Welcome to the inaugural post here at Redundant Colors! My resolution for New Years was to finally start a blog, and so here it is! To usher in this hopefully productive new year I’m going to start off by talking about well, last year, naturally. 2014 was kind of a middling year for anime, and I didn’t quite finish as many series as I’d intended to, but I still saw plenty of good stuff. Before we get into the nitty gritty, I’ll go over the typical disclaimers: First of all, his is my list. My totally biased, inherently subjective list. If your Favorite Anime didn’t make the cut, I probably didn’t see it, or didn’t like it. Sorry. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments. Second, only series that ended in 2014 were eligible for this list. If you want to know where I rank Parasyte and Unlimited Blade Works, you’ll have to come back next year. Lastly, this list does not include films, as I find they are just too different in terms of structure and production to be meaningfully compared to series. OVA series will be counted, but on-disc bonus episodes will not be considered in the rankings. With that in mind, let’s get started with…
#10 – Knights of Sidonia
I’m a big fan of both gritty speculative sci-fi and good old-fashioned human survival stories. Sidonia’s big ideas are things I can totally get behind. How does humanity adapt on the brink of annihilation? How much of our humanity are we willing to give up to protect what remains of it? This show has got clones, hermaphrodites, robots, shadowy overlords, conspiracy theories, and giant mutant space squids that turn into cute anime girls. On the other hand? Well… the devil is in the details, as they say. The wonky CGI character-models, the bog-standard put-upon Chosen One hero story, and the totally shoe-horned in harem hijinks really drag the whole story down. The latter of which just seem to be there there because ~anime~, and the effect is pretty jarring to say the least. It’s far more distracting than the CGI, which could actually be rather breathtaking when there weren’t any human characters on screen. Knights of Sidonia is a show that really wants to be weighty and powerful, but doesn’t seem quite sure how exactly to do that. It plays around with some cool concepts and smart ideas; before suddenly stumbling right into dumb power fantasy mode, and back out again just as quickly. It’s way too smart to be a fluffy action show, but it’s not mature enough to be taken seriously as substantial speculative sci-fi. In a more generous year, Sidonia likely wouldn’t have even made this list. But things being what they are, the bonus points for a sweet angela OP sneaks it in under the wire.
#9 – Love Stage
Easily one of the biggest surprises of the year, this show has pretty much set the new high-water mark for BL anime. Which, to be fair, wasn’t exactly all that high to begin with. Yeah, there has been a dearth of good BL anime since well, ever really. After a wealth of schlocky, barely-above-fanfiction titles, I initially dismissed Love Stage as the latest in an eternal string of mediocre fujoshi-bait anime. But as the season rolled on, the show began generating a lot of positive buzz on twitter. And yeah, the internet was largely right about this one. Fun and endearing characters, respectable amounts of romantic chemistry, and jokes that are actually funny, imagine that! The show even manages to sneak in some sharp musings on the entertainment industry and celebrity tabloid-culture. It’s not a perfect show by any stretch of the imagination, though. It does indulge in some of the uhh… seedier tendencies of the genre, and most of the supporting cast consists of one-note joke characters. But I just like a good couple that’s fun to watch, and this show certainly delivers on that.
#8 – Yuki Yuna wa Yuusha de Aru
YuYuYu is another show that came out of left field this year. The latest in a trend of series trying to recapture the Madoka uhh… magic, YuYuYu is arguably the first truly successful attempt at it. Largely because MadoMagi isn’t the only show this thing is taking pages from. There’s also quite a bit of Nanoha and Mai-Hime in its DNA, for better and for worse. On the plus side, the show manages to build up a believable, endearing cast before things start to Get Real in the second act. The girls have fleshed-out, if simple, personalities as well as a pleasant, if archetypal, group dynamic. On the negative side, the explicit focus on boobs and butts during the transformation scenes is a genre convention I could have totally done without. The show also builds to a seemingly tragic crescendo only to inexplicably resolve itself with some liberal application of Plot Magic. This might not be the best show on this list, and probably not even the most uneven, but it is arguably the most interesting. The inclusion of a paraplegic Magical Girl is at least something I can safely say I’ve never seen done before. This series was apparently a sequel to a tie-in manga as part of some big multimedia project that us baka gaijins will probably never see the full extent of. But I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of this thing.
#7 – Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis
Produced by rising-star Studio MAPPA, seemingly a refuge for former Madhouse associates, Bahamut was a bit of a wild card heading into the Fall season. Created as a tie-in for an electronic mobile card game, there was very little reason to expect this show not be a cynical, lifeless marketing-vehicle. But then that first trailer dropped, and things weren’t quite so clear-cut anymore. And with the premiere of the first episode, those expectations were shattered, run over by a truck, and set on fire. In what was arguably one of the strongest premieres of the season, Bahamut pilfered the energy and style of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters a la Pirates of the Caribbean, and combined it with a charming fantasy-adventure pastiche. The result was something almost reminiscent of a fantasy-flavored Cowboy Bebop. While the show regrettably decided not to stick with that format for very long, it does use those early episodes to introduce a cast of endlessly likable characters. Rita, the curmudgeonly Sawashiro-voiced loli necromancer(seen above) may be my favorite new female character of the year; while Favaro and Kaisar easily clinch best frenemies/bromance. In the end, Bahamut abandons much of its potential to do a pretty rote Chosen One Saves the World fantasy narrative, but it rides high on the strength of its early episodes and sticks the landing well enough. The “genesis” subtitle would seem to suggest this is only the beginning of our adventures in Bahamut. Though, I do kinda hope they don’t make too many more of these. “Rage of Bahamut: Deuteronomy” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…
#6 – Log Horizon
Pretty much exactly the show I’d always wished .hack and SAO were. Not only does this show use the game setting to make the most of its concepts and ideas, but it also has a more heartfelt, even intimate understanding of both gamers and gamer culture than just about any piece of non-game media I’ve ever seen. Watching this show gives me literal flashbacks of my World of Warcraft years. This show perfectly evokes the elation and frustration of spending nearly 6 years in a progression raiding guild(DPS Shaman 4 lyfe). But if that was the only thing Log Horizon did, it probably wouldn’t be on this list. In typical Mamare Touno fashion, this show also uses the game world to explore the sociopolitical implications of people being suddenly thrust into a lawless new frontier. How would society survive? What kind of society would it be? How does the game world interact with that society? These are the kinds of questions you could base an entire story out of, but LH doesn’t stop there. The addition of NPCs as an autonomous, sentient entity and the reveal of in-game events as now world-shattering crisis rounds out the rest of S1. On top of all that is a sizable ensemble cast that, while not particularly nuanced or complex, are certainly endearing.
#5 – Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda
Yes, the outfits were ridiculous, there’s a reason this is only in the #5 spot. Ignoring that, Zvezda was the rare kind of show that’s capable of crafting a fun story that’s actually About Things without also having to pretend to be a Super Totally Serious Cartoon For Grown-Ups. The brainchild of director Tensai Okamura(Wolf’s Rain, Darker than Black), and Type-Moon recruit Hoshizora Meteor, Zvezda is certainly one strange beast of a show. One part surrealist comedy run on Moon-logic, and one part dramatic rumination on family and identity. It’s a chimeric hodgepodge of a show that by all accounts just shouldn’t work, not even including the episode where Okamura vicariously lives out his anti-smoker revenge-fantasy. But Zvezda is so much more than the sum of its parts. In terms of raw unfiltered humanity, Zvezda may just be the most ambitious show of the year.
#4 – Chaika the Coffin Princess
While not exactly a groundbreaking or Earth-shattering story, Chaika is certainly a confident production from talented people. Chaika boasts fun characters, excellent fight choreography, and just enough thematic weight to set it apart from every other generic disposable action-adventure show. What Chaika lacks in originality(several elements are even borrowed from Ichiro Sakaki’s previous work, Scrapped Princess), it more than makes up for in personality. Chaika herself is easily one of the most adorable heroines of the year, and the show itself is a veritable treasure trove of animated GIFs. While the characters and musings on post-war malaise never quite get the conclusive resolutions that the show seemed to be promising, the story itself is an enjoyable roller-coaster of action-adventure fare that’s easy to get invested in. Chaika builds an interesting techno-magic fantasyland, fills it with amicable characters, and that’s pretty much all the show wanted to do. It’s hard to hold the lack of originality or complexity against it when the show is so good at delivering the basic fundamentals.
#3 – Barakamon
Barakamon isn’t a weighty or dramatic kind of show, but that doesn’t mean it’s not smart. An overall solid script, and the strong central focus on Handa’s personal growth really elevates the material above many of its contemporaries. The cast is just large enough to provide a broad foundation for gags without being too cumbersome, Handa’s artistic conflicts will resonate with anyone who’s ever tried to make it in a creative field, and Naru’s childishly adorable behavior(and actual child seiyuu!) will be instantly endearing to anyone who’s ever had to deal with kids for extended periods of time. The humor is broad and flows naturally from the characters’ base personalities, especially from Handa and Naru’s comparative immaturity. Barakamon is essentially what happens when you apply remarkable execution to mostly unremarkable material. It’s cute, funny, laid back, and even genuinely poignant on several occasions. It’s not enlightening or life-altering, but this is about as good as the down-to-Earth end of the Slice of Life genre gets.
#2 – Zankyou no Terror
Definitely flawed, and understandably divisive. ZanTero is the kind of passionate, pointed, ideas-over-story narrative that I just have to respect the fuck out of. ZanTero is an angry and outspoken show, as you might expect from something about terrorism. Except that’s not quite right. ZanTero is about the disenfranchised and the abandoned reclaiming their voice from an innately predatory system that marginalizes them, and terrorism is just the specific device the story chooses to express that voice. ZanTero takes its “youth in rebellion” theme, and expresses it in the most literal way possible. The show’s individual elements resound in smart and effective ways, and terrorism is just another one of those elements. ZanTero is a show with a message, and it is ardently determined to makes its point. Which unfortunately means the show doesn’t quite work if you’re not parsing it on those terms. As a thought-piece, this show is one of the most elegant I’ve ever seen, but as a psychological crime thriller, it’s pretty hit-or-miss. Thankfully, Shinichiro Watanabe proves without a shadow of a doubt that he is every bit the legend that the fandom thinks he is. This show is gorgeously animated with absolutely striking cinematography. From the washed-out colors of a scorching Summer day to the occasional focus blur of the phantom camera, ZanTero is one of the only anime that manages to achieve a nearly cinematic experience. Of course Watanabe isn’t the only industry legend on the project, and the preposterously talented Yoko Kanno turns out arguably one of the most haunting scores of her career for this show as well. It’s definitely not a perfect show, not even close, but it’s hard for me to begrudge a show that’s trying to juggle so many ideas at once. Echoing the Oedipus mythos by way of youthful rebellion against the state? Personifying Japan’s post-WWII nationalism as an aging old authoritarian parental figure? Paralleling the cycle of abuse with Japan’s resentment of mean ol’ Grandpa America? The way both Lisa’s parents and Shibazaki’s dead-end career parallel Nine and Twelve’s backstory? I thought that stuff worked really well! Five may have been a pretty significant misfire, and the show may have leaned a little too hard on the Crime Thriller trappings for its own good, but when this show was working it was fucking working. The bomb defusal confession scene was one of the most absurdly effective things I saw all year.
#1 – Hanamonogatari
Another year, another Monogatari arc. This one being possibly the densest single arc of the whole bunch while simultaneously being one of the easiest to parse is a pretty clear indication that Monogatari has finally settled into its own. I wasn’t sure Shinbo and crew would be able to maintain the careful equilibrium they somehow stumbled into with Second Season, but I think they’ve basically perfected the formula at this point. And hell if it don’t work like a charm. These later bits of the Monogatari franchise have bet everything on their ability to tear down and rebuild its bevy of attractive heroines, and that gamble continues to pay absolutely massive dividends in this arc. Kanbaru was always one of my favorite Monogatari girls, and this 5-episode arc utilizes nearly every facet of her character in ways that are just goddamn impressive. This arc touches on everything from the isolation inherent to exceptional talent, to the crisis of identity that comes with burgeoning adulthood. The story even manages to sneak in a charming little romance arc, finally allowing Kanbaru’s sexual orientation to be a meaningful aspect of her character instead of a mostly unfunny running gag. This arc is an example of Monogatari at its most graceful, most human, and most profound, without losing any of the eccentric charm and wit that made it a phenomenon. It’s raunchy, it’s weird, it’s hilarious, it’s Monogatari. And it’s the best goddamn anime I watched in 2014.