Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Year in Review: Anime

As this year comes to a close, I am wrapping up my ‘year in review’ lists, including my top anime and video game picks for 2014. Below is a list of every anime in the order that I viewed them this year, complete with a brief summary of my full review and the final score I provided each. Keep an eye out for my picks of the top five anime of the year within the next day or so.

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (season one): While this first season is largely setting the stage for everything that is to come in the Stardust Crusaders arc of the second season, these first two portions of the long-running manga translate well to an anime format, despite how long overdue such an adaptation might be. The first arc, Phantom Blood, establishes Jonathon Joestar and his family’s legacy that will be shaped by the utilization of mystic arts like the ripple, as well as the feud that stems between himself and his nefarious rival since childhood, Dio Brando. Phantom Blood offers a more classic medieval fantasy aesthetic, while the second arc, Battle Tendency, explores the history of the stone mask that grants Dio his inhuman powers, as well as sets aside more time to properly explore the mighty Pillar Men and the goofball hero of the day that is Joseph Joestar. My rating: 8.25

Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Some consider this series to the magical girl genre what Neon Genesis Evangelion was to the mecha genre. That correlation is not far off, as Madoka Magica’s twelve episode run puts a dark spin on one of anime’s most popular genres. Five young girls are granted special powers after making a contract with a feline creature named Kyubey, but gradually discover that the pact requires so much more than they could have ever conceived. It’s a dreary and depressing tale, but one that does exceptionally well at getting from point A to point B and rounding out the main cast within its limited episode count. My rating: 8.75

MS IGLOO 2: The Gravity of the Battlefront: Following up the incredibly brief yet surprisingly well-done first duo of MS IGLOO miniseries, MS IGLOO 2 focuses its narrative on the Federation forces, highlighting three separate military officers on different combat fronts. MS IGLOO 2 opts to incorporate a silly subplot of ghosts and curses to tether these otherwise unrelated tales together, which in turn makes for a set of the most ridiculous and cringe-worthy presentations in the larger Gundam franchise. My rating: 4.75

From the New World: In a future where esper humans have rebuilt society into a nearly technological-absent return to the feudal era, young classmates are grouped together in order to hone their unique skills. The threat of fiends is mentioned to these children at a young age, but as they grow up and witness some of their peers simply vanish, they begin to dig deeper into the mysteries of what happened centuries before they reverted to this lifestyle. What begins as a fantasy-oriented take on a post-apocalyptic future past gradually reveals a complicated pattern of advancing mankind through militant and social struggles, and what dark secrets lie in the past may be the key to facing the dangers that hide in plain sight among these hyper-capable human beings. My rating: 8.75

Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion: Rebellion’s purpose is less of an expanded or reimagined ending for its series, and more of a quick cash-in on a still-popular name. The story suffers from awkward pacing and generally unlikable presentation of some previously well-established cast members. A new magical girl is also added to the story, but she is used for little more than a brief plot device, making her addition rather meaningless. The endgame is fits well with the tone of the series, but the process of reaching that finale is highly-predictable, less-than-inspired, and ultimately nothing-achieving. My rating: 5

Space Dandy: Following in the footsteps of Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop, Space Dandy sees the ragtag crew of Dandy, feline alien Meow, and robot QT journey the stars in search of strange new alien life forms to cash in with intergalactic registration. Along the way, they make frequent stops at Dandy’s favorite ‘breastaurant’, a parody of Hooters, aptly named Boobies. The series takes on some narrative inspirations from western works, as some episodes that end in dire situations or complete catastrophe are written off as being of no consequence by the time the next episode kicks in. Space Dandy is funky, psychedelic, wacky fun, and keeps the jokes popping from start to finish. My rating: 8

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders (season two): Stardust Crusaders has long been the most popular part of Hirohiko Araki’s epic manga run, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and has finally received a proper full-length anime adaptation. Jotaro, old man Joseph, Avdol, Kakyoin, and Polnareff make for a lovable band of misfits as they encounter foes that are both devious and wacky during their quest to stop the vampire Dio. The spiritual counterparts known as Stands do battle on behalf of their users, and the improved budget allows for some thoroughly exciting fights with shifts to psychedelic color palettes and frequent two-part episodes that grant better development cycles for the broad cast of characters. My rating: 9.5

Persona 4: The Animation: An adaptation of the Persona 4 video game, this twenty-six episode series has quite a bit of fat to trim in order to focus on the core of the story in the allotted time frame. It emphasizes the main party of characters, which is a smart move, considering how integral they are to the overarching plot of mystery surrounding the Midnight Channel and the Inaba murders and disappearances. The anime has fun with some of the game’s optional sidequests, and even decides to expand upon the character of young Nanako by throwing a couple of brand new subplots into the mix. A few key story points suffer from clunky pacing, however, and feel as though they could have been handled better were they spread across two episodes. My rating: 7

Bayonetta: Bloody Fate: Packing all the flash and flair of the first Bayonetta game into one hour-and-a-half film, Bloody Fate is an adaptation done right. All the major plot points are hit on, granting the film sufficient time to mold Bayonetta, Jeanne, Rodin, Luka, and little Cereza, as well as pinpoint some of their individual quirks and curious traits. The English cast returns to reprise their roles, which is a real treat, considering how masterful a job they did in the game. The soundtrack is jazzy and kickin’, the action over-the-top and borderline-nonsensical, and the whole experience one wild and stylish ride. My rating: 9.25

Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn: Returning to many of the core themes that made Mobile Suit Gundam a standout anime more than thirty years ago, Unicorn Gundam pushes the saga on to new heights with contemporary storytelling methods, a wide variety of characters who see even time in the spotlight, and production values that blow the competition out of the water. Delivered in seven parts, Unicorn Gundam feels very much the part a collection of mini-movies that follow the story of Banagher Links as he further explores the mysteries of newtypes and the legacy left by legendary pilots who preceded him, while the Char Aznable look-alike Full Frontal has a grand vision in mind for the future of spacenoids and the remaining Zeon remnants. With so many factions involved in the search for an object known as Laplace’s Box and the wonderment of what lies inside, the conflict escalates and becomes an intense race to reach it and discover just what its contents mean for the future on humanity. My rating: 10

Sword Art Online: Combining classic fantasy motifs with a modern science fiction setting, Sword Art Online pays homage to contemporaries of the MMORPG video gaming genre through its art style and questlines. The first half of the series requires greater care and precision on the part of protagonists Kirito and Asuna, as death in the game world results in real-life fatality. These high stakes are a large part of what makes the story so intense and also is responsible for shaping the characters, while the progression for both plot and cast unfortunately takes a nosedive to boring territory during the second act. This latter half sees major characters reduced to mere plot devices, opting to push for a significantly less compelling story direction and some admittedly unsettling themes that feel very much out-of-place for a series aimed at such a broad and mainstream audience. My rating: 5.75

Knights of Sidonia: Hundreds of years after mankind left Earth to escape the parasitic and shape-shifting Gauna, a young ace pilot named Nagate Tanikaze quickly climbs the ranks from undercity-dweller to hero of the drifting world-ship Sidonia. The science and technology of this futuristic setting is sometimes strange, but more often than not it is practical given the immense populous and limited supplies within Sidonia. The gender androgynous Izana Shinatose, who befriends Nagate early on, receives ample time to develop as a character, as do many of the other pilots who fly out into battle in their Garde Unit mechs. The dire situation the humans face is constantly brought up through mentions of how long it has been since Sidonia last had contact with another human vessel, as well as the number of Garde Units that are destroyed in battle against the Gauna, showing just how short the life expectancies of these young men and women are. My rating: 8.25

Pokémon the Movie: White – Victini and Zekrom: As Ash and friends continue their journey across the Unova region, they stop in a mountain town where rumors of the legendary Victini have long been perpetuated thanks to the tale of a king who moved his people there with the psychic Pokémon’s aid. Upon discovering that Victini has in fact been hiding in plain sight, a young man named Damon decides to recreate the fabled king’s journey in an attempt to return to his desert homeland, unwittingly releasing the destructive stream known as the Dragon Force. While the film does make references to the lore of the Pokémon video games, the plot points of Victini and Zekrom are loosely connected at best, while the antagonist’s motives are never made clear and his strategy following quite close to that of the villain in the second theatrical Pokémon release. My rating: 5

Captain Harlock: A visual spectacle, this retelling of the original Harlock anime provides an updated and streamlined story that balances a gritty presentation with fun and fantastical action. It’s a film that does well to offer something to viewers both young and old, as the pacing is spot-on and keeps the story chugging along at a nice pace, without forgetting to stop and highlight interstellar landscapes. Each character receives sufficient development early in the film so as to make them feel the part of worthwhile investments later on, while one of the film’s minor faults stems from it trying to push for silly and over-the-top fights that would feel more at home in more fantasy-heavy works like the Dragon Ball franchise. My rating: 8.5

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...