shows that managed to make me care and enjoy seeing everyone who showed up.
Space Dandy, Shingeki no Bahamut, Ping Pong
Space Dandy’s eclectic collection of aliens and weirdos helped formulate the absolutely delightful world they inhabited.
From dashing rogues to sassy necromancers, Shingeki no Bahamut managed to introduce a ton of fantastic characters that won over its audience better than your average light novel self-insert.
The strength of Ping Pong’s fantastic writing allowed its characters to ascend from actors to genuinely believable human beings.
Not only has Shingeki no Bahamut been one hell of a ride, it’s introduced a great cast of traveling companions. Our main trio of Favaro, Kaisar, and Amira work off of each other in ways I never expected. Each brought something unique to table. Throw in necromancers tossing their own limbs like rocket punches, drunk gods with talking ducks, and a whole variety of other fun characters, and what you have is a show that makes you excited every time you see any of its cast members appear.
Best New Character
Sometimes all it takes is a single character to win over the audience. These are the characters so charismatic, compelling, or simply entertaining that the show hinges on their presence.
Favaro Leone, Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto, Momoka Sonokawa
Favaro is easily one of the most entertaining characters I’ve seen this year. He is the ideal swashbuckling rogue and the fact that the show continuously reminds us that he’s not even that great of a person just adds to it. He takes what he wants, lies to get what he can’t, and will go through any number of hijinks to stay on top.
From the very first episode, Smile intrigued everyone with his stoic behavior. The rest of the show managed to take an already compelling character and see it through to its glorious end.
Like Favaro, Momoka is not a very good human being. She’s also 12 shades of psychopath and that’s exactly why we love her. She managed to take a show I was dreading and turn it into one of my favorite comedies in recent memory.
If you asked me which character from Ping Pong I liked more, I would tell you it was Peco for his immensely satisfying character arc and enthusiasm. After all, he is the hero. Hell, almost everyone in Ping Pong had an immensely satisfying character arc. But it was Smile who truly intrigued me from the very first episode. And perhaps because I’m so ideologically opposite of Smile, that made watching him all the more engrossing. I’m the exact kind of person Smile would have difficulty expressing himself around, and watching him grow and share his pain showed me that everyone in this world feels something, no matter how hard they try to hide it or how difficult it is for them to express it. The culmination of Smile’s character is one of the most emotionally cathartic and beautiful things I have seen.
If you know me, you know that a good opening sells a show better than anything else. It’s the first impression, and these are the some of this year’s best first steps forward.
Tadahitori (Ping Pong), Cerulean (GBF: Try), Respect for the Dead Man (Nobunagun), Viva Namida (Space Dandy)
Tadahitori is a rousing fun romp of an opening, starting off with an immensely strong vocal and leading in with some of the most striking visuals of the year.
Cerulean did an even better job than its predecessor’s openings in getting me excited for the show it headlined.
Respect for the Dead Man probably shouldn’t be here, but like the others here, it has a terribly catchy vocal lead-in. If nothing else, it did a great job of preparing me for the sheer insanity that followed.
Viva Namida is probably the only one here that doesn’t immediately lead with a guy shouting at the top of his lungs. Instead it has one of the catchiest beats ever. Throw in some wild visuals and you have an opening that didn’t need to change for 26 whole episodes.
I will admit, as a fan of sports anime, Tadahitori was a shoe-in from the start. While the rest of Ping Pong convinces you that it’s not going to be a standard sports anime, its opening sure as hell gets you pumped all the same. And yet, despite that rousing audio, the visuals show something far more nuanced and interesting. In the end, Ping Pong’s distinct opening gave us a better insight into the show’s true themes far earlier than the show itself revealed.
People who know me well also know that while I’m not as much of a music guy as Aquagaze, I sure as hell love myself a good soundtrack. A great score turns a good show into a great one, and a great one into something unforgettable. These are some of the best this year had to offer.
Gundam Build Fighters, Ping Pong, Kill la Kill, Space Dandy
Most of these pieces were from last year, but it technically ended this year so it counts! Gundam Build Fighters not only has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard from a kids show, it’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard from a Gundam, period.
I’ll put it this way. The three month wait for Ping Pong’s soundtrack was one of the most painful waits I’ve ever experienced for an anime’s score. It somehow manages to evoke the best the sports anime genre has to offer while also offering some truly subtle and beautiful themes for those quiet character moments.
Space Dandy’s soundtrack is just wild. From heartfelt vocal tracks to snazzy tunes worthy of the Dandy name, it’s a score with not only breadth, but depth on a variety of levels. For every memorable moment in Space Dandy, there was an equally worthy track from its collection.
On an individual basis, it’s arguable that Ping Pong had the superior soundtrack. But once you factor in the sheer breadth of Space Dandy’s score, it becomes apparent how truly special it is. The range of its soundtrack is something you can only experience for yourself. The catchy upbeat songs aren’t just catchy and upbeat, they’re jazzy, snazzy, and heart pumping. The somber quieter tracks aren’t just somber and quiet, they’re soft, heartfelt, and beautiful. There is no single song that can define Space Dandy because there are so many notable pieces in its repertoire. The sheer variety found in its soundtrack ensures a kind of musical diversity that keeps Space Dandy from ever feeling stale.
Best Art and Design
Unlike last year, there were actually enough good-looking shows airing to have both an art award and an animation award. Anime is an inherently visual medium, and the first part of this award is for the show that managed to create some genuinely striking imagery.
Space Dandy, Gundam Reconguista in G, Ping Pong
Space Dandy’s fantastic alien and world design contributed to the creation of its very strange and memorable universe.
Say what you will about its strange direction and animation, Gundam Reconguista in G contains some of the best mecha design and art direction I’ve seen in a robot anime in a very long time.
With famed director Masaaki Yuasa at the helm, Ping Pong was guaranteed to have a distinct and eyecatching aesthetic.
Like many of Yuasa’s works, Ping Pong is beautiful in its ugliness. The primary source of its charm are its unique visuals and distinct approach to telling its story. Ping Pong did so by showing rather than exposition, and it was accomplished through its amazing and memorable imagery. The characters managed to emote and visually communicate in a way few other anime could match, and it’s arguable that it was able to maintain such a human connection with the audience through its very human designs. Out of all the anime that aired this year, Ping Pong’s art is going to stick with me the most.
Anime is also a moving art form. These are the shows that managed to take their imagery and weave them into some fantastic compositions
Space Dandy, Shingeki no Bahamut, Ping Pong, Unlimited Blade Works
Watanabe’s choice to bring in a variety of key animators and directors for Space Dandy worked out in its favor, leading to a gorgeous collection of animation styles and methodologies.
I don’t think anyone quite anticipated how good Shingeki no Bahamut was going to look. With some fantastically animated fights and a whole ton of extra detail thrown into the animation throughout, it’s quite something to behold.
Yuasa’s distinct aesthetics were reflected in Ping Pong’s animation as well, showcasing some striking compositions over the course of its run.
Unlimited Blade Works is here by default because it looks so damn good. Ufotable poured a whole lot of money into it, and it shows.
Like its soundtrack, Space Dandy’s greatest strength is its breadth and diversity in material. With Shinichiro Watanabe operating at a higher supervising role, a multitude of notable animators and directors got the chance to strut their stuff in Space Dandy, ranging from Hiroyuki Imaishi and Yoshiyuki Ito to Keiichiro Watanabe and Masaaki Yuasa. The end result was a stunning showcase of animation as a medium. Out of anything that aired this year, Space Dandy is the strongest example of what exactly the medium can be capable of in the hands of its most passionate and talented individuals.
I wouldn’t be lying if I said I went into most shows with rather low expectations. I also wouldn’t be lying if I said most of those shows failed to reach even that low of a bar. But these are the ones that not only surpassed that bar, but were entirely entertaining pieces in their own right.
Sabagebu, Nobunagun, Shingeki no Bahamut, Shirobako
Out of all the shows here, Sabagebu is likely the one I went into with the lowest expectations. When it turned out to be a genuinely witty and spontaneous comedy with some real laugh-out-loud moments, I was delighted.
Nobunagun’s premise told me it had no right to be as good as it was. But between crazy girls, screamo rock OPs, and steampunk death lanterns, Nobunagun was a wild ride from start to finish. It’s the kind of show most are going to forget by 2015, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a spectacle while it lasted.
Quite literally everyone on the Glorio crew expected Shingeki no Bahamut to be yet another in a long line of tired mobile game adaptations, built to reach the lowest bar and no higher. Imagine our surprise when it ended up being one of the most exciting and fun shows airing this year.
And like the prior nominee, we all expected Shirobako to be little more than a shallow whitewashing of the animation industry, covered in a shiny veneer of anime girls. Instead we got a fascinating look at the animation industry, in all its glory and all its depressing lows. Mostly depressing lows.
Between its stunning production values, engrossing cast, and just plain good sense of fun, Shingeki no Bahamut is one of the freshest anime this year. It probably says something about anime that a straightforward swashbuckling fantasy is the freshest feeling show many of us have watched in a while. But don’t let its tired premise and property fool you, Shingeki no Bahamut is a perfect example of a studio taking its sparse premise and spinning it into something genuinely exciting and original. Props to Studio Mappa and Keiichi Satou of Tiger and Bunny fame for pulling it off.
Best Single Episode
These are the moments we watch anime for. Those singular events that make us talk about them for months, or reminisce about them long after the show has finished. Everything that makes an anime tick came together in a perfect blend during these moments.
Kill la Kill Episode 24, Space Dandy Episode 21, Ping Pong Episode 11
The reason Kill la Kill is still in the running for show of 2014 can be best attributed to its excellent second half, culminating in one of the most outstanding finales of the year.
The fact that Space Dandy’s representative is the only that isn’t a final episode should be a testament to the heights it reaches, however inconsistent. Examining the facets of life and death, love and eternity, all to the backdrop of some gorgeous visuals. It shows that when it wants to be, Space Dandy is a fine example of what the medium is capable of.
Ping Pong brings us another finale that will be remembered for years. The climax of two of the most fascinating character arcs of the year, Ping Pong’s finale is cathartic, fulfilling, and a wonder to behold. It wasn’t enough to be the best character drama of 2014, it stuck the landing better than we could have ever hoped.
Kill la Kill’s finale shows that no matter how crazy your story gets, it’s even more important to make good on those promises and stick the landing. One only needs to look at our final impressions post to see how much the show spoke to us, for both good and ill. Not only did it make good on many of the best things about a finale, it elevated them to a whole new level. Characters didn’t just get a moment to shine, they got a chance to shoot lasers out of their chest. The OP didn’t just play during the finale, both OPs played during the finale. Everything about it is a compilation of how to end an anime, taken to its logical and thematic extreme. It’s operatic in scale and all the better for it.
Best Old Anime I Watched This Year
The mecha genre isn’t what it used to be, and these are the best of the oldies I watched this year that prove it.
Patlabor, Dai-Guard, Bubblegum Crisis
Patlabor is sheer fun in its scope and manages to take a very grounded premise and elevate it into something special.
Dai-Guard is one of the most pure mecha anime I have ever watched, distilling and poking fun at classic mecha tropes while doubling back on them, reminding us all why exactly we love watching giant robots so much.
Bubblegum Crisis is perhaps near-equal to Ghost in the Shell for being the most perfect representation of cyberpunk anime I have ever seen. It’s beautiful, fascinating, and exciting.
I loved all three of these, and each one made me so thankful I started this feature. In the end though, Patlabor is the one I got to give the most props to. While both Dai-Guard and Bubblegum Crisis are arguably equally pure representations of their respective sub-genre, it’s Patlabor that exceeds them. It understands that the mecha genre can only be as powerful and compelling as the characters who pilot the giant robots. Noa Izumi is easily one of my favorite mecha protagonists of all time and between her excellent characterization, Patlabor’s top-notch design work, and an overall devotion to entertainment and fun, Patlabor left the greatest impression on me.
Least Excellent Anime of the Year
I do not like Aldnoah.Zero. It wasn’t always this way though. Prior to its airing, all we knew was that it had some excellent designs, was being led by Urobuchi Gen, and had Hiroyuki Sawano doing the music. It was practically a match made in heaven. So why did it fail so hard? Well once Urobuchi was done with his part on the show, Aldnoah.Zero went from unremarkable to truly repugnant. Poor characterization led to everyone having the depth of cardboard. This can be primarily seen in its notorious protagonist, Inaho, who went beyond merely annoying into truly infuriating. The fights were solved in the most intellectually insulting manner I have seen in a very long time. Aldnoah.Zero was constantly contradicting itself at every turn. For every claim that it was a serious and intelligent take on the genre, there were multiple examples proving otherwise.
Aldnoah.Zero is a testament to everything I hate about modern mecha. Unlike Patlabor or numerous other older mecha anime I watched this year, Aldnoah.Zero demonstrated a fundamental failing in understanding what makes this genre work. It’s impossible to care about its characters. Unless this is literally the first mecha anime you have ever watched, there is nothing it does that is interesting, unique, or novel. Some of its greatest “twists” were literally accomplished by the original Mobile Suit Gundam 35 years prior. I cannot even begin to understand Aldnoah.Zero’s prominence among fans. It’s times like these that I wonder if perhaps I’ve just been abandoned by the inevitable march of time. Perhaps Aldnoah.Zero is actually good, and I just don’t get it. If that’s the case, I’m not going to stick around and find out. Like Valvrave, Guilty Crown, or Gundam SEED before it, Aldnoah.Zero is yet another ignoble entry in the genre best ignored.
Most Excellent Anime of the Year
Kill la Kill and Studio Trigger proved themselves in 2013 when it turned out to be one of the most entertaining anime of the year. What was next on everyone’s minds though was if they could stick the landing. Considering the studio’s pedigree, an insane ending rife with budget issues and production problems would not have been out of order. Well I am happy to say that Kill la Kill not only made good on its promises, but it stuck that landing so hard that people are going to be talking about it for years to come. Trigger proved that they were wholly capable of producing a genuinely fun and heartfelt piece of work despite their unproven status as a fledgling studio with little monetary resources to its name. Kill ls Kill is a pure distillation of entertainment and it never claims to do anything more. Perhaps because of that, it’s why it earned a place in my heart so easily. Rather than make lofty claims or actually, “save anime,” Kill la Kill accomplished the simple goal of being the most entertaining anime to air this year. It’s the anime, moreso than any other this year, that I looked forward to every week. And sometimes, that’s more than enough.