As in years past, I have compiled my end of the year selections for my five favorite anime that I viewed in 2014. Not all of these anime were in fact released during 2014, though each was released and aired within the past couple of years, and a few of these saw a run that carried on through 2014. As with my top ten video game selections of the year, my rankings for these five best-of-the-best anime bears little correlation to the ratings I gave to each in my full review posts - rather, they are the five anime that I enjoyed most, and the five which left some noteworthy impact on me as a viewer.
#5) Knights of Sidonia: Offering a more gritty and dire take on the mecha genre than many of its bigger-name contemporaries, Knights of Sidonia knows how to get from point A to point B in a timely manner, while still exploring enough individual stories that branch out from the core plot. The scientific advancements made since mankind took refuge among the stars are curious and compelling, if not mildly inconsistent, but the way in which these play off the otherwise outdated tech and cramped living conditions for what are, in all likelihood, the last remaining humans, does well to balance the thriller, drama, adventure, and classic science fiction components. If only the basic motions of the main cast members’ character models looked half as good as the Garde Unit mechs did when battling the parasitic and ever-adaptive Gauna, this series might have ranked a bit higher on this list.
#4) From the New World: Often times, the whole ‘post-apocalyptic’ subgenre gets stuck in a routine of desolate worlds decorated with litter more than ruins. How much a breath of fresh air, then, was From the New World, which depicted not only a prospering society, but one which had performed an odd return to ancient technologies and lifestyle. The strict, often shady rules of this future-past culture incorporate dystopian themes, while the science of the world is largely centered around the esper humans reserving their powers for practical uses that will better the whole community. From the New World is very smart in its scripting, even though the emphasis on certain plot points might not make their importance known until many episodes later. Other contemporary science fiction and fantasy anime would do well to learn a thing or two from this series’ careful planning.
#3) Puella Magi Madoka Magica: I admit, I was quite skeptical going into this series. A number of people had talked it up as being a real game-changer for the magical girl genre – a genre that I was not particularly fond of – but Madoka Magica is much more than that. Its twelve episode run delivered just the right number of twists and turns to keep me hooked from start to finish, and was fueled by some of the most genuine and raw emotion I’ve encountered in an anime yet. It’s a dark and depressing tale, but in a similar fashion to Evangelion, it is multi-layered in its themes, yet ever-mindful of tying the narrative threads together for an impactful endgame. Sometimes the saddest stories deliver the best development for both plot and character, as evidenced by Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
#2) Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders: While the first season adapted the first two parts of the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure manga impeccably well, they were, to a certain degree, always serving to set up the most popular Jojo’s story arc, Stardust Crusaders. It’s no surprise why Stardust Crusaders has been so well-received since its debut twenty-five years ago – the cast of Jotaro, old man Joseph, Avdol, Kakyoin, and Polnareff makes for quite a raucous crew. Regardless of how dire the circumstances or rotten the foe, Jotaro and company always manage to turn the situation back to their favor, with plenty of intense action and hilarious shenanigans along the way. The Stardust Crusaders arc masterfully handles just what a long-running action series should be about – having fun, balancing the action and comedy, and knowing how to properly pace the story for fans new and old.
#1) Mobile Suit Unicorn Gundam: Unicorn Gundam is both a return to form and a push forth into bold new territory for Bandai and Sunrise’s long-running franchise. I’ve stated in the past that I find the Gundam OVAs are typically among the most high-quality offerings from the franchise, and Unicorn Gundam is unquestionably among the best Gundam projects of all-time. It has a large cast to juggle, and yet it handles each individual appropriately, shaping them as pieces of a more complex puzzle over the course of its seven (approximately) hour-long episodes. It’s a love letter to Gundam fans new and old – one that is certainly among the most easily accessible for new viewers who have little understanding of the chronology of the Universal Century, but one that is also chock-full of references and ties to previous Gundam works like Char’s Counterattack, ZZ, and the original Mobile Suit Gundam that kicked off this definitive mecha franchise way back in 1979.