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Archive for the ‘Winter 2014’ Category

2014! It’s been quite the year for me, pretty much entirely because I graduated university. I’m like, an adult or something now, it’s horrifying, but it hasn’t stopped me watched my foreign children’s cartoons!

And it’s not been a bad year for anime. Masaaki Yuasa and Shinichiro Watanabe directing TV series, the start of the most popular part of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Mushishi returning after 9 years without the slightest dip in quality, there’s been some pretty notable stuff going on. I can’t say there were any major surprises or new franchises that I feel are going to stand out as classics beyond Kill la Kill and Space Dandy, and the latter is chiefly because of how hard it was pushed on western audiences (not a knock on its quality, of course), but there were still a good clutch of series and films that I enjoyed greatly.

Before I indulge in a stunning display of originality and discuss my top 10 anime of the year, a quick reminder: a series counts as being from 2014 if it ended this year, even if it’s a long runner. Split cours – a single series that has seasonal gaps between chunks of the series – count as whatever year the last cours ended in (hence the exclusion of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, because it technically hasn’t finished yet). Neither of these are strict, but it’s a good enough guide. The edge cases don’t matter because they were never going to be on the list.

With that out of the way, here’s my top 10 anime of 2014!

Happy new year!

Happy new year!

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Space Dandy

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Shinichiro Watanabe directing is a good reason to be hyped for a show. Shinichiro Watanabe making another series about a bounty hunter (of sorts) bumming around space is a great reason to be hyped for a show. Shinichiro Watanabe saying that said series is essentially going to be 26 episodes of ‘Mushroom Samba’ is a perfect reason to be hyped for a show.

And thus, Space Dandy.

But the hype train doesn’t stop yet – this was also pegged to be a flagship title for Toonami, premiering in the US before even Japan, and made with an eye for western tastes. The English-speaking fandom, at the very least, could not fucking wait. This show was set to be a big deal, even if it failed hard.

Would it, though? Would this show about a professionally awful alien hunter and dandy guy in space, his cutie robot slash vacuum cleaner, and a cat (of sorts) being incompetent and traversing the wild wastes of the galaxies disappoint? Is our universe one where such a thing could happen?

Space Dandy wa uchuu no dandy de aru

Space Dandy wa uchuu no dandy de aru

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Japanese mythology and legend is rich, complex and very lengthy. The sheer number of spirits, gods, heroic figures, and god knows what else can be mind-boggling, and thanks to the continued practice of Shinto traditions in modern-day Japan you’ll tend to see those kinds of things cropping up all over the place in their contemporary fiction. Mostly it’ll just be references and the like, but it’s still very common to see stories that make use of them in a more literal fashion; it’s also common to see them use the gods and spirits of their folklore for the sake of comedy and parody.

Despite being common to approach them comically, I’ve never seen the comic approach that Hoozuki no Reitetsu employs. It focuses on the Buddhist equivalent of hell and the people and demons you’d expect to see there, except that hell is very much run like a large business, with bureaucracy, HR concerns and meetings. And at the centre of this operation lies the eponymous Hoozuki, right hand man to the Great King Enma, an individual that is always exceptionally calm, efficient, and ruthlessly sadistic.

Unusual, to say the least.

You think the Great King Enma doesn't like to watch a bit of TV?

You think the Great King Enma doesn’t like to watch a bit of TV?

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Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta (The Pilot’s Love Song or Love Song of a Certain Pilot in English) stood out to me hard when it came time to pick new series up at the start of the winter season. How could it not? A setting that was very early 20th century Europe (but with technologies and politics that took inspiration from a much wider timeframe), a story involving a prince who had lost everything and seeks revenge, an exploration of some of the finer points of a creation myth, and the promise of war, drama, love and hate. Promising, at least, and certainly refreshingly different and original.

The short of the initial narrative setup is that the floating island of Isla is being sent to the ‘Holy Spring’ to learn more about the world (I think), and along with it a large military fleet due to the risk that the legendary Sky Clan poses (who are hostile to anyone approaching the Holy Spring). Because of the nature of the world the focus of military engagement lies in flight, and as such a school to train students to become pilots is established on Isla. Kal-el, formerly known as Karl La Hire, the prince of the Ballestros Empire prior to its downfall in the Revolution of the Wind, joins this school. Why? Because Nina Viento – who lead the Revolution of the Wind and for whom he blames the death of his parents – is travelling with Isla as well, and he sees this as the perfect opportunity for revenge.

Planes are srs bsns

Planes are srs bsns

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Nobunagun

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Every time I see a new anime series get announced that has Oda Nobunaga I sigh a little. Surely – surely – you’d think that the industry would have run out of original ways to turn him into a young girl by now. Surely that particularly well has been plumbed for all its worth. But no, in the winter season we had to suffer the pain of not one but two shows where Nobunaga is a little girl. Seriously, sometimes this crushing lack of innovation makes me want to give u-

Wait – are you telling me that neither of them were about genderbent Nobunaga? Are… are they allowed to do that?

Well that’s what seemingly happened, not that they weren’t equally ludicrous. One, Nobunaga the Fool, was about Nobunaga as a young man being a hot-blooded mecha pilot in a sci-fi version of the historical world with tarot cards or something? Who cares, I dropped it because it was crap.

The other, Nobunagun, is about Nobunaga being a gun.

A big gun

A big gun

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Samurai Flamenco

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Oh, noitaminA. Your autumn 2013 lineup was looking so good, what with Galilei Donna and this, Samurai Flamenco, two original series with premises that were unique enough to really feel at home on the timeslot… or rather, at home with how it was a few years ago, before it all went to shit. It felt like it could well be a return to form, and a certain level of cautious excitement swept over all of us. The caution was rather justified by Galilei Donna turning out to be utter crap though, but what about Samurai Flamenco?

Samurai Flamenco tells the story of a young model who yearns for more meaning in his life, which he tries to attain through mimicking the hero shows of his youth as a vigilante, and his slightly-older policeman friend in a long-distance relationship who also grew up on the likes of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai but took that inclination towards justice in a more legitimate manner. Together, they fight crime.

Shocking, I know.

Just as a heads up: this review will be spoileriffic as all hell. Due to the nature of the show and the criticisms I have with it, it is impossible to critique it without discussing a lot of plot twists and outcomes.

Hero will never give up, never hide, never be defeated, never accept evil.

Hero will never give up, never hide, never be defeated, never accept evil.

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Kill la Kill

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So, Trigger. You may have heard of them. Remember Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, and how they gave Gainax a reputation for crazy awesome and gratuitously good fun original series after a few years of largely unremarkable work? Remember how they followed them up with fucking nothing like that, and the quality of their output bombed and now they’re a bit of a joke? Well, those two series were helmed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and for ~reasons~ he left and took all the talent with him to form Studio Trigger. Well, the talent that didn’t leave to form Studio Khara with Anno to make more Evangelion, that is.

Unsurprisingly, Trigger almost immediately had tons of hype and anticipation behind them. They were quiet for a while, doing a bit of outsourced work for other products, before releasing their first original work… Inferno Cop. Ok, it was short and cheap as hell and nonsensical but Christ was it fun and you could tell that Imaishi hadn’t lost his touch. They followed this up with their entry for Anime Mirai 2013, Little Witch Academia, which was fucking awesome. But this was just an OVA – we still had not seen any full-length, proper series from them yet.

And then they announced Kill la Kill. And the hype train accelerated up to hitherto unknown speeds.

Let's do this

Let’s do this

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Phi Brain S3

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Phi Brain, the premier puzzle-solving anime, somehow got a second season. And it was good. And then it somehow got a third season. Which is this. How? Why?!

Who cares, Phi Brain is fucking excellent. I’ve reviewed both previous seasons of it, and once it got over the uncertainty at the start of the first season it was able to consistently deliver its trademark mix of goofy seriousness and wonderful characters all within a world where puzzles are consistently the most serious fucking thing ever. It’s always been an utterly moronic premise but damn if the execution hasn’t been spectacular.

And now we have a third season of it. What’s new this time around? Well, where the first season involved Kaito puzzle-fighting against an evil group led by a white-haired pretty boy and the second season involved Kaito puzzle-fighting against an evil group led by a white-haired pretty boy, this third season involves… Kaito puzzle fighting against an evil group led by a pink-haired pretty girl!!

A girl! A competent and antagonistic one! In Phi Brain! My whole word has been turned upside-down!

It's puzzle time! ...for the last time ;_;

It’s puzzle time! …for the last time ;_;

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Silver Spoon! It was a great little series that aired last summer about a city guy entering an agricultural high school for ~reasons~ and all the crap (figurative or otherwise) that he has to deal with while there. It was funny, insightful, full of character and thoroughly enjoyable, and definitely deserved – nay, needed – this second season!

Being a very direct continuation of the first season (as in, it starts almost exactly where the first one left off) this won’t be a particularly long review – it’s definitely one of those cases where everything I said about the first series still applies, minus the few differences I’ll elaborate on – but it’s still worth discussing in at least some detail. After all, I came away from the first season thinking that it was great but lacking… something. It was close, VERY close, to being a legitimately amazing show, but didn’t quite have the edge to take it there. Would a direct continuation be able to bring in what was missing?

Early mornings will forever be the actual worst

Early mornings will forever be the actual worst

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Despite the weak final episode and getting a little over-dramatic towards the end, I enjoyed Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! quite a lot back when it aired (and on a subsequent rewatch), and so was rather excited at the news of a sequel. But then I’m a KyoAni fanboy; I get excited for anything they do.

I was a little apprehensive, however. While the first season didn’t end in a definitive, “this is all there is to the story and taking it any further would make no sense whatsoever” way (it’s a fucking slice-of-life rom-com, of course it wouldn’t end like that), it did make for a fairly rounded, complete package. In other words, there was never any need for a sequel and there wasn’t really anything left at the end that would provide a springboard for one. But it was clear from the promotional materials how they were going to go about it: throw in a new character to shake up the relationship between Yuuta and Rikka and watch the sparks fly. It’s a pretty standard, relatively uninspired route to take, but could be perfectly serviceable. That the new girl was going to be a friend of Yuuta’s from middle-school who also still suffers from chuunibyou did make it all a bit more promising, it must be said.

Also now they're living together

Also now they’re living together

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