[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 our next installment, Zigg muses over the good and the bad and what this year might mean for the future]
When I wrote this article 12 months ago I bemoaned the lack of true standout shows in 2013. I was disappointed that no single series had taken the year by the scruff of the neck and made it their own. By contrast, 2014 boasted an abundance of riches, with several top drawer stories vying to take the top spot. What was especially encouraging was that all of these high quality shows were diverse in tone, approach and subject matter. Together they created a strong, varied 12 months that are among the best in recent memory.
One trend I particularly enjoyed was the impressive spread of wonderfully artistic shows on the slate. While anime has always been a particularly limited form of animation, even when shows are expensive they tend to be merely slightly smoother versions of the same designs. By contrast there was a burst of marvelous creativity that emerged out of the best of the year. From Kill la Kill‘s scratchy Tex Avery sensibilities to Ping Pong‘s hyperactive motion flow, it seemed there was a united effort to branch out and explore new artistic styles and visual methods. Even shows that retained the more traditional look felt infused with new life and new ideas – look at Nozaki-Kun‘s flawless quick-fire comedy or Bahamut‘s sharp monster design and elegant blending of traditional and CGI elements. After a few years in the dumpster it seems studios are finally realising that giving your show a varied, distinct look can be a springboard to being noticed.
Narratively, I don’t think shows have been quite so ambitious, but there’s still been interesting steps taken in both directions. On the down side, the plague of the LN adaptation continues to run rampant throughout more commercially targeted shows, and the trend of the perfect protagonist is something that’s becoming scarily prevalent. Mahouka gave us the biggest laughs what with its hilariously blatant Randian pandering, but for me the biggest offender was Aldnoah Zero. The show’s utterly flat, emotionless lead would have been hilarious if he hadn’t so obviously been designed to be taken 100% seriously. He represents a grim prospect of what many protagonists may be in the future: grim faced, emotionless avatars for the stunted manchildren in the audience. It’s a shame, because bad characterisation torpedoed what had the potential to be a semi-interesting political-mech thriller.
Speaking of torpedoed chances, how about that Sailor Moon Crystal huh? Toei has made some pretty poor choices this year (check out that painfully cheap World Trigger adaptation) but none were as catastrophic as this butchered remake of their crown jewel. Their refusal to inject anything more than the most paltry budget and talent into something which had the potential to be a blockbuster to a whole new generation is evidence of a worrying short-sightedness. Toei sacrificed the chance to lure a younger, fresh audience into their seminal adventure in return for a quick buck on a shoddy production and the ensuing merchandise. It’s a telling insight into the production process which still plagues anime production. The original series was also a marketing vehicle but it benefited from more narrative freedom from the manga and the creative vision of Junichi Sato and Kunihiko Ikuhara. Bereft of such autuers, Crystal floundered, erasing all the character and passion that the story was built on.
Where were the auteurs? Well, they were probably striking out on their own. The most encouraging trend this year was without a doubt the rebirth of the creator driven passion project, resulting in a more personal, intimate style of production than we’ve seen in a while and an encouraging diversity of subject matter. Studio Trigger proved they were right to abandon the sinking ship of Gainax with Kill la Kill, which realised the undoubted eye for style and mania which had shown promise in Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt. Masaki Yuasa returned to the small screen with Ping Pong which could not have been more obviously his creation if he tried. And of course Shinchiro Watanabe gathered an all-star cast of talent to make Space Dandy a distinct, diverse delight, one which almost felt like it was a showcase for the individual talent involved.
Even tokusatsu, traditionally one of the genres most content to stick to formula, underwent radical change this year. Gen Urobuchi’s work on Kamen Rider Gaim proved that the genre could sucessfully encompass silly and deadly serious, and could use its great length to its advantage by using that time for complex character development. Surprisingly, it’s Gaim that I’d most like to see as a template for the future of shows we write about. Its smart pacing, focus on character development over assumed stereotypes, and balance between action, comedy and emotion made it a unexpectedly strong all rounder. For me it also cemented Urobuchi’s place amongst the best writers working today, the inherent content restrictions of the series curbing his more vicious tendencies while drawing out his love of dark themes in a more controlled way. Gaim is likely to be a blip in the rolling juggernaut that is Kamen Rider, but it was another example of how 2014 was a year for idiosyncratic creators to stamp their own trademark on their work.
What I hope this new wave of creativity means is that the animation industry is ready to usher in a new generation of creators, one who are ready to bring new ideas to the table and shake up the established order. More than anything, to me 2014 was a harbinger that change is on the horizon. There felt like there were two tiers of show this year. On the one hand there was otaku fodder, which seemed more desperate than ever – the horrors of Cross Ange may have been a new low in a sad parade of lows. But there were also shows who dared to do more, aim higher, and take risks, producing the genuinely new and innovative. I’m not saying we’re all the way there yet – Kill la Kill for example may have embraced insanity in its look and feel, but its storytelling was firmly rooted in tradition and cliche. But this was definitely the start of something, something that reminded anime can be fresh and fun, special, sweet, stunning and revolutionary. When Kill la Kill soared and when Space Dandy strutted it reminded me why I love everything we watch and write about here. My fervent hope is that 2014 will be remembered as the year that flame was rekindled to burn brighter than ever for what’s to come.
Thank you all for your year of reading, commenting, laughing and thinking about all the things I have written. Here’s to a great 2015 filled with more of that. And remember…