2014 is the first full year of my much-diminished anime viewing habits, which first went down sharply in Fall 2013. Nonetheless, I did finish 19 full-length and four short series. I also finished a 2013 series I’d only gotten half through (Monogatari Second Season + Hanamonogatari). A couple rewatches happened this year too (Scrapped Princess, Gurren Lagann, and some others)
And before anyone asks why most everything is rated so highly, see this answer.Watched Anime
10/10s, Among the best of the best of any year
1. Sakura Trick – Winter – From the first episode, there was no question regarding anime of the year. I’ve already described at length why this show is so important to me. But I’ve not talked about the ending much, and that’s what I’ve seen misinterpreted most about the show. In short, the final episode couched Haruka and Yuu’s relationship in slightly ambiguous terms. It’s all explainable, but comes off slightly awkwardly considering how strong their feelings were in the rest of the show. It doesn’t hurt the show for me, partly because I understand it’s an ongoing manga. But more importantly one of the themes of the show is how, when you’re an excitable teenager, the body advances quickly and leaves the mind and heart to play catch-up. I think it’s all quite fitting, and it’s in no way implying that they don’t love each other romantically. They’re just coming to fully learn what that means. That they’re both girls in a society that still considers that taboo makes their hesitation all the more understandable.
And that’s totally okay! Sakura Trick works so well for me not just because of how much I care about yuri, but because it’s the most honest romance anime I’ve seen. I might like heterosexual school romance stories more often if they were more like Sakura Trick. My first relationship felt a lot more like Haruka and Yuu’s than the nonsense from most light novel romcoms or manga harems. Obviously it includes a lot of very “anime” hijinks, so I’m not saying it’s completely realistic, because it’s not trying to be. But there’s honesty there I appreciate so, so much. Honesty you just can’t get even from the best “subtext-only” shows, no matter how shippable. It may not offer technical skill or mastery of tone on par with Yama no Susume, but Sakura Trick is unquestionably my #1 of 2014.
Pros: The yuri (or just relationships in general!) anime to beat, likely for many years to come. Depicts physical intimacy between passionate teens in love a lot more honestly than the vast majority of romance anime. Solid comedy. Unbelievably endearing character relationships. Mitsuki’s storyline provided a very good dramatic grounding amidst the fluffy slice of life moments. Kaede’s own storyline as very subtle, but powerful in its own ways, particularly in how her situation contrasts with Haruka and Yuu’s or Kotone and Shizuku’s. Catchy music. Occasional moments of excellent and expressive character animation.
Cons: Those moments aside, visuals were generally average at best. Ending that generates some misunderstandings, as outlined above.
2. Yama no Susume Second Season – Summer – While Space Dandy is the go-to example for showcasing the industry’s best talent, Yama no Susume s2 is in many ways a similar (if much less flamboyant!) experiment. With the added bonus of being a show I actually want to watch content-wise! I’m not going to claim the talent on display here was as A-list as Dandy but it was stunning in so many ways. A bunch of solo-animated episodes. A ton of visual creativity without compromising the feel of the characters and setting. Fantastic character animation and great faces. Moments that brought me to literal tears not purely due to happy or sad moments but because I was overcome by the fact that an enjoyable short with unusually solid production values for a short series could morph into this shining two cour celebration of everything the art form of animation hopes and strives to be.
Pros: Gorgeous visuals. Gorgeous music. Gorgeous direction. The two best OP sequences of the year. Kaede, for reasons explained here. The genuine emotions in Hinata’s and Aoi’s concerns about what the future holds for their friendship. The Fuji-san arc, with its understated but devastatingly effective ways of conveying Aoi’s worsening condition. Episode 23, the most perfectly executed episode this year.
Cons: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everything it tried to do, everything it wanted to do, it did beyond any expectations I could have had.
8-9/10s, Second tier imports
3. Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yatte Mita. – Summer
Pros: Best ED of the year. Sweet, wholesome, heartfelt story. Very aware of its niche among idol-themed shows and sticks to the “local” premise. The girls understand they’re there for their community, not for stardom, and they find great emotional fulfillment in this. Seeing the community rally around them is touching. Very nice animation during the final musical performance. Cute running gags. Yukari x Nanyako forever! Also this show had exceptional eyecatches. If you claim to be into idol anime (personally, I don’t) and don’t watch Locodol, you’re doing your whole life terribly, terribly wrong.
Cons: Pretty sub-par visuals most of the time. The first episode involved Nanako’s uncle being a underhanded in getting Nanako into the role, and it’s not really clear at the time that that’s not the kind of person he is and some people got outlandishly wrong impressions of the show because of it.
4. Saki: Zenkoku-hen – Winter
Pros: Huge cast with great variety in character designs. The care put into developing Kiyosumi’s opponents as people, not just antagonists. The intensity of the matches and the creativity employed in turning a game about placing mahjong tiles into something truly exciting. The formula is pretty well established at this point, but it’s such a good formula.
Cons: Ritz is lazy and I have no idea when we’ll get more, let alone an ending. There’s also a fine balance between having the other schools drive a match and having the protagonists almost not matter, though this was more an issue in Achiga-hen than the main series (Achiga is still great, STFU). None of the matches quite had a crescendo on par with Saki/Yumi/Koromo/Kana’s big finale in season one. But I’m just digging for nitpicks now, this show is stellar.
5. Akuma no Riddle – Spring
Pros: Great balance between comedic parody of the “assassination game” genre and legitimately serious and engaging stories. Isuke and Nio keep things interesting. Did a surprisingly good job selling me on Haru’s backstory and why she is how she is. When Haru got proactive in her own defense, we got the best scenes of the show. A variety of really cool ED sequences, and Queen is one of my favorite songs this year. Good final episode that got away with dialing the ridiculous/serious contrast up to 11, and I loved that about it.
Cons: Unnecessarily confusing confrontation at the climax of the series. A bit too much reliance on Tokaku making naive decisions to drive the conflict. The mix of serious material and self-aware joking I like so much definitely doesn’t work for everyone. Proactive Haru was so good that I got a little frustrated when there was a long dry spell of that in the middle of the show. Somewhat uneven quality of the one-off episodes.
6. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru – Fall
Pros: Unexpectedly solid writing delivers a masterful twist, a heartrending climax, and a deeply satisfying ending. Outstanding use of vocal BGM tracks to heighten tension. Pervasive sense of dread without being comically grimdark about it; the subtlety was illustrated very well in episode 8. Emotional tension and intimacy between Yuuna and Tougou thick enough to choke on. Karin being perfect. Baiting for a sequel in all the best ways.
Cons: So-so art during a lot of scenes. Some ugly character CGI in the first episode and again with the mankai. A solid if not entirely remarkable first seven episodes results in an uneven product. Slight overreach with Fuu’s breakdown in episode nine, though not too bad. I’ll probably drop this a little when the excitement of the ending wears off.
7. Hanayamata – Summer
Pros: Yosakoi is a novel premise, and the pretty colors of the outfits made for nice visuals. Great use of dramatic material to bring the girls together and strengthen their bonds. Loved seeing the quiet introvert Naru bloom like the flower motif of their team through the spectacle of yosakoi. Yaya‘s multi-part character arc was especially satisfying. Catchy OP and ED. Phenomenal final episode in every way. Hana x Naru is perfect.
Cons: Occasionally thin lead-up to the heavier material. Only really an issue for me in Tami’s episode, and even then not that much.
8. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka? – Spring
Pros: Setting was interesting, like a European-themed tourist trap in the middle of Japan. Rize x Sharo is a top tier ship. Chino’s gradual acceptance of Cocoa as her onee-chan was super cute and played well with Cocoa’s growing imouto obsession. Chiya teasing Sharo. Chino’s ventriloquism gag. Encouraging to see an iyashikei show crack 10k for the first time since K-ON!.
Cons: Nothing particularly obvious. I suppose I’m kinda disappointed Sharo’s feelings are so one-sided thus far, but it’s hard to see Rize sparing a thought towards love any time soon.
9. Hitsugi no Chaika / Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – Spring / Fall
Pros: While the season two ending was rushed, the first season ending was one of my favorites of the year. Superb pacing in the first 9 episodes of season two. Excellent development of Chaika both as a person and a combatant, particularly her impressive teamwork with Tooru by the end. Awesome action sequences, highly varied styles and a feeling of weight behind the strikes. Frederica constantly being incapacitated and shrugging it off given she knows she could beat the hell out of anyone they faced was amusing. Downplayed the already minor romance storyline to basically nothing in season two, and was all the better for it. Shades of Sutepri, unsurprising given the author, but unquestionably holds up as its own story. (Also probably at least in part prompted a Scrapped Princess BD box release, which got me rewatching that and damn it’s still good.)
Cons: Akari suffers from being a largely one-note character with her brocon schtick. The unavoidably rushed ending (thanks Kadokawa). Far too brief epilogue.
10. No Game No Life – Spring
Pros: Sharing the lead position between Shiro and Sora eliminated much of what could have been annoying about Sora. All the cocksure smugness would have been obnoxious if Sora were a solo lead, but the emphasis on how much they really need each other made both characters more likable, more sympathetic. Jibril and Steph provided endless amusement. Really neat “games” that only got better as they got more ridiculous. Kurami and Fi are a surprise pick for one of the best couples of the year. I was not expecting that to be allowed in a light novel with a co-lead male protagonist that does get a tad haremy at times, but it handled them excellently and their back story was moving. The scenes when other characters took Steph seriously and expressed sincere gratitude to her were too good for words (this was one of my favorite scenes of the year). Very distinctive use of color. Great OP/ED. Just head and shoulders above what you’d expect from a light novel adaptation like this.
Cons: There were times the vibrant colors actually drowned out features on screen and made it tough to tell what was going on. The Steph bullying probably shouldn’t have been as funny as it was (but fuck it, it was).
11. Sora no Method – Fall
Pros: The best first episode of the year. Best OP sequence in a show not named Yama no Susume, and best ED too. Truly excellent visuals at critical moments, such as the planetarium reconciliation scene. Noel is a WMD-class cutesplosion, although Yuzuki ended up as my favorite. Excellent final arc, taking what would be a cheesy 30 second epilogue in most shows and turning it into two full episodes.
Cons: Art got lazy here and there. A bit too much emotional yo-yo with Shione. The show explained itself well enough to justify it to me, but it did feel like they had a little bit more time than was really needed for the core story.
12. Free! -Eternal Summer- – Summer
Pros: Rin! Best character improvement between seasons ever, and I don’t even think he was bad in season one. He made up for all his earlier shortcomings as a person and then some. As a captain, as a friend, as a mentor, he excelled at everything and made everyone around him so much better. The swimming animation was fantastic and Gou continues to be amazing in all the ways she’s been amazing. Sousuke was also a very good addition, not the one-dimensional antagonist he could have easily become. Overall a stronger season than the first in almost every way.
Cons: Really weird loss of momentum in the middle of an otherwise very strong finale as the characters recap the show and cry kinda awkwardly. One or two one-off episodes were a little weak, but they were devoted to the characters that most needed the focus (Rei and Nagisa) so I’m pretty okay with it.
13. Amagi Brilliant Park – Fall
Pros: Totally on-point with the humor. The Elementario are the sexiest character designs of the year. Outstanding variety in visual styles even within the same scene. Latifa is an angel. Sylphy is just about the most committed I’ve ever seen a character be to the “space cadet” archetype and she’s glorious to behold in every scene. Unexpectedly effective dramatic moments in episode 12.
Cons: The Seiya/Latifa backstory in episode 10 didn’t click for me, particularly in a show that is so comedy-focused. Episode 13 was good, but an obvious step down from the great climax in 11-12 so being just an OVA might have worked better. While most of the fanservice was great, one or two bits left me feeling a bit “ehh”, like the swimsuit video they filmed for the ¥30 promo.
14. Log Horizon (season one) – Fall ’13 – I include shows based on when they end rather than when they start so this goes here.
Pros: A story about being trapped in a game, except the protagonist is a effective if reluctant leader who plays a support class and prefers to spend his time devising strategies rather than arbitrarily ignoring game rules. Really nicely fleshed-out world, with lots of attention paid to game mechanics in a way that feels enlightening, not like having a manual read out to you. Really cool concepts like the role of the NPCs.
Cons: Pretty laughably bad art. The love triangle was mostly inoffensive but still unnecessary. Where it really did damage was to Akatsuki’s character. The second season fixes her but she was a real waste of a character in the first.
15. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren – Winter
Pros: Awesome showing by the secondary cast, particularly Shinka, Sanae, and Kumin. The expected KyoAni comedy and production values, particularly the chuuni battles. MoriDeko shot up as one of my top pairings, even above season one levels, after getting two great episodes to themselves.
Cons: A (very) few weak moments visually, even if that’s relative to KyoAni’s usual output. Rikka and Yuuta’s relationship should not have been the central plot. It’s only really the ending that bothered me, but it was representative enough of the fundamental flaw in the season’s premise to to pull the show down a notch. Their relationship regressed for no reason other than that it was assumed that’s what has to happen in a romcom, and that bothers me. Shichimiya was a character with a lot of potential, but wasn’t fully explored. Also just a downer to talk about online because so many people I know complain about the show, so I tend to avoid talking about it despite liking far more than I disliked about it.
6-7/10s, Non-imports, but still good!
16. Super Sonico The Animation – Winter
Pros: Confusingly cute and heartwarming! Some genuinely moving backstory. I described it before as Tamako Market with boobs. Both Tamako and Sonico are “kanban musume” loved by the community that they love back in return. It’s just a really sweet series! So not what I ever would have assumed before watching.
Cons: CG EDs, CG in the final performance. The show is so darn wholesome that the few moments of lewder fanservice feel out of place. Not something you’d expect to say about a Sonico anime!
17. Girlfriend (Kari) – Fall
Pros: Seiyuugasm ahhhhhhhhhhh! Does a surprisingly good job managing its massive cast, all things considered. The core characters really stand out with even moderate screen time. Tange Sakura doing adorable French accents. A probably very crappy mobage dating sim game getting greenlit as an all-girls slice of life comedy with nice yuri undertones – a surprise, but very welcome! Episode four was one of the better episodes of the year.
Cons: Even if it handled it okay, the cast was still comically large to the point where most characters barely even get names.
18. Barakamon – Summer
Pros: Lovely visuals. Adult (er, technically) protagonist is a nice change of pace. Great supporting cast made the town really lively despite the super laid back rural setting.
Cons: I didn’t particularly connect with any of the characters on an emotional level, I guess?
19. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders – Spring
Pros: “Over the top” describes everything about Jojo. Some genuinely great sequences. Polnareff.
Cons: Third Jojo is my least favorite of the Joestar guys so far. The show is macho-obsessed, totally sexist, loaded with animal cruelty. To be honest it’s because it’s so goofily self-aware that those don’t bother me, but they’re worth mentioning since I don’t consider them positives even if they’re forgivable. My bigger issue was the glacial pacing. I’m okay with a slow moving adventure series but I prefer the tighter plotting of the first season in Jojo’s case.
Puchimas!!: Petit Petit iDOLM@STER
Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san – Imported
Go! Go! 575 – Imported
Robot Girls Z
Tonari no Seki-kun
Wake Up, Girls!
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei!
Wish I’d used the album feature in imgur more, given you can only see your last 200 uploads, but albums seems to go back forever. So I don’t have anything from Winter. Oh well, I got tired of looking for screenshots partway through anyway.Miscellaneous Favorites
Favorite Female Character
Chaika Trabant, Hitsugi no Chaika – Chaika is so unique in design, with that speaking pattern and those eyebrows, and she couples it with awesome growth as a character over two seasons. That makes her an easy character to point to as a favorite. I have a hard time picking characters who work best in pairs, and tend to have an easier time picking individuals who stand out in their shows. If I were to pick a second there are so so many I’d like to mention but it would have to be Saitou Kaede from Yama no Susume Second Season.
Favorite Male Character
Matsuoka Rin, Free! Eternal Summer – Rather simple choice given he’s my favorite male character ever. Runner-up in the rather slim pickings of male characters I encountered in 2014 would be Shiroe from Log Horizon, Seiya from Amagi, or Makoto from Free! ES.
Sonoda Yuu and Takayama Haruka, Sakura Trick – Yeah, no question here. Honorable mentions to Nanako/Yukari from Locodol, Aoi/Hinata from Yamasusu, Kotone/Shizuku from Sakura Trick, Sanae/Shinka from Chuunibyou, Hana/Naru in Hanayamata, Yuuna/Tougou in Yuyuyu, Kurami/Fi in Nogenora, Rize/Sharo in Gochiusa, and there’s a bunch of good GF Kari and Akuma no Riddle and Saki and other pairings and ahhhhh, I’ll stop before I go all night. Gotta say there wasn’t one even half decent het pairing this year. I kinda like Crusty and Lenessia in Log Horizon but their relationship is so minor.
Mirai Shoujo-tachi, Futsuu no Joshikousei ga Locodol Yatte Mita ED – Honorable mention to the songs here, I might tweak the order now, but it’s close enough.
Favorite OP/ED Sequence
Mainichi Koharu Biyori, Yama no Susume Second Season OP2 – See the link above for more OP/ED picks. Since then, the Yuyuyu OP has grown on me quite a bit, tho not sure where I’d place it.
Ishizuka Atsuko, No Game No Life and Hanayamata – As the only director behind two separate shows I watched this year, not to mention both top 10 titles, this was an easy choice. Nogenora really gives me the impression it transcended its source material (granted I have very little faith in the skills of light novel authors and maybe this one deserves more credit), and while Hanayamata should have been good from anyone, for it to be *this* good clearly took some work. Obviously the single best directed show was Yamamoto Yuusuke’s Yama no Susume but Ishizuka is the name I really took note of this year. Really want to know what she does next!
I don’t know how I’d pick a stand-out studio, actually. If we limit to studios that had more than one show I watched this year and go purely on technical merit, that’d be Kyoto Animation, unsurprisingly. And that’s really the most meaningful way to judge a studio. Based on how much I enjoyed the shows Studio Gokumi (Yuyuyu, Saki) has the highest combined score by rank but like White Fox (Gochiusa, Sonico), I don’t think there’s any meaningful connection between the shows in each pair besides the studio name. Madhouse at least got two and from the same director (the Ishizuka works).
Not a bad year! Watching half the anime you used to isn’t that big a deal when you for the most part only watch the stuff you’d have liked the best anyway.
I ended up importing 15 of the full length 19 shows I finished, or ~79%. Also imported two of the four shorts. If you count multi-buys (YamaSusu x2, Sakura Trick x6) I imported the equivalent of 21 series while watching 19. …110% import rate?
Sales wise, my favorites didn’t fare so well. Bolded my top five. Only 5 or 6 of the 17 (including shorts) that I imported hit 5k, none of which are in my top five. One of the >5k sellers (Chuunibyou) is off >50% from its previous season. 8 (nearly half) are on track to end below 3k, including four of the top five. Welp.
Major Hits, 10,000+
22,070 – Free! -Eternal Summer- (4 of 7, expectation 20k)
11,046 – Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?
Solid hits, 6,000-9,999k
8,537 – No Game No Life
?,??? – Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru (8,225 v1wk2)
7,054 – Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren
?,??? – Amagi Brilliant Park (5,858 v1wk1)
4,686 – Saki: Zenkoku-hen
4,012 – Log Horizon (season one)
3,746 – Hanayamata (3 of 6, expectation 3.2k)
3,575 – Yama no Susume Second Season (3 of 7, expectation 3.1k)
3,195 – Futsuu no Joshikousei ga Locodol Yatte Mita. (3 of 7, expectation 2.7k)
2,380 – Sakura Trick
1,518 – Hitsugi no Chaika
1,395 – Akuma no Riddle
1,351 – Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san (short)
?,??? – Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle (no data yet, expectation 1.2k)
?,??? – Sora no Method (no data yet, expectation 1.0k)
*,608 – Go! Go! 757 (released as a bonus with one the CDs)