2014 has finally arrived, I’ve decided that the time has come to cast my eye back over the previous year and try, with a great degree of difficulty, to name my ten favourites of the year. Difficult indeed, because through the course of the year I probably watched about 60 or 70 (I lost count) series, and when I decided to make a list of those I enjoyed, I had a little over 40 listed.
A bit much to write a post about, so I actually had to narrow it down a bit, and this is what took the longest.
Now, before I jump into the meat of the thing, let me make this particular point VERY clear. These are the 10 shows I enjoyed the most. This is not me saying that these were the 10 best shows of the year. Show ratings tend to be horribly subjective, and I’m not about to jump into that particular swamp. Every person who reads this particular post is likely to have 10 completely different choices.
Let’s move on – here we are with my 10 favourites, in no particular order:
Love Live! School Idol Project
When Honoka hears that her school is about to shut down due to low attendance numbers, she’s in a bit of a slump until she hatches a plan to start an idol group to promote the school and get more students joining. She drags her two best friends, Umi and Kotori, into the process.
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing, and they have a long road, with plenty of ups and downs, comedy and drama along the way, starting with resistance from the student council itself. I’ve never actually gotten around to watching any of the other idol anime floating around out there, which makes Love Live! my first venture into the genre.
And it managed to charm me pretty quickly with its engaging character designs and personalities, and lovely bright and vibrant colours. It was rather unfortunate that with the large cast, and there being only twelve episodes, there really wasn’t that much room for character development, but they did try and squeeze in a bit of it, and this obviously included one or two clashes along the way.
If you haven’t ventured into the genre before, then Love Live! may very well be worth checking out, and apart from that, it was a reasonably paced show well suited for just sitting back and relaxing. Of course, there was also music, so here’s a video of their first performance from episode 3 of the series.
Tamayura ~More Aggressive~
I’ve made mention in the past of one of my favourite series – Aria, which is the kind of series that puts a lump in your throat for no apparent reason, and is basically the anime equivalent of giving your brain (or your soul) a hot soak.
Tamayura falls into exactly the same category, with Tamayura ~More Agressive~ being the second season of the series. The main protagonist is Sawatari Fuu, who moved to her deceased father’s hometown on the Seto Inland sea with her family. The series doesn’t have a plot per se, it is a straightforward slice-of-life story.
Where the first season deals – for the most part – with Fuu coming to terms with her father’s passing, the second season focuses less on this particular aspect. As the title implies, Fuu has decided to become “more aggressive” and as part of this she decides to start a photography club at her school, still using her father’s old camera. A new year, of course, means new faces, and her club soon gains a member.
As far as development goes, that’s pretty much it, and the series follows Fuu and her friends through the year as they take part in their various activities. The background music, art and character performances come together nicely to create a series that is loaded with emotion, and if you sit down to watch this it may be worth keeping some tissues nearby, because there may be some sniffles – and possibly a tear or two – somewhere along the line.
Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san
Takurou is your average, everyday teenager, whose main pass-time is fishing on the pier. It’s his way of relaxing, and this remains true until the day he accidentally fishes up the mermaid, Muromi. Muromi takes an instant liking to him, and from that point forward, appears everytime to make Takurou’s life a bit more interesting than it needs to be.
One of the first aspects of the series you’ll notice is probably the character design, which seems very much a throwback to the days of series like Slayers. It shares aspects of shows like Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, where the two main protagonists originate from two very different worlds – in this case however, Muromi-san is an over-the-top comedy, with Muromi spending a lot of time trying to get Takkun (her name for him) to pay attention to her, while Takurou tries very hard to remain patient.
One of the main gags of the show are the repeated references to Muromi’s (and those of her friends) age – she’s actually a lot older than she looks, but has attained not much of the wisdom you’d expect … she’s a complete airhead. The permanent personality clash made for decent comedy, and because each episode clocks in at about 10 minutes apiece, there wasn’t enough time for it to wear thin, and you could be content with waiting for the next episode.
If you’re looking for some pointless comedy to tie you over, Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san is probably worth a look.
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S
The Raildex franchise is an enduring favourite of mine, and this particular season marks the fourth installment of the franchise to appear on our screens (not counting the two movies). This might be a personal opinion, but I actually rate Railgun slightly higher than Index in terms of enjoyment.
The second season kicks off with the Sisters Arc, which we had already encountered in the first season of To Aru Majutsu no Index, except of course, that this time the story is told from Misaka’s perspective. And of course there’s a lot more to it as well. This arc alone takes up half of the season, and also means that we see a bit more of Touma than we normally see in a Raigun series – again, from Misaka’s perspective. Could it be that there’s a bit of a romance budding there?
That, and the search for answers to all the other questions had me on the edge most of the time, and a large cast of very likeable characters ensure that I would be back. The series manages its blend of science, magic and the supernatural very well, and manages to shift between the serious and more light-hearted moments with relative ease.
If you’ve been following the series from the start you’ll be very familiar with the background machinations of Academy City and its psychically gifted student body. Of course, there’s still a lot more to come, and I’m very keen to see where the story will take us.
Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C3-bu
Yamato Yura has just transferred to Stella Women’s Academy. She’s painfully shy, and just generally doesn’t interact well with people. Her roommate, the third-year Sonora, invites her to join the club she’s in charge of, C3 – a military survival games club.
Despite being reluctant, Yura eventually joins, and under Sonora’s mentorship, discovers a bit of a knack for the game.
The focus of the story is pretty much all on Yura – remember that she is a shy soft-spoken type – and on how she changes over the course of the year. After being exposed to a situation where she feels she fits in Yura undergoes some rapid and extreme personality changes, and who can say if these changes are all good.
Of course, there’s no forgetting the survival games aspect, and during the course of the series you’ll be treated to quite a bit of action over the course of the series, turning it into a blend of something I can only describe as K-On, crossed with Girls und Panzer, crossed with Upotte!
Sadly, it seems that Stella didn’t appeal to a lot of people, and in my own opinion it’s very underrated. The story wasn’t extremely well executed at points, and seemed to lose its focus from time to time, but aside from all that I still found it very enjoyable to watch. And of course, the opening track, Shape My Story, was quite a bit of a highlight in itself.
It’s not a show I can easily recommend, given its inconsistencies, but it still manages to be one of the more memorable shows of the year for me.
The World God Only Knows: Goddesses Arc
Keima may still be somewhat disinterested in real girls, but this hasn’t stopped him from conquering girl after girl in order to release the loose souls trapped inside for his demon partner, Elsie. There’s still a lot of work involved before he is released from his contract, though, and in this season, things are about to be complicated, as ancient beings renew hostilities.
I’ve been following the series of The World God Only Knows for a good while now with a great deal of enjoyment, and this third season was no different – on the flipside however, this particular season comes after skipping a great deal of material covered by the manga. And if you haven’t followed the manga, you might be a bit confused by some of the references in this season.
Keima’s new problem is this – ancient demons – not nearly as friendly as Haqua and Elsie – have made a return and they are hunting the gods that defeated them in a previous war. Not only that, these goddesses reside in some of the girls that Keima has conquered in the past, and Keima needs to find them before the demons do. And the only way he’ll be able to do this is by finding those few girls who actually have some memory of their previous interactions with Keima. It’s enough to give any anti-social geek a headache.
This particular arc is slightly darker than those of the previous seasons, as Keima, Elsie and Haqua find themselves in a desperate race against time, not only to find the goddesses themselves, but also to protect the girls the goddesses may be hiding in. And Elsie’s out of the picture for the most part, because – for reasons you’ll see in the series – she’s pretending to be Kanon.
While I found myself slightly annoyed by references to skipped material (I don’t follow the manga), that didn’t really stop me from enjoying the series, and I tended to be very impatient for each new episode. The plot in this arc forced a fair bit of character development as well. If you haven’t watched TWGOK just yet, I’d suggest picking it up from the first season and watching it through – you may just end up with a few new favourite characters.
Gin no Saji
Gin no Saji, or Silver Spoon, follows Hachiken Yugo, a disillusioned city boy who wants to get away from his family, and in order to manage this he enrols in an agricultural school in Hokkaido, being quite certain that, with his intellectual capabilities, he shouldn’t have any problems.
Reality bites, though, and Hachiken is quickly exposed to the realities of life in the agricultural world. Despite his academic talents, Hachiken quickly finds himself struggling to keep up with his new classmates, who are were all raised on farms. And worst of all, unlike his classmates, he has no clear goals for his future.
And so, we have another story of personal growth and coming of age, as Hachiken starts his mud-stained high-school career. He is poised to learn a few nasty lessons, but Gin no Saji has quite a few laughs buried inside its storyline, and actually gives a very good impression of the realities of life within a farming community.
I’ll admit to walking into this particular series not really knowing what to expect, but it took all of one or two episodes to persuade me to stay the course. It’s overwhelmingly a light-hearted escapade, but does work in a few more dramatic moments and is definitely worth the time you’re likely to spend with it. It’s only an 11-episode season, but there’s a second season starting in January.
KILL la KILL
Matoi Ryuuko is a girl on a mission. She’s hunting her father’s killer, accompanied only by her sentient uniform, Senketsu, which, when it gets a taste of her blood, provides her with near superhuman capabilities. Her road leads her to Honnouji Academy, a school ruled with an iron fist by student council president Kiryuin Satsuki and her Elite Four. The students in this school also wear uniforms which grant them special abilities, although whether this will let them stand up to Ryuuko’s quest for justice remains to be seen.
So – have you watched Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann? Did you like it? Then chances are good that you’ll like this series; it’s packed with action, energy, big speeches, big people and completely over the top fighting sequences during which ridiculous amounts of real estate get destroyed. Only to mysteriously reappear in time for the next installment, but this is all part of the fun.
The series starts off “innocently” enough – when Ryuuko almost gets sexually assaulted by Senketsu when he gets a taste of her blood – but from that point forward, they are partners, learning to aid each other to best effect as Ryuuko chases down Satsuki. The studio in charge of production is Trigger, who produced the much acclaimed Little Witch Academia earlier this year – and they’ve done quite a bit to depart from conventional animation and character design. Also in charge are the same director and writer who collaborated with TTGL, which explains the feeling of similarity.
While for the most part all seriousness and action, comedy relief is provided by Ryuuko’s new best friend Mako and her family, who are poor as dirt but take Ryuuko in as a part of the family anyways.
We are now halfway through the season, but it’s showing absolutely no signs of slowing down at all, so if this sounds like your thing and you haven’t watched it just yet, I recommend you get on top of it. Just watch out for the fanservice during the transformation scenes :)
After an event they name the Apocalypse, 30,000 Japanese players find themselves trapped in the world of Elder Tale, an extremely successful MMO. Shiroe, and his two friends Naotsugu and Akatsuki, band together to try and make sense of things, and to try and figure out how best to survive in a world where all the rules have suddenly changed.
Log Horizon is actually a bit of a dark horse entry into this list – when I initially previewed the show I was concerned that it was going to try too hard to be a Sword Art Online clone. I ended up being pleasantly surprised, however, because while a part of the premise is quite similar, there are some very notable differences, not the least being the much larger cast.
Amongst these, which I’ll mention quickly, is the fact that dying isn’t final – characters do respawn when they die – and there isn’t nearly as much focus on action.
The Elder Tale players find themselves in a world where many things are still the same as the game world they are familiar with, but some realities have become subtly altered, and they find themselves needing to step quickly to adapt. As such, Log Horizon actually includes a lot of political maneuvering, scheming and plotting, with Shiroe proving to be a master of all three. The series also includes a lot of explanations of various facets of the game – explaining class mechanics, or game mechanics, which MMO gamers will find familiar, and provides non-gamers some insight into some of the ways things work.
The pace is actually quite slow, and things take a while to actually develop, which may put some people off, and is probably the only aspect of this show I am inclined to be negative towards. At the time of writing this, there’s still another 13 episodes coming (it’s a two-cour series), and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where things end up.
Non Non Biyori
My final entry for 2013 is another slice-of-life number – Non Non Biyori sees 6th grader Ichijou Hotaru transferring to a school in a small farming community. It’s quite a big change for the young Tokyo lady, because her new school has a total of five students, ranging in ages from seven all the way up to 15. And they’re all in the same class too.
Of all the series listed here, Non Non Biyori is by far the most light-hearted – while Muromi-san relied on general silliness to carry its comedy, Non Non Biyori was much more subtle, but this didn’t prevent me from spending quite a bit of time laughing at the escapades of the small group, who, despite the difference in their respective ages, become a tight-knit group of friends. The cast consists of a singular male, the eldest of the students, who doesn’t actually have any lines whatsoever, and barely appears, but almost always seems to be in an acutely uncomfortable situation when he does.
Some of the humour can also be found in the contrast between the city girl – who despite being the second youngest of the group is also the tallest – and her friends who, for lack of a better term, are country bumpkins. But, let me hasten to add, very lovable bumpkins.
Despite its understated humour, Non Non Biyori easily tops my list as the comedy gem of the year, especially because it wasn’t overhyped. It’s yet another series that you can take a look at when you want to wind down at the end of a long day.
Having taken a look at my list, I’m convinced that it’s going to be very different from lists put together by lots of other people – not least fans of series like Free! and Shingeki no Kyojin. As I pointed out at the beginning though, I rated these shows purely in terms of actual enjoyment I got from watching them, and to be fair, I can think, offhand, of at least five or six other shows I could easily have included.
So what are your thoughts? Give me a shout and let me know which shows were your favourite. And also, Happy New Year, and let’s hope for another year of awesome anime.